Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sometimes Just Having a Nice Day is Enough

Not every day needs to be filled with excitement or big accomplishments.

Today was one of those days that featured the mundane.  Dishes were washed.  Floors were swept.  Odds and ends of household chores were done. Groceries were delivered.

When you rely on a service for groceries you don't always get what you want.  Bone in pork chops were on sale and I had ordered two family sized packages.  Sometimes what you get are paper thin chops and you are stuck with them because you ordered the sale chops.  This time they were thick cut and huge.  I repackaged them for the freezer, saving out two for supper.  We baked them with seasonings and barbecue sauce and fried up some potatoes to go with them.  Delicious.

Earlier in the day Son and I tag-teamed baking a cake.  Normally he would have just gone ahead and made it himself, (He was a restaurant cook in another lifetime and knows his way around a kitchen!) but he is still without glasses and can't see much.  I mixed up the batter for a yellow cake.  He buttered the cake pan and spread brown sugar over the butter.  I had a can of pineapple chunks that he opened and then decided to add mandarin oranges as well.  Over the fruit we sprinkled coconut and I poured the cake batter over the whole works.  Forty-five minutes later we had a wonderful smelling dessert.

I had just started washing the supper dishes when the phone rang.  Youngest son was a couple of blocks away and he couldn't remember the code to get in the outside door.  He had a piece of cake with us and we sat and talked, mostly catching up on the activities of his children.  Finally he needed to leave.  It was getting late and he was still an hour from home.  With a hug for his Mom and another for his brother, he was gone.

It has been a quiet evening.  Fall is upon us with nighttime temperatures dropping nearly into the forties.  There was some reading of a murder mystery and some snoozing in my recliner with a heavy crocheted afghan pulled up under my chin and some more reading.

Today I just let the world carry on without me.  Tomorrow I will read the news sources on my computer and get mad at the stupidity of politicians, but for today, I settled for just having a nice day.  And it was enough.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Know What Makes a Grandma Happy?

A three page letter from her granddaughter who is in basic training, that's what!

I was so pleased to receive that letter last week.  That is the first word I have had from her since she left the end of August.  I have read it so many times I think I may have it committed to memory.  I've been writing to her regularly.  She can't call out yet so mail is our only communication.  She said she was doing fine even with having tonsillitis and a sprained ankle.  The girl is tough.

She was relieved to have qualified on the shooting range.  She said she was disappointed with her score, but considering that she has had only a brief session with any firearms prior to enlisting, I was just glad she qualified at all.  She is determined to improve her score.

I called her mother to tell her I had heard from Nicki.  She said she got a letter as well.  We compared notes.  Nicki wrote to her about hand grenade practice.  They threw several dummy grenades and then two live ones.  She said it was "so cool!"  All I could think of was that I am really glad she grew up playing baseball so she knows how to throw.  Far.  Very far.  Far away from her.

I'm not sure where my daughter got this photo, but she posted it on Facebook so the relatives could see it.  It is the only picture of her we have seen since she left.  It was taken just after she finished the gas chamber training.

"Nicki doesn't look like she enjoyed the gas chamber."

She will be home for Christmas.  She says she just wants to give me a big hug.  I wrote back that I thought there might be a hug here with her name on it.  Probably more than one.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Six Ham Bones...

simmered on the stove the better part of the day.  Fished them out of the broth, let them cool and picked the meat from the bones.  Cut the ham into bite sized pieces, bagged them up in Ziploc bags and stored the bags in the fridge.  Strained the broth to get out any bone and gristle bits and returned it to the stock pot.  Added some chicken bouillon for more flavor and found room for the pot in the fridge as well.  Dumped 2 1/2 quarts of dry Great Northern beans into another pot, covered them with water and set them to soak overnight.

In the morning I drained the beans and added them to the broth.  Threw in some of my dehydrated chopped onion and some dehydrated, shredded carrots.  Added a bit of granulated garlic just because.  About halfway through the cooking process I added the ham pieces.

At this point you have probably figured out that I don't have a recipe.  Everyone has their own method of making ham and beans.  Some add diced tomato or tomato juice and some have other ingredients they like to use.  It is all according to taste.  I tend to keep it simple.  That's the way my family likes it.

The soup simmers on the stove until the beans are tender, stirred now and then to keep it from scorching.  Some day I will invest in the more expensive stock pots so I won't have problems with burning whatever I cook in them, but for now I make do with what I have.  And do a lot of stirring.

When the soup is done, I set aside enough for a couple of meals and ladle the rest into quart jars.  They are processed in my pressure canner for 90 minutes.  I wound up with 11 quarts of fantastically delicious ham and beans.  Tomorrow morning I will wash the jars and label them with the contents and date.

The cheapskate in me loves that the meat was a bonus left over from canning ham a couple of weeks ago.  Beans are still relatively inexpensive.  The onions and carrots were purchased on sale and dried using my dehydrators.  And I now have more meals that will feed us, no matter how high grocery prices get or no matter what happens around us.  Add a pan of cornbread and we will eat well.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Achoo and the Importance of Backups

Yep.  Head colds.  Both of us.  Son is sneezing a lot.  I've had little energy the past couple of days and thought I was just tired but woke up this morning with a stuffed up head.  Nothing serious.  Head colds come and head colds go.  We will survive.

Son is worse off than I am.  On Tuesday he was cleaning the lenses of his glasses when they fell apart.  Right where the nose piece connects with the lens frame.  Glasses are now two separate pieces.  Can't be fixed.  Optometrist didn't have a frame that the lenses would fit.  Friday is the earliest he can get in for an eye exam.  In the meantime he is home.  It is tough to run a forklift when you can't see more than six inches beyond the end of your nose.  He says he was way overdue for an eye exam anyway, but isn't happy about having to miss work.  Still has his sense of humor intact, though.  While feeling his way to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, he allowed as to how learning braille might not be a bad idea.  :)

This got me to thinking a bit more seriously about having a backup for some of the common items I use nearly every day.  We have a Mr. Coffee.  Useless without electricity.  I do have one of those coffee pots where you pour hot water in the top and it drips down over the grounds.  That pot is about 70 years old.  Got it from my Dad.  Makes great coffee.  But it might be a good idea to invest in another coffee pot that doesn't need to be plugged in.  After is the elixir of life.  I really don't know if I would want to face another day without coffee.  :)

Can openers are another thing I  would not want to do without.  I have two hand-held openers.  Because of a bit of arthritis in my hands, I need ones that are large, easy to grip and easy to operate.  Should the ones I have cease to work, I would be hard pressed to open a can.  I should have more can openers stashed away.

I have two kitchen mixers - one stand mixer and one hand held mixer.  Both have electric cords attached.  I think I need to find one of those old fashioned mixers that has two beaters that are operated by turning a crank.  One of those old beaters was a necessity in my Mother's kitchen.  She didn't have an electric mixer until I was about 15 years old.  (That was a banner year.  Got our first electric mixer, our first television set and my first and only baby brother that year!)  And although the new mixer was a time saver and labor saver, we had managed just fine without it.  Now I dearly love my Kitchen Aid stand mixer my kids gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago.  It makes life easier when the aches and pains of aging slow me down somewhat.  But as a backup, the old beater mixer would be a good thing to have.

Now that I can see again, I have been doing some sewing in the evenings.  I've been piecing a quilt using just needle and thread to sew the pieces together.  Just wanted to see if I could make a quilt without using my sewing machine.  So far - so good.  I like the results even though it is time consuming.  Anyway, that got me to thinking about sewing supplies.  A couple of years ago I took advantage of a sale at Joann Fabrics.  Stocked up on pins, needles, thread, etc.  I noticed lately that my supply of thread was getting low.  We live in a throw-away society.  Lose a button or get a hole in a garment, out it goes and we buy new.  Well, some of us buy new.  Others like me were raised to fix what we had.  Sewing supplies for hand sewing could be important in a grid-down situation.  That includes the kind of thread for darning holes in socks.  I know.....nobody darns socks any more.  But if your last pair has holes in the heel and you can't get any more, darning socks is a useful skill.

I think I need to go over my list (Yes.  I am one of those.  I make lists.) of items to add to my preps.  Seems I have forgotten a few things.  The world around me doesn't seem to be improving much, so I don't think it would be wise to delay.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Good News and Bad News

Sometimes good news and bad news can come in the same package.  Both came to Son and me by way of a phone call from my landlord.

I had wondered what happened to my neighbor, Alberta.  I had knocked on her apartment door several times but there was never any answer.  Nobody in the building seemed to know what had happened to her.  My landlord told me that Alberta had been hospitalized.  The tests run by her doctor showed she was full of cancer.  There was nothing to be done but keep her as comfortable as possible.  She passed on a couple of days ago.

She had been my neighbor for probably 15 years.  I would tease her that she must have radar that could detect when I was canning, for often she would come by about the time I was taking jars out of the canner.  I knew that she missed having the home canned food, for she talked about all the canning she had done when she lived on the farm.  I always sent her home with a couple of jars of whatever I was canning.  Her radar worked on homemade bread as well.  When I still had my Yorkies she would knock on my door once in a while and ask if she could visit them.  They loved her and they made her laugh with their antics.  She was a good woman and a good neighbor.

The good part of the phone call was that now there was an apartment available.  My landlord wanted to know if my son wanted it.  Of course, the answer was "Yes."  We both had checked around town for apartments and anything decent was way more expensive.  My landlord includes all utilities except telephone and cable in the rent.  In a climate that can see -20 degrees or colder in the winter and hot, humid days in the summer, having the heat and air conditioning covered is a big deal.  It will be a little while before he can move in as the landlord is having the apartment painted, new carpet installed as well as replacing the old appliances.  But it is a relief to Son to know where he will live.   And it is nice for me to have one of my children within hollering distance.

I have mixed feelings.  I am sad to lose a good neighbor and I feel bad that the apartment became available the way it did.  But at the same time, I am glad for my son because he really wanted to be able to live in this building.  I guess that's just the way life turns out sometimes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


it is hard to take.  I'm talking about the constant barrage of bad.

I don't want to see any more videos of mutilated babies.  My heart is already broken when I think of all those lives taken.  Babies who never had the chance to find out who they were.  Or who they could become or what they could accomplish.  Babies who were then cut up like so much meat to be sold.

I don't want to see the latest method the terrorists use to kill people.  It was more than enough to see the beheadings and the crucifying and the burning in a cage and the drowning in a cage.  I don't want to see any more of the dark, evil hatred that lives in the hearts of those who can even think up those new ways to torture human beings.

I really don't want to listen to any more of the snarky insults that presidential candidates toss back and forth like a beach ball.  Are they candidates for the most powerful leader of the free world or are they third graders on the playground.  Hard to tell the difference.

I don't want to hear about any more executive orders done in secret on a Friday afternoon or a holiday weekend.  I particularly don't want to hear about the latest one that promotes the study of behavioral patterns of American citizens.  Really?  And why does our government need to know this?

I don't want to watch any more news reports about the hordes of people crossing borders, both at home and in Europe.  Or about the terrorists making their way into my back yard.  Or about our leaders allowing and encouraging this to happen.

And I really don't want to hear any more Black Lives Matter rhetoric, especially the calling for the killing of our police as recently happened just a few miles from my front door.  I would like to know, however, just who are you going to call to save your backsides when all the police are gone.  I sort of doubt that Sharpton and his ilk are going to come riding in to save the day.

Sometimes I envy those who go blithely on their way, happily ignorant of the turmoil in the world around us.  Maybe there is something to be said for keeping your head buried in the sand.  Or for staying asleep.  But for those of us who are awake and have seen these horrors, these attacks on our God given rights, this calculated effort to ruin America, there is no way to unsee it all.  And what gets to me the most is the knowledge that there is nothing I can do about it.

I can vote, but more and more that seems like a lesson in futility.  We think we are electing people who will make a difference - who will actually care about what the voters think.  Only to discover that about 15 minutes after taking the oath of office, they are ready, willing and able to begin feathering their own nests while leaving us out in the cold.

I know that I need to stay informed.  If I don't know what the danger is, I won't know how to keep away from it or how to meet it head on, whatever the case may be.  But right now I am on news overload.  I don't know whether to scream or cry.

So instead I will pour a glass of milk and grab three freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.  And when the rain stops tomorrow I will go sit on a bench and watch the Minnesota River flow lazily by on its way to the Mississippi.  And I will spend an afternoon sewing quilt pieces together.  And I will write a letter to my granddaughter in the Army, telling her how much her Grandma loves her.  And I will let the world continue to speed ahead toward disaster without my knowing about it.  Just for a day or two.  For sometimes - not very often, but sometimes - that is the only way I can deal with our world without having my head explode.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Obituary of Common Sense

Once in a while in my travels through cyberspace, I will stumble upon something that makes me think, "Well, ain't that the truth."  The following is one of those.  I have no idea where I found it.  If it is yours, let me know and I will give credit where credit is due.

Obituary of Common Sense

Today, we mourn the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense.

Common Sense lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the Millennium. No one really knows how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He selflessly devoted his life to service in schools; hospitals, homes, factories and offices, helping folks get jobs done without fanfare and foolishness.

For decades, petty rules, silly laws and frivolous lawsuits held no power over Common Sense. He was credited with cultivating such valued lessons as to know when to come in from rain, the early bird gets the worm and life isn't always fair.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adults are in charge, not the kids), and it's okay to come in second.

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Technological Revolution, Common Sense survived cultural and educational trends including feminism, body piercing, whole language and new math.

But his health declined when he became infected with the "if-it-only-helps-one-person-it's-worth-it" virus. In recent decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal legislation.

He watched in pain as good people became ruled by self-seeking lawyers and enlightened auditors. His health rapidly deteriorated when schools endlessly implemented zero tolerance policies; when reports were heard of six year old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; when a teen was suspended for taking a swig of mouthwash after lunch; when a teacher was fired for reprimanding an unruly student. It declined even further when schools had to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student but couldn't inform the parent when a female student is pregnant or wants an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost his will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, criminals received better treatment than victims, and federal judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional sports.

As the end neared, Common Sense drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments, regarding questionable regulations for asbestos, low-flow toilets, smart guns, the nurturing of Prohibition Laws and mandatory air bags.

Finally, when told that the homeowners association restricted exterior furniture only to that which enhanced property values, he breathed his last.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son Reason. His three stepbrothers survive him: Rights, Tolerance and Whiner.

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

Author Unknown

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A Bushel of Tomatoes

Son went to the Farmer's Market again.  This time he scored tomatoes.  The vendor was selling them in half bushel boxes for $10 per box.  We haven't found tomatoes that cheap the last two seasons.  And they are absolutely beautiful.  Son brought home two boxes.

I dunked the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute and slipped off the skins.  After they were cut into smaller pieces I packed them into jars.  The bushel of tomatoes gave me 19 quarts, plus the four large tomatoes I set aside for eating fresh.  They were processed in the hot water bath canner for 25 minutes.

Son says he will go back and get a couple more boxes next week.  I'd like to have some canned in pint jars and the rest made into tomato juice.  Son also remarked how good some of those tomatoes would taste this winter when made into chili.   I'm thinking he will be the one to cook up the chili.  He says mine is way too wimpy.  :)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ham In A Jar

I like to have a variety of home canned meat on my shelves.  The one that I ran out of a while back was ham.  I have used the boneless hams for canning in years past, but have not been completely satisfied with it.  I'm not sure why.  It tastes just fine.  Maybe it is because when cubed and canned, the cubes remain very firm.  Silly reason, I suppose, but there it is.

So I asked Son to bring home six hams from the grocery for canning.  Last evening I cut the meat from the bones.  I purposely left some meat on the bones and froze them for future use in making ham and bean soup.  This morning I cut the larger pieces to fit into wide mouth pint jars.  The rest I cut into about one-inch pieces and packed them into the small mouth pints.  I don't add liquid to the jars as the canning process creates enough liquid in the jars.  They are processed for 75 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure.  I wound up with 42 pints of ham.

The larger pieces will be heated and used for meals, the same as if I were baking a ham.  The smaller bits are good for ham salad sandwiches, mixed into scrambled eggs or in scalloped potato dishes.  I think the uses for this ham is limited only by a person's imagination.

And now I think I am done canning meat for this year.  It has taken some time, but I finally have enough canned to last at least a year, which was my goal.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Chicken Vegetable Soup

So Friday afternoon Number 1 Son did a grocery run and came home with about 40 lbs. of chicken thighs.  They don't go on sale all that often so I thought we had better take advantage of the 99 cents a lb. price.
I filled my big stock pot and two smaller pots with the chicken thighs, added water to cover and let them cook until they were falling off the bone done.  When they were cool enough to handle I pulled the meat from the bones and cut it into about 1-inch pieces.  I had thawed 6 lbs. of frozen mixed vegetables, so I layered a generous cup of meat and a cup of vegetables into quart jars.  I used the broth that the chicken cooked in to fill the jars to within 1-inch from the top.  I had 17 quarts of chicken vegetable soup when I ran out of vegetables.

I still had quite a bit of chicken left, so I put 2 generous cups of meat in quart jars and added the broth.  I wound up with 12 quarts of chicken in broth.  I figure I can use that as a soup or stew base, or thicken the broth for chicken and gravy over mashed potatoes or rice or baking powder biscuits.  It probably will work in chicken casserole dishes as well or for chicken and dumplings.

Some people add salt when they can meat or vegetables, but I usually do not.  Often I will add a bit of chicken bouillon for extra flavor when I heat it up and that generally is enough salt.

I was kind of surprised at how much mileage I got out of the chicken.  Haven't a clue where I'm going to store it all, but I sure am glad to have it.  I think of all the different meats I can, I use chicken the most.  Chicken soup is kind of a comfort food and the Farmer's Almanac is predicting a really cold winter here this year.  Probably going to need to be comforted long about February.  :)

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Does Anyone Write Letters Any More?

When my granddaughter came to see me before leaving for Army Basic Training, her one request was that I write to her.  She isn't allowed to keep her cell phone, so no calls or text messages.  No email either.  But she is allowed to receive mail.  I warned her that letters from me might be pretty boring.  I lead a  quiet life.  Not much drama here.  She said, "I don't care if your letters are boring.  Just please write to me."  So I have had to dust off my letter writing skills and get busy.

Her request for letters got me to thinking about how things have changed over the years.  As a kid, I wrote a lot of letters, mostly to my grandmas and cousins.  Back then, long distance phone calls were expensive so they were reserved for emergency situations.  But we could always come up with a few pennies for a postage stamp.  So we wrote.

I have in my files a few letters written by my aunts to my parents.  They almost always included letters in the cards they sent at Christmas time.  It is fun to re-read those letters from time to time.  Most of them are over 50 years old and some trigger memories of what was going on within our family back then.  Something of the personalities of each writer shows in the style of writing.  One aunt with a great sense of humor would write about the funny side of her life.  Another aunt who had sort of a sour disposition would write letters full of complaints.  Most times I could tell who had written the letter before ever getting as far as the signature.

One of my cousins shared the transcripts of about 60 letters written by my great-grandparents and by their adult children.  They date from 1893 to 1918.  They provide a picture of what life was like for that family around the turn of the century, mostly when they were homesteading in Minnesota, having moved here from New York.  I had all their information - birth dates, death dates, names of their spouses and children - already entered in my genealogy program.  But the letters showed me who they were - their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their love for one another.  Fascinating.

My all time favorites aren't the letters themselves, but the envelopes.  The following were scanned from my Mother's scrapbook.

The first is a clipping from a Twin Cities Sunday newspaper.  Mother's sister, Margaret had left home in northern Minnesota to work in St. Paul.  She sent a letter in an envelope with her drawings for the address.  My grandfather lived in Blackduck, Minnesota at the time.  Her likeness of him was so accurate that the letter reached him without any problem.

The second is an envelope from a letter written by the same person - Mother's sister.  The likeness of my mother is so good that the letter reached her without delay.

And now I am off to write to Nicki.  After all, I promised.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Make Plans...

and the gods hold their sides, laughing.

I had big plans for chicken thighs that are on sale this week.  They come in a family pack and I had ordered six of them.  The plan was to make chicken vegetable soup to can.  But the gods said, "I don't think so."  There was a power outage at the store where the grocery delivery service shops.   The delivery guy told me that there was no meat at all available when my shopping was done.  It crossed my mind that if it all goes to hell like it seems to be doing, this kind of food shortage could be the norm rather than the exception.  No point in getting upset.  Couldn't be helped.  Luckily it was just one store that had the problem and Son will pick up the chicken I need for the soup at another store.  Take that, you snickering gods!

I did get twelve 1-lb. bags of baby carrots that are on sale for $1 each.  I like to put a roast or chicken in the oven, surround it with potatoes, carrots and onions and slow bake it, or do the same in the crock pot.  So I packed the carrots in pint jars, added water to cover them and pressure canned them for 25 minutes.  Wound up with 27 pints of carrots.

While I was working on the carrots, I had pretty much decided just to forget about canning the chicken soup.  But then I got to remembering the reason I do all of this.  We could go on for years, doing a slow slide into third world status, or we could drop to the bottom with a bang.  Either way, the whole idea is to be prepared for whatever happens.  I have been told that I am foolish to have this much food on my shelves.  "What are you going to do with it all," they ask.   "Nothing is going to happen," they say.  I hope they are right.  I hope that life continues as it has for generations.  But if it doesn't, seems to me there is a real possibility that the last jar of chicken soup may be the very thing that saves someone in my family from starving.   So I will continue to can the soup, continue to add to the household and medical items that will be useful and in some cases, necessary should they become scarce in the future.

It is called "common sense."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dad and Sister

This photo was taken in the spring of 1912.

Dad is the baby and his sister, Clarice, is holding him.  They are seated in front of the first house that my grandfather, Clifford Alton Matheny, built on the land he homesteaded near Blackduck, Minnesota in 1904.  Some years later, he built a new, more modern house that was stucco on the outside and had a second story for the children's bedrooms.  Dad told me they built the new house around the old one.  They tore down the old house as the new one went up.  The new house had electricity, but no running water or indoor plumbing.  I remember that water was pumped using a hand pump just off the back door of the house, and the outhouse was a short distance in the same direction.  Water had to be carried into the house, and I remember that the drinking water was in a white enamel bucket sitting on a stool by the kitchen door.  There was a metal dipper in the bucket, and when someone wanted a drink of water, they filled the dipper and drank from it.  It was the best tasting water I have ever had, and I don't think anyone ever got sick from drinking from the dipper.  Folks were a lot tougher then.

This photo is also of Dad and Clarice, and Dad said it was taken in the fall of 1912.

Clarice's job was to watch over her baby brother, and she continued to do so for over 90 years.  They probably had one of the closest sibling relationships that I know of, and even when both were in the nursing home in Blackduck, they enjoyed each other's company.  Dad is wearing a dress in this photo, and he said that was common practice back then for a boy to wear dresses until about the age of three years, when he was old enough to manipulate the buttons on the fly of a pair of pants.

I have always treasured these two photos for the fact that they are now over 100 years old, and they are the only photos I have of Dad as a baby.

I think this may be my favorite picture of Dad and Clarice in their later years.

I have always thought that Dad looks like he either has been up to some mischief, or that he is about to.  Which wouldn't surprise me one little bit.