Monday, February 29, 2016

New Glasses for Grandson

I really wish I could have passed on more positive things to my kids and grands.  But I'm afraid my major contribution to the gene pool is less than perfect eyesight.

Youngest Grandson is the last of the grands to become acquainted with optometrists and eye exams.  He wasn't at all sure he was going to like this.

But he bravely soldiered on and then began the process of choosing just the right frames.

He wasn't happy with these.

He thought these were pretty cool.

But for now, the guy who pays the bill is the guy who makes the final decision.

By mutual agreement, these are Jacob's new glasses.  Looking pretty good there, J.  It is fun to be able to see everything clearly now, isn't it.

Love, Grandma

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Breaking Records

Yesterday the temperature soared to 58 degrees, breaking a record for that day set in 1896.

This morning I am watching huge snowflakes fall outside my window.

I think Mother Nature may be off her meds.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Cars and Cakes

Last week Oldest Son stopped at Target to pick up my prescription refills for me.  And when he came out of the store, he found his car wouldn't start.  His brother-in-law went over to jump start the car only to discover the battery was shot.  So an hour or so and a considerable amount of money later, the new battery is in the car and he is home.

Then last evening on his way home, while doing 70 mph on the freeway, one of the front tires has a blowout.  He said that to his utter amazement, he was able to pull over and stop the car without running into any other vehicle and even more astounding, he kept the car out of the ditch and upright.  Said it was touch and go for a while there.   He is taking a vacation day tomorrow to have 4 new tires put on the car.

A chocolate cake just finished baking.  The ingredients for a cream cheese frosting are coming to room temperature on my counter.  Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting won't help with the car problems.  But Son said it would go a long way to helping him feel better.

And that's Mom's solution to most problems - comfort food.  It doesn't fix the problems.  As much as we would like to be able to fix their problems, the bottom line is they have to fix their own problems.  But a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting just might make their problems a little bit easier to deal with.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Early Spring Cleaning

I've been looking to get rid of my queen sized bed and replace it with something smaller.  Perhaps a daybed.  Oldest Son finally decided that if he could slide the box spring and mattress down the hall, maneuver it around the corner and into his apartment, he would take it.  That was accomplished Sunday evening.

It has been a good, comfortable bed.  But instead of the spring sitting on a regular bed frame, it sat on a wood base that didn't allow for any under-the-bed storage.  And because the only space for my shelves that hold my home canned foods is in my bedroom, things were getting a bit cramped.  And maybe with more space I could fit in the small quilt frame I have been lusting after.  No room anywhere else for it.

Anyway, this seemed to be a good time to do some early spring cleaning.  I haven't been able to move the bed by myself to clean behind it.  That was glaringly obvious when the bed left my apartment.

Sometimes the cat I had would disappear - especially when someone other than me was in my apartment.  I never could find where she was hiding.  Even a couple of years ago when there was a fire in the building, the firemen rescued the dogs I had at the time, but couldn't find the cat even though they took more risks than they should have in the effort.

Now I know where she hid out.  There was a vast amount of cat hair in the tiny space between the head of the bed and the wall.  How she managed to wedge her fat self in there without getting stuck is beyond me.  I think I vacuumed up enough cat hair to build a whole new cat.

So spring cleaning is coming early this year.  I need to wipe down the wall and woodwork and run the carpet cleaning machine over the carpet.  It is kind of nice to have a head start on that project.  Looking on the bright side, I am already nearly done with two-thirds of the spring cleaning!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Rain. Really?

This morning I awoke to a strange sound.  Took me a few minutes to realize it was the sound of rain.

Whoa, Nellie!  Rain.  Really?

This is Minnesota.  This is February.  We should be hip deep in snow now.

Dad's car after a snowstorm in the early 1950s.

This is the land of winter carnivals and ice castles and snow sculptures.  We live and breathe ice fishing contests and snowmobile races.    This is the time of year when ski masks are used not to hide identity while robbing a bank but worn to keep faces from freezing off.  The season when by the time we bundle the kids up enough to send them outside to build a snowman, they have so many layers of clothing on they can barely walk.  That is a typical Minnesota winter.

I take a look out my living room window.  Any traces of snow have vanished.  There are puddles of water in the alley across the street.  The weather forecast tells me that by this afternoon the temperature will be nearing 50 degrees.  Predictions are for well above freezing temperatures for this coming week.

I am not complaining.  I am not fond of winter.  But I feel for those who count on a typical Minnesota winter to make their money.  The ski resorts and sellers of snowmobiles and snowshoes can't be doing well right now.  Those towns that host the usual winter celebrations and activities have to be hurting.  And the folks who spend a typical winter plowing and shoveling snow have to be having a really bad year.

And then I remember that winter here is not over - not by a long shot.  We still have March on the horizon.  March is the month where Mother Nature shows her mean side.  About the time we think Spring is just around the corner, a March blizzard will smack us upside the head and remind us that winter isn't done with us just yet.  Here we have the Minnesota State High School Basketball Tournament blizzards.  In the middle of the tournaments held in March each year, we could pretty much count on excessive snow and wind to either slow down the event or bring the games to a screeching halt.


So I guess I will wait a bit longer before packing away the wool socks and long johns.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if this warm weather spell is just Mother Nature's way of setting us up for another icy winter blast.  Some say Mother Nature has a sense of humor and I will agree with that notion.  However, that perverse sense of humor in the month of March usually doesn't bode well for we Minnesotans.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Attention Span of a Gnat

Yep.  That would be me.

Everyone has their morning routines.  Mine is basically stumbling into the kitchen and making a pot of coffee.  I am completely useless until I have at least two or three cups of coffee in me.  And don't even try to talk to me before then.  I snarl.

Coffee mug in hand, I will usually fire up my computer.  I'll check the news stories of the day and see what the weather has in store for my area.  I'll see if I have any email and then move on to reading some of the blogs I enjoy.  But somewhere in the middle of that my inner gnat grabs me.

This morning for whatever unknown reason, my glance caught sight of the basket I keep my latest crochet project in, which led me off the blogs and into a search for sales on yarn.  When you crochet (or knit) you always "need" more yarn.

From there I jumped to a couple of YouTube channels about scrapbooking.  I have been toying with the notion of making some scrapbook-type recipe organizers to use up some of the scrapbooking supplies in my stash and sure enough, I found a video on the subject.  Which killed another 15 minutes and another cup of coffee.

Then I checked Facebook.  I rarely if ever post anything there.  I check to see if my kids have posted any photos I might want to steal.  And now and then those same kids will post something that makes me laugh.  I am so glad they all were blessed with functioning senses of humor.

About that time I notice that a couple of hours have passed.  Well, crud.  I am still in my jammies and there are things I want to do today.  So after I have dressed and made myself presentable enough so I don't scare bejeebers out of anyone who might see me, I get busy.

Unfortunately, that gnat's attention span is still with me.

Take the other day, for example.  I was busy rearranging the shelves that hold my home canned food, trying to find more space to store the jars that are in boxes on the floor due to lack of space on the shelves.  While stacking jars of applesauce it occurs to me that an applesauce spice cake with caramel frosting sure would taste good.  So I take a jar of the applesauce to the kitchen.  And decide I need to find the recipe.  I sit at the table with my box of recipes and start looking for the one for applesauce spice cake.  And then the one for caramel frosting.  At which point I'm not sure if I have any powdered sugar.  While checking the cupboard for powdered sugar I decide that cupboard really needs to be cleaned so I can see what is on the top shelf toward the back.  Which leads me to finding a box of those paper cupcake liners.  Which gets me to thinking about maybe baking some blueberry muffins to have for breakfast the next day.  And on and on it goes.

I'm not so sure any more if it is that attention span thing.  Seems like it could be one of those "Oh, look!  Squirrel!" things.

Whatever the reasons, I guess I will just live with it.  At least I am never bored.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Having Fun

The headlines are grim.  The world is chaotic.  Senseless violence is on the upswing.  And politicians give a whole new meaning to the word corruption.  Sometimes I need to just back away before my head explodes.

So this weekend I did some work entering data into my genealogy program.  Part of that time was spent sorting through pictures, deciding which ones I wanted to add.  While doing that I found some that reminded me of the fun that happened when my parents and their siblings got together.

This is my Dad and his sister, Clarice.  There was a special bond between them that lasted over 90 years.  It began when they were children.

Close to the ends of their lives they both lived in the same nursing home in the small town not 10 miles from the farm where they grew up.  Clarice's memory went away and Dad's body wore out.  But their senses of humor remained intact.

My cousin told me this story about the brother and sister.  Both used wheelchairs.  Some days they, along with other residents, sat in their chairs and did exercises to help maintain upper body mobility.  Seated side by side they dutifully did the required exercises.  Until Dad would reach over and tap Clarice on the back of the head.  They would continue on until Clarice's arm would shoot out sideways, smacking Dad lightly on the shoulder.  This went on, both of them looking straight ahead, doing their level best to maintain a straight face.  Until the physical therapist said, "You two Matheny kids behave yourselves," and they would dissolve into laughter.

About 15 years ago Dad gave me a cardboard box of old family photos.  They weren't in albums but were just loose in the box.  I spent hours going through them, sorting and remembering.  While trying to bring the pictures to some sort of order, I found this.

Curiosity got the best of me and I called Dad.  I explained that I had found a picture of somebodys backside.  I said I recognized the stairs in the photo as being the ones attached to my Grandma's house in St. Paul.  But I wanted to know about the picture.  Dad chuckled and then told me about it.

Dad and Mom grew up within 10 miles of each other.  Dad knew Mom's family all of his life.  He was always on good terms with Mom's brother and her five sisters.  On the day that photo was taken, Mom's sister Margaret was teasing Dad about something long since forgotten.  Dad, being Dad, could not let the teasing go unchallenged, so he countered with a smart remark of his own.  At this point Margaret proceeded to express her disdain of his remark.  And Dad snapped the picture.

After I was able to bring my own laughter under control, I asked Dad why on earth he had kept that photo for well over 50 years.  He said it reminded him of the fun that happened when they were all together.  Dad and Mother's family remained close for the rest of their lives.

This is a much better picture of Margaret!

You might say that those of my parent's generation lived at a time when America was still America and their freedoms were still intact, so it must have been easier for them to laugh and have fun.  Really?

Those people lived through two world wars and at the end of the second one, they had all their illusions about humanity shattered with the news of the concentration camps in Europe.  There was hardly a family that escaped losing a loved one in the wars.  They lived through the Great Depression where people couldn't find work and where folks were lined up on city streets to get their only meal of the day at soup kitchens.  Their lives were no walk in the park.

One evening maybe 20 years ago I sat with my Dad on the balcony of his apartment, watching the sunset and enjoying the cool of the evening.  We had talked of many things, including the shenanigans of the children in his large family.  I asked him how it was that they could keep a sense of humor during such hard times.  He said humor was what kept them going.  If they could find something worth laughing about, it didn't change anything, but the cares of the world didn't seem quite so bad.

Dad was a pretty smart cookie.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Staying in Touch with Family

You know how sometimes you just lose touch with people?  Not their fault.  Not your fault.  Just happens.

My Mother's side of the family is spread out.  I grew up knowing cousins who were descendants of her Father.  But many of my cousins who were descended from my Grandfather's siblings and who lived at the time of my youth in Minnesota, I did not know and never met.  I have no idea why my branch of the family was separate from the other branches.  I suspect there is some back story there, but I have never found it.

Anyway, one of these long lost cousins and I found each other when I was actively tracing my family tree.  We emailed each other regularly.  Then when I became interested in other things, the genealogy got set on the back burner and the emails slowed down and finally stopped.  No particular reason.  We were on good terms with each other.  We just sort of drifted on.

Well, this morning when I checked my email, I found one from her.  What a lovely surprise.  There was no particular reason for it - just to say hello and tell me what she had been doing and ask how I was.  I emailed her back right away, bringing her up to speed on my family and letting her know that in spite of this thing called aging, I was still as mean and ornery as always.  :)

My cousin lives on the East Coast.  She mentioned that the blizzard a couple of weeks ago had dumped about three feet of snow on them.  She works at  local grocery store and she said that a day or so before the storm hit, the grocery shelves were pretty much emptied.  Can't say that surprised me much.  Same thing happens here before a bad storm is due to roar through.

That email served to remind me how important it is to stay in touch with family.  Granted, all of us have the Crazy Uncle Louie or the Weird Cousin Jane that we kind of wish were related to someone other than us, but that's not the case here.  I don't remember ever meeting her in person and we have communicated mostly through emails, but even so, I really like my cousin Jackie.  And I am glad she took the time to write.

I need to do a better job of staying in touch with my family.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How to Waste a Couple of Perfectly Good Days

I have lately been on a quest to make my own convenience foods.  Or to at least find quicker methods of making some of the foods I use often.  Here is what I learned.

First I tried a couple of recipes I found for making your own rice side dishes.  I like those Knorr Rice Sides and Rice-A-Roni.  I like them once in a while with a meal instead of potatoes or sometimes I will add my canned chicken or beef to them for a skillet type meal.  So I followed the recipes and made both a chicken flavor and a beef flavor rice mix.  I added meat to half a batch and left the other half plain.  And I have to report that I didn't much care for any of it.  Both the homemade mixes were bland and sort of tasteless.  Even doctoring them up didn't help much.  Given a choice between the homemade mixes and the store bought, I would choose the store bought for flavor every time.

I had seen posts on a couple of food and preparedness blogs about making baking powder biscuit dough and freezing the biscuits to be baked later.  Thinking that might work well for me, I followed the instructions, using a recipe included in the blog post for one batch, using the Bisquick recipe for another batch and finally using my tried and true biscuit recipe for the third.  I mixed the dough, rolled it out and cut the biscuits.  I put the raw biscuits on parchment lined cookie sheets and popped them into the freezer.  When frozen, I bagged and labeled each batch and back into the freezer they went.  The instructions said to bake them, just place the frozen biscuits on a baking sheet and bake as usual.  So I took two biscuits from each bag and put them on a parchment paper lined sheet, writing on the paper with a Sharpie so I wouldn't mix them up, and baked them.  When they came out of the oven, the first two would have made great substitutions for hockey pucks.  The biscuits made using my recipe were a little better, but not much.  They weren't nearly as light and fluffy as I like them but were more dense and heavy.

So far, I'm not doing real well with these experiments.  But I had one more to try.

I had found a YouTube series about making no-knead bread.  Thought it was worth trying.  I watched the videos and wrote down the recipes and instructions for a loaf of white bread and for rolls.  I followed the instructions to the letter.  The guy in the videos made it look so easy, and it was fairly quick and easy to mix the dough.  But when the loaf of bread came out of the oven, I found I had a really nice smelling door stop.  It was heavy and had a really tough crust, even after I brushed butter on the outside to soften it up a bit.  It didn't taste nearly as good as a loaf made the conventional way using my favorite recipe.  The rolls weren't any better.

So that is how I managed to waste a couple of perfectly good days.  I suppose they weren't a total loss.  I learned that quick and easy isn't always a good thing.  I learned that sometimes substitutes for a dish like the rice sides can't be duplicated to taste like what I am used to.  And I learned that even though kneading bread takes time and energy, the results are well worth it.  I'm not trying to discourage anyone from trying any of these methods.  Could be Operator Error.  But personally, I found that for me, it just wasn't working.  I will continue to stock the store bought rice mixes and make bread and biscuits from scratch, the old fashioned way.

So mostly I learned that if it ain't broke - don't fix it!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dad's Generation

My mind has been on my Dad lately.  Even though I was privileged to have him until he reached the age of 93 and even though he has been gone from us for eleven years, I still miss him every day.

What set him on my mind today was some articles I read about the current entitlement generation.  Those who think someone else should pay for their food, their housing, their medical expenses, ad nauseam.  Add to that the myth of white privilege.  I'll tell you just how entitled and privileged my Dad and his generation were.

Dad told me stories about when his family needed cash money.  Not just the Depression years, but all the time, for a farmer like my Grandfather on a sandy soil farm in northern Minnesota would never get rich.  Matter of fact, they would rarely get out of poverty.

When Dad was old enough to do the work of a man, in the summer and fall, he and one or two of his brothers would go to the nearest town and catch a freight train going west.  No comfortable passenger cars for them.  A person had to have cash to ride the passenger cars.  They found an empty boxcar and rode it to the wheat fields of the Dakotas or Montana - wherever they could find work on threshing crews.  It was hard, hot, dirty work.  This website tells a little bit about it.  Once they managed to get places on a crew, they stayed as that threshing crew moved from farm to farm, threshing the wheat crop.  They kept out just enough of their wages for their basic needs and sent the rest to their parents.

When threshing season was over, they looked for other jobs.  Most times they found jobs picking potatoes.  That was back breaking work, following behind the horse drawn machine that lifted the potatoes out of the ground, the men going after, picking up the potatoes, tossing them into buckets or baskets and filling gunnysacks.  This is a photo of a potato picker and although it is not my Dad, it could have been.

My grandmother kept this postcard in her Bible.  It was written by my Dad in October of 1934.

It reads:  "Dear Mother,  Got here at Helena today and are going out on a potato picking job in the morning.  Ken (Dad's brother) went out on another potato job to nite.  Don't write cause I don't know how long we'll be here.  As always, Ralph (my Dad).

Here's my point.  Dad's family needed money.  There was a little money to be made working in the woods in the winter, but no work in northern Minnesota in the summer and fall of the year.  The family raised chickens and hogs and milked a few cows.  They raised a big garden and foraged for berries and such in the summer.  But a large family still needed cash for what they couldn't produce themselves.

They didn't expect anyone else to give them anything.  Dad and one or two of his brothers went where there was work to be had.  Another brother stayed home to help their Dad on the farm and after their Dad's  death in 1936, they saw to it that their Mother could stay in her home and saw to it she was cared for in her old age.  The girls helped their Mother garden and preserve food and bake bread.  When some of the girls were old enough, they earned teaching certificates and taught school to bring in money for the family.

This life wasn't unique to my family.  Many, many other families across the country were working hard to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs.  And they did it on their own, without standing in line for welfare benefits.  They would have been ashamed to ask for a handout.

Take a look at this picture.

That is my Dad at the top of the ladder.  That is his brother below him.  The picture was taken around 1920.   They are just oozing "white privilege," aren't they.  And yet, I never once heard Dad complain about being poor.  And I never knew him to turn down a job because it involved hard work or getting dirty or didn't pay a king's ransom.  He was just happy to have work.

I'm thinking that those who think they should have everything given to them should be introduced to the reality my Father's generation lived through.  His generation was comprised mostly of hard working, God fearing folks who did whatever it took to keep their families going.  They had pride in a job well done.  They considered a handshake as good a contract as any signed document.  They were the people who made America what it used to be.

We sorely need more like them.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

How Long...

until the November election?  Not soon enough.

I read a variety of news reports daily.  I read both main stream and alternative sources.  This morning I read about the name calling and the one liner zingers and the poll numbers.  And then I read about the tiresome excuses.

I didn't read about how any one candidate is going to make my life any better.

Seems to me it is about time to move the race for President of the United States off the elementary school playground.  We are about to elect the leader of the free world and not hall monitor.

No wonder the world doesn't take us seriously any more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Let It Snow

The weather guessers got it right this time.  Snow was predicted for around lunchtime and it started right on cue.  Big flakes.  Lots of them.  Supposed to continue off and on until early tomorrow morning.

I have been listening to the scanner this afternoon.  Normally on a weekday it is pretty quiet.  Today the chatter is constant.  Crashes everywhere.  Vehicles sliding off the roads.  Not long ago one of the police officers requested a plow to make a couple of swipes at their parking lot so they could get the police cars in and out.

Oldest son stopped in a few minutes ago.  His workplace had sent their employees home early.  Son said that not much was being accomplished anyway.  He said whenever he stopped his forklift, the tires would just spin when trying to move again.

His drive between home and work normally takes a half hour.  This afternoon it took him an hour and 15 minutes.  There was maybe 5 inches of snow on the ground then, but it is heavy and wet, and where vehicle tires have packed it down it is just like ice.  He said there were very few places where there were no cars in the ditch and one point there was a car in the median and another across the road laying on its top.  At another point on the freeway the entire road was blocked by cars stuck in the snow.

Son said he roared through the next town over at a whopping 15 mph.  Said he just slid through a couple of intersections here in town.  Said he was glad to be home.

Methinks it is about time for a nice cup of cocoa.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Back to Basics

I admit it.  I got lazy.  I still bake the occasional loaf of bread, but mostly I have been ordering bread from the store in my every other week grocery delivery order.

Until now.

It has been nearly two weeks since my last grocery delivery.  At that time I stashed an extra loaf of store bought bread in the refrigerator.  Don't ask me why I didn't put it in the freezer.  I don't know.  I just didn't.  And it sort of got pushed to the back where it has languished for nearly two weeks.  Until this morning when I ran out of bread and remembered the stashed loaf.

I fully expected that loaf to be hard, stale and likely growing all sorts of moldy stuff.  It wasn't.  It was still soft, had no stale smell or taste and there was nothing green growing anywhere on it.  That scared me.  I began to wonder just what the commercial bakers put in the dough to preserve it that long.  So I looked up the ingredients in commercially baked bread.  That scared me even more.  Look it up.  You will see what I mean.

The way I look at it, those of my advancing years have enough health issues to contend with without filling up on food that contains stuff I can't begin to pronounce.  Anything that will keep a loaf of bread from turning stale and moldy after sitting out for two weeks can't possibly be good.

So I crossed bread off my grocery order.  And tomorrow morning I will get back into my old routine of baking bread once a week.  It takes time and effort to do that, but I think it is well worth it.

Incidentally, I went over the rest of my grocery order list and to my chagrin realized that bread wasn't the only thing I was ordering just for the sake of convenience.  So I reworked my order to include mostly fresh fruit and vegetables and the ingredients to make my own convenience foods.  I have a whole box of recipes for various mixes - from baking mixes to flavored rice mixes to seasoning mixes.  I have two large shelving units packed with jars of home canned meats, fruits and vegetables and more.  I have boxes full of dehydrated foods.  I have the ingredients stored to cook and bake nearly anything I want over at least one years time.  So I have no excuse for buying anything I can make myself.

I have had a less than stellar January.  I find I am tired much of the time and haven't felt as good as I should.  It isn't just this cold I have been fighting lately.  It has been going on longer than that.  I can chalk part of it to the "winter doldrums."  But I am willing to bet that if I get away from using store bought convenience foods and other commercially made foods like bread, I will start feeling better.

It is way past time to get back to the basics.