Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Good Old Day with Grandma

Sometimes, but not as often as I should, I schedule a day for just me and my grandmother. I always look forward to a day spent with just the two of us. It's a day when, without distractions, I can absorb little things about her that I will want to remember forever. Grandma is closing in on her ninth decade on earth, but is in wonderful health. She still lives independently in the home she raised her family in, and still gardens like crazy in the summer. Up until about five years ago, she still cut her own grass with a gas push mower.

One of the things I look forward to doing on our days together is working on the "Grandma Remembers" book that I gave her a few years ago. It's a simple book filled with questions that she can answer in writing, so these things will not be forgotten. Unfortunately, grandma's relationship with the book has its quirks. She does not want to write in the book. I don't know why this is, but I found a work-around where I read her the questions and write them down for her so she doesn't have to be bothered with the writing aspect. The other problem is that I simply gave her the book too late in life. While grandma has a sharp minded and keen memory for many things, her recall of the names of people and places has declined. This makes her frustrated, and motivates her mid-question to spend time routing around in an old pile of papers in order to find the name of a street she used to live on or the correct spelling for something. I think this makes the experience of filling the book less enjoyable for her.
"Do you want to work on the book today?" I asked her.
"Ach no! I don't feel like using my brain today," she replied. After lunch and a brief shopping trip, Grandma just wanted to have a cup of tea and visit with me in the living room. For the next few hours, she spoke lively about things that interested her such as history, current events, cooking, and family news. She is not shy about announcing her opinions. Talking about these things is apparently a whole lot less taxing on the mind than trying to remember who your best friend was in the early 1940's. Okay, I get it.

She asked me if I liked the pumpkin-raisin-nut bread that she gave us, and I thanked her and told her we ate it. "It was very healthy," she reminded me. Yes. Then we talked about baking and Grandma lamented that she did not bake as much as she used to since there is no one around to eat it. We recalled some specialties she used to bake and I pointedly asked her whether some of those treasured recipes were written down anywhere. It turns out yes, they are written down. In German. "They can be translated," she tells me but I'm not optimistic.

"Do you get the Reader's Digest?" she asked. Um, no. She informs me that there is some good information in there and then gives me an issue to take home. The Readers Digest is what I call a "grandparent universal". No matter who you are or where you are from, there is probably a Reader's Digest in your grandparent's house. There are also "tea towels" and maybe even a "bed spread." I am sure that somewhere on the other side of the earth, there is a grandparent trying to slip a Reader's Digest into the saddle bag of a camel belonging to their grandchild in hopes that the younger generation will embrace the wonders of this informative publication.

"I had such a good time today!" she told me half a dozen times before I left.
"Me too."
As I walked away from her back door I always look around to absorb everything. The dormant shrubs, the worn and faded decorations in the garden, and grandma waving good bye from inside the glass door. It's like a picture I take in my mind every time, because I know that this moment will one day be one of the many moments that in the future will be called "the good old days".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

My Quilting Journey

Quilting was a hobby that I picked up relatively late in life. There were some things that were taught to me as a child, such as embroidery. Tiny embroidery hoop and floss in hand, I started embroidering handkerchiefs along side mom who did table cloths and pillow cases. Then, before I could even read, I got my first sewing machine. Sure, it was just a Holly Hobbie sewing machine in sky blue--my favorite color, but I was going to conquer the world with it! But many years later a recessive gene that had laid dormant in me suddenly activated, and I wanted to quilt, too.

I started the way most quilters learn, with a basic nine patch that I still keep in my trunk of linens. The theme was blocks of purple and violet prints. The stitches, huge, but even. Completely hand sewn, from piecing to bind. When I look at it, I remember the excitement of learning something new. I was learning to quilt!

For my second project, I chose a table runner. Again, completely pieced and quilted by hand. I can still recall sitting up nights trying so hard to make small, even stitches. How hard it seemed to get a few stitches on a tiny needle!
"You must get at least three stitches on the needle," my aunt would say.
"Then I need a longer needle!"
This runner floated around for a bit, and we thought it might be lost. I only rediscovered it in my trunk while looking for something else. I remember it was such a relief when I finished this "bigger" project, but the quilting bug had bit, and I wanted to do more. So I moved on to my third quilting attempt, a baby quilt.

This one gave me my biggest challenge yet- picking out colors. I still have a difficult time coordinating pretty fabrics, and yet I also find it to be the most fun aspect of quilting. Who doesn't love to fabric shop? All these bright florals look a bit busy to my eye, but at the time I was sure they would blend perfectly. Looking back, it was rather baffling that I chose to make a baby quilt, but maybe my idea was to give it as a gift or save it. As it turned out, I've save it all this time and can't part with it. Also, being as it was only my third attempt at quilting and my second real project, the quality didn't seem good enough to give it as a gift. So it spends most of its year rolled up in a cedar chest full of linens, which explains why it is terribly wrinkled. My stitching started to improve with each new project. This one too, was completely hand done. I still hadn't learned machine-piecing!

Soon, I moved on to machine piecing, and bigger projects squeezed between more practical projects such as sewing clothes. One difficult thing with quilting was that all of the women in our family who did it are no longer here. The younger generation did not pick it up, and the ones who don't quilt are skilled and interested in other needle arts. This makes it tricky if I need fast advice, but I'm encouraged by all of the other women I've met who have either retained their quilting heritage or made it a new-found tradition. One thing that makes quilting exciting is that there is always some new technique to learn or something new to try. I love things that make me learn, and isn't that what a journey is all about?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Easy Cupcakes

We are enjoying the abundant harvest of mud and static cling this week. Well, okay, not enjoying it. More like tolerating it. I often mention how much laundry there is to do in the summer months, with filthy construction clothing and dirty gardening garb, but this winter has been no different. Saw dust-encrusted shirts and muddy paw printed skirts are still filling multiple loads, daily. The purchase of construction materials for spring (Vinyl siding! So our house will look like a house!) has put a crunch on our finances for the month, and I remain thankful for every money-saving-penny-pinching opportunity that can be had.

These days it feels as if we are short for entertainment around here. Of course, just as I say that, a car will break down or a roof will spring a leak, and things will get exciting in all the wrong ways. So let's focus on quick comfort instead: cupcakes.

I have nothing against boxed cake mixes. If I can get one on sale plus a coupon, then it's cheaper than dipping into my own stash of goods and I'm all for it. But this is a nice quick cake recipe that you can throw together in the time it takes to rip open a package. And it does have that homemade taste. The great thing about a cupcake is that everyone can make it however they like best. I love coconut, but the Mister does not, so this is one way of getting my coconut fix.

Easy Cupcakes (makes one dozen)

1/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 1/4 cup sifted flour
2 eggs
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar in mixer. Add and stir remaining ingredients. Fill cupcake foils or papered pans 2/3 of way full. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Ice and enjoy!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Visits from Strangers: Part 2 of 2

Long before the Tool man came to town, there was an even more hair raising episode involving a night time intruder. This one happened one winter when my Uncle was still alive. It was my cousin Ruth who went downstairs during the night and saw a stranger lying on the couch. I awoke to find her paralyzed with fear, standing in my room, her hands clasped over her own mouth as if to stop herself from screaming. Even in the dark, you could see her eyes were big with fear. When I asked what was wrong, she shook her head and clasped her mouth harder. Finally, she told me there was a strange man asleep on the couch downstairs. There we were, young women in our night shirts with our hair hanging down, too terrified for a minute to do anything or even leave the dark room.

We need to tell Uncle Eli.

We knew there was a .22 under our aunt and uncle's bed, though that is not to insinuate that a shoot-out was going to take place. When we woke our Uncle, he got dressed with the speed and earnestness of someone with an important matter to attend to at once, but did not show an ounce of fear. It was almost as if an unexpected visitor had simply arrived early and he was concerned for them. Aunt Dorcas stayed in the bedroom while Eli walked downstairs with a flashlight, two scared young women in tow, a few steps behind. When my uncle got to the bottom of the stairs, he stopped and yelled out a greeting to the sleeping man. We were still behind on the steps and couldn't see anything beyond the beam from the flashlight. We found out later that the man stirred, looked at Eli, and rolled over to face the back of the couch, and continued to sleep. How brazen! Was this man in his right mind? Anyway, my cousin and I were told to go back to bed and not worry, that it would be okay and that my uncle would take care of the sleepy vagrant in the living room. That was a hard one to stomach, and we both went into my room and closed the door. I don't think either of us fell asleep readily. What I didn't know that night was that when my uncle was a boy in the great depression, many "hobos" or "tramps" found their way to family farms offering to work in exchange for a meal, or even just asking for a spot in the barn to sleep in before they set out again at day light to continue looking for work. So while this hadn't happened in may years, it still looked somewhat familiar to him, and was not such a big deal. Not the big deal it would be to you or I if we found a stranger asleep in our house in the middle of the night!

In the morning, we went down to find my aunt making breakfast, but no sign of the guest. It turned out that the man had woken up around four and told Eli that his car had crashed into a utility pole up the road. The man had walked here looking for help. Finding the door unlocked, he came in, took off his boots, and fell asleep. He didn't want to wake anyone or call the police because the police didn't like him, and also he had a friend who could tow the car for a lot less than the county would charge. Eli showed him the phone in the barn, and while the man was calling his friend, our neighbor Roy stopped by to ask us if we heard any noise last night because there was a car wrapped around a pole just up the road? Roy also informed us that there was a police car there. When the man came in from the barn and heard about the police car, he thanked us for a cup of coffee and beat a hasty retreat out the door to go meet his friend. His hair sticking up in all directions, and his boots back on, the disheveled stranger disappeared fast, but left behind something important. It seems his boots weren't the only thing to come off during the night, as we found a prosthetic arm laying outside the front door which must have come off as he stumbled into the house during the night. The arm, with a hook at the end, hung around my uncle's house until after his death. We had thought its owner might come back and claim it, but he never did. It was sold in a family sale.

Many people asked us about the "unarmed intruder" for a long time.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Visits from Strangers: Part 1 of 2

The Tale of the Tool Man was a popular family anecdote that came up recently in conversation. I wanted to post it as a remembrance, as maybe some of you will get some entertainment out of it, too.

It happened about thirteen years ago when I was helping out at my Aunt Dorcas' in what would be her final years. She was well taken care of in a Dawdy house in the "Amish suburbia" of long numbered streets in NE Indiana. It was attached to a house owned by my Uncle's son-in-law. One spring afternoon, while I was hanging wash outside, a stranger approached me. He pulled up in a large truck and informed me that my husband had just sold him all the tools in his workshop and he had a check to give me. Many red flags went up. I had no husband and all of my Uncle's tools had been sold at the sale after his death, so this man either had the wrong lady or something fishy was going on.

"Are you sure you have the right house?"

He stated the house number and then said that "my husband" gave him a description what I looked like and that I would be outside. No, this wasn't right at all. The man opened up the rolling door on the back of the truck ready to load his wares. I nervously glanced around looking for someone who could back me up and scare this man off. Would he be angry when he discovered that there were no tools here? Would he try to take something else? It was the middle of the day and most of the men were away at work at the construction sites and RV factories that employ most Amish men in that community. The man tried to hand me a check made out to "cash" but I wouldn't take it.

"There are no tools here, so you must be mistaken. Why don't I get someone who can come over and help you find who you are looking for? Because it's not me."

I could see this caught him off guard. He hadn't thought that some lady would question him. He tried to be persistent that he had the right house and there was no mistake. Then he asked me to just show him where things were so he could help himself. I kept telling him that we should ask around to see who his deal was with, because it was impossible for it to be with "my husband"! This turned out to be the right thing to say, because the man did not want to "bother" the neighbors or more likely, involve any witnesses.

"How about I just come back later?" he said. I told him that would be fine and then quickly memorized the license plate number on the truck. The man closed the door on the back of the truck and drove away. I continued working until the truck was out of sight, and then spread the news as fast as I could through the community. It turned out that the "tool man" had successfully tricked some wives in another community by exchanging his bad check for shops full of tools, usually during the day when the husbands weren't home. His scam had worked so well, of course he did not expect it to go wrong. The police were looking for him in three counties.

They say that the strongest sense that recalls memories is the sense of smell, but in this rare case it is always sound that does it for me. Even today when I am working at home alone and a car door closes outside or a large delivery truck opens its door, I inwardly roll my eyes and wonder if the "tool man" has returned!

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Time to Snow

We awoke to another sprinkling of snow this morning. Not enough to be a nuisance, just the right amount if you have to have snow. I think snow is either a love or hate thing. You love it if you are really into the scenery, and hate it if you have to do anything practical, such as clean off your car and drive out of your sloping gravel driveway on it.

I am making the best of the season by putting in some quilt stitches on quiet nights and keeping the fire going, in between all of my other chores. Honestly, I'm just as busy in the winter as in the summer and it makes me wonder how in the world I ever manage to get things done the rest of the year? Someone once said to me (in reference to getting things done) that you do what you can, and then leave the rest and don't feel guilty about it. That would never work for me. Why bother to do it at all if you can't do it right? Perhaps I did inherit some of my own mother's perfectionist traits, after all.

herb pot on the front step- winter thyme!

The Mister is earning some extra by helping out on a roofing job this weekend, leaving me to accomplish the usual household tasks and start my seed germination trials. This is where I go through my seed stock, throw out the ones that I know are bad, and try to germinate a few seeds from the rest to see if they are in good shape. Then, I order only what we need. Last year, I skipped that step and didn't know that my pepper seeds were no good. When it was April and there was no sign of life, I had to buy starters for a variety of pepper that were a high-yield handful. By August I was looking for the switch to turn them off.

In the Kitchen: This weekend I'll make a pot of corn and crab chowder (a cool weather favorite) which we'll eat with some bread topped with roasted red peppers from last year's harvest. I have so many new baking recipes to try, but my in-laws keep giving us Christmas cookies, so I can't justify baking anything new before finishing those. Another seasonal delight has been boxes of clementines, those delicious little orangey fruits from warmer places. I must eat two a day, on average.Well worth the price.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On the New Year

"Marilla, isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?"
- Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

This is a post that I wrote back in December of 2007 from my old blog. It stands the test of time and is worthy of a republish:

Many "bloggers" seem to be posting wish lists of things they hope to accomplish in 2008. It's admirable to have the confidence to publicly announce your goals, but you won't see any of that here. My goals and wish lists are perpetual and on-going from week to week and month to month. You could say I decided on my "resolutions" sometime back in the 1980's and those same goals have either been evolving, achieved, dismissed, or replaced ever since, in one continuous marathon of moving forward. One could figure that the middle of March is about a good a time as any to start something new, so why limit yourself to the first day of January?

What I do enjoy this time of year is the post-Christmas return to the "quiet rhythms of daily life", which I think is a phrase I read somewhere, but can't recall what book it came from. But I like routine, I like schedule, I value the monotony of day to day life. Yet, in our home, there is also a constant feeling of renewal and a feeling of new goals being set that replace completed projects. And that too, takes the form of ongoing resolutions.

We lived for nearly six months this past year without a stove, as my husband had to install gas service before we could use the one we purchased. When he finally hooked up that stove and I could cook, well, now that was a "new year"! More fulfilling than a thousand new year's resolutions brought to successful completion, my kitchen (still very much a construction zone) was full of the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of pies I hadn't baked in ages, meals I always wanted to try, and culinary skills rediscovered.

Each time new windows were installed, a bulb was planted in barren soil, a new pet was taken in, each time a new unforeseen blessing unfolded it was as if we were experiencing the completion of a resolution we never even knew we had made. We set some goals and made some plans along the way, but so much of it was in God's hands that we could hardly take credit for all of the tasks we managed to successfully complete in 2007. Chances are, you can look back on your life this past year and come up with a list of wonderful things that came to fruition, also.

New post soon.


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