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August 2008

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When I Was a Girl

When I was a child, I use to love hearing my grandparents talk about “when we were young”. It amazed me how different their lives had been from mine. My maternal grandparents began their lives in a small farming community in the middle of Texas. Their main form of transportation was a horse and buggy and outhouses were a way of life. My fraternal grandparents lived in the city and bought produce from street vendors that peddled their wares off horse drawn wagons. They placed a notice in their window for the “Ice Man” if they needed a block of ice to keep their non electric iceboxes cold, and their heat was provided by burning coal, which was delivered via a coal chute in the back of their house. How cool was that?!

Children’s fascination with the lives of their grandparents probably began with the dawn of man. I can just see Eve sitting around knitting with her grandbabies at her feet. “You see, children, when I was young, people didn’t wear clothes. And snakes could talk. True story!” And happily, generation after generation, century after century, grandparents have shared their beginnings with their grandchildren. In what has become a famous and enduring grandparent story, Laura Ingalls Wilder shared her story of growing up during the westward expansion in her Little House series. City children were fascinated with tales of critters and covered wagons, one room school houses and log cabins, as Laura and her family sought to find the perfect place to settle. Children love the romance and idealism of different times and different places. And it is the responsibility, nay, the obligation, of grandparents to impart this knowledge to their own grandchildren.

Recently, I was thinking about this. I think the coming of fall and the start of another school year has made me feel nostalgic. I realized that, yes, many things have changed since I was child, but it doesn’t seem nearly as dramatic as the comparison of my grandparents to me.

Let’s see…when I was a kid we had to break in a new pair of shoes…they didn’t come ergonomically designed for our comfort. You were guaranteed a mongo blister on the back of your heel, and everyone, the first few days of school, hobbled around, waiting for the leather at the back of their shoes to soften up. Moms permed their daughter’s hair, vainly trying to create little clones. Girls could not wear pants to school. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that we were allowed to wear pants. Trust me, during unmerciful Chicago blizzards, standing at the bus stop in miniskirts was no picnic! And there was no such thing as backpacks. We precariously carried our stacks without assistance from North Face or JanSport. Until I was in fifth grade our television was black and white. Plus, our televisions had rabbit ear antennas, and we only got 4 channels. I didn’t know anyone who was L.D. or A.D.H.D. but polio was still a parent’s concern. There were tons of drive-in restaurants and drive-in movies, but there was no McDonalds, Burger King or Wendy’s. Most households had telephones, but many houses still had party lines, meaning 1 or 2 other families had the same phone line you had and you could not use your phone if another family was already on. Very trying, indeed!

See what I mean? Someday, when my grandchildren are a little older, and I start sharing stories, it really won’t seem that impressive. There were no radical changes, just subtle nuances that define a two generation rift. Heck, with the retro trend in clothing, they’re even wearing the same things I wore! Frankly, I think the most impressive changes have occurred in the past decade with personal computers, cell phones, the internet and cable. These were things that their own parents didn’t have when they were very young. So, I suppose I need to think of ways of glamorizing my youth. When my grandchildren get around to asking me, “What was it like when you were a little girl, Gammy?” I’m going to have to think of something that will knock their socks off. Hmmm…I know…when I was a little girl there were no seatbelts or carseats. Now that is something they won’t believe!

Grandparents are our personal historians. What is something that your grandparents shared with you that you found unbelievable or totally awesome?       


There's a Hair In My Sweater!

I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t crafting and creating. I knitted my first sweater in elementary school which was a complex Aran design, including buttonholes! These talents and lessons came from my paternal grandmother who believed the best way to learn something was to fearlessly jump in! (My own mother was talented but often lacked the patience! One day I’ll have a blog dedicated solely to the trajectories and aviation qualities of many of her craft attempts!) From the time I was young, I always had at least one project going. (Today, I probably have 30 unfinished projects in the house, but I stand a good chance of finishing at least half of them!) Over the years I’ve knitted, crocheted, sewed, made candles, wove baskets, stenciled, macraméd, and made corn husk dolls. I would also call specialty baking and cooking crafting! Today, I’m playing with felting and wood carving. Always something new to learn! Being A Tad Bit Obsessive, I have a tendency to go overboard with crafts. When I get interested in something, I acquire books and supplies, and need to redesignate areas of my house!

The following are some basic reasons why I craft and why I encourage others to do so.

Pride of creating: If you lack a true artistic gift, like Leonardo da Vinci or Auguste Rodin, through a little effort and perseverance, even the “ungifted” can learn a skill allowing you to create not only functional, but beautiful items. There is something very satisfying in looking at something you created that you feel proud of…besides your children!

Artistic outlet: I would argue that creative expression is one of our basic needs. True, not at the same level as food and air, but according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a truly self actualized individual will artistically create. Let’s face it, as soon as the most basic of needs were met, Neanderthals were defacing cave walls with graffiti. I’d say the desire to create has been with us seen the dawn of man!

Giving of yourself: In an era when time is money and people never seem to have enough of either, homemade gifts let others know “you are ever so important to me”. Short of giving a kidney, bestowing homemade gifts is a way of sharing yourself with others. It’s kinda a joke in our family that when I make something, I always literally incorporate some part of myself into everything I make. If I’m knitting, I almost guarantee you that some of my long hair will be knitted into the sweater or mittens. If I sew, SOMEWHERE you will find a minute bloodstain from the inevitable finger prick! You just can’t buy this level of personalization!

Quality control: When you craft, you control the quality of materials or ingredients. When making toys and clothing for children, you can make sure all items are safe. Today, you can hardly assume that the label “safe for children under three” is, in fact, true! Baking for your family means you can forego all the additives and questionable ingredients. You know what you’re children are eating!

Thrifty: If you’re watching pennies, and who isn’t today, homemade gifts are cheaper. There were many times I was able to make something that I couldn’t afford to buy. Sometimes, after adding the cost of all the materials used in a project, a homemade item may not seem cost effective, but I would argue, for the quality, it’s a steal!

National pride: Need I say it…home crafted items are MADE IN AMERICA!

Educational: It helps children understand that things are made, not materialized, from the internet, catalogues, or stores. It helps to teach children respect for their belongings, when they know that time and energy went into its creation.

Encouraging: You teach your children to appreciate homemade items and give them confidence to become creative individuals themselves!

Soothing: Crafting has the ability to calm. Repetitive actions can produce near trances like states. If you crafts with friends, it gives you a very therapeutic outlet. There was a reason women have historically crafted together, whether it was making tapestries in the Middle Ages or quilting bees in colonial times. Crafting and chatter seem to go hand-in-hand.

I know that there are many people who don’t craft and have a list of reasons why they don’t. But I would encourage everyone to find some artistic outlet. The reasons are many and the results are rewarding!

If you craft, what crafts are you really “into” right now. If you don’t, is there something you’ve always wanted to do?


          Because I'm not convinced that there are only 24 hours in a day, Michelle and I have started a craft blog! We both do a lot of crafting...knitting, sewing, felting, etc. and decided to go public with our efforts. Besides blogging, there will be free craft patterns, kits, and a few hand-made things, as time permits, in our shop. There will also be a monthly drawing for free craft kits. If you enjoy crafting, and are interested in becoming involved in an on-line craft community, stop by! I will still be doing my weekly blog right here, but Michelle and I will also be doing daily blogs at Wee Folk Art. Come see us! 

Basic Yellow

I got my first degree in Human Ecology…the progressive evolution of Home Economics. It was a rather Zen approach to homemaking skills whose stated purpose was not to teach you how to make a loaf of bread, but to question whether you should bake bread over buying a loaf. The program was not supposed to be a simple indoctrination into “stichin’ and stirrin’” but about enlightened choices! Truth of matter is they still taught us how bake bread, make a white sauce, cut up a chicken and sauté, braise, boil, broil, bake, roast and many other useful techniques. When it came to preparing meals, my weakest skill was presentation. In class, how food looked was rated almost equally to how it tasted. To that I said, “Phooey!” No matter how attractive you make something look, if it isn’t flavorful, it isn’t going to be eaten. But in general, people are willing to try something that you tell them, “tastes better than it looks” and won’t let it’s homely appearance stop them from devouring the food if it’s delicious.

Having said all that, I must admit I do try to make my dishes visually appealing. I just don’t see presentation as a substitute for flavor. One of the basic things we were taught was to provide an array of color. Idea being, not only will the dish appear interesting, but chances are you’ll hit on different nutritional contributions. Red meat, green veggie, white starch, you get the picture. However, through trial and error, my family created their favorite meal. Over time it simply came to be known as “basic yellow”. “Basic yellow” is a gastronomic hug. No matter how trite or demanding your day was, if you came home to “basic yellow” you knew there was hope!

And, what comprised this mystical meal? Usually, it was a braised pork chop, chicken flavored Rica-A-Roni, corn and applesauce. Add a hunk of cornbread and wah-lah, “basic yellow”. We are talking about a major monochromatic presentation. This most certainly would have earned me a grade of D-! The only saving grace would have been a variety of textures. But however bland it may appear, and although it was geared to plebeian tastes, it was certainly satisfying. Early on, I was compelled to try to “brighten up” the meal, but any variation, like adding cranberry sauce or green beans, was met with near revolutionary complaints. So, basic yellow evolved into our family’s favorite. Oh, we all have other “foods” that we enjoy more, but as a group, we can all agree on "basic yellow"!



6-8 pork chops, medium cut with bone

1 cup flour

Seasoned salt (Lowry's) or salt free (Mrs. Dash)

1/4 cup Olive oil


  1. Heat oil in electric fry pan set at 350 degrees.
  2. Coat both side of pork chops with flour.
  3. Place pork chops in heated oil. While one side is browning, sprinkle seasoned salt on the tops.
  4. When bottoms are golden brown, flip. Sprinkle the other side with seasoned salt.
  5. When the bottoms are browned, add enough water to nearly cover the pork chops.
  6. Cover.
  7. Allow to cook until all the water has cooked off. With the temperature left at 350, it should take between 20 – 30 minutes. Before the last of the water boils off, scrap the bottom of the pan under the pork chops. Serve with plenty of yellow food!

What is your family’s basic meal? Remember, it needn’t be pretty! If you have a favorite recipe from it, please share!


            It is hard to believe it is already August, and I must admit it's my least favorite month of the year. Two of my children have birthdays in August, so the month’s not a total bust, but generally speaking, I spend August waiting for September.


            There are several things about August that always get me down. First, everything looks so tired. The dog days of summer have browned the grass, limped the leaves, spent the flowers, and, in general, August looks like a mother of 3 at 7:00 p.m. You know the look I’m talking about…wilted bangs, food stained t-shirt, slightly craved look around the eyes as she contemplates another energy sapping bedtime. All she really yearns for is a bit of relaxation, but she still needs to get through the rest of the evening. August needs a good night’s sleep!


            Next, August has the feel of a late Sunday afternoon. No matter how good your Sunday is going, you know the weekend is almost over, and Monday morning, with all its responsibilities, looms just around the corner. Not sure how anyone can truly enjoy the rest of the day armed with that knowledge.


            Finally, no matter how independent your children are, no matter how many cool things you’ve done over the summer, August is fraught with “There’s nothing to do.” August is like the third hour into an all-you-can-eat junk food fest. Too much of a good thing is never good.


Fortunately, when my children were young I happened upon a sure fire way to survive August…ROAD TRIPS!!!


            I stumbled upon road trips, or GETTING MISPLACED as we so fondly came to call them, as an act of desperation. One too many, “What should we do now?” compelled me to shout, “Get in the car!” When asked, “Where are we going?” I honestly answered, “I haven’t a clue.” Armed only with a full tank of gas, a state map and the unmanly ability to ask a gas station attendant, “Where are we?” we headed out to destinations unknown.


            I can’t specifically remember where we went that first trip, but I know as we became frequent day trippers we all felt like our mission was to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before. (What, you’ve never heard of hyperbole?) Okay, so we fell short of discovering new civilizations, but we did discover out-of-the way gems that purposeful driving would never have uncovered. As a rule we drove towards the country. Pastoral lanes lead to little towns that we had never heard of. Roadside vegetable stands, dilapidated antique stores, and hand painted signs advertising Aunt Sally’s homemade ice cream beckoned us. The kids helped decide which way to turn, and we were never in too big a hurry to check out some shop or attraction someone found intriguing. Although we often proposed returning to an interesting place, we seldom did. The world is a big place, and there was always the lure of the great unknown that drove us on our next trip.


            Rivaling the thrill of discovering new places was the adventure of finding our way home. Sometimes we employed the “backtracking” method, trying to retrace our steps, or more accurately, tire rotations, exactly. Comments like, “We turned at that tree with the tire swing,” or “Look for that little store that had “Night Crawlers” painted on the side.” At other times we used the Force of the Jedi to guide us back. “It feels like we should be going that way.” Surprisingly, we seldom needed to consult the map, and who am I kidding, I’ve never consulted the map. To me all maps are written in Latin, which would be fine if I was an ancient Roman, but seeing as I’m not, I carry maps more as a security blanket, and because it seems like the kind of thing a grown-up would do. Besides, the thought of refolding a map seems more daunting than being misplaced for several hours! When necessary, a quick pop into a little store or gas station got us headed in the right direction.


            Needless to say, we always returned home, unscathed, and a little worldly wiser. My children developed not only a sense of adventure, but also a sense of direction. Our trips were never planned in advanced and our destinations were always unknown. These were truly lofty experiences focused on “the journey, not the destination”. Getting misplaced not only provided entertainment on those long August days, they also created one of our family’s fondest memories.


Just a little aside here…when my daughter read this, she smiled, and said, “It’s good, a little idyllic, but certainly brings back memories of getting misplaced”. I smiled, too, and said, “Its poetic license to embellish a bit”. She agreed. Then, I began to think about it…I really hadn’t exaggerated. This WAS how I remembered our road trips. When I asked her to explain she said, “Oh, I loved the trips. But we didn’t go to antique stores or get homemade ice cream. What I remember was how much fun it was to try and stay on dirt roads and then find our way back home.” I did remind her about the shops, and yes, the homemade ice cream, she remembered, “sorta”. Point to note…not everyone will remember the same things. When looking back at things we did with our children, everyone will have their own take. The most important thing to remember is that we all had a great time and came away with memories to cherish!


What secrets do you have for surviving the dog days of summer?