Saturday, April 30, 2011

How Our Momma Taught Us To Do Chores

This picture of Mom and Les was taken in 1954 about the time Betty and I were becoming more useful when it came to doing chores. (Aged 8 and 10. Mom was 35 1/2 in this pic.)
The one chore we got more than our share of was doing the dishes! At first we took turns washing and drying. But we both preferred drying. Eventually it evolved into me almost always doing the washing and Betty the drying.
One rule was that if the plate/glass/utensil had the tiniest bit of anything left on it, we could put it back in the dishpan to be re-washed. That led to some fights once in awhile - "That was clean!" "No it wasn't!" - etc.
I remember Mom telling me years later that whenever Dad would have an upset stomach he would say "The girls haven't been washing the dishes well enough!" Like he had what? Salmonella?

By this time, I was very proud of the fact that I could cut up a chicken by myself. The knives we used were similar in size to the one on the left, though they had black handles. Mom always kept them sharp. By the time she died, the blade of the one she always used was worn down.
Peeling potatoes and carrots was an early chore she gave us. We always used a vegetable peeler much like the one second from the right. This is known as a swivel peeler. It is still my 'go to' choice even though the black handled one is supposed to be more comfortable to hold and use. Its blade is fixed. I know we were taught to peel away from the body which I still do for carrots, but when peeling potatoes, I pull the peeler toward me.
I remember the time our teacher took us home with her because we were catching the train to Chicago later in the evening. She told us we could help by peeling the potatoes for supper. We were given paring knives like the one here in the middle. I embarrassingly asked, "Don't you have a potato peeler? I can't peel potatoes with a knife."
The one task we almost fought to do was frosting a cake. That's Mom's well-worn spatula on the right. I wonder how many cakes were frosted with it over the years.

Our earliest outdoor chores centered around the chickens. In the foreground is our chicken house. It was divided into two sections. If you went in the left door, you were in the 'nest' section. It was a much smaller area. There was one long row of wooden nests along the west wall and a double section of metal nests opposite. I hated gathering eggs because there was always at least one old biddy setting on the nest. And she always pecked me when I tried reaching for the eggs under her. I don't know how Mom knew if I skipped that nest. She always sent me back to get those eggs. I didn't appreciate the lesson she was teaching me at the time.
The right hand door of the chicken house led to the larger roosting and feeding side. There was also an interior slat-like door between the two sections.
Way in the background on the left side of the picture is the brooder house where the baby chicks lived from spring until fall. If we were careful not to step on them, we were allowed to help fill the feeders using a small scoop. As we grew older (and more careful?) feeding and watering the chicks became one of our every day chores.

We were way too little to carry much when we were first introduced to the chicken chores. Mom gave us our own 'buckets' - empty one gallon paint cans. At first we were able to carry only one at a time. It was a big deal to be able to carry one in each hand! The corn crib wasn't far from the chicken house. Inside on the left were three bins for small grains. Two were for oats, one for shelled corn. (The other side of the crib held ear corn. Depending upon our size and carrying abilities, Mom put oats in our little buckets while she carried five-gallon buckets to fill the chicken feeders. Different buckets were used to carry the water pumped from the well at the house. We also had separate buckets with some straw in the bottom for gathering eggs. Imagine how proud a two-year-old child was to have one or two eggs in the bottom of their very own bucket!

Learning to do chores while little was an accomplishment. It was fun. It gave us a feeling of importance and self-worth. Having to do chores when we were older was just that - a chore (not fun).
I'm sure there were times it would have been much easier for Mom to just do it herself rather than yell, nag, cajole, entreat or threaten us to get our chores done (especially when I had "my nose in a book"), but she knew teaching us to do chores was part of her job as a parent.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Sight For Sore Eyes

"You are a sight for sore eyes" was an expression I remember Mom and Grandma using. It meant they were glad to see you.
Ruth Rendell used the phrase for the title of a book. A Sight For Sore Eyes tells the story of three divergent characters and what happens when their lives converge. Francine has been scolded and sent to her room. When she peeks downstairs she glimpses a visitor as he brutally murders her mother.
Teddy was born to barely socialized parents. He was never played with, cuddled or even talked to. He becomes a very handsome man who never questions that killing is an easy way to get what he wants.
Harriet is an aging, fading beauty bored with her marriage to an older, wealthy man. She scans the local classified ads for handymen to perform odd jobs and alleviate her boredom.
There are several murders, but the only real mystery is who killed Francine's mother. Rendell's characterizations and descriptions are once again, masterful. Her books are thrillers not of the horror genre, but of the psychological. They make me grateful I live in a 'normal' world.

I've been reading my way through Anne Perry's series featuring William Monk and Hester Latterly. With the reading of Slaves of Obsession I only have six more to read which is why I started reading her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series with the first book The Cater Street Hangman. (There are twenty-six books in this series.) I think I will enjoy the Pitt books as much as I have the Monk ones. Perry's Victorian era details captivate me. They are intelligently written and historically fascinating.

Anne McCaffrey is an author I have been acquainted with for many years. She is most likely best known for her Dragonriders of Pern series. It was either some of those books or some from her Crystal Singers series that I remember reading probably in the 1970's. She also has a handful of romances written in the '70's and '80's which I've enjoyed. (The Lady was probably my favourite.) I hadn't read Stitch In Snow (1985) before. It is a story about two travelers who share a magical snow-bound weekend in Denver. Dana is an American writer, living in Ireland who comes to the USA on a book tour. (As McCaffrey is an American writer living in Ireland, I wondered if this story had some reality in it - even if it was only being stuck in the Denver Airport during a blizzard.) Dan is in Denver on business - but what business? When his ex-wife is found murdered, he is the prime suspect. Dana can save him by testifying he was with her at the time of the murder, but she has already moved on with her book tour. Can she be located in time? Will the authorities believe her? Will the feelings she has for Dan amount to anything?
This quick-read little romance was a light escape after the psychological thriller. It was a reminder of what times were like thirty years ago.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Think I Could Be A Digitabulist*

One of the things my kids will find among my keepsakes when I'm gone will be this thimble. I have it because it belonged to one of my grandmothers - though now I'm not sure which one.
It is a Simons Brothers Company (marked inside: "USA - SBC" with their keystone emblem) size 9 silver industrial thimble. It is a silver nickle mix made between 1919 and 1952. I don't know the name of the pattern around the bottom.
It fits the middle finger of my right hand, which, because I am right-handed, is where it should be worn. Both my grandmothers used thimbles when they did hand sewing. Both insisted I should, too. But I could never get used to wearing one. One of the grandmas wore hers on her ring finger. I tried that finger, too. It just seemed like the thimble was in the way.
Thimbles have been used since the first century AD - a Roman one, made of bronze, was found at Pompeii. Other materials used are silver, gold, leather, pewter, glass, china and even ivory. The first thimble made in England in 1695 by a Dutch metal worker named Lofting was called a "thumb bell" because it was worn on the thumb and resembled a bell. The term eventually became "thimble". The dictionary suggests 'thimble' is from the Old English 'thymel' - a covering for the thumb.

Sometimes I wish I had inherited my grandmothers' love for needlework. There was a time when I enjoyed embroidering. Grandma Lynam was the one who encouraged me learning the different stitches (and tried to get me to use a thimble). I would start a project and then quickly tire of it. I think the only things I ever finished were a pot holder and a baby bib. Perhaps if I had been born a century earlier when young ladies had to complete a sampler to demonstrate their skill with needlework, I might have learned to enjoy it more. As it is, I'm happy to have keepsakes of my grandmothers' and mother's handwork.

*A digitabulist is a collector of thimbles. That is what I think I could really enjoy. There are so many thousands of collecting possibilities. I would most likely limit my collecting to thimbles made of silver since it is my favourite metal, then limit it to ones I could afford and those which "spoke" to me. My collection might look something like this picture of thimbles once offered for sale at 'Antique Helper'. The next time I am in an antique store.............

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"I've Been Through The Desert On A Horse....

with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain..."* (Dewey Bunnell) America
A couple weeks ago when I was between library runs, I pulled Desert Wife off my own bookshelf. When or where I got the book is forgotten - but the images evoked by Hilda Faunce's narrative will stay with me for awhile.
The copy I have was printed in 1981 by the University of Nebraska Press. The book was first published in 1934. It was based on the letters the author wrote to her cousin, recounting her journey to and life on the Navajo Reservation before World War I.
As any good wife did in that time, she followed her husband from the fogs and rains of the Oregon coast back to his old desert stamping ground. (We always said stomping grounds.) He buys an abandoned trading post, "Covered Water", twenty miles from the nearest post at Chinle, AZ and one hundred twenty miles from the nearest town of Gallup, NM.
I found the book a fascinating recounting of what it was like to travel across the west by horse and wagon at a time when roads were mere suggestions and towns were few and far between. Bed was a blanket beneath the stars, or beneath the wagon.
Recounts of their journey would have been enough, but the stories about the Navajos and their ways once the trading post was up and running were even more interesting. I have visited some of the historical trading posts in the Four Corners region. And while they are nothing like what they once were, it doesn't take much for me to imagine that era. If you like history, you will like this book.

The song which came to mind as I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen was Magic by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne: "You have to believe we are magic, nothin' can stand in our way..."
Garden Spells
was Ms. Allen's first novel and it is magic - all of her books are. Claire Waverley comes from a line of women endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown. Claire embraces her oddity by becoming a successful caterer. She uses the herbs and flowers from the mystical plants which grow in the walled garden behind the house she inherited from her grandmother to make recipes which can affect the eater's mood. ("Salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen...")
Cousin Evanelle distributes unexpected presents whose uses eventually become clear even though she does not understand why she is compelled to give them at the time.
Clair's sister, Sydney, tried running away from her family legacy, but after ten years, she returns with her six year old daughter, Bay, seeking a refuge for them from Bay's abusive father.
Perhaps it is because some of the first books I learned to read were fairy tales, but I adore Allen's writing. She infuses magic I can't resist. (This is the book I waited for ages to get from the library. It was always OUT. Finally I asked how long the wait list was and the librarian explained that the book had disappeared from their shelves right after they got it. I was lucky to find it at the Half Price Book Store on a recent visit. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to donate this copy of mine to the library.)

Two other recent reads were another Kate Morton book, The Distant Hours, about a letter posted in 1941 which did not reach its destination until 1992, and Wild Rose, a biography about Civil War Spy, Rose O'Neale Greenhow, by Ann Blackman. This book has me wondering why I don't read more biographies - I learn so much from them. And I've read the only two Kate Morton books our library has, but I would certainly read more by her.

(* It does feel good to be out of the cold rain today.....excellent reading and hot tea drinking weather.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Teach Children To Save Day"

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of Teach Children To Save Day. I admit it isn't a 'day' I was aware of until I saw it on my calendar. But then there are many special days now. (Yesterday was National Siblings Day.) This day was begun in 1997 by the American Bankers Association Education Foundation to provide programs which lead to financial literacy. Banks across the country are encouraged to participate locally. The goal is to reach five million students by the end of 2011. (The First National Bank in Creston and Iowa State Savings Bank [where I bank and my niece, Kristi, works,] are both participating.) While I believe it does help to have the resources of a national foundation and local banks involved in educating young people about the importance of saving, the number one source of importance is parents. Which prompts me to ask: "Did I do a good job of teaching my children about money?" What is that old saying about good intentions...? I tried. I tried to give my little ones an allowance which they would learn to work for. Then, I could encourage them to save at least part of it toward buying a bigger ticket item they really wanted instead of spending it all at once. There was a time or two I actually started savings accounts at a bank for them. But some emergency always came along and I would have to raid their accounts. (Being a single parent had its challenges.) Perhaps not having money to hand them was a good thing - by the time they were teenagers, they were working and earning their own. This picture of us was taken when Doug was eleven, Kari, four and Preston, two. With his permission, I'm using a poem Doug wrote a few days ago. It speaks to that time in our lives and what money meant to him. The Soda Bottle Kid

Coaster brake on his blue bike wheel,

Dust rose, dirt road, skid to a stop.

The sunlight's dew gleaming at his heel,

The prize, the green glass, empty bottle of pop.

No money in pocket, no copper, nor tin.

A journey for bottles to earn a nickel or a dime.

Worn shirt, too large jeans, held fast with a pin,

A playing card on his spokes, keeping the time.

One then, two, three more by the tracks,

Two more at the pool, down in the park.

Looking in trash cans, Stuffing bottles in his pack,

Sunshine, a breeze, a chasing dog's bark.

To the store with his load, down the road it's not far.

He grins at the grocer, stacks them up for his pay.

Heads home to his mom, puts his money in the family jar.

Poor again, but happy, for tomorrows another day.


I have to admit that when I read his poem, I teared up. I may not have excelled at teaching my kids about money, but I must have done something right.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Benefits of Sauerkraut

My dear Grandma Delphia Ridnour used to say that if you drank sauerkraut juice every day, you would always be healthy. (Picture of us taken December 1984 just before I took her home after our Christmas dinner at Mom's. She was 88, I was 41.) Sauerkraut is German for 'sour cabbage' and while Grandma's married name, Ridnour, was German, her maiden name, Means, was not. However, her maternal grandmother's maiden name was Deardorff, which must be German, and family food traits pass through the female lineage - therefore, apparently she knew of which she spoke - sauerkraut is good for you. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage. It is easy to make requiring only chopped cabbage, salt and water. The health benefits are Vitamins C, A, K and most of the B's as well as significant minerals. The solid and juices of sauerkraut strengthen and boost the immune system. The process that makes sauerkraut is called lacto-fermentation. Cabbage contains the bacterium Lactobacilli plantarum. This bacteria helps keep the digestive tract healthy. It is also said to be helpful as a cure for a hangover. Barrels of sauerkraut were carried on early sea voyages as a preventative to scurvy. Eventually the English sailors switched to using limes while the Germans continued using sauerkraut - thus the nicknames of "Limey" and "Kraut". One of the benefits of corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day was leftover corned beef which was perfect for one of my favourite sandwiches - a Reuben - which I enjoyed last month. And that is why there is a partial jar of sauerkraut in my refrigerator. So for lunch today, I had a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut. (Kansas City style except I forgot the swiss cheese.) Yummy! Bud's surname may be German, but he doesn't like sauerkraut at all. (My theory of food traits and female lineage is in play here.) I have long been a believer that if we listen to our bodies, they will tell us what to eat. Sauerkraut is one of those foods I absolutely crave from time to time. I'm not eating it often - certainly not drinking its juice every day - but I know it is good for me. I haven't made sauerkraut for many years. And though I had one of these 'kraut kutters', it was more for 'country' decoration than actual use. The best kraut I ever made was when the kids and I lived on the acreage northwest of Urbandale. It must have been the same summer as when I planted 75 tomato plants, because I had a lot of cabbage, too. When it came time to turn it into sauerkraut, I set the jars to ferment on the shelves of an old refrigerator. The appliance was out in the garage where I put it after taking the door off for safety. I don't know why that batch of kraut was so good. Maybe it was the temperatures of the warm autumn days and cool nights or maybe the lactic acid bacteria floating in the air at the time was exceptionally good. (Like 'capturing' whatever is in the air for sourdough starter.) Or, maybe I was just hungry for sauerkraut.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hershey Chocolate and Other Delights

When I read the biography of Thomas Lipton before giving the book to my sailing son for Christmas, I knew I wanted to read more of Michael D'Antonio's work. I also knew when I started reading Hershey, the biography of Milton S. Hershey, I'd better have a supply of chocolate on hand!* One of the things I like most about reading is how much I learn about something new. Reading Hershey was not only enlightening about the Chocolate King and his Utopian world, I also learned more about capitalism in general as well as what was going on in the world a hundred years ago. Hershey was not the first to perfect the manufacture of low cost chocolate in America, he was better at mass production, keeping the cost lower, and at marketing. I found it interesting to learn that Hershey's milk chocolate has always had a distinctive flavor - due to the fermentation of milk fat, it carries a single, faintly sour note. It was something European milk chocolate devotees would notice, but not the newly addicted American chocolate lovers. It was the distinctive flavor which Americans came to prefer over other chocolates.

When I was a lunch-bucket- packing grade schooler, a Hershey's Almond Bar was a welcome treat. For some unknown reason, it became a fad in the winter months to place our candy bars on top of the oil burning stove for a few minutes to melt the chocolate. Then we would dip it up with our fingers in order to eat it. I won't say our family was poor, but instead of a 5-cent Hershey bar in our lunch, we more often found the 3-cent Klein's Lunch Bar. (I actually came to prefer the peanuts in Klein's over the almonds in Hershey's.) Klein's was another Pennsylvania chocolate maker. William Klein once worked for M.S. Hershey before starting his own company. Even though they were competitors, they "always got along well and did business as friends."

One more little tidbit, I learned was something called fletcherizing. Named for Horace Fletcher, a Victorian era health food faddist, it was the belief that chewing food thirty-two times before swallowing would make people more healthy. His claim, "Nature will castigate those who don't masticate" earned him the nickname, "The Great Masticator". See what interesting things one can learn?

Three more recent reads included two new authors - Kate Morton and Donis Casey. Casey's Crying Blood was an interesting mystery and a look at farm life a hundred years ago in Oklahoma Indian Territory. It was a quick read which gave a glimpse of the cultural changes at that time. This book was a reminder of our visit to the Five Civilized Tribes Museum in Muskogee a few years ago during a stay in that area.

Morton's The House At Riverton was a more interesting mystery set in England during the time between the two World Wars. It, too, details the cultural changes of the time through the eyes of a young girl who goes "into service" at the big house before WWI. The story is told in flashbacks when the young girl is ninety-eight years old.

Cecelia Ahern has become a favourite author of mine so I was delighted to find her most recent novel The Book of Tomorrow on the shelf at the library. "What if we knew what tomorrow would bring? Would we fix it? Could we?" Tamara Goodwin has lived a life of luxury her first sixteen years. But her materialistic world comes crashing down when her father commits suicide and her mother is forced to sell everything in order to cover their debts.

Tamara and her mother move in with their peculiar relatives in a remote countryside village. There are several entwining mysteries here - not the least of which concerns Tamara's real age and parentage. Breaking the lock of a leather-bound book to discover a diary written in her own handwriting is a shock. But when the entry is dated the following day, and then the next day unfolds just as recorded, Tamara learns it is sometimes better not to interfere with fate.

* More than chocolate, reading this book made me crave caramels. (Hershey's first business was a caramel manufacturing company.) A bag of Werther's chewy caramels and one of Riesen chocolate caramels were devoured during the reading.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On To Another Mystery

Now that I have determined the location of the spring near Afton, I'm ready to move on to the mysteries of this painting. Mystery #1: Who painted the picture and when? To me it looks 19th Century. It appears to be a woman and small boy walking on a path through the woods. It looks like she has a bundle of firewood on her back. I have googled every way I can think of to find this painting. It is not "The Wood Gatherers" by Thomas Gainsborough, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Vincent Van Gogh, Henry A. Duessel, Claude Monet, George Arnald, Louis Apol, Frederik Marinus Kruseman nor any of the other artists who have paintings entitled "The Wood Gatherers". Nor is it a painting of "The Path Through (The or A) Forest" by Pierre Auguste Renoir or Joseph Augustus Knip. It is also not "Path Through the Woods" by Paul Cezanne, Camille Jacob Pissarro, Ivan Shishkin or Barend Cornelis Koekkoek. And while I have enjoyed looking through all these possible paintings - even learning of some new-to-me painters - I am no closer to finding this painting.
Part two of the mystery - Who did this picture belong to and where did it come from? It is a print of a painting - not an oil painting - which is about 16" x 20". The first time I saw it was after Mom died and my brothers and I found it in the closet in her bedroom. Neither of them had any memory of ever seeing it before, either. I immediately fell in love with it and asked if it was okay with them if I took it. (It was.)

It is possible it was something Grandma Ridnour had which Mom ended up with after Grandma died. The frame looks like something from the 1920's-30's and is in good shape. It is also possible the picture was in some of the 'treasures' Dad used to bring home from auctions.

There are numerous "brush strokes" in the bottom corners of the picture which almost could be an artist's signature, but which are just not quite legible as such.

I'm going to keep working on this mystery - perhaps one of the cousins remembers seeing it at Grandma Ridnour's? Eventually, I will take the back off to see if there is any writing underneath - but not yet. It can remain a mystery a little longer. Meanwhile I am going to google painting of "Old Woman and Child Walking Through Woods in Springtime". I'll let you know if I get a match.