Category Archives: Stories

What do you see?

20170602_164643-001

a. weeds overtaking grass

b. a delightful opportunity to hunt for 4 leaf clover

My Dad would always choose b. … and, he would always find one! Just like he always saw the jig saw piece that I had been searching for.  He never gloated over a finding, but if you looked quickly, you would see the delight light up his eyes.

Photo_2003_11_21_2_47_33_edited-001   Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Remembering you with love.

International Tatting Day (updated)

Tatting: Lace made by hand with fine thread and a small shuttle. I believe this piece came from the hands of my Grandmother Anna. I remember as a very small child standing by the side of her rocking chair as thread became beauty. It was a magical thing and I have never forgotten her beautiful hands with their long slender fingers, her wide gold wedding band and the tatted lace.  I think this might be where my love of thread began.

Anna's things The earrings were hers, always worn. The silver, a piece of hers as well. Small tokens can bring memories to life.

Update:  link to a past post with a photo of Anna and beloved August

I found a tatting shuttle in an antique store. It has a bit of thread attached.tatting

Easter Reflection

Easter blooom

Easter came and a few members of the family were able to gather with us for dinner. We ate well and talked long. Stories were told, travel adventure photos shown and messages shared from a distance. One from a long distance in time.

Since my Mom moved house in 1998, I have housed an old comforter made by her mother, Amelia.  I really can’t say why I’ve kept the old thing; it served no purpose. I decided to salvage the cover fabric. After dinner, I shared how I started to de-construct the blanket and saw the fine stitching and workmanship that set this utilitarian bed cover apart. This was the careful work of a skilled needlewoman, truly showing the Art of Work that she employed. I needed to share this glimpse of our Grandmother.

de-construction

My sister rose from the table and returned with a tote bag. She carefully unfolded a packet of tissue paper and unrolled history. Amelia came to the table then —  young, the Amelia we could never know.

 Amelia   My sister and I talked of trousseau and my niece asked – what is that? A truly foreign word to this modern career woman. We examined the fine fabric, the tatted lace, the exquisitely hand stitched French seams and fine hem, the embroidery of this camisole… like a fragile page from a young woman’s diary… hours spent stitching in her hopes and dreams for the future. camisole

And again I felt the ache rising, the missed opportunities , the un-offered opportunities to sit, to learn from this master needlewoman,

                              hidden in plain sight,

                                                     disguised as my grumpy grandmother.

 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

These words from 1 Corinthians 13:12 do not mean window glass, but today, they seem to reflect how we move through this earth, seeing, but not knowing what we see, how none of us is really known by another. I’m changing the stories I make up about Amelia and pray that someday, I will see her face to face and know her as I never did. I’ll know what made her laugh, what touched her heart with delight, which dreams came true, her favorite music…

I know I will like her.

Memories of molasses and ginger

I come from a Christmas Cookie baking family – on my mother’s side.

I can never remember a year of Mom’s life when there were not crisp, thin, cut out sugar cookies – “plain” and with variations of flavor: coconut, black walnut or anise. It was her mother’s recipe, passed around that large family.

I do remember my Grandmother Amelia with plates of cookies. Hers were thicker and cut with very old fashioned cutters but the lovely taste was the same. One Christmas, her platter included brown cut out cookies. I expected a treat – perhaps chocolate… Oh my. So bitter. So very nasty.

oak leaves

Whenever I find the leaves of the Chestnut oak with their rounded lobes, so like that cookie cutter, I remember those brown leaf-shaped Ginger cookies! A survey of my siblings revealed we all remember them, and we all thought they were terrible!

My husband’s Aunt Dolly once returned from a visit to a cousin’s and brought this ginger cookie recipe to our home for a baking session. I’ve made this recipe for many years now; these cookies are delicious with fruit and I make them year round.

ginger cookie recipe

When I make them, I use Grandma’s® Original Molasses. Their Gingerbread is another favorite with family and guests. One Christmas, my niece made these cute little houses for dessert. Gingerbread houseWe were inspired by some at  King Arthur Flour, another pantry staple for me.

It is fun to have memories of a distant time and place triggered by something as simple as a pile of leaves from the park! I’m sure you have some small memory triggers too.IMG_7048

October Sheltering

Our bluebird friends are visiting their old nest box again. Other birds are invisible to me as they chatter and investigate trees for holes and shrubs for cozy places for winter nights.

The squirrels are frantic, running here and there with acorns and black walnuts from across the street, burying them, then futilely patting leaves on top.

The deer are dressed for hunting season in deep, drab coats. They wander the yard aimlessly having eaten all the apples and pears they could reach or their squirrel friends tossed down to them.

Overhead the geese fly and chat about moving south or staying in place.

I imagine that you, dear reader, are adding cozy touches to your home and securing it against the winter to come. I’ve dressed the beds in layers of blankets and comforters, added afghans and quilts and pillows to couches and chairs and made a number of batches of applesauce – my wintry comfort food! This week I also pulled out my old potpourri crock pot to warm up the house with cozy scent.

2015-10-22 Spices, apple peels and core, water and time = delicious scent.

A scent I didn’t know I missed came to me the other evening as I opened the door – wood smoke. Someone had a fire going in their home. Now I miss the scent of burning leaves and wood from old fashioned barrels and pits and stoves as I venture out in the cool of the day. Our long ago neighbor cooked and heated her home with wood.  I remember there was always a curl of smoke from the chimney and the scent of hearth on the air.

One of my long term projects is finally finished and adding a cozy touch in the guest room and a smile to my face whenever I look in.  yo-yos   My years long project of scrappy yo-yos is finally sewn together! It was my birthday gift to myself to complete it. I remember when I was very young that we had a yo-yo coverlet.  The fun of it and the weaving in and out of little fingers stayed hidden in memory until I saw this style had a revival of sorts. Mine is only bed warmer or foot cozy size although my sister pointed out that I can always add to it!  560 little circles gathered and stitched together. yo-yos  I rather enjoy the repetitive hand sewing as a winter activity. The nostalgia of it drew me to the book shelf and my favorite childhood story book. story book   It is certainly the worse for wear having entertained quite a few children since I received it as a gift and lived for a while in a dark attic before coming back to me. I don’t have many things from my childhood so I am delighted to have this book. The illustrations are wonderful.

Take a peek.    story book   Yes, the naughty Gingerbread Boy. There are many classic stories in it but my all time favorite is a mysterious, creative and delicious adventure which is probably totally responsible for my need to always have butter on my pancakes. I loved this little family!   IMG_6869

 

 

 

Unexpected visitors in the garden

It was oppressively hot for several days so I had good excuse for not being outside. Strolling the internet, I came to Martha’s place and found her hints on cleaning shears and knives with white vinegar. It is embarrassing to admit how grungy my tools get, but here is the sad truth IMG_6139 just a small photo; they are so badly in need. I put on an apron and gathered my supplies and the results were gratifying. A rinse, dry in the sun and lube in the old “joints” and they are ready for work again. IMG_6140

There is no photo to prove it but I would not make up this terrible news. I was sitting at the kitchen table when something caught my eye and I was so glad the door was closed as the now resident groundhog brushed up against the screen. I think he was not expecting to see me and he turned and run down the path, across the yard and back to the shed, where he perched on the wall and I was glad I could not hear him ranting his displeasure. We are sure he lives underneath the shed and while he does, I don’t go back there. Do you know that Groundhogs can climb trees? And if trees, why not to the top of sheds with trees around them? My nephew said he saw them in trees on his property a few years ago, I hoped he was just joking, but not. If you have an interest in them, here is fascinating  information – the thought of them having homes like a mine under my yard is disconcerting.

And now, IMG_6157. This may not look like much, but that is a tunnel crafted along the rock path. Now there is one down the other side and more branching off in all directions. Moles.

One of our first years here, we caught one. I thought it was cute. I was the ignorant city girl who grew up with story book animals.  I would not let my husband kill it, I thought if he just took it to the very back of our three acres, it would wander happily into the field beyond. It probably did. Where in the way of storybook moles, it was hailed as a returning hero by its brethren who followed him in a great pioneering contingent to fully invade the yard several days later.

Add these to the daily deer who huff at me when I am bold enough to step outside.

To console myself, each day of the heat wave I brought in day lilies for the table. Soothing consolation in each bloom. Distraction too from the pending war on the invaders.IMG_6152

 

 

 

Mending life – a story

Sometimes I see great parallels between life and my mending pile. I learned to darn and hem as a Girl Scout. I was never very good at either. My hems improved when I came to understand that those enormous stitches easily got snagged and pulled and snapped and had to  be re-done. <sigh> In those days of skirts and dresses and uniforms and years of changing hem lines, I had lots of practice. But, I was never a perfectionist never skilled.

Fast forward to when I married  into a family with a rich inheritance of needlewomen. I knew his aunt had taught needlework skills but I was not really interested in learning then. Aunt Dolly curtained my house with her skills at the machine I borrowed then dressed my little one in crochet and smocked dresses and warmed us with afghans. I still didn’t ask her to teach me. She was busy and I did not think I would be an apt pupil.

When I was growing up, my mom was quite particular with the few hand worked items that she had. The beautiful crocheted tablecloth crafted by my Grandmother was always covered by heavy plastic when on the dining room table. So I was quite shocked to take my toddler to dinner at my Mother-in-law’s home and find embroidered or appliqued tablecloths on the table – without protection. Nana never blinked at a spill, it was never a problem. (I wish I knew her cleaning secrets.) There was one tablecloth that captivated me. Just before she passed away, my precious sister-in-law gifted me with it.  Just as pretty as I remembered, grown softer with wear and washing and with a small hole. You would always see the hole. The eye would see it immediately and the beauty of the whole would be ignored.

Sometimes it takes courage to mend a hole. I hesitated, did research, asked “experts”, got lots of different advice, but in the end, I’m the one who had to face the sad dilemma of poor darning skills to mend it. So a patch would be needed. I spent too much time searching my stash of misfit linens for a piece with the same look and feel. I thought about square vs. round – anything to keep from doing the work.

Sometimes life can be that way too. I inherit or create my own hole in the fabric of life… I try to figure out what to do to make it whole again… Knowing how clumsy and inept my efforts will be, I put it off…

The day finally came. I took courage, sized the patch, cut it and prepared it, stabilized the hole, oriented the grain line, threaded the needle and got to work making the tiniest stitches I am capable of sewing. Start to finish – 30 slow minutes. Yes, it’s a patch, yes, it shows, yes, it’s ok. In the grand beauty of Grandmom Weger’s applique and embroidery, no one will care and I think she would be happy to know we still treasure her work. I’m still captivated by it. And in real time and space, you won’t notice it – or maybe you would and realize how much someone cared to make it whole again.

The mending project

Life is a captivating treasure. Wear and tear can happen. While I must consider well what to do, I must not wait long to repair, to mend so that the beauty of the whole can be seen. I’m looking to see what else is in the mending pile…

A Simple Gift

snow day    The words of the old Shaker song go round in my head. Finding myself in “the place just right” seems hard some days – like the other day when I realized that the inkjet cartridge had leaked black all over lovely wood and then I picked up the wrong can of paint and though I thought it looked a bit dark – it was wet… I went on painting. And then I had to paint again. <sigh> I know, in the grand scheme of life, not so big a deal but it is the little things some days that seem to overflow the cup. What do you do with those days? When the wind blows hard and there are even waves in the birdbath.

IMG_4512

In 1985, it was really big deal to have our beloved Nana diagnosed with dementia. We tried keeping her at home with helpers, but the disease took her away in giant steps. Too soon, for her safety and well being, it became a necessity to place her in a care facility. It was a time of busy grief.

Christmas was coming. I had so much on my mind that day I drove the beltway – from where and to where – I no longer remember. But on that drive, the thought came to me that we could give her an album quilt for Christmas. Only one problem. I had no idea what an album quilt really was but I thought of blocks, large ones, that would tell a story, the story of her life.

I went to a small quilt shop with my idea and the staff was so helpful with the project from beginning to end; even supplying fabric from personal stashes when I cut the border fabric wrong and there was not enough to finish.

I sent fabric and the plan out to family and everyone worked on squares that said something about her life. Everyone worked quickly, taking comfort in being able to do something, anything, to bring some comfort to her, and ourselves. Soon, all the blocks were back and it was time to make the quilt.

I had never made a quilt before…

Sewing the blocks and borders together was the easy part. Then came backing and batting and I recall taping it to my kitchen floor as the only place to stretch it out and layer it. Finally it was pined together and ready to quilt.

I had never made a quilt before…

I called my friend Lucy. She was a Southern girl with a country background. Did she know how to quilt? “Quilting should enhance your design, don’t do too much.” What did that mean?! I stitched some, and then some more. Then came the binding – and somehow – it was done – by Christmas.Nana's quiltThe quilt became a great gift to us as we felt we could wrap her in our love. Nana used the quilt for 4 1/2 years. At first the staff thought it a nuisance, then it changed their view of this wonderful woman. It gave her an identity, a life; it became a conversation point. It reminded them that she was loved and cared about.

There is nothing fancy about the quilt but it is now a family treasure, faded, worn and soft.

And today? That gift to Nana, opened a space for me. For when the wind blows hard, the ink spills, the paint goes on wrong… there is a calm that comes with fingering fabrics, hearing the whirl of the machine.

                   quilt     quilt

We woke to snow today, rather like a celebration to remember Nana on her birthday, with love.

Loretta    1906 – 1990

Nana

Searching for my voice in 1920

A few weeks ago I saw a notice for an upcoming on-line writer’s workshop. One evening, free, and an interesting topic – sounded easy and fun.

Marilyn Bousquin of Writing Women’s Lives posed thoughtful questions in the workshop, “Writing Our Grandmothers, Discovering Ourselves: Women, Silence & Voice. Before the workshop, she had us sleuthing our female heritage. What country did these women come of age in? What year did that country grant women the right to vote? Since I’ve done some family genealogy, those answers were easy to find.

I had been looking forward to the evening of hearing my voice as I analyzed their lives. I thought I would be exploring my life through Grandmother Anna. But then the second prompt came and I could only think of Grandmother Amelia. I didn’t want to think about her but it seemed important so I wrote my letter to her:

“Dear Grandmother Amelia,

This is Elaine. I didn’t know you well and I didn’t want to either. I was too young to know your story or have any understanding of your pain and loss. Your gruff voice and “children should be seen and not heard” attitude frightened my shy little self and hiding from you became habit. I don’t know that we ever had a real conversation, not even during those months when you lived in our home. I wish we had, I think.

When we cleaned out the garage at the home place, I found letters carefully saved in an old covered dish.  Two letters written by Bro. Albert to you and Grandfather. I was struck by his compliments to you on your writing.letter

I wonder now if his words of affirmation thrilled your heart. When this was written, you did not yet have the right to vote. I can’t find many facts, but based on records found, I suppose that you, like your 14 siblings, had an elementary school education before going off to the mills to work. I found that at 18 you had advanced to the rank of ‘weaver’ at the silk mill. I doubt you had many choices in your life until you married. 

Amelia

Other things were found in that garage and I’ve come to admire your thirst to increase your home skills and crafts as evidenced by the pamphlets and instruction booklets carefully saved. 

I want you to know that the quilts you made for my siblings touched my heart with
comfort as a child. The long gone yo-yo quilt inspired me to stitch hundreds of
them for a coverlet. 

 yo-yo quilt project

The quilts you saved in your trunk were given to your great-granddaughters. And the unfinished top – for William? – I stitched a plaid floral medallion on it, quilted it, and your daughter used it in her final years. I like to think it brought you close to her. 

shirting quilt

I have lots of questions now. I wonder why you said “no” to the thought of your daughter attending High School. Was it your own insecurity or that need for each child to have the same as the others who went before? You know she chose to have her own voice and went to night school, graduating just shy of her 21st birthday.

 Amelia

Amelia, how I wish you had used your voice, told your stories, written a diary or journal. I would have listened. I would have known you and your family, my family. And me, I think I would have been free to have confidence as a storyteller and writer.”

I was surprised to find myself feeling emotional while writing this letter that night.  We went on through the workshop and the overall experience was very good. And the next day I started another program, Intentional Blogging with Jeff Goins. His webinar on Blogging Personalities had been very encouraging. I had my niche, I was happy. I was excited to sign on to this program, tweak a few things and move along as a blogger.

But things had been set in motion within my soul and I didn’t know it. And I was silenced.

Last Sunday, we drove to the river. One of the same roads led to my Uncle and Grandmother’s home. When it came time to turn off for the park, I was overwhelmed with such a longing as I cannot explain – oh, for one more chance to walk into her kitchen, one more chance to look and really see her. Amelia.  I wonder if she was a story teller, I wonder about her style of writing, I wonder if she wrote to her many siblings. I have only wonders and complex emotions churning. There is a power in writing I don’t always like.

Grandmother Amelia, gone from my life for 48 years and yet, not gone at all; I still don’t think I like you.

 Amelia

Apple joy

applesThere were always apples in the house. Dad took one every day with his lunch and there were apples for ours, if we wanted them. Come fall, there would be bushels of fresh picked from country orchards and sometimes pie for Sunday suppers. But my favorite memory of comfort food is always hot applesauce on buttered toast for breakfast.

These Gala apples cooked into a lovely sauce which has provided rich desserts of applesauce on split buttered biscuits. Simple fare, perfect comfort for darkening autumn evenings.

I like to use sweet apples so no additional sweetener is needed, just cinnamon or apple pie spice to suit my fancy.

As the sweet fragrance of apple filled the house, I remembered the grace sung at many a Girl Scout camp meal – The Johnny Appleseed Prayer.

Oh the Lord is good to me,

and so I thank the Lord,

for giving me the things I need,

the sun, the rain and the appleseed,

the Lord is good to me.

                                                                         Amen!