Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The Family Recipe Book


This gem came into my hands yesterday afternoon. It is a recipe book that belonged to my husband's grandmother. The White House Cook Book was first published in 1887 by the steward of the White House, Hugo Zieman and an associate, Mrs. F.L. Gillette. It is a "comprehensive cyclopedia of the home" and honors the First Ladies of the White House, beginning with Martha Washington.

While recipes are the main part of the book, there is much more, including "menus, dinner-giving, table etiquette, care of the sick".

In looking through the recipes I've already learned about a lot of differences between cooking today and cooking a hundred years ago. Here are a few things I've discovered:

1. Ingredients - many of those listed are not items I am familiar with or that are readily available, such as graham flour. Others are familiar but the way they are used is not the same. A few recipes call for a half-cup of yeast! Perhaps yeast was different back then. I need to do some more research.

2. Measurements - these recipes don't always use the standardized measurements we are accustomed to today. How much is a teacupful? or a gill?

3. Quantities - Perhaps because it was written by White House staff the amounts are more than generous. I made the Potato Griddle Cakes recipe for breakfast. I made 1/3 of the recipe and it produced 12 large griddle cakes. 

4. Temperatures - I suppose because stoves of the day were unable to give cooks a precise temperature, these recipes only refer to a "quick, moderate or slow fire". 

5. Methods - many of the standard procedures I use in following a recipe today are not the same. Often I don't even read some instructions, but just look at the list of ingredients and go with usual procedures, say for baking cookies. These recipes go about things in a different order and seem to use a lot of boiling liquids in baking. That is why I ended up with milk boiling over on my stove top this morning. 

Here is a photo of the Potato Griddle Cakes ( aka hash browns) I made this morning using this cookbook. It suggested serving them with "stewed or preserved fruit, especially with huckleberries" and I opted for some homemade applesauce with a little cinnamon. My husband reached for the ketchup, lol!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Brownie Points?

No one is quite sure where the expression "brownie point" came from, although many people believe it began with the Girl Guide and Brownie program where girls worked to earn points or badges. What things earn brownie points with you? What would you like to earn brownie points for doing, or not doing? Here are my ideas in a poem:       

 Brownie Points?

For all the treats that I didn't eat

For all the gossip I didn't repeat

For all the words that I didn't say

When you made me angry yesterday

For all the shortcuts I didn't take

When I could have been a fake

Perhaps an angel was nearby -

Brownie point?

For all the clothes that I didn't buy

Even though they caught my eye

For all the times that I didn't cheat

But accepted my defeat

For all those times I could have lied

To save face and keep my pride

Perhaps an angel was nearby

Brownie point?

For all the songs that I couldn't sing

To send my feelings out on wing

For all the poems that I couldn't write

Though I toiled through the night

For all pictures that I couldn't draw

When my heart was feeling raw

Perhaps an angel was nearby -

Brownie point?



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Getting Past Bleak



I didn't write my blog last week. I was feeling too discouraged. My world was bleak. I had a big writing disappointment on the weekend and  couldn't see past it to do any writing for a few days. I've had disappointments before. We all have. It just means we're human. But this time I wanted to examine what happened and see if I could do a better job of handling it. 

One thing I know for sure is that when I've let discouragement overwhelm me and I've given up on something important, I've always regretted it later. So I decided to do a little research. It was well worth it. There are some great sources of information on the web and I was able to really get to the bottom of my feelings and see how I caused my own disappointment.

The first thing to think about is our expectations. We are the ones who set the bar, through what we expect to have happen. When it doesn't work out, then we become disappointed. We set those expectations ourselves, based on what we believe we need as tangible proof that we are successful. If we dig deep enough, we can uncover what we've determined are the hallmarks of our success in any endeavor. 

When the tangible evidence we need to prove to ourselves that we're successful is something outside of ourselves, something beyond our control, we've set ourselves up for disappointment and discouragement. So how can we change that?

1. Adjust our definition of success to something we can control. Rather than looking to reap some external reward, make a commitment that success is about enjoying the process of learning and development and giving our best effort. If we still want the external rewards, make sure they are not the main focus and realize that worthwhile achievements take time and sometimes many tries before they come to fruition.

2. Realize there is no such thing as failure unless you give up. We need to reinterpret our setbacks as opportunities to learn that are a valuable part of the journey. This way we can take something from the experience to help us move closer to our goal, rather than letting it defeat us.

3. Refocus and recommit to our vision. Why did we choose this path? Why is it important? Re-visualize our success based on realistic expectations. We should set small goals and find healthy ways to reward ourselves for attaining them. We should take a moment to look back and realize how far we've come in our efforts and acknowledge how much we've already accomplished. Then we're more likely to realize how much richer our lives are because of the journey.

4. We can also look to how we can encourage and reward others around us, who also need acknowledgement and encouragement in the things they are trying to accomplish. When we move the focus away from ourselves towards others, it gives us a healthy break from wallowing in our own discouragement! 

5. Take a break. Go outside and get some fresh air and exercise. Do something fun. Enjoy the company of others. Get some rest. All of these will help us gain some perspective.

6. Share our disappointment with someone we trust. True friends and mentors are likely to help us put it in perspective, see our efforts objectively, and encourage us to keep going.

7. Don't let others set the bar for our success and don't compare ourselves to others. As women, we are particularly skilled at looking around and comparing everyone else's best to our worst. Learn how to acknowledge, applaud and admire others for their successes, rather using their success to put ourselves down.

8. Acknowledge our feelings, then take our ego out of it, and use what's happened to help us see ourselves more objectively, evaluate our efforts more effectively and identify where we could be doing something differently or better.

Looking back on this whole experience now I'm encouraged, rather than discouraged by the outcome. Although I didn't gain the external reward I had set myself to attain, I've learned so much about myself, why I was disappointed and how to move through disappointment that I've gained something more important, a life skill that I can use again and again. I am thinking of a few lines from the Desiderata:

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness....And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Ode to an Apron


Aprons have an amazing history! The word comes from the French naperon which literally translated means a small tablecloth. They have been worn for thousands of years, been made from a variety of materials in hundreds of different designs.

Aprons have long been part of the protective work clothing of men, women, and children. At some points in history the color of a man’s apron even indicated his profession.

Aprons have also been decorative, part of a fashion statement, and even indicated one’s status in the community. Among some groups or cultures, an apron is also part of ceremonial clothing. Here is my newest poem:

Ode to an Apron 

Some say that you are plain

But you are beautiful to me! 

You are my armour.

When I wear you, I’m invincible!

Like a soldier marching into battle

With weapons of vacuum and broom

 I face the foe undaunted

Garbage, laundry, and dishes beware!


Some say that you are plain

But you are beautiful to me! 

You are my uniform.

When I wear you, I’m focused.

Planning my work, creating order out of chaos.

Your pockets are deep.

I fill them with the forgotten and the misplaced

Setting the world to rights. 


Some say you are plain

But you are beautiful to me! 

You are my artist’s smock.

When I wear you, I create.

Original soups and crunchy salads.

Tempting appetizers and creamy desserts.

Fashioning tasty dishes and delectable delights

To please the eye as well as the palate (palette).


Some say you are plain

But you are beautiful to me! 

You are my superhero cape, my cloak of invisibility.

When I wear you, I’m amazing

I can run faster and work harder

Stretch time and money to achieve the impossible

Serve others unseen

And vanquish tears as if by magic.


Some say you are plain

But you are beautiful to me!


Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Follow the Joy


Looking back at my childhood, I realize I deprived myself of many sources of joy. My sister was four years older than I and was a very talented person, both musically and artistically. I, on the other hand, had a poor ear for music, was left-handed and struggled with my fine motor coordination. Even my mother would say things like, "Don't worry about it. You're such a hard worker and that makes up for a lot." People were always comparing us to each other and I internalized that comparison. No matter what I did, I could never measure up. 

As a result, I steered away from things I loved, things that brought me pure bliss and joy. I could not stop my need for music and pursued it despite my shortcomings, but I turned my back on art and visual expression and never looked back.

Through the years I ended up teaching both music and art in public school. I tried to help kids find the joy in their expression and not to worry about comparisons or competence. It was as much about the process as it was the final product. One day I realized the things I was telling students also applied to me. I needed to move past the feelings of being compared to someone else and being found wanting. I needed to embrace the things that brought me joy and made me whole. 

I posted this little painting, not because it's wonderful, but because I remember the absolute joy I felt while painting it along with my grandkids on an art afternoon in our family. It has some obvious flaws and I wanted those to show, too. We don't need to be embarrassed that our work isn't perfect. When I look at my little painting, I think of the joy, not the mistakes. 

I have many things that bring me joy on a daily basis. I love to write, both poetry and prose. I love to sketch and paint, and enjoy music in its many forms. I enjoy sewing, gardening and cooking. I'm not an expert in any of them, but it doesn't matter That's not the point. The point is that they lift my spirits and bring me joy in my life.

What brings you joy?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Confronting Clutter

Every day we are bombarded by clutter. We live in a period of time when there is just a lot of stuff and every time we turn on the TV, open a magazine or newspaper, or go online we are overwhelmed with advertising to buy more.

My mother was an orphan during the Great Depression. She had nothing. A scrap of paper, the stub of a pencil, a couple of spoonsful of leftover porridge - all was to be used, treasured and saved against a time of want. She taught all of her children well. Do not waste! Gather against a time of need.

The mindset that drives hoarding is fear and anxiety. Feelings of safety and security can come from having stuff. But when you mix yesterday's mindset for dealing with scarcity with today's reality of being bombarded with stuff, it's a recipe for disaster.

Having stuff takes work, and possessions can become an obstacle and a burden. That is the mindset that goes with the minimalist lifestyle. Those who have always had enough are not frightened by having only a little because there is a sense that there will always be more to get when you really need it. 

The current pandemic has stopped us in our tracks. Could we find ourselves without what we need? Loss of health, jobs and income bring back anxiety and an urge to save and collect against a time of want. The long term economic impact of the coronavirus is yet to be understood and it could be represent create systemic poverty for a long time, perhaps we are entering the next Great Depression. 

How are you managing the scarcity or abundance mindset? What strategies are you using to manage the day to day clutter? I'm caught in the middle. If only I had a crystal ball!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

When You Pause to Remember


My research for Book Three in the Windy Rafters Roughnecks series includes time travel to WW2. I've been thinking a lot the last week or so about the impact of war on those who stayed home. Just as we are all impacted by the pandemic, everyone at the time was impacted by the war. This poem reflects some of my thoughts:


When You Pause to Remember


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

Who said their goodbye, then, letting tears dry

Counted days until he came home.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

Who stretched out the sugar and butter and meat

Who grew Victory Gardens and vowed no defeat

And believed that it could be done.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

Who raised the kids and cared for the folks

Who kept the fires burning and kept alive hope

Then prayed for the strength to go on.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

Who rolled all the bandages, knit scarves and gloves

Sewed vests and pajamas infused with their love

While thinking of days that were gone.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

Running factories and farms, tired backs, weary arms

Carrying burdens, so often alone.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

Who tried to stand tall when death came to call

And they heard that knock at the door.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

And when he came back, injured or maimed

Haunted by demons that couldn’t be tamed

And they knew it had only begun.


When you pause to remember

Remember the ones who stayed home

When they said we had won and the fighting was done

But their sorrow and pain lingered on.