Saturday, September 29, 2012

Old Cookbooks

This is one of several b/w illustrations created by gifted illustrator-Suzanne Langelier-Lebeda for inside the pages of "The Reindeer Keeper." This particular piece is a favorite of mine. It reminds me of my mother's cookbooks. She treasured her cookbooks. She'd sift through their pages, reading each one like a novel-treating each one like a good friend. When she passed away, we divided the cookbooks between us and what I discovered to be even more fun than reading the recipes were the bits of paper and pages from notepads and looseleaf with recipes written on them in her handwriting mixed in with a few handwritten grocery and things-to-do lists. There was even the back of a bag of Nestles chocolate chips with the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe on it. Whenever she found a recipe she liked in a magazine, or if someone recited a recipe for her to try, my mother would write it down and put it in a cookbook for safe keeping.

My mother was a fine cook. She perfected soups to main dishes and everything in between. But it's her desserts I remember the most and it's the desserts that prevailed on those odds 'n ends of worn paper between the pages of her cookbooks where many of the frequented pages were still smudged with traces of flour. When my mother made her chocolate sauce served over vanilla ice cream we all hurried to get through the main course just to enjoy the most amazing hot, thick, chocolate sauce ever! Adults would clean their bowls and lick their spoons just like the kids. Every bit as amazing was her gooey, rich  butterscotch pudding served over warm rice with homemade whip cream. Her melt-in-your-mouth Lady Baltimore cakes were always baked in cake tins shaped like Christmas trees no matter the season. Peanut butter balls of all sizes dipped in chocolate were Holiday favorites as was her peanut butter fudge and divinity fudge made year round. In her younger years when she worked nights as a nurse I remember riding with my brother in the backseat of the car in our pajamas when our father would take our mother to work. Many times she brought along some of her fudge to share with co-workers. Of course we had our share of fudge waiting at home.

These days the internet is more often than not the cookbook. Recipes are googled. Famous chefs are searched and all is downloaded. But in the computer google searches and beautifully designed pages of those famous chefs and celebrity chefs, a main ingredient is missing, and that's the taking of time to turn pages in worn cookbooks turned by a generation or two before. Old cookbooks recite a family history. Worn, handwritten recipes scribbled on bits of paper and stuck between their pages are priceless as are those pages still smudged with traces of flour.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tea and Toast

I can't say for sure if my grandfather is drinking tea or coffee in this picture but if I had to choose I'd say it is probably tea because tea and toast is what my grandparents and some of the other adults enjoyed during the day when possible-or in the evening or in the case of one particular aunt, as supper. My grandmother not only drank the tea, she read the tea leaves and when the reading involved me-she was always right on. A few times I wish I would have listened to her!

I remember it was green tea that they drank-Salada green tea I think or maybe it was Lipton. Of course tea choices were limited back then. There were no fancy flavorings or endless variations of tea. Tea was tea-kind of like coffee was coffee. I never acquired a taste for tea. I tried but even with the amount of sugar I'd add it still tasted like tea! The thought of dunking a much anticipated piece of toast into a drink I did not like-toast made from a toaster where you'd pull down both sides and lay a piece of bread in place in each and then put the sides back up-and then wait and most usually I'd burn the bread and have to scrape the burnt part off in the sink-was not something I wanted to waste my toast on even if it was burnt and half-scraped off. Actually the half-burnt toast tasted pretty good with extra butter.

The one thing I did like when trying to drink the tea was the cup and saucer in which the tea was served. Something tells me those cups and saucers came from inside an Oatmeal box because I remember my grandmother reaching inside the box to see what was waiting for her. The cups and saucers were never packaged or protected. They just sat in wait amongst the oat flakes. I bet my grandmother felt the same anticipation we experienced when we'd dig inside our Cracker Jack boxes.

My grandmother did have fine, bone china cups and saucers kept in the dining room in her china cupboard but they were for good. They were antiques. We had our favorites. Mine was a matching set with clovers all over them. Lucky for me, that set now sits in my cupboard. I've used it a few times-but not for tea!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Washtub, Bench and a Few Old Chairs

When you put a washtub, bench, and a few old chairs together, you get just that unless you're a little kid like my older brother playing outside on a sunny afternoon. From the look on his face it's obvious he's quite content. After all, the opportunities to inspire such a young imagination at that very moment are endless and they don't cost a penny. Put those chairs together-throw an old blanket over them and he has a tent. Put those chairs in a half circle and he can play musical chairs when someone comes along ready to partake in such an adventure. To make it even more fun they could march around the chairs singing all the way-until the singing stops and the scramble begins! And if no one comes along-he could pretend someone did. Or, he could put the chairs in a straight line and play train-All aboard and off he could go around the fields and back again or over the moon and beyond. Or he could jump off the train and hitch a ride with his grandfather passing by behind him on his old Ford tractor on his way to the barn. When my brother gets back to his washtub, bench, and a few old chairs, he could grab the broom standing behind him against the tree and use it as a horse to ride or turn himself into a witch and fly away.

Point is a kid can have lots of fun just being a kid. We always did back then. Chairs really were much more than chairs and secret cabins were most anywhere-in a cornfield or a hayfield or a grain shed or hay mow. In the fall, leaves became piles to jump in and hide in and houses to play in. In the winter, the frozen creek turned into our own olympic stadium and in the spring the stream that ran beside the farmhouse became a source for racing twigs and getting soaking wet and not even noticing it and wondering why we were being dragged inside for fear of catching a cold when catching our twigs as they hurried about was all we cared about. Getting wet was part of the experience.

Pure play is the best play. There are no buttons to push or batteries to change or directions to read. The sky's the limit, but then if pure play is the best play-there is no limit!

Monday, September 10, 2012


I'm standing sideways in this picture attempting to feed a cow. I don't remember anyone taking the photo. That's probably because I never liked cows and I am sure I was a little nervous being so close to them. It doesn't make sense to me that I didn't like them because when you're growing up in the country cows go with the territory.

I don't remember much about my grandfather's cows. Whenenver we played in the barn it was void of cows or chickens or horses which was ok with us. It gave us the whole barn to play in and that included the large area full of stanchions where the cows were kept when inside. We loved playing in there. We turned stanchions into swings-trying not to land in the cowpies hidden under the hay.

For awhile my brother had a few black angus which he kept in the barn. I can't remember where he went but he was away for a good week. He asked me to take care of them. So I did. Every morning before I went to school I'd go to the barn and do my chores. When the school bus brought me back home in the afternoon I'd run inside, get changed, and go to the barn. For some reason the cows didn't bother me that week. Thinking about it, I'm sure I didn't want to let my older brother down. Besides that he was paying me!

There was one particular time many years later when cows did more than bother me. I'd gone for a walk with a few friends down into the woods across the road from the barn. I brought my little brother with me. The fields around the woods were home to cows grazing. When we reached a cleared area which had once been a summer camp for area youth we decided to look around unaware the fence keeping the cows away was down. We were so intrigued with what we were doing that we didn't notice the cows slowly coming closer and closer. When we did something made us run-and run fast into one of the two abandonded buildings. Turned out it was a good thing. Those lazy, grass-chewing, overweight animals were right on our heels. The cows were chasing us! They were coming towards us full speed as if they were in the Olympics! We slammed the door and just in time because they were now bunting and ramming the sides of that old building. They circled the place and wanted in while we were huddled together shaking!

Well they never got us! They went back to chewing their cuds and we went sprinting back home! To this day-I do not like cows!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Rocking Chair

I don't think anything turns a house into a home more than a rocking chair. Just the presence of a rocking chair evokes warm feelings. A rocking chair embraces and comforts. Its rhythm soothes your soul. Its never-changing melody feels like a familiar hug every time you sit down and put your arms in place and push your feet ever so slightly. It becomes an old friend, a good friend. A rocking chair links generations. Those once the infants and rocked in the chair become the adults doing the rocking and comforting sometimes late into the night or all through the night as the wind might blow or the rain might fall or the snowpiles might grow higher or the magical moon might shine brighter. A rocking chair can tell a family story-and it's a story little ones love to hear.

When I think about rocking chairs images of my grandmother in her farmhouse kitchen come to mind. Although her time during the day was limited, sometimes she was able to squeeze in moments to relax or read or hold a little one on her knee or in her arms in the rocking chair sitting next to the woodstove. I also think of my mother. When my sister was little, my mother loved rocking her to sleep in the early afternoon. She'd hum a little ditty over and over. That's all it took. Soon both my sister and mother were sound asleep. I also think of my father's mother. While I only have a few memories of her, the most vivid one involves a small rocker with ornate woodcarving on the arms and back and a distinct creak as she went back and forth-sitting in the chair with an apron over her house dress and her hair gathered on top of her head and the aroma of something delicious cooking. I rocked my children in an old wicker rocker. I now rock my grandchildren in a rocking chair that had been in that farmhouse. The rocking chair most always does its magic.

As life gets faster and faster and family members spread out around the globe, the thought of a rocking chair can slow us down and bring us back together-whether the memories are of a farmhouse or a penthouse-an apartment or a clapboard house in a neighborhood of clapboard houses. If a rocking chair shared our growing up and our get-togethers and our holidays and birthdays and other times of joy and sadness, that rocking chair will keep on rocking in our hearts no matter how far we roam or how old we get.