Sunday, December 28, 2008

Home for the Holidays

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. It's more of a whole season rather than just a single day. It's kind of sad when we have to take down the decorations, so one year I left everything up from the day after Thanksgiving until mid-January. We had a real tree and all the needles were dropping off rather badly, and I had to wrap it with a sheet while I dragged it thru the house to the curb.

It was such a nuisance to get the needles picked out of the carpet that I learned my lesson. No, I didn't take the decorations down much earlier, but at least I did get an artificial tree (better for my son's allergies, too) so I didn't have as much of a mess.

This year, we were especially blessed to see all four of our kids and their families during the holidays. With them spread from California to South Carolina, it has been a real challenge to make that happen. So we thoroughly enjoy it whenever we can and make do when we cannot.

I hope the holidays were pleasant for all of you. I would love to hear about your favorite holiday traditions, whether for Christmas, Hannakuh, Kwanzaa or whatever. Those traditions are what make us all a family, either by blood or by choice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Writing at Starbucks (or at least trying)

Several of my writer friends go to a Starbucks store on a regular basis to write, so I decided to try it. I have never been a fan of their coffee. Even the decaffeinated with half hot water is too strong for my tastes. Okay, so apparently I am a wimp when it comes to coffee. But they have good hot tea and their hot chocolate is a rare indulgence.

One of my misconceptions was that their WiFi was free. Silly me! As expensive as their products are, I should have realized they would charge for their internet connection. At $3.95 for a 2-hour session, the price is not prohibitive if I really needed to get connected. Interestingly, my available WiFi connections also showed one for the McDonald’s across the street. The cost for their connection was exactly the same. However, today I am just killing an hour between appointments, so I decided to work offline for a while instead.

What I don’t understand is the widespread appeal of writing at a Starbucks. When the place is crowded with people, there are too many distractions. For example, two young college girls were discussing who they “hooked up with” the previous night, with much more detail than I cared to know, while a pair of business professionals were trying to “one up” each other on how important their careers (and therefore they) were. Even the retired folks who quietly wandered in and out distracted me.

At the top of the hour, it was almost as if the school bell had rung and the majority of the customers cleared out. I thought that would make it easier to concentrate, but no, that was not the case. Then all the noises from the kitchen were irritatingly audible, although it was at the far end of the room from me. How can they let an alarm beep for 73 seconds at a time? Apparently, it bothered me much more than it did them.

Once the beeping stopped, I could hear conversations between the girls behind the counter, unfortunately. At least I think they were considered conversations. Grammatically, their choice of words was appalling. If they left out all the “and he goes…”, “and then I goes…” and all the “you know”s, it was an exceedingly short dialog.

So I learned something today, which is always a good thing. If I want to write, I will do it at home, where I can choose to listen to serene music (or not), or I will visit my local library, where I can enjoy the sounds of silence.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Easy Gingerbread Houses

I thoroughly enjoyed an early Christmas gift this last week. I spent the weekend with my grandchildren, aged 4 1/2 and 3. They live in another state some 12 hours away (or even 14, if I happen to get lost on the way), but the trip was a total success.

The kids opened their Christmas toys early so we could play with them, which is a great perk for any grandparent. I don't usually like battery-operated toys - they have a whole lot more natural energy than I do, so I wanted something to burn off some of that energy. Both games were a big success, even when the sound effects became annoying.

In addition to the usual pastimes of games, reading and playing with Thomas the Tank Engine trains, I cautiously tried out the new trampoline in the backyard. We had a ball, even though I wasn't anywhere near as agile as the kids.

One of my favorite memory-makers with the kids was to build individual gingerbread houses for each of them, which is a tradition we started last year. We all put on aprons, including some I had made for the kids with gingerbread on them. Given how young the grandkids are, we opted to use graham crackers to speed up the process and keep it geared toward their relatively short attention spans.

To make gingerbread houses this fast & easy way, you will need a box of graham crackers, a pound of powdered sugar, water, food coloring and assorted candies for decorating. We had an eclectic mixture of candy to include their favorites, such as gummy goldfish, as well as gum drops, miniature candy canes and M&Ms.

We carved the crackers into squares for the walls because they did not cooperate in breaking evenly and dry-fit them around a smaller floor section. The roof was two more squares, plus a square cut diagonally for the end pieces. The frosting we made was super simple - 2 cups of powdered sugar blended with 3 Tablespoons of warm water until smooth. Add more water if needed and a few drops of food coloring if desired.

To keep the kids occupied while my son & I assembled the two houses, I gave them each a plate of graham cracker pieces in various broken shapes covered with a dab of frosting. They delighted in sprinkling the "cookies" with colored sugar, red hots & M&Ms. They had a ball and grinned each time they popped one in their mouth.

We found it worked well to put a bit of frosting on a plate to anchor the walls while the frosting set. We assembled the roofs separately until set, then attached them on top of the walls.

Once the houses were firm, the kids decided how to decorate them with just a little help from us. Who says gummy goldfish don't belong on a house? We had a great time building gingerbread houses and memories.

As soon as the houses were decorated, the kids were ready to eat them, which may have been the most exciting part of the afternoon. Daddy made a loud growling noise and took a huge bite out of each roof, while the kids happily broke the walls apart.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turkey Bloopers

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving story? I'd love to hear about it in a comment. Here are two of my own favorites, now that we are planning for Turkey Day this week. I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Turkey Blooper #1
Supposedly, one year Grandma made an especially beautiful roasted turkey, so she decided to carve it at the dinner table. As she carried it out to the dining room with everyone assembled in anticipation, it slid off the platter and bounced on the floor.

There was a simultaneous "Gasp!" as everyone thought the dinner was ruined.

But Grandma very calmly said, "Don't worry, I'll just go get the SECOND turkey."

So now the question is, was there really another turkey, which is actually quite possible? Or more likely, did she just put the turkey back onto another platter and dust it off a bit?

And was everyone looking forward to the turkey so much that it didn't really matter either way?

Turkey Blooper #2

The mother of a friend of mine got a fancy new stove right before Thanksgiving one year. She was all excited about using the Delayed Start cycle to automatically start the turkey cooking early in the morning. So she prepared the turkey the night before, put it into the oven & set the timer.

Several hours later, the smoke alarm went off and everyone grabbed a coat & ran outside. The kitchen was filled with smoke, but they didn't see any flames, so someone very carefully went back inside to assess the problem.

It turns out, she had set the stove to Self-Clean instead of Delayed Start. Even though they discovered what caused the smoke, the oven was now so hot, they couldn't open the door or stop the Self-Clean cycle. By the time they figured out how to trip the circuit breaker on the electric panel, the turkey was burned to a cinder.

Needless to say, with all the smoke and the burnt smell, they took the rest of the food to someone else's home for dinner.

Oh, yeah. They stopped to pick up a few pizzas on the way, but there was no turkey for them that year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FREE eBook - Keepsake for Kids

I had the pleasure recently to work on a simple keepsake booklet with my two friends, Nate, 9, and Colin, 6. They talked about their Thanksgiving dinners and playing with their cousin.

Even better, they drew charming pictures of their family members, houses, cars and lots of other things that interest young boys.

There are lots of keepsake books designed for grownups, but not many that children can actually enjoy. My goal is to make it fun for kids to start writing their own memories. By starting with a favorite holiday, such as Thanksgiving, they can preserve their own stories and some from their circle of friends and family.

Please see my website for a free downloadable eBook to use for the Thanksgiving holiday. I would love to get your feedback on how well it worked for you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gingersnap Cookie Disaster

Homemade cookies were always a favorite snack in our home. In addition to snacks after school, they were a welcome treat in our sack lunches. Whenever friends or family stopped by, Mom would start a pot of coffee (or two) and bring out tins of various cookies. By far the most popular were her chocolate chip cookies in a huge batch that had been doubled and then redoubled to a size appropriate to our family.

There was only one time that a batch of cookies was not completely devoured. As it happened I was the one (unfortunately) who made them. I was making gingersnaps, which are made with molasses, formed into a ball and then rolled into sugar before they are baked.

The delicious aroma of the baking cookies spread throughout the house and brought several eager young taste testers on the run. It wasn’t until the warm freshly baked cookies were sampled that we realized something was terribly wrong with them.

Apparently, my Mother had been cleaning out the kitchen cupboard that day. In order to wash the salt shaker, she had poured the remaining salt into a bowl. While she was out of the room, I spied the bowl of salt on the countertop and assumed she had left it for my cookies. I promptly set about rolling the cookies toward their doom.

As I said, that was the only cookie failure I can recall that someone would not eat, sooner or later. Even the dog wouldn't eat them.

1 Cup Sugar
¼ Cup Butter or Margarine
½ Cup Shortening
1 Egg
¼ Cup Molasses
2 Cups Flour
1 ½ teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
½ teaspoon each Salt, Ginger & Allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream Shortening, Sugar and Molasses.
Add Egg and mix.
Add sifted dry ingredients all at once and mix well.
Roll into 1" balls, then roll in Sugar (not salt, ha ha)
Place on cookie sheet and Bake about 12 minutes at 350 degrees.

NOTE: These cookies keep well in a sealed container.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Memories of Apple Picking

Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons with the start of the new school year, foliage beginning to change and the onset of cooler days and nights. One of our memorable pastimes was to pick apples in a local orchard.

We brought our own containers - a variety of boxes, bushel baskets and tubs. For consistency in measuring how much we picked, the orchard provided their own bushel baskets to use during the picking process, then the apples were gently transferred to our own. It was lucky for us that they could not measure how many apples we managed to eat while picking.

There was an especially bountiful harvest one autumn when my son Jason was six years old. He and I had recently moved back to my hometown after living in the "City", that is, anywhere north of Interstate 80, as far as my Dad was concerned. It was a beautiful cool, crisp day with the sun shining as we drove to the orchard with Mom & Dad.

The trees were just covered with a terrific selection of big juicy apples that year: Jonathans, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious and McIntosh. Naturally, we had to grab the biggest shiniest ones to taste test before we could begin picking.

As we moved from tree to tree, Jason delighted in running ahead to survey the next target and cry, "Wow, look at all the big ones on THIS tree!" It was so easy to get caught up in the moment of fun & discovery that the four of us ended up picking seven full bushels of apples.

That was a huge amount of apples for us or for anyone. Fortunately, I had an old spare refrigerator in my garage, so we were able to pack it full with the apples that didn't fit into our main refrigerators. With all that food stockpiled, we stuffed ourselves (as well as family, friends and neighbors) with all manner of scrumptious apple delicacies.

The delicious aroma of cinnamon and nutmeg filled our house almost every day. We had apple pie, apple crisp, apple cake, apple coffeecake and apple pudding. And still we had more apples.

We had fried apples, caramel apples, taffy apples, apple butter, apple salads, apple muffins and apple dumplings. And still we had more apples.

Jason took brightly polished red and yellow apples to school for his birthday treat, and for his teacher, too. For Christmas, we even hung shiny red apples by ribbons onto our tree. And still we had more apples.

We had enough apples to last us all through that Fall and Winter and into Spring. By the time we had finally finished eating all those apples, I realized two things: 1) an apple a day really does keep the doctor away because we didn’t get sick all winter long, and 2) I never EVER got tired of apples!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Grandkids and Falling Leaves

I love the colors of Fall. Last week before the rains started, I selected a nice sampling of leaves from pale gold to bright yellow, soft pink to bright red and variegated hues to a deep burgundy. I carefully pressed them flat for a few days, then divided them between two envelopes for my grandkids some 800 miles away.

I enclosed a short personal note for each of them and sent the leaves on their way. I was really tickled a few days later when my son called so the kids could sing me Happy Birthday and chat about the leaves they had just gotten.

I reminded my son about how we used to lay a leaf upside-down onto a piece of paper, cover it with another piece and then rub crayons over the leaf to trace the raised veins for a simple little art masterpiece. He had forgotten about doing that, but he was glad to have a new rainy-day activity for young kids.

I miss seeing my grandkids as often as I'd like, but I enjoy sending them little surprises that we can talk about on our calls. Now that truly makes my day!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Free Guide to Writing Family Stories

Getting started is the hardest part of any project, but especially when writing our own family stories. You might like to look at a sneak peek of a book I am writing to help kids (and adults) write stories. It's FREE on my website at and called Granny's Guide to Fun & Fabulous Family Stories for Kids from 8 to 98. I'd love to know if you find it helpful.

One idea to recall memories is to talk with someone, like your sister, about some favorite event from your life. Then you can write a few lines or a page about what happened, what you felt, what you think now, etc. If you have a tape recorder to use, that makes it even easier to capture a story.

Good luck on starting your stories and remember to have fun doing it!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Start Writing Your Family Stories

• Why write down your family stories
Sometimes we hear a story from someone like a grandparent. We think we will always remember it. Too bad it doesn’t work out that way. If we can’t hear or read the story once in a while, we will most likely forget the details of it. When you write down a story from your life, you capture it for people to read later. Just imagine how great it will feel for you years from now when one of your own kids reads a story you wrote! You can give future generations a piece of yourself by sharing what you learned about your family member.

• Getting started
Okay, so how do you start writing stories about your Friends and Family (FAF)? The neat thing is that you can look at all the FAF people in your life. Then start with one special person. When you ask someone a bunch of questions and write down their answers, that is called an interview. The person who answers your questions is called the subject of the interview.

You can interview anyone - a friend, family member, neighbor or teacher. If you select someone who is important in your life, there is a double benefit. You’ll learn who they really are and they’ll appreciate your interest. Just look at all the people around you and pick one person to start with. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about somebody by asking a few questions.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Harvest in the Heartland - Part 3

She climbs into the cab of the tractor to begin the long trek to town. She plods along the road with the valuable cargo, keeping a steady speed of around twenty miles an hour. She stays close to the right shoulder of the road as much as possible while carefully avoiding errant mailboxes and telephone poles. A few impatient city slickers honk and glare, or flip her the ” international sign of disrespect” because they are not familiar with the rhythms of farm life. But, fortunately, that is the exception. They don’t understand the need to continually move tractors, wagons and equipment from one field to another, from fields to town or between farmsteads and fields. Townspeople and other farmers share an easy camaraderie embodied in a toot or a beep in friendly recognition, or especially the universal country wave: keeping both hands toward the top of the steering wheel, they raise just the fingers of one hand in salute to the oncoming driver. It is second nature to always be prepared for this sociable gesture when traveling on open roads, regardless of whether or not they actually know the oncoming person.

Farmers need to have the patience of Job, the confidence of an egomaniac and the resilience of a coiled spring, as well as an eternal optimism that they will have a good year next year. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is their arch enemy. The grain growing season begins in early spring with planting. They pray for gentle spring rains and warm weather so the seeds can germinate; too much rain and they may rot in the ground, too little and the newly emerged plants will wither and die. My Mother used to walk out into the field on a regular basis, first to dig up a few newly planted seeds to see if they were sprouting yet, then checking again every few days to marvel at the miracle of new life.

The summer presents weather challenges as well. High temperatures are necessary for corn and soybeans to reach their maximum maturity, but drought conditions and extreme heat will stunt or destroy the crops. Some crop yields can be so dreadfully low that farmers have been known to plow under their fields rather than waste more money on harvesting.

Floods can happen any time of year to wipe out a crop. If it occurs early enough in the spring, and if the water dissipates quickly enough, then the farmer may be able to plant another variety of beans or corn that will mature in a shortened season; unfortunately, these alternate crops will yield significantly less and it is very expensive to replant each field.

As the seasons progress, the farmers closely watch the development of each crop. They keep a sharp eye out for any anomalies in growth, hoping to catch any problems early enough to find a resolution before an entire crop is ruined. Some of the culprits are insects and diseases, such as corn bores that break the stalk off near the ground or rust that blights the crop. Unfortunately, there are no remedies for everything, or they may be cost prohibitive. Once a crop reaches full height, tractors and ground machinery can no longer be used to apply insecticides or treatments, so there will be additional expense to bring in airplanes or helicopters to make the applications.

One of the things I greatly enjoy about flying is to see the patchwork quilt patterns of the farm fields from the air. It is interesting to differentiate between corn, soybeans, hay and wheat. When fields are plowed or disked, the machinery leaves distinctive patterns in the soil. If large green “crop circles” appear, they are most likely the result of water that is delivered via a center-pivot irrigation system. The center of the irrigated area is a stationary point around which the arms of the spigots rotate. Hopefully that explains these huge circular areas, as opposed to the more fanciful concept of visiting alien beings.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fall Trilogy - Soup, School & Sentimentality

Today we are starting to get much cooler weather in Illinois, where it has been unseasonably warm this month. When I went outside for a walk, I had to turn around to get a warmer jacket.

I've always loved Fall, from soup simmering on the stove, to beginning a new semester at school, to brilliant colors all around. On my last post, I shared my favorite recipe for Ham & Bean Soup, which is wonderful with fresh-baked cornbread.

Several times a year, I take some classes of interest, with the last twelve months or so geared toward writing. In the hopes that some day my writing will begin to pay off, last week I took a class at the local community college on Record Keeping for Small Businesses. I was a bit disappointed that it was actually a condensation of Accounting 101, but there was time at the end of the class to ask pertinent questions. As always, I learned something new and useful at the same time.

So the third part of my Fall trilogy relates to the beautiful Fall foliage. On my walk today, I couldn't resist gathering some of the most perfect and brilliant specimens. From childhood memories, I plan to press the leaves and send some to my two grandkids in South Carolina. Of course, they have deciduous trees down there, but that's not the same as Grandma's own trees.

This simple pastime made me think about my Mom pressing flowers. Late in life, she started to spread out into new arts & crafts, which included making her own stationery. Using plain white notecards, she arranged tiny blossoms, leaves and stems to create miniature pictures of serenity.

Mom has been gone for almost seven years, but I recently enjoyed a sentimental moment of nostalgia when I opened one of her books that still had a blossom pressed carefully between the pages. I took that as a sweet reminder to stop and smell the roses. Or in this case, to stop and enjoy the brilliance of Fall. And I am!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ABC's of Soup

Traditionally, soups are ideal for large families because they can be easily stretched for drop-in guests by adding more broth or water. They also keep well and reheat nicely for latecomers. Mom always used her largest cooking pot for soups. It was such a treat to come home from school on a cold windy day to smell soup cooking on the stove. Soup also allows the cook to combine any leftover meat or vegetables into the latest batch of soup to create a wonderful variation on the original. Years later, cold winter days continue to evoke yearnings for hearty hot soup.


A meal of bean soup & corn bread makes an easy, hearty dinner that our whole family enjoyed. Mom added Fennel Seed to the soup to help offset the "side effects" of the beans. It took me years of practice to finally create a soup that is fairly reminiscent of Mom's version.

1 pound Navy Beans
1 Onion, diced
1 Cup Celery, sliced
1 can diced Tomatoes
1 meaty Ham Bone
8 oz. diced Ham
4 Cups Tomato Juice
Salt & Pepper to taste
3 whole Bay Leaves
1 teaspoon Fennel Seeds, optional
Cornbread prepared from scratch or a packaged mix, optional

Rinse and sort dry beans, removing any shriveled beans or foreign matter. Soak beans overnight in large pot, OR heat to boiling in large pot, remove from heat and let set for 1 hour.

Drain water from beans.

Add all remaining ingredients and fresh water to cover all.

Heat just to boil, then reduce heat. Cover & simmer soup for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occassionally, until beans are tender. Add more water or juice as needed. Do not boil, or beans will burst.

Remove Bay Leaves before serving. Serve with hot cornbread or saltine crackers.

If no Ham Bone is available, add a teaspoon of Liquid Smoke and more diced Ham.
Omit Tomatoes & use water instead of Tomato Juice.
Omit Celery.

8 Servings

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Harvest in the Heartland - Part 2

Finally, the unloading is complete and the behemoth turns back toward the field, belches a black cloud of smoke-filled diesel fumes and begins its next slow, circuitous route through the field, dragging the ominous constant rumbling with it. The sudden silence and stillness are eerie. It will be several minutes before the startled crows, starlings, doves and other small animals resume their chatter and go about their business scavenging seeds from the newly barren field. She watches the huge machine creep away to the opposite end of the field. She grabs the thermos and gulps down tepid water, trying to clear her throat, waiting for the ringing in her ears to subside. She licks her parched lips, the taste and gritty texture of residue around her mouth making her cringe when she feels the grit settle onto her teeth.

Farming can be an excellent life, but it also very challenging. No one gets into it or stays in it for the money. Farmers do it to be self-employed, to be independent, to live in open spaces and to enjoy watching things grow. There is a joke about a farmer who wins $10 million in the Lottery. “Oh, good,” he says. “Now I can afford to farm another year.” Not exactly true, but it makes you chuckle at the absurdity.

The harvest season is fraught with risks. When it is tinder dry, there is a huge threat of fire: harvest machines can clog up with stalks, leaves and debris until they overheat and catch fire, while a carelessly thrown match or cigarette can ignite an entire field. Even a bolt of lightning can start a blaze. It is incredibly difficult to fight an inferno when there are no fire hydrants - local volunteer Fire Departments from surrounding communities respond, bringing water with them in their pumper trucks.

One autumn night a few years ago, I was heading home from a town about eighty miles away, driving through the country. I noticed a warm red glow in the distance and thought to myself, “What a glorious sunset we’re going to have tonight.” My stomach lurched when I realized that the radiance was coming from the east. As I drove closer, it became apparent that the source was from a corn field that was aflame. Lord willing, I will never see such a fearsome sight again. Flames shot into the air, surrounded by huge clouds of billowing smoke. The farmer was scrambling ineffectually to create a fire break, while the lone fire truck did its best to slow down the marching blaze. Continuing on towards home, I met several more pumpers arriving. They did not save much of that particular 160 acre field, but they were able to keep it from spreading to the surrounding fields and homes.

Harvest years that are too wet present their own perils: harvest machines, tractors and wagons become mired in the mud, often sunk up to their axles. Even heavy tow trucks can become stuck deep, in which case the largest tow trucks or cranes must be used to pull them out. One year, Wisconsin had a dreadfully wet fall and after fruitless attempts to harvest the corn, many farmers left the crops in the field until the ground froze solid; regrettably, the hard freeze transformed the corn stalks into rods of steel that punctured the tires. The cost of replacing a set of tires on a combine is prohibitive: each of them can run upward from $1500, which would negate most of the profit. The result was that many farmers took a huge loss that year when they had to wait until spring to harvest what little corn was left. Wind, rain, snow and ice all took their bites, along with the wild deer and raccoons that feasted all winter.

What do YOU remember from growing up? Please let me know in Comments.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Harvest in the Heartland - Part 1

The behemoth rolls through the tawny gold field, devouring everything in its ponderous path, spewing out an enormous horizontal whirlwind of chaff, dirt and stalks behind it. Slowly, inexorably it consumes dozens of rows at a time, cutting a swath through stems bursting with soybean pods. In one fell swoop, the machine separates the precious beans from pods and stems, storing them temporarily in its enormous belly.

She stands beside the tractor, waiting for the monster to disgorge its contents into the first grain wagon. The noise is deafening, even though she blocks her ears as best she can. As much as she hates the noise, the grit is even worse. The handkerchief tied across her mouth and nose does essentially nothing to keep the fine grit from permeating her mouth, her nostrils, her throat, her lungs, and even her ears. By the end of the long day, she will feel as if the grit has invaded clear to her eye sockets through every pore of her body. The combination of taste, smell and grubbiness of the grit lingers for days after the harvest is completed, in spite of long, hot showers. She tries to hold back the inevitable coughing fit, at least until the monster moves past her to the second wagon. Sometimes she succeeds, but barely.

I was raised on a fifty-acre farm just outside a small town in central Illinois (the Prairie State). Dad worked long hours as a welder in a factory, plus he farmed corn or beans in his “spare” time. We were within ten miles of a community of about 30,000 and some sixty miles from Chicago, in the middle of the grain heartland and in my mind it was the perfect place to raise a large family. We had the best of both worlds: a wholesome country lifestyle with a strong sense of community and all the urban benefits of good schools and plenty of cultural activities to keep seven kids challenged and out of trouble.

In spite of all the dirt, grime and grunge involved in the harvest, I always loved the Fall season: kids returning to school, cheering for the home team at football games, “leaf peeping” as the trees miraculously transform from boring greens to glorious autumn colors, and watching the harvest progress from field to field, restoring the wide open spaces to the land I love. Once the harvest is complete, we’ll be able to once again enjoy an unobstructed view from horizon to horizon, some ten miles or more in each direction. This is God’s Country and, for me, the best place on Earth to live.

What do YOU remember from growing up? Please let me know in Comments.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Never Too Poor to Help Others

When I was growing up on a small farm in the 50's, I didn't realize how tight money was. Even with six brothers and sisters, we always had enough to eat from the food raised in our gardens, along with a few chickens and a cow or two. Our clothes were almost always either hand-me-downs or sewn at home. It wasn't until college that it became apparent that we had no money to spare.

But the important lesson for me was that Mom never hesitated to share whatever we had. If a friend, neighbor or relative needed something, she was always there to help. Whether it was a casserole dish, some fresh-baked bread, or a few extra hands to help with cleaning the house after a death, Mom gave of herself to help people in need.

What a wonderful world we'd have, if everyone responded in such a basic way to help others. Please think about what YOU can do for poverty today on Blog Action Day.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Precious Memories on a Precious Day

Every day is an opportunity to capture memories with our loved ones. Whether we use photographs, recordings or written personal histories, we are preserving our heritage for future generations.

Today we celebrated the 90th birthdays of both my Mother-In-Law and Father-In-Law. He never tires of telling everyone that she is four days older than him. They are lovely people who until now have lived on the farm "homeplace" for over sixty years, in spite of declining health. They have finally agreed (in principal, at least) that it is almost time to move to an assisted living facility.

My husband & I took them to a concert today to hear the Glen Miller Orchestra. They both enjoyed it, especially my Mother-In-Law. It was sweet to see her tapping her foot in time to the music, even if she can't remember what town she is in or who we are. I was glad to see her enjoying the snappy music, even if tomorrow she may not recall having been there.

So we make the most of the good days when we can carry on a conversation and we get through the days the best we can when we cannot. Either way, each day is precious when we make precious memories.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Do the ill & the elderly make us feel mortal?

Barbara Sher posted this as a comment to my previous post: "I have a question about interviewing elderly people. I wonder if some of us avoid the people we love when they grow older because it's painful to realize we'll lose them one day. Someone I know told me he was often short with his mother and didn't realize why until one day it hit him that he was angry and hurt that she was getting old and would leave him. He said he was embarrassed about having such a childish feeling, but the realization made him stop being angry at her, so he was glad it happened.

"Have you ever heard of or felt anything like this?"

That is an excellent question & I am glad your friend recognized the reason for his behavior. In fact, I see that happening right now with my husband and his Mother. She is 90 and some days she does not know who he is. That bothers him so much that he almost doesn't want to see her.

I see the same thing happen with people who are seriously ill. Family & friends may be reluctant to go see them, either because they don't know what to say, or because they want to "remember them as they were." In addition, circumstances like that tend to remind us of our own mortality - if it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

Those reasons are understandable, but unfortunately, that tends to leave our loved ones alone when they need us the most. When we do go to see them, it is important to carry on as normal a conversation as possible. Sometimes it helps to bring along favorite photos or memorabilia as a nudge for reminiscing. Especially with the elderly, they may have better recall of events from many years ago than they will of last week.

Recently, a friend of mine died from cancer. Although it was a bittersweet experience, I was able to spend considerable time interviewing her to capture her life story before she passed away. Her dying wish was to leave a written legacy for her adopted daughter.

I was honored to help make her wish come true.

For more about the experience with my friend, please see this blog post:

Capture Life Stories NOW

My dear friend, Karen, suffers from a blood clotting disorder that has caused several strokes. At a very young age (30’s?), she worked diligently to successfully overcome the effects of two strokes. Unfortunately, she has now had another one and is just beginning the rehabilitation to get her life back.

Karen has such a wonderful, positive attitude that she can and will (literally) walk again, that I have no doubt she will succeed. She has tickets to see Tina Turner in concert toward the end of October, so she set her first therapy goal – to walk into the concert, even if it is with the help of crutches, a cane or even a walker.

Karen’s precarious situation has reinforced for me one extremely important fact. We never know when life can strike a blow to all of our carefully laid out plans. In fact, there is an old joke that asks, “How do you make God laugh?” The answer is, “Tell Him you have plans.”

Our elderly population is especially vulnerable to life’s little side trips and that is why it is so important to capture their stories before it is too late. I use a small inexpensive digital recorder (Sony ICD-P520) to capture conversations with friends and family.

Tomorrow, we will celebrate the 90th birthdays of both my Mother-In-Law and Father-In-Law. And you can bet I’ll have my trusty little recorder at the ready for any reminiscing they do. Life is too short to miss out on sharing these gems with the rest of the family.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bailout & Baloney

This year's election campaign is really starting to irritate me. I generally don't get too involved in politics & am still undecided on how to vote. Earlier this week, I got so fed up with both Barack Obama & John McCain continuing with their campaigns instead of helping to resolve the bailout issue. After all, they are still US Senators and one of them will have to live with whatever deal is implemented. Hmmm, actually, we will ALL have to live with it.

The economy seems to be the most critical issue this year, so my hopes were raised when McCain said he was going to put his campaign on hold & go to Washington to work on the financial crisis. Good for him! Obama still wants to debate instead of helping, but who is right?

So now both candidates have been to Washington and still nothing has been resolved. Too bad. There has to be a way to get all the politicians to work together for a change - I hope!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Introduction to New Granny Book

Why kids need to write their stories

I decided to write Granny's Guide to FUN & FABULOUS Family Stories so that other people could learn from the mistakes I have made repeatedly in my life. I spent considerable time with my maternal grandparents while I was growing up and again later as a young adult. My regret is that I never asked them the questions that really mattered. I have the same regrets regarding my parents and although it may be too late for me, it is not for you!

If I can help a single person understand the importance of recording their personal or family stories, or those of their ancestors and loved ones, then my omissions will not have been in vain. Even better, if I can make the process of gathering those stories both fun and painless, then that is icing on the cake.

In a relatively short period, I have seen the incredible impact this process can have on children. Best of all, they actually have a chance to get to know their family members, especially the elderly ones. Instead of thinking of their elders as just “old people,” children will have a chance to relate to them.

Everyone has an interesting story to share. Anyone can write their own stories when given a little guidance and help. Some people may not have family members around, but they may have close friends with whom they have spent wonderful times together. All of these stories are important to record and to share with other people.

As a grandmother myself, my goal is to make that process fun and fabulous!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Memories of 9/11

I was working for a large corporation from home on 9/11 and part of my job after the attacks was to contact some 75 employees to verify their safety. Remarkably, several of them were scheduled to be in one of the Towers that day, but they had stopped for coffee & a preliminary meeting before going in to the customer's office.

I'll never forget the sound of the anguish in the voices of the families who hadn't heard from their loved ones yet, nor the happy tears when they were later discovered safe. What was most compelling was how everyone joined together to do whatever they could to help others.

What a wonderful world it would be if we could sustain that sense of fellowship and teamwork after the crisis is over and never forget all the people who were lost or irrevocably changed.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rain on a Tin Roof

Today I had a powerful and pleasant reminder of my childhood. We have a three-season room on the back of our house and it has a tin roof. I was enjoying a nice cup of tea out there when we started getting a lovely, gentle rain.

For some reason, the pitter-patter of the raindrops was especially soothing. The odd thing is that when I was a kid, we didn't have any metal roofs on the house, but we did on the tool shed. So I guess that is where the memories come from.

I love the sound and plan to enjoy it whenever and wherever I can. Life is too short to pass up simple pleasures.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cleaning Out the Dust Bunnies

I started a little project yesterday that required getting out my sewing machine. I hadn't used it for several months and for some reason the thread kept breaking. Finally, I broke down and dug out the owner's manual for some help.

Hmmm, when was the last time I had cleaned and oiled the machinery? Apparently, if I couldn't remember, then it had been way too long. As I started to disassemble each component, I made mental note to be able to put it all back together - hopefully without any parts left over.

I have never seen so many fuzzy dust bunnies in such a small confined space. I grabbed my trusty old toothbrush (one that had been replaced recently) and brushed out all the lint I could find. Next, I dug out the good old 3-in-1 oil can to lubricate all the neglected moving parts.

Amazingly, it was immediately easier to manually run the sewing machine thru its paces. Using my photographic memory (and a few grumbling words to help), I reassembled the machine and closed the covers for each compartment. Uh oh, where did that spring come from? I retraced my steps and consulted the manual for the umpteenth time to find the location missing one itty bitty spring.

As I worked thru the process using the manual as well as trial and error, I thought of how my Mother regularly serviced her machines. I recalled how she always kept a very small can of machine oil strictly for that purpose, whereas I had to borrow my husband's.

I also thought with pride about how she never had to take her sewing machine in for service. She knew that machine inside and out and could tell by the sound and feel when something needed attention. Sort of like she did with our family. She seemed to hone in on someone who needed a bit of TLC before we were even aware of it.

As I considered her legacy, I resolved to be more attentive to my equipment and to the people in my life who matter. I felt contentment as I finally started my sewing project and enjoyed my newly smooth-running sewing machine.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Memories

We were delighted over the Labor Day weekend to have our son from South Carolina and our two grandchildren home for a visit. The kids are three and four years old, so they are at a wonderful age to express their amazement and joy at simple little things. The kids barely make it in the front door before they both make a beeline to the toy box in the family room that we keep just for them.

Apparently, the four-year-old chattered for miles about getting Cheerios at Grandma’s house. His Dad was confused, because Cheerios are not favored at their home. The mystery was solved once they dragged out the Cheerios storybook where the reader fills in missing buttons, wheels and eyeglasses with – you guessed it – Cheerios. To make it more educational, we count the number of missing circles on each page together.

Building memories like these are so simple, yet so important as children grow up. Fortunately, it is often the small things like a favorite book, game or puzzle that children will remember and look forward to. So keep that in mind the next time you prepare for the pitter-patter of little feet.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sunflowers and Smiles

Whenever I see sunflowers growing with their cheerful faces following the path of the sun across the summer sky, I have to smile and recall wonderful memories of my Father. He always enjoyed watching the plants grow from seeds until the thick stalks were twelve feet tall or better, reminiscent of Jack and the beanstalk.

As the huge bright blossoms emerged at the very peak of the stalk and developed into mature heads, Dad kept a neighborly eye out for visiting critters. He took pleasure in seeing the birds, squirrels and raccoons appreciate scrumptious meals of sunflower seeds. At the end of summer, he harvested any seeds that remained. He knew they made tasty additions to his weathered old bird feeders as the days turned shorter.

Recently, I spotted some sunflowers growing wild at the edge of a farmer’s field. I thought how tickled Dad would have been to see them as they reached up into the sky. When I saw a few birds land on the seed head, I felt like Dad was enjoying the view from his perch in Heaven.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ezine Articles Published

FYI, I just got 2 articles published on Ezine I do hope to get my stories spread to more sources by using their website. I'd also love to get your feedback!

"My French Faux Pas in Quebec" -
This is a light-hearted look at the perils of ineptly translating into another language.

"Dying Wish For a Bittersweet Memory" -
This article is a heartfelt commentary about writing a difficult biography for a friend who was dying.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stories for FUN - One Bite at a Time - Part 3

• Look at the funny side

Humor is another way to spice up your writing. Think about ways to look at the funny side of things. Sometimes you can throw in a surprise ending to amuse your reader. Listen carefully when you hear someone tell a story that you like. What made it interesting or fun? Try to capture that piece when you write about it.

Do you ever read the comics in the newspaper? Look at how the writer quickly builds up a story using just a few words. He has a beginning to set the scene. He has a middle to give more details. He has an ending to wrap it up with a twist of humor. Try looking at the funnies to see how other writers make it fun. You can do something the same in your writing.

Sample Stories

Dull: One day at school, the little kids were going outside. It was winter. They needed to put on their boots. One little boy had trouble pulling on his boots. The teacher helped him put them on. He went out to play.

Juicy with humor: One wet wintry day, the little kids at school were going outside at lunchtime. One dark-haired little boy named Ralphie was upset when he couldn’t pull on his boots. Finally, the teacher helped him. She pulled and pulled until at last she got them onto his feet. But then the boy looked down at his boots and said, “These aren’t my boots.”

The teacher groaned out loud and took off his boots. “Okay,” she said. “Now, where are your boots?” Ralphie looked up at her and said, “Mine had a hole in them. I had to wear my brother’s boots today.”

Friday, August 8, 2008

Stories for FUN - One Bite at a Time - Part 2

• Make it juicy – grab your reader

Use juicy(!) words to make the story come alive! Describe things in detail to make them more interesting. Make your story pop for your readers. Think about the difference between a dull sentence and a juicy sentence. Which would you rather read?

Snappy Snippets:
Dull: It rained hard today with lightning.
Juicy: We had an enormous thunderstorm today with bright jagged streaks of lightning.

Dull: My neighbor is an old man.
Juicy: My old white-haired neighbor has a wrinkled, sunburned face.

Dull: My favorite pet is my dog Spot. He makes me laugh.
Juicy: My favorite dog Spot makes me laugh. He licks my face all over with his cold wet tongue.

Dull: I like pizza.
Juicy: Pepperoni pizza is delicious when the cheese is all warm and gooey.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stories for Fun – One Bite at a Time

• How do you eat an elephant?

Did you ever hear the riddle about how do you eat an elephant? Simple. You eat it one bite at a time! Pretty much like you’d eat a slice of pepperoni pizza, right? Writing a biography or a story is the same way – you just start with one question and one answer at a time. Don’t worry about how everything is going to get pulled together at the end. Take one piece at a time and build it up bite by bite.

Think about the story you want to tell. You need to organize it to make sense. Here is a common way to do it. The beginning paragraph is the introduction to the story. Use it to grab your reader’s attention. Make readers want to read more. Use at least 2 to 3 sentences or more if needed.

The middle paragraphs hold the details of the story. They can describe the person and what they did in their life. Write 4 to 5 sentences for each paragraph and add at least one other middle paragraph to show what happened. Remember to keep things in sequence. Biographies work well starting with when the person was born. You can add lots of information in each paragraph. Use it to help your reader know more about your subject.

The ending paragraph wraps up the story. Use it to sum up why the person in story is important to you. Tell what you learned from this person. What did you enjoy most about interviewing this person? Use at least 2 to 3 sentences to wrap up the story.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Starting your family stories

• Why write down your family stories

Sometimes we hear a story from someone like a grandparent. We think we will always remember it. Too bad it doesn’t work out that way. If we don’t have a way to hear or read the story once in a while, we will most likely forget the details of it. When you write down a story from your life, you capture it for people to read later. Just imagine how great it will feel for you years down the road when one of your own kids reads a story you wrote! You can give future generations a piece of yourself.

The other big deal about writing down stories is that somebody you know now may have a special story that lots of other people want to know. You know that most American families originated in another country some time ago. It might have been a very long time ago, or you might even remember it yourself. Either way, coming to America is a giant piece of the story about your family’s life.

• Getting started

Okay, so how do you get started writing stories about your Friends and Family (FAF)? The neat thing is that you can look at all the FAF people in your life. Then start with one special person. When you ask someone a bunch of questions and write down their answers, that is called an interview.

You can interview anyone - a friend, a family member, a neighbor or a teacher. It can be the Mayor, a shop keeper or a construction worker. It can be a police officer, a fireman, a minister or anyone else in your life. Just look at all the people around you and pick one to start with. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about somebody by asking a few questions.

• Develop your detective skills

Every person has a story to tell. All you have to do is ask the right questions to find it. Think about how a detective or a newspaper reporter gets the real story. They ask lots and lots of questions. You can do it, too!

There is a whole list of sample questions at the end of this book. They will get you started when you are ready to interview your FAF subject. As you feel more at ease interviewing the person, you will think of even more question to ask. That is great! Dig in to get the best story from your subject.

• Looking at the funny side of the street

It’s fun when we look at the funny side of a story. See if you can tell the story so you have a funny ending to surprise people. Just be careful not to make fun of someone. You want to share something that made everyone laugh, or use a twist on words.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Life Stories 101 - Getting Started

Some basic ideas:

1. For your own stories

a. Start writing one story at a time.
b. When you recall an event, jot it down to expand later.
c. Write a letter to someone telling them about your day 30 or 40 years ago.
d. Look at old photos or objects and reminisce about them.

2. For family stories

a. Gather family & friends together
b. Serve a simple snack like Grandma's Strawberry Pie to start a discussion
c. Use a voice recorder to capture conversations
d. Ask prompting questions
- What was your proudest or happiest moment?
- What games did you play as a child?

Have fun listeneing, learning & reminiscing.

Bittersweet Blessings

Today I closed a bittersweet chapter on an old friendship. Three weeks ago, a friend of mine called and asked if I had time to write her life story. Being a Personal Historian who writes individual stories for people, I welcomed the opportunity. Little did I know what a blessing this one would be.

Let’s call my friend Melissa, to protect her privacy. We had gone to High School together, but we had lost touch after graduation. I happened to run into Melissa’s sister Karen last winter and mentioned my writing business. She shared with me that Melissa had cancer and that she was moving back to our area for treatments.

Over the next few months, I seemed to meet Karen by chance on a semi-regular basis and always asked about Melissa, who was responding to treatments. I planned to go visit her when she was stronger, but that never came to pass.

In response to her call, I told Melissa I could stop by to see her the next week, but she wanted to know if I had time that day. Hearing the soft urgency in her voice, I decided to change my schedule to see her that afternoon, and I was glad I did. She was adamant that she wanted her story written for her daughter, with whom she sometimes had difficulty communicating, and for her family, who were always there for her.

When Melissa answered the door, I was appalled by how unwell she appeared. I would never have recognized her if we passed on the street, based on the ravages of her illness and treatments. However, once we started talking, we quickly reconnected as she reminisced in response to my queries about her life. In spite of the serious nature of our visits, we shared a few good laughs and some delightful memories.

I left her home that first day feeling pleased that we were already making progress on her life story, but wondering how much time she had left in her brave battle. We scheduled interview sessions to meet on alternate days, which gave me time to transcribe my notes and listen to the recordings to capture the finer points of our conversations. On each return visit, I brought along my roughly drafted chapters for Melissa to read and clarify as needed.

It was wonderful to catch up on all the things that Melissa had done over the last forty-some years, which included growing up on a small farm in central Illinois, very much as I had. I never realized just how similar our early lives had been, but the nostalgia from reminiscing was extraordinary.

Each time I went to interview Melissa, it was apparent that her condition slowly and inexorably declined. In the span of barely more than a week, she regressed from answering the door herself, to remaining in her chair, to lying in bed and finally to calling in Hospice.

From previous experience interviewing people, I knew how difficult it can be to relate some portions of their lives. Strategically sequencing questions allowed us to cover a difficult time, such as her illness, followed shortly by a joyful time, such as adopting her daughter. I was careful to limit the time for each session and always ended on a positive note to minimize wearing her out.

When I first heard that Melissa was meeting with Hospice, I was almost overwhelmed to know that she was nearing the end of her struggle and that our time was very limited. This was a bittersweet experience. It was great to get to know her again, but terribly sad that she was dying at such a young age.

As we continued to meet and Melissa’s story unfolded, I began to feel an intense compulsion to complete her story this week on Wednesday. Working late the night before and all that day, I finally had a first draft ready to print. I carried the story on a portable drive to a local office supply store and waited impatiently while they printed and bound just a few copies.

When I arrived at Melissa’s home that evening and saw almost a dozen cars parked in front, I was afraid it was too late. In fact, her house was filled with relatives, and she was barely hanging on.

I quietly walked into her bedroom, where she was lying in a hospital bed and holding her grown daughter Alexandra’s hand. She smiled when she saw the picture of her and Alex on the front cover, ran her hand over it and said, “That’s good.” Then Alex read a few vignettes from the book and added some comments of her own. Melissa was too weak to speak more than a few words, but she smiled and nodded her head in response. I went home that night feeling I had accomplished my task.

Melissa passed away the next morning. In my heart, I believe she was waiting for me to deliver her story so she could rest knowing that her daughter would understand how she felt. I am grateful that I could help fulfill one of her dying wishes. It has also reinforced for me the absolute importance of preserving family stories before it is too late.

Everyone has a story to tell and they are all precious memories. In this case, I shed many tears in the process of writing, but it was truly a bittersweet blessing to comfort my friend at the end. Now she can rest in peace.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Biography Writing Workshop Winners

Here are the winning stories from my recent Biography Writing Workshop for a local third grade class. Each of the children interviewed someone important in their lives. All of the stories were interesting and best of all, the writers also learned something new about the people they interviewed. For more details about theworkshop, please read my previous post in this blog.

Jordan's Story
Chris B was born February 28 1969 at Grissom Air Force Base. He lived in a small town, city, and a farm at different times. He also had 3 siblings. He always teased his brother and sisters because he was the oldest. He always had to do chores. He did not have allowance. He was helpful with stuff to be a good person. He was also spectacular at sports. He had a small house and rooms. His pets were like friends. He had cats, dogs and ferrets. His favorite meal was meatloaf and his favorite snack was brownies. He had lots of friend. He also did the best in everything he did.

He liked math but did not like English. His 3rd teacher was Mrs. Level. She was patient and short. He did just as well as anybody else. His favorite subject in school was math. School was boring for him. He had to walk and ride the bus. He forgot how many kids were in his class. He had pizza, and applesauce, and chocolate milk almost everyday. He wanted to be a football player. He did homework and sports and practiced saxophone after school.

His best friends are Brian, Eddie, Jill, and Brent. He liked playing TPed houses and other games. The popular songs he listened to are Tullick, Mist, and Duron and he heard them from the radio. When he was 10 years old that was when he watched his first television. He didn’t watch a movie until he was 14. He took lessons for baseball, basketball, volleyball, football, and saxophone. His favorite birthday was when he turned 21. He never dressed up Halloween. He had about 150 kinds of food. He did football on Sunday.

His hobbies were riding and going to conserts (sic) and always had fun as much as he could. He wanted to learn how to fly a helicopter. He wants to travel to Hawaii. He would like to bring his kids to Winconsin (sic) Dells and Disney and then go to white sox games. He traveled with his children because they are so spontaias (sic).

Darrion's Story
Theresa T was born on September 18, 1987. She was raised in Chicago ill (sic). She had one sister her name was Quinine. Her chores were to wash dishes and sweep the floor. She got $20 for allowance. She used it for junk food. Her house was like a delightful princess castle. It had pink glittery square rooms. She got a pet fish and didn’t have to clean that much. Then she got a parrot that could talk. Her favorite foods were French fries and pizza.

School: Theresa hated English even though she spoke it. She didn’t like to stay in school to 2:30. Her teachers name was Mrs. Smith. Theresa said her teacher was very nice. The most important thing she had to learn was cursive. Her favorite subject was gym class. Theresa’s school days were long but she survived. She got home by the school bus. She had 24 students in her class. For lunch she ate and talked. When she got older she wanted to be an Anchererpeuneur (sic). She went home and played with her family. Theresa’s best friend name was Devin. She played football hide and seek for fun.

Entertainment: She saw her first television when she was 10 year’s old. Her favorite artist was 50 cent she heard it by radio. Her favorite movie was Honey I shrunk the kids. She celebrated her birthday with all her friends and a clown.

Celebration: But last but least on Halloween she went trick or treating. And she was dressed as batswomen. Some of the weddings she went to were O.K., a lot were fun, and sometimes boring. On Sundays in summer time she went to church then she went home and ate. Her hobbies were listing to music because it calmed her down. She learned Spanish by her teacher.

Travel: Theresa said she would like to travel to Florida. She planned to do everything for the summer. She wants to travel with her cousin because she wants to do everything. This is everything I didn’t know about my cousin Theresa T.

Kelvon's Story
Family Life: Gerildine is my grandmother and she born in Mississippi in 1953 in a small town. She had 6 brothers and sisters. Ruth, Carrie, Sherry, Angle, Mike and Fred. She didn’t tease them. She always had to clean her room. She doesn’t get allowance. She lived in a wooden house with fireplaces in all the rooms. She doesn’t have any pets or animals. Her favorite meals were peanut butter crackers with cheese. She remembers best about growing up was playing in the snow. Her proudest moment was when she graduated from school.

School: Gerildine likes reading and dislikes Math. Her third grade teacher was Mr. Buttler. He likes to pattle (sic paddle) you when bad. The most important thing she learned in third grade was Reading, Science, and Recess. Her school days were very good. Gerildine got to school by using a school bus. She had 30 kids in her class. She ate and played for lunch. On Career Day she like to be a nurse. After school she went home.

Entertainment: Gerildine’s best friends were Della and Earnistine. She liked to have Recess for fun and baseball and basketball for games. She saw her first television when 7 years old. Her favorite movies were Western movies. She used to take basketball lessons.

Celebration: Gerildine celebrated her birth by having a party. Her 7th birthday was best because she could go to 1st grade. Gerildine finds Easter eggs. She dressed up in a princess dress. Wediings were joyful. Family members came. They had snacks and meals. On Sundays she goes to Church and plays outside.

Future Plan: Gerildine’s favorite hobbies are Reading because she can learn words. She liked to learn Science when it is time. She doesn’t like to travel. In the summer she likes to go to the Mississippi beach. Her favorite companion was my Uncle Ricky. He always makes her laugh.

Children's Writing Workshop

Biography Writing Workshop
May 2008

I just completed a Biography Writing Workshop for one of the local third grade classes in Kankakee, Illinois, and it was a ball. The class had 24 students who participated over the course of three weeks. Some of them might have been a bit reluctant at the beginning of the workshop, but they soon caught on to the concept of writing a biography.

The top three authors received awards for reading their stories. They each got a writing journal to encourage further creativity. Two students received honorable mentions for their stories, for which they got writing pens.

The structure of the Biography Writing Workshop included the basic writing process, parts of a story, fiction versus non-fiction, directions on conducting an interview, sample questions to ask and guidance on developing their own stories.

We started out by discussing the five steps of the basic writing process: Brainstorming, Rough Draft, Revision, Editing and Publishing. We covered the parts of a story, with a beginning, a middle and an ending. In addition, the differences between fiction and non-fiction were explained, with emphasis on writing a biography of a live person.

The kids got really enthused when we discussed how to make their stories interesting. In particular, they were to use “juicy” (i.e., descriptive) words. Instead of saying someone was “nice,” they learned to say they were beautiful, generous or enormous. An incentive of Juicy Fruit Gum encouraged even more participation that was fun, too.

Each student received a handout that included all of the above, plus five lists of questions to use when conducting interviews. Their interview subjects could be anyone at least twenty years old and preferably someone important to them. Most of the students interviewed a parent, grandparent or sibling, and several interviewed an adult at the school.

The presentation of the stories was on Friday, May 16, 2008, which was also the International Day of Story Sharing. Each of the participating children read their stories to an audience of their own class and another 3rd grade class. At the conclusion, all the kids got a gold-embossed certificate of participation.

In response to questions, all the kids seemed to enjoy the workshop and would like to do one again in the future. My pleasure would be in conducting one for them.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Baked "Fried" Chicken

This is an easy way to get a crispy coat on chicken without frying. A Teflon-coated pan works well to prevent sticking. It is also good cold or warmed up.

Baked "Fried" Chicken
3 lbs Chicken pieces
1/4 C Margarine
½ C Flour
1 t Salt
¼ t Pepper
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Melt Margarine in oven on cookie sheet with ½” raised sides.
• Combine Flour, Salt & Pepper in shallow bowl.
• Roll Chicken pieces in Flour mixture.
• Lay Chicken pieces in melted Margarine skin side up, then turn over.
• Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn over and bake 30 more.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Favorite Pies

Fresh Strawberry Pie
1 C Water
3 T Cornstarch
1 C Sugar
4 T Strawberry Gelatin
2-3 drops Food Coloring
Cool Whip, if desired
1 Pint Strawberries
1 baked Pie Shell
• Cook first 5 ingredients until thickened, then cool.
• Wash & hull berries and fold into cooled Glaze.
• Pour into cooled Pie Crust. Serve with Cool Whip, if desired.

Lemon Meringue Pie
3 T Cornstarch
1 C Sugar
¼ C fresh Lemon Juice
2 t Lemon Rind, grated
3 Eggs, separated
1 ½ C Boiling Water
1 baked Pie Shell
¼ t Cream of Tartar
6 T Sugar
½ t Vanilla
• Mix Cornstarch, Sugar, Lemon Juice and Lemon Rind in saucepan & add Yolks
• Gradually add Boiling Water (to prevent eggs from curdling).
• Heat to boiling. Boil gently 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
• Pour into baked Pie Shell.

• Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
• Beat Egg Whites & Cream of Tartar until stiff but not dry.
• Gradually beat in 6 T Sugar until stiff & glossy. Beat in Vanilla.
• Spread meringue on pie. Be careful to seal filling to edges of crust to prevent shrinkage.
• Bake 4-5 minutes at 425 degrees. NOTE: Burns easily – watch closely.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Brainstorming and Meat Loaf

My Mother is the one person in the world that I admired the most. She had the knack, the intelligence and the drive to resolve any dilemma or problem. She and my Dad made an excellent team with her brainstorming and his mechanical aptitude. Many times I would hear them discussing how to attack a problem starting with “What if a guy took and…” and working together to try different variations. It was really something to watch the essence of cooperation between them. Almost always they could devise an acceptable solution that was creative yet simple and impressive.

I can still remember how Mom would address a situation. You could practically see the wheels turning as she considered the potential options, weighing each of them in turn until she had selected the first one to try. She then quietly proceeded to make it work one way or another through a series of trials and errors. She instilled in me that there is always more than one way to accomplish a goal. In many cases, she was able to reach a resolution at essentially no cost except for the investment of some time and some tinkering. I also learned that a homemade solution was much more satisfying than spending good money for an inferior product.

A prime example occurred when I was about six years old and my older sisters needed desks on which to do their homework. A good education for all of us kids was important to my parents, even though Dad never went to high school and Mom didn’t go to college. They could have bought new desks, but instead they built their own. I had an uncle who worked in a factory that made Formica kitchen sets and he brought home salvaged pieces of Formica. Dad scrounged through his brother’s stash of material until he had enough matching pieces to make not one but two desks.

Mom & Dad worked together to design two sturdy desks with wrought iron legs and three drawers on one side. One desk was yellow and the other white, with wooden trim painted black to match the wrought iron legs and wooden knobs on the drawers. Both desks made the rounds among us kids, both while we were at home and later when we had our own homes and even our own children. In fact, the desks have held up remarkably intact for over fifty years. Not many purchased furniture pieces would have survived for as long.

When we were working on projects that take a lot of time and concentration, an easy solution to the question “What’s for supper?” is to put dinner in the oven. After an hour or so of tantalizing aromas, supper is ready for the whole family to enjoy.

1 ½ lbs lean Ground Beef
3/4 C Oatmeal
1 C Tomato Sauce
1 Egg
1 Onion, diced
1 ½ t Salt
½ t Dry Mustard
¼ t Pepper
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Mix all ingredients in large bowl.
• Shape into loaf in 9 x 13 pan sprayed with non-stick coating.
• Bake for 1 ½ hours at 350 degrees.
NOTE: This makes a great meal when potatoes are baked at the same time.
Serve with Ketchup as desired.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Just today I noticed that my rhubarb is starting to sprout out of the ground, which is a sure sign of spring! When it finally matures enough to pick, I will make one of Mom's luscious Rhubarb Custard Pies.

This recipe is unique from other rhubarb pies in that it has a creamy custard center rather than a sugary one. Since this was the only type of rhubarb pie I had ever tasted until I was grown up, I was unpleasantly surprised to try other kinds. They just seemed to be a waste of good rhubarb!

1 unbaked Pie Shell, 8"
2 Eggs
2 T Milk
1 1/2 C Sugar
3 T Flour
1/2 t Nutmeg
3 C Rhubarb, sliced
2 t Butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Beat Eggs & Sugar. Add Milk, Sugar, Flour & Nutmeg. Blend well.
Fold in Rhubarb. Pour into Pie Shell. Dot with Butter.
Bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown.

Top with lattice crust.
For larger pie, use 9" Pie Shell and increase all other ingredients by half.

8 Servings

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fluffy Lemon Cheesecake

Until I went away to college, this was the only type of cheesecake I had ever eaten. The first time I had New York style cheesecake, I thought it was too thick and grainy. Eventually, however, I learned to like its heavy texture.

I still find the Fluffy Lemon Cheesecake to be a deliciously lighter version of a cheesecake and much more palatable after a big holiday dinner.

Fluffy Lemon Cheesecake

1 box Lemon Gelatin
1 C Hot Water
1 can Milnot, beaten stiff
8 oz. Cream Cheese
1 C Sugar
2 t Vanilla
1 pkg Graham Crackers
½ stick Margarine, melted

• Mix Gelatin & Water together. Let stand until cool.
• Make crust with crushed Crackers and Margarine in 9 x 13 pan, reserving ½ C Crumb mixture.
• Beat Cream Cheese, Sugar & Vanilla until creamy.
• Pour into prepared pan, top with reserved crumbs.
• Refrigerate overnight.
NOTE: Milnot is a canned milk substitute that can be whipped to make a topping similar to whipped cream. It was kept as a staple in every home, especially because it did not need to be refrigerated.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Family Recipe for Apple Crisp


Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons with the start of the new school year, foliage beginning to change and the onset of cooler days and nights. One of our memorable pastimes was to pick our own apples in a local orchard.

We brought our own containers - a variety of boxes, bushel baskets and tubs. For consistency in measuring how much we picked, the orchard provided their own bushel baskets to use during the picking process, then the apples were gently transferred to our own. It was lucky for us that they could not measure how many apples we managed to eat while picking.

There was an especially bountiful harvest one autumn when my son Jason was six years old. He and I had recently moved back to my hometown after living in the "City", that is, anywhere north of Interstate 80 as far as my Dad was concerned. It was a beautiful cool, crisp day with the sun shining as we drove to the orchard with Mom & Dad.

The trees were just covered with big juicy apples that year: Jonathans, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious and McIntosh. Naturally, we had to grab the biggest shiniest ones to taste test before we could begin picking.

As we moved from tree to tree, Jason delighted in running ahead to survey the next target and cry, "Wow, look at all the big ones in THIS tree!" It was so easy to get caught up in the moment of fun & discovery that the four of us ended up picking seven full bushels of apples.

That was a huge amount of apples for us or for anyone. Fortunately, I had an old spare refrigerator in my garage, so we were able to pack it full with the apples that didn't fit into our main refrigerators. With all that food stockpiled, we stuffed ourselves (as well as family, friends and neighbors) with all manner of delectable apple delicacies.

We had apple pies, apple crisp, apple cake, apple coffeecake and apple pudding. And still we had more apples.

We had fried apples, caramel apples, taffy apples, apple butter, apple salads, apple muffins and apple dumplings. And still we had more apples.

Jason took bright polished apples to school for his birthday treat, and for his teacher, too. For Christmas, we hung shiny red apples by ribbons onto our tree and made apple pomanders for gifts. And still we had more apples.

We had enough apples to last us all through that Fall and Winter and into Spring. By the time we had finally finished eating all those apples, I realized two things: 1) an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, and 2) I never tired of apples.

An apple a day may keep the Doctor away, but maybe next time we'll try to not get so carried away with picking them.


For a chewier texture, use Old Fashioned (5 Minute) Oatmeal instead of Quick (1 Minute) Oatmeal.

4 C tart Apples, peeled, cored & sliced
3/4 C Brown Sugar, packed
1/2 C Flour
1/2 C Oatmeal
1 tsp ground Cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 C soft Margarine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Lay Apple slices evenly in bottom of greased 8 x 8 pan.
Combine remaining ingredients in small bowl. Sprinkle on top of Apples.
Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees, until golden brown.

NOTE: Delicious served warm with Cool Whip or fresh cream.

Add 1/2 C Raisins or dried Cranberries
Add 1/2 C chopped Nuts to topping

6 Servings

Monday, April 7, 2008

Playing Cards & Games

Whenever we started to run out of things to talk about after dinner (and perhaps a few of us had enjoyed a little snooze), we would clear all the tables and get down to the serious business of playing a card game called Euchre. We drew cards to determine partners, then assembled at various tables in groups of four. The head table would play until someone got to ten points. The winning team remained as partners at the head table, but the losers moved down to the lowest table and switched partners with the losers there.

The marvelous thing about this process was that everyone participated and had a great time, from about age ten up to the grandparents. By switching partners, we all had a delightful chance to visit with each other and enjoy the intimate camaraderie of family and friends. As always at the end of a wonderful evening, we would have one more opportunity to share another piece of Mom’s fabulous pie, a little coffee and a whole lot of love.

We often played a variety of board games as well with friends and family, such as the old standbys: Monopoly, Clue, Parcheesi, Scrabble, Sorry, Cribbage and Chess. One Christmas I received a Chess set and considered myself to be quite a competent player. However, that complacency was shattered one evening when elderly friends came by. Once I taught “Uncle Marce” the basic rules, we started a game. Within a matter of minutes, he had me in checkmate, so I humbly learned a very important lesson: You can in fact teach an “old dog” a new trick.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Birthday Bashes

With a large family, we learned very early in life that we all had to share in order to get along harmoniously. Whether it was toys and games, or bedrooms and beds, or hand-me-down clothes, it was all fair game for sharing. However, the one exception was our birthday. Each birthday was our very special day of the year. Even though most of our birthdays happened to occur in late October and November, Mom always made us our own personal cake of choice. So during that three-week period each fall, we celebrated five birthdays, each complete with cake and ice cream, candles and a family party.

Living on the farm, we had a Guernsey cow that provided milk and incredibly luscious cream. We used a machine called a DeLaval Cream Separator to separate the cream from the milk and then a gallon of the milk was Pasteurized for drinking. We kept the fresh cream in a quart jar where it soon became the consistency of warm butter. Once the cream soured, we churned our own butter, which also gave us natural buttermilk for biscuits, pancakes and other treats.

One of our favorite desserts was a huge sour cream chocolate cake made in four graduated layers. Sometimes Mom made a sour cream icing that was essentially brown sugar fudge. It was the ultimate indulgence, but it was always delicious and an impressive sight. Whenever she brought one of her cakes to a bake sale for a fundraiser or pot luck dinner at church, school or a community event, it was never likely to be available on the table for very long.

Each Saturday morning we all helped bake desserts to be enjoyed during the next week. That was a significant undertaking, considering the size of our family. Mom had to plan for dessert after supper, lots of drop-in company and also brown-bag lunches for everyone. Typically, there would be at least two layer cakes (usually one round and one heart-shaped) plus a couple of dozen cupcakes, several pies and a huge batch of cookies. If there were extra eggs to be used up, we might have custard or bread pudding, angel food cake using the egg whites and a jelly roll using the yolks to make a rich sponge cake.

Heart-shaped layer cakes exemplified the love and caring Mom put into everything she did. She didn’t just slap on some frosting then move on to the next dessert. She made the extra effort to create a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Mom put pieces of waxed paper under the edge of the cake on the cake platter while she decorated it. When she carefully pulled the papers out, the plate was left pristine and the cake most appetizing. Presentation was an important consideration, especially with cakes.

Mom taught herself (and us girls) how to decorate cakes with flair. She was a whiz with butter cream frosting and a dab of food coloring, but she excelled on layer cakes. The first step was to put a layer of icing or fruit atop each layer of cake. The next was to cover the entire cake with a thick, creamy coating of white icing. Then a decorative squiggle of pink or green icing was carefully applied around the top and bottom edges of each layer. For special occasions, the final step was to write Happy Birthday (fill in the appropriate name here), Congratulations, or whatever was appropriate for the coming celebration.

My mother cherished our entire family and every day she showed us in both big and little ways. Family was by far the most important element of her life.

This makes a large cake that is very rich and moist. It can be made in three layer pans, or four graduated layers, or in one 9 x 13 pan.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake
4 Eggs, well beaten 2 C Sour Cream
2 ¼ C Flour 2 C Sugar
2 t Baking Soda 6 T Cocoa
¼ t Salt
• Prepare cake pans (3 layers or 9 x 13) with shortening and flour. For layer cakes, line pans with waxed paper for easy release. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Beat eggs well, then blend with sour cream. Set aside.
• Sift together the dry ingredients. Add gradually to eggs and cream, beating well after each addition.
• Bake @ 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
• Let cake cool slightly, then remove from layer pans. Let cool completely on wire rack.
• Frost with “Wallpaper Paste” Frosting, Sour Cream Fudge/Frosting, or combination, such as fudge between layers and white frosting on top and sides.

Sour Cream Fudge/Frosting
2 C White Sugar
2 C Brown Sugar
2 C Sour Cream
• Combine all ingredients in large sauce pan and bring to a boil.
• Continue to boil to soft ball stage, stirring occasionally.
• For fudge, pour into 9 x 13 buttered pan.
• For frosting, cool slightly before applying.

“Wallpaper Paste” Frosting
5 T Cake Flour (or 2 T Cornstarch and 3 T Flour)
1 C Milk
• Boil Cake Flour and Milk until thick. (It will look like wallpaper paste, hence the name) Cover and let stand until cool.
½ C Shortening
½ C Margarine
1 C Sugar
1 t Vanilla
• Add remaining ingredients to milk mixture.
• Beat until light and fluffy. Add Vanilla.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Hospitality - Food Makes the World Go Round

My mother was a remarkable woman. Even with a large family and responsibilities, she always made each of us feel loved and cherished. On the more practical side, there was always an abundance of food and clean clothes. In addition, she sewed our clothes, remodeled rooms, refinished and reupholstered furniture, and wallpapered and painted with abandon. We never had much money to spare, but we had everything we needed.

We lived on a fifty-acre farm just outside a small town in central Illinois. Dad worked long hours as a welder in a factory, plus he farmed corn or beans in his “spare” time. In our younger years, Mom stayed at home and volunteered regularly at church, at school and in the community.

Every year we would have a huge vegetable garden with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, green beans, potatoes, sweet corn, cabbage, lettuce and radishes. We also had a large strawberry patch, watermelons and muskmelon cantaloupe. We canned and froze each harvest regularly during the summer, with bushels of tomatoes, green beans and peaches becoming staples for the long winter months. And a bonus in retrospect is that all the food would have been naturally organic.

Sundays were family days that started with morning Mass followed by a big breakfast. Family or friends frequently stopped by to visit later in the afternoon. My mother was a marvel at fixing an excellent meal for however many people were home at the time. She was the consummate hostess and never got flustered by the details. Years later when I had my own home I realized how amazing it was that she had everything on hand that she needed.

Banana Praline Muffins
3 T Brown Sugar 1 T Sour Cream
½ C Broken Pecans 3 small Bananas, mashed
1 Egg, slightly beaten ½ C Sugar
¼ C Vegetable Oil 1 ½ C Complete Pancake Mix
• Line muffin tins with cupcake papers. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
• In small bowl, combine Brown Sugar, Cream and Pecans.
• In medium bowl, combine Egg, Sugar, Oil & Banana.
• Add Pancake Mix, stirring just until blended.
• Fill muffin pans 2/3 full. Drop 1 t Pecan Mixture into each muffin
• Bake for 12 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stories from Growing Up

Mom held our family together with love and understanding. Being the middle child, I had three older sisters (for lots of hand-me-down clothes) and three younger brothers (for lots of aggravation and practice babysitting). In addition, my great-grandmother lived with us for a few years. So we had quite a car-full of people when we headed into town to Church or school activities. Today it is hard to imagine a family of ten that would be crammed into one car with no complaining and no air conditioning.

As we were growing up, food was an integral part of regular family gatherings. All of us were home for supper at night, with very few exceptions. I remember the comfort of a robust extended family with great-grandparents, grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends for all of life’s major events - birthdays, holidays, christenings, graduations, weddings and funerals. And the center of any get-together was a wonderful meal fresh from the farm. I’d like to share some of my memories about those times and the foods that were such an important part of my growing up.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My French Faux Pas - Part 2

As we continued our travels in Canada in our motorhome, I soon realized just how badly my rusty memory mis-translated phrases into French.

We noticed that most of the patrons in the cafĂ© ordered the daily special (“le plat du jour”) which we also ordered. We thought it would give us a little taste of adventure, as well as a taste of local cooking. In addition, I felt confident that I could actually make myself understood. The special turned out to be two huge slices of ham loaf with a delicious creamy mustard sauce, served with two diced vegetables that were not familiar to us. After much confusion and dictionary searching, the waitress went into the kitchen and returned with samples of the two vegetables prior to preparation. We were finally able to determine that they were parsnips and rutabaga. The whole meal was tasty and satisfying, due in part to our little escapade into unfamiliar territory.

On another day we visited the pretty little church [town?] where my husband’s earliest ancestor was supposedly buried. When we entered the church, we were greeted by four elderly matrons who served as docents to visitors. We were charmed to see each of them dressed up in their Sunday-best clothes from the proper hats on their careful coiffures all the way to their spotless white gloves and their stylish shoes.

Unfortunately, they spoke not a single word of English. So I pulled out my painfully prepared translation which said we were looking for the grave of my husband’s ancestors and bravely spoke in what I thought was relatively good French. They looked at us with blank expressions, then looked at each other and asked “Que?”, which is “What?” So my confidence level in speaking fluent French was shot down a little lower.

After much confusion and skillfully pointing at individual words in my faithful dictionary, we were finally able to understand the location of the oldest part of their cemetery. It was a shame that the oldest headstones had weathered too severely over the years to be read. Apparently they were made of sandstone that did not stand up to the elements. But we were confident that we had indeed found the right cemetery.

Two of the lovely mature ladies insisted on giving us a tour of the old church. It was very obvious that they were exceptionally proud of the architecture and history. Our ancestors had emigrated from here in Canada down to a small section of land in central Illinois, where we saw surprising similarities in both the building structure and ornamentation of our church. We had not previously recognized the correlation between the two towns.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

My French Faux Pas

Some of the best stories we need to record are the ones that make fun of ourselves.

A few years ago, my husband Lynn and I traveled up to Canada in our motorhome. We planned to visit the areas of Montreal and Quebec, where our respective ancestors lived. We found the Canadians very friendly and accommodating, but as we got further east of Quebec City, we discovered that fewer and fewer of them spoke any English. However, I was not worried because I had three semesters of college French and two years of high school Spanish under my belt. What I was not prepared for was how my rusty memory mis-translated phrases into French.

After a guided tour of a small winery, we wanted to venture into French-speaking Canada on our own, so we asked for suggestions to a restaurant for lunch that was frequented by “locals” rather than by tourists. We were directed to a charming restaurant off the beaten track that was reminiscent of a French chateau.

Our waitress spoke no English, but how difficult could it be to order a simple lunch? In response to her request for our beverage order, I made my first faux pas by ordering “leche” (milk) for Lynn and “the chaud avec limon” (hot tea with lemon) for myself. The poor young girl was obviously confused by my order, so I pulled out my trusty French-English dictionary. It turns out that I should have used “lait” for milk instead of the Spanish “leche” and although lemonade translates to “limonade”, lemon by itself actually translates to “citron.” So much for trying out my linguistic abilities.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Real Root Beer and Coca Cola

During my childhood in the 1950’s, the consumption of beverages was completely different than it is now. The most common beverages were coffee for the grownups, milk and Kool-Aid for the children. The coffee was just plain old percolated coffee, no decaffeinated or Starbucks, no espresso or cappuccino, no latte or mocha. The milk was good old whole milk, pasteurized but not homogenized, no 2% or skim, no chocolate unless you added Hershey’s chocolate syrup yourself. Of course we drank water, but it was simply water straight from the kitchen tap or well, not bottled unless you poured some into a big glass bottle to keep cool in the refrigerator. Life was much simpler then.

Once in a blue moon, we might be treated to a Coca Cola instead of Kool-Aid on Saturday evening when we had company. Mom would bring home a six-pack of Coke from the store, not in liter bottles or even 16-ounce bottles, but rather in the standard 6-ounce bottles, in glass no less! Each precious bottle had to be shared with at least one sibling (if not two) and poured over ice to make it go further. That one little six-pack would serve all seven of us kids, plus Mom & Dad and perhaps four to six guests.

One Sunday we went to visit some cousins on another farm. In the late afternoon when it was time for “lunch” (which was defined as a snack in mid-morning, mid-afternoon or evening), we kids received the ultimate treat: one whole bottle of Coke (6-ounce, of course) for each of us, with a soda straw! Life was so simple then that I relished experiencing three complete burps instead of the customary single and ineffectual burp from a small glass of Coke with ice.

A staple when I was growing up was Kool-Aid, which was a fruit-flavored beverage powder to which you normally added a cup of sugar and two quarts of water. It was very cheap at five cents or less per packet and easy to have on hand. My favorite was always cherry, but we also had grape, orange, lemon and a few other flavors. Sometimes we would get a bit more creative with the Kool-Aid and add a sliced orange or freeze cherries inside the ice cubes. Once, we even added club soda instead of water to make our own soda. Martha Stewart would have been so proud!

One summer we decided to make our own root beer soda and bottle it ourselves. I don’t remember the exact process, but we carefully blended the root beer syrup extract with water and other ingredients. We washed, scrubbed and sterilized old bottles, then lovingly filled each of them with exactly the right amount of soda. We used a manual capper to seal a bottle cap onto each bottle and stored them neatly in the cool cellar. Now all we had to do was wait until our tasty brew was ready to drink.

Some days [weeks?] later, we heard a muffled noise from the basement. As we ran down the stairs, we heard more popping and crashing. The corner section of the cellar where we had so carefully stored our root beer bottles was now an oozing disarray of glass, bottle caps and syrupy soda. Our much anticipated fizzy root beer had morphed into a fizzled mess instead. Oh well, back to the Kool-Aid.