Friday, February 26, 2016

One Man's Junk Is Another Man's Treasure

My father really liked auctions. During warm weather we often went on weekends.

Livestock auctions were common in this part of the country but we did not usually go to them. Even if we lived on a farm livestock was not thrilling.

If someone died or was selling their house or sometimes even moving to another town the best way to dispose of things was an auction. Those were the ones we went to. Sometimes the house itself was sold that day. But often it was simply items from inside the house.

Furniture was usually sold by the piece. If for instance you wanted the whole set of furniture from the bedroom you would have to buy the bed, any tables, and dressers separately. There might be a box of sheets and pillow cases and another box filled with blankets. Homemade quilts were always warm so they were good to find too.

Boxes of dishes could be had for a price. Tableware would be in another box. Knick-knacks and wall hangings might come together.

In some of these big old farmhouses there was a lot to sell. Some of the houses were three stories high and all the rooms were used.

The prices for all these family items were low. After all they were used. And the family had to either sell them that day or figure out what else to do with them.

Mom watched for Mason jars. Those are the jars used to can food. They come in several sizes and Mom would make use of all of them. Hopefully they would come with the rings used to hld the lids in place. And even better would be if there was a box or two of the lids. A quarter or fifty cents would usually buy a box holding a couple dozen jars.

What Daddy liked the most was the "junk" boxes. Junk boxes contained items that either did not have enough of the same type of thing to make up a whole box or did not fit into a box of like items because the box was full.

So for ten cents (or a quarter if the box was a really big one) Daddy would buy as many junk boxes as he could from the ones available. When we took them home was when the real fun began.

We would open the box and dig around for treasure. Here is a silver serving spoon. A box of lids for Mom's Mason jars. A penny. A set of salt and pepper shakers. A pot holder. A meat grinder that fastens onto the side of the table. A set of coasters to put under drinks. An old costume jewelry brooch. A handful of bobby pins. A ricer. Japanese fans. Wind-up toy cars. A couple of wooden blocks. A half finished embroidery piece. An old album of pictures of the family. A can of motor oil. A funnel. Paper dolls. One saucer. A used lipstick. A comic book.

You get the idea. Those boxes were full of goodies. The fun was rummaging through them. We had no idea what we would find. How many meat grinders can one family use? We had dozens of those things. We also had dozens of mismatches shower curtain rings. But we had such fun finding them.

Where else can a whole family find that much fun for a dime?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Getting Dressed

When I was a little girl gender differences were quite delineated. Girls played with dolls and tea sets. Boys played with guns and trains. Girls learned the arts of being a woman while boys learned to be men. They were entirely different creatures.

I am still so grateful to my parents. They never told any of us that there was something we could not do because it was gender inappropriate. Each of us was encouraged to try whatever we wanted to experience as long as it was safe and legal. My parents were certainly ahead of the times.

So when we played house under the cedar trees at my grandparents' farm we each had our own house. We kept them clean and "cooked" our own meals. We each had to provide what was needed in order to have a solid home.

We all played "cowboys and Indians" and we all played with paper dolls. We all went exploring and we all climbed trees. We all played dress-up and jumped rope.

But things were not always the same for both boys and girls.

Little girls wore dresses. If you went to a store to buy clothes for a girl dresses were what they had.

Most of our dresses were shirtwaist dresses. They are a shirt style top with a skirt gathered at the waist and sewn to the shirt. The top was fastened by either buttons up the back or occasionally a zipper at the side. Nothing convenient.

I was a tomboy. Dresses are not a good idea for a tomboy.

I was constantly crawling around on the ground. Besides getting dirty beyond belief my dresses were torn... a lot. When I crawled my knees would land on the skirt of my dress and hold it tight while I kept going. My skirt would pull loose from the top of the dress.

So into the house I would go with my dress all torn. The top of the skirt would be hanging at my knees. Mom would just shake her head and make me clean up and go change into another dress. When she got a chance she would take out her needle and thread and repair my dress... again.

Mom used to get upset with me and my dress at other times too.

When I was feeling "cute" I would grab the sides of the skirt of my dress. Then I would lift it slightly and hook my elbows into the back of the skirt just above the hemline. Then up that back of my skirt would go to rest on my head like a hood.

I never understood what she was so upset about. I always made sure nobody was behind me. Nobody was going to see my panties!

Eventually little girls could wear shorts in the summer. Mom was really happy about that. It cut her mending time drastically.

And the girls who wore horses to school were allowed to wear dungarees and change when they got there. But wearing boys' pants was not a good thing.

So the makers of clothing had a brilliant idea. Why not make a line of pants for girls? The girls' pants did not fasten in the same way as the boys' pants. Instead of a zipper in the front it was on the side or in the back.

I of course wanted to know why I had to zip my pants on the side. The common explanationwas that boys and girls have different plumbing. Boys find it necessary to have a handy opening in the front of their pants in order to access the plumbing when needed. The only problem with that explanation is that my plumbing is not at my side.

I have come to believe that part of the reason was to give a smoother line to the look of the pants. However today most pants have zippers in the front. Times have changed.

Today I do not even own a dress. I find pants to be more functional. If I want to dress up I can find a dressy outfit with pants. Times have changed.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Atomic Stew

 I have long said there is nothing you can do to hurt a salad, stew, casserole, or soup. You can add almost any ingredient and it will simply add a new flavor or texture. You delete almost any ingredient and not miss it.

Casseroles are good made from scratch but I also like them to use up leftovers. If you have a piece or two of chicken in the refrigerator and a little macaroni and cheese with maybe some leftover peas you have the basis of a casserole. Pour a can of creamy soup (like mushroom or celery) over the top and heat it in the oven. You have supper.

Of course you can get even fancier. You might add a bit of flavor with chopped onions. Maybe some color with chunks of fresh tomato. You could mix a bit of wine or soy sauce with the creamy soup. Your imagination is the only limit.

My father was a scout master for the Boy Scouts. Of course my brothers were part of the troop. They did all the fun things Boy Scouts do. I often sat off to the side and learned many of the same things.

Each summer the scouts would camp out for a week in the local park. They had great fun roughing it. They caught fish to cook over the campfire. They had all sorts of food that they made outdoors.

The last night was their favorite night of the campout. That was night they made atomic stew.

Each scout brought one can of something from home when he came to the campout. The label was torn from the can by his parents so no one knew what he brought including the scout.

Daddy noticed that mothers often sent a can of something not wanted at home. There was usually at least one can of spinach and one can of pork and beans.There was even an occasional can of fruit.

My father and the other scout leaders provided the meat for the stew. Once the meat was browned each can was opened.

The boys guessed at what was in the can. Often they would groan because it would be something they were sure they would not like. Then another can was opened.

After going through all the cans everything with no exceptions was dumped into the pot. When it was finally done one of the leaders would serve each boy his portion of the atomic stew.

Every last atomic stew turned out to be the best one ever. None of the boys ever refused to eat. In fact they all liked it. Spinach and all.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Spinning Tires

Well I had the most interesting experience the other day. As I told you we had a blizzard here. There was a lot of snow and we have had some small amounts of additional snow to add to what came in the blizzard.

For such a small town we are fortunate that the gas station comes out and clears the streets for us when it snows. Usually that leaves a small edging of snow at the sides of the street including across the driveway.

For me that is no problem. I have 4-wheel drive and I am an experienced driver of many types of vehicles. I get in and out easily.

After the blizzard the edgings left by the snow plow are still quite high. My yard looks like a pie with a tall crust at the outer edges. At the corner the mounds of snow are not only about waist high but they form small mountains. That is where the snowplow deposits the majority of  snow it has pushed from the street.

I was sitting at my computer the other day and kept hearing the sounds of car doors slamming shut. That is not unusual. The woman across the street is even older than I am. She has many visitors especially when her family feels she needs to be cared for like after the blizzard. So I did not pay much attention.

Then I began hearing the spinning of tires along with the slammings. Perhaps the youngsters from the next block had hauled out the 4 wheelers they like to ride. Slipping in the snow would be great fun to a teenager. I went back to reading my news on the computer.

I saw a movement through my closed window blinds. It must have been a trick of my eyes though. Nothing was moving there. Back to my computer.

Then I saw a movement again. Perhaps my son had a package being delivered. I rose to greet the UPS man at the door.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to see what I thought was a young man trying to get his car out of the crust of the pie that is my yard! Later I would see that he was not so young. Probably in his forties.

It looked like he had been driving too fast and when he intended to turn at the corner his car slid instead and ran up over the edging left by the snowplow.

I stood in the door watching him for quite some time. He had run up to grab the snow shovel from beside my house and would frantically dig at the snow packed under his car. Then he would get back in his car and step on the gas as hard as he could, spinning his tires to try to dislodge the car from the snow. Then he would jump out and shovel some more.

This man had no coat on and it was freezing outside. He wore his pants stylishly... they kept showing more of his underwear than he intended though. His pants would slide down further and further. They fell to his ankles more than once.

Finally he noticed me standing there. He wanted to know if I had any kitty litter or anything he could use to get some traction. I told him I had some salt for the sidewalk and reached for the bag.

He told me he had already used all of it.

Then he decided I could push him out with my vehicle. In the first place my vehicle is an SUV and his was a small car. Things do not line up and we would have both had broken lights at the very least. (I noticed later that broken lights would not be a problem for him. All of his were already broken and his car was pretty beat up. This was not the first time he had a mishap.) Secondly I pointed out that there is an old tree stump buried in the snow and I would not try to drive over it.

He assured me we could place a plastic trash can I keep for sticks and that sort of thing between the two vehicles and no lights would break. I reminded him of the tree stump. Oh yeah.

Then he told me that if I had a tow chain I could pull him out. I do not have a tow chain.

He found a length of tow rope in his trunk. It was about 6 feet long. We could use that to pull him out.

I had been observing and talking to him long enough to know that he was high on something. I do not know enough about drugs to know which ones make a person act the way he was but I really wanted him gone.

I went and knocked on my son's door. I told him I was going to go out to see if I could help the guy enough to see him gone.

I was afraid that if he somehow managed to free himself from the pile of snow going forward that he would end up in my kitchen. Car and all.

So I went out and started my vehicle. I still was not sure what I was going to do if anything. I pulled into the street but back a ways from the car.

He was still trying frantically to spin the car out.

My son came out and I suggested that he and I try to push as the other guy steered to see if our manpower along with the power of the car would work. It was worth a try.

I instructed the man to get in his car and GENTLY step on the gas as we pushed. I kept telling him GENTLY. I said that I was old and did not want to fall and hurt myself.

Suddenly Mr Charm was trying to flatter me by telling me I was not old. My son looked up and angrily said, "She's older than she looks!!"

I still think if I had been driving the car we could have pushed it off the snow. By putting the car into reverse and creating a rocking motion by stepping GENTLY on the gas and then letting off along with people pushing at the same time it would have moved.

But no. The guy did not understand the concept of GENTLY.

Finally we agreed to try to pull him out with my vehicle. My son would supervise as the guy fastened the strap to the two vehicles.

I told him to make sure the guy did not try to fasten it to my rear bumper. I cannot afford to have it reattached. And make sure whatever he hooked it to would not come off easily.

The first thing he did was hook it to the bumper. My son adamantly refused to let it stay there. After some discussion the guy was convinced that the bumper was not the place to use.

After much discussion and many tries and several pauses to pull pants back up we were fastened.

I told my son to make sure he was in neutral and not reverse. The fool would have backed right into the back of my vehicle with his heavy foot.

The guy wanted me to step on my gas and jerk him out. I know better and was getting ready to call off the whole thing. Finally I just slowly pulled him out. He jumped out of his car and unfastened the end of the strap from my vehicle. I pulled around the corner to get out of his way.

Without a thank you or goodbye he pulled up his pants and jumped into his car. He stomped on the gas and took off. The last we saw of him he was driving toward the main highway.

So my kitchen still has no car in it. My yard is relatively unchanged. My vehicle is safe. Isn't winter fun?

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Big "C"

I hate that term... the big "C". I am speaking of cancer of course. Most people know someone who has had cancer. Many have lost someone close to them because of cancer.

Cancer is an insidious disease. There is virtually no spot on the human body that cannot be attacked by cancer.

My grandmother had cancer. This was in the late 50's and early 60's. There was no treatment for it then. Her doctor decided it was best that she not know. That was common practice at the time. Cancer was a death sentence.

By the time another doctor wanted to do surgery to try to correct her condition it was too late. The disease was present everywhere. They simply closed the incision and sent her home to die.

Many of my aunts and uncles on both sides of the family have succumbed to this horrendous disease. One aunt is currently fighting leukemia. That was the cause of death of my grandfather; her father.

My ex-husband also had cancer. He hated doctors and ignored his symptoms until it was too late. It spread rapidly throughout his system. Thankfully it was not an abnormally long time that he suffered.

I have had my own experience with cancer. It was discovered during a routine physical exam. I had surgery almost immediately. The doctor said they removed it all. I did not have to undergo the horrors of chemotherapy or radiation.

From the beginning I knew that I would be fine. I do not know why; I just did.

The hard part was letting my children know. They went with me to testings and were there for the surgery. They asked questions of the doctor. I knew they were concerned but they seemed to take my cue and decided I would be okay.

I called my boss. He said, "That's serious, isn't it?" He sounded a little afraid for me. A few years later I was the only one of his employees who knew he had skin cancer. I guess he thought I could understand how he felt.

While I was recuperating at home the head of the Human Resources Department called every few days to see how I was. She was so kind. I heard from co-workers that she had done nothing like that for them. That is sad.

My children had to tell their children. My oldest grandson was in high school. His face fell and he plaintively asked, "Grandma Emma?" My daughter-in-law said that she felt like he would not have been as upset if it had been her mother. I do not believe that is true. I think it was just his way of wrapping his mind around the concept.

His sister is an artist. She did a pastel drawing of a unicorn for me to keep in my hospital room. It is now hanging in my bedroom.

My daughter's son provided me with his bell. When he was small he had surgery for a hernia. He asked me for a bell so he could ring for his mother when he needed something. He loaned it to me so I could ring for help. Unfortunately I was home alone during the day so no one heard me ringing.

His sister loaned me her lucky elephant. Ellie took good care of me while I was in the hospital and for a couple of weeks when I went home. Then she had to return to her owner.

It has been 12 years since all this happened. I am checked regularly but there has been no return of the cancer.

I periodically write a post about cancer. The reason is that I want all of you to make sure you have your regular physicals. Cancer is very treatable if caught early.

Acquaint yourself with some of the signs that you might want to check something specific like a mole that grows rapidly or changes color. Then have it checked. In most cases it will be nothing and you will not have to worry. If something is wrong you can fix it.

Make an appointment soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


 Last week we had a blizzard. We knew it was coming. It had been the subject of news reports and weather alerts on the internet. It was no surprise.

I woke up that morning and lay there watching the snow out my window. It was coming down heavy. And it was blowing almost straight across instead of falling straight to the ground.

I stayed there and watched for a long time before I made myself get up. I like to look out my window in the morning.

When I got dressed I saw that the truck of the neighbor behind me was almost hidden under the snow. I thought it must have been coming down for a while.

Then I went to the kitchen and looked out that window. The woman that lives across the street has a porch swing. It was completely full of snow up to the top of the back of the swing.

I looked past her house. I could see for most of the rest of her block. It was snowing so hard that visibility was practically nothing.

When I turned on the news I watched the closings. All the schools were closed. We get reports for parts of three states here. Nebraska schools for at least 100 miles from here were closed. South Dakota schools were closed. Iowa schools all around the area were closed.

Everyone was advised to stay inside unless it was absolutely necessary to be out. Many businesses closed so their employees could stay inside.

Health clinics and doctors' offices announced closings. What surprised me the most was that hospitals closed!

I am sure that meant that they were taking emergency cases but anything else was cancelled.

Needless to say I was more than happy to stay nice and snug inside. There was food in the pantry and refrigerator. We did not lose power thank goodness. I had the use of the television and computer. What more could a person need?

It was a fluffy snow we had. It did not pack tight like the more wet snows do. So the close to 20 inches of snow was a little easier to maneuver.

My son takes care of clearing walks. Otherwise I would pay someone because I do not want to do and perhaps could not do it.

I have told you about the dog having problems moving around. She is so much better but my son still takes her out when she needs to go instead of just putting her on her chain. Sometime her back legs get tired and she either just sits down or her legs go out from under her.

So when she needed to go out during the blizzard my son went out with her. The snow was so high that he had to shovel a path for her to do her "thing". When they went back out later he had to shovel again.

The blizzard ended. Snow was piled high. The gas station of our little town plows the streets. That meant huge edges of snow on the side of the street.

After a few days I did need to go to the grocery store. I was also feeling a little bit house-bound.

All I can say is thank goodness for 4-wheel drive. We would have had to dig ourselves out of the driveway without it.

I have mentioned before that I have a long drive to get groceries. It was uneventful because I waited a couple of days to go. While I was there we decided to splurge and grab some fast food to take home.

Then I woke up this morning to more snow coming down. I did not expect it. But there it was. At the time it was a heavy snowfall.

I did notice something interesting this time.

Near my window the snow was soaring upward and swirling just a bit. It was a nice effect.

In my back yard the snow was angrily hurtling itself at an angle to the ground.

Then in my neighbor's yard the snow was falling in that lazy way they show in movies as it gently floated toward the ground.

I found the scene to be fascinating. All the different perceptions of the way the snow came down. I know that the snow close to my window was going up because of its closeness to the house. It is a recognized anomaly and the reason people put up fences in the winter to protect against drifting.

I suppose the distance of the neighbor's yard also had something to do with the way I saw the snow falling there. Maybe the huge evergrren trr there had something to do with it.

By the time I got up and dressed the snow had stopped. It was fun to watch for a while.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Like A House Afire

In a previous post I told you about house fires. One was our house when I was a little girl. Another was when I was older with children.

It is hard to explain the loss and violation a person feels in a case like that. Both hoouses were totally burned so there was no repair to think of.

When I was about 9 years old we were preparing to go to Grandma's house for a week. It was Christmas. Mom dressed us (there were five of us then) lined up in front of the Christmas tree.

It is a black and white picture. We were all shiny clean and glowing with the prospect of Santa and visiting Grandma. It is one of my favorite childhood pictures.

We learned that the house had burned the first night we had arrived at Grandma's. The other kids were asleep but being the snoopy one I got up and listened to Daddy's end of the phone call. I knew it was our house he was talking about.

Each year my sister and I got a new doll for Christmas. I seldom played with dolls because there was always a real baby to play with. I had one favorite doll but the others meant nothing to me. Before we left home to go to Grandma's house I announced to my sister in front of my whole family that I was giving her all my dolls but that one. She for a brief time owned 19 dolls.

Of course not having the house was unreal to us because we had not yet seen it. It was hard to visualize not having our own beds to sleep in and our own back yard to play in.

The town we lived in procured a house for us to rent. When we went home we lived almost directly across the train tracks from our burnt house.

Mom and Daddy went to the house to see if they could salvage anything. We were told to stand away but it was hard not to see.

Our brass beds were melted. The ironing board was melted. Mom's automatic washer (yes at that time we actually had an automatic washer) had all the hoses melted away.

With a long pole Daddy was able to rescue Mom's iron and his suit. Mom had bought him that suit because the gray color of it matched his eyes so beautifully. Those two things along with the washer were the only things we were able to salvage.

All of our Christmas presents were destroyed. All of the dolls were gone. We had only the clothes we had taken to Grandma's house. Our furniture had been donated by people from our town so we would be able to move right in when we came home. That is the kind of thing people in small towns do so well.

The principal of our school did not know we were out of town. He tried to get into the house to rescue us and was in the hospital after inhaling too much smoke. He fully recovered.

All family pictures and mementos were gone. My father's keepsakes from the war were gone. The animals we kept as pets and for food had been turned loose for their safety and had gone to parts unknown.

The people of our town were so generous. They had collected money for us to buy new clothing and linens. It was put into an account in a store in the large town near us.

NEW CLOTHES! Mom made most of our clothes so that was an adventure. There was a lot of money. We even got robes and slippers which we had never had.

When our second house burned my children were home. I was not. I was visiting a friend. My oldest son was out of school and working. My second son was married and not living at home. My two youngest were old enough to be left alone in the evening but their big brother was with them.

Our house was a two family house known in the area as a duplex. We lived on the left of the two-story building. The right side dwelling was not being lived in at the time.

The younger children heard a loud crash. My son ran to the front door to see what was going on. When he touched the doorknob it was hot. So was the door. He ran upstairs to get their big brother. He immediately got up and without putting on a shirt went to find out what was going on.

He quickly determined that the house was on fire. Since it was not safe to go out the front door he herded the other two out the back door.

My oldest son had brought home a stray dog that he had seen wandering around the neighborhood where he worked. He called it Joe.

Joe was with the children as they started out the back door. The chaos of the situation confused him and he balked at going outside. My son yelled at him. It scared him and he ran back inside.

My son wanted to go inside to bring him out but he was sure the other two would just follow him. He was right. They have both told me so. I was glad he did not go back in. Joe did not come back out.

They were treated kindly by neighbors who provided blankets for them to stay warm. After the firemen and police got statements from each of them about what happened they went home with their brother. My youngest son had called me and I met them at their brother's house.

The fire was out. We had only our clothes that we were wearing. And for my sons that was not much.

When we snuck back in to see if there was anything to salvage my son found the dog. Joe had been struck by a falling beam. It looked like he died instantly.

Very little was worth saving. One picture album had some smoke damage but we were able to clean it up. That was about the extent of it.

My oldest son had left a pair of work boots at his job. His boss used them as an excuse to check on him. He arranged for my son to buy a few clothes for work at a used uniform store.
The uniform store was so nice. They gave my son a huge discount. My daughter found a belt buckle that she really wanted her brother to have. The woman waiting on him saw how much it meant to my daughter that she gave it to her to give her brother.

My children were lucky to have escaped with their lives and no injuries. We were able to find other "things" to take the place of what we lost.

They never arrested the young men they believed were responsible for the firebomb that jeopardized my children. It was believed that they were responsible for setting fire to another vacant house several blocks away and a boxcar full of cedar chips several blocks the other direction. All were burning at the same time.

I believe they were finally arrested on other arson charges at another time.

The things that matter the most that are lost in a fire cannot be measured in money. It is the memories. They may be in the form of pictures or objects that remind us of a special day or event. They may be that little clay imprint of a child's hand. They are the things that cannot be replaced.

The feeling of personal safety is damaged. We all still look to see if our houses are still in one piece when returning home.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Family Ties

My family was large. Each of my parents came from families of 11 children. That meant lots of cousins.

I had 6 brothers and sisters. As we grew up and married we had our own children.

My husband had 8 brothers and sisters. More cousins for my children.

I love having a large family. When I was growing up I did not even have to leave the house to have someone to play with. We were a complete unit all by ourselves.

The drawback might be that every person needs some alone time. In a large family it can be difficult to have that. Luckily my parents encouraged that too.

Sunday dinner at my grandparents' farm was fantastic. Some of my aunts and uncles were not much older than me. And cousins would come. We grouped off according to age and had the whole farm to explore. Or maybe we would have a sporting contest of some sort.

That was my mother's family. Most of my father's siblings were much older. I have cousins who are the same age as my parents. But their children were our age. And the older cousins would often take me places with them.

Of course as families do people moved away. I have cousins all over the country and occasionally all over the world. But I know they are there.

Now all these people have friends too. We may have been happy and comfortable with each other but we welcomed others.

Most of our friends were normal like all of us. Then there were the oddballs we seemed to collect.

My parents wanted us to be open to new things. They wanted us to know interesting people. Unfortunately some of those interesting people were quite strange. As my mother often said, "If there is a nut anywhere I can count on at least one of my children to bring it home!"

I can only partially say that we are better about that. We still seem to have an attraction for the oddities of life.

As I said I married into a large family. I was so lucky that it is a good family too. And they have many of the same quirks I see in my family. That means that my children also have known their share of "characters".

My parents wanted us to be self-sufficient.  There is nothing wrong with asking for help if you really need it but try to take care of things by yourself first.

The asking for help part is something I still have a hard time with. It can be a handicap at times.

My husband and I wanted our children to be self-sufficient as well. At times I think we may have taught them too well.

Because I am the oldest child in my family there was a time I was the only one. My brother was born one year and two and a half months later. I do not remember being the only child. Thank goodness.

I have one grandson who is grown and still wishes he had been an only child. Most of my family has reveled in the gigantic group we call family.