Monday, February 28, 2011

Stories - Ketchup

One of my favorite parts of A Prairie Home Companion are the commercials "brought to you by the Ketchup Advisory Board." How I wish I could snag a seat on that board; I'm sure I would qualify, as I eat ketchup, love ketchup and have made ketchup.

Growing up, the shelves in our basement (and also in the basements of both sets of grandparents) were lined with jeweled jars of canned goods. Grape jelly, apple butter, sauerkraut, pickled beets, pickled green beans, pickled pickles. But primarily, tomatoes. Whole tomatoes. Tomato sauce. Tomato juice. Chili sauce. And ketchup.

Canning is hot and sweaty business, starting in the garden. We'd pick early in the morning, but in Indiana, August early mornings can still be brutally hot. After we'd haul our bushel baskets up to the house, we'd peel and snap and chop and cook, then mom would ladle the vegetables into hot sterilized jars to be processed in the canner or pressure cooker. When I was a little girl, I heard a horror story about a woman whose pressure cooker blew up in her kitchen, burning her with the scalding water and cutting her with shards of the jars; I've had a huge fear of pressure cookers ever since. As the dial on the cooker would work its way up, I'd work my way out of the kitchen, and try to get mom to get out, too. But she said that if you did it right, and kept an eye on the gauge, it would be fine, and it always was.

The best part of the whole process was listening for the "pop" of the lids as each jar cooled and sealed itself, sitting out on our dining room table. Each pop put a satisfied little smile on mom's face. She kept a tally of the pops, and after a few hours, she would run her fingers over the top of each jar, feeling for the dent left by the sealing; any jars not sealed would be served for supper.

One day, in the middle of canning season, dad came home with a big copper pot -- it probably held around 20-30 gallons. He spent the next few days welding together an iron base with a swinging arm and then fashioning a wooden stirrer -- a paddle angled on the end of a long wooden handle, so we could stir but not get burned. Time to make ketchup!

Dad set up the fire between the house and the barn. We poured bushels of chunked-up tomatoes into the pot, along with vinegar, sugar and spices -- cinnamon and cloves, I remember. Then dad swung the pot over the fire, and it cooked. And cooked. And cooked and cooked and cooked, and filled the whole yard with the sweet spicy aroma. (It makes my mouth water, just remembering how great that smelled!) We all took turns stirring the ketchup, which was great fun at first, but quickly turned into a hot, miserable job. Mom brought out the kitchen timer, and we'd each stir for 10 minutes, passing the paddle on to the next kid as soon as we heard the ding.

Meanwhile, mom had washed and sterilized several cases of dad's Miller High Life bottles, and had them lined up and ready on the counter. When the ketchup had cooked down to his satisfaction, dad swung the pot from over the fire, and used a kitchen pot to ladle the hot ketchup into the canner, which he carefully carried into the kitchen. Mom ran the mixture through the food mill to remove seeds and peels, and then poured the ketchup into the beer bottles through a funnel.

I wish I could remember what happened next. Did mom process the bottles? Did we cap them first, or wait until the ketchup cooled? I do remember the fun of the capper -- lining up the bottle just right, setting the cap on and pushing down hard on the handle until the cap crimped around the bottle top nice and tight. (I found this picture of a bottle capper on another blog --it's just like the one we had.)

I would like to lie to you and tell you how much I loved that ketchup. But I didn't. When I was in the third grade, I was allowed to stay overnight with my best friend, Jenny. Jenny was so exotic -- she lived in town with her father and her Southern grandmother, and that night for supper they had fried chicken and french fries, which they ate with a knife and fork. Most amazingly, they ate store-bought ketchup that flowed like a river out of a brightly labeled bottle with a white twisty cap. It was smooth and bright red, so unlike the deep red, slightly chunky, slightly watery junk that came out of the re-used beer bottles. I was in ketchup heaven. Until Jenny's father snapped at me and slapped my hand for reaching for a french fry with my fingers. (Yes, you are right -- I never stayed overnight there again.)
Every time we went to the grocery after that, I begged my mom for store-bought ketchup, just like I had begged for store-bought milk after drinking out of the little cartons in kindergarten.

I didn't get it. In more ways than one.

In my basement freezer, I have one jar of strawberry jam from the last batch mom ever made. And I have one bag of hickory nuts that she picked out, sitting in her chair in the family room, watching TV with dad. How I wish I had a bottle of ketchup to round out my collection.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stories -- The Elevator

Last week, my friend, Jim, blogged about worry.
Last night, Father Dan's homily was on worry.

And yesterday, my baby boy turned 18.

Was this a sign to write about worry? I thought about that for a minute, but then realized that my thoughts on worry haven't changed much from what I wrote here.

But there's a connection, I think. Sometimes I worry that I'll never finish my book. I've been plotting it out and mushing it about in my head since Will was a baby. Yes, that long.

But I have decided that this is the year to write full force, and have something worth reading by the end of the year. My book is a highly fictionalized account of losing our family farm, but I am trying to include as many of the real life great memories I have of the people, events and landscape. Even if it's never published, I think it's important to get some of these stories down on paper (or flash drive) because sharing family stories is one of the great joys of life.

In his homily, Father talked about his little sister and an escalator. So, I thought I'd write about my little sister and the elevator. Therefore,

My Little Sister and the Elevator

My mom had her hands full. I knew this, because when I was 8, everyone said that -- from strangers ("My God, you mom has her hands full!") to my Grandma H who reminded me every time we were together, "Now you be a good girl, because your mother has her hands full." My brother was 4 and a wild child, and my twin sisters were 2-year-old toddlers; mom's hands were more than full, and she could have used a few more. That's why someone gave her a set of harnesses for the twins. These were strappy little contraptions that fit over their shoulders and buckled in the back. Each harness was attached to a stretchy cord, so that the girls could walk and run about, but were still in mom's hands, so to speak. I'm sure whoever gave them to her thought they would come in very handy, but I remember them being used only once.

In our little town, there were 2 stores with elevators: the fancy furniture store and JC Penney. Although mom did most of her non-grocery shopping at GC Murphy's, when there were good sales we would go to Penney's, and riding the elevator there was a fantastic treat. Usually I had the honor of pushing the button and then taking the ride all the way up to the second floor, where we would shop in the children's department. As my brother grew, however, he liked to race the elevator, so I would have to begrudgingly run the wide staircase with him while mom and the twins rode up.
One shopping day, we kids were enjoying our time on the second floor, happily
weaving in and out among the racks as mom searched out bargains. The children's department was right outside the elevators doors, and mom reminded us to stay away from both the stairs and the elevator. I remember seeing the girls playing on the floor at mom's feet as I made lap after lap, chasing my brother around the clothes racks. But as I came around the rack on the next lap, I saw that one of the twins had stood up. I watched in stifled horror as Karen, attached to mom by her elastic tether, stepped through the elevator doors just as they were about to close. I yelled for mom to look, but Karen had already started her ride down to the first floor.

It didn't take mom long to realize what had happened, but what should she do? There she stood with her other three children, holding on to Karen's harness and watching the strap stretch, tighten and slide through the slit between the elevator doors right to the floor. She held on tight, not knowing what would happen if she let go, and sent me running down the stairs. I made it to the bottom just as the doors opened to see my sister, hanging near the ceiling of the elevator from the stretchy strap like a little angel. There she fluttered, too confused to cry, until the manager came with what I remember as the biggest pair of scissors I have ever seen, and cut her down. He held her until someone yelled up to mom that everything was OK, and mom and the other kids came barreling down the steps. After gathering Karen in her arms, she tearfully thanked the manger, unbuckled the harness from both girls and handed the remains to him, saying, "Throw these away."

There were so many things to be thankful for. Karen was unhurt. The manager was quick and level-headed. JC Penney's was only a 2-story building. And we had a good story to tell over and over.

Sometimes, I still see children attached to their moms with stretchy little harnesses at parks or malls. They probably think I am crazy when I sidle up and tell them to avoid elevators.


Monday, February 21, 2011

A Quick Catch-up

First off, I missed the milestone of 300 posts to this blog (this is #304, I think) since I started in June of 2007. I've tried to keep it mostly happy, but I've complained a bit, too. I've blogged joys and sorrows, birthdays and holidays, wrestling, fairs and funerals. This started out as a knitting blog, but quickly turned into a blog about things I love, which perhaps is why it seems a bit disjointed at times -- I love a lot of things. And if you are reading this, I am guessing you are one of those things I love. So, thanks.

I missed writing about Lucky's death. She was not the most pleasant cat, but she was ours. For 18 years. Will found her curled up in my closet, where she had spent many happy hours not being forced to interact with us. I do miss her, but I think I might be the only one.

I missed writing about the end of Will's high school wrestling career. His goal was to get further in the tournament than he did last year, and he achieved that. At regionals, he lost to a kid from Terre Haute who went on to place 2nd in the State meet last Saturday. I will really miss watching him wrestle, no matter how difficult and worrisome it was. Wrestling is a great sport, and he was a great little wrestler. So says his mom.

I'm knitting a pair of socks, I'm reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova (talk about difficult and worrisome!), I'm thinking about my next quilt and I'm almost done with my first draft of my first chapter. Not running yet, but I'm thinking about that, too.

There. All caught up now.


Sunday, February 20, 2011


is when a 10-year-old boy (who you are not related to) wants to name his new sheltie puppy after you because you're a "pretty good mom."

Now that is good karma.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Make Stuff/Be Happy - School Auction Edition

(This might be the last of the make stuff/be happy series for awhile -- I need to get some things done around here besides crafting!)

Our school auction/chili supper is one of the most anticipated events of the year. I don't know how many years we've been doing it, but it gets better every year -- this year was no exception.
We had a great time, got to sit with the King and Queen of Mardi Gras and ate King Cake. I got to hold Sloane for a while and won a sock monkey. What more could you ask?
Here's the stuff I made for this year's auction:
Each class was asked to make something commemorating our parish's 150th Anniversary. Hmmm. What to do with kindergartners? We had had great success with Sister Anna Rose's big birthday card last year (we had the kids lay on the floor in the shapes of the letters, took their pictures, then put the letters together into "We Love You Sister!") so we decided to try again. This time, however, we tried to do it in one take; we had ALL the kids lay on the floor of the gym in the shapes of 150 YEARS, and took their picture from a tall ladder Doug put on the stage for us. (Yes, I did climb that ladder to take the picture, and no, I didn't like it one bit!) Getting 20 kids to be stay quietly in position was a challenge, but I think it came out pretty nice. Wacky, but nice.

Last year's Red Riding Hood trio did pretty well, so I thought I would try another knitted set. For this nativity, I used the same pattern as Red (from Petite Purls ), but changed it up a bit, knitting in the round instead of on straights and adding a bit more length in the bodies. I didn't add faces, as I thought the last time I tried this, they looked too cartoony. See? And, I felted them. Sort of. As usual, I ran a little short on time, so the shepherd and angel are made from felted sweaters and the shepherd's head is actually a sock. The other two kings, who are still in pieces on my work table, will be delivered shortly. The manger for baby Jesus is made from hot glue (my favorite adhesive), and the bits of Will's laundry hamper lid that I keep finding on the floor, although it really looks like pretzel sticks. I wish I had taken a picture of the stable Stan made to go with the figures -- it was really perfect. I'm hoping he'll make me two more, as two dear girls I love were interested in the nativity set -- I think I'll start on theirs soon, one for an 8th grade graduation present and one for a wedding gift.
I've made a quilt for the auction for the past several years. Here is the 2011 installment: This quilt, machine pieced and quilted, is made up from the leftovers of my Nursery Rhyme quilt, which is still in the works. I only had to purchase the batting and two yards for the backing. (That reminds me -- the nativity set was knit/sewn up with stuff from my collection of yarn and crafty stuff. Use it up, wear it out, etc!)
Here is the back -- I love how Elizabeth Hartman of Oh, Fransson! adds color to the backs of her quilts, so I did, too!
The woman who won the quilt told me she's going to put it into another auction, this one for special needs kids. See? Make stuff and be happy.
Finally, Clay baked our favorite chocolate cake for the dessert auction. I hope whoever won it is enjoying it! Peace.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Make Stuff/Be My Valentine

Early on in our years together, I made lots of stuff for Clay. A Browns afghan with a BIG orange helmet. A bathrobe, which he has worn maybe three times. A down jacket. (I know! It was a challenge, and there were little feathers everywhere!) That, he wore a lot.

But except for supper and trouble, I hardly make anything for him anymore. Until this week, when I made him a pillowcase embroidered with a favorite sentiment from our Outlander books:
It means "give me a thousand kisses."

Of course, when you've been married to someone for 28 years, I guess you should remember that they don't use a pillow.


Make Stuff/Make Nate Happy - Birthday Edition

Our sweet Nate turns 5!
Sassy smile with a little bedhead, but I love it.

When Sarah asked Nate what kind of cake he would like me to make him, he said he really didn't care, but later asked for "the most awesomest Batman cake ever." Holy tall orders, Batman!

I had made Paul a blanket for Christmas, and Nate asked for one, too, with the "cozy material." I added the N, just because.

Zoe liked it; she thought the "N" was a "Z". I told her I'd make one for her on her birthday.
Nate liked it, too. But then, Nate likes everything.

And I love every picture of our family, especially this one of Sarah and Nate:

Peace and birthday love.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Make Stuff/Be Happy - Cricut Edition

Since Clay surprised me with a Cricut for Valentine's Day two years ago, I'll celebrate its anniversary by showing some of the things I've cut out lately.

Our school lobby was spruced up with a fresh coat of paint over the holidays, and our principal, Michelle, asked for a welcoming sign:
I was a little worried how the vinyl would look on the ductwork, but was happy with the result!

A BIG frame, a mat board and a lovely motto, and you get this:

A smaller version of this had been hanging in the lobby for years, but Michelle wanted it to be more visible. At 27x40, it's now hard to miss!

Valentines for my kindergarten friends:
The owl and bee were cut with the Paisley cartridge, and the envelopes with Tags, Bags and Boxes. I wrote on the back and slipped in three pieces of sugarless gum, cause that's how I roll.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Make Stuff/Be Happy - Kindergarten Edition

Making stuff just makes kids happy, which is why I am so glad I'm in a classroom where the teacher takes making stuff very seriously. Here are some recent creations:

Snowmen and women, a la Snowballs. Sharon collects stuff all year for this project -- I just clean out our junk drawer!

We read Elmer, by David McKee

Last week's "D" project:
It's a bit of a trick to display 20 little dogs and avoid mounting/butt sniffing scenes.
100 Days of School -- the groovy entrance to their coat hooks:
The groovy teacher:

Zero the Hero left zero-shaped surprises for the kids on each day that was a multiple of 10 (donuts, bracelets, Funyums, etc.); on the 100th Day of School, he made a personal appearance:

Funny. His cape looks a lot like our Christmas tablecloth.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Finishing up my projects.
Zoe under my chair.
Clay reading the last few chapters of Echo in the Bone out loud.

happy valentine's day to me.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

I Hate Guns

I don't want to debate.

On Friday, a woman I met at convention last year was shot and killed by her husband.

When you can make that all better, maybe we'll talk.

Peace to Kim Guyton Williams.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Close Enough

to show! I still have a few things to add to the room, and I need to sweep, but I'm not going to show you a picture of the floor, anyway.
This is the great table I bought off the back of Doug's truck last spring. I made the curtains from a vintage tablecloth; it wasn't quite long enough, so I added some of my mom's feed sack material at the bottom, and used another feed sack for the tabs and tiebacks. (I hated cutting into that feed sack, but thought that it would be better to trim curtains than to spend more years in a box of remnants in my basement!) Flowers from the sweet Gibbons family.

Here's the chest I showed earlier; it's full of Cricut and scrapbook supplies. I can just put the Cricut on the table and go to town! And, there's a perfect spot for our dear old horseshoe lamp. I re-did the yellow chair last year, with another vintage tablecloth.

I quickly filled up the shelves Clay put up. Art supplies, sewing supplies, buttons and lots and lots of miscellaneous. The quilt on the sewing table is the first full-size quilt my mom made; it was a wedding gift to us. However, after she took a few more classes and got really good at quilting, she wanted me to burn this one! Glad I didn't, because I think it looks just right here (plus, it hides all the plastic containers of yarn, fabric and crafty stuff under the table!)
This is my little corner dedicated to Grandma Hunley: my Raggedy Ann and Andy she made, the little whistle cup we all loved to tweet, a picture of her parents, and the cash register I found at the flea market that looks just like the one we played with growing up. Oh, and this was her trashcan, which I love, if one should love a trashcan.
My chair corner. I got that lamp at WM for $12 -- highly functional, but I think I need to kitch it up a bit. A little fringe, maybe? And the bulletin board is one Karen and I made for Grandma -- it's just a piece of foamboard covered with fabric; the ribbons are held on with paper fasteners.
And the wall. A pig, a plate, a Jesus, my parents, a quilt, a thank you note from Abby and some words, which I still need to stick down. This room makes me happy.