Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Gift of Hickory Nuts

I think about my parents every day.

It could be because I love them, miss them, and long for their guidance, sweetness and humor.
It could be because I live on the same road where I grew up, right down from the farm.
It could be because I'm currently trying to write a story that revolves around them and their struggles.  One of their struggles.

Or it could be that I keep a bag of hickory nuts in the freezer.

Do you like hickory nuts?  If you grew up with us, you would have learned to, because mom added them to everything -- hickory nut cake, hickory nut pie, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies with hickory nuts, banana bread with hickory nuts, hickory nut fudge and divinity and her homemade Chex Mix with hickory nuts.  They taste a little like a walnut, a little like a pecan, and a lot like a memory.  Earthy, fragrant, soft and every once in a while, just a tiny little bit bitter.

Mom added them to everything because they were abundant.  There was a huge hickory tree down on the bottom ground (it stood in the middle of a field so my dad farmed around it -- that's how important it was to mom) and every fall she would take buckets and children down to the tree to pick up nuts.

Like walnuts, hickory nuts have greenish-yellowish-brownish smelly husks that protect the shell and the nut inside  The husks have to come off if you plan to store the nuts before shelling them; leaving the husks on can cause the nut meats to turn brown and taste bitter.  The best, and most fun, way to remove the husks is to pour your buckets of hickory nuts out on the driveway and run over them with your car -- there were always two car-width paths of hickory nut husks embedded in the gravel outside of our garage.

We'd pick up the nuts, toss them back into the buckets and haul them down to the basement where they'd wait for cracking.

You've heard the phrase "that's a tough nut to crack?"  I believe it must have been coined about the hickory nut.  We collected and picked out walnuts, too, but those could be easily cracked with an accurate whack of a hammer.  Hickory nuts are not so easy -- the shells are as tough and strong as the wood from their trees, which is legendary (Old Hickory?  Hickory stick?  You know the stories.)

My mom couldn't crack hickory nuts with just her hammer.  My dad, much stronger (his nickname was "The Fist"), often ruined the nutmeats because he whacked them too forcefully.

So in his continual quest to make mom happy, he welded together a "hickory nut cracker", made of some pieces of iron and a bottle jack laid on its side.  He bolted his invention to the workbench in the basement and demonstrated how to place the nut between the iron plate and the jack piston, levering it up (or over, as the case may be) just until the nut gave a good crack.  "Viola!" he shouted.  A perfectly cracked hickory nut.

Mom would take sacks of the cracked nuts up to her spot in the family room and pick the winter away as she and dad watched TV from their recliners. Then she'd package up a couple of cups of the picked-out meats in doubled plastic bags (this was before Zip-locks), give the bag a good spin, secure it with a twisty and put it in the freezer.

Like this:

I'm not sure how old this bag of hickory nuts is.  My mom has been gone for almost 17 years, and I can't remember the last time she picked out nuts before she died.

I'v never opened them.  I can't use them.  I can't throw them away.  And when I was cleaning out the freezer before Thanksgiving, I made a proclamation that this little bag of hickory nuts must be saved.  Forever.

And because he knew I was serious, and because he knows how much that little bag of nuts means to me, and because he's pretty terrific, Clay made me a Christmas present:

What is it, you ask?  It might be a paper weight.  Or a door stop.  Or a piece of art.  I'm not sure yet.

But I do know that it's three little hickory nuts, embedded in resin.  He made it himself (with just a little help from my uber-crafty sister) in his continual quest to make me happy.

Viola.  And peace.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Red Scarf Project - Volunteer Opportunities

I started this scarf for the Foster Care To Success Red Scarf Project:

Then I lost the pattern.
Then I tore back and figured out the pattern on my own.
Then I finished it too late to send in for this year's distribution.
Then I realized it is called "waffle stitch", not "box stitch" or "windowpane stitch", which are perfectly fine stitches, but not this one.

FCS sends Valentine's care packages to college students who were once in foster care.  Many times, these kids don't have any support system, and FCS helps to pay for their books, car repair, eyeglasses and other needs that college kids have.  And, they send red scarves in their care packages.   So sweet.

So I'm going to hold on to this scarf until September, then send it in for next Valentine's Day.  And I just might make another one.

If you like to knit or crochet scarves, this is the project for you.  You can do any pattern, any yarn (red, of course), about 60" long and 6-8" wide.  Then just mail it to the address in the link above between September 1 and December 15.

Another great project is the Scarf Project for Indiana Special Olympics 2015.  Again, not many requirements -- you can use any pattern you like in royal blue, hot red and bright yellow.   Although I prefer to work with wool, when I make things for kids, hospitals, Polar Plunges and the like, I think it's a good idea to use washable acrylics.

And here is the free pattern I finally re-located for this scarf.  Thanks, Lion Brand.  This scarf is soft, cushy and very warm, just like thermal underwear.  Or a waffle.  And just perfect for a college kid or Special Olympian.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day, 100K

Welcome to the family, Miss Mini Cooper.  You are now officially a Coons Vehicle.

mini peace.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hoosier Hysteria, Tommy Style

Love to watch the boys play basketball.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Nate/Nate Birthday Party

Great family day yesterday -- our two Nates share a birthday, and we all got together to celebrate.  Little Nate is 8, and Big Nate is 31!  Happy Birthday, boys!  

After Little Nate's favorite meal of spaghetti and meatballs, salad and garlic bread, we had cake!
Isn't he the cutest thing?  

8 candles is a lot of work!

 Devil's Food Cake (recipe from America's Test Kitchen) with butter cream and fondant/white chocolate decorations.  I bought lego and lego man silicon molds from Amazon last week -- much easier than cutting all those lego dots out with a pen cap as I did for Griffin's cake:

You can download a free lego font, but since our computer has been a little iffy lately, I didn't want to take a chance of importing a virus, so I just free-handed the banner.

 We should thank Big Nate for introducing us the joy that is sugar cream pie -- I made two for the party yesterday!  Paul didn't give him a chance to blow out his own candles, though!

Olympics, a fire in the fireplace and lots of games of Go Fish.  It was a great day.


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pinterest Success - Crayon Recycling

Why in the world do I keep bags and bags of used crayons?

For the day when pinterest inspiration strikes:

You just melt the crayon bits in a 275 degree oven for 10 or 15 minutes, let them cool and pop them out of the cupcake liners.  FYI, the insides of Twistables don't melt.  And it would probably be smart to melt chunky crayons and thin crayons in separate cups -- they'd probably melt more evenly than mine did.  And don't leave them in too long or the cute little multi-colored rounds just become one round of muddy color.
You're welcome.

 Don't they look like colorful Reese Cups?
My next crayon craft might be candles -- don't you think a bunch of crayons melted in a jar with a wick would work?  Maybe even pinterest-worthy.

Speaking of pinterest-worthy craft projects made from things that most people would throw away, here is a  favorite, made by my friend, Michelle, for a school auction several years ago:

The cross is made of used school pencils.  Some even have bite marks.  

And here is the quote she chose:

 Perfect, right?

This piece has a prominent spot on my workroom wall of fame, next to my mom and dad and right under a note from my pal, Abby and a piece of Maggie's 4th grade art: