Tag Archives: mother

What I learned from my mama

So…it’s Mother’s Day. I don’t remember much about Mother’s Day when I was little. I don’t think we ever fixed her breakfast in bed or took her out for dinner. The truth is, she probably cooked for us on those days, but I could be wrong. You’d have to ask her.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t come to really appreciate our moms until later in life when we finally realize what all they taught us.

My own mother turns 90 in about five weeks. 90. Wow. That simply amazes me. This is the woman who is still teaching me new things nearly every time I’m with her. She might not realize this, because often these are things that I learn simply from watching her and listening to her.

Yesterday, I called her at 8 a.m. and began to apologize for waking her up. She just laughed and said she’d been up for hours and was out walking “way out here in Birch Court”, which is probably a good half mile from her place.

So there you have it. One of the things I learned from her is the value of exercise — at any age, and despite whatever aches and pains might be nagging at us.

My mom and dad raised five kids on a small college professor‘s salary, supplemented by her earnings as a piano teacher. She sewed, gardened, preserved the produce, and knew how to stretch a dollar. And while I learned to sew and garden, the one thing I regret never really learning is how to budget. It scares me. But I did inherit her tendency toward thriftiness — also known as “cheap”. 

When I reflect on the many things I learned from my mom, the one I value the most is the ability to sew. Because of her, I’ve always made clothing for myself and my daughters. One of the first things I remember making was is the early 60s when wrap-around dresses were popular. These resembled the hospital gowns that have three armholes. She made one for herself and one for me, and I made one for my doll.

And that was how I learned the art of sewing. From doll clothes, I progressed to simple clothing for myself. Of course, this is also where I learned my propensity for perfection. If I made a mistake that had to be ripped out and begged her to fix it, she’d fix me with a look and say, “Nope, you do it.”

That drove me nuts. It often resulted in my throwing the item down and running off to do something else. But eventually, I returned to complete the project. As a result, I can read nearly any pattern, change whatever parts I don’t like, and alter just about any item of clothing to fit me.

Now that I’m thinking about this, I’m pretty sure I’ve never thanked her for teaching me to sew, to look at a ready-made clothing item and instead of buying it, thinking that I could make it for less and know it would fit better.

So Mother, thanks. I love you. For many, many reasons.

What is age but a number?

My mom celebrated her 89th birthday on Saturday. As we headed to the farmer’s market, I asked her what it felt like to be 89 years old. She laughed and said “Old, I guess,” almost as if that was what she thought she should feel but I suspect she really didn’t feel that old. Sure doesn’t look it!

The birthday girl

We had plans to have her over for supper, followed by dessert with my aunt and uncle. Since my mom gets her big meal of the day at noon, we decided to lighten up for supper. There were so many great fresh veggies available, so we concocted a big salad of mixed greens, turnips (one of Mother’s favorites), red and yellow peppers, snow peas, onions, lovage, basil, parsley and dill.

When I was a kid, summer meals often featured open-faced tomato and cheese sandwiches. We settled on our own version of that — an assortment of bruschetta, which technically is an appetizer with origins in Italy. But they also serve well as a light summer supper. Using a purchased whole grain baguette, we sliced it diagonally, lightly spread them with olive oil, placed on a large cookie sheet and toasted them in the oven. We then added toppings such as soft goat cheese with asparagus; fresh tomatoes, broccoli and topped with goat mozzarella; hummus, thinly sliced turkey, aspagarus; hummus, broccoli, goat mozzarella. All were sprinkled with onions and assorted herbs, then broiled briefly. It was a fun way to use some of the goat cheese we’d brought back from Virginia.

Assorted bruschetta

Of course, no birthday party is complete without dessert, so we decided on make-your-own sundaes. All we decided was chocolate and vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, fresh strawberries, chopped nuts and whipped cream. Here’s are some samples of how those turned out….

Souring the sourdough

Way back in the early 70s, my parents discovered sourdough bread. My mom had acquired a starter, which she kept going for more than 30 years. Which, if you think about it, is pretty darn amazing.

Along the way, she’d give each of us (my brothers and me) a start from it. Somehow I never developed her passion for keeping it alive and after using it regularly for a month or two, I’d shove the jar to the back of the fridge and forget about it. I’d throw it out and after awhile, beg for some more.

About five years ago, Mother had to pitch her own. It was a sad, sad day, but she bravely started a new batch. On a happier note, my brother, John, still uses the starter that she gave him long ago…and he makes REALLY good bread. I think it’s his French connection (he has a PhD in French and has lived there several times).

Last fall, having come through the summer from hell, I decided it was high time to start my own starter from scratch. Which I did, after consulting cookbooks and the Internet. I followed the instructions more or less exactly (probably less), and after the initial period of fermentation, tested it. The bread turned out good, but not sour. See, in my mind, sour is sour. Very sour.

I tried it a few more times, and once again, the jar found its way to the back of the shelf. But last week I happened upon an old episode of the Splendid Table, in which Lynne Rossetto Kasper answered a caller’s question about souring her sourdough starter. Bolstered by my new knowledge, I pulled out my own starter which — in true fashion of sourdough starter — had turned black on top. No matter. I stirred it well, dumped it into a bowl, fed it some water and flour, covered it and left it to its own devices. Each day I stirred it, said a few kind, soothing words to it, and covered it again.

Last night, our friend, Reema, was visiting, and we wanted to prove to her that we REALLY DO THINGS ON FRIDAY NIGHTS. She swigged some wine while we divied up the starter — enough for a batch of bread and enough to return to the fridge. She was impressed. Either that, or she’d had more wine than we thought.

I have to admit, Fred’s seven-grain whole wheat sourdough bread was impressive. It looked great. Tasted great. Except it wasn’t very sour. Maybe I should have taken up Mary Ring’s offer of a bottle of beer. Not to drink. To add to the bread.

When it comes to sourdough…never give up. We’ll keep working on this starter…even if it takes us another 30 years.



Surviving moving day

When I was a kid, my next-door neighbors, the Schirchs, moved to a house about seven houses west. It was basically pretty simple…throw things in a truck and drive down the street. But then there was the piano. It was just a typical upright piano…a small one by most standards, but hey, pianos are heavy at any size. So after scratching his head for awhile, Reldon Schirch nabbed a couple of neighbor boys and they rolled the piano down Elm Street. I don’t remember how they got it up the steps. That wasn’t my problem. I was just a kid.

But flash forward about 40 years. This time the move involves a 6 1/2-foot Steinway and its new home is about 1/2 mile south….still a relatively simple move if you compare it to moving a 9-foot grand from North Carolina to a mountain-side cabin about one mile uphill in Virginia. Ask my brother about that. On the other hand, don’t ask him. He’ll turn green.

So anyway…there we were, pondering the best way to move the piano belonging to my mother — the one she’d taught hundreds of children to play over the past 37 years. I still remember the day that piano arrived at 430 W. Elm St. Well, actually, I remember the day it was supposed to arrive, but was postponed by a day. Which turned out to be a blessing. That night, a drunk driver missed the corner on Elm and drove his car smack into the corner of my bedroom and the music room.

But I digress. It’s 2011 and the piano movers have been summoned. On the first day, ice interferes. On the second day, snow interferes. But as they say, the third time’s a charm and the move was on. My brother kept my mom busy while I nervously stood around holding my breath as two average sized guys removed the piano’s legs, wrapped in some kind of cushioned fabric, and painstakingly moved it down one ramp and up another onto the truck.

Arriving at our house, they pondered their next move. Block the street and move it straight up the sidewalk or back {up} the driveway and trundle it over the flagstone? They finally settled on backing up, covering the flagstone with one ramp and placing another ramp on the stairs.

Their biggest concern was that we needed something under the legs to protect the wood floor. We finally made them happy by folding up rag rugs on which to place the legs. My brother told me later that he asked his builder whether his new floors would hold up under his own grand — the builder was unconcerned, saying it was like having five 200-pound persons at a party standing close together. They wouldn’t fall through, right?

So far, the floorboards seem to be holding up well. Old oak must be strong. Now, the challenge is for one of us to resurrect her rusty piano skills and the other to develop his. But hey, there’s that 87-year-old just itching to teach more lessons. In fact, the dinner table conversation earlier this week involved a lively discussion of the circle of fifths.

More on that later. For now, scales rule the roost.

Fred practicing scales

Things that made me smile

What makes you smile? Fresh flowers, sun, a hug, a funny joke.

I love fresh flowers. Daisies are probably my favorite because they’re so sunny and make me smile. So…it’s mid-January and why am I thinking about flowers? Okay, partly because I just like to think about them, but also because at our employee dinner, I received my 15-year ceramic vase made by one of my favorite artists — Gregg Luginbuhl. I told Gregg that I planned to keep it filled with fresh flowers on my desk at work. I hope that pleased him. It pleases me. Every time I walk in my office, I see a bunch of yellow daisies, alstroemeria and snapdragons. Wouldn’t that make anyone smile?

That’s not all. In our living room, we had a big bunch of huge Gerbera daisies. After two weeks, they were slowly dying, one at a time. I plucked the last two of the bunch, snipped their stems short and put them in a tiny vase in the bathroom. Okay, here’s the thing. Flowers in a bathroom might seem strange to some people, but think about it. The smell can mask some other not-so-pleasant ones.

This whole flower thing started me thinking about things that made me smile this week…a week that should have been a lot easier than last week, but turned out to be almost as challenging. But I read something recently about the importance of writing down…at the end of the day…one thing that made you smile. So here it is the end of the week and since I never got around to doing this on a daily basis, I’m doing it now. Here are some things that made me smile.

1.) A virtual bouquet of flowers from daughter no. 1.

2.) A second e-mail with another virtual bouquet of flowers from the same daughter.

3.) My mom remembered something that I didn’t, which just proves that she still has the upper hand.

4.) A hug from a coworker. For no reason except she somehow knew that I needed one.

5.) Listening to my husband hum while he mops the kitchen floor.

6.) A student thanking me for helping her get started back to school.

7.) An e-mail from daughter no. 2 telling me that she was filling out her grad school application.

8.) Hearing a snowplow behind my house in the very early, very dark hours — reminding me that the campus maintenance crew was already clearing paths.

9.) A new pair of Smartwool socks.

10.) A slew of e-mails from my brothers, asking what they can do to make life easier.

11.) Seeing pictures of my cousin’s two newest grandsons — born in the same week and weighing exactly the same amount at birth.

12.) Powering up the snow blower…which sort of made up for not getting to mow last summer…and getting a face-full of white, powdery snow.

13.) Sitting on my 40-year-old butterfly chair in the dark of the early morning, remembering hours spent in that same chair while pestering my dad in his study.

14.) Stopping in the middle of the road to watch three deer saunter across the road…and remembering my daughter’s description of the deer that “dropped out of nowhere” to slam into our van.

15.) Listening to Babs sing SMILE. (Be sure to click on the word, smile.)

On waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Here’s how my morning went. On my one day off from early morning aerobic activity, I woke up bright and early thanks to the fact that my body has not yet adjusted to the time change. So I fiddled around on the computer for awhile, baked some bread, and took Ike out for his morning constitutional.

At 9:15 a.m., I left Bluffton with my mom to meet with her surgeon. The appointment was scheduled for 9:50 a.m. Having been to this doc previously, as well as several others in the same practice, I was prepared for a wait. A long wait. But whoops…I forgot to warn Mother.

By 9:45 a.m., we were hunkered down in one of the 800 chairs in the largest waiting room in the world, completing at least 15 forms. Halfway through, we were summoned back to the reception desk, where the cheery woman reviewed what we had completed and hustled us off to waiting room number 2. Aha, I thought. Perhaps I was wrong and today there would be no wait.

Well. One can always hope. One hour later, I had finished two transcript evaluations, read through all of the course materials for my next round of teaching, and skimmed yet another article about Prince Wills and his new fiance — including the obligatory debate over the tackiness (or not) of giving her Lady Di’s engagement ring. Which, by the way, he lugged around in his “rucksack” for at least three weeks.

Beside me, Mother was engrossed in Sudoku. By contrast to our relative relaxed moods, the tension in the room was palpable, as the others compared what time their appointments were and who’d been waiting longest. Two hours and 32 ounces of water later, I’d made four trips to the restroom, one to the car, and was beginning to eye the vending machines.

Then I took a nap. Mother took a nap. Oddly, the two of us were more relaxed that anyone else.  One guy stood up and said “I’m going to take care of this,” headed for the door to the inner sanctum, but was quickly ushered back by an irritated staff member. So much for taking care of it. Finally, the room began to thin out as one person came out and the next went in.

When they finally called us, we were both so startled we didn’t respond immediately. When we entered the examining room, the poor med assistant eyed us warily and asked if we planned to yell at her, too. Apparently, she’d already gone several rounds with irate patients. Lucky for her, we had nowhere to be — other than work — so I assured her I didn’t plan on yelling.

Couldn’t speak for my mom. I learned long ago not to speak for her. She’s pretty good at doing that by herself. Oddly, she too must have been feeling mellow, because her only comment was that she hoped the wait wasn’t indicative of how long she’d have to wait for surgery. Gotta say, it was a well-aimed bit of sarcasm but didn’t quite hit its mark.I think the woman was more than eager to turn us over to her boss.

Waiting is one thing. Pain is another thing, and it’s rarely acceptable. After all, at 88, a quilter, pianist, computer buff, and genealogist with a lot of paperwork waiting, my mom has little patience for the pain of carpal tunnel syndrome. Which, of course, she made perfectly clear to the surgeon. He assured her he’d rid her of the pain. When?

Well, there’s the rub. She’ll have to wait her turn. Again.


Random thoughts strike again….and again

It’s another Random Thought Day. Truth be told, every day of my life is made up of random thoughts. Oddly, it’s often one of those thoughts that prompts me to start writing. To whit:

1. This morning, Ike and I were walking over to meet Mary Ann and Sparky (AKA Arthur). Two minutes after leaving our house, Ike decides it’s time to do his thing. Yes, I had a bag with me and scooped it up. Interesting. Usually, this takes a good five or 10 minutes. So…we’re heading down the road and passing a certain superintendent’s house. Ike decides this will be a two-poop day. Ugh. No more bags. Sorry Mr. D. We’ll be over to scoop that soon!

2. Last night as we were getting into bed, Ike (who thinks he is human and therefore, can sleep in our bed), stood at the end of the bed looking at us. I don’t know what he was waiting for, but I sure as heck wasn’t going to invite him to nose in between us. The Saint glared at him and mumbled something like: Just be glad we let you in this room.”

3. Whyizzit every time I buy a pair of pants, they fit fine in the store, but when I get home, they don’t? And whyizzit, just when I pull up to said store to exchange them, the clock strikes 9, and the doors close?

4. How did all that fabric get into my sewing room and what am I supposed to do with it? I’m sure there was a reason for buying it, but that reason now escapes me.

5. Who planted all those morning glories in my garden and why do they take over everything? My poor delphinium got strangled to death.

6. Does the cat really think I want to come out to see what remains of her latest catch? Is it really that crucial to her ego that she share three feathers with us?

7. Who made the decision that if I find a penny I shouldn’t pick it up unless it’s heads up? Why can’t I have good luck either way? Don’t rain on my parade, buster.

8. Some guy at the farmer’s market gave my mom and me a lecture on the advantages of red potatoes vs. white potatoes. She wanted white and all he had was red. He gave her the antioxidant lecture and pointed to a little graph that proved his point, or so he thought. And then he handed her a pile of potato recipes. My mother drew herself up to all of her 5 feet 1 inch, and said, “My dad grew potatoes. I know potatoes.” (Insinuating, of course, that she knew potatoes far better than he.) Guess she told him.

9. Howcum I’m always the last to know everything? Believe me, this is true.

10. Like my friend, Peter, I’m always wishing tomorrow was Friday. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

11. Why is the distance between Ohio, Virgina, Kansas and Arizona so far? Could someone please just scramble the states so I can live closer to my brothers? I want to be able to walk over to their houses when I know one of them is baking or cooking so I can just eat their food. It always sounds better than mine.

12. Why do those damn walnuts keep dropping in my yard? And why do I have to worry about them smacking me on the head on the way to the ground? It’s not even my tree!

Okay, now that I’ve got all those random thoughts off my chest, it’s time to become productive. Time to sift through all that fabric and decide what to do with it. Oh yeah, and time to visit Mr. D’s house for some poop scooping.

A day of big plans with few checkmarks

After spending basically two days in hospitals for doctor appointments, tests, attempts to de-clot my PICC line (no go), and finally another hour back at the hospital today to have a new PICC line installed, I was ready for some freedom.

I had big plans. Well, for me, they were big plans. A nice, slow walk during which I stopped at Oscar Velasquez’s mural to greet Oscar and check out one of his latest “human” additions — my mom, dressed in her senior piano recital dress. It’s a terrific reproduction from a black and white photo taken sometime in the early ’40s. I wondered if she’d gotten wind of it yet; according Oscar, several people had informed her and she’d been by to check it out.

Her comment that it “doesn’t look like me” made me laugh. Isn’t that what we all say about driver’s license photos? I think it looks remarkably like she did at that age….not that I knew her at that age. But it looks like the photo.

Back to the walk…I stopped in at the bookstore where my mom was volunteering. She admitted that she doesn’t think it looks like her, but I think she’s pleased. At least, I hope she is. She’s probably also a little embarrassed. I would be. My brothers and I wanted to make it a surprise because we knew she’d tell us not to have it done. Everyone needs a good surprise once in awhile.

Back home, I had a slow lunch, read some more of the latest Janet Evanovich, and spent some time texting with my daughter. Sometimes I think it would be easier to just talk, but hey, I’m not going to complain. I just like hearing from her.

The best part of this day was a visit with my cousin’s wife, Norma Wyse.We sat outside at my lopsided garage sale table in my Tybee Island tulip chairs, hoping for visits from the hummingbirds. Must be napping.

Norma and her husband, Mark Ramseyer, and their two kids live in Boston…well, actually Lexington. Norma is a physician, so we had some discussion about the surgery, etc.  But what I found most fascinating is that she, Jenny and Geoff, were heading to Columbus to attend an origami conference. Not to learn to fold tissue paper flowers, although they do have beginner workshops.

But the more complex workshops focus on tessellations, geometric designs, etc., led by experts. Jenny, who will be a senior in high school, spent part of her summer working in a lab at MIT creating complex designs under the direction of an MIT computer science prof who is an expert in origami. I’d like to attend the conference just to watch. Just in case you’re curious, check out this link: http://www.origamitessellations.com/diagrams/double-pleat-hexagon-tessellation/

Okay…back to my big plans…it’s 3:45 p.m. As usual, the day has passed too quickly to check off much of that to-do list. But…there’s always tomorrow. The list will still be there. Always is.

Fashion designers try out “Zero Waste Design”; welcome to our world

Zero Waste Design. Sounds impressive. According to an article in the Sunday New York Times, fashion designers are trying to avoid wasting fabric. Doing that requires designing patterns that fit in a sort of jigsaw design, thus using the least amount of fabric necessary. This fall, Parsons, the New School for Design, will offer its first course in zero waste design.

Oh my. What will they think of next? ‘Scuse the sarcasm, folks, but we old-style seamstresses in small town America, have been zero-wasting our fabric since our mothers and grandmothers (and maybe even some granddads) learned to place and replace our pattern pieces until they fit just right so as not to waste an inch of fabric. We even learned to use odd pieces of fabric for those facings that wouldn’t be seen from the outside.

Sorry, Sandra Erickson (founder and director of the Center for Pattern Design), contrary to what you think, this is not an “idea whose time has come.” This is an idea that has been around for years — you’ve just discovered it might work for high fashion. Not that we aren’t glad you’ve decided to join the rest of us who have been creating clothing with what we have and recreating new designs from old clothing (i.e., vintage wool coats discovered in attics and thrift shops). We’re happy you’re thinking more carefully; just don’t suggest this is a “new idea” from high end designers.

Lest I sound too snarky, I should point out the fact that the article did admit that history does suggest that we little folk have been using zero waste design since way back when. But that admission is hidden farther down in the article than most readers will read….little journalistic trick.

A few weeks ago, while leafing through some old photo albums, I found a photo of my mom standing somewhat self-consciously in a long white dress (well, it was a black and white photo, so I assumed the dress was white). It was, she said, her senior piano recital dress. She’d fallen in love with the fabric, which had tiny flowers on it, the minute she saw it. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough fabric left on the bolt. Somehow, though, she managed to work her magic on the fabric; the dress looked perfect to me.

Reading the Times article prompted me to dig through my cedar trunk for two tiny coats. The smaller of the two is made of  tan wool with brown velvet collar and brown velvet-covered buttons. When I was little, my mother made this winter coat from an old one that she could no longer wear. Rather than throwing it out, she recycled it into something new for me.

About 20 years ago, while taking a tailoring course, I was left with a nice piece of fine red wool. It was just enough for a coat for my youngest daughter so I took a clue from my mom and finished it with black velvet-covered buttons and black velvet collar.

According to the Times article, Parsons’ students will learn to use scraps of fabric to design patches, curlicues, and other enhancements to clothing items. Indeed, they may learn to use the larger scraps to create a whole new item of clothing. Imagine that.

Zero Waste Design. Truly, not an idea “whose time has come” but an old idea made new. We’ll just let them think it was their idea.