from crayon box to powering my soul… color defines me

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It’s Vintage!

When my mom moved back to Omaha to live with my sister and her family, the enormous task of cleaning house ensued, and the constant questioning, “Do you want this? or this? or this?” or “Maybe your sister wants this.” Many of the items brought forward for decision-making including the handmade items I had gifted her with over the past half century. Some I passed on. Some I had long forgotten, had a good laugh over, but still passed on. A couple I had forgotten and kept with a big Cheshire cat grin.  These two are ones I kept, had professionally dry cleaned, chose new mats and frames, and waited.

The results are in and I’ve found a bit of empty wall space to show them off. Made over 40 years ago. The first and only needlepoint canvases I made myself. Long before there were Michael’s Crafts Stores, Lee Wards out of Elgin, IL, was where I worked part-time during senior high school. One of my re-loved projects was from an introductory class which taught us a variety of needlepoint stitches and the other from a holiday DIY kit. If vintage is classified as anything over 25 years, then these two pieces certainly qualify:


Learning needlepoint stitches, the cat in blues and purples, Lee Wards Craft Store class, circa 1976


Poinsettia stained glass needlepoint kit, circa 1978


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The Block Home Generation

I’ve purchased my plane tickets, reserved a rental car and am thinking ahead to my trip to Omaha, Nebraska, for my high school reunion this summer. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been back there. Many of my friends will return, too, from all points of the U.S. where we’ve scattered to over the past decades. I’m looking forward to reconnecting and laughing hysterically over shared memories. I guess it’s my plans for summer vacation that have me thinking about growing up in the Midwest and how different it is growing up, just about any place, these days, years later. My older brother returned more recently and he and I were talking about the changes. GoogleEarth shows us the home we lived in for so many years and I am surprised by a couple of things. First, the house seems so much smaller. Of course, I was a child, so some of that is a perspective thing. Second, and what my brother commented on, is how all of the trees have grown. I remember that we started out with a row of poplar trees that defined the back property line. And there was the weeping willow in the back yard separating our neighbor’s back door two-step stoop from our clothesline. Plus we had some bushes alongside the front of the house.

After several years, our father planted some new trees in a few random spots in our yard. I never understood why he chose those locations. I thought it made the yard more difficult to mow and when they moved, the front yard was no longer the best on the block for yard games like Red Rover. When we lived there, you could see the entire neighborhood from the freeway. Now, decades later, the trees have grown, taken root and are all you can see for miles and miles. I was in second grade when we moved into that home and it was, in the late 1960’s, on the outskirts of the city. Now, that house is literally in the middle of town as the city has grown and spread out enveloping smaller nearby suburbs.

There is a FB group titled Forgotten Omaha which I’ve joined because people will post old photos of the Omaha I remember. I asked the group whether anyone had a photo of a Block Home sign. Not the kind of block home you would get as the result if you did a Google search, which would show a block design for a house or a separating wall made of glass blocks or decorative cement blocks.  There was much discussion about Block Homes where a window sign designated that there was adult help available in the neighborhood if you needed to get away from a bully or were simply lost. Before there were McGruff houses, neighborhood safe houses were called Block Homes.  Our neighbor across the street was a Block Home. Of course, this, too, was during a time when leaving the doors unlocked in your house was not uncommon.

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Halloween Just Might Come in a Tin

As many of you know, I love to recycle or upcycle stuff. I had been collecting empty Altoid mint tins for a mixed media canvas class I intended to teach at a local scrapbook store, but unfortunately the store, like so many other small independently owned shops, has closed. We are down to only one or two scrapbooking stores in San Diego county and it’s disheartening. If you aren’t already familiar with the 3/50 Project, Saving the Brick and Mortars our Nation is Built On, please visit their site here.

So last weekend while participating in a pet rescue fundraiser, I created 15 miniature Halloween-themed tins from ribbon, stickers and beads I had sitting around my studio with my stash of creative goodies. What can they be used for? Spare keys, spare change, business cards, or even that emergency chocolate supply you want to keep handy, just in case.


Want to make some yourself?

Here’s how: Starting with a clean mint tin, I printed vintage witch photographs on full sheet label paper, trimmed them down to size and adhered them to the top of each tin.

Next, I realized that the tin had the mandatory nutritional information on the bottom, so I added photos there, too, to cover it up!

Using a hot glue gun, I adhered ribbon to the top outer rim of the tin creating a skirt for each tin. I have one with this crinkly old ivory ribbon that reminds me of the inside lining of a coffin.. how appropriate for Halloween, right?

I added stickers and jewels, flowers and glitter glue dots, rhinestones and mica flakes using liquid glue and pop dots for a raised or 3D effect.

Lastly, I added “feet” so that each tin would stand elevated off of a surface. I used matching beads, ensuring that the ones I chose had a least one flat side to keep them level. Using my hot glue again, I glued 4 beads onto the corners of the bottom of each tin. In the photo, the first tin on the left in the second row was photographed upside down so that you can see the amber bead feet.

Remember to keep a cup of ice water handy when using your hot glue gun because it’s inevitable that you’ll forget and touch a spot of hot glue so quickly plunge the burning finger into the ice water to harden the glue and stop the burn… just think of it as a little witches brew you have on the side!

One other thing… I found my Halloween costume at WalMart in the women’s PJ department. It is so soft, comfy and was only $6! It’s a black night shirt with this on the front. The only thing that would make it more perfect was if it glowed in the dark!


Happy Halloween!

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The Blue Circle Goes Round and Round

I’m an impatient person. I admit it. When things work quickly and then they don’t, I get frustrated. When the slow down continues, I get annoyed. At the office where I work, they refurbish laptops for employee use. In the last year, I was on my fourth refurb. The little blue circle going round and round on my screen spends far too much time there. I just want it to go away!

The IT tech doubled the memory on my latest laptop. I saw no improvement. Yes, I have multiple files, emails, documents and programs open simultaneously and I start trying to close things I’m not currently working on or not trying to remember to get back to working on with the hopes that the processing time will improve. But it takes too much time, everything freezes and eventually, I lose all patience and Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Rebooting takes forever, too, probably because of the protective programs employers are forced to use to mitigate the possible risks of viruses and information loss. I also think the SmartCard required to open encrypted or signed emails and documents doesn’t work well, either, and I know it adds to the slowdown.

To be honest, I’d be willing to pay for a new laptop myself if that would resolve the processing time. I recently spent a couple of hours showing a new recruiter how to maneuver in our systems and networks to help her do her job and she witnessed how slow my laptop runs. It was January 2nd, so we thought that maybe the IT team was doing maintenance or upgrades since most of our employees had taken the day off, but being temp employees, she and I were one of the few rattling around downstairs. Regardless, I wanted to scream by the time I logged off and re-booted the laptop.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I care. If I didn’t care or if I could find a way not to care, then it probably wouldn’t bother me so much. Some people might think: ” Who cares what I do? I’m getting paid, right? If they pay me to wait for the computer, I wait for the computer.” Well, that’s not me. I think about all the things I could be doing if the computer would work with me and not against me. And worrying about it only compounds my angst.

So, what would help? Give me something to punch or kick or poke repeatedly at with my finger. The IT guys? My boss? Well, no, I was thinking something more productive… do they still sell these punching bag things where you put your foot on their cardboard feet and it rebounds after you punch it? I want one of those in the office. Forget stress management techniques… give me a a Bozo punching bag – yee haw!

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Handmade is Heartfelt – Part 1, A Good Meal

My son made rouladen (German beef roll-ups) a couple of weeks ago for dinner as part of his Health Class assignment to cook something from a different culture than our own. Previously, we had the opportunity of going out to eat at a restaurant which served food from a different country that we had not yet tried. This was surprisingly a small number of countries as we love to try new tastes and traditions. Our options included: Epthiopian, African, Russian and Argentinan. We went with the Russian and had an amazing meal at Pomegranate in San Diego, CA. The salad sampler gave us the opportunity to try a variety of salads and the lamb in the Chakapuli was so flavorful that I can’t wait to go again! It is a quaint restaurant on El Cajon Blvd and people have written poetry or other inspirational thoughts on the walls with markers. It’s entertaining to read them as you wait for your meal.


Or as we called it as kids “Pickle in the Middle”

Back to tonight’s dinner, we took photos of each step while creating (and obviously, eating) my grandmother’s rouladen dish. Depending upon which area of Germany your family is from, you may put pickles in the middle of the beef roll-up or carrots. Zac’s grandmother on my father’s side, Ernestine Rech Brendel Bange, was the second of eight Rech children living on Bingen am Rhein; we use pickles. However, I think that what may be unique to Oma’s recipe in that we use sweet pickles while most others use dill pickles. As one of the eldest daughters in the family, Erna learned to cook and cook she did. However, my great aunt, Irmgard, the youngest of eight children, did not. Years after my grandmother passed away, I made Sauerbraten for Irma. It brought tears to her eyes and she weepily said it tasted just like her mother’s.  Of course it was, I explained that the receipe was handed down to Oma, then to my mom to cook for our father, and then to me when I was upgraded from salad chef to full dinner cook at the age of 14 as my mother had returned to work full-time.


Jeff Smith, PBS’s Television Cooking Show and Cookbook Author of numerous Frugal Gourmet Cookbooks including The Frugal Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China – Greece – Rome, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American, and the Whole Family Cookbook

I loved to cook and the variety of dishes my mother had in her recipe file box. I distinctly recall watching what I believe to be the predecessor of The Food Network… cooking shows on PBS. In particular, I rarely missed an episode of The Frugal Gourmet with Jeff Smith. He urged us to get with our grandparents, aunts and uncles and cook – write down their recipes, because when they are gone, their recipes may be lost, so preserve them today. He had so many little tips and tricks that I remember to this day. For example, “hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick” or soaking anchovies in milk to reduce the salt. Cooking, and I include shortcuts which include using a prepared mix or jarred item in this category, is a distinct handmade activity, a gift for others that comes from the heart.

Back to my son’s assignment… Rouladen uses the liquid from the pickle jar and water in the sauce that cooks the beef. We needed more liquid than anticipated, as I often save the liquid from previous jars for just this purpose, so we had leftover sweet pickles (gherkins). I coarsely chopped these and the remaining 1/2 onion, put them in the food processor and decided to make pickle relish. Browsing the Internet for a recipe, I found only a few variations that start from an already pickled cucumber, so I created my own recipe. Here it is:

  • Sweet pickles (gherkins), chopped fine… about 8-10 made about 1 1/2 – 2 cups chopped pickle
  • Onions, chopped fine… about 1/2 a large onion
  • Fire roasted red pepper, chopped fine… one large jarred pepper, drained and chopped
  • Stone ground mustard, about 2 teaspoons
  • Celery salt, pepper, and turmeric… not as much as if you were going to pickle a cucumber so start with 1/2 teaspoon each and taste, adjusting as seasoning requires
  • Apple cider vinegar, about 2 Tablespoons, and agave syrup, about 1 Tablespoon
  • Water… not to cover but to cover at least two-thirds of the ingredients in the saucepan, probably about 1/2 – 3/4 cup

Place ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Let cool and then store in a jar in the refrigerator. Bring on the hot dogs, deviled eggs, mega sandwiches, etc.

It being the holiday season, my hope is that you share a handmade meal or food gift with others and be very thankful to those who do the same with you in return.  Look for my next part of Handmade is Heartfelt, when I talk about gifts we make for others.

Here are the step by step photos of Zac’s meal with the recipe to follow:

Rouladen Recipe

Thinly sliced round steak, rump roast, breakfast steak, or meat for carne asada, sliced large enough to roll

sliced bacon             onion slices              salt      pepper         sweet pickles and juice       oil    toothpicks

Lay breakfast steaks on flat surface and salt and pepper. Form rouladen by placing a slice of bacon on top of each steak, trimming if too long. Place a couple of onion slices on top of each bacon piece. Place one sweet pickle on top of the onion and roll everything up. Secure with toothpicks. Brown in oil on all sides. Remove from pan and drain oil. Return to pan and cover with half of the pickle juice and additional water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook 45-60 minutes depending on thickness of steaks, adding more juice if necessary.

Recipe from Erna Bange

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I’d Love to Wear Costumes for a Living

Since Halloween is just around the corner and costume warehouses have popped up again just for the season to get us all in the Spirit, I’ve been thinking about whether it’s just easier to dust off and re-purpose an old costume. I love to dress up. I danced ballet, tap, toe and jazz for years growing up and loved the costumes we got to wear at each year-end recital… i also loved being raised up from below the stage in front of the row of floor lights with 20+ other girls, arms entwined behind each others’ backs, one knee bent, ready to high kick our way into the finale! Give me a top hat and some tap shoes and I’m in heaven!

But I love the costumes. Sequins, fishnet tights, tulle, tutus, tails, whatever it was I loved it. Over the years, I remember Cindy and I were chickens once, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, belly dancers, French jazz dancers, oh so many costumes… and mom spray painting our shoes to match! I still think back to how my friends sat through two acts of a very long (often boring) recital and wonder why they did it… maybe it was the pineapple parfaits at DQ afterwards? 🙂

But, I digress, my topic here is that I’d love to wear costumes for a living… within some parameters, that is.

For example, I would not want to be a costumed hot dog walking the streets handing our coupons for Harvey’s or some such. I imagine the costume is hot and uncomfortable and people forget that you are human, just trying to do your job… I doubt anyone leads you around by hand as they do with Chuck E at Chuck E Cheese.

And some uniforms really rank right up there with  have the standard red and yellow colors in their theme, which supposedly encourages hunger thoughts. I also would hate to be a mascot or Santa – there’s something pervy about those jobs that I’d have them included in the Dirty Jobs TV show for another reason altogether!

No, I think I’d love to be an actor (or play one on TV). Or work in a costume store and get to wear a new costume everyday! Or better still, work in costumes for a live stage show, like in Vegas. Now, that would be cool, although I imagine they are sewing and repairing as much as creating, but what fun would it be to make costumes for a show?

But back to being an actor, or better yet a comedian from the old variety shows. Like Laugh In, the Carol Burnett Show, or my favorite: I Love Lucy. Wouldn’t you love to be so funny that you had your own show, people laughed at everything you did or said, and you got to wear a new costume each week? Well, that was Lucy and Ethel, and Ricky and Fred for that matter, but mostly the ladies.

Here’s Lucy in some memorable costumes:

Not only was she funny, Lucy was beautiful… I often think she tried to hide her beauty behind the jokes… and she was pragmatic and smart. Read some of her wise words:

  • “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than the things I haven’t done.”
  • “I’m not funny. What I am is brave.”
  • “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself first to get anything done in this life.”
  • “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.”

And here are some of her wise cracks:

  • “If you want to find trouble, find yourself a redhead.”
  • “Once in his life, every man is entitled to fall madly in love with a gorgeous redhead.”

I Love Lucy, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, My Three Sons … oh, those were the days! These days we have vampires and reality TV… hmm…. ’nuff said here, too.

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Candy Corn is Weird but Not Yet the Next Jelly Belly

Candy corn is weird, especially when you think about what it is you’re eating… it really is made with wax, right? Regardless, I love it. I’m not even sure if I like the taste as much as the memories of Halloween evoked when I see or eat it. It’s a bit like wax candy from the “old days.” Were we supposed to chew the wax? swallow it? throw it out? If throw it out, why didn’t we see tons of miniature wax soda bottles, with the tops bitten off and the sugary liquid sucked out, littering the  grass lawns and streets? Of course, I could just be rationalizing why I was one of those kids who chewed it up!

The Internet tells us that candy corn has been around since the 1880’s and is made from sugar, corn syrup (a.k.a. more sugar grams), wax – ta! da! it does have edible wax – and artificial coloring and binding agents (hummm, wonder if that translates to seaweed?). Some recipes have marshmallow creme and/or honey in them. Candy pumpkins were created in the 1950s and candy corn variations have been created for holidays other than Halloween, starting with “Indian corn” which substituted chocolate for the yellow layer. Then there are “reindeer corn,” red and green for Christmas, “cupid corn,” red and pink, for Valentine’s Day, and “bunny corn” with pastel colored layers.

An image search revealed even more flavors of candy corn. While they are not yet the next jelly belly, they even have a jelly belly cotton candy flavor and other products have mimicked the candy candy corn scheme and flavors… And last but not least there is a bevy of recipes using candy corn as an ingredient – even adult beverages!

Another nostalgic candy is tootsie rolls created about the same time, 1896, as a chewy alternative to more expensive, difficult to transport without melting, traditional chocolates.  It was the first “penny candy” that was individually wrapped. Tootsie pops, a lollipop with a tootsie roll center, were created in 1931 as a low-cost Depression Era candy. Tootsie rolls were distributed as soldiers’ field rations during WWII due to their hardiness in a variety of environmental conditions. Candy corn and tootsie rolls, in all their varieties, have been staples for Halloween candy giving for many years.

But lest we forget, it’s not all about “treats” but there are those few who spoil things for the rest of us by playing “tricks” on others while professing “No harm was intended.” What started apparently as a hoax, now called urban legends, were rumors of razor blades in caramel apples and poisoned candies distributed to Halloween trick-or-treaters. Newspaper columnists Ann Landers and Dear Abby even weighed in on the issue in the 1980s by advising that children not eat candy given to them by strangers… hence “stranger danger,” and de-bunking of the entire idea of going house to house entreating strangers for candy.

The media and mass group think permeated and the collective fear of endangering our children by allowing them to trick-or-treat the neighborhood resulted in “safe” trick-or-treating at local malls. What a ridiculously silly idea this was! Let’s set the kids up in long, long lines and have them go from one store to another getting one tootsie roll, they were now flavored, per store. You might as well take a hint from the Easter Bunny and buy a bag of assorted candy, pretending to be the Great Pumpkin and hide candy throughout the house for the kids instead of even leaving home!

My favorite Halloween tradition failure, though,  was changing the date kids would go trick-or-treating. I am serious. In the mid 1990s we lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, and October 31st fell on a Saturday. The then-mayor decided that Saturday night was not a safe night for kids to be out trick-or-treating so “attempted”  to convince the citizens of that fair city to change the trick or treating night to Sunday instead. This was the year we also tried trick-or-treating the  mall, which was a huge failure… you really can’t trick-or-treat with bright store lights (it’s why we wait for it to become nighttime before venturing out). And going around and around in one direction, not seeing any other kids and their costumes than those directly in front of or behind you, was so boring… even the parents couldn’t stand the monotony! Luckily for us, our 3 boys, all dressed like Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles, looked just like most of the other young boys dressed in the same KMart packaged costume, so after only about 20 minutes we bailed out and they didn’t miss much!

This is about the same time that one of my favorite Halloween movies, Hocus Pocus, came out in theaters and it was soon added to our infamous VHS recorded video collection; and yes, I still own a DVD/VHS player but I don’t recall the last time we put a tape in it!

Hocus Pocus the Movie, 1993

Hocus Pocus the Movie, 1993

What a great movie, what a great cast, any other Hocus Pocus fans out there? Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as the looney witches… wearing the very best witch costumes (the movie actually won a Saturn award for Best Costumes! A Saturn award? you ask. Yes, Saturn awards honor sci fi, fantasy and horror in film, TV, and vid.) In 1693, three witch sisters are bashed until Halloween night 1993, when little trick-or-treaters accidentally release them from the curse holding them spellbound. The witches start combing the streets looking for children to use in their youth-preserving potion.  Seeking help from their parents, siblings, the youngest played by a lovely little Thora Birch, head to the Halloween Dance at Town Hall. The witches follow and cast a spell on the adults during the song “I Put a Spell on You,” causing them to dance until they die. And, in good Disney tradition, the kids save the day incinerating the witches – What fun!.  Get yourself a bowl of popcorn, some soda and some “vintage” candy, turn off the  lights, cuddle up with your kids or friends or whomever is  handy and enjoy!

Being nostalgic about Halloween, I recognize that trick-or-treating will never again be the adventure it was when we were kids: pillow cases for treat bags to haul our candy burdens around in, haunted houses set up in neighbors’ garages with foods to touch and creep you out, such as spaghetti as worms, jello molds with fruit as squishy brains, peeled grapes as eyeballs, dry ice in a cauldron of liquid to portray witches brew, and costumes we pulled together or made instead of bought at Costume Warehouses for $$$$. Ah… I love Halloween and I miss the days of creativity and imagination.