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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!

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Happy Halloween!


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The Never-ending Challenge of Family, Part 1

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As it is Memorial Day, and we stop to thank our veterans and those who have selflessly served us and given for us, I can’t help thinking of my younger brother who passed away about a month ago.

This post will be a bit off from my usual subjects of art or food, but don’t let that stop you from reading! I think many of us will admit to having grown up in a dysfunctional family. I know I will! I still remember my Abnormal Psychology class where the first discussion was to try to define normal. Okay, so we learned there is no “normal” and applying that to my childhood there wasn’t much “functional” in our family life.

My younger brother was diagnosed with juvenile-onset (Type I) diabetes when he was 10. I remember that it was at the holidays because they let him come home for Christmas morning with the promise that he not eat anything while there. Well the story goes that, during his hospital stay, the doctor and our mom were talking outside my brother’s hospital room and my brother overheard their conversation. The doctor supposedly told mom that my brother would most likely not live past 30; now remember, this was the early 70’s. The story my brother tells is that he decided to enjoy his life while he was here and he used this to substantiate not taking care of himself, not eating right (he would drink a Big Gulp of Pepsi – no, not diet – most mornings), not exercising, drinking and doing drugs… a cautionary tale, for certain, when one has access to syringes for insulin use, they can also easily double for drug use.

This past decade showed the results of his lack of care, and lack of accountability for his health and his situation. He was on dialysis, then he was blessed with a kidney transplant, then if his MediCal had been in effect he could have had a double transplant and received a new pancreas (wow! what a difference that would’ve made).  Then he had one leg amputated below the knee and about 6 months later the other leg, too. He was wheelchair bound and unwilling to help himself in any recognizable way. Due to neuropathy, his hands became useless curled-in claws; he was for awhile able to use a spoon to feed himself, but mostly needed round-the-clock care.

Throughout this time, he was to put it as politely as possible: a curmudgeon. No one, and I mean, no one wanted to be around him. He was a victim and he made sure everyone was as miserable as he was. In many respects, he because the junior version of our father. He was also in a lot of pain as he had wounds that were not healing and spent the majority of these past couple of years in the hospital. The care facility had, with this last trip to the hospital, informed us that he was no longer welcome there and could not return.

Growing up, I found myself being a die-hard optimist. Whenever I would get into a pity party, I would think about how lucky I was; I wasn’t, for example, in a wheelchair, blind, deaf or suffering from any other inability to care for myself and others. There were times I wanted to shake my brother and yell at him Cher’s famous movie line, “Snap out of it!” I still recall the Christmas Eve dinner out at a local Chinese buffet with mom and my brother when I repeated the infamous Dr. Phil line to him, “And how’s that working for you?” Surprisingly, that stopped his whining in it’s tracks (at least for the remainder of the meal)…. on an aside, he later starting attending NA, which help him build friendships and gave his life some purpose.

He was the type of person who had always been bailed out by someone and never took responsibility for his own life or actions. I had loaned him money, given him advice, and even gotten a lawyer acquaintance to take on a case to defend him when I later learned he was guilty and had lied to me! My parents, too, had gotten him out of every conceivable situation he could get himself into, giving him money or letting him move back in with them for the last several years.

And he was cantankerous, obnoxious, and had reverted back to a child in many ways; throwing temper trantrums from his wheelchair like he was a 4-year-old. In the end, he managed to push everyone away from him. My sister, who lives in Omaha, was the one to tell me he was back in the hospital and not doing well. I was his only living relative in the San Diego area. So, guilt, I guess, made me and my son drive to the hospital to see him the night they decided to take him off life support.

I’d spoken to the nurse caring for him and she knew we were on our way. His heart was not going to keep him going much longer and they were discussing a move to hospice. It was a Sunday night and hospital visiting hours were ending at 8:00 p.m. however she said we could come and stay as long as we wanted. When we arrived one of the nurses asked when I had last seen my brother. This took me back and with a lump in my throat I said that it had been about 2 years. The breathing apparatus was horrible, keeping his jaw propped wide open so that he could breathe. I know that he recognized my voice, although I still wonder if the fact that as I age I sound more like our mother and maybe he mistook me for her. I know that he recognized my son’s crazy afro curls. But, he could not speak.

He could express pain, which he was in a lot of with wounds on his leg stumps which weren’t healing. He was being given morphine, which we knew gave him hallucinations, making him think people were going to throw him out of where he was living or that he was being kept against his will, etc. But at this point, I don’t know how much he knew about what was going on with him. We talked to him and went with him as they changed floors for the continuous care making him as comfortable as possible.

Seeing my brother this way broke my heart. It’s hard to be angry with someone you love when they are this helpless. Also, the fact that he could not talk back, made him easier to be around (wry smile here while wiping tears off my face). I had so many emotions coursing through me all I did on the drive home was cry. I took the next day off and stayed in bed grieving. Tuesday night after work I wanted to see him again. They had decided he would not make the transition to hospice and were keeping him in the hospital.

I kept thinking I would not want to die alone and knew that none of his friends had gone to see him. I have to admit the shock when seeing him. He was wearing a green hospital gown that I can only describe as “fresh” green. It wasn’t a pale, washed-out hospital gown but a cheery color against the stark white sheets and pillowcase. He was asleep, unconscious, unresponsive, and heavily medicated. As I sat on the hospital bed with him, his breathing would stop for what seemed like long periods of time and my eyes would widen wondering if he was gone, but then he’d gasp and start breathing again.

He did not respond to my voice, as far as I could recognize, or my touch. I started to tell him stories of our childhood growing up in Prairie Lane, an Omaha neighborhood. Remember when we used to play Red Rover using the sidewalk in the middle of the front lawn as the dividing line in any yard game? Remember, back before childproof lids, we would mix baking soda and vinegar in empty pill bottles, put them in the middle of the street and then run like mad to get away before they exploded everywhere? Remember when you took my bike and wrecked it, losing your 2 front teeth? Remember when you shot a bottle rocket off from a soda bottle you held in your outstretched hand and it boomeranged back at you, burning you in the stomach? Remember the animals we had, what a menagerie! Remember when I realized what was actually in that foil-wrapped package in the freezer labelled “Snake Food”… well, you said, what did I think you were doing with the mice? Ewwww.

By this time, tears were streaming down my face and I no longer tried to stop them, just let them fall. My brother seemed so child-like laying in the hospital bed and peaceful. All my anger and resentment towards him evaporated; forgiven.

I don’t know whether it was for him or for me, but I sang lullabies to him, the ones mom used to sing to us at bedtime, starting with his favorite: Puff the Magic Dragon. Then, I Gave My Love a Cherry, 14 Angels Guard My Sleep, All the Pretty Little Ponies, and yes, Twinkle Twinkle. I have no idea if he heard, sensed, or even knew I was there, but that was the last time I saw my younger brother alive. His heart stopped the next morning. The hospital never called me as the written directions they had were to let mom know. My sister then sent me a text.

Rest in peace, little bro.


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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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Coffee’s Lost it’s Flavor

Ever run into a patch of time when that wonderful first morning cup of coffee just don’t taste as wonderful as it usually does? For me, it’s like coffee has lost it’s flavor. I keep trying a cup every morning in the office, hoping for a return to the taste that matches the marvelous aroma when it’s brewing. But without success. So, you think it may be the brand. Maybe, like shampoo, you need to switch brands every couple of months and go back to your favorite after a two-week “diet” to fall in love with its effect again. So, you try that; no luck. Then you think, maybe you need a barista to brew you an espresso, so you stop in your local neighborhood Starbucks and order your usual soy latte, but even that isn’t right. Did they change soy milk brands again? It tastes sweet and each time they’ve changed brands over the past decade, the new brand has more sugar grams than the previous brand; maybe the chain is saving money, to the detriment of our blood sugar levels, thank you very much.

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So, coffee’s lost it’s flavor. It’s probably more a symptom of something else than a reality. Putting things off. Thinking about doing things, but not much more than just thinking about them. You find a TV series on Netflix that intrigues you, and you watch from Season 1 through Season 4, episode after episode in marathon fascination. You should be doing something else; you should be doing anything. You play mind games: do the dishes, then you can watch an episode; start the laundry and do that while watching, you can pause the thing, you remind yourself; steam a couple of artichokes for workday lunches, and watch an episode; read a chapter of the book you’re using in teaching that class at the university one night a week or grade some assignments on Blackboard.

In my case, it’s more like I prime a canvas and then stare at it. I could create a project and teach a class at the local independent arts and craft store; there are fewer and fewer of those in the metropolitan area and it’s important to support those still open to keep from losing them, too. I have lots of projects at work to complete, but don’t feel like I’m contributing much even once they’re done. The project I was hired to do has been put on hold, so I feel unchallenged; tough to motivate myself. I can step back and take a strategic view and know what at least our department needs to focus on, but everyone seems content to deal with the mundane routine, the pattern of continuing to work ineffectively and inefficiently. Where’s the 3-year plan? Where’s the 5-year plan? I’m tired of everyone being reactive; be proactive or go home.

Is this apathy? I don’t recognize it. It’s not familiar to me. This is apathy, right? Wait it out and it will go away, right? Daniel Goleman writes about the secret antidote for apathy:

Integrate to Motivate

One way to create a sense of community is to integrate the various moving parts of an organization as best you can. Acknowledge that we’re in this together. We’re not in competition with one another. Recognize thateach person brings something to the table to enhance the whole organization.

When you start to see the different workers and departments as part of a whole, you’re better able to link them together. They’re not just disparate elements. Just like a choir singing in harmony, a company that’s integrated will generate a vital, energized way of being.

When a company is not integrated it’s going to move either into rigidity—staleness, lack of productivity and innovation—or it’s going to move to chaos, where things are confusing, and there are abrupt, unpredictable shifts.

I predict my work atmosphere will move toward chaos. I guess I’ll need to put down the laptop and the remote to keep my personal life from heading in the same direction.


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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.

Rouladen

Rouladen
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.

JeffSmith

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