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.

I’d rather Fall Back than Spring Forward

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I’d rather Fall Back than Spring Forward, but this year I’m not complaining about the one-hour loss because today is a beautiful day! I slept in this morning; there is a cool, clean crispness to the air outside (like Fall when I lived in the Midwest); and I’m painting! Life is pretty perfect this Sunday … and I decided to make my favorite breakfast this morning to celebrate.

When I was 14, my mom went back to work full-time and I was put in charge of cooking dinner. Before then, I had been in charge of making salad for every dinner; getting bored with tossed green, I hit mom’s stash of cookbooks looking for something new and was pretty creative with salads on my own. I learned how to cook trial by fire following the recipes in my mom’s recipe file, cooking for a family of 6 until I went off to college. I still remember the call I made to mom one day to ask, “How do I scald milk?” I haven’t seen a recipe that requires scalded milk since :).

My parents eventually retired and followed us kids who had already moved to San Diego. I went to church one Sunday with my mom and stopped in the church book store to look for baby-naming books, I was in my second trimester at the time. Surprise of ALL surprises… I found a copy of The Spice Islands Cookbook from my childhood. Copywritten in 1961 with a first printing in February 1963, the copy I found sold for $1.95 and was in much better shape than the one my mom had or maybe even still does have.

The Spice Islands Cook Book - beautiful cover

The Spice Islands Cook Book – beautiful cover

The Spice Islands Spice Company created this beautiful cookbook; it is a visual feast printed on thick bookpaper that makes the pages wonderful to touch and turn, but most importantly, it has some of the best recipes I have ever tasted. So, this morning I made Fried Egg Soubise. This French recipe calls for frying eggs in spices warmed in melted butter (paprika, black pepper and Beau Monde, a celery salt mix exclusive to Spice Islands spice brand); transferred to a warm plate and kept warm, minced instant onions which have been soaking in dry red wine are added to the remaining spiced butter and simmered until reduced. The marinated onion sauce dresses up the eggs which are also topped with dried chervil. Served with a slice of sourdough toast used to soak up the remaining broth, this meal brings back memories of Sunday mornings growing up.

My father built a utility rack for all of our jars of herbs, spices and extracts; my mom kept them alphabetized so we could locate them quickly and the rack was on the wall right outside the main part of our tiny kitchen, so it was always in view as we lined up by the stove to be served dinner every evening, with my father being served first (so Baby-Boomer) and us kids in whatever order we arrived in, holding our plates and waiting for mom to serve. Off we would troop, not unlike the Trapp Family Singers did, into the dining room to share our meal. I am fairly certain that when mom served something we didn’t like, there was no rushing to line up but a true dragging of our feet. Our parents, though, made us at least try everything once to decide for ourselves if we liked how it tasted and with her diverse recipe file, we ate foods most of my friends had never heard of or tasted… and developed a willingness to try something new.

Other great recipes from the Spice Islands Cook Book include Meatloaf with Sweet-Sour Glaze (I never had ketchup on meat loaf until I had it at a friend’s house or out at a restaurant), Celery Almandine, Swiss Cheese Fondue, Cinnamon Toast – and the ginger variation, Special Cocktail Sauce (along with many other butters, dressings and sauces), Savory Broiled Fish, Orange and Grapefruit Salad, Baked Ham with Orange-Wine Sauce, Paprika Noodles, Creamed Peas and Water Chestnuts, and Beef Stew. Mom always stirred horseradish into sour cream; I understand it’s a European thing but there is a Horesradish Sauce recipe in this Cook Book that mimics what mom made. The first time the family went out for steak dinners, I ordered sour cream on my baked potato and, after one taste, told my mom that the sour cream was bad… it tasted funny. Turns out not all families eat baked potatoes with sour cream and horseradish. I still enjoy that, as does my son… the tradition passed down to the next gen.

The information in the Spice Islands Cook Book includes a Herb Chart, Spice Chart and Equivalents Chart which describe herbs and spices, their uses, which dishes they best enhance, what to use as a substitute when your herb/spice is not handy, etc. The Index in the back of the book sorts by recipe, herb, spice, ingredient as well as category, making it simple to locate whatever you may be looking for. Only problem? The book is now out of print :(.

I did find a baby-naming book at that same bookstore that Sunday with my mom. I decided that if my baby was a girl, she would be named Alyssa, and if a boy, Zachary. My son is now 22 and graduating from college in December – and my copy of the Spice Islands Cook Book is still in mint condition!

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