Don’t Throw That Away!

I grew up in a close-knit family with grandparents who lived during the Great Depression. For those of you who are foggy on the subject, the Great Depression was a severe, worldwide economic downturn that began in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930’s. It was the longest and most widespread depression of the 20th Century.

The depression began after a major fall in stock prices in the United States in September of 1929. On October 29, 1929 (known as Black Tuesday) the stock market crashed in this country and the depression was felt world-wide.

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To give you an idea of the scope of the Great Depression, let’s compare it to the recent Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 when so many of us lost money and where the world Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell about 1%. (The GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided during one year.)

Between the years of 1929 and 1932, the GDP fell by an estimated 15%. International trade plunged by 50% and everything dropped…profits, tax revenues, and personal income.

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During the depression years, unemployment in this country rose to 25% and people did whatever they could to get by. In some countries, the unemployment level went as high as 33%.

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One of my great-grandmothers and grandmothers (who was a little girl at the time) sold flowers from their garden at home to help make ends meet during the Great Depression.

My grandparents on the other side were farmers so they at least had food to eat during those difficult years. All of my grandparents had big vegetable gardens every year even into old age. One of my favorite pictures of my mother’s father was taken when he was around 80 years old and was using his roto-tiller to get his garden ready for spring planting.

People who lived through the Great Depression tended to be frugal for the rest of their lives. Some didn’t trust the banks with their money and would keep it hidden somewhere at home such as under their mattress. All of them saved everything, some to the point of hoarding. When one has lived for years and had to do without, it’s just not something a person wants to experience again.

When I was growing up, I loved nothing more than time with my grandparents. But I also knew better than to throw anything away at their houses. Before anything was thrown in the trash, it was looked at to see if it could be repaired or repurposed. When they all died, their homes were full of lots of interesting saved items that made their children and grandchildren smile.

One of the things I remember most vividly about my farm grandparents was that they even saved the envelopes from their bills in the mail and would reuse them to make grocery and to do lists. As a child, I used to think this was a very funny habit, but what a smart thing to do if one couldn’t buy paper!

Today, I picked up over 1000 books at Taylor Printing in Dallas. It’s the second printing of my book, “The Button Box”. I think all four of my grandparents would be delighted that I wrote a book about our family button box and that early form of recycling where buttons were removed from worn out clothes to be reused on new clothing.

I didn’t live during the Great Depression, but I did learn a lot from others who did. I’m especially good at repurposing leftovers into a fun second meal. I don’t save everything like my grandparents and to some extent, my parents, but I don’t just throw things away because they are old or because I no longer have a use for them.

My current non-writing project is to restore two 50-year-old chairs given to me recently by my parents. If you read my blog regularly, you will recall them from my post, “The Golden Chairs” published on June 7th of this year. I’ve finished stripping the very old varnish off the legs and plan to re-stain them this week before I take the chairs to the upholsterer to be dressed in their new fabric.

One of the things I really like about our modern computer age, is that we have websites like nextdoor.com and freecycle.org and craigslist.com where we can find new homes for our castoff items so they don’t add to the modern trash heap. If you have items you no longer want, you can sell them online or list them in the “free” section of the online classifieds.  As the old adage goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Or woman’s…

The Great American Eclipse

My husband tells a story about a day in the summer of 1968 when he was just seven years old. He was with his mother in the Pine Bluff National Bank in Whitehall, Arkansas.

The bank was sponsoring a community fund drive for the U.S. Space Program’s race to the moon, and he decided to donate his entire life savings…$8.00…to NASA. He says from that moment on, astronauts were his heroes and he felt as if he had a part in helping the space program move forward.

Eight Dollars

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Many of us in my generation remember watching live on television the night of July 20, 1969 when the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon. For more on that, see my blog post from February 15, 2017:

http://www.walkdownthelane.com/look-up

Next Monday in this country, we will be looking up once again as the skies show us the first solar eclipse since 1918. Called the “Great American Eclipse” this eclipse is special because the path of totality will sweep from coast to coast over several hours in the United States.

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The path of totality means the path across the country where the moon will totally cover the sun and create a shadow that is approximately 100 miles wide. This stunning celestial sight will appear from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. People outside the path of totality (such as those of us in Texas) will see a partial solar eclipse where the moon will cover only part of the sun, but that should be spectacular too!

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Total solar eclipses occur every 18 months to two years, often in the middle of nowhere but this one is special because it’s the first time in 99 years that one has cut diagonally across the entire United States. For some, it’s a once in a lifetime occurrence because 2045 is the next time a total solar eclipse will cross the entire United States.

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During this eclipse, which will pass through your viewing location in about two and a half minutes, the sky will darken and temperatures will most likely drop. Nasa has created a special eclipse site which displays the locations of the path of totality across the country as well as some viewing safety tips.

https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety

It is suggested that people take safety precautions when viewing the eclipse because looking with unprotected eyes can cause permanent eye damage and even blindness. Sunglasses are not enough to protect your eyes!

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You can watch the eclipse happen live on NASA’s eclipse site or you can buy some inexpensive eclipse glasses or even make your own pinhole camera to use as an eclipse viewer. There are directions for making a pinhole camera out of cardboard and aluminum foil on the NASA site under the “Safety” tab.

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There are maps on the internet showing the best spots in the country to view the eclipse and people are planning trips to those places. The two locations in the country where the passing of these two celestial bodies will last the longest with a duration of two minutes and forty-one seconds, are Carbondale, Illinois and Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

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We have close friends who are traveling with their family to Wyoming to be in the path of totality during the eclipse. We will be here in Texas looking up but wherever you are on Monday, August 21st, be safe and enjoy the Great American Eclipse!

Bound By Books

Today is “National Book Lovers Day” and is a day for bibliophiles (a fancy name for book lovers) everywhere to celebrate their love of literature, reading and books. As an author and a self-professed lover of actual books with intriguing covers, paper pages and ink smells, I’m delighted that there is a day set aside to celebrate them!

The Gutenberg Bible which was printed in 1455, was the first major book that was printed. The printing press had been invented around 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg and this marked the entry of books into the modern age. Before the printing press, books were handwritten and copied by scribes for a price.

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Most of the early printed books were published in Latin. As the printing industry grew and libraries were established, books were chained to shelves to keep them from being stolen. If you are a Game of Thrones fan, you have probably seen books on the show that were chained to shelves and displayed horizontally standing on the edge opposite their spines since this is how books were shelved for hundreds of years.

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According to the American Library Association website, (www.ala.org) there are 119,487 libraries of all kinds in the United States today. A sales report released by the Association of American Publishers on August 1, 2017, indicates that book publishers’ revenues ($2.33 billion for the first quarter of 2017) are up 4.9 percent compared to the first quarter of 2016. The book business is alive and well!

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And in case you are wondering, the Bible is still the best-selling book of all time in the world with over five billion copies sold. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is followed closely by Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung also known as the Little Red Book, and then the Qur’an.

Here are the top ten best-selling non-religious books and the year they were published:

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, 1605

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, 1859

3. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1954-1955

4. Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, 1943

5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling, 1997 (Published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1998.)

6. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, 1937

7. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, 1939

8. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin, 1754-1791

9. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, 1865

10. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, 1950

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I’ve read most of the books on this list and even read The Little Prince in French in either high school or college. I may still have my copy around here somewhere… My favorite books are not on the top ten list but I’ll share them with you anyway.

My favorite novel of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and I make a habit of rereading it every few years. My favorite non-fiction book is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. After I read it the first time, I bought it for everyone on my Christmas list that year. If you haven’t, you should.

The book that haunted me for weeks, maybe months after I read it, was Night by Elie Wiesel. It is a difficult read because of the subject matter even though it is not a long book…just 115 powerful pages. I think it should be required reading for every high school student.

Of course, my favorite children’s books would be The Button Box, Which Came First?, and the soon to be released, The Day the Turkey Came to School. For those of you who are waiting for the new book, it should be out in early September!

I hope you will find a few moments to read on this day to celebrate book lovers and reading and books. I wonder where I put my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Author’s note: I’d love to hear your favorite book titles!

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Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit For Good Luck!

Yesterday was my birthday but it was also the first of the month. I received an email from a friend telling me you’re supposed to say “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” on the first day of the month to have good luck throughout the entire month. I had never heard of this before so, after I said it, then I had to do some research!

It seems to have originated in Britain and North America in the early 1900’s. The exact time and origin of this is unknown but there was an article about it in Notes and Queries in 1909. Notes and Queries is a long-running scholarly journal established in London in 1849 which publishes short articles about the English language, literature and history.

There seem to be several versions of the phrase “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit” including “rabbits”, “white rabbit”, and “rabbit, rabbit, white rabbit” because like most folklore, there are several variations based on the time period and area where people lived. It was thought that one should say the words before saying anything else on the first day of the month and they would either have good luck all month long, or they would receive a present before the month’s end.

It’s been reported that in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt admitted to a friend that he said “Rabbits” on the first of every month for good luck. It has also been mentioned in books throughout the last century including in a 1962 Trixie Belden book, “The Mystery of the Emeralds”.

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Even as recently as the mid-1990s, the Nickelodeon Channel would promote the last day of each month as “Rabbit, Rabbit Day” and would remind kids to say it the next day.

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I didn’t know any of this but I do remember when I was growing up people used to carry a lucky rabbit foot. They were often dyed some really bright, unnatural color and attached to keychains. My husband said he carried one in his pocket for luck when he was in elementary school.

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Why would a rabbit be connected with good luck? Since rabbits have been a symbol of fertility and prosperity because they multiply so fast, carrying a lucky rabbit’s foot was seen as a way to increase wealth.

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While I wasn’t a fan of carrying a dead rabbit’s foot around as a girl, I did spend a fair amount of time lying in the grass and looking for lucky four-leaf clovers! One day after I had married, I was looking though my Bible for a certain verse and I found two very old,  dried, four-leaf clovers between the pages.

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My brothers and I would ask our mom to save the wishbone from a cooked chicken or turkey. Once it had dried out for a day or two, we would pull it apart and whoever got the bigger half was supposed to have good luck. We called it the “wishbone” but my husband says his family called it the “pulley bone”.

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When my children were growing up, I would always give them a shiny new penny at midnight on New Year’s Eve for good luck in the new year. One year I actually forgot and got myself into trouble because they all wanted their good luck pennies! There are some other penny connections to good luck such as putting a penny in your shoe on your wedding day and keeping a jar of pennies in your kitchen.

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When I moved to Texas seven years ago, I adopted the habit of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.  This “southern” tradition is thought to bring  good luck throughout the new year.

For many people, the number seven is considered to be very lucky. For Christians, it’s the number of days that God took to complete the world. Lucky seven is also the world’s favorite number because there are seven continents on Earth, seven seas, seven days of the week, seven colors of the rainbow, and seven notes on a musical scale.

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Some other things that are thought to bring good luck are ladybugs, crickets, dreamcatchers, upturned horseshoes, barn stars, bamboo, chimney sweeps, a falling star, red lanterns, rainbows, sapphires, amber, turtles, dolphins and acorns.

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Do you have anything in your life that you keep around for good luck…just in case?

There’s A Fragrance In The Air

I ran out of my favorite perfume last week. Since my birthday is next week, I’m hoping that one of the people who love me will rectify the situation…Anna, Ryan, Matthew…Mom needs Viva La Juicy Perfume!

No, of course I’m not completely out. According to the fashion-era.com website, women today have fragrance wardrobes of at least six different perfumes, rather than a single signature perfume like our mother’s generation did. That fits me perfectly as I have five perfumes now that I’ve run out of my favorite. Here’s a list of the ones I still have:

Burberry Brit (My second favorite)
Coco Mademoiselle Chanel
Miracle by Lancome
Chanel No 5
Pure Tiffany

I think most of us have a favorite that we wear for every day and then possibly another favorite for evenings out. One of my perfumes (Pure Tiffany) I don’t really like but it cost so much that I won’t get rid of it. The others I wear sporadically when I begin to feel like I’m in a bit of a scent rut.

When I was a teenager, I began wearing the same cologne as my best friend, Karen. We both wore Jovan Musk Cologne all through high school. Then, for my birthday in August before I left for college, my mom gave me a bottle of her signature perfume, Chanel No 5. It’s the perfume I have worn for special occasions for most of my adult life.

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Sometimes a scent has personal significance because it is connected to someone, to something, or to a special memory. I have a perfume bottle that belonged to one of my grandmothers. It’s a bottle of Chantilly with just a bit of perfume left at the bottom. After my grandmother died when I was just 11, I asked if I might have it. Whenever I would be really missing her, I would open the bottle so I could remember how she smelled. I still do that sometimes, even after 45 years.

People have been wearing perfumes of different kinds for thousands of years. The word perfume is derived from the Latin word “per fumus” which means “through smoke.”

The Hungarians first introduced modern perfume, but France quickly became the center of perfume and cosmetic manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfumes grew into a major industry in the south of France. Today, France remains the center of European perfume design and trade.

In earlier days, perfumes were used primarily by royalty and the wealthy to mask body odors resulting from the different standards for hygiene. If you didn’t bathe, a little perfume helped with the smell!

In Victorian times, there used to be something called “perfume buttons” which included a piece of fabric inside a button worn on clothing that would be dabbed with a woman’s favorite perfume. Handkerchiefs, fans and gloves were also dabbed with scents to help people smell better.

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Perfume is made from about 78% to 95% specially denatured ethyl alcohol added with essential oils. The more essential oil in the fragrance, the more it costs. There are also major fragrance categories…Floral, Oriental, Floriental, Chypre, Green Marine and Fruit.

Here are the fragrance variations and their names with the most to least essential oils in the mix:

Perfume is the costliest with 22% of essential oils.
Eau de Parfum has 15 – 22% essential oils.
Eau de Toilette has 8 – 15% oils.
Eau de Cologne has just 4% essential oils.
The lightest, most diluted fragrance is Eau Fraiche with 1 – 3% essential oils.

Today, perfumes and other fragrances are an over 10 billion dollar per year industry. I was curious to see what the most popular perfumes were and I found a list of the 10 top selling perfumes in the United States.

America’s best-selling perfumes for women are:

1. Coco Mademoiselle Chanel
2. Flowerbomb Viktor & Rolf
3. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue
4. Miss Dior (new version) Dior
5. No.5 Chanel
6. J’Adore Christian Dior
7. Burberry Brit Burberry
8. La Vie Est Belle Lancôme
9. Guilty Gucci
10. Angel Thierry Mugler for women

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Fortunately, today we can take regular baths and showers and don’t have to wear perfumes to hide bad smells. We can wear them to enhance the way we smell to others.

It’s suggested that perfumes are best applied to pulse points such as the inside of one’s elbow, the wrists, back of knees, neck and cleavage. Spraying into the air and walking through the perfume is a good way to diffuse it all over your body.

Author’s note: Do you have a favorite perfume and do you wear it every day? For the guys…do you have a favorite perfume for your wife or girlfriend to wear?

Jammin’ About Spreads

One day at work, we began talking about the differences between jelly and jam and preserves. And then someone said, “What about marmalade…how is that different?”

None of us really knew the difference, so the next time I went to the grocery store, I stopped in front of the jelly and jam section to try to figure it out. I discovered that there were also fruit spreads, conserves, fruit butters and chutney and I was more confused than ever.

I turned to some of my cookbooks and to Google for the answers. I found a great-looking strawberry jam recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and several websites that explained the differences. I bet some of you already know the answers but just in case you don’t, here they are!

Jellies are clear gels made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. They are thick enough to hold their shape, but also spread easily.  Jellies last about a year and are often paired with peanut butter.

*For those of you who are not familiar with pectin, it’s extracted mainly from citrus fruits and other plants and is sold commercially as a white or light brown powder. It’s used in jellies and jams as a stabilizer and as a gelling agent.

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Jams are made with one or more fruits, sugar, and pectin. In jams, the fruit is crushed or chopped so that bits and small pieces are in the soft spread. Jams also are good for about a year.

Fruit spreads are jams that are made without sugar using just the fruit pieces and pectin. Since sugar acts as a preservative in canning, fruit spreads don’t last as long as jellies and jams. They are good for about six months.

Marmalades are soft spreads made with one or more citrus fruits such as oranges, kumquats, bergamots, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons and limes. They are made from the juice, peel, and fruit pulp and are boiled with sugar. Since pectin occurs naturally in citrus fruits, it does not need to be added. The end product is a clear jelly spread with bits and pieces of the fruit and rinds in it.

Preserves seem to have two definitions. Some people consider preserves to be a form of a jam with small whole fruits (such as whole berries) or larger fruit pieces than a jam would have, suspended in the soft spread. Others use “preserves” as a broad blanket category of foods that are cooked or changed to last longer or to be “preserved”. This would include all jellies, jams, fruit spreads, marmalades, chutneys, conserves, and fruit butters.

Conserves also seem to have two definitions. One version says they are jams made with dried fruits and/or nuts. The spread has a thick and chunky texture and sometimes might contain liquor. Some people call conserves “whole fruit jams” which are made from whole fruits stewed in sugar. Conserves are especially popular in Eastern Europe.

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Chutneys originated in India and are a spicy spread made from fruit and/or vegetables, spices, sugar and vinegar. They are sweet and tangy and have a texture similar to jam.

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Apple butter and other fruit butters are smooth spreads made from larger, pureed fruits such as apples, plums, and peaches which are mixed with sugar and spices. They are cooked slowly until they thicken to a spreadable consistency.

When I was a girl, my mom and I would pick strawberries at a local farm every summer. Then, she would make the best tasting strawberry jam. To this day, I’ve never tasted jam as good as my mom would make. I’m hoping the recipe I found today might be the one she used since she had the same cookbook!

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Besides strawberry jam, my personal favorites are apple jelly and pear or mango chutney, but now I want to try some of the spreads that are new to me. What are your favorites?

 

A Unique Hospitality

About four years ago, we discovered the fun of staying in a bed and breakfast. We were on a week-long trip traveling up the coast of Maine stopping for the night whenever we got tired.  One evening, we came across a quaint looking bed and breakfast with a vacancy sign so we stopped and knocked, not quite sure what to expect.

We were welcomed like long-lost family and asked how many nights we would like to stay. Our hostess asked where we were from and invited us to sign the guest book. As she led us to our room, she told us some of the history of her beautiful, old home.

Our room was at the end of a long hall and was airy and clean with an adjoining bathroom. As she handed us the key, she told us how to get on the house WIFI and the time and location for breakfast the next morning.

There was a newer model TV on a chest in the room and bottles of water and wrapped chocolates on our pillows. The bathroom was stocked with soaps and shampoo and there were clean terry cloth robes in the closet. It cost us $99 and was as nice as any other place we stayed all that week.

That first bed and breakfast we stayed in, or B & B as they are called, had seven guest rooms and was larger than most of the others we’ve visited since. Bed and breakfasts are usually run by the owners of the home and typically have from 3 – 10 guest rooms with 6 being the average number of rooms for rent.

Breakfast is cooked and served by the owner of the home and the dining room table is shared with the other guests. Meeting the other guests is one of my favorite parts of staying in a B & B.

We once stayed in a bed and breakfast in Indiana that was in an old refurbished jail, and we were disappointed to find that breakfast the next morning was in the form of 2 free meals at the coffee shop next door. We were looking forward to meeting the other guests who had been in jail with us the night before!

Three weeks ago, we returned to the Ivy House Bed & Breakfast in Fortville, Indiana for our second stay there. We had really liked the owners, Linda and Jim, the first time we stayed and we especially enjoyed the candlelight breakfast with the other guests.

With only three guest rooms, the Ivy House is smaller than some B & B’s but that is part of the charm. It feels like we are guests in a friend’s home. There was a sign on our bedroom door welcoming us back and homemade cookies on the dining room buffet. One of our favorite things about the Ivy House is their covered side porch complete with a porch swing and comfy chairs for relaxing in the morning or afternoon with a cup of coffee.

The weekend we were there, we met an adult mother and daughter on their annual weekend at a B & B together, a newly married couple on their honeymoon, and another married couple who were visiting from Michigan to see a Florida Georgia Line concert.

The Ivy House, like many B & B’s, keeps DVD’s and books available for guests who are looking for entertainment. They also often have beautiful gardens for the guests who prefer to sit outside.

Bed and breakfast owners are often a great resource for finding out about other fun places to visit in the same area. The best catfish we’ve ever eaten was at a restaurant in Medicine Park, Oklahoma. We were told about the restaurant by our bed and breakfast hosts. They also told us about a local pottery artist who had a shop on one side of her home. We visited the potter and ended up buying several of her pieces.

We’ve only had one night in a bed and breakfast that we didn’t enjoy. It was in a small town in Northern Oklahoma where we had gone for an Alan Jackson concert a couple of years ago. We were given the address of the house over the phone and the owner met us there. It was then that we realized she had multiple houses she rented out and that we would be alone in the house.

The house was divided by floors and we would have the downstairs with no one staying upstairs that night. The furnishings were big and heavy and looked and smelled old. There were cobwebs connecting the curtains to the ceiling and the house was very dark. I whispered to my husband that the inside looked like a haunted house in a horror movie.

That night after we returned from the concert, it began to storm and it stormed for hours with big booming thunder and bright flashes of lightning that lit up the big dark bedroom we were in. About 1:00 in the morning, we heard footsteps overhead and we didn’t know if the guests above us were new or old ones. Needless to say, neither of us slept that night and we left for home at the first crack of dawn!

The custom of opening private homes to travelers dates all the way back to Colonial America when there were very few places to stay. Once the railroads went in, hotels became more common and bed and breakfasts went out of style.

During the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 people again would open their homes to travelers as a way of earning some much-needed money. Signs would be posted that read “Guests” or “Tourists” and travelers could rent a room for the night for around $2.00 which was cheaper than the cost of a hotel.

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There are approximately 17,000 bed and breakfasts operating in the United States today. Most have websites which show pictures of the individual rooms and where previous guests can post reviews. Many of these B & B’s are members of professional associations that require their members to meet certain standards for quality and safety.

My husband says he enjoys staying at bed and breakfasts because each one is unique and they usually have some history or a few good stories about the properties. With the exception of the scary B & B in Northern Oklahoma, every place we have stayed has been clean and very comfortable and our hosts have been very attentive to the needs of their guests.  And, staying in a bed and breakfast is a way to see some interesting homes and to meet some really nice folks!

Recipes For A Cool Summer

Many folks have this entire week off and I’m seeing all kinds of fun pool and lake pictures on social media.  Our week is a mixed bag as we’ve had some time off as well as some work days this week.  We were able to get our new shed finished yesterday and to see some great fireworks last night.

One of the things I most enjoy this time of year are some of the delicious summertime recipes I have.  Some are recipes I’ve developed myself over the years and others were shared by some of my friends who are great cooks.

I’ve always liked hot food in cold weather and cold food in hot weather, and living in the hot Texas heat makes the cold summer recipes even more refreshing!

Since it’s a vacation week and my brain is in semi-vacation mode, I thought I’d do something a little different and share some of my most requested (by family and friends) summer recipes.

Chicken Salad

3-4 grilled chicken breasts chopped (You can substitute canned chicken)

2-3 celery stalks chopped small

1 Granny Smith apple peeled and chopped small

Red seedless grapes cut in half…as many as you want

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional if you are a nut lover)

Mix all ingredients with Hellmann’s mayonnaise to your desired consistency.

I don’t use any seasoning because it doesn’t seem to need it with all of the flavors in the recipe.  I have served this over fresh tomato slices, on top of a lettuce salad, and on croissants for bridal and baby showers.  It’s also good on regular bread or by itself.

Spinach Pasta Salad

1/3 bag of baby spinach

1 container of grape or cherry tomatoes and slice tomatoes in half

½ of a large red onion chopped small

2 small cans of sliced black olives

2 packages of crumbled feta cheese

1 pound box of penne or rotini pasta

1 package or bottle of zesty Italian salad dressing.  I use the Good Seasons dry mix and make my own with olive oil and red wine vinegar.  You can make the salad dressing the night before and refrigerate.

Cook pasta and rinse in cold water.  Wash spinach leaves (I pull off the stems). Chop onion. Slice tomatoes in half. Drain olives.  Mix all ingredients in a really large bowl and add salad dressing.  You may not need all of the dressing.  Chill and serve.

This is a really popular and much requested salad at carry-in dinners.  Thank you to my friend, Renee Lange, who shared it with me many years ago!

 My Family’s Favorite Pasta Salad

1 pound box of rotini or penne pasta

8-ounce block of mild or medium cheddar chopped in small cubes

1 green bell pepper chopped small

2 stalks of celery chopped small

2-3 green onions chopped small or use onion powder

Optional if you want to add some protein:  1 cup cubed turkey or ham

Mix ingredients in a large bowl and cover with creamy dressing.

Dressing:  ½ – 1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise, ½ – 1 cup sour cream and ¼ – ½ cup milk, salt and pepper to taste.

I’ve been making this recipe for over 30 years and it’s my dad’s favorite so I often make him a bowl of it for Father’s Day or his birthday! I think the original recipe came from my friend, Elaine Michael in Cincinnati but I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years.

 

Baked Bean Casserole

3 lb can Bush’s baked beans

1 lb ground beef

2 teaspoons dry mustard

1 onion chopped small or onion powder

¼ cup brown sugar

1 cup ketchup

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

Brown meat and onion or add onion powder.  Add other ingredients and simmer.

This recipe is from my friend, Nancy Fehrenbacher, and is another popular one at carry in dinners and can be taken in a crock pot to keep it warm.  It can also be made without the ground beef.

 Summer Cheesecake 

1 8-ounce block of cream cheese

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 8-ounce Cool Whip (I use lite)

1 large graham cracker crust

Fresh strawberries or blueberries for garnish on top

Beat cream cheese until smooth in large bowl and add in sugar.  Mix with vanilla and sour cream.  Fold in Cool Whip and mix well.  Spoon into graham cracker crust and top with fruit if desired.  Chill for 3 – 4 hours before serving.

I don’t remember where this recipe came from originally because I have been making it for so many years.  It is quick and easy and tastes really good on a hot summer day!

Ice Cream Pie

1 chocolate graham cracker crust

1 container of chocolate chip ice cream

1 jar of hot fudge or plain old Hershey’s Syrup

Soften ice cream in large bowl for 10 – 15 minutes and stir to a smooth consistency.  Pour into crust, cover with plastic lid and refreeze for several hours.  Heat fudge right before serving and drizzle over individual slices of pie.

This is a quick and easy to make dessert that is always a hit in the summer!  My friend, Lora Eminhizer shared it with me many years ago and it remains one of my personal favorites. You can use whatever flavor of ice cream you love but we like chocolate chip the best.  I’ve also made it with a regular graham cracker crust and chocolate ice cream.

 Are you hungry yet?  Feel free to share any of your favorite summer recipes.  I am currently in search of a really good banana cream pie recipe.  Hope you have a fun and safe vacation week and summer!

 

Fireworks: The Softer Side Of Gunpowder

Even though my children are grown, I still enjoy the tradition of watching the fireworks every year on the 4th of July. The American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that more than 14,000 fireworks displays will light up our nation’s sky next week.

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One of my sons tells a story about flying in a window seat from Texas to the Midwest one July 4th night a few years ago and seeing fireworks all over the sky during the entire flight. He said his view was so entertaining that the two hour flight felt like it was over very quickly.

China produces and exports more fireworks than any other country in the world and it is also believed to be the country where fireworks originated. As early as 200 B.C. the Chinese would roast bamboo and when it got hot enough it would explode because of all of the air pockets. This was thought to ward off evil spirits and ghosts but evolved into a means of scaring off enemies as well.

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At some point between 600 and 900 A.D., the Chinese began mixing together potassium nitrate, (a common kitchen seasoning at the time) charcoal, sulfur and other ingredients into an early form of gunpowder. The Chinese would stuff bamboo shoots with the homemade gunpowder and then throw them into the fire to produce a loud bang. These were the first fireworks and were used to celebrate special events.

Image result for hollow air pockets in bamboo

Next Tuesday, we will mark 241 years since the Second Continental Congress approved the final version of our Declaration of Independence from English rule on July 4th, 1776. The first Independence Day celebration was held the next year in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777 with fireworks to raise the spirit of our new nation since the Revolutionary War was still going on.

That first American fireworks display was crude by today’s elaborate standards, but it got the job done. There were some rockets shot into the sky, but most of the first fireworks displays were of patriotic images arranged and lit up on raised platforms for the crowds to see.

Many of us will gather to watch dazzling fireworks displays on the 4th of July but have you ever wondered what causes all of those explosions of color? The kaleidoscope of colors is actually created by different metal elements.

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Remember your periodic table of elements from high school chemistry? When an element burns and its electrons get excited, energy is released in the form of light. Here are some firework colors and the element or combination of elements that help to create them:

Reds – Strontium and Lithium compounds

Blues – Copper

White or Silver – Titanium and Magnesium

Orange – Calcium

Yellow – Sodium

Green – Barium

According to the Statisticbrain.com website, 63% of Americans will attend a fireworks display next week. Will you be one of them?

For those of you living in North Texas, Kaboom Town on Monday, July 3rd in Addison, Texas is the largest fireworks show in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has been recognized by the American Pyrotechnics Association as one of the top ten fireworks displays in the United States.

 

 

Why Do You Write Books Like This?

This past weekend, I had a book signing at a Kroger store in Little Elm, Texas. My author table was located near the cash registers, so folks would stop with their full grocery carts and chat for a few minutes on their way to the busy check-out lines. Some would buy books and others would wish me well and go on their way.

Around noon, a woman about my age stopped to look at my books. After looking through them both and remarking on the button box on my table, she asked, “Why do you write books like this?”

I was silent for a few beats, not sure whether to be offended or intrigued by her question. No one had ever asked me this particular question before. People have asked how long I’ve been a writer and how I got started writing books, but never “Why do you write books like this?”

I gave her the short answer which was that my books are stories about my own childhood that I want my children and grandchildren to know. However, I’ve been thinking about her question ever since Saturday, so you are going to get the long answer.

All of my books (so far) are based on true stories about events that really happened in my life and are some of my most treasured memories. I think there is value in sharing good and funny and heartwarming memories as stories, especially when they are touching or entertaining.

I also write about people like my grandmother because I want them to be remembered. People die and memories fade and we sometimes forget the essence of who they were. My grandmother adored children and especially her grandchildren, and her kind and constant loving ways made my childhood very special. It is our responsibility to pass on the love from previous generations.

I also want those who are the ages of my children and grandchildren to know about some of the old things like button boxes and canning jars and clotheslines that used to be a part of every household but aren’t so common anymore.

As our world becomes more crowded and land becomes developed, there are fewer and fewer family farms left. I want the generations coming up today to know a little about farm life and what it was like to have to do farm chores like gathering the eggs when one was afraid of the chickens.

There are a lot of children’s books on the market and as a mother of three I read many of them to my children. Just between us…there were times when certain books would come up missing at our house because I just couldn’t read them again and again without my eyes crossing. There are books that children love to read, and then there are books that both children AND parents love to read. My hope is that my books fall into the second category.

Finally, I try to write wholesome books with beautiful illustrations that are pleasant and leave the reader with a feel-good ending and then for added value, some factual information after the stories.

At the end of “The Button Box” is “A Short History Of Buttons” and after Which Came First? I included “Fun Facts About Chickens.” In my new book, “The Day The Turkey Came To School” (coming out this summer) I have “Turkey Trivia” after the story. These additional sections add an interesting and fun piece for both parents and children to enjoy together.

My daughter once said jokingly (I hope) that I couldn’t write “edgy or dark” stories. Oh I could, but I choose not to write that sort of thing. The world can be dark enough and I want my books to be positive and uplifting. Nothing makes me happier than hearing from my readers that “The Button Box” made them go in search of their own family button box or made them tear up as they thought about their grandmother.

One of my favorite stories came from a woman who attended a Texas Button Society weekend event in Waco, Texas. She bought my book, Which Came First? and was reading it in bed in the hotel that night. She said she was laughing so hard while she read it that she woke her roommate who was asleep in the bed next to her!

After I gave the woman in Kroger my short answer, she said, “We need more books like this” and she bought them both.

I write the books I do because I want them to touch people’s hearts and/or their funny bones and give them some special moments with their families.

Thank you to all for your support of my books. It is truly a privilege to be able to write them for you!