Monday, August 26, 2013

Ferris Wheels, Cotton Candy and the Good Old Days . . .

When driving to work - usually running late - I often take a side street through a residential neighborhood to avoid stop lights.  A few days ago, I was day dreaming, missed my turn and ended up in the business district instead.  This street has 4-way stops at nearly every corner but, since traffic was light, they were brief stops and I was still running mostly on auto-pilot, lost in my thoughts.  So lost, evidently, that I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary until I stopped next to an empty lot and did a cartoon-style double take.

It's not like we live in the big city with high rises and sky-scrapers blocking the view.  You would really think I would have noticed a Ferris wheel before it was right outside my window.  The sight of a carnival midway being constructed brought back childhood memories. 

The small town where I grew up, population 700 (give or take), had a celebration each summer called Old Settlers Days - a three day celebration that was second only to Christmas on the calendar of a child.  As soon as my sisters and I spotted the trucks loaded with the pieces of our favorite rides, we began planning.  The rides were set up along main street - the Tilt-a-Whirl on the east end and the Ferris wheel on the west.  Food booths and games of chance lined two sides of the central city square.  On Saturday night there was a band and dancing in the park in the center of the square.  

We were each allowed three rides per night and the time spent planning and re-planning our selections lasted much longer than the actual rides.  Between rides, we got one treat per night - usually cotton candy or sno-cones - that we ate slowly while anticipating the next ride.  Once we had finished our rides, we would "casually" seek out Grandpa among the older folks sitting on benches or steps in front of businesses, in hopes that he would fund one more ride.  We were never disappointed.  To top off our evening, we visited the game booths to pick up a duck.  Plastic ducks floated in a constant circle in a shallow trough.  Each duck had a number on the bottom which corresponded to a prize.  We studied the ducks as they floated by, trying to divine which one held the magic number that would get us the big prize.  But most often we ended up with a plastic whistle or a necklace.

As small girls, we were also fascinated with watching the "big kids", especially the teenage couples who held hands as they walked.  We watched boys throw baseballs or toss rings to win their girl a stuffed animal, and dreamed of the day a boy would hold our hand and win us a teddy bear.  During the summer between 6th and 7th grades, a boy I had a crush on wrote me a letter (this was 1972 - no emails or texts, and long-distance calls were expensive) and asked me to meet him at Old Settlers for rides and games.  I was ecstatic!  I can still remember my mother's words of wisdom before we left, "A lady doesn't let a boy spend a lot of money trying to win her prizes."  I took her advice to heart and every time he offered to buy a ride ticket or throw darts at balloons, I politely declined.  I didn't find out until later that he was crushed because he had been saving up his lawn-mowing money just so that he could show off and win me a bear.  

Years have passed and times have changed. Families routinely visit Worlds of Fun, Disneyland and Six Flags.  Small-town carnivals don't hold the same fascination.   Teens and pre-teens are too advanced to think hand-holding is a thrill.  Not enough mothers teach their daughters to behave like ladies.  But the sight of a small town preparing for a traditional street carnival gave me a grin and a stroll down memory lane

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Peck of Pickled Peppers . . .

Historically, I'm not much of a canner.  I've canned tomatoes, chili sauce, spaghetti sauce and salsa - to varying degrees of success.  This year, we have made chili sauce and salsa and both have turned out great, so we decided to try our hand at pickles.

If you're not familiar with Famous Dave's, it's a BBQ chain that also sells their pickles and sauces in grocery stores.  Their sweet pickles have a spicy kick  - and they are our favorites - so we wanted a recipe that would be similar.  We found a very close copy from Martha Stewart.  I'm so happy with the way they came out, I thought I would share Martha's recipe for other potential picklers out there.   Although Martha says one recipe makes three pint jars, we tripled the recipe and ended up with 15 well-packed pint jars.

Martha Stewart's Sweet-and-Spicy Bread-and-Butter Pickles

2 pounds cucumbers, cut in 1/8" thick rounds (about 6 1/2 cups)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 heaping tablespoons coarse salt
2 c. ice cubes
3 c. cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar
2 1/4 c. sugar
1 t. whole mustard seeds
3/4 t. celery seed
3/4 t. whole black peppercorns
1/4 t. turmeric (I omitted)
1/4 t. crushed red-pepper flakes or 3 dried hot chiles.  (I used approxiately 3 times that amount of pepper flakes and Dave still thinks it could use more.)

To draw out excess liquid and increase crunch, toss cucumbers and onion with salt in a large colander.  Add ice and toss again.  Place over a bowl and refrigerate, tossing occasionally, for 3 hours.  Drain.  Rinse well and drain again.

Bring vinegar, sugar, mustard and celery seeds, peppercorns, turmeric and pepper flakes to a boil in a saucepan.  Add cucumbers and onions.  Return to a boil.

Ladle into 3 hot sterilized pint jars, leaving about 1/2 inch below each jar's neck.  Wipe rims of jars with a clean, damp cloth; cover tightly with sterilized lids and screw tops.  Using tongs or a jar clamp, transfer jars to a rack in a large canning pot or other large, deep pot filled with hot water, being sure to keep jars upright at all times.  Jars should be spaced 1 inch apart and should not touch sides of pot.  Cover with water by 1 inch. Cover pot, and bring to a boil.  Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes.  Let Cool. Press down on each lid.  If lid pops back, it's not sealed; refrigerate unsealed jars immediately and use within 1 month.  Sealed jars can be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

This recipe can also be used with summer squash.  Follow the same procedure except do not return brine to a boil after adding squash. 

We tried three jars of squash, just out of curiosity. Not as crunchy as the cucumbers, but not bad and a great way to use the mountains of summer squash we had.

Happy pickling!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Needlework Tuesday

A co-worker asked me if I would/could make some aprons for the little girls on her Christmas list.  I sifted through the many options on Pinterest and settled on one from Whim-Z B's - which is actually a scaled down version of a pattern from The Dating Divas.
The instructions included detailed measurements that made it easy to make my own newspaper pattern.  I chose not to add the ruffle at the bottom, so I changed the curve at the bottom slightly.

I am thrilled with this adorable little apron, made from a remnant I received in a fabric swap. This size would fit a little lady up to about age 4.  I chose a contrasting fabric for the reverse side and pocket ruffle.  The neck strap slips over the head and the waist strap fastens on the right side with velcro - no tying for little fingers.


I am now working on a mid-size version for 5-8 year-old ladies, and have had requests for the adult size, so I may be making aprons for some time.  

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather at Books & Quilts.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Summer Dreams, Ripped at the Seams . . .

At the beginning of the summer, I was having visions of sunny afternoons spent reading on the porch swing, and relaxing get-away weekends of camping, fishing and reading. So, I purchased seven books with which to fill those long, lazy hours. Yea . . . not so much!

We have only found time for one camping trip so far, and the addition of a full-time job pretty much ended the afternoon plans.  So here it is, nearly Labor Day, and only 2 1/2 books marked off my list. 

Book #1 was Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman (review here).  Excellent start!

Book #2 was Ladies' Night by Mary Kay Andrews

While this book doesn't rate quite as high as #1, it was still a good summer read.   There were times that the heroine's legal troubles seemed a bit contrived, and the ending was predictable . . . after that it sounds a little silly to say how much I enjoyed it -- but I did.  

Book #3 is The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg.  Dave and I are reading this one together and both enjoying it so far.  

On the up side, driving to work every day allows more time for listening to audio books, so I've "read" three this summer:

Trunk Music by Michael Connelly - I assumed it would be good because Connelly wrote wrote it.  I was not disappointed.

The Shepherd of the Hills by Harold Bell Wright -

The shepherd, an elderly, mysterious, learned man, escapes the buzzing restlessness of the city to live in the backwoods neighborhood of Mutton Hollow in the Ozark hills. There he encounters Jim Lane, Grant Matthews, Sammy, Young Matt, and other residents of the village, and gradually learns to find a peace about the losses he has borne and has yet to bear. Through the shepherd and those around him, Wright assembles here a gentle and utterly masterful commentary on strength and weakness, failure and success, tranquility and turmoil, and punishment and absolution. This tale of life in the Ozarks continues to draw thousands of devotees to outdoor performances in Branson, Missouri, where visitors can also see the cabin where the real Old Matt and Aunt Mollie lived.

No need to review a classic.  Beautiful story and now I've added visiting the site in Branson to my Bucket List.

And my favorite, Magic Hour by Kristin Hannah.  Amazing story!  As in Ladies' Night, there were moments that I felt the hardships were contrived to create more drama, but over all a unique and engrossing story.  Highly recommended!

I'm obviously not going to make it through my summer reading list before summer ends, but there's nothing wrong with a "Summer read" in the Fall.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A Week in the Life of a Disorganized Mom . . .

My "Needlework Tuesday" entry (yes, I know it's Thursday - see title) is that I chain-pieced 200 pairs of 2" squares.  And they remain in that heap on the sewing table.  Hopefully over the weekend they will turn into 100 4-patches.

So what did I do with all that free time when I wasn't at work?  I canned 17 jars of Grandma Wheat's Chili Sauce.  Now all I need is a campfire and a hotdog on a stick. 

On Sunday evening, these three smiling faces appeared at my house.  That's our daughter, Amanda, future daughter-in-law Mackenzie, and our son, Mitch.  They decided they needed a low-cost vacation before classes start for their college senior years (*gulp*) so what better place to relax and be pampered than Mom and Dad's?

Monday night, we ran to Kansas City to watch the Royals play the Marlins.  None of us are particularly Royals fans, but the experience of attending a major league game is always fun.   The tickets are cheap ($7 each) but they make up for it with concessions.  $120 worth of hotdogs, popcorn, pop and beer later, we headed home.  The hour-and-a-half ride home was filled with multiple rounds of The Alphabet Game (an old family roadtrip favorite), a lot of laughs and at least 72 verses of I'm Henry the Eighth.

The few moments that remained of my week were filled with Zentangles and books.  An update on my Summer Reading List is in the works . . . as soon as I find another free minute.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Back to School - Version 18.0

Hard to believe I'm sending my children off to school for the 18th, and final, time.  August used to mean a family trip to Walmart - one parent, one child, one supply list.  And the annual argument over who got to shop with Dad and who got stuck with Mom.  Dad was a pushover who would spring for the $1.29 NASCAR or Hello Kitty notebook.  Mom thought the 4-for-$1 solid color notebooks were just fine - "You can decorate it yourself."  Although no one ever died from not having a Polly Pocket pencil box, I would love to go back and pinch a few pennies somewhere else, then relax and enjoy those family times.

By the time they reached jr. high, the argument was about Nike vs. Payless, or Cover Girl vs. the natural look.  I'm not sure I would revisit those days, even if I could.  

Then came college, and back to school changed to leaving home.  After four years, I guess I've adapted to the empty nest, though it's wonderful to have them return.  Back to school is now something I experience from a distance, for the most part.  But senior year brought one final back to school experience - Amanda moved into her first solo apartment.  No roommates, no disputes over who's turn it is to clean the bathroom, no disagreements on decorating colors.  

When Mitch moved into his own place last year, he rounded up his own furniture, and persuaded his fraternity brothers to be his moving crew.  All I did was shop for a few kitchen essentials.  Amanda enlisted the family for a little more back-to-school bonding.

Since Manhattan was basically one giant game of Upset the Apple Cart on July 31, U-Haul trailers were sold out, so by the time we rented one at home and towed it down, Mitch and buddy, Kyle, had all the furniture and boxes waiting on the curb.  Loading took less than 30 minutes, but since we couldn't take possession of the new place (dubbed the "Barbie Dream House") until noon the next day, we were left with 24 hours to kill.  

For those of you who are close to Manhattan, KS - we highly recommend Wabash Bar and Grill, a new restaurant in Aggieville with a beautiful rooftop patio.  We also highly recommend our over-night accommodations with friends, but I doubt they want their guestroom advertised.  

After breakfast from Varsity Donuts, including Bacon Maple Long Johns (seriously!), we were off to unload and the brilliance in Amanda's choice of moving crews became evident.  Daddys, brothers and guy friends not only carry your stuff, they repair your broken stuff

hang your heavy stuff

and build shelves to hold your stuff.

My job was to organize the kitchen.  Easier said than done!  Adorable kitchen with marble counter tops, new appliances, extra deep sink . . . and NO drawers!  Who designs a kitchen with no drawers?  

The challenges of organizing a small apartment necessitated a back-to-school shopping trip to Hobby Lobby.  A hefty wad of cash later, the apartment is beautifully decorated - including one custom slip-covered chair.

Oh, the things a mom with a sewing machine and staple gun can accomplish!  (Don't look close, I had no clue what I as doing.)

So, another "last" - our last back-to-school experience.  Did someone say grad school?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Needlework Tuesday - Sort Of

When my employer offered me a full-time position, they should have specified that they meant EVERY week day . . . ALL day.  This gig is seriously killing my sewing time!  But today I actually sat at the sewing machine - if only for a few minutes.

A co-worker is making 1500 of these "mini quilts" for a regional church event this fall.  I volunteered to contribute a few.  I threw these together this evening, just to make sure she and I are on the same page before I begin mass production.  
There are no rules for colors or combinations - just a four-patch made from 2 1/2" squares, sewn to a backing (no batting), turned and pressed.  She will drop in a small cross and stitch them shut.  Easy-peasy!  Only 1,497 to go.

I have to admit that my fascination with Zentangles is also crimping my sewing time.  They are so addictive and I can "zen" while watching TV - or more precisely, while ignoring what Dave's watching, yet at least being in the same room, rather than hiding in the sewing room.  Here are a few of my recent creations:

My favorite Zentangle ever - or at least so far.

Needlework Tuesday is hosted by Heather at Books and Quilts.