Friday, August 21, 2009
Okay, I know I've been away for a few days but I have been extremely busy. A good busy, matter of fact a great busy, and yes, I have finished the the apron. More on that in a moment. Since I last wrote I have been homeschooling my son, closing on homes, setting up a new real estate blog and learning to tweet on twitter. You can check out both at the following: www.ForSaleinRaleigh.blogspot.com I like this twitter thing (not sure what form of speech to call it. I suppose it is a noun or is that pronoun and when you twitter is that a verb right?). It is quick and easy and allows fast communication all around the world. It is amazing. Anyway, back to the topics at hand. I do have the apron done and it has turned out oh so cute. I hope to have the pics up on that in a day or two. In the meantime I wanted to pass along to you a great book I found on homesteading. The book is called "The Backyard Homestead" edited by Carleen Madigan for Storey Publishing. Check for it in your local library first, although I think once your read it you'll want your own copy to keep for referencing for years to come. Here is an excerpt from the back cover. "The Indispensable Guide to Food Self-Sufficiency from a quarter of an acre you can harvest 1,400 eggs, 50 pounds of wheat, 60 pounds of fruit, 2,000 pounds of vegetables, 280 pounds of pork and 75 pounds of nuts. Put Your Backyard to Work. Enjoy fresher, organic, better-tasting food all the time. The solution is as close as your own backyard. Grow the vegetables and fruit your family loves; keep bees; raise chickens, goats or even a cow. ...you'll learn how to cook, preserve, cure, brew, or pickle the fruit of your labor." I poured through this book like nobodies business. It was a real page turner for me. Yes, maybe I'm a geek, so be it. I love this book! I want to try it all: making cheese, making wine and beer, growing grain and turning it into flour and on and on it goes. Right now those that know me I'm sure are having visions of Eva Gabor from Green Acres. That's fine, just don't refer to my dog Lego as Arnold the pig, I think he might take offence to that. If you have any inclination at all to want to know the least bit about even one aspect of homesteading, this is your book. After you check it out let me know what you think!
Friday, August 7, 2009
Welcome back. I've been sewing away at my quickly becoming cute little apron and I can't wait to start wearing it around the house as I clean and cook. Before I tell you about how that's going however, I want to selfishly mention something I did totally unrelated to sewing yesterday. When I told my husband I was going to blog about it he gave me a funny look, not quite understanding why I would feel compelled to pass along such seemingly unimportant information. I told him it was a girl thing and that the women out there would understand. So here it is...yesterday I chopped off my hair, and I do mean chopped.
Okay, so I do have an appointment with my hairdresser Tuesday, but I didn't want to wait until then (any surprises from those that know me - I figured not.) I had decided several days back that on my next visit to the salon I would get my hair cut into a short chin length bob, similar to what Katie Holmes has so brilliantly been sporting. I don't know if it was the oppressive heat or just me (probably the latter) that possessed me to just get it over with, kind of like pulling a bandage off quickly, either way that is exactly what I did. Late yesterday afternoon I went into my bathroom, brushed my hair then put it into a low pony tail. Got out a very dull pair of scissors my husband uses to trim his beard and started cutting. It was so thrilling, even through the gnawing and sawing sounds of the dull scissors. When done I threw the detached pony in the trash, washed and dried my hair then fixed supper. My son didn't realize I had cut my hair and when questioned about what was different with it he just said it looked fluffier - and it did. When my husband came home first thing out of mouth was "Whoa, you cut your hair. I like it." He then proceeded to tell me three more time between then and this morning how much he liked my new hair cut. (See smile on face here.) I concur.
Now, onto the apron...
After putting the bodice all together the day before, it was time to start assembling the skirt. I sewed the side seams and then zigzagged the edges once again for extra protection before pressed the seams open. Next I did a double-hem for the sides of the skirt, pretty easy since it is a straight edge. Then it was time to attach the skirt to the bottom part of the belt. So once again I swapped out the yellow bobbin with the blue so threads would match fabrics, pinned the two right sides together, sewed a straight stitch and then once attached, finished with the zigzag on the raw edge before pressing open. I'll be completing the apron today and passing on the info to you probably tomorrow. Until then use my radical hair cutting tale as an inspiration and go do something that you've been wanting to do lately but haven't had the courage (please nothing dangerous) indeed you'll find it quite exhilarating and most surprisingly liberating. Ta-ta!
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
While the dog days of summer may be barking at the door, I'm inside thankful for my air-conditioning. This is the first summer since we have lived here in Raleigh that I remember such an oppressive stream of humidity. Usually it is hot and somewhat more dry due to the blessing of an ocean breeze blowing across our part of the world. Seeing as how we have had rain on and off now for over a week (another thing to be thankful for compared to last years drought), I suppose the humidity it has brought with it should be of no surprise. No worries however, I love summer and the warm weather and therefore willing to accept with it the good and the sometimes unpleasant.
Lucky for me, amongst my parenting, homeschooling and wife tasks, I've had the wonderful vintage apron to work on inside my comfortable, climate controlled home. It is coming along swimmingly. Let me catch you up to speed on what I've done so far.
Last we spoke I had finished cutting the pattern pieces out and then I believe I remember something about a refreshment break. The next step was to start sewing. First I had to put the four darts in the front of the bodice. Easy enough. The next step however proved to be a small challenge but one I was easily able to overcome. I needed to sew a double seam around the front and back bodice edges. Not a big deal until I arrived at the rounded borders that would become the shoulder straps. Turning in a 1/4" and pressing with an iron then sewing in place I was able to make them look presentable, but then I had to do it again. I realized this time my hand-eye coordination alone would not be enough to make a smooth rounded edge on the straps. Patients is a must when doing this kind of detailed work. This being one of those things where you just need to take you time and it will turn out fine. I ingeniously fashioned a template out of cardboard, then pressed the second hem in around it and sewed.
Everything was moving along just nicely at this point. I then repeated the process on the back straps (the part that looks like an H.) Of course I could have used bias tape to finish off all the edges, this would have made for a clean and nice look but I had decided to stick as close to the original pattern and therefore chose the double-hem instead. Once this was completed I needed to sew the front bodice and back straps onto the belt made of contrasting fabric. Here I ran into a few snags. First, I wanted the blue thread in the bobbin so that when I put the two pieces together I would have the yellow thread on the toile fabric and the blue thread on the blue polka dot fabric. Okay, simple enough. After pinning the pieces to the belt and carefully checking that I had them all facing the correct direction I sewed them to the belt. When I removed the fabric however, I noticed while the top stitch looked nice and neat, the bottom was loose and ugly. Ah Oh, my first thought went straight to a tension problem, and when it comes to sewing machine I am deathly afraid of tension problem. While that may be sad considering the fact how many years I have been sewing it is none-the-less true. I usually end up sending my machine out to have tension issues resolved. But then I remembered that I had just swapped out the bobbin, so with fingers crossed I opened the cover and inspected the casing. Yeah, the bobbin was not firmly seated in the casing and so with a slight adjustment we were off again.
I removed the gargled stitches, laid down a knew set, and since I don't own a seam serger, chose to finish off the raw edges with a zigzag stitch. The directions had actually told me to go ahead and make the button hole and sew the buttons on for where the shoulder straps meet. I decided to hold off on that. I would prefer to see where the finish product hit me and then customize the placement of the buttons. Stay tuned however on that issue, because I believe I might be adding a slight twist on that one. Not sure yet.
Well, that's it for today. Tomorrow I'll be putting the skirt together and before the weekend is here I will have a brand new apron to wear, I'm so excited. See you then everyone...
Sunday, August 2, 2009
When I was a little girl there was, as with most kids I suppose, a limited number of toys amongst the vast supply I received over the years, with which all the anticipations and excitement leading up to Christmas or my birthday was more than worthy of. Two particular gifts that still stand out in my mind as being splendidly delightful and of which I made most important use of was a red typewriter and a pink and white sewing machine.
The first was a semi-toy typewriter I received one year for Christmas. I'm not sure if it was a lucky guess on my parents part or if they really knew how much I would enjoy my very own typewriter, perhaps it was the fact that I was always using my mom's Smith-Corona that gave it away. My parents weren't aware of it at the time, they were simply just trying to keep me from using theirs, but that little red typewriter would transform and shape my world and the way through which I related to it. That was the beginning of my nonprofessional writing career. It was an amazing toy.
Now it didn't have any synchronized movement like the modern Wii game or even dare compete with the edgy and some might argue too realistic (that's-not-what-we-want-to-teach-our-kids) latest version of the electronic Monopoly game with real cash card and all. No, it wasn't wired to the Internet, nor did it use electricity, heck it didn't even need batteries. But that was the cutest darn little typewriter I had ever seen. It was red with the type of keys you actually had to bang. The keys would get stuck in the strike position and I would have to pull them down manually, my fingers often lodging in between keys when they would slip off. And get this, you still had to use a return bar back in those days. Go ask your parents if you don't know what that is, then you can ask them to explain what a rotary dial was and better yet, how you used to turn all thirteen TV channels using a pair of pliers. Like Charles Dickens so eloquently opened in A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." Ah yes, but it was my time.
Occasionally my transcripts would consist of fictional stories, more often than not however I would report on things I observed and learned from the world around me. I always did and still do prefer non-fiction over fiction. Can you tell that by the fact that I'm writing a blog, a perfect format for me to espouse about whatever inspires me that particular day. None-the-less, like all "famous" authors I went through different periods. At one time I was rewriting the part of the Encyclopedia Britannica that covered various titles of information on horses. Obviously I was unaware of the word "plagiarism" back then. No fear however, that particular piece did not end up getting published. I then went through one of my most memorable phases, the poetry phase. I would write,type, rework and then type up again up all these great little poems, no Beowulf mind you, more like poemets (yes I made that word up), and them create a crude pocket sized book out of them. I eventually wore my precious little typewriter out. Now, looking back thirty years or so, I see where it helped inspire and shape my life. I've never stopped writing. In fact I have been writing ever since.
I wrote letters to my son for the first few years of his life and tucked them away in a place where they still remain today, for him to read when he is older. I've written romance stories, children's poems and tales, as well as anthologies of appreciation. However, what I've with out a doubt written the most of is simply the passing of time in this reality and our coordinated dance between fellow humans, nature and our own self imposed beliefs. What I've learned - get out of your own way if you want to enjoy life. Which brings me to my blog today. At least now, for good or bad, after more than three decades someone is reading these humble lines of words I chose to string together in an attempt to put a put a smile on an anonymous face.
The second toy was a white and pink sewing machine, the first of several I would eventually own. This one was way cool however, because it didn't sew with a needle and thread, oh no, this one sewed with glue. You inserted a little bottle of glue similar to today's Superglue, and then as you sewed a tiny rivet of it would come out drying instantly. So instead of your child piercing themselves with a needle, they could instead glue their fingers together requiring medical separation.How cool was that. With it I received the supplies to my first ever sewing project, a yard of cotton fabric that had a printed image of a curled up napping cat on it. When you sewed it together the front of the pillow had the front of the cat and the back, well, was the back of the cat. It was a simple cutting, sewing and stuffing project. I remember my mom taking the time to show me how to do each step correctly and I'm sure I was just impatient to get on with it. I was so darn proud of my little cat pillow.
From there I moved on to a real sewing machine with needle and thread, from various ones my mom owned until I got into high school and enrolled in Home Economics. Yes, I was one of those geeks in Home Economics and loved it. It was my hangout. There may be an L on my forehead for this one but that's okay, I've got big shoulders. When I wasn't in class I was in the Home EC room sewing. Besides making my own clothes I also volunteered to help sew costumes for the spring musical. Years later I went on to sew my own wedding gown, draperies as well as other interior accessories for our home and the quilt I laid my infant boy to sleep with every night in his crib. Sewing has served me well.
And here we are (I just realized that opening statement sounds like something a college guy dressed in lederhosens would say just before telling you to watch your step as you get off the ride at Disney World), after years of sewing and writing for no one but myself, I've decided to take it to the streets in the form of a blog. This blog is something my son will be able to look back on someday when I'm dead and gone, read and say, "Yep, mom was as crazy as I remember her to be."
So, on to the vintage apron project, enough reminiscing. As stated in the previous post, I came across this vintage apron pattern which probably dates back to the 1940's. In particular I love the fitted style, after all, why wear loose and baggy when I get on that darn treadmill practically everyday for an hour. As for me, this is the style in my head that evokes images back when women wanted to look good for their husband. They did. I do. And my husband likes it as well. That's my reasoning and I'm sticking to it.
First thing was to read the old pattern directions and try to figure out what the heck they were talking about. Okay, scratch their directions and I'll make up my own. I warned you, I'm a Gemini, therefore there is that part of me that wants things done correctly and exactly right (or that could just be my German heritage) and then the part of me that says - "eh, who needs directions." And off I go cutting, chopping and doing it my own way. So, that's kind of what I did here but not so severe. I read the directions and then decided to use it as a loose guide.
The fabric I chose was a yellow and blue toile that I actually already had on hand so no need to purchase any additional and an accent pattern of blue with yellow polka dots. See how that works, yellow fabric with blue pattern accented by blue fabric with yellow pattern. Pretty smart - yeah okay, your not impressed. Then I washed them to preshrink the fabric. While I really wanted to dive into the project, prewashed fabric is always recommended if you don't want your item to shrink the first time you launder it, especially important if you are going to wear it.
So once I had it washed and dried I then ironed the fabric. I know, another step where you all are screaming "just sew already". But like most things in life, it is also so with sewing (please pardon the pun,) an ounce of preparation goes a long way at holding off hours of a headache. By ironing your fabric first before cutting out the pieces one should be able to avoid the unwelcoming surprise of having widened, or worse yet decreased the fabric from the original pattern shape. This should give you a true exact replica of the pattern piece you cut out. That is as long has you haven't finished off half the bottle of wine yet at this point. In that case, all bets are off and be warned it might fit your dog when all is said and done.
Once all the tedious prep work was done I set about to pin the pattern to the fabric. Not sure what was going on with the vintage instructions, if I had followed their plans I would have been chopping and piecing things together with the toile image going in different direction. So instead, I opted to just figure out my own layout. Those who know me well are not surprised by this in the least. Layout done, pattern cut. Okay, that was enough work for one day, I need a 64 calorie MGD now.
See you tomorrow for Part 2.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Okay, I'm comin' clean, out in the open with it as they say. I love aprons! Phew, that felt good to get off my chest. I know, I know, we modern women are not supposed to admit to liking anything remotely resembling domestication. We are supposed to baulk and feign offensiveness at the very suggestion we dare find any enjoyment or satisfaction from being a simple housewife. So instead we secretly purchase those cute little aprons we see popping up everywhere nowadays and then drive immediately home to a flood of remorse. The flirtiness we felt upon purchasing the apron replaced by shame for absurdly fantasizing about looking like a wife and or mother. Instead, to fill the genetic void we take gourmet cooking classes and call ourselves foodies, somehow justifying the distinctive difference between being enlightened and being a homemaker. Give me a break. Stand up and wear your aprons proudly ladies and do it with panache. Now go into your kitchen and create something from scratch, and no, that is not something that is premixed in a box. Open a recipe book and cook. You will feel liberation like nothing the feminist movement has done for you in years. Speaking of, this may come as a shock to you but I do infact consider myself a feminist - although not in the tradition sense I'll admit. I'm all for equal opportunity and equal pay, and with that comes the equality of choosing to wear an apron if I so want to. Aprons have a rich tradition in our country. When immigrants flooded to the shores of Ellis Island, bringing with them their familial foods, skills and values, they also brought their aprons. These however were not the more modern froo-froo apron (which look so darn cute don't ya think?) but instead fuller length styles meant to be part of their daily work uniform, giving women something to protect their seldom laundered dresses from the grim residue of forging a new live for themselves in the land of the free. More like a pinafore, these usually all white cotton aprons saw women through the early morning meals, daily chores, lunch and evening cooking, then bathing and putting the children to bed before sitting down near an oil lamp to do some mending. The next day they would be washed and hung out to bleach their whites bright in the warm rays of the sun. The aprons then moved out west and were right their on the frontiers with all the homesteading women. Cooking meals, making candles, teaching children, collecting eggs, hoeing gardens, neading bread, sewing dresses from flour sacks and when necessary, slinging the hefty weight of a rifle over the window sill to ward off the threat of attack. Like a child's security blanket, the aprons was a women's armour against the rough and rugged countryside she had chosen to create a family life out of. Fast forward to the WWII, as the men were off fighting in Europe, the women went to work during the years between 1939 and 1945. As part of the war effort they worked in factories making weapons and other military supplies in support of their beloved husbands and sons overseas. Since this was a time in our country when citizens understood the importance of putting something bigger than themselves first, foregone were aprons made from new fabrics fashioned instead from old shirts, dresses and flower sacks, often adding an embroidery of whimsy to brighten the day and help ease the fears that lurked in every womens minds during that time. How proud it makes me as a women knowing the role my grandmother and other's like her played in doing their part for their family and country. Days were driven forward in the hopes of a peaceful rest ahead, and sure enough as the sun did get up and shine each morning, the fifties were upon us. During the nineteen-fifties and early sixties the apron was in its heyday. Women of all ages from young school girls to newlyweds and women of season donned their aprons, and proudly so. Girls made them in home economic classes, wives sewed them from fun and fanciful fabrics and grandmothers bequeathed them to the next generation. There was an apron for all imaginable applications back then. Aprons for everyday of the week, for cooking, cleaning, for each individual holiday, and how could we possibly forget the ever stylish entertaining apron. Made from organza and silk these were the peacock feathers in every women's apron arsenal. From June Cleaver to Lucille Ball, thanks to television the image of a domesticated diva will always be embodied with an apron. At card parties, backyard bar-be-ques and potluck dinners, guests were greeted by the lady of the house wearing only her most delicate and feminine aprons. Then we women became "liberated." Off went the aprons, donated to Good Will or repurposed as a shop rag our husband used to change the car's oil. Women finally went to work (as if they hadn't been working at home before ) and the apron became extinct. And so there the art of household domestication sat, frozen and pushed to the back of the freezer. Aprons became a symbol of an antiquated time, when women were nothing more than homemakers. Nothing more indeed. And yet, home management careers cropped up as a source for running the household in someone elses home. Somehow it became permissive to clean and cook for others as long as you were getting paid for it, but don't dare do it for your own family, then you were being submissive. Well, thank goodness a thaw has begun, aprons once again are becoming chic and in vogue. Now sexy, feminine and thanks to places like Williams-Sonoma, delightfully practical aprons are cropping up in department stores and specialty boutiques alike. An entirely new generation of women are discovering the apron for the first time. Bravo I say. I wear my apron proudly just as I did my United States Air Force Uniform. When once I served my country with pride, I am now blessed to serve my family. The quality of home life, I believe, is equal to the quality of love and selflessness we offer. It is not an act of submissiveness or inequality to take care of ones home and family, it is an act of love and appreciation. So ladies pull your aprons out from the back of the drawer and feel confident in your domestic abilities, even if you are only just now beginning this journey, that's what I'm here for. We'll fumble and find our way together. And just in case you do not have an apron, today is your lucky day my friend. I've come across a vintage apron pattern that I'm going to attempt to make. (I say attempt because the directions of vintage patterns are usually less detailed then our modern counterparts.) In the next few days you can follow me as I resurrect the exact apron a wife somewhere in this country decades ago wore as she greeted her husband warmly with a martini in hand when he walked through the door after a long days work. Effortless, graceful and ladylike. (Note: Thank you to everyone who has shared with me how much they have enjoyed reading my blog. Please feel free to pass along to anyone who you think might enjoy. Simply send them to the link www.JustAnAllAmericanGirl.blogspot.com and they can sign up to receive my blog as well as comment. Hugs and Kisses Darlings...)
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
A couple of days ago my father lost his dear friend and faithful companion of about fifteen years, Flip, a Rat Terrier. While some may contend this topic is not about homesteading, I respectfully disagree. What home front, from as far back as you can imagine, were dogs not a fixture. Like the rocking chair to soothe the newborn child, the freshly baked fruit pie sitting on the window sill to cool while the men plowed the fields or that log of wood brought in from the cold and thrown onto the fireplace for the family to gather around; the dog was and most likely forever will remain a fiber that makes up the rich blanket of family life. Flip, so named for his circus like ability to jump and flip, a more common than not trait I understand for his breed, was solidly "man's best friend," yet never a cliche'. For years he gleefully rode from one coast of this country to the next in my fathers pick-up truck. He'd been to the Rocky Mountains and ran the trails in the summer and pounced the snow in the winter. He'd been on many a fishin' trips to lakes, rivers and streams, there to keep my dad company while delighting in the warmth of the suns rays. What a life he lived, one to envy for sure. I can picture Flip a few years back when he still had a spring in his stride, running to greet you, jumping straight up into a pirouette before returning back down to the ground. How nice it must have been to be greeted everyday with such unconditional love and enthusiasm. He lived through twelve grand children of all ages running, chasing, tossing and playing. Indeed it must have been grand to be Flip. Yeah, we'll miss you ol' Flip. But from someone who has loved and lost pets of her own, I know although they may not be a child, parent or spouse, they are as uniquely a part of our family. While the hole in our heart takes time to slowly heal from the lost daily dose of innocent, pure love and devotion bathed upon us, I like to believe he, like so many others, died happy, content and ready to once again feel the youth in his body that this time space reality can no longer offer him. Imagine if you can how excited he must have been on the day he passed away in my father's arm. Happy and thankful undoubtedly. For here he had been given the precious opportunity to come and be loved, play, travel and explore so much of what our wonderful world has to offer. He experienced in many cases more of life than many humans have the courage to know. Then, when he chose to go back from where he came, he was craddled by the warm, tanned hands that had once themselves enjoyed the deliciousness of youth, before eagerly racing into the open field for that eternal game of chase. We miss them when they go for we feel we have lost, but we have not. Our pets teach us the true meaning of friendship and love, you have only to look into their eyes to know they are content with there purpose here on earth to serve and give. This is a principal they understand much better than we. Animals I believe, instinctually understand their season here, so rather than choosing to spend their time caring what others think about them, being caddy or angry, making petty matters important, they choose instead just to enjoy. To enjoy life! Enjoy running, and playing and loving and being loved. And they especially enjoy and appreciate when warm hands are there to hold them when they leave. Farewell dear flip, I know life is good where you are, and I'm sure I'll see you there someday, but till then, why don't you flick a light bulb once in while just to let my dad know you're still around.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
So yesterday was the big day I had planned for my first jaunt into jelly making since Jimmy Carter's inauguration - and yes, in hind sight making peanut butter to mark the passing of time might have been more apropos, but as they say, hind sight is 20/20 so jelly making was the order of the day.
The morning started out calm enough, as I had read through the direction the night before and with supplies ready and waiting on my kitchen counter (well almost, except for the quick cheese cloth run I had to make to Whole Foods first thing in the morning) I felt the blissful ignorance one might feel say before child birth; love the idea, much, much harder and more work than you ever imagined, but all-in-all, given the outcome, it was worth it. Husband off to work, son dutifully fed, it was time to stop putting off the inevitable and join the ranks of the generations of wives and mothers that had come before me. First things first, I set my seven year old son, Ethan, up at the dining room table with his math work. Oh, did I forget to mention I home school my him. Anyway, after looking over the assignment, I let out a thankful breath. Today's math would be covering adding and subtracting equations with decimals, something he knew how to do well, so I wouldn't be needed to actual "teach" him the lesson. I simply had only to show him his home work and with pencil and paper in hand he would be on his way. Our kitchen and the dining room, as most modern homes are today, is in the transitional construction style, so it was like being in the same room with each other but with plenty of space for our independent projects. Therefore I felt I had the perfect set up. I would make jelly, he would do his homework, we would converse as the morning progressed and he would get the added benefit of watching and learning how one makes jelly. Sounds perfect doesn't it? Of course, perfect never is the order of the day. When you think it is, take my advice and run in the opposite direction and if you pass GO do not stop to collect $200. As adults we learn that the best part life is made up of the stuff that is not perfect, the little imperfections, daily trials and everyday life is the zest of what memories are made of. So in that respect I suppose it was a perfect day - a perfectly normal day.
Usually Ethan gets through his math homework in an hour, give or take, but on this particular day he was having difficulty getting through even one math problem every fifteen minutes. Since he had about 40 problems to do, he was looking at about ten hours of math. Somehow or other he tried to convince me the writing in the book was too small, his ear hurt, the cat needed to be hugged, the dogs breathing was distracting him, he needed to race a couple of Hot Wheel cars, he was thirsty, his ear hurt, he wanted to see what I was doing, he needed to throw the dog a toy, his ear hurt and he just didn't want to do school today - it was a Monday after all don't ya know. Yet somehow between countless trips back and forth from the kitchen, around the counter and over to the dining room and back I managed to get started on my jelly making project.
Let me begin this segment by prefacing with the fact that I don't actually like grapes. I don't like any variety of grapes, I don't like raisins and I don't like grape juice. I do however greatly enjoy the sweet treat of grape jelly and a class or two of wine, not at the same time of course. So given that criteria, and the fact that I much prefer blackberries but after checking all the local grocery stores and the farmers market I decided the price of them didn't fit into our household budget. So large, deep purple grapes became the fruit victim. Don't ask me what variety they are, because I don't know. I was supposed to use Concord grapes but these were the closest looking to it I could find, and since I learned years ago to just go-with-it, I honestly didn't give it much thought after that point.
My first step was to pull the grapes off the vines and wash them, then set them in a colander to drain. After a couple more trips back to the dining room to deliver juice with a hug for another complaint in the ear ache department I reviewed my instructions once again.
I need to stop here a minute and explain something to you. I'm a Gemini, so inherently, anything I do will undoubtedly be done while two polar opposites simultaneously exist. In other words, while the yin part of me wants things perfect and orderly, following things to the letter, the yang part of me just kind of "wings it." Or I could just blame my mother (love you mom) who God bless her little Texan soul, taught me to cook with a pinch of this and a dash of that, only glancing toward a recipe occasionally to make sure one hadn't gotten too far of the reservation, then tasting to see what else it needed. Come to think of it that's how the pros cook on the Food Network isn't it? But then, they are the pro and I'm not, so conventional wisdom would tell me to stick to a recipe, but...combining the best of two recipes sounded even better in my padawan impression.
I had decided to use half-pint jars because being a family of three they seemed to fit and I also figured that if I decided to give any away as gifts, the unsolicited recipient of my wares would not feel too much quilt at tossing the jar in the trash if say, they didn't have the affinity for grape jelly that I hold. Or if it just tasted like - (feel free to provide your own word.)
So the first recipe I was using, from the book Homemade, put out by Reader's Digest (love this book, it claims to have over "702 ways to save money and the earth." Whatever. I just like all the recipes for food, beauty products, home remedies, cleaning supplies.) Anyway, this one says to combine the grapes and water in a heavy non-reactive saucepan. Okay, I have to stop right here. What the heck is a non-reactive saucepan? I mean, I've had all kinds of chemistry, organic and non-organic and isn't something always reactive to something else, it just depends what you put in it? Obviously 16 hours of college chemistry and $120K education isn't enough for making jelly. I mean, NON-REACTIVE, give me a break! For all you future recipe authors out there, please do not, I repeat, do not use the words NON-REACTIVE unless you plan to clarify what type of pan to use. Words like, aluminum, cast iron, copper, stainless steel, enamel, etcetera come to mind. Pondering only for a moment what was meant by non-reactive, I fleetingly considered running into the office and looking it up on the ever informative Internet, but considering we were an hour into the day, Ethan had exactly three math problems done and he was reminding me on a continual basis that his ear hurt, I decided to go with the largest pot (not sauce pan by the way) I had. I mean, let's be honest, even if I had looked it up on the computer, it wasn't like I was going to rush out and buy a new pot, so in the end I decided it was going to not have to matter and secretly prayed I wasn't preparing to unwittingly give my family metal poisoning.
Back to the book. Anyway, Homemade told me to combine 3 pounds of grapes to 3 1/4 cups of water in a "non-reactive" saucepan. Then I was to use a potato masher and mash them up. Piece of cake. Hah!
It was like trying to mash up a bowl of potatoes that were still raw. Yet with a lot of complaining, sweat and upper arm strength, I finally got them smashed up per said recipe. I was even proud enough to stupidly call Ethan over to take a squish himself, then spent the next ten minutes coaxing him back to the dining room table, getting him a snack, another hug for the ear ache and refocusing energy into his math book. Next I was to bring it to a boil, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes. I think I forgot to cover it. Oh well. Onward I went. Next I was to remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Do you know how long it takes for a large pot that size to cool to room temperature? A long time. However, this did give me the opportunity to sit down with Ethan and see I couldn't coax him to speed it up a bit through math. Yes, we were still on math.
Three hours later, a worry some aching ear and a large pot of grape mush still cooling to room temperature, Ethan finally finished his math homework. Thank goodness it was time for lunch, we both needed the break. After lunch we continued on with homeschooling and about this time the ear ache situation had become a permanent fixture in our conversations throughout the school day, and my concern was growing, especially since I knew he had swim lessons later that evening. So while Ethan was on the computer learning Spanish with Rosetta Stone, I decided the grape mush had cooled enough to go onto the next step. According to the Homemade recipe, I was to put the grape mush into a three layer cheese cloth "bag" and suspend it over a bowl so the juices could drain off, and get this part, "overnight." Seriously, overnight? I have cat's and what about bacteria? And...so once again I decided not to make a decision at that moment and suspended my cheese cloth bag over a bowl with the only thing I had, some cooking twine and kitchen cupboard door with pulls. MacGyver had nothing on me.
About the time I strung up my grape mush, my son's complaining about his ear was non-stop. I decided it best to put a hold on the jelly making and homeschooling to take him to a near by doc-in-a-box. It was painfully clear, (no pun intended) that this ear ache was for real and wasn't planning on going away any time soon. So off we went. At the clinic, once checked in, one would think the waiting to see the physician's assistant would be the difficult part, but not actually at all. The half an hour or so wasn't the issue, it was my son complaining about his ear, complaining about the wait, complaining that no one was helping him all the while he crowded over the top of me from the adjacent seat like a dark cloud threatening to rain. Now don't get me wrong, it goes without saying how much I love my son, and I know he was in pain and it hurt. But not having the ability to do much about it at the moment other than what we were in the process of doing and trying to console and distract him, was beginning to take it's toll. After all, this had been going on pretty much all day. The nurse eventually called us back and as we were progressing through he door she so kindly held open for us my son uttered, "Finally!" The parent in me wanted to correct his rudeness but honest - here, here, I concur.
One diagnosis later and two bottles of ear drops we headed back home to immediately start to medicate his swimmers ear. I had it all planned out. I took him upstairs to my bedroom, turned cartoons on the TV - Sponge Bob of course, his favorite. What other than a yellow, talking, underwater sponge with corny jokes and an obnoxious laugh could soothe the tears of a little boy like Sponge Bob. Warning him that the drops might feel weird in his ear but assured him they wouldn't hurt, I proceeded to ease them medication in. Okay, so the screams took me a bit by surprise. Complaining I expected, but screams? No. Then the wrenching sobs of how much he would prefer the pain instead began. As any parent knows there is not much that can be done here but hugs, patient listening and time. Eventually however he was calmed down enough to become transported to the underwater world of Bikini Bottom where upon I slipped downstairs to do the final steps of my jelly making.
Here I had to make a decision on whether or not to continue with the Homemade recipe or the one inside the pectin box. Flipping between the two I switched at this point to the pectin box insert, deciding that in fact, I was not going to keep this bag hanging in my kitchen overnight. So with a couple of good squeezes and a pair of scissors I let the prisoner free. I measured out the juice and added the box of pectin, then measured out the sugar into a separate bowl. Washed the jars, lids and bands in soap and water then turned the stove top on high to, as the directions said, "get a rolling boil."
Okay, hang on tight, because here is where the real fun begins. As I was waiting for the grapes juice mixture to boil, I was either running upstairs to answer the cries of "mom," or fielding the endless questions of why the medicine wasn't working yet to a beautiful little boy standing in my kitchen, all the while cautioning him to stay back away from the stove. Back upstairs he went, just as the mixture was starting to shows signs of boiling. Standing next to the stove, I only momentarily, I swear, glanced to the left of me to reread the directions for confirmation of what my next step was, when I heard that awful and frightening sound of massive amounts of liquid spilling over onto the stove. Quickly I grabbed a hot pad and moved it off the stove only to realize I needed to keep it on the stove to pour the sugar in. Back on the stove the huge boiling pot of juice went, and next, well next can only be described as a scene from a volcano science experiment gone bad. Did you know sugar was reactive? Maybe this is where that non-reactive saucepan thing comes in. The minute I dumbed all seven cups of sugar (yes seven, think about that next time you have a tablespoon of jelly) into the pot, it instantly became a hot molten lava overflow of grape syrup. It spilled on my stove, on the counter, and on the floor. On the burner next to it I had the large granite pot with hot water ready for the jars baths, were the goo flowed all around as well. But wait, there's more.
I had to cook this rolling, boiling mass for 1 minute. What! So as I stirred with one hand and sopped up syrup with another, Ethan reappeared in the kitchen complaining about his ear and how the medicine wasn't working, but before I could shout not to come any further in, he took one look at the catastrophe, informed me that I had a mess (thanks son, hadn't noticed) then, like all good males no matter there age, high-tailed it back upstairs before he could somehow get blamed for it. I must admit watching him make an abrupt retreat upstairs to his pain and discomfort rather than face the potential of what was to come downstairs did put a quick, ironic smile on my face.
Minute over, pot of goo off stove. Baked on goo on stove. Let me talk about stoves for a moment. I have a beautiful new home we purchased two years ago that I completely love and am so thankful for, which came with an electric glass stove top. Now, first of all I prefer all day, everyday a gas stove, and still haven't completely managed to figure this one out. But that pales in comparison to how much I really, really do not like glass top stoves. If you have one and love it I apologize. But in my unprofessional opinion, these thinks stink. What on a normal stove would just be a mess of sticky goo that needed to be cleaned up, became charred, burnt up layers of crust that can't be scraped off with the blade of a bull dozer. It sets like concrete on top of these stoves. It takes weeks of scrubbing by myself and then my husband to eventually work through the layers enough to not be embarrassed when someone walks into our kitchen. So, knowing that this project would not end after the canning was done, not for days in fact, I accepted the inevitable, shook it off and marched on forward. Besides, I had doors to open before our fire alarm went off from the thick, stinky cloud of burnt sugar. Good thing my husband wasn't due home for a few more hours.
Thankfully the rest of the process went very smooth from there. I managed to fill the jars to within an 1/8 of an inch from the top (although I do admit I needed to make a quick look at my sons ruler to actually see how much an 1/8 of an inch was) without spilling nary a drop. I wiped the rims, put the lids on then set them in the bath water to process. Took them out of the bath and put them on a towel to dry. After the jars cool, you have to check the seals by pressing down on the middle of the lids with a finger. If the lids spring back, the lid is not sealed and you have to refrigerate the jelly. This I prayed was not the case, otherwise I could have just made refrigerator jelly and avoided the whole explosion mess. But alas, the jar lids did not spring up and therefore I probably would not end up poisoning my family. Life is good when you count the small blessings.
I had just finished cleaning up the kitchen between quick jaunts upstairs to check in on a now mending boy, when my husband Ken arrived home. He previewed the jars of jelly sitting on the counter and walked away with a satisfied look on his face. Atleast until he saw the stove. Bless his ever lovin heart though, after taking one look at the exhaustion that had begun to consume me he simply gave me a hug and a smile then grabbed a beer. All was ending well in our house. The jelly was made, the kitchen was clean (mostly,) the medicine had started working on Ethan, supper was almost finished, the cats and dog were fed and Ethan was taking a bath instead of a shower, so as not to get his ear wet. Then the screams from upstairs came. Running upstairs I found Ethan grasping for a towel to wipe the burning soap out of his eyes. It was time to pass the baton, so I handed round two off to my husband, who graciously and patiently attended to a little boy who had had a very rough day indeed.
This morning, just before writing this post, I knew I couldn't tell you how it went without checking two things first. 1) If it did actually jell or if I had canned syrup, and 2) how it tasted. So cutting a piece of homemade bread I had made just a couple of days ago I tasted the virgin jelly. That was the best tasting jelly I had ever had. And when Ethan came downstairs for breakfast and I made him toast with the jelly as well, he said,
"Mom, this jelly is great, you should make a bunch of it and sell it, we would be rich."
"You think so."
Maybe on another day in another universe, but for now that put a smile on my face and warmed my heart and I knew without a shadow of doubt that there would be many more jelly making days ahead for me for it indeed it had made me rich. For only someone as rich as I could have the love of a wonderful husband and a beautiful sweet little boy who thinks his mom makes the best jelly in the world.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
You can take the girl out of the country but you can't take the country out of the girl. When I was four I foolishly walked up behind my older brother just as he was preparing to deliver a round-house blow to a baseball on a warm June day in a neighbors yard. Five stitches later, a swollen lip and a doting father passed out on the cold linoleum floor of the doctors office from watching a needle and thread disappear and reappear from behind my lip, you'd think I would have learned. Somewhere shortly within that time span I decided that Evel Knievel had nothing on me when the words "Daddy look!" cheerfully escaped my mouth as I rushed proudly down a steep rock driveway worthy of the Appalachian mountains, my father running behind me shouting fearfully, "Peddle backwards! Peddle backwards!" But it was too late. The big oak tree and I had a date at the bottom of the hill and I wasn't about to stand him up. So second round of a swollen lip and scraps all over my face, my family no doubt feared the rearing years ahead not for the first time in my very short life. I on the other hand, secretly held to the notion that if I could just try again I know I could make it down without a crash. A belief, by the way, I still hold true today. Then there was the time I was about seven and my bother slammed my head (yes my head, not hand) in the door of my dad's old pickup truck. So technically this one is not my fault. Did I mention I have four brothers. One of my favorites was the time at about 10 years of age I flipped my bicycle over and passed out. All I remember was a sing-songy version of the words "Captain Crunch" repeated over and over in my head like a nursery rhyme. There also was the time when another brother and I were riding motorcycles on a dirt bike trail and he hit a bump, I flew off and... ...did I tell you about falling out of the car when I was a toddler? I've almost forgot about that one. It's amazing what 40 plus years can do for your selective memory. From fear of boring you further, let's just leave it at the fact that I was, and in many more ways than I care to admit still am, a tomboy. If my brothers did it I was going to do it better, faster and smarter. I always dreamed big: big ideas, big aspirations and big expectations of myself. "Fates be dammed" was my motto, it has served me well. So, flash forward to today. I may be more polished, have a higher education and dress modern and stylish, but I'm still that little country girl growing up in the rural communities of southern Illinois and once again I find myself not walking but running like Harry Potter through the maze in search of the next new adventure this little girl can sail away on and live to tell about. It is daring, it is bold and yet some will say outright simplistic. I'm going on the adventure of a life time. I'm going to relearn my old country girl ways and with the wind at my back and all synapses firing, it is time to set sail. So the stilettos will go in the closet (for just a little while,) the Italian food at Vivace will have to wait a bit longer for this girl to savor it's gifts, as I take on the homesteading life of an All American Girl. Up first, an attempt to make jelly...