And the Winner is… First Friday Freebies – and you might be next!

I’m excited to announce the winner of our first “First Friday Freebie” winner.  As you may recall from last time, Midwest Storyteller will be giving a free gift each month to a faithful subscriber.  This happens on the first Friday of the month, so subscribe now and you’ll be ready to enter to win in November!

Our October winner is…

October 2017 Freebie Winner www.midweststoryteller.com

Donna from Bunceton, Missouri!

All Donna did was leave a comment on the post, saying, “I’ll take the wreath!” and she won!

You can see the wreath a little better in this photo –

Free Wreath www.midweststoryteller.com

If you’d like to partake in the monthly give-a-way, do a few things to be sure you don’t miss out.

  1. SUBSCRIBE! On your computer, you can do that in the right side-bar.  On a phone or tablet, you may need to go to the “Contact” page.  Only subscribers are eligible to win.  You’ll get an email when there’s a new post or freebie.
  2. Follow” Midwest Storyteller on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Even if you forget to check your email, you’ll still see the offer.
  3. Spread the love – and the FREEBIES! “Share” Midwest Storyteller with your friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.  Pin this post to Pinterest and send the pin to friends you’d like to see enter to win.

Take a look at the rules on our last First Friday Freebie post here.  It includes a tutorial on making the Sweet Annie wreath.  For a look at other things I grow in the great outdoors, take a tour here.

Get ready!  The next free gift will be given away on Friday, November 3rd!

Introducing: First Friday Freebies!

There’s nothing like getting something for nothing! Oh, that glorious word – F R E E !

I’ve been wanting to do this for a while and so I’m happy to announce (drum roll, please) First Friday Freebies! Each month, on the first Friday – I did that on purpose to make it easy for you to remember and wasn’t that clever of me – I’ll be offering a gift to one of the loyal and loveable fans of Midwest Storyteller. All you have to do is: Don’t dawdle!

First, let’s take a look at our first gift –

In my last post, I gave a “2017 Tour of the Estate” in which I mentioned Sweet Annie and posted a photo. I’m offering a wreath today (hand-made by me) of Sweet Annie. Let’s look a little further into what it is and what I do with it and you can decide if you want to win!

As mentioned in the last post, Sweet Annie is a fragrant herb that grows tall and is happy in a sunny place. It smells “like fall”, so this is the perfect time of the year to decorate with it. I’ve filled my wicker planter with it to give it a fall “weedy” look and make my porch smell nice and I’ve also used it around this little bucket next to Hermie.  I am lagging behind in decorating my side porch, but at least I’ve got my “weeds” as Smuffy likes to call them, in place.  You get the idea.

Weedy Porch www.midweststoryteller.com

Here’s a photo showing how I make a wreath.

Sweet Annie Tutorial www.midweststoryteller.com

Let me state this clearly. Sweet Annie, like any other plant, is organic. That means it’s been in the great outdoors. That means that other little “organic things” once strolled through it’s branches saying hello to their little organic friends. This wreath has been drying under my porch for a couple of weeks and should now be free of all the critters that may have liked to munch on it while it was green.  I make no promises.  However, I’ve never had anything on my wreaths once they dried.  (If I’d brought “creepies” into my house, you would have heard my screams.)  

Also, dried plants are exactly that – dried. I use Sweet Annie as a candle ring or a wreath on a wall or mantle-piece, but I don’t place it on a door that we’ll be opening and closing, as that shakes it around and causes it to shed.

Here’s the wreath I’m offering as Today’s Friday Freebie.  You can easily remove the burlap ribbon and replace it with anything you like.

Free Wreath www.midweststoryteller.com

And now, here are the rules. There are always rules, aren’t there?

  1. First Friday Freebies are available to SUBSCRIBERS ONLY. That means if you have come to this post through social media or someone has emailed you a link to it and you haven’t become a subscriber yet, you’ll need to hop on over to the right sidebar and do that really quick. If you are on a phone or tablet, the easiest way is to go to the “About Me” page. As a subscriber,  you’ll receive an email each time Midwest Storyteller has something new, which won’t likely be more than once or twice a week. It keeps you from missing out on all the fun and FREE STUFF!  And, I’m not sharing your emails with anybody.
  2. You’ll need to scroll back up to the top of this post and under the title, “Leave a Comment”. The first subscriber to comment with, “I’ll take the wreath!” will win, provided that you’re already on the subscribers list and that you live within the continental United States.

Two rules. So simple. Have a wonderful and blessed First Friday of the month!  Now, go!  Subscribe!  Comment!  Go!

Thrive Where You’re Planted!

The glories of summer are leaving us. The autumn equinox has issued its official word – “It’s over, folks!” The Midwest will soon be ablaze with reds, golds, and tawny browns that blend with summer’s remaining greens and make us gasp in awe as we round a curve or crest a hill and find ourselves face-to-face with a freshly-painted landscape.

I can’t think of a single person who has said to me, “I hate fall.” However, as much as I bask in the cooler days and the beautiful scenery, I’m always a little saddened by it. It brings that little ripple of chilly air around my collar that whispers, “Winter’s on the way!” Not that I have anything against books, fuzzy blankets and hot chocolate – I simply recoil at the thought of frigid days when those things are not available. I don’t do cold – and that’s an understatement.

I hope that if your year has been as busy as mine, you took time out for a little “thriving time” in your own little corner of the world. I promised myself early in the year that this year I would document the beauty around me. Other than events with other writers within the state, Smuffy and I didn’t get far from home. This year, home has held us fast with major projects and at times it’s been a challenge to enjoy down-time, mainly because it came along in such itty-bitty, tiny chunks! I did keep my promise to myself, however, so let’s take a tour of the “estate”, as we like to call it.

In the Spring, a splash of color is downright titillating after months of brown. Green is the new thing and other happy colors join in to brighten up the landscape. The first thing (besides a colorful weed or two) to pop up in my yard are the old-fashioned hyacinths beside my driveway.

Old Fashioned Hyacinths www.midweststoryteller.com

I chose this spot for them on purpose. They bloom when it’s still too cold for me to be outside much, so they’re right beside me on my way to and from the car. I always keep some in a vase. The smell rivals that of lilacs and gives me hope for warmer days ahead.

At the same time, or soon thereafter, these beauties seem to decorate every yard in town, waving a cheery hello to spring. I adore daffodils, but they, like the hyacinths, leave me all too soon.  These are a double-ruffle variety.

Daffodils www.midweststoryteller.com

As I write this, I realize that no tour of the estate is complete without photos of the things that every yard in this part of the Midwest seems to have at least one of – a lilac bush, a peony bush and a patch of colorful iris. They fill April and May with color and fragrance. It seems, however, that I was so busy sniffing that I didn’t take photos of those.

Moving on to May…

Don Juan Roses www.midweststoryteller.com

It’s always special when your sweetie sends you roses, and these are the best flowers Smuffy ever sent me! These climbing Don Juan roses are gorgeous. Most climbing roses have very short stems and, therefore, aren’t something you can put in a vase, but not the Don Juans. The foliage grows to about twelve feet in height and the stems are nice and long. I included a photo of a bunch in a vase so you can see how tall they are. (This is not a small vase.) The blooms are a deep, romantic red and as they open…and open…and open, it seems the petals are never-ending. I’d recommend these stunners for anyone’s flower garden. I love you, Smuffy!

For color in the front yard, my go-to plants are Tidal Wave Petunias. There are all sorts of Wave varieties now, but once I tried the Tidal Wave, I knew I’d found something I could depend on. Each plant spreads it’s top growth out over a huge area, blooms and blooms and blooms and, best of all, never needs dead-heading!

Tidal Wave Petunias www.midweststoryteller.com

In this photo (in which you are instructed to ignore the fact that Smuffy isn’t finished painting the trim on the house), you’ll notice that the entire area to the right of the door is taken up by only four plants! That’s bang for your buck and they’ll bloom from April until frost, which is usually expected here in mid-October.  The Tidal Waves in the photo are in a cherry pink and a color they call Silver, which has a purple throat.  Each year, I head to the greenhouse in anticipation that the Wave company may have come out with more colors!  Attention Wave People:  More Colors in Tidal Wave, please!

Back to the topic of roses – Some varieties keep on going. Here we are now at the beginning of autumn and we’re still enjoying the dependability of the Knock-out roses in this bright red and these Joseph’s Coat roses. They’ve bloomed all summer.

Knock-out and Joseph's Coat Roses www.midweststoryteller.com

The Joseph’s Coat rose is aptly named for its many colors. It opens as you see here in the photo, with golden hues. Once open, it’s a fiery orange before maturing into a deep pink. At various times, passersby, whether on foot or driving past, have stopped to ask me what they’re called. They probably receive more comments than anything else in my yard.  I don’t remember where I got mine, but they are available from Walmart and their site has a great photo of what they look like when the bush is in full bloom.

Years ago, Smuffy got the bright idea of digging a fish pond.  Somehow –  I suppose, with those puppy-dog brown eyes of his – he got me on board with the project.  He became the hole-digging and water-works man and I became the rock placement artiste.  As bad as I wanted out of toting all those rocks, I knew I had to do it because if Smuffy were left to arrange them, the pond would be square.  All but three or four of the real “whoppers” were arranged by me prior to an extensive rest period.  Now, we enjoy getting to sit and enjoy the sound of running water and the beauty of it all.

Pond Sittin' www.midweststoryteller.com

Along the stone walls at the back of our property, these sedum have been spending the summer in their own quiet, pale-green way as they waited for their turn to show off. Now a pale blush, they’ll soon turn bright pink before darkening to a deep burgundy and then brown. They work well when dried and used in fall arrangements. Near them, I’ve planted one of my new favorites – this delicate tall salvia in a pinkish red.

Sedum and Salvia www.midweststoryteller.com

Once again, I must remind you, I can’t watch Smuffy every minute. Examples of his need for it can be found here.  Being in love with all things green, he sometimes plants things without asking me or bothering to save the tags. I don’t know what these two bushes are called, but they wait by my back fence every year to unleash their beauty in the fall. Now they are blooming just in time to give us the fall colors we love. It strikes me as odd, somehow, that we can be such fans of neat and tidy displays and then when autumn arrives, we all fall in love with the messy look. Suddenly, it’s as though nothing in the world is more beautiful than dead sticks, shaggy bundles of weeds and unkempt, tangled bushes like these.

Orange Berry Bushes www.midweststoryteller.com

Now it is time for true confessions. Have you ever gone completely overboard with something? Years ago, I fell in love with Sweet Annie! Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t remember where I was when I became smitten. All I remember is being in a store and asking, “What is that glorious smell? It smells like fall in here!” My nose led me to a bundle of fluff and someone told me that this fragrant herb was called Sweet Annie. “Easy to grow,” they said. “You can make wreaths,” they said. “Add it to arrangements,” they said. I had to have it. I got my hands on some seeds and planted them in a sunny spot. I’d been promised that I’d have plenty of smelly-good wreath-making cuttings from a single plant. Oh, my!

That episode has probably been twenty years ago and I am still harvesting Sweet Annie every year! It re-seeds itself and that is stating it mildly. Each plant grows to about eight feet in height and the branches off the main stem can be cut to use in arrangements or wound together to make swags or wreaths. You’ll develop a love-hate relationship with Sweet Annie. I’ll probably never know the number of people I’ve blessed or alienated by giving them a gift of a wreath or swag. Every nose is different and while I love the stuff, Smuffy can detect the slightest bit with his super-sniffer and is quick to deposit it out onto the porch. So, I decorate the porch with it.  It overwhelms his senses indoors.  Other people fill their house with bundles and wreaths and think it’s the greatest thing on earth.  I say all this so that in case you decide to sow those seeds – you have been informed!

I cut it each September and hang it under my porch on coat-hangers to dry. This year, I had a bumper crop!

Sweet Annie www.midweststoryteller.com

Soon, I’ll show you what I do with this fragrant herb, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out.

I enjoy my yard, but should I leave it, I don’t have to go far to enjoy the beauty of my locale. Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems this has been an awesome year for beautiful clouds in our part of the Midwest.

Clouds of Fire www.midweststoryteller.com

I only have to go a few blocks away to find myself on the banks of the Missouri River. It can become something you take for granted when life gets busy. Sometimes, however, it refuses to be ignored!

Missouri River Sunset www.midweststoryteller.com

Being outdoors helps you thrive! It’s relaxing and therapeutic to be out pulling weeds or barbecuing with family and friends. I believe it’s important, however, to make time to just stroll or sit and stare – to soak it all in.

If you live in the Midwest, you might want to get as many of those moments in as you can, because it’s coming, folks! Here’s a photo taken in my backyard. Before we know it –

World of White www.midweststoryteller.com

— winter will be upon us and our fascination with it’s early beauty can give way to a drab existence as we find ourselves waiting, curled up with the seed catalog, for those hyacinths to peek through the soil and refresh our spirits again.

My inspiration for this post came from a recent post over at jilliandanielle.com where we are treated to a tour of her summer garden. It’s amazing what a few simple steps can do to make your own corner of the world into a place of rest and peace.

Even though my own corner has been neglected lately as I’ve spent most of my summer finishing up a novel series, I still thrive on the moments I’ve taken to get out and enjoy the place we call home. When we surround ourselves with beauty and then take time to be thankful for it, we can thrive without ever leaving home. 

Questions? Comments? Just scroll back up to the beginning of this post and click on “Leave a comment”. I’d love to know what you’ve enjoyed most in your yard this year!  Maybe you can help me identify the “mystery bush”!

5 Easy Mixes That Make Life Healthier and Easier!

When I look at the stats that turn all of you into a mass of numbers and bar graphs – my, that sounds so impersonal and unfriendly – I can tell that the fans of Midwest Storyteller really enjoy the humor. It seems like you need a good laugh and are quick to pass it along to brighten someone’s day.

I love it! That’s my favorite part of what I do!

However, when I’m out and about, chatting with people, it seems that many share a common request: RECIPES!

People don’t need to spend much time around me to know that I eat “clean”. Those who don’t know me very well assume that I live on wild hickory nuts and tree bark, something that they, unless they’re out of their ever-lovin’ minds, would never choose to do themselves.

Bowlful of Nature www.midweststoryteller.com

Those who know me well enough to get a taste of what comes out of my kitchen are surprised at the yummy-ness.

They (whomever the mysterious “they” are) used to call us health food “nuts” and it wasn’t because people like me sat around eating cashews and pecans. It implied that a certain degree of loopy-ness swirled inside the heads of those who didn’t think the world revolved around, and was made a better place by, granulated sugar and plenty of Crisco.

Reason is beginning to dawn for Americans at last. People are being advised by doctors, nutritionists and friends to feed their bodies the fuel it really needs and to avoid the stuff that they know is taking them down the same road of pain and ill health they’ve watched friends and family travel.

At the top of the list of culprits, lurking everywhere, is –

Sugar Incognito www.midweststoryteller.com

If you are making the wise choice to get sugar out of your diet, I am on your side! The delightful-tasting stuff only makes your body more susceptible to inflammation, diabetes, cancer and other ailments.  I’m not picking on any particular brands here.  As you can tell, it’s not been eradicated from our house entirely.

The biggest challenge lies in how to avoid hidden sugars. Companies love to put it in everything. Is it really addictive?  Well, rats aren’t people, you might want to see a study in which rats, already addicted to cocaine before given the choice, preferred sugar to cocaine 8:1.  It’s difficult to read the details  and not be bowled over by it! 

The stuff is practically omnipresent.  If you don’t believe that sugar is in everything, I challenge you to purchase a bottle of salad dressing without any!

When I walked away from sugar, I spent two weeks in foul temper! Each time I got ready to prepare a meal, I examined the back labels of all my ingredients. Soy sauce, seasoned salt, chicken broth – why did any of these contain sugar in the first place? I would’ve have started a letter writing campaign if I hadn’t been so busy trying to find something to eat!

One particular group of convenience items really had me steamed! All those little packets we’re so accustomed to tossing into recipes and those little shaker bottles that we sprinkle over our food – almost every one of them had sugar.

Oh, but it’s gotta be such a tiny amount! That’s not going to hurt anybody.”

I hear your pathetic, whiny voice. Not only do small amounts add up if it’s in everything you eat, but these small amounts keep the cravings alive! If you remove all sugar from your diet, the cravings go away. Yep! I promise.

It all sounds like so much trouble when I can just grab what I need when I’m at the store. Who wants to mess with stirring up all this stuff?”

Oh, now you’re really sounding like you need me to send you to your room! It all seemed like a big chore to me at first, too. However, since I’ve pioneered the territory for you and am furnishing you with all the recipes, I’ll just stand here with my hands on my hips, tapping my foot, waiting for you to man up or pull up your big girl panties – whichever. 

I’m not perfect in my attempts to stay completely off the stuff.  Christmas does roll around and if I’m going to make cookies for everybody else, then by golly, I’m gonna eat a couple of ’em!  There are also some Belgian truffles that come into Aldi stores every year during the holiday season and, I mean to say – YUM!  One of my dreams is to develop a sugar free recipe for those, but I am wandering from the point.  Where were we?  Right – MIXES!

I’ve come to realize that making my own mixes is much more convenient, and cheaper, than buying the packets at the store! Once a few basic ingredients become a staple on your pantry shelves, you’ll no longer be running to the store, wasting gas and precious time, all for that silly (and expensive) little packet. You’ll either stir up the simple ingredients within a couple of minutes, or you’ll grab one of your pre-made packets because, yes, you are talented enough to measure all the ingredients into little snack baggies or mix up a whole jar of the stuff to keep on the shelf!

Spread the love! Mix up several batches in snack baggies, spice jars or other food safe containers, apply a cute computer or hand-made label and fill a basket for a thoughtful, homemade gift.

Ready for the recipes? Let’s have all the fun, all the flavor – and none of the sugar!

There are also a free printables below, so be sure to print those out.

I’ll post more mixes soon. Be sure to hop on over to the side bar and sign up for free. If you are on a phone or tablet, you can go to the “Contact Me” page to find the subscription form. IMPORTANT: You must confirm the subscription in your email or it will not work! 

Hopefully, my recent round of “technical difficulties” is over and posts will now be coming to you in a more timely manner.

Let’s mix it up!

Italian Salad Dressing Mix

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dried flat-leaf Italian parsley

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

¾ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

¼ teaspoon citric acid

Measure all ingredients into a snack-sized re-sealable bag.

Make several packets up ahead of time, store in a freezer container and grab one whenever you have a recipe calling for a package of Italian dressing mix.

NOTE: The mixes you buy in the store also contain a small amount of dehydrated carrots. You might want to grate a little carrot into your recipe to give it those little flecks of color that are so appealing to the eye!

Taco Seasoning Mix

(for seasoning one pound of burger)

2 Tablespoons dried minced onion

½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

In a 10-inch skillet, brown the burger. Drain off any excess fat. Add the taco mix and ½ cup water. Simmer until onion bits are tender and excess moisture is absorbed.

Cream of Whatever (or “S.O.S” – Soup or Sauce)

2 cups powdered non-fat dry milk

¾ cup arrowroot powder

2 Tablespoons dried minced onion

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground savory

1 teaspoon dried flat-leaf Italian parsley flakes

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried tarragon

¼ teaspoon dried marjoram

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

OPTIONAL: 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning.

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Store in an airtight container.

One batch equals nine (10.5 ounce) cans of creamed soup.

For one can of cream soup:

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mix with 9 ounces COLD water in a saucepan. Whisk until well blended. Heat, stirring constantly with the whisk until thickened.

Add to casseroles or other recipes just as you would a can of soup.

Need Cream of Mushroom Soup: Stir in chopped mushrooms with the dry mix and water.

Need Cream of Celery Soup? Add 2 Tablespoons dried celery flakes to the saucepan.

Need other flavors? Use your imagination!

NOTE: I have seen variations of this recipe all over the internet, but I have changed it so much to eliminate sugar, wheat and corn products that I am calling it my own. However, I’d like to thank Jillie, over at One Good Thing by Jillie for all the tips I’ve received from her blog. She’s a great source for gluten-free recipes, safe cleaning solutions and more.

Seasoned Salt

½ cup sea salt

¼ cup paprika

2 Tablespoons ground tumeric

2 Tablespoons onion powder

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon citric acid

NOTE: If you truly feel that something is “missing” as compared to the seasoned salt you buy, it is, without a doubt, the sugar. If you like, you can add 1/8 teaspoon Sweet Leaf stevia powder to this mix. Sweet Leaf really lives up to their claim as the best-tasting stevia. I purchase my Sweet Leaf stevia at Natural Grocers, my local health food store.  It’s available in drops, a powder canister and individual packets.  I use whichever form I need, depending on the recipe.  If you’ve yet to make friends with stevia because you don’t like the taste, you probably need to switch to this brand. It’s a bit more expensive, but lacks some of the extra ingredients that cause that “off” taste. Another tip on stevia – USE LESS! It’s tough to get it through our heads, but it really is so much sweeter than sugar. Yet, we ignore the label and use too much, causing us to complain about the taste and the cost. How silly is that?

BONUS: Here’s a link to another great mix – Dry Buttermilk Ranch Mix – submitted by Scotdog on www.allrecipes.com I use allrecipes.com often.  It’s especially great when you have excess of a certain ingredient.  You can do a word search and see all the recipes that have that ingredient.

Back to the Buttermilk Ranch Mix:  We have found it to be absolutely yummy. You can print it out from their site. I have a few tips in preparing and using it –

  1. We had to cut the garlic powder in half. It seemed just a bit too potent when made according to the recipe.  Adjust this to your liking.
  2. For dressing, I mix it with ½ cup milk and ½ cup full-fat mayonnaise. I like a mayonnaise I found at Trader Joe’s. It has no sugar.
  3. For a dip, use ½ cup mayonnaise and ½ cup sour cream.  :

 

IMPORTANT: I found that “as is”, this worked great for mixing into a dip where you prefer to see all the wonderful little bits of herb and spices. However, when made into a dressing, they tended to make things separate and appear “not so lovely”. I solved this by putting all the ingredients except for the buttermilk powder into my small blender and turning them into a fine powder. Now, I have a smooth, herbed ranch dressing!

Recipe link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/214481/dry-buttermilk-ranch-mix/?internalSource=hub%20recipe&referringContentType=search%20results&clickId=cardslot%201

Printable Italian Dressing Mix & Taco Seasoning www.midweststoryteller.com

Printable S.O.S. and Seasoned Salt www.midweststoryteller.com

Comments? I’d love to hear how you use these simple mixes. Also, I’ll do my best to answer your questions.  Just scroll back up and click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post. 

Life in the Funny Papers: Parenting Can Make You Laugh (If You’re on the Outside Looking In)

I’m sure most of you have enough going on in your lives that you haven’t given much thought to why I haven’t been posting lately.  For the handful of you who were wondering, the short version is this:  Gimpy knee followed by a case of poison ivy for the record books (especially for me, since I’ve spent my life up until now as the person who “doesn’t get poison ivy”), followed up by an injury to the midsection that was so painful that I couldn’t get in a position to use either computer.  TWO poison ivy shots and lots of rest have me on the mend.  All that, I’m sure, would make a great story, but it hasn’t gotten funny yet, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I’m back!

After treating you to that gem of a story about my aunt Gladys Pearl, my mind lingers on my mom and her siblings. I’m thinking it’s time to introduce you to Mom’s brother, Gerald. This seems like an odd thing to attempt, since I never knew him. He passed away before my time. I heard all about him, though. Oh, yeah!

If you are parenting young children and about to tear your hair out – take heart! That challenging child is nothing new and not necessarily a product of modern society. My grand-parents lived to tell about it, although I’m not sure how long it took them to laugh about it. 

Here they are as newlyweds, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead:

Nettie and Judge Get Married www.midweststoryteller.com

Grandpa Judge (who, as we’ve already touched upon, wasn’t one) and Grandma Nettie (formally Jeanette) married in 1913 and had six children.

Here’s Gerald Virgil, the oldest, and his little sister, Martha. 

Spiege and Martha www.midweststoryteller.com

He looks fairly harmless to me, but then I have to remember that when this picture was taken, he was just getting started.  Somehow, Martha doesn’t look as happy as big brother.  That could be due to the usual uncertainty babies have about strange photographers.  Martha might, however, with a wink and a smile, claim it was because she was being pinched.

According to siblings, Gerald tended to be just a tad spoiled. Well, as spoiled as a child could be if he were born to parents who scratched out a living in a small town along the railroad tracks in the Midwest in the early part of the twentieth century. Life wasn’t a walk in the park for any of them and Gerald, unfortunately, had a problem with his eyes early on, causing him to need strong glasses. As her firstborn, Grandma Nettie doted on him.

Gerald had a mind of his own from the start. As he grew and began, shall we say, expressing himself, he soon became known as Gerald only on paper and perhaps in his mother’s heart.

I don’t think I ever knew his name was Gerald until I was old enough to take an interest in family tree records. The stories I grew up with were all about “Spiege”.

That might seem an odd name, but Uncle Spiege wasn’t given it – he earned it. In the early 1900’s, a cartoon in the newspapers regularly featured an ornery little boy named Spiegel. I’ve done quite a bit of searching and I haven’t come up with any of these cartoons. I’d love to see one or to know the name of it, so if any of my readers remembers it or knows an “old-timer” who does, please comment and let me know.

Gerald, outdoing Spiegel’s shenanigans by a country mile, soon had the nickname applied and over time, it was shortened to Spiege.

Spiege operated according to his own whims and fancies, a quality that caused Judge and Nettie to practice extreme diligence in parenting, whether they liked it or not. Once having gotten an idea, Spiege acted on it. As a grown man, people may have described him as entrepreneurial, driven, fearless, innovative, artistic, uninhibited. In his growing-up years, however, those who knew Spiege likely used a different set of adjectives as they developed a keen awareness that this was a boy who needed to be watched.

Sittin' on a Stump www.midweststoryteller.com

Watching Spiege wasn’t easy. Filled with wanderlust, he ended up anywhere and everywhere, doing whatever he pleased. Also, he possessed two qualities that would try the patience of any parent – a devilish impulsiveness and the annoying habit of never asking permission.

On one of the rare occasions when he and his sister, Martha, happened to be getting along, they decided to “play hobo”. This involved some clothes even shabbier than the ones they were already wearing, some old tin plates, scraps of food scavenged from the kitchen and the absolute necessity of building a fire in the loft of a neighbor’s barn. Later, when the game was over, but the fire was only getting started, someone spotted smoke rolling out of the barn. Volunteers arrived to find a fire burning on the barn floor below a blackened hole in the loft above where the hobo campfire had burned its way through.

Once, at suppertime, the family decided that what the meal lacked was cheese. Judge instructed Spiege to run over to the store and bring back a block. The family waited in their basement kitchen (strange, but true) with the other food on the table. This included a family favorite – a big bowl of chocolate gravy.

The best I can figure, by asking what seemed like a million questions, is that this is a half-set pudding of sorts.

Soon, they heard Spiege clomping down the stairs. It never occurred to them that, being Spiege, he’d need instructions on cheese delivery. Stopping halfway down the stairs, Spiege paused, lowering the block of cheese between his knees with both hands. Most likely, he intended to demonstrate his prowess at the underhanded toss. Once the cheese landed in the bowl of chocolate gravy, however, any applause he might have received gave way to chaos as the rest of the family set about cleaning the floor, walls, windows and one another. They found out that night how chocolate gravy tasted with everything, especially cheese.

Grandpa Judge once happened upon Spiege after hearing loud noises and figuring he’d better go investigate. He found Spiege at the cistern, banging away at the large mass of concrete that covered it.

What in the world are you doing?” demanded Judge.

Spiege, hammering with all his might, explained it away as though it were an everyday occurrence. “I need a piece of this concrete.”

With a great love of horses, Spiege loved to draw and paint pictures of those beautiful animals. If he’d stuck to this hobby, Judge and Nettie may have avoided sleeping with one eye open all the time.

Spiege got into so much trouble that it became difficult to tell when Spiege found trouble and when trouble found Spiege. It got so that if anything happened, Spiege heard his name being called as the first person to be brought in for questioning.

This, no doubt, fueled his natural urge to wander. Spiege often disappeared, coming home when he got good and ready. Judge and Nettie, despairing over this, tried everything to keep him at home or at least get him to report his whereabouts.

Nettie, in a fury one day after finally finding Spiege and dragging him home, decided to put a stop to it by making the punishment fit the crime. Judge, hearing a lot of banging and screaming and yelling, came around the house to see what all the fuss was about. He found Nettie at the shed in an obvious fit of temper.

What are you doing?” he asked.

I’ll put a stop to this,” she fumed, leaning against the latch. “I’m gonna cure that boy of running off once and for all. Get me a hammer and nails! I’ll fix this door so he can’t get out till I’m good and ready to let him out! That’ll teach him a lesson!”

You can try it if you like,” said Judge, peering through the cracks in the shed, “but I don’t think it’s gonna teach him anything. He’s gone.”

Nettie jerked the door open. Spiege had already found a loose board and wriggled out through the back of the shed.

Being a loving father, Judge racked his brain for a way to teach Spiege a lesson before they all lost their minds for fear of something happening to him on one of his wanderings. One day, before leaving for work at the barber shop, he took a length of rope and, in sheer desperation, tied Spiege to a chair on the front porch.

There,” he said, securing the knot. “This is one day you won’t be going anywhere. You’re going to stay put all day long and see how you like it.”

After a while, Nettie ventured out onto the front porch to check on her son. Stunned, she looked around for any sign of Spiege or the chair. Had he fallen off the porch while trying to free himself?

Frustrated, Nettie paused, staring ahead, wondering what to do next. A small movement caught her eye. Something seemed out of the ordinary. Squinting, she focused her gaze across the yard, beyond the railroad tracks, across town, all the way to the front porch of the general store where Spiege sat, defiant to the last and still tied to the chair!

I think they pretty much turned him over to God after that and let him roam.

Topping off at 6’4”, Spiege, as a teenager, felt pretty sure of himself. He’d outgrown his younger brother, Tim, by a full foot in height.

Spiege as a Young Man www.midweststoryteller.com

Tim, by the way, wasn’t really named “Tim”… (I know, I know – here we go again – more on Tim later.)

Sometimes, when you really need someone to lean on, you run to big brother. One day, Tim, arrived breathless and wildly disturbed, begging Spiege to come with him. Jumping in the old jalopy, Spiege drove as fast as he could, listening to Tim’s story.

Having decided to take a walk along the train tracks to a nearby town about six miles away, Tim had enjoyed a leisurely walk until he’d spotted a pack of dogs up ahead. Assuming that they were feasting on some animal that hadn’t made it across the tracks in time, he went to investigate, only to find that it was not an animal, but a man, who had been hit by the train.

It was a gruesome sight to behold for the two boys and they hurried back to town to inform the authorities.

That night, Judge and Nettie crawled under the covers, only to have their two sons come into their room and begin spreading blankets and pillows at the foot of their bed.

Judge sat up, staring at them. “Now what are two full-grown boys like you doing sleeping with their Mama and Daddy?”

The boys continued making their pallet at on the floor, unmoved by any aspersions cast against their manhood.

If you’d seen what we’ve seen today,” said Spiege, “you’d sleep with your Mama and Daddy, too!”

Wanderlust had left Spiege for one night, at least. He was happy to be where the home fires burned and the family circle offered comfort and peace.

Spiege continued to go his own way, doing things with a sense of adventure – everything from venturing out west to try his hand at sheep herding to finding a sweetheart through social media. (A newspaper ad.) The latter worked out pretty well, as their marriage lasted “until death do us part” and they raised five children together.

Knowing Uncle Spiege when he was young would have been an adventure, and it’s one I’m sorry I missed – I think.

Although Uncle Spiege lost the sight in both eyes – one to cataract and one to detached retina – he never lost his strong will and creativity. He created amazing things in his workshop that most of us with 20/20 vision could only hope to accomplish. He’s shown here at age fifty when a local newspaper did an article on how he’d lived his life after going blind.

"I Don't Live in Darkness" www.midweststoryteller.com

In the interview, Spiege said this:   “If I could get a job as much as this pension pays, I’d tell them to take the pension and keep it.  I’ve found out one thing.  You can’t sit around and hold your hand out.  I knew a blind man once who made $2.75 and hour, but he thought more of a wine bottle than he did of his job.” 

I think this is an inspiring comment coming from a man with a lifelong disability who had every reason to feel sorry for himself.

If you are raising a child who is “difficult” or perhaps a child with a disability, keep in mind that within those challenges lies a spirit that can rise above life’s circumstances. In the meantime, however, you may need to hide the hammer, repair the shed and invest in really heavy chairs.

I’m still wondering what the kid intended to do with that big chunk of concrete.  

Enjoy your summer – and keep an eye on the kids!  Even if you’re not raising a Spiege, there might be one roaming the neighborhood, and it’s only funny in the funny papers (and perhaps on blogs almost a century later).

Comments?  I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.  Just click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post.  And, whatever you do, don’t forget to share!

Saturday Pasta (for any busy day of the week!)

Saturday Pasta www.midweststoryteller.comIt’s time for another great recipe! This one, another of my inventions, will appeal to everyone who likes things flavorful. While not hot and spicy, it certainly isn’t bland.

Why Saturday, you ask? No particular reason, except that Saturdays around our house seem to turn into project days, with Smuffy working on his and me working on mine. Smuffy likes to sleep in on Saturdays before launching into some DIY project that makes a lot of noise and is likely to stink up the place.  I’m just thankful that only a couple of them have landed him in the emergency room.

It has always amazed me that no matter how late Smuffy sleeps, the “rumbly in his tumbly”, as Winnie the Pooh would say, speaks to him at the same time every day. Though he may have slept till ten and lingered over breakfast, he reappears at noon on the dot, looking weak in the knees and asking what’s for lunch.

I’ve wondered if it isn’t triggered by sound. For years, Smuffy has come home for lunch, Monday through Friday, to the tune of the neighborhood church bells. They chime various lovely hymns a couple of times a day. Perhaps on Saturday, at the sound of the noon bells, he thinks he’s hungry. Have the bells trained him to eat at noon, no matter what? I think that’s how they do it with rats in a maze.

Often, I’ve stood there, wondering what on earth I’m going to fix so that I can get on with my own project. Neither of us wants to go out. Meat is frozen. My mind is blank.

Then came this idea. I threw it together so fast I hardly knew how it did it. Smuffy says it’s hearty, healthy and “restaurant good”. It must be, because he likes variety, yet I can pretty much toss this together on any busy weekend and he’ll happily gobble it up. That’s really saying something, considering it has no meat! Smuffy likes meat – a lot!

Also, it has no dairy! I know some of you have been waiting for recipes like that. With no sugar and the only grain being brown rice pasta, the healthy eaters can’t go wrong.

A few notes before we start:

  1. Don’t get hung up about it! I make this with what I have. I’m giving you the perfected version. Make it this way the first time, just so you know what you’ve been missing. Then, you can always try some of the things I’ve experimented with along the way, such as zucchini instead of spinach, etc. We would never make it without the sun-dried tomatoes. We think they really make the dish.
  2. Don’t be a snob. Use fresh mushrooms if you can, but if you’re out, by all means use canned mushrooms.
  3. I did not grow up in a kitchen where everything was the finest and best (although most of it was homegrown), but I’ve learned something. Though I’m frugal, I’ve learned that it’s better to pay for good ingredients and have good food I enjoy. It’s so much easier to say no to junk food when I’ve just created something healthy and delicious. That’s why I’m recommending brands on two ingredients. Jovial Brown Rice Pastas are fabulous! They came highly recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. Through the years, I’ve tried innumerable substitutes for white flour pasta. This one is the hands-down winner. Jovial Pasta People – I love you! Smuffy says he can’t tell the difference between it and “regular” pasta. I’ve bought the spaghetti and the lasagna noodles and they’re both great. Once you try this, you may want to check around for a bulk price.  Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, one of the top two olive oils recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, has become a staple item in my kitchen. Ah – the flavor! In case you haven’t heard, there’s a whole big deal out there concerning olive oils and which companies you can trust. You may not be getting what you think in those beautiful bottles. Colavita is the real deal, and it makes this recipe delicious. I get it at my local supermarket in bottles and also in bulk, where I can get a deal on large tins.
  4. Speaking of oils (and we’ll cover this in more detail in a future post), there are three oils in this recipe for a reason. Butter adds flavor, but tends to burn. Coconut oil resists burning and keeps the butter from browning without changing the flavor. I keep both kinds of coconut oil on hand – refined and unrefined (or extra virgin). You’ll want refined for this. Olive oil, though not a trans fat, does (just as most of the other oils do) turn to a trans fat when heated. It should be used to “dress” the dish when finished.
  5. Don’t be lily-livered and leave out the “heat”! There are not enough red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper in this to make it spicy, but we find it necessary to give the recipe that certain what-cha-ma-call-it.

Let’s get cooking. This goes together in the time it takes your water to come to a boil and your pasta to cook. Don’t forget your FREE printable below.

Saturday Pasta Ingredients www.midweststoryteller.com

Saturday Pasta

1 Tablespoon butter

1 Tablespoon refined coconut oil

½ large onion, (slice thin, then quarter the slices)

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, snipped into small pieces with scissors)

1 (4 ounce) can mushrooms or, preferably, fresh mushrooms

4 ounces fresh spinach

5 to 6 ounces Jovial Brown Rice Spaghetti

20 Kalamata olives (½ of a 6 ounce jar)

¼ cup (or more) Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

A “sprinkle” of cayenne pepper

Sea salt

In a large skillet, heat butter and coconut oil over medium heat. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.

Add onions to the skillet and stir.

In a small custard cup, pour a little water (approximately 3 Tablespoons)over the sun-dried tomatoes. Microwave them on on high for one minute to reconstitute them. Set aside.

Add mushrooms and olives to the skillet. Stir. Lower heat so that onions do not begin to caramelize.

When water reaches a full boil, add pasta and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook according to package instructions until al dente.

Meanwhile, pour one to two tablespoons olive oil into a large pasta bowl. Add red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper. Stir. Set aside.

Pepper Flakes in Oil www.midweststoryteller.com

Add spinach to the skillet. (This will fill the skillet.) Cook and stir until spinach wilts and mixes with the other ingredients.  Add sun-dried tomatoes (with liquid) to the mixture.

Skillet Mixture www.midweststoryteller.com

Drain pasta. Add to pasta bowl. Toss to coat with the flavored oil. Add the skillet mixture, scraping the skillet clean with a spatula. Toss ingredients together, adding remaining olive oil. Season to taste with additional sea salt and more olive oil, if desired.

Serves 4. 

Don’t forget your FREE printable recipes!  Just click on the arrow below. 

PRINTABLE Recipe Saturday Pasta www.midweststoryteller.com

SUBSCRIBE in the right side bar if your on your computer or on the CONTACT ME page if you’re on a phone or tablet so you won’t miss more delicious recipes. 

You might also enjoy “Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken and Sweet Potato“.  Check it out here! 

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Life, Laughter & Lemons

We’ve just returned from a trip. That sort of thing throws my world out of kilter. I supposed the people who thrive on deadlines and challenges have all their blog posts ready ahead of time and scheduled to post while they’re gone.

…Nyeh…

It’s my first day back from where the landscape is shades of brown, the trees are short and scrubby, but the hair is manageable – the Desert Southwest. We’ve come home to our spot in the Midwest where the grass is green, the trees are tall and plentiful and the hair is – well – natty.

Vacations help you thrive! I like the Mark Twain quote that Joseph Rosendo always says at the end of his show, Travelscope – “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” It does us all good to experience people, customs and attitudes that are different from our daily grind.

I would’ve let the blog slide for another day, but it’s April 10th and I wanted to take a moment to say Happy Birthday to my mom in Heaven. She would have been ninety-nine years old today if we still had her with us. She passed away in 2013.

Mom’s family affectionately combined her first and middle names, calling her Emmabelle. No one who knew her ever called her anything else. When I was at “that age” (you know the one), I thought hers was a funny, old-fashioned name. Later, I came to think it the most beautiful name in the world.

Other than a vast difference in height, Mom and I looked a lot alike. Here we are side by side. Isn’t she lovely? Now that she has shed the effects of her ninety-four years on earth, I’m sure she must look like this once again.

Mother and Daughter www.midweststoryteller.com

Mom thrived amongst great adversity. She loved her seven children and did her best to raise them, though life for her was no picnic. It was hard, folks. Difficult. Emmabelle, however, made the best of every single day. Though shy and reserved, she had a quiet, ready wit and a great sense of humor. Overflowing with creativity, Mom always seemed to whip up something to make life easier or to brighten up the atmosphere.

And the holidays? Mom loved all of them, especially Christmas! I can’t even describe how she put the joy into it in her own calm and quiet way.

When I was a kid, Mom, latched onto an old typewriter and a touch-typing manual and decided to teach herself to type. She sat it up back in the utility room next to the old, wringer washing machine and worked at it every day. At a loss as to what to write, she made notes on what she did every day. I never gave it much thought. After all, your mom’s life is pretty much a drag, right? I thought it was really neat that she was learning something new “at her age”. Yeah, I was pathetic.

One day when I was a teenager, I went to the utility room to grab some clean clothes. I looked down at Mom’s typewriter. The sheet wrapped around the roller was still at the place where she’d left off. It said:

“What a day! The old cow had a calf. The old cat had kittens.  The old man had a fit!”

I decided to read Mom’s diary more often.

I have her birthday doubly on my mind this year because during this vacation, we visited my cousin who is facing the task of going through the belongings of her recently deceased parents. Her mother, Martha, my mom’s older sister, was quite a lady. Much alike, we grew to have a strong bond over the last eight years of her life. She died at age ninety-eight and I miss her terribly. After Mom left us, I’d call Martha often. We’d talk for an hour or two, howling our heads off at all the old family stories. Through those talks, I felt I got to know Mom better than ever.

Some people don’t like to look back, but I find that my family stories and my heritage help me thrive. Mom loved to work on the family tree and I’ve taken her research back further. I can’t help but wonder how she’d react to knowing that she is directly descended from kings and queens.

I’m encouraged by Mom’s example. If ever a woman took her lemons and made lemonade – Emmabelle made a sweet batch! Most people may not have thought of her as a strong woman, but as the years go by I’ve come to think of her as the strongest woman I know. And those seven children? They all, as the Scripture says, “rise up and call her blessed”.

Don’t let the “old timers” in your family go without hearing their story. You’ll be surprised and even amazed at what they’ve been through. It’ll help you thrive!

More stories from Emmabelle and Martha coming soon!

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Questions? Comments? Who do you need to hear stories from before it’s too late?!

Life With Smuffy: (Episode 2) “Smuffy Takes the Cure” (or, “Think You’re Invincible?…Don’t Bet on It!”)

It’s doubtful that anyone, upon entering into a lifelong commitment, realizes what they’re getting themselves into. Marriage certainly remains the number one eye opener of all time.

Lacking this foreknowledge, and madly in love, I married Smuffy and discovered that I’d entered a contest. No – more like a tournament.

I’d come from a large farm family where the girls outnumbered the boys 6 to 1.  We had our issues – that’s for sure – but I don’t remember an overly competitive spirit amongst the siblings. It may have been there, but I didn’t pick up on it.

That thing America thrives on – competition – sped right past me and I didn’t even care. I hated team sports and shrugged off people who announced that they were going to out-do me academically. My attitude was pretty much, “Knock yourself out, Honey!”

For Smuffy, raised in a household full of boys, life had been one grand rivalry after another as each tried to prove whatever it is they were trying to prove. See, I still haven’t figured it out! But, boys will be boys, I suppose.

Boys Will Be Boys www.midweststoryteller.com

I shrank from participating, but Smuffy thought all I needed was a little coaxing. And, with those puppy-dog brown eyes of his, he lured me into all sorts of silly wagers – each one a contest, championship, best two out of three, winner take all.

Though it seemed irrelevant to me which one of us could spit over a log or hit a tree branch with a rock with greater accuracy, Smuffy thrived on it. I preferred, as one of my favorite P. G. Wodehouse characters once put it, “to exist beautifully”, preferably with a good book, cup of hot chocolate and a cat in my lap. I love kitties. I adored Smuffy, and I had to admit that, though it wasn’t my cup of tea, Smuffy was cute when lost in one of his fits of boyish playfulness.

Uninterested in monetary wagers, Smuffy preferred to invent stunts for the losers to perform. He liked to drag others into the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Shortly after we married, Smuffy made a bet in a pitch game we were playing with another couple. Intoxicated with the smell of victory, Smuffy strutted his stuff, promising that he and his surprised partner would, should the girls rebound from their massive losses and win, remove their shoes and socks, roll their pants up past their knees and run all the way around the house in the snow.

The temperature – in the teens. The house – large. The snow – deep.

By this time, Smuffy’s over-confidence had made me a trifle peeved. Since the girls didn’t have to reciprocate if they lost, I gave him “the look”, which, by the way, he didn’t recognize, and said, “You’re on!”

After we won, I felt a little sorry for Smuffy’s partner. Recovering from a nasty virus of some sort, he looked as though he wanted to grab Smuffy by the neck and throttle his bright idea right out of him.

What Goes Around Comes Around www.midweststoryteller.com

I stood outside, monitoring their progress as they mushed around the house with a flashlight. Surely this would cure him!

Not a chance! No matter what the activity, Smuffy could think of a way to turn it into a contest. We couldn’t just play Monopoly. We played Killer Monopoly. I came to the point where I took amusement by letting other players sit rent free on my properties “just because they were my friends”. Then, I’d charge him full price for being “not nice”.

Smuffy did, at times, end up losing. He grew adept at slithering out of the consequences of his outrageous bets by careful wording. He always seemed to escape through some tiny loophole or technicality when I folded my arms and demanded payment.

Not caring whether I won or lost, I had relaxation on my side when Smuffy lured me into competition. It came in handy.

One day, he came home with a bow and arrows. He spent the whole weekend practicing with his new toy, perfecting his aim and technique. Sure enough, when I ventured outside, Smuffy wanted me to try it, betting, of course, that I couldn’t hit a rotten watermelon sitting at the far edge of our garden. He showed me how to hold the thing and draw back the bow. I nailed the watermelon with a satisfying foomph. Two more bets and two foomphs later, Smuffy dismissed me, saying he suffered from a tired arm. The following weekend, we acted out a similar scenario. The bow and arrows disappeared after that.

I began to think my sweetie needed help. An intervention! Surely there must be a cure!

Call 1-800-BETCURE www.midweststoryteller.com

One winter, a stray cat arrived. I admit to being a cat magnet. I love them and they love me. I think, like hobos, they must mark my house, labeling me as a soft touch. It takes all the fortitude at my disposal to avoid petting them and feeding them. I know what will happen if I do. I am firm. I am resolved – 99.9% of the time.

We called this cat Old Yeller. He was yellow. He was old, at least in experience. With a shaggy and unkempt coat, he moved his massive bulk along with fearsome purpose, as though he saw all and heard all with the one eye that hadn’t been scratched out and the one ear that hadn’t been bitten off. We never took pictures of Old Yeller. Why would you? He looked something like this –

Old Yeller Cat www.midweststoryteller.com

Smuffy preferred to chuck rocks at Old Yeller in hopes of running him off. I did my best to ignore him. Cat lover or not, he just didn’t fall into the category of “snuggly” as far as I was concerned. He looked like he’d seen a thing or two and had mangled both of them. He hung around through cold weather and into spring.

One weekend, as the weather warmed and Smuffy tackled his first outdoor project, Old Yeller joined him in the back yard. Positioning himself with an air of authority on the picnic table, he snarled and hissed at Smuffy each time he moved anywhere near him. One. Tough. Cat.

Later in the afternoon, I went out for a little sunshine. Smuffy greeted me, gesturing toward Old Yeller.

I know you’re always saying how much cats like you, but I’ll bet this is one cat that wouldn’t let you pet him. That’s about the meanest cat I’ve ever come across.”

Oh, I don’t know,” I shrugged with nonchalance. “He might not be so mean to someone he really liked.”

Smuffy’s eyebrows shot up. “You gotta be kidding me! You seriously think you can pet that cat?” He waved an arm toward Old Yeller, who took it as an act of war and responded with hair-raising yowls of feline profanity. “I’ll bet you can’t!”

I paused, basking in a wave of inspiration. Had Old Yeller come along as Smuffy’s intervention?

I maintained my casual attitude. “Oh, I don’t know…I’ll bet I could. Cats really do like me, you know. What’ll you bet me?”

Smuffy named off a couple of things and I wrinkled my nose at him, poo-pooing them as penny ante. If he wanted me to endanger myself by even approaching Old Yeller, he would have to come up with something better.

I watched as my willingness, combined with indifference, sparked Smuffy’s competitive fires. He wanted to win. He had to win.

That cat is wild! I don’t think anybody’s ever petted him. If you can pet that cat, I’ll…I’ll…”

You’ll what? Remember, kitties like me,” I smiled.

I had him hooked. I waited. And, yes, Smuffy went over the edge.

If you can walk up to that cat and get him to let you pet him, I will personally, right now, walk over to the edge of this yard, face the neighbors, pull my pants down around my ankles and sing, ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ for all to hear!”

Promise to sing nice and loud?”

Nice and loud.”

What about your underpants?”

Huh?”

It’s really not fair if you don’t pull down your underpants.”

Smuffy hesitated. On a scale of 1-10, Smuffy’s modesty quotient is somewhere around 42. He’d already wagered a good deal of his decency. Soon, I saw that my show of confidence had only stoked his own.

Okay. My underpants, too.”

No cheating? No technicalities?”

No cheating.”

If you forget the words to the song, I’ll help you along.”

Arms folded across his chest, Smuffy watched me approach Old Yeller, warning me all the way that I’d better be careful, lest I draw back a stub.

I chose the cooing method. Slowly advancing, I called Old Yeller every precious pet name that came to mind. After a gentle stroke on the back of his head, I gave his spine a tickle before massaging his jowls. He purred in approval.

Soon, Old Yeller decided he’d had enough for a first encounter and jumped off the picnic table.

I smiled at Smuffy. “Your turn.”

How did you do that?”

Like I’ve always told you – kitties like me.”

Smuffy pled for mercy, exhausting every excuse at his disposal before going to the south edge of the lawn and getting down to business. I remained firm. Strong. Determined. It felt good – this new sense of power.

I had only one regret. Smuffy happened to be wearing the longest-tailed shirt he owned. I thought it took the polish off the performance and I said so. Again, technicalities prevailed as he informed me that raising the shirt had, at no time, come into discussion when the bet went down.

My little technicality hadn’t come into discussion either. I saved it till after we’d gotten past “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Very nice,” I said, releasing my pent-up giggles. “From now on, I’m only going to agree to a bet if the stakes are high and I know I’m going to win. Remember, you could end up singing this same song on the front steps of the theater on Main Street – without the shirt!”

Waggling a cautionary finger at him, I turned and started for the house.

It was only a fluke,” he called after me. “I don’t know why that cat let you pet him, but I’ll bet you couldn’t do it again!”

Oh, it’s no fluke,” I called back, turning to savor the moment. “And I wouldn’t bet on it again if I were you. I’ve been feeding that cat hot dogs… for… the… last… three… days!

Random Acts of Kindness www.midweststoryteller.com

Now, I can’t keep track of Smuffy every minute, you know. He may get into an occasional competitive wager with someone else now and again, but somehow he’s lost the urge to drag me into it.

Smuffy has taken the cure! Whether or not he falls off the wagon remains to be seen. If it happens, I’ll put down my hot chocolate, shove in a bookmark and be there to chronicle the event.

Stay tuned…

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The Rose Leaf Project

I promised in the earlier post, “Creativity Unhampered”, that I’d return to my flight of fancy concerning my new discovery – Triple Thick. I suppose it may have been sitting on the shelf in Hobby Lobby for years, but I never knew it. Now, I’m giddy with possibilities.

Triple Thick www.midweststoryteller.com

After using it to restore my mom’s vintage clothes hamper, I wondered how it might work on various objects. Check out the hamper restoration here.

Rose leaves, partially decayed and plastered all over my porch after wind and rain, offered an interesting experiment. With nothing left between their veining, they looked like tan lace. I salvaged a few, pressing them between paper towels and flattening them with a heavy book.

I’d like to point out here that I exercised a great amount of restraint in getting started. My very nature called out to me to collect about five hundred of these beauties, because what if the experiment turned out to be the greatest thing I’d ever done! I reigned in the urge, for once, counseling myself that it could also be the biggest flop I’d ever wasted time and energy on. Forcing myself to keep it simple, I reasoned that Hobby Lobby had more supplies and that the bushes would lose their leaves again next year.

Once dry and flat, I spread my perfect lace leaves out onto a piece of paper to paint.

Dried Rose Leaves www.midweststoryteller.com

Now for color. I wasted some brain-time on this. Somewhere during my twelfth trip around the mulberry bush, I decided that it didn’t matter -they just needed color. Spray paint seemed the best idea. None of my leftover colors, however, seemed like anything I could tolerate, even as a test. I’m sensitive that way, you know.

So, I raided Smuffy’s paint stash and came out with chrome automotive paint. Why not? I rather liked the result. I let them dry before turning them over, giving the other side a silver coating as well.

Chromed Rose Leaves www.midweststoryteller.com

Next step: Triple Thick! I could have brushed it on, as I did with the hamper lid, but my curiosity tempted me to see what happened if I dipped them, giving them a thicker, sheeted coating. But then, how to let the very wet things dry once both sides were wet? Hmmmm… I had a brainstorm. (Now, don’t be a smarty-pants and ask me, “What with?”) Placing waxed paper in a cardboard box and up the side, I secured it by sticking straight pins through from the outside. These would provide “hangers” for my leaves while the waxed paper caught the drips.

BONUS: I didn’t find Triple Thick to be overly smelly.

DRAWBACK: The leaves were extremely thin, and doing a complete dip got them extremely wet, so some of them did tend to curl a little. 

Triple Dipped Rose Leaf www.midweststoryteller.com

Follow the instructions for drying time. I had lots of other things to do, so I probably waited half a day between re-dipping. My leaves got dipped three times. I suppose you could do as many coats as you like.

If you wanted to do this to a larger object, you would either paint the Triple Thick on with a brush or pour it into a shallow tray for dipping. The tray would need to have an airtight lid to keep it from drying out between times.

The results of my experiment? I’m rating it a success!

I know some of you have keen powers of observation and are wondering why there are fewer leaves in some photos than others.

I went to the basement to gather my leaves that had been drying on a large piece of paper on the floor. They were missing. So was the paper. I’ve lived with Smuffy for a long time, so instead of assuming that I had lost all my marbles or taken up sleep-walking, I went straight to the source and asked him what happened. He informed me that, assuming the whole thing to be trash, he’d wadded it all up and put in the garbage can. Sighing, I dove in, muttering something along the lines of, “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard…” Yes, Smuffy is a tidy man. A very tidy man. Anyhow, in the process, there were casualties.  Another one got stuck to the sleeve of my sweater and came out the worse for wear. I ended up with four. See? I knew I should have collected five hundred!

The leaves came out slick, glossy and slightly bendable. And, I might add – nifty! While I was finishing this post, I also discovered that Triple Thick comes in a spray!  Here we go again…

I began to think how I might use the leaves. Here are some ideas –

Rose Leaf Ideas www.midweststoryteller.com

I’d love your ideas! Comment and let me know if there are any items that might otherwise be too fragile to keep that you are thinking about preserving with Triple Thick.

One last instruction – When you finish your project, remove the waxed paper from the cardboard box and peel away the dried puddles of Triple Thick. While not half as much fun as dancing on bubble wrap in bare feet, it does offer about ten seconds of entertainment for those of us not ashamed to indulge our inner child.

Speaking of children, I think Triple Thick has possibilities for all sorts of projects with your kids.

Next up: Smuffy’s back! SUBSCRIBE, so you don’t miss “Life with Smuffy: (Episode 2) Smuffy Takes The Cure” (or, “Think You’re Invincible?…Don’t Bet On It!)

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Little Gladys and the Extended Cure

Let’s journey back to the late 1920’s. If you can recall any tunes from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, hum along.  It’ll put you in the proper mood.

In the tiny town along the railroad tracks where my mother grew up, life revolved around daily chores, school, church, and a trip to the store for necessaries, news and a haircut (all in the same place and provided by her daddy, Judge, who wasn’t one, but that’s another story). A break in the routine came when relatives visited or when the kids got to go spend time with grandparents.

Even prior to being old enough to attend school, my mom often stayed with her grandparents to help out the old folks, seein’ as how their rheumatiz kept them from doing all the things they’d done when they were spring chickens. They lived near another tiny town just ten miles down the tracks. By the way, is anything ever “up” the tracks?

Here they are dandling a couple of the grandkiddies on their knees, Grandma in a dress that seemed to reappear in most of her photos and Uncle John sporting a fine head of hair and a beard to match.  I imagine he cut quite a figure in his Union Blues back in his Civil War fighting days, don’t you?

Martha and Uncle John www.midweststoryteller.com

Just so we get things straight – Grandma Martha married John, who had actually been married to her sister, Emma. It was all on the up-and-up, because Emma had passed on, leaving Uncle John a free man. Martha, having been first widowed (now that fellow was my mom’s actual grandpa) and then receiving a court judgment freeing her up from a no-good scoundrel, married John, who, in addition, was a second cousin, once removed. So, my mom grew up with a step-grandpa/uncle-by-marriage cousin whom they all called Uncle John. Well, now that that’s all cleared up…

Now isn’t this a little darlin’?

Little Gladys Pearl www.midweststoryteller.com

She’s my mom’s little sister, Gladys Pearl.  I have no idea where she came up with that parasol, but I’ll bet she was mighty proud of it!

The family didn’t call everyone by double names, but they must have sensed that it was a fit for Gladys Pearl. She’d need it later, when she married and moved to the Deep South.

Little Gladys Pearl had a turn at staying with Grandma and Uncle John. Things were different in those days. Though big cities may have already embraced telephones and electric lights to a certain degree, out here in the Midwest things remained “off the grid”. In fact, there was no grid. Believe it or not, even good parents believed that anyone with a responsible job who could look you in the eye and shake your hand could be trusted. They may have had a few qualms about putting a small child on a train and giving the conductor instructions to see that they got off at the right stop, but they did it. I’m not sure if anyone met Gladys Pearl at the train when she reached her destination, because I’m sure they didn’t have a phone. Somehow she got there and perhaps had to find her way out to Grandma and Uncle John’s place.

Gladys helped Grandma and Uncle John with small chores and they enjoyed her visit, just as they did when their other grandchildren came. Having a pair of energetic little legs to run after this and that eased the daily grind.

One night, after going to bed, Grandma and Uncle John tossed and turned. Their rheumatiz seemed determined to keep them up all night. Miserable, they called out to Gladys Pearl, asking her to please bring them the liniment.

There seemed no point in going to the trouble of lighting a coal oil lamp for such a swift and simple errand. Gladys Pearl crawled out of bed. Guided by the comforting voices of Grandma and Uncle John and a glimmer of moonlight, she felt her way through the darkness and groped for the cupboard door. Following their instructions, her fingers soon fell upon a small bottle. Grasping it, she turned and, feeling her way toward their bed, handed it to her grateful grandparents.

Grandma and Uncle John passed the bottle between them, splashing the fluid onto their fingers and rubbing it everywhere. They applied it to every aching joint they had before resettling themselves under the covers.

After a bit, they called out to Gladys Pearl again, thanking her for being such a good helper and telling her that they felt better already! All three now settled in for a good night’s sleep.

The following morning when the household came to life, the day began with surprises all around.

Little Gladys Pearl, doing her best, hadn’t managed to get hold of the liniment bottle. Even if there had been a sliver of moonbeam to assist her, she likely hadn’t learned to read anyway.

What Gladys Pearl got was a glass bottle version of this –

Mrs. Stewart's Bluing www.midweststoryteller.com

Just in case you missed the punch line, I’ll explain. (And, if you are below a certain age or have never made a salt crystal garden with your kids, you probably did miss the punch line.)

Laundry bluing is exactly that – BLUE! To be specific, it’s NAVY blue! Clothing dyes include blues, yellows, etc., but over time the blue fades away, leaving fabrics “yellowed”. To bring the crisp, newness back to whites, you would add a tiny touch of bluing to a wash load. Note the instructions for usage as pertains to diluting –

Mrs. Stewart's Bluing Instructions www.midweststoryteller.com

Full-strength bluing, applied directly (and liberally) to the skin, left Grandma and Uncle John navy blue all over, not to mention their night clothes and the bed sheets. And, in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t wash off – it wears off. It’s a good thing they were country folk. They could, most likely, avoid a trip to town for a month or more if necessity called for it. This case of the blues probably made them reluctant to socialize.

Though this true story has made it through the generations, I’m sad to say that it never occurred to me to ask who noticed first.

Did Grandma and Uncle John wake up and, looking down at their hands, come to the conclusion that a mysterious deadly plague had descended on the household overnight? Or, did Gladys Pearl wake up first? If so, it must have been traumatic at her age to look in on Grandma and Uncle John, hoping they might be stirring and working their way toward fixing her breakfast, only to find her grandparents had turned blue!

As far as I know, the old folks took it all in stride. Grandparents have a way of doing that when it comes to the little ones. Besides, they did “ask for it” – didn’t they?

One other unanswered question remains. I’m fairly certain, however that the answer is “no”. I doubt they ever wrote to the address on the back of the bluing bottle, informing the company that their product, when applied during a bout of rheumatiz, worked wonders. 

I’ve used Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, with care, in the laundry.  It does the job on those yellowed cottons.  Check out their website here.  They have instructions for everything.  Maybe you can find out what it does for fish and dogs.

Comments? Questions? I encourage you to seek out the old-timers in your family and ask plenty of questions. It can’t all have happened just to us, you know.