Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Birthday Week

Hello! My husband and I have birthdays only five days apart (he was born the year before I was, though), so it's been "Birthday Week", as we like to call it, around here. Some highlights follow:

The above was my husband's birthday cake last Wednesday - it's the Mocha-Cream Roll from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. The cake is a little fussy to make, but my husband requests it every year so I oblige. The platter it rests on is vintage, from my paternal grandmother, and the candle holders are vintage as well, from a thrift store. 

When I first made birthday cards for my husband they were pretty staid, but over the past few years they've been getting goofier, thanks to my thrift store finds. Every year I try to come up with a new theme, and the idea for this year's card came from us recently laughing over a brochure we'd brought back from Yellowstone National Park. Said brochure was meant to remind people of the potential dangers in getting too close to bison in the park and had a rather silly-looking line drawing of a bison butting a tourist it had obviously found bothersome. The tourist is shown flying up in the air after being charged by the bison, camera falling one way and cap falling in another direction. 

Thus, I decided to design the birthday card with my own spin:

Supplies used: white cardstock, scrap of gray art paper, facsimile of a vintage bison picture (copied from the Dover Clip-Art Series book Old-Fashioned Animal Cuts, a 50c thrift store find), image of man (from a 1952 women's magazine), image of camera (facsimile of vintage ad in Reminisce magazine), number from a vintage bingo card, and rubber-stamped message in black Staz-On ink. 

Yes, my husband loved his card. 

Some of the gifts:

He's holding a box of See's Custom-Mix Chocolates (he would be vastly disappointed if he didn't get this particular gift every year) and some fleece pajama pants I'd made him - in a fabric that would make any die-hard Chicago Cubs fan happy. 

Another homemade gift was presented to him the next day:

This is Ippy's Staff of Life Bread from the cookbook Taste Of America by Jane and Michael Stern. It's a delicious multi-grain bread with a cinnamon-sugar swirl inside. 

One last item related to his birthday:

My husband was born on a Sunday, so this Saturday Evening Post came out the day before he was born. Interesting articles and ads plus some pretty good fiction, like the short story "The Family Nobody Liked", which isn't as dramatic as the title suggests but still a very sweet story.

Incidentally, I have been to the town shown on the cover - it's Bad Axe, Michigan, which is in the same region of the state that I'm from. 

Now on to my birthday. I have my own Saturday Evening Post magazine, which came out on the day I was born:

My cover isn't as interesting, but there it is. I still get a kick out of the fact that the magazine came out on my birthdate. Purchased years ago at a mall antiques show. One notable fiction piece therein is "The Other Wife", a story with a time travel theme. It was written by Jack Finney, who specialized in this genre. Even before I'd gotten this magazine I'd read the Reader's Digest Condensed version of his novel Time And Again

I made my own birthday cake:

Oatmeal cake, from Marcia Adams' Cooking From Quilt Country (in this book, Adams is referring to the Amish and Mennonite communities of northern Indiana. I happen to enjoy visiting Amish areas and have been to some of the communities she featured in this cookbook). The vintage candle holders were used again.

Two birthday cakes in one week? Yep, that's what happens when your birthdays are so close together! In my defense, I had a small slice of my husband's cake on his birthday and then left the rest for him. My cake? Harder to resist! It's very easy to make but so good. 

My late sister Ellen gave me the following two items as part of a birthday gift around 25 years ago and I treasure them:

Most Michiganders of a certain age - and probably many outside of the state will recognize the autographed name - Al Kaline, Hall of Famer who was one of the all-time greats for the Detroit Tigers. Classy man as well. Mr. Kaline was making a promotional appearance for a bank in the next town over from where Ellen was living in the mid 1980's. It was shortly before my birthday, so Ellen took an old Tigers yearbook and had Mr. Kaline sign it (photo of yearbook page shows him wearing baseball glove); he also graciously signed the promotional photo being given out at his appearance. Ellen told me he commented that I had a pretty name, which I appreciated since it's taken me years to come to terms with it. 

Once I started making goofy birthday cards for my husband, he decided to extend the goofiness by using whatever card theme I'd come up with and giving my birthday cards the same treatment - so more bison follow:

I laughed over this photo (found on Internet site) because we'd had a close encounter with a bison while at Yellowstone: we were going down a road one direction and the bison was slowly strolling down the other lane as if he owned it, which he probably thought he did (cars in that lane, of course, had no choice but to travel just as slowly behind him.) Due to the narrowness of the lanes, the bison was quite close to our car. I was driving, so my husband asked me to roll down my window so that he could take a picture of the brute. I refused, fearing that the bison might think about poking his head inside the car - right where my head was. No thanks!

The back of the card:

Judging by the car, this is an old photo, also off the Internet. I don't know why the bison had climbed into the car; maybe food had been left in it. 

As for the picture of the calico cat, that's a picture of our Beauty. Not sure why my husband put it next to the car photo, but I guess he has his own cardmaking style!

Presents: well, my main gift is still in its box, awaiting my husband's assistance in setting it up. I hope that'll be soon!


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Remembering Ellen

Hello! On this date in 1998, my older sister Ellen died at the age of 40 from pancreatic cancer. She had been diagnosed the previous August. This type of cancer is more typical in older adults, so it was a terrible shock. 

From my perspective, at least, it was also a huge shock because of the kind of person Ellen was - she was very precocious at a time and place when kids in general didn't have as many accomplishments as kids of today seem to rack up. Yet while still in high school, she worked on local political campaigns, championed social causes(I remember her Caesar Chavez button, which she used to wear every day for some time)and attended a prestigious program in New York City for her senior year - a pretty unusual place to complete her schooling considering her small town Midwest background and the less-than-stellar curriculum our high school offered back then.

That same energy and intelligence carried her into the world of academics and to a career as a college English instructor. Yet among family and friends Ellen was probably equally known for her expertise in gourmet cooking - she could have been a chef at a fine restaurant if she hadn't stayed with teaching. 

She was also artistic, loved throwing parties, had a lot of friends, was a devoted aunt, and when a career move relocated her to our hometown, was a huge help to Mom in helping her get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas, especially the latter holiday.(Christmas hasn't seemed the same since - I miss her holiday cooking and the fancy gift-wrapping she favored for presents. To help our mom out, she'd also wrap all the presents Mom bought, and gave them the same glittery treatment.)

Closer to the end of her life, she added the role of mother, but sadly her daughter was only two when Ellen died. I can still remember watching her daughter play after the funeral Mass, knowing that she was too young to understand how much her life had just changed. But I know that the dad doesn't let their daughter forget, and what's more, she's maturing into a very nice young lady as well. I'm sure that Ellen is proud of her. 

I will never really understand why her life was cut so short - and perhaps I'm not meant to understand. But I've wondered if that was one reason why she seemed to live life so intensely - perhaps she knew subconsciously that she didn't have much time and so she'd better accomplish things while she could?

I don't know - but what I do know is that even though Ellen has been gone 14 years, she is still loved and missed!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Treausres From My Grandmother

Hello! Inspired by a friend who sent me a picture of a vase that had belonged to her grandmother, I decided to blog about some things that had belonged to my paternal grandmother. My dad was an only child, so there was no one else to divide his parents' estate with. Consequently, he passed along some of his Sicilian parents' belongings to his own children. None of what I'm about to show has great monetary value, but the sentimental value to me is great!

I'll begin with this lamp, which was made by Rayo:

My mom told me that Grandma mentioned it had been a kerosene lamp that she had had electrified. This lowered its value, but no matter - it's still pretty and works great. According to an eBay search, it may date from from the 1890's to the very early 1900's.

Another electrification project was this:

My grandmother had supplied the information that the base had been an urn; perhaps from Italy. Uncertain about this, as the only labeling on the bottom is the name of the shop that had done the lamp wiring job. Again, it works fine to this day. 

Close-up detail from the urn base:

The next item is a small framed print; it had been my sister's but I guess she decided it wasn't to her taste, so she gave it to me. She told me that our grandma said it was a picture of a young widow - that might be the reason for the veil the woman is wearing? I don't know the origin of the print.

My grandmother's older sister embroidered the floral piece; my grandmother said her sister had been taught by nuns in a convent school - but whether this was in Sicily or during a later move to the United States, I don't know (my grandmother was known to embellish the truth, so it's hard to say if the stories she told about her family were accurate). 

In spite of the glare from the frame glass, hopefully you can still tell that it's lovely work. 

A close-up of the stitching:

I believe that silk threads were used, and it was entirely done with a satin stitch. I have done similar stitching, so I know what a good job my great-aunt had done - and how long it must have taken. 

Now on to a couple of pottery pieces:

This is one of a set of two that I was given. On the bottom they are marked "Italy Vanro 8269". According to eBay info, this vase and its mate may be from the 1940's. 

I've always fancied that the above pitcher as looking like it came from an ancient Greek dwelling, but in reality, it says "G139 Perugia Made In Italy" on the bottom. eBay info seems to indicate that this may also be from the 1940's.

I didn't take photos of some smaller items that had belonged to my grandmother as well - a few pieces of costume jewelry and two sets of bird figurines (neither set has any markings, so I don't know how old they are). 

However, I saved what I think is the best for last:

A portrait of my paternal great-grandparents. My grandmother displayed it in the second-floor hallway at the top of the stairs at her house. These stairs were directly opposite the front door, so when we came to visit and entered the foyer, there'd be her parents looking down on us. I was thrilled when my dad offered it to me, and proudly tell our daughter that those are her great-great-grandparents. 

Here's a close-up:

There's a strong resemblance between my grandmother and her mother, whereas I see a bit of my dad in his grandfather's eyes. My great-grandfather was supposedly sometimes told that he resembled Theodore Roosevelt, which my grandmother said pleased him. 

My dad thought his grandmother rather strict and rigid, but he loved his grandfather. The grandfather had been a doctor, and my dad can still recall how the grandfather would slice a piece of fruit to share with him, talking about the nutrients and botanical properties of that fruit as he did so. 

Hope you enjoyed this bit of show-and-tell, and I hope that you have some nice older pieces from your family as well!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Made It - Angel of Hope

Hello! Recently we got the unfortunate news that a relative on my husband's side of the family had been diagnosed with breast cancer. We don't live close enough to drop off the proverbial casserole dish or help with the kids, so what to do? I wanted to make something and get it out quickly so that the recipient would know we're thinking of her and praying for her. Our daughter suggested an angel - perfect! So I designed a small angel with a hanger so that the relative could hang it up on a bedpost, doorknob, etc. She could then see it and know that she's in our thoughts. Here's what I came up with:

I began with a simple angel shape. The back is fabric with a pink print, and the front is a rather heavy off-white fabric with raised off-white stitching on it. With dark pink embroidery floss, I embroidered running stitches to accent the off-white stitching. 

For a "hat", I glued a scrap of vintage off-white crochet trim and a vintage dark pink button to the angel's head. I sewed on two white beads for eyes. 

The bottom of the angel's body is trimmed with vintage pink crochet trim.

I glued a small fabric heart to the middle of the body; it's the same fabric that was used for the back. 

The heart covers the ends of an assortment of off-white and pink fibers (both vintage and non-vintage). Additionally, I stamped the word "hope" on a piece of twill tape and added that to the fiber grouping. 

Lastly, I used silver cording as a hanger on the back of the angel. 

I think it turned out pretty well! The only fault I see is that the angel shape isn't the greatest - that is in part because of the stiffness of that off-white fabric; it's too heavy to shape very well apparently. But I liked using that fabric because its raised stitching design allowed for some easy yet interesting accent stitching. 

I haven't heard that the recipient received it, but I'm assuming she did and I hope she was pleased with her Angel of Hope! Although I would have rather have not had to make something like this under the circumstances, I was glad to come up with something meaningful for her.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Month Are We In Again?

Hello! According to the weather stats in this morning's paper, we had a high of 48 yesterday, 15 degrees warmer than the norm for the date. It was sunny as well - which also is abnormal for this time of year! So I took advantage of our pastoral weather to take some photos outside. As I did so, I could pretend that we'd already gotten through winter and it was April 10th instead of January 10th!

Headed over to a local city park along a body of water, where various waterfowl were enjoying the unseasonable weather:

Canada Geese.

White duck (that's just what I call it; it might really be a goose) and mallard friends. I always feel a little sorry for the white duck since it's the only one of its kind among the mallards, Canada geese and gulls. But he's been hanging around the waterfront at this park for over a year now, so I guess he (or she) is happy enough!

Gulls enjoying the sun. 

I know that these just look like typical shots of waterfowl, but in order to get the above photo I had to walk on the boardwalk along the waterfront. If you're reading this from elsewhere, you may wonder why I would mention where I was walking. Well, typically by this time of year I wouldn't even be able to walk along the boardwalk - the city doesn't maintain it during the winter, so normally the boardwalk would be buried under drifts of snow  on this date! So the fact that I could walk on it yesterday was a novelty.

And also for folks not around here, the body of water is Lake Macatawa, an inlet of Lake Michigan. 

I returned home and lingered a bit longer outside, picking up fallen branches and noticing that some of the perennials I'd cut down in the fall are beginning to grow back due to the mild weather and lack of snow cover (we've basically had just three snowfalls thus far this season, with melting between each storm). 

There was still a small patch of arugula and leaf lettuce growing in the old wheelbarrow that I like to use as a planter, so I picked a handful:

If I'd known it was going to stay this mild this far along into winter, I would have sown some spinach seeds in the wheelbarrow as well!

Alas, all good things must come to an end - we have today for one more day of mild weather,then lake effect snow is supposed to move in starting tomorrow. How much snow we'll end up with remains to be seen. It will be hard to take after such nice weather!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

History at Ben and Jerry's

Hello! I admit, I gave a misleading title to this post - we didn't go to an ice cream shop to learn some history, of course - in our case, the "Ben" refers to the "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" special exhibit at the Gerald  R. Ford Presidential Museum (there's your "Jerry") in Grand Rapids, MI.

We became fond of Ben Franklin while living in the Philadelphia area, where it is easy to follow in Franklin's footsteps - we've seen where his house once stood, where he performed his famous kite-flying electricity experiment, have thrown pennies onto his grave for good luck, and so on. Therefore, it was a must to visit the traveling exhibit at the Ford Museum, which we did so yesterday.

But lunch called before we went to the museum, and we chose Gaia, a vegetarian restaurant in Grand Rapids. We hadn't been to Gaia in several years but found it as quirky as ever. Although not vegetarians ourselves, we do go to vegetarian restaurants during our travels. Most that we have visited happen to lean toward the chic and trendy, with pale wood bench seating, stained glass windows and sleek lighting. 

Not so Gaia - the small kitchen is open and visible to customers almost as soon as one enters the restaurant. The dining area is charming but appears slightly worn, with furniture that looks vaguely like what would have been in the kitchen of an old farmhouse. There is a touch of funky decor however:

Blackboard with some special menu items shown.

I liked these fabric panels as well.

Gaia's menu is rather on the small side, but there were still plenty of tempting choices. My husband ordered a stir-fry, our daughter requested a tempeh sandwich and I selected the veggie hash. The latter, made with potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and seasonings was so filling that I didn't need dinner later in the day!

The huge, baked-there cookies, displayed on plates near the cash register, looked great, but we passed since we'd just finished up Christmas cookies at home. Maybe next time...

On to "Ben and Jerry's" (ie the museum), a short drive from the restaurant. Before we entered the museum, we walked down a short path nearby to pay our respects here:

Gerald and Betty Ford are buried on the grounds of the museum; as you can see, Betty joined her husband just last summer. Their lives and deaths were covered extensively by local media and rightly so - they moved into the White House under very unusual and difficult circumstances and I feel that both did what they could to move the country forward after the Watergate scandal.

There was a lot to see at the Franklin exhibit. Another famous Ford from Michigan allowed the loan of this:

A printing press such as the type Ben Franklin would have used; on loan from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

Franklin would have used a printing press for the following:

Newspaper, and:

His famous almanack, and:

An essay.

I didn't get dates on the objects I photographed, but all shown above are original 18th C. documents. 

As seen above, this letter was written by Franklin - I loved viewing his actual signature and that "most obedient humble servant" sign-off. The letter had been sent to a friend. Who today would add such words when finishing up a letter to a friend? (for that matter - who today would actually write a letter to a friend?)

Franklin was involved in many different activities and the exhibit did a great job in highlighting them. One area of interest was booklearning and so Franklin was instrumental in the drawing up of a charter for a subscription library service in Philadelphia in 1731. The next year Franklin hired America's first librarian. The library continues on to this day as the Library Company of Philadelphia, and fittingly, this institution loaned many of Franklin's papers for the exhibit. 

Below is a book collection box from that early library:

I could have photographed many other subjects of Franklin's interest that were shown in the exhibit, such as the post office, fire safety, electricity, inventions, diplomatic service, statesmanship and more. But time was beginning to draw short and we wanted to also take a look at the permanent museum exhibits pertaining to Gerald Ford, his career and his family. I didn't take any pictures of these exhibits, but the displays related to the sorry Watergate saga are compelling to this day. I found it interesting to note a row of letters and telegrams from the thousands sent to Ford in reaction to his Presidential pardon of Richard Nixon. There were some pleasant and encouraging pros - as well as some very livid and emphatic cons.

We left the museum well-satisfied with what we had seen and learned. Both Franklin and Ford were great men and worthy of remembrance and study for us all!