Wednesday, April 29, 2009

PLANTING AREA

To show you where we planted most of the trees:



I took this from a high point behind the grove. If you enlarge the picture you should be able to see the yellow cages.



On the left you see the house and the grove. We're planting trees on the back side of the field where you can see a few mature trees.







This last photo shows the snow on the Clearwater Mountains. The picture doesn't do the scene justice. The snow was glowing in the afternoon sun.

WASHDAY DEBAUCLE

I had the laundry sorted into neat piles. Mike helped me get the old washing machine connected after its winter rest. I put our dirtiest clothes into the machine and started it.

I was sitting at the computer (of course) when I heard it. As fast as my robe and slippers would let me go, I flew across the kitchen and into the utility room where a deluge was in progress. Soapy water all over the floor. I turned the machine off and screamed for Mike who leaped into action from his "work" at the desk in the den. I grabbed towels and mops while Mike set the drain right and began damming the flow of water with the laundry on the floor. In retrospect it was a good save. The water stayed in the utility room. As always, the good news is that the floor is now clean.

Due to drying constraints, I was going to work along slowly at the laundry. That plan disappeared in a flash! Now the laundry was wet and added to it were the wet towels.

So, as the clothes came out of the washing machine, I divided them – some for outside on the clothesline, some to dry before the fire in the livingroom. Since it's muddy under the clothesline, I had to take a box apart so that I could stand on the cardboard in order to hang the clothes. On my first trip out, a passing snow flurry swirled around me.

[The first photos are of the utility room. This room was originally Grandma Ina's pantry and a closet on either side. The window behind the washing machine has a deep sill, probably for cooling pies and such. Note the window by the commode – "Mike's folly," I call it. The original purpose of this window (LJ tells me) was for passing wet clothes outside. And the final picture shows the same windows from the outside at the back of the house. They provided daylight for the closets and passageways of Ina's house that would have been dark otherwise.]

MOSTLY VALUELESS TRINKETS


Mike took the lid off the cache and there she was -- asleep amongst the mostly valueless trinkets – a little pixie with disheveled hair and an odd colorful outfit. I guessed her to be no more than five inches tall. But her familiar elfin features spoke to me: "Madame Alexander," they said. I know that Madame Alexander face.

When finding geocaches, the options are to take a trinket and leave one in exchange or take nothing and leave nothing. "Can I have the doll?" I asked Mike. So I got the doll and Mike left something from his geocaching bag.

On her back she says: 2008 Alexander Doll Company, Inc. – Made for McD's – China. I see she was undoubtedly a "Happy Meal" toy. Online research shows that McDonald's and Madame Alexander have been in partnership for a number of years. Who knew!! Obviously not me. I haven't eaten at McDonald's in years, but if I had known they were giving out little "Madame Alexander" dolls, I would have borrowed little girls and treated them to Happy Meals and bribed them for their dolls. I don't know – maybe adults can buy Happy Meals without a child in tow.

My little doll is Flower Munchkin – one of a set of twelve Oz characters. The tag on her wrist is missing, perhaps removed because some little girl didn't want it there. I don't care – she will look great sitting on the bright green shelf in the vintage sewing room.

I was just explaining to Mike the other day that I have a love of diminutive dolls. I would be a collector if I could justify it. It's not just the money – considerable for some dolls. It's also the lack of display space. So, I wait and watch, and today someone came my way. Besides Madame Alexander, I follow Vogue's Ginny, Jill, and Ginnette and Betsy McCall. I'm interested in just the basic dolls. I'd like to make the clothes myself. Of course, I have my own old dolls (precious and worn), and I don't think Hallie would care if I commandeered hers. I think she has three 1980's vintage Ginny dolls representing two companies – not the best of years for Ginny. KW

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

MISERABLY COLD AND WET

By the time we went to bed last night the wind was blowing. All through the night it howled and shrieked around the corners of the house, occasionally lifting and dropping the pieces of metal roofing Mike placed over the wood to keep it dry. When we woke at 5:45, there was white stuff on the roof, but that quickly dissipated. Nevertheless it was a cold and rainy day.

But – we came here with trees to plant – and plant we did. I kept thinking that a team of professionals would have 100 trees done in 10 minutes. I kept thinking that "Uncle Dan the Tree Man" would not choose today to plant. But it seems like here on the Camas Prairie it's either wet or dry. Looking at the worsening weather report we decided just to go for it and get it done. It's been a long time since I've been so cold, wet, and miserable. With the exception of one leftover tree, we finished the job.

I'm grateful for hot soup in the crockpot and a hot fire in the fireplace.

[It was not a good day for taking pictures. Mike plants a tree in the grove behind the house. I wait in the rain for him to take the picture and get back to work.] KW

Monday, April 27, 2009

BACK ON THE FARM -- AND CONNECTED!!!

Just a quick note to let you all know we're enjoying our first stay of the season at the homestead. It's great to be back to simple living -- as long as we're connected! That means Wild Blue satellite for the computers and Dish for the television. Wild Blue was great but Dish was more difficult. It took two calls to tech support to get our programming. And since cell service here is still poor, Mike made the call to Dish outside and talked to Eva the tech in the Phillipines. I stood at the open front door operating the remote as he relayed Eva's instructions to me. We have our programming now and hopefully we're good for the season.

We enjoyed a little geocaching this morning and picked up 100 tree seedlings from the University of Idaho. Mike spent the afternoon preparing places to plant them while I cleaned the livingroom and our bedroom.

The first day back is always a long day -- packing and unpacking and whatever else we have to do. Tomorrow we'll plant trees -- another long day.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

RHUBARB RECIPES

I have an interest in recipes and one of my favorite categories is rhubarb. At my first married home, we had a rhubarb plant, and the neighbors on either side of us helped themselves. I suspect the previous wife hadn't cared. It was a prolific old plant, so it was really all right.

One evening, our neighbor Faye, a dear elderly lady who put up with us for years, appeared at my back door with a scrumptious rhubarb dessert – a kind of rhubarb upside-down cake. It was delicious, and I asked her for the recipe. She said she would give it to me, but she didn't, and I didn't like to beg. But I really wanted that recipe. So one day when my mother was visiting, I mentioned the rhubarb dessert made with a cake mix, marshmallows, and Jell-O. "I have that recipe, Kathy," Mother said, "and I will give it to you." On her next visit, she handed me the recipe for rhubarb cake. If I ever knew how Mother came to have that recipe, I don't remember now. But looking through her recipes, I came across her copy with Sara noted as the source. Sara was her sister-in-law, my Aunt Sara [see photo].

You can see by the contrast in the two recipes that I used mine frequently and should have been more careful with it. Mother probably used hers seldom -- if ever at all.

When we moved to the "big house," I planted a strawberry rhubarb plant and we enjoyed rhubarb desserts in the spring. But then we moved and the rhubarb plant stayed behind. Last year I tried and failed to get a plant to grow here in town (terribly hot in summer and sandy soil). The one on the farm has been slow to set on but is making a comeback. We'll see how it goes.

At my childhood home in Orofino, we had a rhubarb plant out near the alley – a huge old thing with very healthy stalks. My dad loved to pull a stalk, sprinkle it with salt, and eat it raw like it was the most delicious thing he ever tasted. Mother made at least one pot of rhubarb sauce every spring. Recently someone told me that a large stand of rhubarb exists in the Gilbert country not far from the homestead. I'd love to know more about that.

This afternoon I planted daisies I found at Costco in pots I bought at Albertson's. If they survive the hot summer, they might go to Hallie's wedding. If they don't – they won't. Simple as that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

ANOTHER DAY TRIP TO THE FARM

Sometimes spring comes to our area in February or early March. The days become warm and pleasant. Gardens are planted early. This was not one of those years. After several days of warmer weather this past week, culminating with temperatures in the mid-80s, we are now in the midst of another cool spell. "It feels like fall," remarked Mike. "You know, like when it's been hot and the wind comes up and the weather changes and suddenly it's fall." I hope that statement is not prophetic. Sometimes we have cool summers.

Anyway, cool weather or not, yesterday (Thursday) we loaded a few things -- and Nellie -- into the Dakota, hitched up the 4-wheeler, and went to the homestead. That's what we're really about – the modern homesteading experience. It was just another day trip. Mike had a list of chores, among them to fix the dishwasher, connect the monitor to the computer, check out the 4-wheelers, etc. In the afternoon he sawed up some limbs under the pines in the grove and then I helped him clear the debris. It was a chilly day. I never saw the temperature above 45. Housework for me included the start of spring cleaning, a review of pantry supplies, the making of lists. Together Mike and I switched a couple of mattresses.

I toured the yard. The daffodils under the pines in the grove are beginning to bloom. I'm sure they were originally planted because they follow the border of the grove, but they have gone wild and I should probably thin them this summer. They don't look as large and healthy as they were a few years ago.

Here behind the house the raspberry bushes are leafing out, the currant and gooseberry bushes planted last year are also looking healthy, and the rhubarb plant is making a comeback. The strawberry plants look prolific and I have weeding to do. The soil looked dry to me so I carried water.

And I missed seeing this Royal Imperial Frittalaria at its peak. This one bloomed much ahead of its fellows. I don't know why unless it happens to be in a warmer spot. I look forward to the next bloomers – the iris and the lilacs.

Construction on Highway 12 at the bridge in Orofino had us waiting both ways. This time of year I love to see the service berry in bloom along the river road, filling the gullies with feathery whiteness. We picked up a geocache at Spalding, then returned to the town house for supper. Mike lit a fire in our little woodstove. I turned on the electric blanket. It was 31 at 6:00 a.m. this morning. Temps are predicted to be in the 60s over the next five days -- just not very warm. I suppose it's good weeding weather.

We will spend a few days at the homestead next week but our schedule for the next month also includes town activities.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

THE PRACTICE OF PRECISION AND UNIFORMITY

One hundred years ago this year my mother was born. With the exception of me (59 and holding), her children are in their 70s. Her grandchildren range in age from 27 to 53. [The picture to the left is of me with my mother in her kitchen in 1984, taken by brother Chuck.]

Hallie suggested I scan and post some of Mother's recipes. As I was sorting the recipes, I had the opportunity to reflect on something I had forgotten -- that Mother was a good cook. It wasn't the kind of cooking where you'd say, "Her lasagna was to die for!" No, she cooked nutritionally balanced meals of meats and vegetables with smooth sauces and gravies. Perhaps we could even say her cooking wasn't overly imaginative but always tasty. She loved recipes and new ideas, but she didn't use recipes for most of her basic cooking. One of her favorite dishes was to cut leftover roast beef and potatoes into a casserole dish, cover with gravy, and re-bake. She was her own worst critic when it came to bread making. She said she didn't have enough strength in her hands to knead the dough, but her caramel sticky rolls and holiday bread wreaths were delicious. She had a good understanding of the chemistry of cooking.

What were her favorites? Christmas baking comes to mind. She's the one person I've ever known who loved traditional holiday fruitcake. Her idea of a good fruitcake was just enough batter to hold the candied fruit together. I remember some years when she candied her own fruit. She also baked Scotch shortbread and spritz cookies. "Look at that! Isn't it beautiful!" she would say as she creamed the sugar and butter. Mother and my sister Nina would spend hours decorating Christmas cookies. And she made divinity in a variety of flavors -- and pralines.

Her pies were excellent. My dad praised her piecrusts, and she acknowledged it was difficult to teach me that skill knowing my dad appreciated her efforts. She would cut the shortening into the flour with a knife and when it looked right to her, she would begin to work it with her hand until that looked – and felt -- right. Her cooking and her sewing were as delicate and refined as her handwriting. She practiced uniformity in all things. I really don't know if she was taught that standard or if she had natural ability in that direction so worked to that standard.

She loved fresh fruit of any kind. Her favorite cooking apple was the transparent, and in her kitchen they became sauce and pies for the freezer. When pie cherries were in season, she made and froze cherry pies.

In everything she did -- whether sewing or cooking – she worked with precision. She paid attention to her white sauce and her gravy, or any mixture that needed constant stirring over medium-low heat, well knowing that to leave off stirring was to invite the certainty of a lumpy final product. Such was unforgivable in her book. It's true she would get caught up in her sewing and forget to eat or to prepare a meal. My dad always fixed a nourishing hot breakfast for the family and was prepared to step in and fix any other meal. Daddy loved to cook but was not as careful as Mother. For instance, when my dad made soup, he would use bits of meat I considered inedible and leave the broth fatty. I once remarked to Mother that I didn't like homemade soup. "I'll make some soup, and you will like it!" was her quick comeback. She did – and I liked it. Carrots, onions, and celery were finely diced, the meat was lean, the broth had been strained and seasoned. She was a good cook of the old school.

Although Mother was willing to labor long over her sewing and her cooking, she wasn't slow. She worked quickly and evenly whether stitching a fine seam, making a pie crust, or dicing vegetables.

Monday, April 20, 2009

SECOND CHILDHOOD


This photo is of the Hellsgate Marina located on the Snake River in Hellsgate State Park (Idaho). On the right what you see is a manmade levee between the marina and the river and it's connected to the river bank only by a gate. On that levee is a new geocache titled "The Gate." Mike wants to be the first to find it, but we don't have a boat and the water is a little cold for swimming.
"I think I could do it," mumbled Mike. "I could just go over the gate – hand over hand. I think I could do it."
"Hmmmm," I demurred. "I don't think it's a good idea." I could have reminded him of all his aches and pains, but I don't like to remind people of their limitations. And there were other reasons it wouldn't be a good idea.

So, after having looked at the gate, we hiked on up the river to another cache site, giving Nellie and Duke a chance to exercise. Here's a photo of the picturesque little town of Asotin, Washington, on the other side of the river; in the distance you can see snow on the mountains. And here's some of the interesting "ropa" on the Idaho side of the river. I was confident Mike has forgotten about "The Gate," and I began to relax.

But – no such luck. We loaded the dogs into the Dakota and he drove back to the park entrance, turning into the marina parking lot. So, there was nothing left for me to do but take pictures.




The hand-over-hand method was eventually abandoned for bracing his rib cage over the gate and inching along. Guess what hurts now.










Over the gate.










"Am I over the rocks yet?"


















Made it!




Sad to say, he didn't find the cache. Someone else was the first to find it, but Mike and Ken will go out in Ken's boat tomorrow and look for it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

PLANTING GARDEN

Today I planted peas, beans, carrots, lettuce – and corn -- in the garden plot here in Clarkston. And as I planted my thoughts naturally turned to my dad. My dad was proud of the sweet corn he grew at the Dobson family homestead above the Clearwater River near Orofino, Idaho – the same place Mike and I now call home when we aren't here in Clarkston. Daddy grew a big patch of corn there most every summer, and when it was ready in August we would gather to husk the corn and cook it for freezing. It was some kind of good!

The year was 1984. I answered the phone and a gruff, authoritative voice said, "Kathy – it's dad. I want you and Mike to come on Saturday. We'll go to the farm. I want the boys to help me plant corn." My heart sank. We had other plans. Besides, the boys were 4 and 6 years old, and I knew at their ages they just couldn't understand the situation as I did. At 80, my dad was looking frail, but he wanted to plant corn on the farm as he had for so many years, and he wanted to share the experience with his grandchildren. Trouble was – for right or wrong – the boys were unused to the concept of real work, or staying on task until the job was done. But this year, if someone didn't help Daddy, the corn wouldn't be planted. Mike and I agreed we had to go.

So, that Saturday in May, 1984, we met my parents at their home in Orofino and drove on to the farm, 10 miles up a steep and winding grade from the river to the flat farmland on top of the mountain. Daddy had tilled the garden plot in preparation for the planting. The boys, Milo and Clint, were assigned to throw seed into the hills as Daddy hoed, but that lasted about 5 minutes. To stave off frustration for everyone, the boys were sent to play under my mother's watchful eye while I helped Daddy plant the corn. Mike always made himself useful by mowing the lawn or servicing the tractor.

Daddy marked the long rows as many gardeners do – twine tied between two stakes. The corn was then planted in hills within the row. As he pulled the dirt back with the hoe, I threw two or three kernals of corn under the hoe. Then he dropped the dirt back and gave the hill a tap with the hoe as he stepped to make the next hill. "This is dry land farming," he said; "no moisture except what comes by rain." He talked as we worked, telling me about the experience of planting gardens and living on the farm when he was a boy. I knew I was hearing what he had thought he would tell the boys. But it was okay because I was the one who needed to hear it.

Last summer I was discussing gardens with Pete, our farm neighbor. "Vance [my dad] used to have a good garden," said Pete. "Vance was a good gardener." We talked about the corn, the green beans, the strawberries that Daddy grew. "But I tell you what," Pete added, "it used to rain. We used to get a lot of rain. I remember we could count on it to rain in June and July. It just doesn't any more. We can still garden here, but we have to water." KW

Friday, April 17, 2009

ON DOING THE DISHES


I've been trying to stay focused on my new housekeeping system. I've made the job cards, and while I couldn't find labeled 3x5 dividers locally, I did find blank ones that serve the purpose even better. While shopping for a box, I happened to think of my mother's last recipe box. To use it for another purpose tugged at my heartstrings, but she doesn't need it now, I told myself, and it's silly not to make use of it. So, I transferred the contents of Mother's hand-painted wooden box to a plastic box and labeled it. I'm not as interested in those recipes as I am in the ones she used during my growing up years, but you know, the day will come when those recipes from the '70s and '80s will be sought after as "retro." So, the card system is functioning and I see progress.

"I love my dishwasher," said daughter Hallie when we were in Seattle. Dishwashers are great time and energy savers. When I was growing up we didn't have a dishwasher until I was 13 (1962). We did dishes the old-fashioned way, and it was a big deal. When I was little, my sister stood me on a chair and I was "allowed" to dry some select unbreakable items. Eventually, it was just me at home with my parents and I was expected to help with the dishes most every meal. At first I was mainly the drier because Mother insisted the wash water be very hot. I was not allowed to wash until I could stand to put my hands in the hot water. As I grew older, I had more responsibility in the dishwashing process. If Mother was involved in sewing or had something else to do, I might be expected to do them by myself. My mother considered that the dishes were not done until they were all washed, dried, and put away. Allowing the dishes to "drain dry" denoted laziness. Even when we had a dishwasher, pots and pans were always washed by hand. And of course, doing the dishes included cleaning the table, the stove, the sink, and countertops. If we had an evening obligation, we ate early so that the dishes could be done to specification before we left the house. The standard was that the dishes were done and the kitchen cleaned following every meal and before you left the house. The same standard was practiced by my husband's mother.

Washing dishes at Grandma Ina's house on the homestead was an even bigger deal, but I now treasure the fact that I was privileged to have the experience. There was no running water in that place, so when we started cooking a meal on the old woodstove, we would make sure to put a pot of water on in preparation for doing the dishes. After the meal, we would take the old wash pans from their place on the wall in the pantry – one for washing, one for rinsing, one for draining. Plates and dishes were removed from the table, scraped free of scraps, and stacked. Preparation was necessary due to limited space. The dishes didn't drain well in the pan, so the dishtowel was frequently exchanged for a dry one. As we did the dishes, we would look out the window, the same window and the same scene I see today when I'm at the farmhouse. And some days, when I'm thinking of old times, I almost have to pinch myself when I turn the faucet on and water flows out. It's magic!

I also love my dishwasher and wouldn't like to go back to hand washing. But I do think the camaraderie of doing the dishes together constitutes a loss to the home and a loss to society. We visited while we worked. As the family worked together things came out that might not have otherwise, perhaps giving a parent insight to a child's character and the opportunity to share wisdom and advice. Sometimes there were arguments over the dishes. That, too, might be seen as giving individuals opportunity to air and resolve differences. And when we were finished, we had accomplished something together, even though it was menial in nature. Something about that was basic and comfortable.

A sampler in my mother's kitchen read as follows:

Life's riches other rooms adorn

But in the kitchen home is born. KW

Thursday, April 16, 2009

IDA MAKES A WEDDING DRESS


The following is an excerpt from Grandma Ina's autobiography. The year is 1880 and the family is crossing the Great Plains in search of a new home. They might have been in Nebraska.

"Dress patterns were cut out of newspapers and passed from one to another and enlarged or made smaller as needed. Idy made a wedding dress for a neighbor woman. It was gray mohair and made with pleats in groups of three above the hem. This was made with only a basque and shirt pattern cut from a newspaper pattern and a picture in a magazine to look at. I can still see Idy on her knees pinning those pleats into place and the worried look on her face. The floor had been spread with papers and the bride-elect was firmly planted on them. Later she wore the dress to the 4th of July picnic and there were admiring comments on it. These called forth the statement by Idy, "I made it!" which she has always regretted making, but which is still kept fresh in the family, as a choice bit."

Poor Ida! She's 16 years old, a young wife but skilled enough in the art of sewing to make a wedding dress for someone of the community with whom she has a passing acquaintance. What do you think of her immodest comment? Obviously she was judged as showing poor manners by speaking up to claim the workmanship, and this was probably seen as tantamount to bragging. Now, at Ida's expense, family members will keep alive this indiscretion "as a choice bit" for the next 70 years! I guess I think there are worse things, yet modesty and humility are character traits to be desired. KW

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

OLD-TIME WEDDING CAKE

The oldest family wedding of which I have knowledge was that of Uncle Ed and Aunt Ida. Ida was Grandma Ina's older sister. Ina writes of the wedding as follows:

"Ed and Ida were married that winter, December 14, 1879, in Kansas. He had added a small addition to the house, which was of sod, for a bedroom for them. The wedding was a simple affair; the only guests were one neighbor family. The woman, Sevilla Maxfield, helped in dressing the bride and preparing the wedding dinner. I recall of that dinner only the wedding cake. It was a large one made by Ma – her favorite 'pork cake,' and of course, it was 'frosted.' They were married by a justice of the peace who skated up the river from his home to ours. Mr. Maxfield's brother dropped in at our place soon after the wedding ceremony was over. I recall his cheerful manner and good-looking face, and how he said, "Lord bless me, I must kiss the bride!" which he did without more ado and in good style. We rather suspected that he may have wished himself the bride-groom." By the way, according to my calculations, Ida was 15 in 1879. Ed was much older. They eventually settled in Drain, Oregon, and had a long life together.

The photo above is of Lafe and Lucy Dickson, my great-grandparents, in 1903. Lucy is the "Ma" mentioned in the paragraph above. My dad used to chuckle that in all their photos, Grandpa Dickson would hold their marriage license while Grandma held the Bible.

Wednesday is "recipe day" according to my newly ordered household system. On recipe day I not only organize recipes but have the option of a recipe adventure. Today I baked my Great-Grandmother Dickson's pork cake, an experience I've been looking forward to.

First, I thawed the pork fat I've been saving when Mike trimmed pork chops. Finding that I had only enough for half a recipe, I decided that was probably enough anyway. This cake won't be low in "sat fat." Since Ina's recipe lacked method, baking temperature, and flour, I checked online for some ideas. The recipe called for me to run the fat twice through a food chopper, but I cheated and used my food processor. The result was not a pretty. [See photo right.] I made a cup of instant coffee, added a teaspoon of soda, then poured that liquid over the fat. While that cooled, I grated the rind of an orange. At this point I began to use the mixer, a luxury my grandmothers didn't have. I added molasses and sugars, then the dry ingredients, the orange peel, raisins, citron (I used Radiant mix), and the almond meats I had chopped earlier.

Sad to say, the cake is darker on the bottom than I would have wished, even though I cut the heat. But it's edible and really quite tasty, if you like fruitcake. I think I'll frost it with a browned butter frosting.

Would I do it again? Yes! I had a good time. KW

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

WATER DOGS


Duke's folks are out of town this week, so Mike agreed to see he got out for some exercise. Today we took both dogs -- Duke and our Nellie -- and went down to that place near Swallows' Nest on the Snake River where people can run their dogs. The day is chilly but Duke asked Mike to throw a stick in the water for him to fetch, and both dogs enjoyed that game for a while. Then there was some dispute between the two of them as to who should fetch the stick back to Mike. That ended that. [The photo to the left is Nellie. On the right, a wet Duke is poised for the next toss of the stick.] KW

Saturday, April 11, 2009

ON KEEPING HOUSE

I've always struggled to keep house. "It's a disease," said my oldest sister. "You get it from your mother." Yes, it's true – our mother wasn't as interested in keeping a tidy house as she was in her sewing / handiwork projects. "I'm a project worker," she admitted. So Alma came once a week to help while Mother handled the seasonal work.

"Why can't you just do it?" some might ask. Well, I think some of us just don't have an innate sense that tells us where to start and when we've done enough for today. "A woman's work is never done," as the old saying goes and that seems overwhelming. And once I've done a task, I tend to feel I shouldn't have to do it again. For example, I re-organized my pantry a year ago and can't quite face that it needs to be done again. Facing my housekeeping failings is a part of becoming the "modern retro woman."

I am one who needs inspiration and identified system in order to be disciplined about my housekeeping. Years ago I subscribed to a housekeeping system (Sidetracked Home Executives) that involved a 3x5 card filing system. I put a lot of effort into it, and it worked for me initially. (Kind of like Weight Watchers works initially.) When we moved in 1987, I revised the system for a much bigger house but life happened and eventually the box got stashed in a cupboard – BUT I knew where it was. Then we "downsized" and moved from a big house to two houses. ("You can't keep two houses," they say, but I'm trying.) I have turned both houses and a storage loft upside down. I just can't find that filebox – and that in itself is proof of the fact that I need a better system. So, I'm starting over – and you know what will happen: as soon as I've reconstructed the system, I'll open a cupboard, push some doo-dad aside, and there will be my bright yellow box. Or, I'll open some miscellaneous box marked "Daddy's glass" or "yarn," and there it will be in the bottom. I seem to remember – well, never mind. (Sometimes I remember things that didn't happen.)

In the words of an old hymn – "In beauty, grandeur, order, His handiwork is shown." And that word "order" is demanding my attention. KW

Thursday, April 9, 2009

OUR FIRST SPRING VISIT TO THE HOMESTEAD

The warmer spring weather has made us homesick for the homestead, so yesterday we made a day trip to check on things and de-winterize the house. The day was overcast; the temperature was 56 when we arrived but a strong wind developed. We pulled a trailer with railroad ties we will use to build a raised bed garden. Despite the amenities we have added to the house, it always feels like we're taking a step back in time.

Our first de-winterization task was to turn the water on. We were so relieved – no leaks or problems immediately apparent.

Now, if you're a lover of furry little rodents – if you like to visualize Mother Mouse in an apron, bustling around as she tends to her brood – you might want to skip this paragraph. We next emptied the mousetraps – one in the downstairs shower (why do they like that shower?), four in the living room, two in the service room, none in the oven. Rodents are the downside to country life. And the mice aren't the worst of it! The garden and yard on the south side of the house (see picture above) are riddled with rodent holes and tunnels probably caused by voles. I researched voles last summer and their rate of multiplication is horrific. I spent a good bit of time applying poison (Prozap) to the holes.

When we winterized in December, we cleaned out the refrigerator and turned it off, so Mike plugged it in and checked out the water line. Since it was empty, I washed it thoroughly. After lunch I started the dishwasher. The good news is that I had the unplanned opportunity to mop the kitchen floor. The bad news, or course, is that the dishwasher leaks, but Mike ascertained the problem to be the lack of an adequate clamp rather than winter damage to a hose – an easy fix.

Mike's chores included charging the battery on the smaller 4-wheeler, preparing spots to plant trees in the grove, picking up limbs in the yard, and vacuuming the house. I cleaned the holiday stencil designs off the windows, put away the Christmas ornaments, and inspected the attic. I found a doll I was missing in a big garbage sack with "Boofy," my old stuffed dog. And, as always, I brought back some things – this time my diminutive doll clothes for cleaning, organization, and better storage. I also brought back Grandma Ina's cherished volume, "Happy Homes and the Hearts that Make Them, or Thrifty People and Why They Thrive," by Samuel Smiles, 1889. The focus of the book seems to be the value of the feminine arts, a subject I have been considering lately.

Late in the afternoon, Mike drove the old beater (Dodge Ram) back to town while Nellie and I followed in the Dakota. It was a productive day.

[Photo 1) South side of the house. 2) You can see a few patches of snow in this view to the north. 3) Mike carrying the weedeater. 4) The rhubarb I planted last year miraculously re-appears.] KW

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

OLD-FASHIONED DESSERTS

Last year I joined a social, philanthropic women's organization that holds regular afternoon meetings. As with most organizations of that sort, they have no "younger" members. Yes, most of these ladies are old enough to be my mother, though my mother was old enough to be their mother. In fact, my membership was sponsored by my oldest sister, Harriet, who is 19 years older than I. Discussing the difference in our ages makes me think of the time Harriet and I went to the nursing home to explore options for our mother's care. In round figures, at that time I was 45, Harriet was 65, and Mother was 85. Harriet was well into presenting the issues at hand to the nurse on duty when the nurse stopped her.

"Just a minute," she said. "Are you her sister?"

With a look of resigned dismay, Harriet said, "No, she is my mother. The problem is Kathy here!" And of course, she explained that she was mother's eldest daughter while I was the youngest.

Anyway, I digress. At this afternoon meeting, the members take turns serving dessert, and the set-up reminds me of my mother's sewing club in the 1950s. The hostess sets out her best linen, china, and silver, including a silver tea service if she has one. A co-hostess brings a rich dessert. And the table includes several varieties of candy and nuts. In our casual world, we don't often see this emphasis on formal hospitality. And these ladies can eat me under the table when it comes to sugar.

At today's meeting, a member presented a program about her great-grandmother and grandmother who were inspirational to her. It seemed so timely to me since I have just been discussing the influence that previous generations have had on my life. And she had with her the housekeeping manual that belonged to one of her grandmothers – The People's Home Library, R. C. Barnham Co. (publisher), 1910. The book included much practical information for the self-sufficient farm family, including medical and veterinary advice. KW

Monday, April 6, 2009

Intelligent People DO GARDEN

I felt called upon to defend the place of gardening as a worthy endeavor when a syndicated humor columnist made cynical remarks about Michelle Obama and others who are gardening. To her credit, the columnist did respond to my polite email complaint. "It's only humor," she said. As I told Mike, at the rate newspapers are disappearing, she herself could be gardening for survival soon.

I am not a born gardener. In fact, if you were to ask me for gardening advice, I would have to refer you to someone else. Here in Clarkston, we have sandy soil and hot, dry summers. And I confess, I don't have a spade or a hoe at this place, so I made do with a rake and a wooden stick. But we're always hopeful of good results. The last few days were beautiful and warm – perfect for spring garden work. I made one last tour of the neighborhood for the natural stuff left by horses and then Mike tilled our garden plot.

When it comes to vintage stuff, Mike is sentimental over old engines, including outboard motors and lawnmowers. Probably 30 years ago my dad showed up at our house with his "old" tiller. Daddy was not a tinkerer, nor was he mechanically inclined. The old tiller wasn't working for him, so he bought a new one and told Mike he could have the old one if he could make it work. Mike was in automotive heaven. He fixed whatever was wrong and then we had a tiller for our small garden plot – something we would not have spent for in those days. A few years ago, the tiller appeared to die, so Mike put a new engine in it and we were in business once again. (These things are not without frustration for the poor guy, but he seems to come through.)

After tilling and raking our garden plot, we spread out the hoses for the drip system. Then we planted ten baby blue spruce trees – a temporary home for them while they gain some size. And I planted spinach, beets, and peas. (Have you priced seed lately? And a pack of seeds doesn't go as far as it used to either.) And something new this year – I tucked my iPod into my pocket and enjoyed selected podcasts, instead of the depressing country western fare. What luxury! KW

Sunday, April 5, 2009

ON BEING A MODERN RETRO WOMAN

Growing up, my goal was to be a housewife. I had plenty of role models – my mother, my grandmothers, my best friend's mother. In fact, I grew up in an era when most women were housewives. A man hoped to make a good enough living so that his wife didn't have to work outside the home. Things began to change in the '60s and '70s as the feminist movement influenced our lives. As women, we were told that "just being a housewife" wasn't good enough for us. Don't get me wrong -- I have no quarrel with liberation. But I do think that in the process we undermined the value of homemaking and consequently, we de-valued the place of the home in society. In the midst of these changing values, I went off to college. I was confused as I struggled – and failed – to find a focus for my life's work. Years later my mother would say, "If you had chosen a major that fits your interests, it would have been home-ec." I could see that she was right.

When I retired two years ago, I had the privilege of re-inventing my life. I could once again be a housewife, but the children were gone and my efforts felt a little fruitless. As I reviewed the things that had come to me through my mother and grandmothers, I discovered a burning desire to learn, re-learn, and practice the household arts they valued – to become a "modern retro woman." We're modern – because, of course, we aren't stupid: We're not going to turn in our modern time-saving, labor-saving devices. But we're retro because we love the values, the ethics, of practicing the household arts. Making a study of it has brought a dimension of interest to my daily life.

The "modern retro woman" is not my catch phrase. It belongs to Julie-Ann McFann, Ph.D. I first became acquainted with Dr. Julie-Ann through the podcast, Grandma's Sewing Cabinet. I then began to read her blog by the same title, and from there I discovered she authors yet another blog, "modern retro woman." She recently mentioned our blog (mwhomestead) as "embracing homemaking as a creative process," and that's exactly what I have endeavored to show – with honesty – through my daily activities. It's great to find an online support group for the retro feminine arts. (See links below.)

I recently had a bit of fun dialoging with Dr. Julie-Ann. She confirmed what I suspected -- that her paternal grandmother who taught her to sew was the same age as my mother. That means they themselves were taught the household arts by mothers and grandmothers who never knew electricity. They were children during World War I, young mothers during the Great Depression, approaching middle age during World War II. They listened to radio programs before television became a fact of life.

[The photo above is of Mother, Daddy, and me watching the county fair parade in Orofino, Idaho, 1951. The photo to the right is of my mother fitting my wedding gown in April, 1975. "The wedding dress should show the bride," she said. If only she could see today's dresses. She appliqu├ęd the quilt on the bed by hand and dressed the doll in the frame.] KW

Fairy Godmother's Guide to Happiness

Grandma's Sewing Cabinet

A Modern Retro Woman

Friday, April 3, 2009

UPS DOG

You like your children to have good manners – likewise your dog.

At least one UPS driver who delivers to our house carries dog treats with him. I think it's a bribe: "Don't take the seat of my pants and I'll give you a treat." Of course, it has the effect of training a dog to come at the very sound of the truck. It didn't take long for Nellie to learn to identify the approach of UPS / FedEx vehicles and associate it with something good. When she hears such a vehicle she perks up her ears – even from a sound sleep -- and climbs on the sofa to look out the window – something she knows she is not to do. But not every driver carries treats, and if not, his dilemma is to disencumber himself from a friendly but excited Nellie who expects of something good to eat.

Yesterday I had let Nellie out to play on the hill behind our house when I saw the UPS truck drive up to the neighbor's house, and knowing Nellie, I stopped in my tracks to watch. The UPS man stepped out of the truck with package in hand, leaving the door wide open. While he was away, Nellie appeared and stood stock still at the door of the truck, probably testing the air for the aroma of doggie treats. When I saw her poised to leap into the truck, I called to her, and she reluctantly but obediently came. Well, I was so proud of her that I gave her a cookie and sent her once again out the back door as I heard the UPS truck leave.

Nellie will approach any delivery person with exuberant friendliness. "UPS dog," mutters the FedEx guy. KW

Thursday, April 2, 2009

TRAVELING REDNECKS

It's hard to believe it was a week ago that Mike and I were packing up and getting ready to visit Hallie – and Nick, of course – in Seattle. "You know you're an Idaho redneck," laughed Mike, "when your suitcase is a box." It wasn't quite that bad – our suitcase was a backpack. But extra shoes and toiletries, snacks, gifts, and our projects go better in boxes.

One of my last activities before leaving for Seattle was to charge my iPod, and when I disconnected it from my laptop, it wouldn't come on. I was upset. It seemed an evil omen to me. I wanted to cancel the trip and crawl in a hole. "I love good things," I said to Mike, "but let it be mine and there will be something wrong with it." Mike tried to reassure me that I really don't have more trouble than anyone else. Well, I was disappointed because my iPod was loaded with interesting podcasts to entertain us as we traveled, and now I couldn't use it, but something told me to pack it along anyway . . .

Mike and I picked up five geocaches on the way to Seattle. One was located outside the sheriff's office in Othello. The sheriff, who had placed the cache, came out to greet us. We finished one of our audiobooks but the battery was dead in the second one. (Another disappointment -- so I prayed harder.)

"Did you have any trouble getting here?" asked Hallie when I called her from the motel room. "Oh . . . not really," I replied. "But you ran a few red lights?" was her comeback. How does she know these things? We then walked from our motel room and met her near her workplace. She showed us the "Mod Pizza Parlor" where her wedding reception will be held, and then she drove us to the West Seattle Park where the wedding ceremony will be held.

And when I mentioned my iPod, Hallie said, "I can fix it! You brought it, didn't you?" So she and Nick reset it and advised me to read the manual. (I don't like to read manuals.)

Hallie's condo is a studio with bonus room – 635 square feet, or something like that – and half the "livingroom" is devoted to the bottlecap project. So, we didn't spend a lot of time there. We ate at a family-style Chinese restaurant the first night and at a Mexican restaurant the second night. Mike introduced Nick to geocaching while Hallie and I were occupied in selecting her wedding gown.

Saturday night we said good-bye to Hallie and Nick, and we left Seattle early Sunday morning. As we approached the pass, winter came again – blowing snow, fog, and slush on the highway. It was tedious driving – not really frightening but we were glad to drive out from under it. We took the southerly route at Ellensburg and picked up three more geocaches. Near Waitsburg and again at Pomeroy we saw snow accumulation. We were home at 3:00, thinking the trip had been very successful. Mike started a fire in our little woodstove while I made an oatmeal cake. Then we took a rather reluctant Nellie for a walk. A friend had looked after her and exercised her well while we were gone. She didn't much care whether she had a walk or not. KW