Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sewing is Not Like Riding a Bike

About the time all my overtime started at work, I had the bright idea I would start sewing again and make something for my granddaughter's first birthday in September.  It seemed like a good idea at the time and her birthday was still three months off so it didn't feel like pressure.  Now her birthday is just two weeks away and I'm a long way from finished with her birthday gift.  What was I thinking?!

The pattern is Simplicity 5310.  Don't let the company name fool you ...there is nothing 'simple' about this project!  I've got about 10 years of experience crafts and sewing.  Mostly I've done handwork ...crewel work, embroidery, crocheting, even tried tatting for a while.  I learned how to make clothing from patterns when I was in high school.  Our mother was an excellent seamstress and she taught all three of us girls how to sew from a pattern.  I made my own pinch-pleat lined draperies when I was a newlywed in my 20's.  I know how to use a sewing machine.  I didn't think it mattered that all of my experience was 25 or 30 years ago.  I figured, 'it's like riding a bike, right?'  Umm ...maybe not.

This is the pattern.  Cute, huh?  Looks simple enough, right?  By step 3 on the pattern, I knew I was in trouble.   

It's the nose that's giving me fits.  The pattern piece is only about 3 inches wide and 2 inches tall.   How could such a small swatch of fabric be so uncooperative!  I struggled with it twice, two separate days for about an hour.  The confidence and enthusiasm I'd been feeling for the project was eroding at an alarming rate.  But this morning I decided to see if I could find some reviews for the pattern ...maybe some pointers from other people who had made this pattern.  I found this website, http://sewing.patternreview.com, and joined with a free membership.  There were eight reviews posted for this pattern.  A free membership only entitles me to read reviews less than six months old, so I could only read five of them.  Three of them were exactly as I would have posted if I were to review this pattern ...'NOT simple!'  'Diagrams do not match up with the pattern pieces!'  'Terrible instructions!'   'Worst pattern I've ever worked with!'  The ladies that left these reviews claimed to have 20-30 years of experience.  One lady said she was a professional seamstress with 35 years of experience and she still had to start over with this pattern two or three times.  Whew ...that made me feel better.   Maybe it wasn't just me.  Misery loves company and looming defeat craves it!   

Two of the reviews were very positive and said they would definitely make this pattern again.  But even those writers admitted to making 'minor adjustments' to the pattern and the assembly process.  Granted, there were three reviews that I couldn't access with my free membership.  But judging from the five reviews I could access, I'm definitely not in the minority in having difficulty with this pattern. 

Now I figure I can look at this two ways.  My granddaughter's birthday is just two weeks from tomorrow.  I have this weekend and next weekend to pass or fail in my attempt to make this for her.  Based on those negative reviews, I could convince myself I would be justified in scrapping the whole idea of making her something and just go out and buy her a gift.  But instead I've decided that I'm going to take heart from the fact that at least two people claim they were successful in making this project.  I will have to dig up a little more determination but I'm going to give it a whirl.  I guarantee there will be adjustments to the process and possibly to the end product.    If I'm happy with the result, I'll do a follow-up post and show you how it turned out.  If I'm not happy with the result, there may be a follow-up post, but no pictures.  At that point, I will be out of time and will have to go buy my granddaughter a gift.  But at least I will know I gave it my best shot.  

Yeoldfurt is off on a mission of his own today.  He left for the gun range about thirty minutes ago to test out his latest batch of reloads.  I'm sure he'll be doing a post to report the results.  He looked five or ten years younger when he waved as he drove off this morning.  He had the same kind of 'happy' you'd see on a kid's face if you announced, 'we're going to Disneyworld!' Yup, doing something you love definitely has a rejuvenating effect. 

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Maultaschen, a Family Tradition

On my mother's side, our roots are English, German and Russian.  On my dad's side, we were mostly Irish. On both sides, we were all about family traditions.  My mother loved to cook and she loved most of all to make the traditional dishes that had already been handed down from generation to generation in her family before her.  My grandmother learned to make a couple of traditional dishes from her mother-in-law who immigrated to this country with her parents when she was still a small child.  One of these dishes is what we grew up calling 'Maldasha' and it was a springtime favorite.  It is a simple dish but works best if made in an assembly line with a couple of helpers.

It is basically large strawberry dumplings, swimming in warm cream and garnished with cubed bread that has been sauteed and toasted in butter.  Don't let the description fool you.  This is a meal, not a dessert.  It is a traditional dish in parts of Russia and Germany.  Even my dad who was almost pure Irish and strictly a meat-n-potatoes kinda guy loved it.  Since it is only made with fresh strawberries, it was a springtime tradition and occasionally again in the summer if we could talk Mom into it. 

I recently learned that our name for the dish is a horrible mispronunciation of the word 'maultaschen' which is Volga German.  Loosely translated, it means pocket ...which, loosely interpreted, would be a dumpling.  In other parts of Germany, it was known as Eben Gl├Ące or Eben Kloese, which means strawberry dumplings.  Volga is a part of Russia that was settled by Germans and that's where my great grandmother's parents were when she was a small child.  So she grew up calling it Maultaschen.  By the time my sisters and I were born and the recipe had been passed down through several generations, the name had been Americanized to Maldasha. If you love strawberries and have an adventurous pallet, please try this.  You'll love it!

You will need the following:
Deep kettle to boil water (a water bath canner is perfect)
A large cast iron skillet
A long-handled slotted spoon
Two large serving bowls

4 cups of flour
2 eggs  plus 6 egg yolks 
1/2 to 2/3 cup hot water.
4 tsp salt (*if using self-rising flour, omit salt)
6-8 cups of strawberries,  stemmed and sliced
1/4 cup of sugar
1 cube butter (not margarine or butter substitute)
2 cups of stale bread, cut into cubes
2 pints whole cream

Wash, stem and slice the fresh strawberries.  If they are very large, cut them into quarters. Mom used to add a teaspoon of sugar to each dumpling as she made them, but I sweeten the berries before I assemble the dumplings.  Just sprinkle about a quarter cup of sugar on top of the strawberries after they're cleaned and toss lightly.

When the berries have been prepared and before you start making the noodle dough, begin heating the water in the kettle.  You will need a deep kettle such as your water bath canner.  The water should be at least 6-8 inches deep so the dumplings have room to cook and float up, but no closer than 3 inches from the top so the water doesn't spill over as you add and remove dumplings.  While the water is heating up, make your noodle dough.  My mother doubled the Noodle Dough in her Betty Crocker Cookbook.  The ingredients (already doubled) and directions are below. 

4 cups of flour
2 eggs  plus 6 egg yolks
1/2 to 2/3 cup hot water.
4 tsp salt (*if using self-rising flour, omit salt)

Sift the flour into a large bowl and use the back of a large serving spoon to form a shallow well in the top.  Combine the eggs, egg yolks and salt and whip with a fork until just blended.  Add the egg/salt mixture to the flour and mix well.  Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all flour is incorporated.  Dough should be stiff but easy to roll.  It will look very yellow because of all the yolks. Cover with a dishtowel and let it rest for 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, divide it into four equal parts.  Flour your hands, rolling pin and surface generously and roll each of the four parts into a rectangle. You want each rolled out piece to be slightly thicker than a pie crust.  If it is too thin, the dumplings will break open during boiling.  Too thick and it throws the ratio off ...too much dough, not enough strawberry.  The four rolled out rectangles can be laid on a floured surface and covered with a dishtowel to keep from drying out.  Take one of the rolled out pieces and cut it into four inch squares.    Use a spoon to put strawberries in the middle of square.  Try not to handle the strawberries with your fingers ...if your fingers are damp, you won't be able to pinch the dough together to form a dumpling.  Each dumpling should hold two or three tablespoons of strawberries. 


Check on your water.  It needs to be at a full rolling boil when you put the dumplings in, so adjust the heat up or down as necessary.  Put the cube of butter in your cast iron skillet on another burner.  Don't turn on the burner yet, you're just getting everything ready before you start cooking the dumplings.   Set the stale bread that has been cut into cubes next to the skillet.

By the time you have all the dumplings made from one section of the noodle dough, the water should be ready.  Use a slotted spoon to lower five or six of the filled dumpling into the boiling water, one at a time.  The dumplings will sink when you put them in the water and float to the top when they are done, usually 5 or 6 minutes.  Sometimes, a dumpling will float immediately but I leave it in the water for at least 3 or 4 minutes.  As the dumplings come out of the kettle, they are placed in one of the large serving bowls.

When half of the dumplings are done, begin melting a cube of butter in a large cast iron skillet over low heat.  While the butter is melting, cut the last two pieces of dough into four inch squares and continue making dumplings.

After the butter is completely melted, put the cubed bread into the skillet and toss to coat each piece.  Turn the heat up slightly and toast the bread cubes in the butter.  Stir them frequently so they will brown evenly.  After the bread cubes are done, put them back in the bowl they came from and set them aside.  Turn the heat back down to low on the burner and pour the two pints of whole cream into the hot skillet.  Stir frequently to prevent scorching.  If the cream is warm and steaming before the last of the dumplings are done, remove the skillet from the burner and put a lid on it to keep the cream warm.

When all of the dumplings are ready, pour the warm cream over the top and garnish with the toasted bread cubes. 

Making this dish was a family affair when I was growing up.  Mom would set us three girls up in a sort of assembly line to help her in the process.  She would make the noodle dough and cut it into squares, then have one of us in charge of adding the sweetened strawberries.  Another of us would be pulling the dough over the berries and pinching the edges together to form the dumpling.  Mom would lower the dumplings into the boiling water, but one of us girls got the cool job of standing on the wooden three step stool waiting for dumplings to float to the top.   Once we had a little momentum going, Mom would melt the butter, brown the stale bread cubes and start warming the cream.  The whole process took about an hour but it was so worth the wait.  

Our mom passed away in 1989 and, as far as I know, I am the only one in our family who has made this dish since she's been gone.  My sisters love it too and have helped me make it once or twice when they were visiting.  But I don't think either of them has tried it on their own.  All of our children and grandchildren love it too, so I hope one of them will learn to make it and carry on the tradition.    

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Date Night

Celebrating the fact that I finally finished my overtime, Yeoldfurt and I had a dinner date in the big city today.  He's off on Tuesdays but had an errand in town this afternoon, so he hung around until I got off work and we had a long overdue date. 

A good friend of mine owns a used bookstore about a mile from my office, so we met at her store when I got off work.  I used to stop by my friend's store once a week for an hour or so but we haven't been able to do that since May because of the overtime.  So while she and I sat at the table and caught each other up on all the news and solved all the world's problems, Yeoldfurt meandered around the shelves looking for new reading material.  He's a voracious reader.  If he wasn't so willing to read used paperbacks, I'm not sure I could afford to keep him in books!   My friend and I ran out of things to tell each other after a couple of hours, so we paid for Yeoldfurt's books and went a few miles up the road to The Cracker Barrel. 

I love the Cracker Barrel.  It's like the restaurant version of a chick flick.  There's home-style cooking with everything from manly meat and potato dishes to dainty quiches, an assortment of breads and rolls served gratis with every entree and a great dessert menu.  Before and after you eat, you get to wander through a country style mercantile that offers everything from old fashioned candies to beautiful handmade crafts items.  It's good food and great shopping all under one roof ...and mama didn't have to cook tonight.  Now that's what I'M talkin' about! 

Besides splurging on dinner out, it was nice just to spend time with Yeoldfurt when we could both relax.  We spend so much of our at home time working on one project or another or running errands these days.  With his work schedule and my overtime hours for the past two months, we haven't had very much quality time together.  Yup, this was my idea of a great date night.   

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Passing Judgment

A friend put up a post several months back on 'armchair preppers' which, when I first read it, struck me as a little judgmental. Who are we to know the true reality of another's circumstances, or their means, or even their actions? But she made some valid observations which I've been pondering ever since.  Yeah, sometimes I think things to death and, depending on how deep the subject is, that can take a while.

One thing I've noticed is there are a whole lot of another type of prepper out there ...the loud and proud but standing in the back type.  They have a soapbox and they're not afraid to use it.  I call them the Loud and Proud Crowd, or LPCs for short.  They usually have quite a few followers.  Not sure if it's because they all agree with all the viewpoints, or just enjoy the show when the LPC gets wound up.

You know the ones. They have all the answers. They have it all figured out and if everyone would just do what THEY say, this whole runaway train that's in Washington DC would get back on track and we'd be America again.  Their own hands always seem to be tied, of course.  They are caught between the proverbial rock and hard place ...powerless to follow their own advice because of this or that in their personal circumstance.  But I thought the very basic premise of prepping was having a proactive, take-the-bull-by-the-horns approach to life.  It's the goose-gander conundrum.  What's good for the one seems only to be good for the other if it's convenient to be so.   

I know the world is full of all kinds of people and every one of them has their own set of circumstances and their own set of options and limitations based on their abilities or finances or even their geographic location.  I know that what Yeoldfurt and I consider a problem might be a total non-issue for others.  I know that how we decide to solve a particular problem might be the absolute last route someone else would take in our circumstances.  To each his own.  No one knows our needs, our abilities, our resources and our limitations better than we do.  I try to only offer advice if it's asked and I make a concerted effort not to be offended if the advice is declined or ignored.  I firmly believe we are each in charge of our destiny and, as such, we each own full responsibility for our lives and well-being, which brings me to a tangent line of thought ...welfare mentality.

There is an entitlement mentality in this country that started with food stamps and medicaid and has morphed into Earned Income Credit (tax-free cash grants to households under certain income levels), housing assistance (HUD) and daycare assistance (CCMS).  A lot of the households taking advantage of these programs are two-income households that are simply living above their means.  They use food stamps to buy their food so they can use more of their paycheck to buy what they want ...booze, cigarettes, in some cases illicit drugs.  They jump through hoops every three months with government paperwork so they can get subsidies on their rent and, again, have more money to spend on things they want like acrylic nails or fancy cell phones or a new tattoo.

In my opinion, all of this gimme-gimme-gimme-you-owe-me attitude for decades is one of the main reasons we're having government-mandated healthcare shoved down our throats today.  Enough of the general population is finally indoctrinated to believe government welfare is the norm.  Instead of only applying for assistance where there is real need, many people are applying simply because it's available and they know how.  Word gets around, you know?

It's sad for our country because, contrary to popular belief, there is no magical money tree ...the government can only dole out what it first extracts from our pockets. And it's even sadder for the children growing up in homes where welfare has been the norm for several generations.  What lofty aspirations can they possibly have? 

I am grateful to have grown up in a home where my parents worked hard to provide for our needs, took good care of what we had, and saved for the things the family wanted.  We lived within our means every day and when the family could afford to have or do something special, it was that much more special and memorable.  I hope Yeoldfurt and I are neither 'armshair preppers' nor fall in with the 'LPC' types.  I hope we are just one household doing the best we can to better ourselves and our circumstances with what resources we have available. I hope that if the priorities we set and the decisions we make about how to handle different things differ from those of our readers, that they won't interpret the differences as judgment on our part.  It's not my intention to pass judgment on anyone.  You do what works for you, we'll do what works for us and we'll both accept full responsibility for the outcome.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More Overtime but Maybe Not This Week

I was figuring on working the last of my overtime hours this week but that might not be possible.  When I got to work on Monday, I only had 9-1/2 hours of overtime left to work and planned on knocking 7-1/2 of them out the first three days this week, then working the final 2 hours on Friday from 3:30 - 5:30.  But then about noon on Monday, management sent around an email saying there were 25 hours of overtime up for grabs and asking who might be interested.

I know, I know ...I was whining just last week about how exhausted I was and how much I was looking forward to not working overtime anymore.  But time and a half, you know?  There are still a lot of things on our wish lists and this opportunity only comes around once a year at the agency.  So I'm thinking I should take advantage of it. 

I replied to the email that I was willing to work up to 12 additional hours of overtime.  All of the overtime hours have to be completed by Friday, August 19th.  Since my original 67 hour allotment would be completed by this Friday, that would give me two full weeks to work the additional 12 hours.  Working only 6 hours each of those two weeks, it would only be half as grueling as it has been and the extra extra money sure would be nice.  I know at least two other people were willing to work additional hours and unless they set very small limits on how much they wanted, I will probably not get the full 12.  But extra is extra and I am sure I can find a good use for the money.

That was the plan and it seemed like a good plan until about 2:50 this afternoon when the power went off.  Not just in our office but in the whole business complex and we later found out, for several blocks around us.  It seems an apartment complex about a quarter mile northeast of us had a fire.  It wasn't just a kitchen fire either ...four alarms and seven buildings damaged or destroyed before it was under control.  Thankfully, there were only minor injuries, mostly firemen due to heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, but the property damage is quite extensive.  I think the fire had been burning about 30 minutes when the decision was made to cut the power to homes and businesses within a certain radius of the blaze.  When the lights were still off at 3:30 and the news was saying the blaze was still out of control, management made the decision to close the office and send everyone home.

The only downside to getting sent home early in the afternoon is that the agency doesn't let you work overtime if there are any 'anomalies' in the regular work schedule that week ...i.e., a holiday, sick time ...or, in this case office shut down due to neighborhood fire and blackout.  I already put in 2-1/2 hours of overtime yesterday.  If overtime is not approved for this week, that means I'll have to count yesterday's 2-1/2 hours of overtime toward my regular 40 hours and I'll have to go home early Friday.  Oh darn.  I hope they make an exception and let us put in a little more overtime this week, especially since I just signed up for 12 more hours.    

The weather forecast was 107 degrees for a high today with a heat index of 112.  I am here to tell you that it was every bit of that at 3:30 this afternoon when I had crawl into my car.  I have one of those windshield shade things and I use it faithfully every morning.  I also crack all the windows a half inch or so to let as much heat as possible escape during the daytime.  But it was still well over 100 degrees in there when I got in.  You could see smoke on the horizon behind our building and smell charred wood on the breeze.  I'm sure the recent extreme temperatures and the almost constant breeze we've had for the past several weeks were negative factors in how quickly the fire spread.  Fires are always devastating to the people whose homes are involved.  I hope the reports tomorrow will confirm only minor injuries. 

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Monday, August 1, 2011

The True Blessings in Life

Sometimes the child that remains in all of us wants to look around at what we have and where we live and what we're able to do based on our finances, and then use those things to measure whether or not we feel blessed.  But the older I get and the more 'stuff' I manage to accumulate, the more I realize things don't matter nearly as much as the people God puts in our lives.  Sometimes they are our friends, sometimes they are our relatives but people are the true blessings in life. 

Granted, everyone you meet and everyone you happen to be related to won't exactly make your life more enjoyable.  At times it's a test of patience just to remain civil to some of these folks.  But every once in a while someone comes into your life, and you just can't help but count them a blessing.  No, I'm not talking about Yeoldfurt this time, although he is my best friend and an enormous blessing to me.  But in this case, I'm talking about my son-in-law, Marc.

He is a very gifted musician who recognizes the true source of his gift and, in turn, uses it in the ministry at their church.  He is extremely intelligent but very quiet most of the time and totally unassuming.  Then when you least expect it, he says something outlandishly witty.   Marc is very protective of his own.  He is a caretaker by nature which is a wonderful trait in a husband and father.  But he also has a keen sense of humor and a flair for adventure and spontaneity ...a fabulous combination of traits in a soul mate.

Marc is a blessing to my daughter and granddaughter as a husband and father and, in turn, he is a blessing to Yeoldfurt and me who want nothing more than to see them happy and thriving as a family

Today is Marc's 30th birthday ...
the 'BIG THREE OH' as the younger set says ...
as if 30 is a big number.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARC ...
please know that you are a blessing to this family ...
we love you!

Pictures from the beach vacation they took last month in celebration of their third wedding anniversary.

Daddy and Bella... not sure who has who
wrapped tighter around the other's finger.

Mommy and Bella ...
shopping, shopping, shopping!

Bella, just chillin' on the sand.

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