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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Greetings from the Heart

Contributed by Stephanie Bearce

Remember cards? Those wonderful greetings that used to come in pretty envelopes in the mailbox.

How long has it been since you got a real card. Not an “E-greeting”. Those are fun, but you can’t hold them. You can’t hide an e-card away for twenty years, and then pull it out from a memory box. That’s the difference with a paper card. It gives tangible evidence that someone cares about you. Someone took the time to write a greeting, buy a stamp, and put it in the mailbox. A card is a token of love and friendship.
I love sending and receiving cards. I have a few dear friends who still adhere to the tradition of sending paper greeting cards and I treasure those cards. I have a special box where I keep my cards. I hope someday my grandchildren will open that box and find the beautiful treasures I have stored there.

They will see special cards from my mother (their great-grandmother) and cards of love from my husband. There will be Thanksgiving cards and Valentine’s Day cards from dear friends Katie and Sue, and birthday cards from Valerie, Carol, Vicki, and my mother-in-law, Margaret. I keep them all.

Lately I have been making my own cards. Some of them silly and some more serious. It allows me to make my greetings totally personal. Plus, it’s just lots of fun! I highly recommend it to anyone who likes to make crafts.

I have a large collection of ephemera, and I make photocopies to use in crafting. But you can also use photographs from old magazines to create lovely cards.
And if you can’t figure out what to say… there’s always the internet! You can find hundreds of quotes and funny sayings on dedicated websites. If you are at a loss for words, here are some websites to visit.

To make your own cards you will need:

Your favorite quotes
Copies of ephemera or magazine pictures
Scraps of brightly colored paper
Rubber cement
Markers and pens
White or plain colored base card
Scissors or paper cutter

I always start with a base card and decorate it. Some people fold their own, but I buy them in bulk at a craft store. I’m all about making it easy!
I attach everything with rubber cement. It’s the most wonderful medium for gluing paper. It doesn’t wrinkle and you can reposition papers if you make a mistake.

For those of you who don’t have your own ephemera collection, I have posted several greeting cards that you can add to you images collection. To use one of my postcard or paper doll images just right click on your mouse and select “save picture as”. Then save in your pictures file. You will be able to print out the picture using a photo quality color printer. Just remember that these images are available to you for personal use and are not to be sold.

So get your tools together and create a card for your best girl friend, or send your sister a surprise love note. Who knows…maybe your card will be stored in someone’s treasure chest!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A . . . is for Apple

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

What a welcome sight! After a long, cold and especially snowy winter, the greens of spring are appearing. Day lilies, buttercups, crocus, sedum, tulips -- all have tiny green shoots emerging from our soggy yard. The two apple trees still look dormant, but according to the gardening tip in the weekend newspaper, now's the time to trim them.

We planted the tiny apple trees (Red Delicious) 25 years ago, thinking it would be fun to eat apples from our own trees. We knew nothing about fruit trees, but we planted and waited. And waited and waited.

One year a few spring blossoms grew into tiny green balls. By late September we were ready to harvest apples -- seven from one tree, five from the other. They weren't large, but they were sweet, juicy and like their name, delicious!

The trees and our children grew. One year our son harvested the apples from the tops of the trees by climbing a small step ladder. We harvested a bucketful of apples that year and made applesauce using an old southern recipe.

Some years we had no apples. Late-winter cold snaps were unkind to the fragile blossoms. Then one spring the trees were absolutely covered with fragrant blossoms. Gentle breezes brought down showers of blossoms, covering the ground beneath the trees.
By late summer the branches hung heavy and low, weighed down by too many apples to count. We laughed when our dog pulled apples off the bottom branches and ate them like dog treats. The kids ate apple slices every day that fall, and we made and froze many containers of apple sauce.

The following year we were advised to prune and thin out the branches before the growing season and to remove some of the blossoms. This will stimulate new growth and result in larger fruit, we were told.

So we followed the advice -- and had amazing results. Through the years we've provided apples for school parties, made apple sauce in elementary school classrooms, shared bags of apples with family members and the neighbors, and made all kinds of apple concoctions. Apple butter, apple bread, apple crisp, apple coffee cake, apple sauce muffins, apples and pork, baked apples, apple pie, apple juice (way more trouble that it was worth!), apple salads, and of course, plain sliced apples served with a slice of cheddar cheese or a dollop of caramel.

Apples are truly an amazing fruit. They have no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and contain a variety of nutrients. There are literally hundreds of apple varieties throughout the world.

My grandma had a small apple orchard on her farm. Once the apples were ripe, apple pie appeared regularly on her table. Family members loved it! Grandma was one of those cooks who seldom followed a written recipe. After decades of cooking for family, friends and farm hands, she just "knew" how much of each ingredient to use. If someone insisted she share a recipe, it usually had no precise ingredient measurements listed. Here's her recipe for apple pie:

Grandma's Apple Pie
Make a pie crust recipe that will make enough crust to line a deep pan and have some for the top, some extra.

Line the pie pan. Put on top of that a layer of sliced apples, some sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Lay a layer of narrow strips of pie crust on top of the apple.

Add more apples, sugar and spices on the narrow strips of crust. Again, add a layer of apples, sugar and spices. Also, add a few dots of butter.

Then add the top crust. Bake at 350 degrees (a moderate) oven until done.

Through the years I've tried and collected many recipes that use apples. Following is a family favorite that's good for breakfast or dessert. It's especially good served warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream:

Apple Coffee Cake
Cake Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Hellmann's mayo (yep, you read correctly)
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups apples, peeled and chopped

Topping Ingredients:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cooking Up Memories

Contributed by Stephanie Bearce

My Grandma Vida was a little bird of a woman. Just five foot two, she used every inch of herself to take care of her brood of children and grandchildren. She loved having a houseful of company and feeding an army of hungry boys and girls. Her mantra was “Have another helping.”

I remember visiting Grandma when she was nearly eighty. I walked into the kitchen to see my tiny grandmother scampering across her kitchen counter tops. She couldn’t reach the top shelves, so of course she had pulled the drawers out to make a stepstool. There was no need to bother anyone else when she could “do just fine for herself.”

Grandma was an amazing cook. Nothing fancy, just good old fashioned corn canned from her garden, golden pan fried chicken, and mounds of creamy mashed potatoes. Grandma was a lifetime member of the county Homemakers Extension Club where she learned all the modern ideas of balanced nutrition. Because of this she always insisted that we have “a green” with every meal. Of course Grandma’s green vegetables were usually covered in butter or flavored with bacon. In other words, delicious.
Grandma’s cooking abilities were known throughout the county and she was called upon to use her culinary skill to judge at the local county fair. I liked going with Grandma and watching her judge the canning entries. First she would check each jar to see if it was properly sealed.
“They make a popping sound when you open them,” she explained.
If there was no “pop” when the lid came off, Grandma would write a note on her judging sheet. Then she would sniff the contents. Another round of notes followed. Then finally she would taste the food. I was jealous when she tasted jams and jellies, but happy to abstain on the pickled beets and sauerkraut.
There was one jar of peaches that lives in my memory. My mouth watered at the sight of those fat gold globes of fruit. If I were the judge I would have ripped right in to them. But Grandma took her time. She examined the jar and twirled it around. I saw her eyebrows rise.
She cracked the lid. There was no “pop.” Grandma scribbled furiously. She slowly opened the jar, took one look inside and dumped the whole thing in the trash can.
All those peaches gone! I ran to the trash can and I saw golden ripe peaches floating in smelly gray mold.
“That’s what happens when you don’t get a good seal with your pressure cooker!” Grandma said.

I never learned to can like Grandma and I don’t claim to cook like her either. But she did leave me one legacy recipe that even I can handle.
A morning at Grandma’s meant caramel rolls. The smell of those rolls baking in the oven brought out even the laziest cousin. Grandma always made two batches, one with pecans and one without. That last batch was for me.
I love making Grandma’s caramel rolls for my friends and family. They are easy enough for the novice chef and taste wonderful. I may not be able to duplicate Grandma’s skills in the kitchen, but I hope I can carry out her tradition of hospitality and love.

Grandma Vida’s Caramel Rolls
1 pkg. frozen dinner roll dough
(I was SHOCKED when I found out that Grandma had converted to frozen dough!!! But then again, she was a smart lady.)
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 cups vanilla ice cream
Pecans (if you must)
Thaw dinner roll dough. Grease a 9x13 in pan. Melt sugar and butter together. Add ice cream and heat until all is melted. Pour into the pan. (If you have to use those pecans, put them in now.)
Place dough rolls on top of ice cream mixture. Let rise in a warm place.
Bake at 375 degrees until brown. Invert onto serving plate.

Best served with a batch of good memories!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Looking For Beauty In Unexpected Places

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

I love colorful graphics. I collect paper ephemera that few people want -- things like cancelled stamps and matchbook covers. Most people would call it junk. I call it "treasured trash."

The stamp collection began when as a child I was given a basic stamp-collecting book. Then a stamp-collecting aunt passed away and I inherited the stamps no dealers wanted. Some dated to the 1930s. Very cool graphics.

I grew up and the stamp book moved to the back of the closet, but I maintained an interest in stamps. Jobs at a state tourism office, a daily newspaper and a soft drink company meant that I encountered stacks of mail from all over the world. Unique and colorful stamps always caught my eye.
"That one's just to unusual to throw away, " I often thought.

One by one, cancelled stamps filled envelopes in my desk. Then they took over a drawer. Finally I purchased a large plastic box for the thousands of pieces of colorful paper.

"Are you a pack rat?" someone asked.


"Will you ever organize those things?" another questioned.

Probably not.

Do you enjoy that trash?


Spain. Canada. Mexico. England. Africa. The Netherlands. My free-form collection includes stamps from these and many other places -- places I'll probably never visit, but I DO enjoy their stamps.

Walt Disney. Rural America. Famous inventors. Wild flowers. These are just a few of the stamp series issued by the U.S. Postal Service during recent decades. I have examples from many series. They chronicle social trends, style and current events. The stamps didn't cost me a cent, but to me they're priceless.

The same with matchbook covers. I began picking up these tiny advertising treasures in the 1960s. In those days, smoking was cool. The U.S. Surgeon General had yet to issue warnings about the health risks associated with smoking. In homes, at parties and restaurants, on airplanes -- if someone wanted to smoke, they lit up.

And matches were found everywhere. Businesses, products, restaurants, services -- most had custom matchbook covers. They could be found on tables, in baskets, in hotel room ashtrays and at auto dealership waiting rooms. I didn't smoke, but the cover graphics caught my eye. Soon I was picking them up wherever I went.

I tossed them in drawers and displayed them in souvenir glasses. I raided the kitchen junk drawer and found a stash used by Dad to light the barbeque grill.

Family members and college friends started picking them up for me. The Midwest. The East Coast. Canada. Spain. The collection grew. An old metal popcorn tin made a safe place to store the ever-increasing collection. Co-workers brought back matchbook souvenirs from their world travels. The collection continued to grow, eventually filling four large tins.

I enjoyed rummaging through the color-filled tins, amazed at the variety of businesses and locations represented.

Years passed and the tobacco industry became more regulated. Health concerns related to smoking and second-hand smoke were top news. Smoking was banned on airplanes and in public places. Municipalities passed no-smoking ordinances. Today, the supply of custom-printed matchbook covers has virtually disappeared.

I recently had dinner at a private club. Three decades ago making a dinner reservation at this club meant that matchbook covers with the member's name embossed on them would be found beside each place setting. Currently, the club allows smoking only in a secluded cigar bar -- far removed from the vicinity of the main dining rooms. I spotted a basket of matches on the bar there. It contained a few matches in blank white covers. Very generic.

So my matchbook collection is no longer a growing collection. Like full-service gas stations, it seems that custom-printed matchbook covers are a thing of the past.

Several winters ago I decided to organize (sort of) my collection. I divided them by regions and lost count after several hundred. I removed the matches, laid the covers flat and secured them to a poster-sized frame from Target. I continued this process until five poster frames were filled. They now line our basement walls. It's fun to look at them and remember places and people's faces from years gone by.

A search of the Internet reveals that there are matchbook collectors and match cover societies worldwide. And serious stamp collectors spend big bucks to obtain rare old stamps in pristine condition. But not me. I'm not interested in buying, selling or trading matchbook covers. And who would want my used stamps?

So these collections are my treasured trash. Amazing and beautiful graphics. Great memories. And they didn't cost a cent!