Saturday, January 31, 2015

Vintage WWII Era Slip

The Sew Monthly Challenge for January is Foundations. The first item that came to mind was a badly  needed 18th century shift. After all, shifts are foundational for wearing and preparing the outer garments. Alas I've been very much under the weather for the last two months so I tried to think of something a bit less aggressive, although a shift sounds perfect in that all I need to do is hand sew it...lots of hand sewing. In my convalescence, I had plenty of time for that. But I coughed a lot in December and January (bronchitis) which left my sides I don't like to move a whole lot, much less get on the ground to cut my fabric. Cutting out a shift is a lot of floor work...after lifting a heavy bolt of linen off the top shelf of the upstairs fabric stash closet.  Then it would take all month to sew. Oh no, I was not up to that in early January.
After quite a bit of thinking, and researching, I decided to make a vintage slip.  That would be a lot less fabric. I had all the supplies at home. I could quickly whip that up on the sewing machine.  Also a slip, for me, would definitely meet the Foundation Challenge. I have always worn slips under my dresses because my mom and her mom always told me that I *had* to wear a slip when wearing any dress, for modesty purposes. That thought has stuck with me so that now I would feel most improperly dressed without a slip under my dress. Also I'm sure that like the 18th century, a modern slip protects the outer garment from oils and such from the skin, helping to preserve the garment, etc.  So yes, slips are foundational!
Also I needed a vintage slip to wear with the WWII era dress I made last spring. Incidentally, I wore a similar embroidered eyelet slip with my dress for the photos in the previous link. I had purchased that slip cheaply years ago and love it and want more. One thing I don't like about that slip though, is that it has elastic in the back of the bodice. However the slip I found that is quite similar (and linked below) was otherwise similar. Win, win!
As I did my research, I decided to ask my mother-in-law advice for the missing information I couldn't find.  She was a little girl during WWII and had three older sisters. She confirmed that my pattern (for free here) was a good choice, and that eyelet cotton was indeed available.
The reason why I classify this as a WWII era slip, is because it comes just below the knee, just like the requirements of dresses in that era. Also the skirt is not ultra-full (like the 1950's) or cut on the bias (like the 1930's). It looks very much like the WWII era dresses which had strict fabric requirements due to war time rationing, which I wrote about here.  
Her information supported that the dating on this listing was most likely properly dated! I love these two vintage slips with the different types of lace and original labels.
I also found these images, as well as these.
Last week I printed out the e-pattern. I was not up to climbing up and down the stairs so my daughter retrieved the 29 pages of the pattern for me. I was worried about putting this together.  I spent most of the afternoon figuring out how the pages go together, and it went much easier than I thought. I figured out a system of laying out the papers, positioning them properly, and taping them together.  I wasn't certain which line to cut out though.  It looked like I was a medium for the bust and a large for the waist and hips. (Measurements are given at the link for the pattern. Scroll down for all the blog comments for interesting and helpful details about the pattern.)  Oh dear, I don't like trying to figure out how to reckon those differences. I don't know anything about that stuff.  Furthermore, I forgot that our printer's color ink was low, so the colored lines for the different sizes were off, then with a size lines and cutting lines all blurring together to my muddled eye, I decided to just cut around the largest size and hope for the best.  I've learned how to drape in the 18th century manner. Why not use some of those ideas? I figured that being a slip, and the fact that ease was built into garments by WWII, I should be safe.


I was tired after all that putting together and cutting of the e-pattern,  so I finally set to work cutting  out the fabric and stitching it together today.  As I sewed each section, I held it to me for a "fitting" of sorts and everything was good. The dart for the bodice was way off for me. I decided to fiddle with it, pinning the excess to stitch down and that worked!


Piece by piece everything nicely worked together for me. Then I dug around my lace stash and found this eyelet lace...and some white satin ribbon...Fun, fun! Reminds me a little bit of one of the vintage ones pictured here.

Threading the ribbon through the eyelet lace.

At the end I slipped it over my head and it fits!
In fact, I am so pleased with this slip, that I'm going to make more for both me and my daughter to wear with modern dresses! I haven't been a fan of modern slips for years but I've always liked these vintage ones. Double win, win!


Front view...


Close-up of the bodice...


Closse-up of the hem...


Back of the slip...


Close-up of the back...


And now for the HSM details!
HSF 2015

The Challenge:
January – Foundations: make something that is the foundation of a period outfit.

100% cotton eyelet border fabric 

vintage e-pattern available for free here

WWII era

eyelet lace, ribbon, thread

How historically accurate is it?
About 90%. I'm not sure if there was eyelet *border* fabric, but eyelet fabric was definitely used. Nor am I sure if the eyelet lace with ribbon is exactly accurate.

Hours to complete:
About a day.

First worn:
Not yet.

Total cost:
Free for me, since I have had everything in the stash for years. However it only took 1 yard of eyelet border fabric, which must have cost about $3, lace-$2, ribbon-$2, thread-$1, total-$8 

I have also entered the Vintage Sewing Pattern Pledge, which I posted about here. So here is my first vintage pattern completion for the year! Triple win, win!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Now Where am I Going?

Well, I think I have finally caught up with posting some of the basics of our 20th cenury studies for all of my homeschool and teacher friends who like book lists and teaching ideas. Without a doubt the modern era is my least favorite...and once we hit it last blogging seriously slowed down.
Meanwhile my kids have been in college this year studying all kinds of fascinating classics from the Iliad and Odyssey, the Greeks and the Romans, the colonial era of America and its early foundations once it became a country, and more! My turn!

Actually I have done some 17th and 18th century reading last autumn that I have not yet shared. Also I'm in the middle of reading A Son of Thunder:  Patrick Henry and the American Republic, which is a terrific book! I like how the author has woven the facts to read like a story. Better yet, was the opportunity to read it at Patrick Henry College last December while waiting for my son to finish all his errands before coming home for Christmas!

In fact I have a huge book collection on the history of the 18th and 19th century that I have collected over the years based on recommendations from many of the interpreters of Colonial Williamsburg, with topics ranging from colonial Virginia to Paris, France!

I'm still healing (I started my third volume of written communication to my family) and it still hurts to move too much while lifting. The chest muscles are slow to heal. However I'm stitching small projects, 18th century and vintage, which I hope to share soon.

I also have some historical cooking to share...perhaps I can get my husband to help me historically cook. He's been cooking for the last 2 months for me and he's tired of it and I can't wait to return full speed back into my kitchen again. However lifting pots and pans and such hurts my side  and these days I'm usually tired by the time he gets home after pushing as much as I can during the day. Thankfully my side is feeling better, bit by bit.

Although I'll take more jaunts into other historical eras, my focus will be late 18th and early 19th favorite time period.

Also I hope to learn how to use the scanner so I can finally scan many of our photos from the pre-digital era of our lives. Then I can share some of the cute homeschool stuff and field trips we did when  my kids were much younger. Also I have more costume photos to share...from those pre-digital days! 

The Brain and Music

One thing I have learned over the years regarding the brain, while working with speech therapists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and vision therapy, as well as from lots of reading on the subject in my teacher training classes, is that the brain craves new experiences, deeper experiences. The brain wants the bar to be raised.  Here's a great  story about the brain and music. However it's not about merely listening to music. Instead it's about playing music.  Listening to music is passive, however playing  music is active. Whenever one actively engages in activity, especially in new ways, the brain explodes like fireworks. This is a positive thing which results in greater learning capacity! Instead of my verbosity, how about a clever 5 minute video that explains the effect of playing music on the brain. in a cute and easy to understand way? =)


Monday, January 26, 2015

18th Century and WWII Stitching Currently in Progress

I am currently working on two historic sewing projects. For my quiet time during my convalescence (about to start Volume III of my journaI of conversations with my family), I have been working on a darling little 18th century needlecase.  If you'd like to see how far I've gotten, then check my companion facebook page that features my historic sewing.

During my more active moments, I've been working on my WWII project. I've researched extant images on-line and even e-mailed my mother-in-law who kindly shared her memories of clothing she and her sisters wore while growing up during WWII.  I've located a free e-pattern that  my mother-in-law approved! I dug out appropriate fabric from my fabric stash. I've printed out, taped together and cut out my e-pattern. It's laid out on the fabric now and I have just enough! I hope to start sewing this item together Tuesday or Wednesday, and start sharing progress photos on my facebook page. When I complete the project I'll share the big reveal here with details of the project!

My plan is to continue this plan, post works-in-progress photos on my facebook page as I work, then posting the big reveal on my blog, since the blog is sometimes quiet about my sewing, even though I am actually stitching!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Common Books, Papyrus Masks...and Still Conversing by Journal

 My  common lament on coughing has worn both me and my doctor down..and most likely  my readers too! I'm still on 2 inhalers, still coughing when I talk too much (but I'm so glad to at least be that much better!), so I'm to continue my voice rest indefinitely, and I've been referred to a specialist.
I told the doctor that I am a quiet person by nature, it's not always a big deal for me to have to talk, and I like to write. However I am now near the end of  my second notebook of written out thoughts so that I can converse with my family, and I am going BONKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
He started laughing and told me, "Well, didn't the people in the 18th century write everything out about all the details of their lives? Aren't one of you in your family into the history thing?" Yes, that's me, and yes those of the 18th century did write down the details of their lives in notebooks called commonplace books. Museums like Colonial Williamsburg rely on them greatly to restore their buildings, to fill their buildings with historically accurate items, to know how to retell history, etc, etc, etc.  The 18th century was really great about writing everything down like interactions with others, politics of the day, even detailing inventories like books or household items.
Although I have my pile of my own personal commonplace books that I fill when touring historic sites with all the notes of things I've learned and experienced...


I do now have a new pile growing of my 21st century books of conversations with people, with my side of the conversation. Anyone patient enough to read all that?


The doctor said, "Since you're interested in history, have you heard of the papyrus mask that is currently being unveiled?
Many of us know of the richly ornamented pharoah masks of the kings of Egypt. Lesser known sorts who were mummified could only afford papyrus masks, which are currently being very carefully peeled away to an amazing assortment of papers such as...the Gospel of  Mark, copies of Homer's incredible stories (you know Homer from Greece who is credited for some of the first great pieces of literature, the Iliad and the Odyssey, upon which later works were inspired.) and even personal letters.
Dissenters take huge issue of this mask even being unveiled, or peeled away and stripped of its layers. For the record, I want to note that museums always have this dilemma when they receive a new to them object of antiquity. With great debate among their own staff the curators ponder the following:
  • Should we leave it alone to learn from how it looked when it was discovered?
  • Should we restore it to its former condition to learn from that angle?
  • Should we pick it apart and learn from what is underneath...then we can leave future similar finds intact?
My kids and I learned all about the job of museum curators in making these decisions, and how they go about this process in great depth with a Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip, Treasure Keepers. However there is no way for me to link to it directly (the previous link is to my own blog post of our reactions when we first saw it) since it is a paid subscription for enrolled schools that is only available the years that this particular program is shown. It was incredible and vastly interesting  yet I can't find anything on-line that even comes close to documenting  the curators' important job. We have also had behind-the-scenes tours, some public and some private, into the job of the curator at Colonial Williamsburg which caused us to truly appreciate their job. As a result, I'm in full support of the papyrus unmasking!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Thrift Store Finds-A Theme of Floral in a Classy Jacket and a Cute Little Pitcher

A couple of weeks ago we took my son back to a snowy Patrick Henry College. Throughout the day it was icing and snowing a bit...and on the ground was lots of ice from the day and snow from the week before! Brrrrrr....

After taking care of campus details,we needed to run an errand with my son. When we arrived we noticed for the first time a thrift store nearby! My husband suggested we do the thrift store while my son did the errand, since it was his errand that needed to be conquered. That sounded like fun!

I'm always hesitant about thrift stores. Are they gloomy or bright? Are they dirty or clean? Mussy or  neat? Quality or dumpy? Pricey or affordable? Well, let's just say this has become my all time favorite thrift store!

When I walked through the ladies' clothing section, I found a cute red jacket displayed on the wall. Dare I take it down to try on? Would it fit, much less be affordable? There is a thrift store near me where designer clothing items are rarely less than $50, which isn't a deal for me, so I don't shop there. There is another thrift store near me where dumpy clothing items are rarely less than $20. I definitely don't shop there. I can sew a nice outfit for much cheaper than those prices! 

I took down the jacket and looked at the label. It was my size! It was $10! I tried it on and it was all of the adorable cuteness I look for in clothing! My husband liked it on me a lot! Sold!

Then I looked around some more and found a cute little floral vase for $5! I like collecting teacups, teapots and such with exactly this style!

I took them to the cashier, expecting to pay $15 but instead she charged $7.50. In surprise I said something must have been discounted. I had seen colored discount tags in the store but had forgotten about them. She said yes, that the jacket was on the deepest discount, at 75% off! I bought the jacket for only $2.50! they are!

I love cute and classy styles!


Oops, it's a bit wrinkled. I think that is my fault. I came home, exhausted, I'm recuperating from a long illness (I'm on voice rest now), and I obviously didn't lay it down as carefully as I thought.


I love the ruffles, the flower, and the high quality lining! I couldn't find a tag from the designer at the store, but I finally found it this morning. Inscribed on a metal tag, which you can see partly in the photo, is....White/Black, which I'm guessing is White House/Black Market? If so, they are normally way out of my price range, but $2.50 definitely works!


Here is the little pitcher sitting in my china hutch with the rest of my collection. Can you tell I like florals?


I've always been a huge fan of Royal Chintz! I found out that there used to be a saucer that went with the pitcher. I would have liked that too, but I'm happy with at least the cute little pitcher!


The best thing is that this is a hospice thrift store, where all the proceeds go to hospice. No not everything is designer, but everything was neat and clean. As with all thrift stores finding things is a treasure hunt, but this is a pleasant place to have a treasure hunt.  I will be coming back.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thrifting through House Remodeling...Another Part of my Life

While I've been wiped out with illness last December I slept a lot on the couch and watched several Hallmark Christmas movies. By the time I started recuperating I still needed lots of rest, so I've been watching an old favorite, HGTV. I used to watch it all the time as my husband and I remodeled our Texas house.

I haven't watched it much since moving to Virginia, though. However since my homeschool days have ended by graduating my youngest last summer, and since both my kids picked up their college classes this past autumn, I stumbled upon a new show on HGTV...Fixer Upper with Chuck and Joanna Gaines from Waco, Texas. Not only do they help me remember all the wonderful memories of Texas, they are just fun, down to earth, loving, and great at what they do!

Watching their show and reading Joannna's blog (in its entirety during my recuperation) awakened a renewed sense of peace, rest, and harmony with God's direction in my life, and who He created me to be.  No, I'm not perfect in any single thing I do. However I still have this huge part of me that likes to create...and usually my desire to create has something to do with family, whether that is cooking, gardening, scrapbooking, quilting, sewing modern clothes to wear every day as well as sewing historical clothes to teach history to my kids...I also enjoy remodeling!

I've had fun taking cookie cutter homes and redefining them to be us, to fit us, to wrap us in comfort where we can be who we are. To that end I'm organizing my buried posts about the houses my husband and I have remodeled over the years. They began in a small way in San Antonio, Texas with our very first apartment where the managers awarded us with a spur of the moment prize for having such a cute garden on our balcony. Then we put our tiny allowable skills to work on another leased apartment. Eventually we moved to Wichita Falls, Texas where we lived in 3 different houses on Sheppard AFB and we again put our homey stamp on these chopped up houses meant for USAF bachelors in the 1940's and 50's. Somehow each year we won Yard of the Month and sometimes Yard of the Quarter. One neighbor who was moving brought some of her plants to me, knowing I'd give them a good home. Being base housing, we had more opportunity to get our hands dirty in the yard than we did inside.

Then in 2000 we moved back to San Antonio, Texas where we bought our first house. Now we were really busy! We closed on the house, then we rushed to our home so my husband could carry me to the threshhold then we flew to the airport to send him off to Korea for a year's tour...all within 6 hours. While he was gone I gave my 4 year old son and 7 year old daughter a corner of the yard to work in while I dug shallow holes in tough clay for baby bushes and trees. The kids went to my favorite nursery to dream...and make dreams happen as we brought plants home to create a cozy yard. I hauled sod to the back yard. I put container beds together for vegetable gardening.

Then I found HGTV. Well you know what that meant!  I started painting, and painting and painting...for the first time in my life! My husband built a charming prairie style shed in the back yard, made a huge plasma tv built-in within a wall niche that had pull out drawers to store, converted our single back door to a double French door, significantly remodeled our kitchen and master bedroom, as well as building a retaining wall in our yard and building an incredible homeschool room with a fabulous wall unit!

All of that work added value to our house and was a great investment! However for all of that work to benefit our enjoyment and personal tastes, I also deeply considered the possibility of selling our house in the future. Would our vision appeal to a potential buyer? That played a huge part in our decisions, which was a good thing because one day we did need to put our house on the market, because my husband got a job in Virginia. We were so sad to move, but in a severely bottomed out market, our real estate agent was flabbergasted when we sold the house in 24 hours...full asking price!

Then we moved to Virginia and found a house with great bones...but needing lots of love. My husband avoided it for a long time because it looked hopeless, but I had a vision.  Finally we bought the house (for under asking price because it needed a lot of work). Immediately, before all the boxes were unpacked, I started painting. We painted every wall. The most horrid walls were in the powder room. A friend came over for the tour and was grossed out when she saw that space. The red sponge painted walls on white to her she dubbed, "the blood spattered room."

I have done a few posts over the years of our do it yourself projects, but there are many more to share. We also have a lot of work left to do on our current house. I'd like to show everyone what upgrades do for a home on a real life budget, doing them step by step, and how a little elbow grease goes far in make a house more comfortable for the family.

Thus, I am formally announcing 2 other tabs at the top of my page:
Texas House and Garden Remodel
Virginia House and Garden Remodel  

 Stay tuned for lots of before and after pictures of our other projects and how they can not only bring more comfort to a home, but add value as well!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

18th Century Needlework-Choices, Choices, Choices

I'm doing better each day yet healing is slow so I continue my convalescence. I'm beginning to get quite bored, then I remembered I had several needlework, as in cross stitch and queen's stitch kits, that I've been putting off due to my busy-ness with larger projects. They are all 18th century reproductions that I had purchased at different historic sites.


Purchased at Mount Vernon is this cross stitch reproduction...


Purchased at Poplar Forest is this cross stitch reproduction...


Purchased at Colonial Williamsburg's Mary Dickinson Shop is this cross stitch reproduction... 


This was purchased at Colonial Williamsburg, I think at the DeWitt Wallace Museum, one fourth of July for me to work on while waiting for the fireworks to start! This is a Queen's Stitch reproduction project.


This was purchased at Colonial Williamsburg's Mary Dickenson Shop, a reproduction pocket with many new stitches too learn!


Hmm, which should I choose to work on?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tamales, a Christmas Eve Tradition....and for New Year's Too

Tamales are a huge Christmas tradition in San Antonio, the town where I grew up. It was a tradition in my family to buy tamales from HEB for both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. (I've even had homemade tamales from various friends, one of which was jalepeno tamales from Panama....though she neglected to tell me about all those jalepenos! Where is a flour tortilla to take away the heat!) 

Then we moved to Virginia where flavors are sort of, well...bland. When Christmas came, we were hungry for tamales, but I didn't want to make them because they are so much work. However things weren't quite the same that first year in Virginia without tamales.

The following Christmas I found a Paula Deen Christmas issue magazine 2008 at the check out of the grocery store. I've never been a huge fan of the recipes (though she seems to be a lot of fun and I love her decorating style!) because she just cooks with too much butter, lard and sugar, which I know is a Southern thing but I try to eat healthier while keeping all the flavors! However this issue promised to be a collector's issue. I wondered why and picked it up. She had a huge section on her visit to Colonial Williamsburg, having tea with Patrick Henry(wow!), with cooking spreads on her working with an 18th century cook and a modern cook at one of the CWF chefs with recipes...and more! Wow! That was definitely worth buying, so I did! When I got home I found a Mexican section with Chicken Tomatillo Tamales that looked really good which surprised me because she's a Southern gal (and queen, without a doubt and that is a positive comment full of respect!) and Tex Mex is sooo different from Southern. In fact, Tex Mex is different from Mexican, but this recipe definitely looked Tex Mex to me (and not Mexican-it took moving to Virginia to realize the difference but now I know! lol) 

So I made my first ever tamales that Christmas of 2009! I had meant for my kids to help me, but we had had a blizzard. A blizzard (20" of snow in NoVA! That is unheard of. Little did we know we'd get another 30" before the winter season was over!) and these Texas kids were having fun exploring all the possibilities of sledding down the hill next to our house, which was hilarious since we didn't have any sleds! It was quite the lesson in physics!

Meanwhile I labored over tamales, listened to Christmas music and took mini-breaks to do a bit of my own experimental sledding! Anyway there is my Paula Deen magazine opened up in front of me with the great picture tutorial of how to spread and wrap! I could keep an eye on the kids outside the dining room window (top right of this photo) and the kitchen windows. Too fun! What a cozy Christmas!  



They were a hit! So I made them again the next Christmas one night while watching "Christmas in Connecticut," which I thought was funny since it's about a lady who writes gourmet cooking and homekeeping articles for a major publication, all based on her family farm in Connecticut...except she was a single lady living in New York City who couldn't cook. She got all her recipes from her Uncle Felix. Somehow I felt a connection...

See, I'm using the same Paula Deen magazine again, opened up before me. I'm so impressed with this issue. I took more step by step photos this time. In the tub on the right I have the corn husks soaking. I grab one, spread on the masa (far left), then add some filling (second from left), then wrap and place in the red plate (far left). 










Another year of homemade tamales. Another hit! Happy, happy family!

One year I finally corraled my kids to help and they had fun, whipping them out in an afternoon!



Now we have a new tradition...the kids help me make tamales! (Except for this last Christmas because of my being under the weather. I'm still on voice rest.)

Anyway tamales come in a variety of flavors based on the filling ingredient which can be either pork, beef, or chicken. It can even be a dessert! At one San Antonio restaurant we were given white chocolate vanilla bean "tamales" wrapped inside a cornhusk!

I do plan to expeiment with other meats, but so far I am quite happy with these Chicken Tomatillo recipes, even though I have ammended her recipe.

I usually have left over filling that I freeze and save for flautas! This makes so many tamales that we certainly don't need them all at once for our family. So I usually pack up half in a gallon sized freezer bag and save for New Years.

Chicken Tomatillo Tamales

2 pounds tomatillos, husks removed
2 T corn oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 c chopped cooked dark meat chicken (that has been boiled with seasonings: salt and garlic) 
2 c shredded Monterey Jack cheese
5 t cumin, divided4 t ancho chili powder, divided
4.5 t salt, divided
chipotle pepper powder to taste
2 c  corn oil
6 c masa harina
1 package dried corn husks, separated and soaked

In a large pot, cover tomatillos with water seasoned with salt and garlic. Bring to boil. Boil for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Drain tomatillos, reserving 1.5 c of cooking water.
In a skillet heat 2T corn oil. Saute onions and garlic until softened.

Puree tomatillos. Pour into large bowl. Add onion, garlic, chicken, cheese, 3t cumin, 2t chili powder, salt to taste, chipotle powder to taste. Set aside.

Now time to make the masa. Combine masa, corn oil, 3 t salt, 2 t cumin, 2t chili powder, some chipotle powder to taste. Gradually stir in 1.5 c of reserved tomatillo cooking water, beating until smooth.

The rest of the process is rather standard, so now I'm going to turn you over to Son of the South, who not only uses corn oil instead of shortening like me, but also has step by step details on each part of the tamale making process.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Thoughts On Purging: From a Cluttered Home to a Comfortable Home

It's that time of year when many think about organizing and cleaning out the clutter.  It might surprise many that this is one of my favorite things to do ever!  More than any of my other hobbies, I delight in going through stuff and designating them to the trash pile, the donation pile, or the organization/put away pile. I like rooms to be clean and organized and well-maintained. Does that mean it is always so in my home? Sadly no, mostly due to busy-ness and other commitments, which might explain why I get frustrated...because I can't tackle "the stuff." This is happening now due to my slow recovery. I am doing better day by day, but it is slow and being too active demands rest time and naps. However I'm starting to tackle piles bit by bit, even in a few minutes each day.

One time one of  my roommates declared that she was going to organize all the piles in her space. I got quite excited and assumed she was inviting  me to help! What could possibly be more fun? She soon realized what was happening, and very carefully took my hands and very carefully said, oh so gently, that she wanted to do this herself. Oh the sadness! 

What is it that makes the task of organization so charming? Is it the lure of possibly finding hidden treasure? I confess that is part of it with me. However I somehow more practically find great delight in dumping stuff in the trash that has sat around unused, unnoticed, unwanted for far too long. Time to clear it out so we can actually see and enjoy the things we do use, but haven't quite seen due to all the clutter!  Mostly though, there's just something about reducing dust collecting "stuff" to fresh! It's like opening a window in the springtime!          

Furthermore, I often have the words of financial economist, Larry Burkett, ringing in my head.  He basically encouraged getting rid of excess.  In fact, he brutally called it hoarding.  (gasp)  That was a shock to me when I first heard it.  I've thought about it quite a bit over the years, and the idea of my hoarding things that I never use, taking up space we really did not have, well, it wasn't doing any of us any good!  But it could do someone else some good, especially someone who didn't have us much as we did.  How much better to take "stuff" that is sitting around collecting dust going to someone who actually would want it or importantly might need it.

When we moved from our Texas house to Virginia, I particularly kept this thought of bequeathing to others, or blessing the garbage man to heart. Anything I cleared out would help the packers do their job more efficiently, which would make my unpacking in Virginia more efficient. Also we had a weight limit on the moving truck. Furthermore we had limited storage in the house so we also needed "stuff" cleared out so we could stage the house to sell (which it did in 24 hours for asking price!)

What do we really use? What goes unnoticed? What did we forget about? Perhaps it wasn't so important after all? Is it in stellar condition? Then donate it to charity or a thrift store for someone else.  If it's something I would not feel right gift wrapping for someone else, it's ready for the garbage. It's tacky donating yucky items.    

I had a favorite charity when we lived in San Antonio, Medina Children's Home, and it was for them that I started purging.  I strongly encouraged the kids to do the same.  Actually, I did it for my daughter and my son took note and pretty much did it for himself.  I showed them that trash was trash and things unused but in good shape were given away.  When they saw what was left, they were quite surprised.  They saw that things that mattered little to them were hiding important stuff! They also learned that things that didn't matter so much to them would be really special for kids that didn't have as much.  

We also went through our book collections. As much as we enjoy books, we only have so much room in the bookcase. What have we outgrown? Did we really enjoy *that* book? We made choices, then I took those books to sell to Half Price Books. That made the kids feel great, to earn money for stuff they no longer needed.

There are so many options for better things to do with "stuff" than to let it sit and collect dust. Instead tis the season to be generous and rethink what we use v, what others need or might make better use of. The result will be a more comfortable home for all.    

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pfeffernusse as a Celebratory Food!

Every Christmas holiday season I like to make spicy German cookies, like gingerbread and pfeffernusse. Along with many other favorite cookies, these especially seem to hearken the yuletide.

Well, I've been under the weather this Christmastide so our annual gingerbread cookies were not made. Instead my son made some Pfefferneusse with the recipe I gave to him. Don't they look delicious?


While doing my research on the history of pfefferneusse, I was surprised to learn of their historic connection to gingerbread! The earliest documentation of gingerbread, or lebkuchen, is 1395's Germany. It is thought that they originated in monasteries. By the end of the Middle Ages, Nuremberg, Germany became a major crossroads to international trade through which delights like candied fruits, honey, spices and hazelnuts passed. A guild eventually formed, infamous in part for their many varieties of gingerbread, one of  which was pfeffernusse! As a result, Nuremberg became the gingerbread capital of the world! (More of this history is here.)

This link contains a great story of the author who experienced the spicy gingerbread capital of Nuremberg first hand! It also includes a recipe.

Many articles that I read said that pfeffernusse means pepper nut. That does not mean that pepper was traditionally used in the recipe, though it is sometimes added today. Instead the flavor came from other spices, like cinnamon, allspice and cloves, that created a peppery flavor.

This article makes an interesting historical note that in the 18th century, pepper might be in the name if not in the receipt (recipe). The example the article gave was the gingerbread that Martha Washington made, which included ginger. However pepper was not part of her receipt. The author at this link also includes symbolism of cloves, variations in receipts with nearly unheard of ingredients today like hartson (ammonium carbonate), along with a recipe of her own! 

Yet another articles is at this WWII blog where the American author recounts her German and Danish heritage, which includes the Danish history of the pfefferneusse! She tells the story that her family made these cookies in WWII, despite shortages...and German ill-well at the time. She also includes a recipe from 1944.

This article from the Austin American Statesman sums everything up with a letter from Ms. Hahn...a request for a pfeffernusse recipe made the old fashioned way, Grandma's way, with potash (potassium carbonate) and ammonium carbonate! A public call for recipes was made and a plethora of them arrived from around the world! The author tells how she even baked one of the many recipes with Ms. Hahn, while she heard her family's story. After WWI her granparents and mother immigrated from East Prussia to America. In 1944 her mother married a soldier, Jerry Hahn, whom received care packages from home while he fought in Europe under General Patton. The care packages contained pfeffernusse. At the bottom of this link is a combination of recipes that are as close to the post WWI recipe as Ms. Hahn could recall, which includes pottasche (potassium carbonate) and hirschhornsalz (ammonium carbonate). Sources for these ingredients are also included.

When I made my first pfeffernusse a few years ago, it was unpleasantly hard as a rock. I was the only one eating them in the family, happily dunking them in a cup of milk. Oh the spicyness against the cold milk was a delight! However I wanted my family to like them too, so I tried a few other recipes, finally settling on this one, which is much softer, at first. They still harden but my husband always uses the trick of putting in a slice of bread with the cookie to help them keep soft, except that doesn't last too long with these cookies. Nevertheless I am noticing I am no longer the only one in the family eating them, nor am I the only one dunking them. I have heard, "Want milk?" as they dig for the cookies! Interestingly as I read all these articles on pfeffernusse, I learned that traditionally, these cookies are meant to be quite hard...and to be dunked in a beverage! Some articles recommended tea! Ms. Hahn related in her story of her father "slowly chewing on those rich, flavorful cookies from home made the nights pass a little quicker." 

My recipe from Southern Living  calls for powdered sugar to roll the cookies in, however this is not a traditional ingredient. In fact, it's not in Ms. Hahn's recipe at all, because it had not been available to her family when they lived in East Prussia. 

I seem to recall that I made this version of pfeffernusse from Chow last Christmas (2013) because the spiced sugar to roll a cookie in is something I definitely made last winter, and I think it was for this cookie. Anyway I am interested in trying it next year!

In all my pfeffernusse searching, I stumbled upon this quilt pattern too and I couldn't resist!


The Challenge:
Celebratory Foods-It’s the end of the year, a time for celebration! Pick a celebratory food (either inspired by the season or not, it’s your call). Make it up and share it with loved ones!

The Recipe: 

The Date/Year and Region:
The post WWI recipe is based on one from East Prussia.
The 1944 is from America.

How Did You Make It: 

Time to Complete:
A couple of hours.

Total Cost:
Under $5

How Successful Was It?:  

How Accurate Is It?:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Snow Outside...and in the Kitchen

We had a weather forecast for a trace of snow. That was good because I had a 10:30am doctor appointment, because although I feel better (see December posts) I don't feel better. I am breathless when I talk. Waking up in the mornings are hard for me, and I'm too breathless if I get too active, so I slept in to  9am and woke up to this! Well actually a bit more than this.  


At 9am it was 22 degrees with heavily falling snow. By 1pm when I took this picture (finally home from the doctor after precarious driving on untreated roads) it was a sunny 30 degrees and the snow had started to melt. 


The outside snow reminded me of this Pfefferneuse that my son baked for me last night. (I wrote about the history of pfefferneuse along with some recipes here.)


Meanwhile I am not allowed to talk or even whisper for the next 3-5 days since talking exacerbates some inflamation. I also got some other meds, so here's hoping to finally feeling better soon!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Downton Abbey Fashions for Today

Since tonight is the big Downton Abbey Season 5 opener for America, I thought I'd share one of my Christmas presents. I got this magazine full of articles and sewing projects from the Downton Abbey series. The patterns for the fashions are for modern wear, yet are inspired by the popular series. However for those where historical accuracy is not important, the projects would do well to recreate "the look" with projects for men, women and children, upstairs or downstairs!


A few of the projects that most interest me are: the bias cut evening gown with lace capelet, the black lace dress, the flapper dress, the embroidered shoulder dress, the draped collar jacket, the embroidered dressing gown, and the cook's apron.

I think somewhere I even saw a Downton Abbey Knits!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Olympian Louis Zamperini, Unbroken, and the Rose Bowl Parade

Last spring a friend lent  me a New York Times bestseller to read written by Laura Hildebrand, called Unbroken which told the story of Louis Zamperini.  Zamperini grew up in an Italian family in California and was quite the troublemaker. To avoid being caught by authorities, he learned to run fast. His older brother encouraged him to turn his life around and make use of his speed in track, which eventually took him to the 1936 Berlin Olympics where his lightening speed made him the fastest American in his event. The elusive Olympic medal beckoned to him for a hopeful 1940 Tokyo Olympics where victory was certain for this man whose speed became reknown and unbelieveably faster each year.
But as we all know, war descended in 1939. Zamperini traded in his running shoes for military gear, when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a bombadier. Between missions he continued to run and amazingly increase his time.
In 1943 his plane crashed at sea. Only he and two other crew members survived the crash. One of them died after 33 days drifting at sea. Whereas he insisted on the morbidness of the situation, the more positive Zamperini and pilot Russell Phillips surived 47 days, finally driftin on a Japanese  occupied island.
Zamperini and Phillips finished out the war as POWs. Zamperini was especially abusively targeted by a certain Japanese beast who the POWs nicknamed the Bird. (Since the Bird knew some English, they didn't dare call him what they really thought.) The Bird was intensely disliked and feared by both POWs and fellow Japanese alike. Endurance. Bravery. Courage. Somehow they survived to the end of the war.
Obviously post traumatic stress hindered their return to America in what they hoped would be a normal life as each fell in love with lovely young ladies whom they married as they began new lives. Understandably, certain triggers impede life, such as being served rice for dinner. (As I recall from the book, they could never bring themselves to eat rice again as it was associated with their POW days and the brutish torture they endured.)
Even more hindering to life, was Zamperini's constant nightmares and fall to alcoholism which led to his abusing his wife. Then one day he and his wife attended a Billy Graham Crusade in Los Angeles where he became a born-again Christian. As incredible as his story of survival in his growing up years and then WWII was, a miracle unfolded as he learned about love and forgiveness in his new life as a Christian.
Zamperini not only devoted his life to Christ but also committed to sharing his faith, with encouragement from Billy Graham. Amazingly he returned to Japan to seek out his previous captors who were interrned in a war crimes prison to tell them he forgave them. As a result, many of his former captors became saved. However the Bird who had most tortured him was not there, because he had disappeared to escape war crime trials.
In 1998 Zamperini was invited to the Nagano Winter Olympics to carry the Olympic torch, not far from one of his former prison camps. I remember watching these Olympics with my kids, since I'm always caught up in the spirit of competition, the history of the games, and the human interest stories of past and present athletes. Here is the link to the CBS documentary (host of the television coverage of the Nagano Olympics) of Zamperini's life, which shows the entire story of his life, far more than the present movie, Unbroken. Included is actual photograhy and video clips of his running days, his Olympic 1936 run, the WWII sites he was at, and his torch run at Nagano.  While there, he tried to meet with the Bird, with whom he wanted to share forgiveness. However the Bird refused to meet with Zamperini, although the Bird did grant an interview with CBS which is included in the previous link, along with details of the torture Zamperini endured at the hands of the Bird.
In 2011, Zamperini wrote his autobiography Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in WWII.   Due to public dubiousness at the claims he  made at surviving such horrific torture, acclaimed author Laura Hildebrand (who wrote Seabiscuit) undertook to write Zamperini's biography and research his claims.  The result is the New York Times Bestseller, Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Her research verified his claims.
On Christmas Day, Unbroken premiered as a movie, which unfortunately left out the most important part of his story, that of redemption.
In May 2014, the Pasadena Rose Bowl Committee decided to honor Louis Zamperini in the 2015 Rose Parade. He was invited to be the Grand Marshal. His life became the theme of the parade: Inspring Stories. 
Zamperini lived his entire life, apart from the war, in the nearby city of Torrance and loved the Rose Bowl Parade, as many of the locals do. With great anticipation he looked forward to both the premiere of the movie and being Grand Marshal of the parade.
Unfortunately, Zamperini passed away in July 2014 at the age of  97. However his memory lives on. The Rose Bowl Parade beautifully honored Zamperini's legacy today. Zamperini was poignantly remembered by his alma mater, the USC Trojans, by a riderless horse, a symbol of a fallen soldier. Zamperini's family rode in the Grand Marshal car (which was expected to be a 1936 Packard). Behind the family was a beautiful float built by Zamperini's hometown of Torrance which not only fully honored his memory with floral reproductions of his running shoes, his WWII plane,  WWII medals and a floral photographic scrapbook page of his life in the Olympics and with Billy Graham along with many other memories. Titled "A Race Well Run" it appropriately won one of the top prizes.
I've always enjoyed the Rose Bowl Parade, but this year's parade is definitely my favorite. The book was most difficult to read, yet my life was touched.  If you've not read Unbroken by Laura Hildebrand yet, I highly recommend it for your 2015 must read list! =)