Sunday, May 29, 2016

Bread Making and Baby Alpacas:Double Adventure

What does a lady do on a warm spring morning in
Southern California's foothill mountains? Why learn to
make a good healthy wheat bread of course. Doesn't everyone?
It was my youngest sister who discovered this adventure and I still don't know how she found out about it. But I'm happy she did. Any time spent in our local mountains is worth the driving time and since this place was only twenty minutes away, we decided to give ourselves a day out.

I'm not sure where she came up with the driving time, but it had to be from Crow GPS, since the distance was obviously measured in "as the crow flies" miles. Getting out of San Diego was the easy part. Head east on the freeway and then veer left at El Cajon toward the unincorporated village of Crest. Even that part wasn't too bad as the double lane road was paved and while it was a little twisty, it didn't keep me from admiring the scenery.  
For the most part the road up toward
Crest is easy going, albeit winding.

The closer to got to our destination the more twisty the road got. It still wasn't bad till the road turned to one-lane gravel. That's when the zig-zagging grew worse and likely would still have been fine except for the rapid gain in elevation. The roadway has been well maintained and to be truthful, I was glad I wasn't the one driving. I had enough to do just making sure she stayed in the middle of the narrow hairpin road. I was also thanking the Lord that it was a fine day with no rain spitting on us as had been happening as we'd left San Diego. My sister is brave and will drive in almost any weather. I'm the coward who stays home and watches from behind the curtain.
The barn houses the alpaca
fiber in assorted colors, the yarn shop,
and the dying stations.
We kept going till we hit the top of the hill where the road seemingly ended. A single land road led off to the left with a NO TRESPASSING sign clearly visible. A phone call to the house informed us to come on down and so we did. Once we took that turn I felt like we were on the downhill side of a roller coaster for other than a twist here and there, the road went almost straight down. In less than five minutes we came to a large home/business called A Simpler Time Alpacas & Mill. What had initially drawn us here was the bread making class taught by Barbara Davies, wife of Dave Davies, both of whom run their business--along with the help of as many of their eight children still left at home. 

Barbara ushered us all into her dining room, large enough to hold a long sturdy table with twelve chairs around and no crowding. I felt like I had a seat at some medieval king's table. Each of us had a cup of coffee and a giant size cinnamon roll topped with frosting unlike what my mom made and I was so intent on eating the roll that I forgot to ask what the frosting had been made of but I'm almost sure I tasted cream cheese in there somewhere. Or maybe yogurt. The Greek kind. Whatever it was, I scarfed up every crumb.

Barbara asked around the table for each one to tell their bread making experience and why we'd come to the class. A few of us had grown up with nothing but homemade bread in our lives; most had tried their hand at making the blessed loaf and failed; a few had never even tried but wanted to learn. With introductions made, she ushered us into her kitchen, so big it held not only a giant-sized island, but room all around for each of us to have a front-row seat. I mean standing place.

I figured Barbara would begin by showing us how to make bread. That isn't what happened. First she explained that because store bought flour isn't their choice for a simpler life, she buys twenty-five pound bags of raw southern white wheat and grinds it herself, making six loaves at a time. Once I understood the size of her family, and most of them guys, I knew she had to make a lot of bread at a time and most likely, more than once a week. The wheat mill was LOUD, making it almost impossible to hear any conversation. It also seemed to take quite a while to grind five cups of wheat into flour, but perhaps it only seemed like that since it was near impossible to chat with the one standing beside you with the mill going.

When Barbara deemed the work had finished, she shut down the mill, removed the large basket, and showed us all the smooth, nearly cream-colored flour. I've baked almost all of my life from sixth grade on up and this soft winter wheat did not even look like any kind of wheat flour. It was light, fluffy, and almost looked like it would be fun to play in. And if her smallest kids are in the kitchen at bread making time, I would hazard a guess that little hands dip into that flour just like my sisters and I used to do. 

From the mill, she moved to her bread making machine. Now let
Barbara's mixing machine makes enough
dough for six loaves of bread and/or rolls.
Fresh dough ready to be
made into loaves and rolls
me explain that her machine doesn't turn out a loaf of bread as most of us would think of something called a bread machine. What her very large machine does it blend it, knead it, and keeps going until Barbara deems it's finished it's job. The dough looked like what my mom used to make once a week on baking day when she turned out six loaves of bread plus assorted rolls like cinnamon, pecan, cloverleaf, parker house, and crescents. By hand. No kneading machines in those days. We sisters would smell the bread before we even got close to home. And we always knew where to find that which mom deemed an after school treat. And heaven help us if we took anything from the dining room table where she had everything else laid out on white dish towels in order to cool. When I was little there was no freezer. We had an ice box in our kitchen and I've often wondered how mom kept the bread soft for a whole week. Wished I'd remembered to ask her.

Pizza rolls made that morning
and those from the class, ready
for the oven.
Once the dough had finished kneading, Barbara oiled her wooden cutting board and dumped the whole glob onto it. I thought that was inspired. I always do what mom did and sprinkle flour over my board, which to my mind makes the dough get too crusty on the outside. Barbara's use of oil allowed the loaf to stay soft and pliable and I watched as she cut it into six even pieces. She rolled five of the cuts into a loaf and placed them into a glass bread pans she'd spritzed with some kind of cooking spray. The last piece she rolled out onto her bread board and before our eyes fashioned pizza rolls that have every Italian Pizza House beat as far as taste goes. I was in love as she handed out pizza rolls she'd made that morning. No cheese dripped off onto my blouse, no grease ran down my hands, no sauce smeared itself all over my face. But all the taste of pizza was there. It's definitely going to be my new "to go" home pizza.

We stood around the kitchen island as Barbara loaded the bread into her warming oven to let it raise. In less than fifteen minutes she was putting the bread into the oven. I was astonished at how high each loaf has risen in such a short time. Once she closed the oven door and set the timer, she announced that we were off to the shop where they keep their stash of alpaca yarn. As avid knitters, my sister and I had come to see the yarns, but we were both glad the bread was thrown in because even though we've both made bread nearly all of our adult lives, we learned some new tricks that made the class so worthwhile.

I had visions of my sister
being toppled by the wheelchair
and me being nothing but a wild
streak headed for the barn.

Because I am somewhat disabled I use a walker to get around, but my sister had accidentally packed my wheelchair instead.. She insisted she would take me to the yarn shop, even if she had to walk backward and pull me along in front of her. Once we both saw the hill I said, "no way." Even going backwards, the hill was so steep I was afraid she'd lose her balance and maybe even fall and I'd keep going, right over the top of her and down, down, down right into the mill and worse yet, head first into a vat of purple dye. All things considered, I accepted Mr. Davies offer of a ride in his van. I was impressed. I'd not asked for special treatment. They saw my problem and came up with an answer on their own. I was one appreciative lady.

The youngest baby stayed close to
mom and never came near the fence.
She sort of hid behind the feed bin.
Once we'd investigated the yarn and made our purchases, we were off to see the babies. While most of the alpaca are penned elsewhere on the Davies forty-two acres, the babies and their moms are right behind the mill. It was cuteness overload. The smallest baby stayed back from the fence, close to mom. The larger ones stuck their nose through the fence wire just enough so I could feel part of their head. Soft. I mean almost like air. I've never felt anything so cloud-like in my life. It was almost addictive sneaking a finger through the fence so I could feel that fur. Or fiber. Or whatever its proper name is. I just wanted to get into the pen with them and wrap my arms about their cute little bodies and snuggle them close. But I didn't  venture asking. I figured the answer would be no. But it sure was a temptation.

Most babies had grown near the size
of mom so it was hard to tell them
apart. It was so cute the way their
heads were sprinkled with hay. I watched
them eating and they sort of buried their
faces in their tub. Perhaps mom needs
to teach them better table manners.
I asked Barbara what was the difference between alpaca and llama. She explained that in old times, llama was the fiber of the masses while alpaca belonged to the rich and elite. The royalty. Just happens she has a whole shop full of yarn for royals. I figured that was me. And anyone who had made it down that hill. Barbara spins and dyes her own yarn and the colors and assorted weights are so lovely it had been nearly impossible to make a choice. And since each of us had been given a ten dollar gift certificate after the bread class, nobody went away empty handed.

Does anything top fresh made
bread? Yes, getting to take
a whole loaf home.
Sooner or later, each of us made it back up the hill to the house. Mr. Davies graciously drove me. Such a kind family and great hosts. Each of us received a loaf of fresh bread upon leaving and our vehicle smelled heavenly all the way home. My sister kept saying that the minute we were inside the house she was going to eat the whole loaf. Between the two of us, we almost did. She left the little bit that was left for me to finish before she drove back to her own home. She also let me keep the fresh loaf. It's in my freezer. I'm keeping it for a special day. Anyway, after gorging on nearly a whole loaf, we were both pretty much breaded out. And loving it.

This is a day out I'd recommend to everyone who wants to combine bread making and luscious yarn and adorable alpacas into one fun event. If this sounds like something you'd like to do, contact the Davies at A Simpler Time Alpacas & Mill; 1802 Alta Place; El Cajon CA 92021 or call (619) 579-9114. The fee is $10--which you recover with the gift shop certificate for the same amount. And just so you know, each class is limited to twelve. Altogether, this is in a win-win adventure. My sister and I had a great time and now my other sister and one niece want to go so it looks like we'll be back. I'm not sure they're prepared for the fun-loving Legler girls. We've never been known for our shyness.

I do suggest wearing sturdy shoes if you want to see the store and the baby alpaca. The gravel road down to it is rutted and quite steep. Tennis shoes slip. Wear shoes that won't send you sailing or flat on your behind.

Thanks to Sheila Allen, Sonia White, and A Simpler Time for the photos

copyright by Sandra L Keith May 2016

None of the photos or text may be used without permission.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


When Jim was sixteen, he decided to join the Navy, but the Navy said "no thanks, you're too young. Come back when you're eighteen." Jim said he went home in tears, only to be told by his mother that she wasn't surprised the Navy turned him down. They didn't take cry babies, she said.

Undaunted, Jim discovered that he could join at seventeen if he had parental permission, so we he turned that magic age, he and his parents went to the recruiting office and signed on the dotted line. A seven year hitch in the Navy. During the Korean War no less.

But Jim was happy and his folks were happy. Jim was stationed aboard the USS Whiteside, an attack cargo ship that traveled back and forth between Treasure Island near San Francisco and Sasebo and Yokusuka Japan, carrying supplies to be dispersed to the troops fighting in Korea--one of which was his only brother.

Jim always maintained that his folks weren't letter writers during his deployment and he hated not getting any mail, so he had a buddy take the attached picture and Jim sent it home. On the back, in big letters he wrote, "NO MAIL." He said it didn't get the desired results as his folks still didn't write. To the day he graduated to heaven, Jim maintained that everyone in the service should get mail. Lots of mail. So much mail that they never felt so alone and forgotten as he had during his four years active duty.

Since we had no one in the military to write to, Jim and I began adopting troops from Any and did so for three years, writing weekly and often mailing boxes to the men and women whose names we received. We kept it up until blacklisted us from receiving any more names and as much as we asked for a reason, they never responded.

During those years, due to Jim's determination to let our military know that someone cared about them, prayed for them daily, and considered them to be part of our family, we wrote to hundreds of troops, who shared their letters with others around them. I'll never know how many read our silly letters, dumb jokes, and crazy stories, but it doesn't matter. Every letter and email that came back from Iraq and Afghanistan brought life into Jim's eyes and a broad smile to his face. To this date I have three boot boxes filled to overflowing with just the letters we received back and each one still makes me smile, knowing that something as simple as mail from home made them happy. 

At least a dozen of those young men and women remain in touch with me. And I still remember every one of them. How can one forget adopted family who came to mean so much to us personally. It's been years since any of them have come for a visit, but it matters not. What we all remember is that Jim and I did our best to keep their mailboxes full. And in doing so we were the ones who gained a whole big family that is now spread across the nation and in several countries. 

One day, a couple of years before his passing, Jim looked at me and said he wished we'd had a lot more kids for he always liked a big family. I looked at him and smiled. "We have a huge family," I responded. He gave me a puzzled look. "Don't you recall those three huge cowboy boot boxes of letters from our adopted troops? You're the one who insisted we write them them as family members and treat them as such. They're sort of your kids."

All he did was grin.

As one young marine wrote as his deployment ended and he was headed home, "Just to think that if Jim had gotten mail, we never would have met. As much as I hate to say it, I'm glad that happened."

Friday, April 4, 2014

My True Wedding Story

I met Jim when I was sixteen and he was twenty-one and fresh out of a four-year active hitch in the Navy. Although I had grown up in Minnesota, the state had determined it needed a highway right through my parent's property. You don't get far arguing with the state. We were forced to move.

My dad had always wanted to live in California, though how he talked mom into leaving all of her family and moving there has always remained a mystery. My parents bought a home in a new development in Carlsbad--right across the street from a family called "The Keith's."

Jim during his Navy days active
duty. Photo taken shortly
before I met him.
Other than to notice that he was older and very handsome, I hadn't paid much attention to the boy across the street. Then one day he happened to back his car out of his driveway just as my middle sister and I were headed off toward the bus stop for the trip to Oceanside High School. He asked if we wanted a ride. Seemed good to me so we got in his car.

Driving to the bus stop, a short two blocks, became an everyday occurrence. On one of those days he asked if I'd like to go to Disneyland with him. What a guy! I thought that sounded like a great idea. My mom, however, disagreed. He was too old for me. He'd been in the Navy, so that meant he'd been around. Dad contended that Jim came from a good family and since my folks had gotten to know his folks, dad said I should be able to go. How he talked mom into agreeing still puzzles me.

Love? I was a high
school kid doing
typical high school
Jim and I dated six months. During that  time I turned seventeen and he turned twenty-two. He was serious; I was not. I was a high school kid who wore saddle shoes with anklets, played clarinet in the band, and had not one serious thought about marriage in my whole brain. One night Jim told me he loved me and did I love him. Taken by surprise, I stammered around and finally said, "I don't know." Typical Jim, he just looked at me and said, "If you change your mind, will you let me know?"

The longer we dated the more I realized that Jim was far different from any of the others I'd ever dated. He was always the perfect gentleman, a snappy dresser, exceedingly kind and considerate. His sense of humor often sent me into gales of laughter. One day it dawned on me that I had become serious too.

Jim asked my parents permission to marry. You can just about guess how that
We received many nice things at our
engagement party but what I
remember most is that Jim got a
bat and I got a rolling pin.
went over. I had a year of high school left; I was too young; I didn't know what love was. My folks voiced all of their objections. "Absolutely not," they said. Not for at least a year-." They did, however, agree to an engagement party, which I considered a great idea.

I continued to request permission to marry and always received the same answer. "No. Not until after graduation." So we eloped. Twice. One Sunday we drove to Yuma, Arizona and found a wedding chapel. But the minister wanted blood tests. Oh boy, we hadn't known that. We went back to Carlsbad and in a few days, we had our blood tests. Two weeks later, we eloped again.

Staying with Jim's sister in Navy housing
It was easier than it sounds. By now my parents had gone back to Minnesota to finish up business with the State and an aunt and uncle were staying with us. Before my parents had taken off, they'd found out that Jim was planning a trip east to see his sister in Norfolk, VA. Being ever thrifty, my parents asked Jim to bring the three of us girls as far as Minnesota and drop us off. We wouldn't be missing any school since we were on Easter vacation.

We three sisters, taken only weeks before
Jim and I eloped.
The first day out I told my sisters that Jim and I had gotten married. They spewed forth all of their wisdom. "Mom and dad are gonna' be mad," the said. "You're in big trouble," they said. I listened to it all and replied "I know it."

Wedding reception in
Minnesota. I still have
many of the things we
received that day.
I won't say what my parents said when Jim informed them we were married. You can likely imagine it for yourself. Mom wanted to annul us; dad said "No--what's done is done." One of my cousins persuaded my folks to give us a reception. Good thing. We had absolutely nothing to our names except our clothes. Oh yeah, and a navy sea bag to keep them in.

When we'd been married fifteen years, Jim decided we
Waiting to be seated for dinner.
should have the honeymoon we'd never really had and told
me to pack a suitcase for a long weekend, refusing to tell me where we were going. He spirited me off to Santa Barbara. We walked on the pier, ate dinner at a fancy restaurant, saw a show, visited the mission, played on the beach. The kids were home with grandparents. A neighbor was feeding the cat. I don't know where my sisters were, but they sure weren't with us.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Mug Cake--Instant Gratification

Do you ever have a time when you're just plain relaxing, maybe knitting or reading or watching television and without warning, the munchies attack?  Especially the sweet munchies? In my house, that thought entails a hopeful trip into the kitchen. I open the frig to see if there's anything sweet in there. Nope. I open the double doors to the pantry and scout out the offerings. Nothing appealing. If that craving also includes chocolate, which is so often the case for me, I'm double stumped. And no--I don't want to get into the car and go to the grocery store. So I pick my knitting back up and try to take my mind off of my sweet-tooth. It doesn't always work.

As luck would have it, a friend told me about this instant mug cake that was beyond good and so easy to make. I doubted it could satisfy a chocolate longing, but how would I know unless I gave it a try.

So it was that the very day I did my grocery shopping and picked up the ingredients for the mug cake, that I came home and got out a big bowl and a wire whisk. I dumped the entire contents
of an angel food cake mix into the bowl. Right on top, I dumped the box of chocolate fudge cake mix. Then I sat myself down and gently wire whisked the two mixes until they became one. I'd say about 2-3 minutes to get everything mixed well.

Now comes the fun part.

I put 3 Tablespoons of that mix into a coffee mug and added 2 Tablespoons of cold water. I grabbed a fork and mixed it well. It turned sort of foamy, like it has soap in it, but of course it was just the egg whites bubbling up.

I set it in the microwave for 45 seconds. 
The recipe calls for 1 minute, but my new micro is so powerful I've had to cut the time on everything or I end up with burnt offerings.

When the micro beeped, I removed the mug. Sure enough. There was a cute little cake sitting in the bottom. I ran a knife around the edge and moved it into a custard cup. It came out easy and clean. I thought it seemed a bit plain looking so I took some frozen non-dairy topping from the freezer and scooped out a Tablespoon full and pretended it was ice cream. Then my tummy was happy. I think yours will be too. The rest of the mix went into a plastic zip lock for the next time I get "the craving."

Additional info:

You can use any kind of regular cake mix you want; I just chose chocolate. Mom used to make chocolate angel food cake back in the day before cake mixes ever graced the grocery shelves. This cake reminded me of that. She generally frosted that cake with chocolate mousse, but I had no desire to get that fancy. I liked my pretend ice cream, but you could easily use the real thing--or just pour chocolate syrup over the top. Or caramel. Or anything that sounds good to you.

This is so simply to make that your older grade school kids could whip up a mug cake after school. Just be warned that they might eat more than one. Or two.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why I Hate Picnics

As a kid I loved picnics. It was a chance
to run free and no worries about getting
dirty because in this one instance, it was
alright with mom.

My family loved picnics. At least that's what I grew up thinking because we had so many of them. Sometimes it was just our little family headed off to Carlton Lake or Nearstrand Woods, both within spitting distance of the rural Minnesota community where I grew up. Many times it was a combined family function, what with mom's three sisters and all their offspring--plus gram and gramps--crowded around the many tables set on the grassy lawn just outside the back door of Aunt Aimee's big white farmhouse. There were other times, too, when my folks took we three girls off to visit a distant relative and rather than eating at a restaurant along the way, we'd stop at a park and mom pulled all manner of good things to eat out of our car's trunk.

Our small Methodist church had a lot
of picnics, usually right after church. I thought
nothing of picnicking in my Sunday clothes. I'm the
tallest of the two kids.
Picnics were fun. They were filled with the sights of sounds of nature. They often included our abundant cousins who were like brothers and sisters to us because we saw one another so often. The picnics were casual and easy because all we three girls had to do was sit on the proffered chair, bench, or blanket, eat ourselves into oblivion and then play tag or go for a swim or anything else we could think to do before it was time to pack up and head home.

Hubby is reclining on the grass; all
others are either immediate family or
And then I grew up. And got married. And it didn't help that my husband came from the biggest picnicking family I've ever known. Every single weekend, off to a local park, sit on the grass, converse with extended family, and do the same things everyone does at a picnic--gab and eat.

It was during those first married years that the awful truth hit me. Someone had to do all the planning, the cooking, then pack the food as well as dishes, utensils, blanket, napkins, drinks, and make sure there was ice for the cooler. That someone was always me. I was in my early twenties when I realized that picnics were fun only for kids and men--because they had to do nothing but eat and laze around a horseshoe pit or the playground while all the ladies scraped leftovers into a garbage bag, repacked the dishes, now dirty, and hauled all of that, plus the leftovers, home so they could be either washed or put away.

Odd that I despise picnics yet
absolutely adore camping. To me
they are not on the same plane.

I had grown to hate picnics. Before I'd been married many years, I'd flatly refused to go on them. I didn't mind the family getting together in a park or the beach or even some lovely wooded area,  just as long as food wasn't involved. And even though my much-loved hubby still thought picnics were great fun, I readily agreed to attend them only as long as he did every bit of shopping, prepping, cooking, cleaning up, etc. Do I have to tell you that family picnics quickly disappeared from our life?

I thought that was a good thing. I still do.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Wearin O The Green

When I was in the 6th grade, I dyed my hair green. Now try to envision a small grade school in rural Minnesota where each class consisted of so few kids that we could actually get around to talking to everyone in our class during the lunch hour. So it was that a few days before St. Patrick's Day, we girls decided it would be fun to have green hair. That way, if there was nothing else green on our bodies, at least we wouldn't get pinched.

Now I don't know where that "pinching" if you didn't wear green began, but the kids in my class took it seriously and were only too glad to carry out the "rules." Not only that, but I got pinched hard--by nearly everyone who remembered to wear green. Funny thing was, we were a mix of Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans. We were ignorant where Irish rules came into play. And while many did remember to wear green, I was never one of them.

Thus it was that the night before the "pinching" day, I got the bottle of food color out of the kitchen cupboard and set about dying my blond locks green. I wasn't sure how much to use but I'd seen mom add just a drop or two to the things she cooked up, so I figured if I wanted to color a whole head of hair, I'd need quite a bit. So it was that I filled my hand with shampoo and then drizzled the green color all over it. The other girls in the class had informed me that it would wash right out so I wasn't concerned about using too much. They'd also informed me it wouldn't actually turn green, just sort of green. I  can now dispose of that lie. When you are blond, your hair turns vivid green. Worse yet, it stays green for weeks and weeks. Suffice it to say, I never did it again.

But that wasn't the worse part of the story. The next day I went to school expecting to see a whole lot of green hair amongst my classroom friends. Not so. There were only four of us with green hair. The other girls had mistakenly asked their mother's permission and been refused. Considering that I believed it would wash right out, I didn't ask permission. I just did it. To this day I'm still amazed that my parents didn't restrict me to the house. I guess they thought letting me go to school looking like something out of a horror movie would be a good lesson.

It was.

Now try to envision a natural blond with stick-straight, thick hair. That was me. And after the dye job it was still stick-straight, still thick, and stuck out all over the place--sort of like a spiky green halo around my face. Except that nothing about it looked angelic. I walked to school knowing the rest of the girls would look just like me so I figured I'd have company in the wearin 'o the green department and even better, this would be the year I wouldn't get pinched. Not once. I will admit that we got attention. Our teacher questioned us and then sent us to the Principal's Office. But we didn't get kicked out of school. I guess green hair wasn't a big enough offense.

I washed my hair four times that night. Still green. I continued washing my thick mop every night, multiple times. Still green. Oh, the deep color did fade, but it didn't go away. Not for a long time. That food coloring dye is powerful stuff. More powerful than the genuine hair dye I used later in my life. If they made food color in natural blond, I would have used it because it lasted almost forever--far longer than the "real" hair dye stuff.

After two weeks of green hair, mom finally took pity on me and sent me to the beauty shop. The operator looked at my hair and asked what happened. She laughed when I relayed my story. Because my hair was so thick, she had to thin it first, then cut it into a really short bob. That took care of most of the leftover green. The rest slowly faded away, but it took a long time.

Now that I think about it, I ought to drop the food color people a note, telling them how long lasting their colors are. Especially the green. But then I'd have to tell them how I know and it's not a story I feel like telling again.

So this month I'm wishing you an early Happy St. Patrick's Day-- from someone who isn't the slightest bit Irish but wants to make sure there's no "pinching" on March 17th.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Just Like Grammy Netted Me A "D"

My maternal grandparents
and itty bitty me.
I grew up with a family who sewed all our clothes. Or at least close to it. I don't remember a time when grammy didn't have something she'd made for me in a birthday box or Christmas present. As a kid, I didn't much appreciate clothing. No kid does. It's just that "grown ups" seem to forget that when they become parents.

Mom wasn't given to
hysterics--except for
when she sewed.
To give my mom and grandma credit, it was the time of WWII and with clothing near impossible to purchase, the family sewed our clothes. Even my aunts got into the game. The reason was that my mom HATED sewing. Oh, she did it, but I vividly recall the day she was sewing my middle sister and me a cute little yellow sundress. I was standing beside her, watching her create with cloth when to my utter amazement, that yellow dress went flying across the room and landed in a corner. About the same time as I saw it airborne, my ears heard mom say, "Oh, just forget it." The dress stayed in the corner till the next day.

This may be the exact pattern
mom used as the yellow dress
looks just like the one I recall.
Then one day mom surprised us with those cute dresses. I was more than surprised. I questioned when she had finished them because to my knowledge, I'd not seen her working on them since the "flying" day. "Aunt Aimee did them," she said. "She sews better than I do." I knew not to ask any more questions. Mom was well aware that I had witnessed her frustration with sewing. Actually, small as I was, I figured I'd never see that dress again.

Suffice it to say that it wasn't my mom who taught me to sew. Neither was it grammy or one of my mom's three sisters. My first venture into the craft came about in high school. In those days, ninth grade students were automatically cycled into sewing for one semester and cooking for another. By the time I was that age, I'd learned to cook, set a proper table, use a napkin, and I even knew what a salt cellar was and where to set them on the table. Mom loved entertaining. Thus, I learned at her feet.

Ninth grade Home Ec--mandatory sewing
The sewing knowledge began with a simple dirndl skirt. We girls were told to go out and buy a yard of our favorite cotton and show up the next day with the fabric, scissors, pins, and thread. Mom took me shopping and by the next day, I was ready to create my first sewn masterpiece. I had chosen a lovely polished cotton that I thought was the prettiest fabric I'd ever seen and nothing like any skirt I'd ever had before. I envisioned myself dancing through the halls in my silky-looking skirt. Surely every girl who saw it would be jealous. At least that's what I told myself.

Yep, we used those old black Singer
sewing machines.
We were all instructed to make up our own pattern, something I thought was ridiculous. We had to measure how tall we were, how big our waist was and how far below our knees the dress was to hang. Considering math and I had never been friends, I had to garner the teacher's help. I was thankful that I wasn't the only one. Once I had my instructions, I cut the fabric, allowing enough leftover for a one-inch wide finished waistband. I have to confess that it was easy to sew the side seam together, since the skirt was cut of a single width of fabric. Hey, I was on a roll.

You sew in two parallel rows so that if
one thread breaks, the other will still
gather the fabric. Unless, of course,
you break both threads.
Then came the gathering process. I carefully ran two rows of basting along the top of my skirt and then proceeded to gather the thread into a tiny circle which I figured out later would only have fit my little sister's favorite doll. Each class member turned their skirt in so the teacher could evaluate them. It was a daily occurrence. We'd sew, leave our project behind, and head out to our next class. I thought I was doing incredibly well, considering that with all the sewers in our family, I'd never had a single lesson.

Of course you've guessed what happened the next day. The teacher called me up to her desk and questioned if I'd decided to make the skirt for someone else when I had been told it must be for me. When I answered "no" she asked me how I expected to fit into it. She held the skirt up for me to figure it out for myself. How embarrassed I was to note that there was no way on earth that skirt would fit anything except one of my legs. I went back to my machine and began loosening the gathers. But I got too rambunctious and broke the thread. Both of them. That was the day I learned not to be so vicious when undoing a sewing project, especially if it involved threads the width of an eyelash.

A half-sewn waistband, ready to be
turned to the inside and hand-
stitched down.
I eventually got that skirt gathered to an inch larger than my waist size, which put me a day behind the rest of the class. So while everyone else was learning how to sew on the waistband, I was busy practicing yesterday's lesson. By the end of class, I managed to get the waistband partly sewn on. Teacher told me to take it home and finish it and to bring it back ready to wear. Hooks and eyes and all. I was happy. I KNEW how the waistband should be sewn down, and considering we had to do it by hand, I REALLY knew what it should look like because I'd worn grammy's offerings for years. Yet just to be sure, I browsed my closet and inspected the skirt's gram had made for me. That was all the confirmation I needed.

That evening I sat at the machine, hand stitching the inside of the waistband to the skirt. Then on to putting in the hem. Piece of cake. I knew what that should look like too. I was so happy when I walked into class the next day and presented my finished project to be graded. Now please note that I had never liked gathered skirts. And it would never have been my choice. Why, you ask?  Every high school girl I've ever known always wished to appear thinner than she was and toward that end, nobody wore gathered skirts. None of us wanted all that poofiness around our middle.

On the outside, my
skirt looked perfect.
 I walked into class the next day smiling confidently and, like the others in the class, handed in my project. A few days later, we all got our skirt back, along with the grade we'd received. But where was MY skirt? I figured maybe the teacher thought I'd done so well she was going to hold it up as an example of perfect so all the girls could see what a fantastic job I'd done.

I was a bit surprised when the teacher called me up to her desk. I still figured she was going to compliment me on my offering. I stood beside her chair as she brought my skirt out of hiding. "Sandra," she began, "I'm going to have to give you a D on this skirt and I really don't want to because I see how you've tried so hard to follow directions.

I guess I must have look puzzled because she continued, "Do you see this sewing on the inside of the waistband? And do you see the stitching around the hem?" I shook my head yes. "Will you tell my why you did such sloppy work when you've been so careful with all the rest?"

I was stunned that she didn't know what professional sewing should look like. So I explained. "But my grandma has made clothes for me all these years and for my sisters and all my cousins and that's how she always does the waistband and the hem. I wanted my skirt to look just like grandma made it."

Looking back, I realize how kind that teacher was. She looked at me with such soft eyes and talked real low so nobody else could hear. "Well, Sandra, that might be how your grandma sews but for this class, the school  has rules I have to follow in teaching, so would you please take all your stitching out and make it neat and tidy so I can give you a better grade? Afterwards, you can put it back like your grandma's if you want to.

I did as she suggested and ended up with a B in the class but only because I think she took pity on me.  The fact that I adored my grandma and wished to be just like her and copy everything she did must have touched some secret place in my teacher's heart. I've often wished I remembered her name so I could have thanked her for her utmost kindness toward me that day.

And by the way, I never did take the neat sewing out and put it back like grandma's. Teenager that I was, I was smart enough to figure out that maybe, just this one time, grammy was wrong.