It is the small simple things of life that bring us peace.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday 12.17.2014

Don't you love the smiles on these faces? What a happy group!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Another learning lesson

The fifth grader never ceases to amaze me!  When I picked him up this afternoon for our usual Friday night "Gammy-Night" he was working on a little project that involved a shoe box, popsicle sticks, glue, moss, stones, and other assorted things.  We had this conversation:

ME:  What is this? Is it a school project?
J:       It's a Hooverville.
ME:  A what? (I knew what a Hooverville is, but was stunned at this point)
J:       A Hooverville.  Have you ever heard of a president named Herbert Hoover?
ME:   Yes
J:       Well, a lot of people had to live in little communities called Hooverville's while he was president because of the Great Depression. People didn't have much money because there were no jobs. I'm reading a book about this and doing this project.

I'm stunned at this point, really I am.  But what surprised me was the conversation that we launched into.  I asked him about the Great Depression; he knew a lot.  I reminded him about our visit to Mission San Jose(remember Learning a little history) and the fact that the Mission was almost gone and we had discussed the New Deal that created the jobs for the men who worked on rebuilding the walls and the buildings.  We had camped at Bastrop State Park one time and I shared with him that it had been built as part of a program to create jobs so people could work again. And, I shared that the River Walk that we love so much was a part of that program.

As we got in the car I told him about my parents and how frugal they were all their lives because they were children during the Depression.  Really, he asked.  Your parents were children then? So I told him a few stories and as we talked I realized that from his studies and his reading he knew how poor everyone was and how hard life was during that time.  We also talked about the lecture I attended at the Quilt Festival about Making Do, Surviving the Great Depression and how my parents never threw anything away that might possibly be reusable.

Tonight I've pulled up some pictures of Hooverville dwellings and showed him so he would have a better understanding of what he is replicating in his project.  However, I was well pleased that he has such a realistic understanding of that time in history.  I was also pleased that his teacher is covering a subject that is sometimes overlooked or under studied.  And, I'm glad that I can share my love of history and historic buildings with him.  Perhaps someday he, too, will share his love of the past with someone.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday 12.10.2014

(German Christmas pyramid)
Fredericksburg, Texas

Saturday, December 6, 2014

More tamales

After my recent post on tamales and the comments (thank you, dear ladies) I felt I needed to say a few more words about tamales.  I live in the Tex-Mex capital of the world, or at least I think so, where tamales are made with masa and usually either a pork or beef filling.  They are wrapped in corn shucks that are folded under and then steamed.  Each family (or commercial shop) has their own recipe for seasoning the meat and, as I mentioned before, it is common for the women of the family to gather in December to make many dozens of tamales.  Usually the oldest woman will season the meat mixture.

Many civilizations and cultures have had a form of the tamale that was a part of their diet.  There are many documented variations and names, but always it was some form of dough wrapped around a filling made with locally available ingredients .  Several sources I looked at stated that the tamale was easily portable making it an ideal food for traveling or when there was a need for a portable food source (such as working in a far field).

I grew up eating what my parents referred to as "hot tamales".  We were military with strong ties to Mississippi and for the early part of my life still clung to that great Southern food and hot tamales were occasionally part of our meal plan.  However, I have to note that we did not have access to restaurants or tamale stores.  Our hot tamales came out of....a can.  Yes, we ate canned tamales as we moved around this earth and this picky little eater loved them.  I know I was fascinated with the paper wrappers and the red sauce that came with the little tamales, but I also liked the way they tasted!  I never even thought it odd to be eating tamales out of a can, it was just the way it was.

My family was introduced to Mexican food while we lived in Southern California, and continued to expand our Mexican fare after we moved back to San Antonio.  Even so, we still ate hot tamales out of a can.  I wouldn't taste a real, fresh tamale until a club had a tamale sale after school when I was in high school.  They were warm and delicious and I was a tamale addict!

So how was it that my parents were familiar with hot tamales?  Well, they are common in Mississippi and only recently did I discover this. Greenville bills itself as "The Hot Tamale Capital of the World" and offers a hot tamale festival. Hot tamales are as common as fried chicken and gravy! Usually they are made and sold by individual vendors who often make them in their own kitchens and then sell them from a cart or small building (we refer to them as shacks, but that sounds crude to the unaccustomed ear so just think of them as small buildings). 

The recipes are as varied in the Delta as they are in the Southwest; everyone has their own formula. The difference is that the hot tamales are made with corn meal and are simmered.  Ok, so what is the difference between masa and corn meal?  Masa is a Spanish word for dough and its full title is masa harina or dough flour, in case you are wondering.  It is a finely ground flour-type product. From what I could find both masa and cornmeal are products of maize that has been processed into hominy, but are processed and then ground very differently.  The end result is that they are very different and produce a very different product.

I found several theories as to how tamales came to the Delta.  Most attribute their introduction to the Hispanic migrant farm workers who taught the African-American workers how to make them.  Another theory is that the many men who went to Mexico to fight in the Mexican American War brought the recipes and technique back to their homes and adapted them to use cornmeal.  At any rate another version of the tamale appeared and thrives today.  One final item to share:  in Spanish the singular form is tamal, plural is tamales.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Sadly, I have no nandina berries this year.  Not a one. So I have to enjoy the pictures from last year.  This one was made late in January as the berries were beginning to fade.
Happy Thanksgiving!  I have much to be thankful for this year, I am blessed.  I find myself being thankful for many things and have realized this week that I don't think I truly realize some of the things in my life that I should appreciate and recognize as blessings.  There are just so many things to give thanks for this Thanksgiving.

One of the things I give thanks for is the gift of writing and these blogs.  The writing has always been there, it just didn't really come to a realization until I had the idea that evening when I saw the tiny mum under the dead leaves that I needed to start writing a blog to capture my thoughts.  Indeed, writing these blogs has fulfilled a creative need in me.  Sometimes the words just seem to flow from my fingers, straight from my thoughts and into words.  Thank you for reading, dear readers, I am thankful for each of you.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I have no shame...

Really, I'm not ashamed that by myself I have eaten a dozen tamales today.   Yes, the whole dozen!  And, they were good!
Tamales are available in San Antonio year round, in restaurants, grocery stores, and tamale stores.  But at Christmas is when they become a hot commodity.  Everyone wants tamales! Eating tamales on Christmas Eve is a tradition for many families, and became a tradition that we followed for many years.  We've also had them on Christmas day.  I've had co-workers stand in line for an hour, early in the morning, to pick up fresh, hot tamales to bring back to the office for our breakfast (yes, we eat them for breakfast!).

Many Hispanic families will gather to make tamales, dozens and dozens, that they will eat during the Christmas season.  It is an art to hand make tamales.  The seasonings have to be just right, the masa has to be made just right and then rolled to the right consistency before filling and wrapping with the corn shuck. Many of the little tamale shops also make theirs by hand and the workers are very skilled and quickly assemble perfect tamales.

They come in different flavors.  Beef,  pork, chicken, turkey, beans, spicy with jalapenos, or sweet with raisins.  When I passed a lady in the grocery store giving samples of warm beef tamales today I was hungry.  As I put the dozen hot tamales in my basket I told her that hopefully I would make it to my car before I started eating them!

I ate the first dozen plain, snack style.  But they are good smothered in chili and topped with queso and salsa. Rice and beans are optional as the tamales are all you need.  I ate 6 for lunch and then opted to forgo the leftovers and eat the other 6 with a little shredded cheese and salsa for my supper.  I have no shame; they were good and I'll do it again soon!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday 11.19.2014

I saw this quilt just as I was preparing to leave the quilt festival.  After I read the caption I was captivated and now wish I had gone back to see how much the purchase price was!  (I made these pictures with the less-than-desirable cell phone because I was too lazy to pull out a real camera). I'm not part of the sandwich generation, but I can still relate to the frantic mode this quilt portrays. is just downright cray-zee!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday 11.12.2014

The re-located and restored train depot in Tomball, Texas.  All Aboard!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Making Do...Surviving the Great Depression

I've found that one of the best values at the International Quilt Festival are the lectures.  They only last an hour, cost $8 (you can pay at the door), and are led by well-known quilters and experts in their fields.  I usually learn just as much in that hour as I would in a half or whole day class. 

Saturday morning I attended a lecture titled Making Do...Surviving the Great Depression.  By the title you can probably figure out why I choose this lecture! It was taught by Kathy Kansier who is a teacher, quilt judge and a certified quilt appraiser with many accomplishments in each field. Her lecture offered an excellent glimpse into life during the depression as well as the years before and after.

The lecture started with a simple, easy to understand explanation of the economic and political factors that led to the nation slipping into what we now refer to as the Great Depression.  She discussed the three presidents who served in the 1920's, 30's and 40's (Coolidge, Hoover, and FDR)and their different attitudes toward government involvement in the economy.  She also explained that there was a unequal distribution of wealth during the 1920's that had led to lavish lifestyles for the rich (remember how Gatsby lived?); the poor had little opportunity to ever achieve that American Dream. Banks were lending money that they did not really have at an incredible pace. Investors were buying stocks on margin while consumers bought everything on credit.  It was a bubble that had to burst.

She showed many pictures that I had never seen.  A small bank, boarded up and abandoned reminded me of the story my great-aunt would entertain me with about the day the banks all closed and she and my great-uncle had $14 between them.  Fourteen dollars was a lot of money for that time, but to loose everything and that was all you had was a scary idea, still is today! 

There were pictures of soup lines where grimy looking men were standing to get a cup of soup and piece of bread. Hoovervilles where more grimy, grim looking people lived in cardboard shelters with sheets and anything they could find to make do.  The pictures told the story of their desperation to survive.  I remembered many of the family stories I've heard about how hard times were and how poor my grandparents were.  I also remembered with irritation a college instructor who many years ago had told my history class that his parents had told him that the depression wasn't really as bas as it was portrayed to be.  I seethed through that class and still hissed a little at him as I saw the pictures in the lecture!

More pictures showed the heartbreak of farmers when the Dust Bowl drought hit.  One that was particularly poignant was of a field that had been plowed and planted and the crop had sprouted, but had dried up quickly.  The farmer was squatting in the field with a hand on the ground, heartbreak on his face as he accepted the fact there would be no crop that year.

The next set of pictures answered the question, what did people do to entertain themselves during the depression?  They went to church, movies, and dances.  They played cards in their homes and they had quilting bees!  The popular music of the time reflected the daily hardships and struggles; the most popular song of 1932 was "Brother, can you spare a dime?".  And yes, she did discuss in simple format the role of the New Deal programs in getting people employed.

The next part of the lecture discussed the different fabrics and patterns of quilts during the years of the 1920's, 30's and 40's.  She showed pictures of the quilts that came out of the depression.  One of Sunbonnet Sue reminded me of the quilt that my great-grandmother made for my aunt; she made one of appliqued butterflies for my father that I treasure today.  Both were made in the late 1930's right in the midst of the depression.

I smiled when she showed clippings from the newspaper for quilt patterns.  I remember my mother and grandmother clipping those ads for patterns for dresses, crocheted items and quilt patterns.  I, too, clipped a few as a teenager and young woman.  Quilting had become intensely popular during the depression, partly out of necessity for bed covers, but also as an affordable hobby.  Patterns were shared among friends, bags of scraps and old clothes were put to use, and it gave women a reason to create. The Chicago World's Fair offered a quilt contest in 1933; 25,000 quilts were entered.

The lecture concluded with a section on the theme that was so common in the depression, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without!". Several slides showed little booklets that encouraged women to go through their closet and mend and re-do their existing clothes.  Simple, frugal advice to me. I remembered that one of the WPA programs here in San Antonio (and probably elsewhere) focused on showing people how to make furniture and other household items from discarded items.  There were also sewing rooms that put women to work making clothes that were distributed to qualified recipients.  Another program that I've seen pictures of locally put men to work repairing school desks and other furniture. 

Would we repair school desks or re-cycle old barrels today?  Could America survive a Great Depression?  Could we make do or do without?  I've thought about that a lot since I went to this lecture.  I wish kids and young adults today could hear this lecture and learn from it.  At the least, I wish they could have heard the stories that I grew up with and have those images in their minds.  My parents were very frugal.  We had a nice house and a nice car, but we did not have a lavish lifestyle either.  My mother made my clothes, she was a perfectionist with her sewing and they were beautiful.  My father mowed our lawn and changed the oil in our cars.  I often thought they were cheap and somewhat stingy and they were to a certain extent.  But they also grew up in the depression and they knew a lifestyle that involved "using it up and making do". Could we do that today?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Crazy Christmas Purse

I only signed up to take 2 half day classes this year.  I've found that I just loose my momentum after the lunch break with the all day classes.  Plus I always get frustrated because you are working in a small space and there are always the speedy gals who are already running their machines wide open while I'm just getting everything sorted out and that frustrates me.  The half day classes are perfect unless they dim the lights and try to do a Power Point presentation and then I go to sleep.  Boo!

Today's class was perfect, although after I started the project I thought it would be boring.  We made these little bags in the style of a crazy quilt, something I've admired but never thought to do.  It was fun, especially because most of it was done with glue!  Yeah, glue!  I exercised a little creativity with the project and it was fun to watch it emerge.  I still need to sew on the handle on one side and then it is ready to go.  I see some more future crazy quilt projects.  What a great way to use up all those scraps of fabric and trims that I just can't seem to make myself throw away.  It would also be easy to embellish with a few beads and embroidery stitches.
Here's a detail of some of the red quilts on display.

Lana, I appreciate your comment as there are a lot of times I just want to close my eyes and find myself where I need to be!  Houston's traffic can be wild, but I've found that my main problem is just not knowing where I'm going and what lane to be in at the right time! Although my sister has lived here since 1991 (her hubby is a local guy and knows where everything is) and I've been coming to the Festival for a number of years this is the first year I've felt comfortable with the driving.  I think part of my confidence has come from driving in San Antonio during the past few years - we have the worst traffic in the universe and I've learned to deal with it! Traffic - UGH!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Houston, I have landed.

It's here, it's here!  The one event I dream of all year - the International Quilt Festival - and once again, by the grace of God, I'm here! Woo-hoo!
This year the Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary - its Ruby Anniversary.  There are red and white quilts everywhere.  Although I never really cared for the plain red and white quilts by themselves, I am charmed by the collection together!  I love red (and most other colors, too) and it is giving a startling effect to the Festival this year.

One of my favorite thing to do while here is get downtown early, get a cup of coffee and go to one of the second floor patios of the convention center.  I have watched the skyline of Houston change over the years that I've been coming to the Festival.  I've watched buildings go up as well as the implementation of the Discovery Green just across the street.  The trees in the green are now well grown and provide cool shade and greenery to the downtown landscape. 
Hurricane Ike went through just weeks before the Festival in 2008, but the show would go on.  I remember sitting on the patio marveling at the broken windows and damaged buildings where work was already quickly underway to make repairs.  I've watched new hotels and condominiums be built.  This year a new Marriott is going up where years ago I remember older homes, maybe from the late 1800's, that were gently worn yet still elegant.  Now they are gone and newness continues.
Many years ago I worked just down the street for a week; I stayed in the hotel on the left.  Even then I was fascinated with downtown Houston; it continues today.  This morning while enjoying the morning realized what an old citySan Antonio is - the Europeans came in 1690 and the missions were established in the early 1700's.  We are a city of adobe buildings and many cultures.  Houston was formed in 1836, but today it is the city of newness, of oil and glass towers.  I love them both.
I always want to walk down toward Minute Maid Park and check out this church surrounded by a modern building.  It reminds me of St. Joseph's church in San Antonio that is surrounded by River Center Mall.  I think my feet will be too tired again this trip, but I'm thinking that maybe just a weekend trip when there is no Festival to keep me distracted from exploring would be most rewarding.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Musings 10.27.2014

Scary Fellow!
Jaydon carved this Jack-O-Lantern on Saturday morning for use in Sunday afternoon's Harvest Festival at church.  He did it entirely on his own - the only thing I did was spread out the newspapers on the table and give him a trash bag.  He's done this every year and looks forward to it.  Good job!

Now for the musings. Some time ago I had the realization that I could either have
1) a beautifully decorated, immaculately clean, perfectly organized home,
2) a beautiful, well-landscaped yard that is perfectly maintained, or
3) I could pursue interests such as making quilts, knitting and other needlework, reading, writing, researching places and then travelling to them, grooming and training my dogs, preparing food for friends who are sick or bereaved, taking friends who need a bit of cheering to lunch, and other activities that bring me pleasure and are worthwhile endeavors.

But I cannot have all three.  I cannot have two; neither can I successfully balance all three.  Even though I know this fact I still attempt to try to balance the three because I cannot choose which one to pursue.  It will not work; I cannot have them all.  I know this to be a fact.

I had a Halloween wall hanging that I started early in the fall that I wanted to use for the Harvest Festival.  I managed to make myself work on it every night when I was home.  Each day I set a goal to piece a certain part, quilt a certain part, to get x amount done that night; I had reasonable goals and I met them.  Did I finish the wall hanging?  Almost, I basted the binding (no one ever knew) and I also plan to re-do some of the embellishments before next year. 

I was successful with this project by focusing on it to get it done.  I think this approach works good sometimes; however, the trade off is that I now have a nice layer of dust on the furniture (no, I can't blame not dusting on the weekend trip to see my sister), there are animal fur samples in corners and on the back of the sofa, and the yard looks just about like it did before the sewing project fired up.  Books are still stacked up, waiting to be read.  Pictures and notes await creation into blog posts.  I have only sporadically walked the dogs (and myself). I have managed to keep groceries stocked and feed myself.  Basically, life will go on.  But the musings of this blog post will end because I think, dear readers, you know what I'm saying - you can't have it all!