Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of Good Friends and Dishcloths

Life sometimes offers us opportunities to rejoice, as in the case of my online quilting friend, Sarah Lynn, who just completed a lovely masterpiece quilt that was appraised at $9,000.00!   Well, perhaps her opportunity to rejoice wasn’t entirely due to life, but to thousands of hours of her painstaking labor.  Sarah Lynn and I have a connection… my best friend from high school (and that’s a LONG time ago) was her English teacher in her own high school days (not QUITE so long ago).  She lives in Nebraska, where I went to high school… once upon a time in olden days!  It was fun to “meet” Sarah Lynn online and discover our connection to Miss Owens, who is no longer Miss Owens.  She got married quite some time ago.  Here is a link to view her Graceful Garden quilt.  She also does long-arm quilting and custom sewing.
At other times, life seems ready and all too willing to knock the wind out of our sails.  Most days, I have my rose-colored glasses firmly in place, but sometimes it’s hard to remember I’m wearing them, as things don’t look entirely rosy.  My oldest daughter tells me to quit whining when I have those days, but it isn’t easy to stop whining, when I’m lying face down in the dirt, figuratively speaking.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I was sitting in the office of my eye doctor, waiting to hear my name called, and I looked around the waiting room and noticed all of us were women, and all of us had canes or walkers.  I mentioned that fact out loud, and one woman sitting near me began a conversation. 

She said:  I would rather use a cane and be safe than lose my balance and fall flat on my face.
I said:  Me, too. 
She said:  My daughter drives me to my appointments now.
I said:  I just arranged for a driving service.  My children all work.
She said:  My daughter works, too, but we arrange my appointments around her schedule so she can drive me. (Said with a smug, self-satisfied look)
I said:  That’s nice.  My daughter used to drive me, but she has 3 teenaged children besides her job.
She said:  Don’t you have any friends?  (With a pitying look sent in my direction)
I said:  I have one friend, but her husband has cancer and she has her plate full right now.

And that’s when I started dipping into my very own pity pot!  I don’t have friends here that I feel close enough to that I would ask them for rides, which is why I hired a driving service.  When I lived in Minnesota, I had no children nearby, but I had a lot of friends, and we took care of driving each other to appointments, when necessary.  We loved each other, supported each other, and shared bits and pieces of our lives, along with recipes and patterns.  We went out to eat together.  We worked on projects together.  We laughed together and sometimes we wept together.  It takes many years to build those kinds of friendships.  I miss my friends!  Rather than begin to weep when I thought about how alone I was feeling, I pulled out my knitting and began to do some mindless knitting on a diagonal knit dishcloth. 

This is a great pattern to work on while watching television or when you don’t have the opportunity to do something that requires greater concentration.  It is known as “Grandma’s diagonal dish cloth”, and since I am a Grandma and I knit, here is my version.
Grandma’s Diagonal Dish Cloth:
Supplies needed:  Worsted-weight cotton yarn and size 8 needles (I prefer a circular needle)
Cast on 3 stitches.
Row 1:  Knit 3 stitches
Row 2: Knit 2 stitches, yarn over, knit remaining stitch.
Row 3:  Knit 2 stitches, yarn over, knit to end of row.
Rows 4 – 44:  Repeat row 3.
Row 45: Knit one stitch, Knit 2 stitches together, yarn over, knit 2 stitches together, knit to end of row.
Repeat  that row, decreasing 2 stitches each row and increasing one until 4 stitches remain.  Knit 2 together, knit to end of row.  Three stitches remaining.  Bind off, leaving a short tail to weave into the cloth.  Weave in end from casting on, and you’re done!  The yarn over creates a “lace” pattern on the edges of the cloth. 

I am not a fast knitter, and my husband referred to these as my “$90.00 dish cloths”, considering the time I put into them!  I find the cone of yarn is getting smaller but the price is getting larger, so perhaps they are worth even more than that these days.  I get fewer cloths now from a cone of yarn.  I would never sell these, because no one would pay $90 for a dish cloth.  But I make them throughout the year and give them to my children and friends for gifts, along with the nylon net scrubbies, which I posted a pattern for about a year ago on my blog.  I can't put a price tag on love, and there is a lot of love knit into those dish cloths for friends and family!

 Not all things go up in price.  I got a coupon for an oil change from my Chrysler dealer, for $12.95, including a multi-point inspection!  So this afternoon I will head to the dealership with my knitting bag in hand, for my appointment to take advantage of the bargain.  While I knit mindlessly, I will have time to think of my friends real-time and online, and send loving thoughts of appreciation for their friendship.  And I will count my own blessings.  Among them will be the fact that the lady who was so eager to make me feel what is lacking in my life is not counted among my friends!  As one of my old friends once said… with friends like that, who needs enemies?  And I will give thanks for my NEW friend and driver, Jan... thank goodness they have services like this.  I'm thinking it would take me a long time to walk to my appointments, even with my cane!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Finnish Roots and Family Traditions (Rusk recipe)

When I was a child, I remember visiting my Finnish great-grandfather’s home on the farm and always there was a big bowl of filia sitting on the kitchen table.  Filia is the Finnish version of yogurt.  My great-grandparents were always referred to by the Finnish names for Mom and Dad, Isa and Aiti.  Until recently, I have always thought it meant Grandma and Grandpa, but my mother said it is actually a form of respect to call them Mother and Father, even though they are grandparents.  I didn’t particularly like the filia, so Isa would sprinkle it with a little sugar to make it more palatable.  As an adult, I made my own yogurt and we would eat it with sweetened fruit or berries on top, but yogurt is not quite the same as filia, or villi, which has a little different consistency.  With the advent of the internet, providing easy access to all things known and unknown, I found a place that sells the actual villi culture! 

Isa would sip his coffee from the saucer… another Finnish practice, which allows the hot beverage to cool a bit.  And always there was the Finnish toast, or korpu, to go with the coffee or tea.  The cinnamon toast used to be readily available in the grocery stores in the midwest, but I haven’t looked for it in years.  Most nationalities have a version of this, ranging from the Italian biscotti to the rusk of the Scandinavian countries.   I began to make my own, from a recipe a Scandinavian friend gave me.  It’s not the same as the korpu I remembered from my youth, but I liked it even better.  It contains the traditional Finnish spice, cardamom, for flavoring, along with mace.  My husband used to love it with his coffee better than anything else.  It’s a little sweet with a lot of flavor, and enhances either coffee or tea.  This recipe is crisp but tender, much like a dried shortbread.
Norwegian Rusk:                                                        
1/2 cup soft butter
1/2 cup shortening
1-1/2 cups sugar (may use less, if desired)
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
Cream the above ingredients in a large bowl.
3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
1/2 teaspoon ground mace, optional (could substitute nutmeg)
Shape dough into two long loaves on a cookie sheet.  You will need to flour your hands, and it helps to put the dough onto a floured board to coat it lightly in order to shape it.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheet and place on cooling racks.  When the loaves are cooled, slice them into ½” slices and place them side down on cookie sheets.  Return to the oven for an additional 12 to 15 minutes until the slices are golden brown, no need to turn them over.  I let them cool and dry on the baking sheet before removing them and putting them into a container for storage.  The rusk does not need to be refrigerated.  If you have an empty cardboard coffee can with a lid, that works great for storing the rusk, and if you want to get creative, you can decorate the can with old pieces of wallpaper or some other covering to match your kitchen.  If you have children, they will have fun making decorated coffee cans for your gifts to your friends. 

I’ve started saving my coffee cans for storage, whether they are plastic or cardboard.  It seems that my plastic containers disappear, sending leftovers home with people, and rather than to keep buying more “disposable” containers, I save my large plastic jars from nuts and coffee cans.  The larger ones are great for sending soup or casserole leftovers home with guests.  The containers have wide mouths and sometimes screw-on lids, making them ideal for storage. 

 The ornamental pear trees tower their blossoming branches about forty feet toward the sky on my front boulevard.  This is a beautiful time of year, when the flowering trees are arrayed in pinks, purples and whites, waving aromatically in the spring breeze.  The staunch forsythia is proudly sporting yellow and the trees are beginning to leaf out in that lovely shade of bright green that heralds spring.  The grass is growing so fast you can almost hear it singing.  I noticed there are pretty purple violets blooming already in the grass in my front yard.  Spring races in with colorful excitement, and the world is alive with the birth of another season. 

Southern Ohio is a lovely place to experience the seasons… each season has its own time and space, and is not dominated by dormant winter as it was in northern Minnesota.  We have snow, but there is not so much it lasts for months on end.  The cold is seldom frigid and usually does not dip below the zero mark.  My friend, Sandra, posted photos of blowing bubbles in Minnesota a few months ago, and it was so cold the bubbles froze and remained intact when they hit the ground!  But that morning it was forty degrees below zero at her home, as shown by the photo of her thermometer!  Alas… they are still experiencing snowstorms, while we sit outdoors in our shorts and sleeveless  tops, enjoying the colors of spring!

Family traditions are wonderful things to pass on to your children and grandchildren.  I remember Aiti had a huge wooden rug loom in one end of their living room, where she had once woven beautiful rag rugs.  I always have wanted to learn to use one, and for many years wanted a loom of my own, but they are very large and take up a lot of room.  My mother remembers cutting old clothing into strips and winding it into balls for the rugs.  Now, at 70, I am quite sure I will never own a loom or learn to use one!  And rag rugs are no longer in demand, with store-bought rugs available to match every d├ęcor imaginable. 

Isa and Aiti also had a separate “house” next to their main house, which was framed in windows and was referred to as their “summer kitchen”.  That was where they did most of the cooking, baking and canning in the hot months, so their main home wasn’t made hotter from the cooking process.  I assume this also was a Finnish custom, to have a summer kitchen.  I remember it as a bright, cheerful place, unlike the dark somber mood of their main living area.  The summer kitchen was surrounded by lofty hardwood trees, providing a shady bower from the heat of the summer sun.

Wherever you live, make yourself a batch of Rusk and brew a cup of coffee or tea to go with it, and take a few moments to reflect on your childhood. 

What things do you remember that you might not have shared with your own children and grandchildren?  What traditions, ethnic or otherwise, did you grow up with?  If you had none, then perhaps it is time to begin them with your own family.  And know that if the crocus isn’t yet blooming in your yard, the blossoms can’t be far away!

Speaking of flowers, here's an addendum to my Easter posting... my oldest daughter and son-in-law showed up at my house on Easter with a big beautiful bouquet of flowers and some colored eggs!  They took me to dinner at Red Lobster, and it was a festive Easter, after all, even if we did not sport Easter bonnets!
May spring be flowering in your heart!