Monday, November 17, 2014

Our Family’s Comfort Food

It is very seldom that the subject of the old fashioned foods I ate as a little girl is broached. For

this reason, I have chosen to remember on paper the delicious memories I have of my dear mother’s

own version of vegetable soup!

When I was growing up in Omaha milk arrived at our doorstep in bottles with a top that held the

cream. There was a paper tab at the top; when that was removed the cream was poured into a glass

cream pitcher and used with coffee. When Mom left the cream at the top and shook the bottle, I knew

that something wonderful was going to happen in our tiny kitchen!

I was a finicky eater. Many of the foods that appeared on our table were not to my liking but after I

suggested we send it to the ‘starving children in China’ I was well advised just to eat the food without

opining. I needed no encouragement for my mom’s soups!

In my mind’s eye, there is Mom, wearing a butcher’s apron. That flowered model covered the bodice

of her house dress as well as the skirt and there was a perfect bow at her back. She would stand at the

kitchen table with her paring knife, peeling and chopping the vegetables that would go into her soup

pot: Carrots, onions, potatoes. She washed them with great love. She carefully cut them with love -

and her trusty paring knife.

When I grew up and recreated this family fave I wondered why she had no chef’s knife and

why she took so long in making this simple, satisfying meal. I now know that it was A/because she

loved my dad and me and B/she adored that soup, too!

She boiled a pot of salted water as she prepared the veg. She often hummed or sang as she worked.

The brightly colored carrots went into the salty water first. It was fun to see the steam rising and

hear the hiss as cold met hot. Next came the chunks of potatoes and the bits of onion. The aroma

of that little Omaha kitchen felt much like a hug as they simmered on the stove. When my great

grandma’s meat fork went into tender carrot pieces, the vegetables were deemed to be done. That’s

when Mom would drain the liquid into the sink, creating another cloud of steam! It was magical for

the three year old who was no doubt underfoot! The pot went back to the Roper gas range. Mom

added that creamy milk the Robert’s Dairy man had left on our front porch. She used enough to cover

the cooked goods PLUS enough to cook the macaroni that came next. I remember watching her put

spoonfuls of corn starch into a bowl I wish still had. It was a white bowl with thin red stripes and a

red band a.round the top sporting white polka dots.

When the milk was hot enough and the macaroni was soft enough, Mom stirred the corn starch into

that soup kettle to thicken the soup JUST SO! My mouth would water with anticipation! Then came

the seasoning: salt was sprinkled into the pot from the small measuring spoon that rested in the ‘salt

dish’. Pepper was shaken from the square green shaker that matched my grandma’s set, displayed on

the stove.

It was a treat for me to help set the table. The soup bowls we used were from the “good” set. These

were flat soup plates and we used them because the soup was easier to eat that way. Mom always

liked to have a dinner plate underneath in case of spills. In those days, crackers came in square sheets

of four perforated individual crackers. Oyster crackers were a rare treat.

The spoons we used for this meal were the same spoons I now wear as jewelry! My #1 daughter took

Mom’s flatware to a silversmith and they’ve been fashioned into bracelets, necklaces and rings for

every one of Mom’s great granddaughters.

When Mom was no longer able to live alone she came to join our household. I was grateful to have

her with us. One day when I came home from work to have lunch, Mom surprised me with a bowl

of her “famous” Our Favorite Vegetable Soup.

It was the last time she ever cooked for me.

~Connie Baum
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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mother Nature is Changing Her Wardrobe

Mother Nature is changing her wardrobe...

Today the sky in Southeastern Nebraska is a deep azure blue.  From the new windows in our home we cannot see one single cloud. Sunshine is spilled everywhere and its radiant brilliance is cheerful.   The air is sweet and fresh and crisp. The squirrels are busy, busy, busy.  Furthermore, the leaves are falling to the ground as if to mimic rain or snow!

There will be a Cornhusker football game for us to cheer later today.  We'll  make popcorn and holler at our TV set as the Huskers make every effort to beat Northwestern.

We toured some of the nearby countryside last evening as we went to dinner at a cute little eatery called Smartville Station.  It's located a few corn and soybean fields away from our home.  As we made our way we marveled at the reds of a grove of maple trees.  We thoroughly enjoyed viewing the varied shades of green leaves, blending in with the vibrant yellows and golds across the hilly fields.  We pointed out the trees which are now naked, or nearly so.  There were gigantic clouds of dust where the farmers were combining beans.  Those farmers are doing all in their power to beat Old Man Winter and get the beans and corn out of the field and into their bins!

In a very short time the yellow, green, gold and red hues will fade to brown as Jack  Frost does his annual thing.  For the time being there are chrysanthemums dotting landscapes around front porches visually reminding us that Autumn is in full swing.  Before long snow will cover the plants and harvested fields.  The very thought of snow makes us shiver!

Summer was not unkind to us in 2014 but the heat caused us to wither under its spell.  We always vow never to complain about the coming cold when we are sweltering under the hot Nebraska sun...We welcome the fall months and the cooler temperatures when September rolls around.

We have relatives who have chosen to live in climates where Autumn  is only a page on a calendar.  They do not have the variety of changing seasons as we do here.  That's good for palm trees, I suppose.  I prefer the anticipation of changing seasons and Mother Nature's ever evolving wardrobe.

After we have endured Winter's brutally cold winds and all the snow shoveling that goes along with it we turn to welcome Spring, watching eagerly for green stuff popping up!  Spring offers us hope.  Spring is my favorite season until Autumn arrives.  Autumn reigns supreme as my favorite every October. 

Winter's arrival finds us dreaming of cozy fireplace fires and big mugs of hot chocolate. There are snow men to build and snow fights to entertain us! We plan for "blizzard projects" like scrap booking or 1000 piece puzzles.  We make plans to have card parties and soup suppers.  We think about adding heavy new sweaters to our closets and we bundle up for ice skating events.  We even carve out more time to curl up with a good read during those snowy months.

Nebraska life is always good. October brings its special gifts to us and brings into sharp focus the beauty of the countryside and all the treats that are part of that package!  Not everyone gets to choose where they live.  I am so grateful I live in Southeastern Nebraska!

Yes.  Life is good and I do love my life!

~Connie Baum

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Back In the Day...

Ya.  I used a freebie because no other image was available.   It's a wonderful opportunity to use your imagination! grin

She grew up so poor that she and her little sister were thrilled to play with dolls made of clothespins.  She had a melodious singing voice and loved to sing but her mother forbid her the honor of participating in school sponsored competitions, most likely because of her own lack of confidence.  Her father burned her back by stubbing out his smoke;  she carried that scar from age 5 to her death.  Her parents  were divorced, much to Harriet's relief, and all that her life had held formed her into the remarkable woman she was.
He was so poor growing up that he was determined to rise above that poverty by getting a good education.  His father drank too much; his mother's health was poor and when his dad got hurt and could not work the family just fell apart.  By then Herman was in Advertising School.  He kept his family at arm's length but always spoke lovingly of each one of them.  He always felt he could be a better family man than any of his relatives.  It turned out he was correct!

Harriet and Herman met in high school.  He was smitten with her classic beauty and gracious ways.  She was taken with his crooked smile and sparkling personality.  They dated-which in those days, meant taking walks around their home town; sharing picnics featuring bread and butter sandwiches; window shopping and going to free band concerts. They enjoyed dancing on the front porch to music playing on the radio.

Since Herman was older than Harriet they did not share classes but whenever they passed in the halls they would exchange looks.  He would wink and flash that crooked grin of his.  She would stroke her hair with one graceful hand and put her head down just a touch.  They never wanted to make a scene, after all!

As soon as Herman graduated high school he went to work for the WPA, building roads.  She finished high school, with honors, and continued living with her mother and sisters.  She turned home care  into an art form; her mother appreciated the household help.  In the evenings the couple would sit on the porch swing, watching the traffic.  On pay days they would walk a block away to share a float at Kate's Root Beer stand.  They talked endlessly about their wedding and marriage.

The autumn ceremony took place in the parsonage of the Methodist church.  Neither Harriet nor Herman had any church affiliation; this parsonage was within walking distance of Harriet's family's home.  The pastor's wife was a witness, as was the man who came to mow the church yard.  They felt giddy as the pastor signed their marriage certificate.  The bride wore a borrowed brown dress; the groom wore the suit someone loaned him.  Herman was proud to pin a gardenia on his bride's dress...sporting his trademark crooked smile!
With not much money and very little in the way of furnishings the newlyweds moved into a teeny, tiny house near both sets of parents.  They lived a simple life with few belongings to weigh them down.  That was a good thing, for Herman landed a job with a grocery chain and was transferred (as in 'promoted') all over Nebraska and Kansas.  She took exceptional care of their living quarters while he labored 7 days a week.  For fun, they read magazines that others donated to them after they'd finished them..  They played Honeymoon Bridge or Gin Rummy most evenings, too.  Harriet was generally the victor.  Did Herman LET her win?
Because they did not own a car, they walked everywhere they went. When they were not walking, they danced. They helped their parents in myriad ways as the older generation aged and became frail.  After half a dozen years of wedded bliss and many promotions for Herman, the couple finally became parents!
I'm so glad they did.  This loving and devoted pair were my own mother and father.

Connie Baum

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Top Ten

David Letterman does not have the corner on Top Ten Lists!

The Top Ten

Long before David Letterman made ten things popular on his late night comedy show I developed a Top Ten List of my own. Does this put me ahead of my time? I fancy it may...

No one on my Top Ten list ever goes away. It’s gotten crowded up there.

The list began with my mother. She was always #1 on that list, no matter who was named. After she passed away someone asked me if she’d be off the list. NO WAY.

The people on this list are folks I admire. They are the people I’d most like to emulate when and if I ever grow up. They are good people with good hearts, good intentions, good ideas. They are the people who get things done no matter what. They have integrity, fortitude and goodness knows they have a fabulous sense of humor.

Here you will find names, along with a few of their attributes and accomplishments, on my Top Ten:

    Harriet Pieper. She was smart, beautiful and strong willed. She turned cartwheels in the yard with me when I was a little girl; she sewed my clothes with skill and love and she was a business woman with acumen. Her sense of humor and passion for people was unparalleled.

    Herman Pieper. He was a people person all the way. His experience in business school set him up to be a great salesman, super grocer and Mayor of a small town. He served on the school board. He had an amazing sense of humor, was smarter than any other 10 people combined and always always always did the right things for the right reasons.

    Bonita London. This gracious woman was my English teacher in high school. She got me interested in public speaking. She was bright, well educated, a fabulous mother of 2 and it devastates me to think that she succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Oleta Hansen. This patient soul ministered to me when my life was bleak. She taught me more about massage therapy than I ever learned from books. She personified compassion, generosity and love.

    Hannah Kroger. This tiny, feisty German lady wrote and self published a book about massage therapy and self care. She went to great lengths to teach people how to be well and how to help others. Her legacy of understanding the human body and spirit sits on my bookshelf. I refer to it often.

    Mildred Konsella. With a reputation that stretched far and wide, this crotchety curmudgeon worked long hours to heal people’s ailments. It seemed to me that she acted cranky in order to cover up her real feelings of sadness and concern for others’ troubles. She was a true healer.

    Angela Sidlo. My firstborn is one of the most beautiful, talented, creative humans I’ve ever known. She can do anything well, dreams big, and makes life happen her way. She has always been wise beyond her years and she amazes me with her abilities every day! I am honored that
    she chose me for her mother.

    Amy Daugherty This #2 daughter is someone who follows her heart and her dreams, too. She is determined, persistent, lovely and smart. Her sense of humor, sense of style, and passion for her work is wonderful. I am grateful to be Amy’s mother.

    Michael Birdsong. This guy is the only Danish Cheyenne Indian I have ever known. I admire him for his zest for life, his persistence thru adversity and his love of others. He is compassionate beyond my understanding; he is a ‘connector’ of people and he is not judgmental! I am so thrilled that he and I found one another and I was allowed to adopt him.

    Norman Baum. The Normanator is very much like my father was. He has the same sort of ideals, he treats people well and he can be The Boss, the Employee, The Organizer, or the Sympathizer...whatever need arises, he can fill that bill! His sense of humor is delightful and he never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge.

   So this is my Top Ten and I wanna be just like all of these people if I ever grow up, except for the curmudgeon part. Of course there are many others on that list but for purposes of brevity I have spared you a long, long list. 
   I wonder if any of my Ten made a Top Ten list?

Connie Baum

Sunday, October 5, 2014

One Man's Trash...

This old trunk was my "trash" and it found a new home, where it was considered a "treasure"
The old yaw is this:  "One man's trash is another man's treasure.

I believe that with all my heart and soul.  We have had stuff in storage, stuff in the basement, stuff in the closets and it is long past time to be rid of it.  People tell us, "Have a yard sale!" but that doesn't trip my trigger.  I'd much prefer to give it here or there and have someone find what they consider to be a treasure!

Case in point:  The trunk in the above photo was given to me and I no longer have a good use for it.  When I asked one of my shiniest friends if she would like to have it, I felt all warm and fuzzy that it had found a good home and would be well cared for AND USED.

The past few days here have seen the Mother of all garage sales...The Trail of Treasures has featured sales from the corner of our state along Highway 136 clear to another small town many miles away.  Our little South East Nebraska Community Action Center's Advisory Board played host to the many eager shoppers who came to Tecumseh, NE to see what treasures lay in wait for them.  We had hot spiced cider, cookies and conversation as people signed in.

There were folks from Wisconsin, Kansas, all over SE Nebraska and some from right here in town!  It was fascinating to listen to their stories.  Some shoppers had  specific items in mind; others just enjoyed snooping through piles of furniture, household goods or tools to see what struck their fancy!

One of the most memorable was a dear lady from Lincoln, NE.  Her husband has a serious illness and she works in an office.  Her passion is making quilts for doll beds.  She wanted to find old doll beds but would be open to finding whatever she could use to make the little beds and she was eager to find fabric to use for the quilts.  This precious soul took the time to show us the prize winning quilts that had won a wad of ca$h for her.  Not only that, she had photos of many of her doll beds!

The passion this lady has for her work/play just oozed out of every one of her pores.  When she was asked about her quilts her face lit up as if she were facing a Nebraska sunrise!  She wanted to share her passion and we all were eager to hear everything about it.

There were a few people who came in, stuck their noses in the air and backed out.  Those were the introverts who did not wish to bother with conversation or cider!  We just told one another that those folks were NOT our circus and those were NOT our monkeys!

I felt as if The Normanator and I were the real winners here.  The good people from the Historical Society came to our home, carried stuff up and out that had taken up space in our basement.  These were things we no longer loved or used or needed.  We could help the Historical Society bring in a few coins for their project:  a museum.

Next October we will do this all again.  The big difference?  Kevin thinks we should serve hot cider and doughnuts!  Here's hoping we have even bigger crowds of shoppers and even more desirable "stuff"  !

Connie Baum

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Traveling in the Fog

Mother Connie is very blessed to have special guys in her life.  The fellow above is Michael Birdsong.  Another, Andy Baum, is pictured below:

These two dear characters live together in an Extended Family Home, where they are cared for with love and concern by a precious family who could easily be poster children for "How to Be the Ideal Family." Twice yearly we gather with their Teams of caretakers, Work Site leaders and each of their Service Coordinators to evaluate their activities, program progress, and quality of life.  This past week their semi-annual planning meetings made for our travel destination.

The trip began early in the morning.  The sun was almost up as we began our trek; we could see that the fog hovered above the crops in ribbons of white froth.  It put me in mind of wedding finery with a veil that trailed after the bride! The aroma of fall was in the air; the leaves were changing colors and we marveled at the progress of the corn and soybean crops.  We sipped our coffee and chatted as we traveled, thoroughly enjoying one another's company.

First up: Andy Baum's meeting.  His new Service Coordinator had arrived before we did and we were pleased to meet her for the first time.  It was clear from the outset that Joan already enjoyed having Andy on her case load.

Much of his meeting consisted of the Caretakers sharing a very long list of Andy's activities.  We all giggled as mention was made of his being photographed with the drummer from STYX; we were delighted to see that Andy sported new glasses, a new watch and guy jewelry around his neck and on the watchless wrist!  *This is a very new wrinkle for Andy Baum!

Andy kept close track of the time and when the hour was up, he announced that he was finished and he would ride the van to his house.  This was vintage Andy.  He likes his routine.  (Don't we ALL?)

When it was time for Michael Birdsong's meeting he appeared wearing his new blue shirt, smiling widely and looking very stylish.  Each of the boys has a personal shopper--another of the many perks of living with Al and Deb--and they have become more concerned with their appearance.

There was a long list of Michael's activities, too.  These guys do not have the same interests and their networks of people are varied.  Their desires and dreams are regarded with serious consideration.  It was fun to learn about the dancing partner, the birthday parties, the people whose lives were touched by this man.  His biggest thrill was getting to deliver a drink sack to the recipient's door when Meals on Wheels was on the agenda. 

Michael Birdsong will celebrate another birthday next month.  Since we won't get to see him on the actual date, we toted a few goodies for him.  To honor his Cheyenne Indian heritage, we found some tipi and canoe kits; a headdress, and a paper file for some of the greeting cards he loves to send to his pals.

Every one of Michael's birthdays has been a miracle.  When he arrived in this world, they were sure he would not survive the first night.  I have been told that his doctors met the evening he was born to ascertain how to proceed.  The opening in his spine was carefully closed and they declared that if he lived to age 2, it would be another miracle.  Before that second birthday he received a shunt to accommodate spinal fluid and they were absolutely convinced he would not see his 13th birthday.  Well, Michael Birdsong had things to do and people to meet and he has reached the ripe old age of 48. 

Michael and I spar every year over his age.  I INSIST he should be 18 because I am "33"...I always argue that it doesn't look good for a woman my age to have a son his age.  But I do concede that he is adopted...It gives us a good laugh and reassures him that he has a family or two who really, really care about him.

I find it interesting that this mother should be so invested in two guys when she was not in the delivery room with either of them.  Ya.  That's how love works; it just spills all over people.

Connie Baum