Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Tour/ De-Tour: Paris

Alas, the first morning with the North Carolina grandchildren, the rain pouring, the hail pelting, the day's plans dashed on the rocks. Never fear. Your grandmother's here with a new plan. After a hearty breakfast of cinnamon rolls and bacon I enlisted Jack's (Jean-Pierre IV) help in constructing this limited edition, true to scale, no detail forgotten balsa wood Eiffel Tower. A good project for a lad with his engineering mind.

Punch out all 7,000 pieces that are numbered 1a to 75j. Sort into piles organized by section of the tour. (Tour as en Francais for tower.) Place all scrap pieces in appropriate Arc de Triomphe trash can.

With no written instructions to guide the young engineer, Jean-Pierre IV carefully begins the process of inserting tabs into slots. Pierced lips enable the process to continue with ease.

It quickly becomes apparent that addtional hands are required. Grandmere steps in to help armed with the french apron. Certainly that will be beneficial. Furrowed brow begins to appear on the young engineer.Yes, Jean-Pierre IV is correct. There is trouble in River City. The city on the Seine. Did Gustave Eiffel himself experience these same problems as he raced to complete the tour for the opening of the world exposition? By the way, the tower opened for tourists ON THIS DAY in 1889. How's that for coincidence?

Jean-Pierre IV and Grandmere consult the original plans. La Tour de 300 Metres. Sure enough, bending the four balsa wood base pieces to fit the platform proves to be as frought with peril as the process for the original four iron bases. Zut alors!

En fin. At last! It is finished in all it's glory! Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite! Then Jean-Pierre has a brilliant idea. "We need to move it to the dining room table." Followed by one even better. "Let's get all your Eiffel Towers and make a collection!"

Soon the sisters get into the act as the entire concept of The Eiffel Tower Museum is born. This is Charlotte. Tres chic, non? Tickets are made. Admit One. Adults 25 cents. Children 10 cents. No cameras allowed. You know how those pesky flashes destroy priceless paintings and artifacts.

Our first visitor checks in at the ticket booth and has her ticket punched. She may return any time before the 6:15 p.m. closing time. After all, our curator Jean-Pierre IV is only nine years old.

The staff poses with the latest member of "Friends of the Museum."

In the foyer adjacent to the museum you'll find our museum gift store. High quality photos of the exhibition are on sale for a mere 50 cents.

Not all local news sources have reported the latest developments but the tower had to be evacuated today due to this catastrophic engineering disaster. The museum staff has of this hour not determined when the exhibit will reopen.

Jean Pierre has not disclosed a detailed financial statement but was willing to report that admissions to the museum and sales had been strong up until the time of the tower's collapse. The curator continues to deliberate whether the accumulation of cash will be used to establish a trust, to repair the damages to the tower, or to purchase frozen yogurt for the staff.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grammar School

Behold, Grand Avenue School, Thiensville, Wisconsin, my home away from home as an itty bitty Yankee girl. My family moved to suburban Milwaukee from the outskirts of Chicago when I was six years old. This is where I began the second grade under the tutelage of Bonita Winters. She scared me half to death. No, make that nigh unto death. As we queued up the first day of school all spit-shined in our new dresses and shoes I soon felt that awful sensation known as panic as Mrs. Winters interrogated each little pupil one by one. "Who was your teacher last year?" she'd bark at each new short contestant. Sure enough, just as the beginning of school rolled around like clock work each year, my opportunity to be the object of interrogation arrived. "Who was your teacher last year!!!" I stood there frozen like the hardest ice in the coldest Wisconsin winter protected only by the long narrow table between us. "I said, who was your teacher last year!!!" she repeated even louder just in case I'd not heard or couldn't speak. Oh, I could hear her all right. I'm sure everyone from Grand Avenue School to those interred at Valhalla Cemetery could hear her.

"I didn't go to school here last year," I finally croaked out. "Stand over there," she ordered with her pointed long finger and arm which disappeared into the sleeve of the matronly black dress. Oh man. This was getting to be even worse than the time in kindergarten when my teacher gave me a peanut butter sandwich with grape jelly on it. My mother made peanut butter sandwiches with mayonnaise. No wonder I don't like mayonnaise.

Just as a little lagniappe I thought I'd include a photo of the kind of sturdy sensible shoes Mrs. Winters wore. Let's just say they added to her aura of authority. But then my great grandmother Edith Cole and my great-great grandmother Mary Marquette each wore those shoes and they didn't scare the skin off me.

I had just about gotten used to the idea of walking the one mile to school with my sister, Mary. This is where we grew up. Right. I'm not seven in this photo, but 57. Standing on the front porch of my childhood home. 413 Park Crest Drive, Thiensville WI 53092 (414) 242-3684. Sigh. It's remarkable that I can remember all of those numbers 50 years later. You see, Mrs. Winters made us memorize math facts at the Grand Avenue School. I had never learned a thing about math facts. My address was the closest thing I knew about math facts. All I did in first grade was read and try to hide from Chucky Whistler. No math. Mrs. Winters whipped out those addition and subtraction cards and one by one like little contestants on the game show "Press Your Luck," we were all pressed into time tests. Mrs. Winters could slam those flash cards down, well, like a flash. That must be why they're called flash cards. Except when little, scrawny, short, timid Shirley Spehr stepped forward to press her luck. Those cards moved as slowly as I do now as a southern girl. Then, just like now, I didn't do numbers.

This brings me to the title of the post. Grammar School. You've most likely discovered one of the many, many additional things I don't do well. Commas. I have, a terrible, time figuring out, where to place commas in a sentence, I should have paid more attention in grammar school and in punctuation school. So isn't it fun that I have the daughter known as "Math Girl" who can do anything and everything with numbers, the daughter who teaches English and loves grammar and punctuation as much as I love chocolate, and the daughter who is the academic advisor for accounting students at Ole Miss. Doesn't God have a delightful sense of humor? English girl told me last night that in ten short minutes she can transform my comma confusion into a no red marks masterpiece. I just hope the comma rules aren't on flash cards. I'll give you a progress report.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Chief of Jambalaya

Jambalaya like this recipe courtesy of the Randolphs shows up at our church and Sunday School gatherings. It is easy to prepare and serve and is a sort of fish and loaves meal that will feed however many come through the door. Several years ago Spike and I were at one of these gatherings during a missions conference where church members share a meal with a visiting missionary in order to become familiar with him and his work. This particular visit stretched us a bit more as the missionary could not tell us his name or the location of his work due to the sensitivity and security issues involved. This happens relatively often so we were not undone at all. He told us a bit about his secular occupation in this distant land but couldn't really say much due to the sensitivity and security issues involved. So maybe you can imagine our surprise of sorts when he suddenly asked, "Would you like to consider sending some of your high school students to work with me for a summer?" Huh? Our ever gracious hostess replied, "Let me get this straight. We don't know your name or who you are, we don't know where you serve, we don't know what you do or how you do it and yet you would like us to send our children to you? Can you understand our hesitancy?" (Due to the sensitivity and security issues involved.) It seemed as if our concerns were just as confusing to him as his suggestion was to us. Maybe we should call this jambalaya "Mission Impossible." Here's how to make it:

One onion, one green bell pepper and one cup of celery, all chopped along with 2-3 cloves of garlic minced. Cook that in a large, large skillet with a little olive oil until soft.

Add two cans of seasoned tomatoes, undrained, one box (minus one cup) of chicken broth, 1 1/3 cups of brown rice, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 T. Tabasco, and two bay leaves.

Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 50-60 minutes until the rice is done.

While that combo is simmering and filling your house with the most delightful aroma you can prepare the chicken, sausage, and shrimp. If the shrimp man is nowhere to be seen I use a bag of frozen, extra large, already cooked shrimp that I buy at that not to be named national retail powerhouse.

The recipe calls for three boneless, skinless chicken breasts and a package of Cajun smoked sausage. Clean the chicken, season with some Tony's and place that and the sausage on the grill.
This is where is starts to get "quitchie." (I'll tell you about that word some time.) You know I have this thing about meat. Sausage is even worse. I have been forever scarred by my Brownie Scout field trip to the Usinger Meat and Sausage Company when I was seven years old. Never ever under any circumstances take a bunch of impressionable, innocent, purer than the driven snow, darlin' little girls to a sausage factory where the workers, all hidden behind face masks to protect their identity and possible prosecution by tormented former visitors, pour buckets of unidentifiable ingredients into large vats, stir it around and then run it into casings made of some kind of I don't want to know what that is material. After reviving several of us who had never before witnessed such an operation we were whisked off to the park for a cook-out. Really. Our fearless leaders cooked those tubed atrocities over an open flame and fully expected that a weak-kneed and even weaker stomach kinda girl like me would willingly bite, chew and swallow. And that my friends is why I don't do sausage. Except in jambalaya.

We were grilling the chicken and sausage which I have chosen to do during a tornado warning. Whether or not I live to serve this meal takes my mind off of the sausage part.
Thaw the shrimp, remove the tails, and remove as much water as possible on paper towel. Once the rice is nice and cooked add the sliced sausage, bite sized pieces of chicken and the shrimp. Add some of the reserved chicken broth if need be. Do a little taste test and season with Tony's or Old Bay seasoning. Tossed salad, garlic or French bread and you're ready. Or should we say, "Mission Accomplished."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

American Idol Part Five: The Popeye Syndrome

What? Never heard of it? Me either. I just made that up in connection with on-going consideration of idolatry in the life of Christians. Don't ever agree to study/teach a book of the Bible or a topic concerning Christian character where you are not willing to buckle up and prepare to be convicted of your own sin. Happens every time. Thank the Lord it happens every time. He is in the business of assuring us that 2 Tim.3:16 is true: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness....."

So what does this have to do with Popeye and his statement? We and Popeye like to hear Psalm 139:13,14. "For you (God) formed my inward parts; You knit me in my mother's womb. I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." And this is true. The creation of man in the image of God is the highest expression of God's omnificence, His "all-creativeness." His making us as we are, fully human yet in His image, is beyond our comprehension but not beyond our need as Christians to be conformed and ever-conforming into the likeness of Jesus. It is our love of self, our idolatry, that whispers in our ear, "You're just MADE this way. No need to change. No possibility of change."

Popeye's friend, Wimpy, is so easy to be around. He's easy-going, doesn't get in a hurry, gets along with everyone, is a peacemaker, and is generally tolerant of everyone around him. Wimpy doesn't like to hear Proverbs 12:24 "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor." Wimpy will gladly promise to pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today but when Tuesday rolls around the promise is long forgotten or buried under the latest platter of burgers. Wimpy means well and is so darn pleasant. He just never gets there.

This guy gets there. He gets right there in your face. Brutus is strong-armed and strong-willed. He never met a fight he didn't like. If you need the job done and done thoroughly, Brutus is your man. What's that quote? "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Brutus ain't scared'a'nothin'. When he snarles, "I'll take care of you, you little pipsqueak," you along with Popeye start looking for that can of spinach. Brutus gets the job done but leaves bodies in his wake and ladies and children trembling in their boots. The apostle Paul was once a Brutus named Saul until the Lord got ahold of him. One minute he was martyring Christians and the next, preaching a gospel of repentence to other brutes.

Olive Oyl. Can't you hear her coyly calling out, "Oh, Pop-eyyy?" Happy go lucky, demostrative, affectionate, popular, cute and bouncy Olive Oyl. Uh, that would go along with disorganized, inconsistent, scatter-brained, naive, forgetful Olive Oyl. "But I just can't help it. I'm made that way," she wails as she pulls Popeye out on the dance floor.
Popeye, Wimpy, Brutus and Olive Oyl can stay just as they are. They need to. That's what makes the cartoons so entertaining and funny. We all see a bit of ourselves in the characters whose popularity continued for decades until cartoons like Transformers came along. Trouble is, I still need to be transformed. Yes, I am made in the image of God exactly according to His plan and pattern. The problem lies in the fact that I inherited that sin nature from the first Adam and my personality or natural bent has its own set of shall we say, less than lovely traits. I like verses 13 and 14 from Psalm 139, too, but like Popeye, I need to hear verses 23 and 24 of the same Psalm. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." If instead I once again seat myself on the throne of that's just how I am, I am guilty of idolatry. Of loving myself, of finding myself more important, of more value than my Savior who lived and died to ever-transform me and my heart. Take heart. "We are children of God and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure." 1 John 3:2,3

Monday, March 14, 2011


Hoo-ray! The dress fit like a glove so here is Emily en route to my brother's wedding. Next stop: ditto dress for Meg.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sew Sorry

No, this is not an apology. It's a status update of sorts. The status of my sewing. It's sorry. I need to let you know that when I post sewing projects on "Runs With Scissors" you must never think I've over here cranking them out with absolute ease. Over the last three days I've been tempted to throw the scissors through the window several times which is bizarre. I find sewing therapeutic. Calming. Therapy? I think I need some.

This is what I've been trying to make. I love Petite Poche patterns and have made several over the years for the baby girls. They're old fashioned, well designed, and utilize special embroidery or trim techniques that make for pretty garments. One technique that designer Wendy Schoen uses is madeira trim. It's that scalloped edge around the neck and hemlines that you see on the pattern envelope. It can be a harrowing experience but Wendy provides perfectly clear instructions for applying the trim. It's just that sometimes I don't want to follow the instructions. Sometimes I think I have a better idea. I know you find that shocking.

Sewing guru Martha Pullen has developed a sure-fire method for applying madeira trim and I've used it on several little things for the babies. I would post a few photos of those garments but my blog photo uploader keeps telling me that the photos are unreadable or corrupt. That figures. See? Sewing is not always just a zip-zip proposition.

Without making this sound like brain surgery, the secret to Martha's technique is water soluble thread. You sew two strips of trim together with the magic thread, clip, turn and press the scallops, then dampen the pieces of fabric thereby dissolving the thread. Pull the two strips of fabric apart, press them again and bingo, you've got perfect trim pieces.
Not this time. This is what I got instead. A pile of lumpy mess in which I had invested mucho dolares.

Then when I pulled the pieces apart I went into panic mode because the edges were fraying. So were my nerves. Maybe if I press it all will be well.

Just take a look at the iron. The remnants of water soluble thread are now permanently affixed to my steam iron. My new steam iron that I got for Christmas. Have I mentioned that it's a NEW steam iron? And that represents to me the idea of luxury. I have an upstairs steam iron for my sewing and a downstairs steam iron for my laundry. My ironing needs have been luxuriously met! And now it has rock hard supposedly water soluble thread affixed like epoxy. It's water soluble everywhere except on my new steam iron. I'm thinking I may ask Spike to try to shave it off with some Black and Decker power tool.

So then my only option was to follow the instructions. I'm so compliant. Fold the 1/4" edge over and carefully press each of the 500 little curved edges until you are about to go over the edge yourself. That's what I did. Pressed, I mean. Didn't go over the edge. Yet.

Finally I got it all put together and this morning was eager to put in the buttonholes and stitch on the adorable little pink daisy buttons I had in my button box. I had to rip out one buttonhole four times. Four. But finally got them in. Ahh, the buttons. Heading down the home stretch. Uh. I was sure I had three pink daisy buttons. Two orange, three yellow and TWO pink. So I spent $800 in expensive gasoline to drive into town to get the button and just when I got to the store Spike called and wanted me to dig out last year's tax return for him. Taxes? How can you talk about taxes when I'm having a button crisis? Got the buttons. Sewed them on. Got out the tax return.
Here's the finished product. I know you'll believe that I just deleted the photo. Could someone call and make an appointment for me for therapy? One more quick thing. I'm afraid the dress may be too small. I'll let you know Friday.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Do You Hear the People Sing? You Can Sunday.

The year 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of the musical Les Miserables. In honor of the anniversary a spectacular concert in London's 02 showcased the talent of cast members past and present. PBS is broadcasting the concert this Sunday night, March 6 at 7 p.m. CST. Set the DVR right now and then come back to read the rest of the post. I mean it. Right now.

In his first appearance in the lead role of Jean Valjean, Alfie Boe is in my opinion the best JVJ to date. Alfie was "discovered" in the body shop where he sang for his work mates as he polished cars. A customer heard his stunning voice, referred him to all the right people in all the right places, and I for one am grateful his professional car washing days are over.

Norm Lewis as Inspector Javert will dazzle you with his voice if not with his perfectly brilliant white teeth. Lewis' portrayal is somehow the perfect combination of the snarling, evil, vengeance-seeking inspector who is nevertheless a tormented, guilt-ridden, pitiful soul in need of redemption. He is unforgettable. You'll probably wonder where you've heard that voice. King Triton. The Little Mermaid. Yep. That's him.

And receiving the Tony in the forgettable category we have Nick Jonas in the role of Marius. I'm sorry I even reminded myself of this painful aspect of the show. His tortured facial expressions match his vocals. Either that or his coat and collar are just buttoned waaaay too tight. They should have called my son in law for the role. He'd have been perfect.

What's the deal with the teeth? You won't want to miss nor can you miss the Thenardiers' teeth. Now let me prepare you. The teeth of these two are illustrious, not to be confused with lustrous, of their roles. Just be ready. They are icky, bawdy, profane, and the crowd loves them. I'm making a note to myself about another post concerning the use of "less than the lovely" in literature. That would be a good topic. Anyway, this duo is well-cast in what the musical, not the novel, uses as comic relief. If they weren't so awful. And had those teeth. Makes you want to jump up for some Listerine or maybe a sand-blaster.
Those in the roles of Fantine, Cosette, Eponine, Enjolras, and Gavroche are splendid. Not to mention the fact that they are able to get up on stage before thousands and thousands of people and remain conscious.

The story of Les Mis would have captured my heart even if it hadn't happened in France. Written by Victor Hugo in 1862 it is one of the world's enduring classic Christ-haunted stories of dark versus light, condemnation versus redemption, slavery versus freedom, falsehood versus truth, poverty versus wealth, class versus person hood. The list of themes goes even beyond. If you've not read Hugo's masterpiece (the Barnes & Noble version is an excellent one) read a synopsis of the story somewhere online (Wikipedia and SparkNotes both have good posts) before watching the concert which features characters in costume with limited sets, a full orchestra and a huge chorus.

Like the book, this is a masterpiece. Trust me. You won't want to miss it.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Twirlies for the Girlies

So much fabric. So little time. This year's crop of spring fabrics is as we would say too too faboo. How much fun would it be to stand at the cutting table at the fabric store and say, "I'll have one of everything, please." Then I would break the sound barrier getting home to cut out skirts, dresses, bubbles for the baby, pull on pants, bloomers, and bonnets and I'd forget all about cooking supper for Spike. That would not be good. These are my twirlie girlies. I'm warning you. If you look at them too long you'll want them to come live with you and I'm not very good at sharing.

This cutie patootie is Emily who lives in North Carolina. When I go to visit she and I love to each put in one ear bud for my ipod and watch my art dvds. Or make chocolate pies or strawberry crepes. Emily even shared her crepe recipe with me.

Here's her little sister Charlotte who is hilarious and gives her mama and daddy a run for their money. She has two dollies. One is named Baby Miller after her cousin. The other is named Babysit. Watch out. She's one sharp little tack.

This little blondie is Meg who lives only five minutes away. She is our champion fish catcher. Last night Pop cooked up the big catfish Meg caught all by herself. And then just to display her varied interests she serenaded us with "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" on her violin. Supper and dinner music in one night.

About the fabric and sewing. Using this really cute and fairly easy pattern that I found at Continental Sewing here in Jackson I made the little twirlie skirts for the girlies. They still enjoy having a matching outfit for the spring when they are together. The fabric is Apricot Fizzy Bubbles and its companion fabrics that you can see at

But wait a minute. What about her? Remember my warning about looking too long. This is Squirrely Shirley Girlie, our baby dumplin' from Oxford. And she's too little for a twirlie skirt just yet. But as soon as I get the pattern she'll have her little bubble to match her cousins.

In the meantime Shirley Cate is Miss Fancy Pants with this little outfit from Kwik Sew pattern #3035 in Love Birds by My Mind's Eye. Instead of facings I lined the little top with the bloomer fabric. If the lining part gives you heartburn and if I ever figure out how to format this blog I could try post some step by step photos on how to do that.

I also added three rows of ruffles to the bloomers because Shirley Cate is a rufflie kind of girl. She NEEDS ruffles. I guess you could holler about the ruffles, too, and I'll do some pictures. How about this deal. I'll do pictures of how to not follow pattern directions if one of y'all will do pictures of how to format these crazy blogs. Deal? Let me know.