Weekly Photo Challenge: Nostalgia


The Huffys in 1974.

The Huffys in 1974.

The Huffys, 39 years later.

The Huffys, 39 years later.

Today’s photo theme is perfect for me. I’m feeling a little nostalgic because 39 years  ago today I married Best Husband. He has indeed been the best (and only) husband I’ve had, and we’re both glad that we’ve stuck together these past 39 years.

Although it doesn’t seem like that long ago, things have changed a lot since we posed for that photo in our horrible 70’s clothing. Gas was about 20 cents a gallon, and folks were getting used to this new kind of gas called unleaded. The Viet Nam War was still raging and Americans were still protesting. President Nixon was close to resignation. Most goods sold in the US were manufactured here. People worked for the same company most of their lives, retired at 65, and died a few years later. Seventy-five percent of the US population smoked, and no one stood outside to do it. Words like outsourcing, networking and texting did not exist. Most women chose homemaking over the workplace. Blow dryers, cell phones and home computers were still a long way off. Most TVs received two to three channels, unless you opted to pay extra for a new-fangled thing called cable.  No one had anything digital, except the ten things on the end of their hands. And lest you think I’m 100 years old, all of this nostalgia was really only 39 years ago.

© Huffygirl 2013

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To Gabriele


Ken  Caryl Canyon

Gabriele died last week after a long illness. I have never met her, but thanks to her daughter, Suzanne at Walking Papers Blog, I feel like I have. For months, Suzanne has shared Gabriele’s journey, her prose interspersed with photos, poems and stories about her mom’s life, and finally, death. Stories about family. Photos of Gabriele and her daughters and grandchildren. In an unflinchingly frank journal, Suzanne shared the gritty details of a beloved family member’s gradual separation from this life and her step into the next.

As I read I sometimes laughed, sometimes cried, but always felt empathy for Suzanne and her family thousands of miles away, yet so close. And through it all, I relived my  own mom’s brief illness and death, recalling the good, the bad, and the journey of her life. Others felt the same way, as Suzanne’s journal brought friends and strangers together in a community of followers of the story of Gabriele.

The internet can be a monster  – it can sap us of our free time and energy, with cat videos, FB and endless news cycles. But it can be a blessing too, making us part of a community across a nation or across an ocean, bringing us together as we share our stories and making our world a smaller place.

I wish peace to Gabriele who is now at rest, and peace to all who trek through their own journey across this world that is not so big after all.

© Huffygirl 2013

How to poison your family and make it look like an accident


It’s almost Thanksgiving again, and time for the age-old debate of stuffing versus dressing. I originally posted about this  conundrum on November 25, 2010, and thought it worth repeating just in time for this Thanksgiving. After all, it’s not every day you get an opportunity to poison your relatives with a delightful holiday dish!

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Stuffing Versus Dressing

A stuffed turkey

In the states it’s almost time for Thanksgiving, an annual holiday where everyone eats too much turkey and pie, and watches the Lions lose again. For the Thanksgiving cook, the meal preparation always brings up the age-old debate – stuffing vs dressing. They both start out the same – dried bread cubes, seasonings, sometimes broth, margarine or butter, and water, made into a conglomeration that is either stuffed inside the turkey (stuffing) or baked separately in a dish (dressing). Everyone has their own opinion on which is best, and families line up fiercely divided each year on which way this delectable Thanksgiving carbohydrate should be served. Accompanying this debate of which way is tastier is the issue (some myth, some fact) over which way is healthier or safer. Who knew that dried bread cubes could raise such ire among otherwise friendly people?

In my family growing up, we always had dressing. I’m not sure why, but I think it was in part due to the fact that: it was easier. The dressing could be made while the turkey was cooking instead of earlier in the day when the turkey was ready to go into the oven. It was quicker. Stuffed turkey is supposed to take longer to cook than unstuffed (although in my own cooking experience I have never found this to be true.) It was safer. My family and others believed that the stuffing could become contaminated with bacteria from absorbing the meat juices and turn an otherwise delightful day into a merry trip to the emergency room.

Then I met my future husband whose family was all stuffing, all the way, and why would anyone consider doing it differently? What could be better than bread cubes infused with savory turkey juices and the two pounds of butter that Buttterball and others inject into their turkeys before sending them off to the store?

So what’s a girl to do? I have to admit I found both ways tasty, although sometimes the stuffing did not look quite as appetizing as the dressing, depending upon what colors it turned from the meat juices it absorbed during cooking. Eventually when I took over hosting the Thanksgiving meal, my compromise was to make stuffing and dressing. The amount of stuffing that would fit inside the turkey was not enough to serve everyone at the table anyway, so I would serve a dish of each, or sometimes mix them together, which I guess gives you something which is neither stuffing nor dressing, but there is not really any good combination word you can make from combining stuffing and dressing.

This compromise did not come without a cost, however. Members of the dressing contingent would make sly comments like “Make sure you’ve cooked that stuffing to 160 degrees so we don’t all get food poisoning, ha ha,” while members of the stuffing contingent would say “Who would want to eat that dressing? It always turns out so dry.”

And when it comes right down to it, where did the whole stuffing/dressing custom come from anyway? Imagine the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. They’ve had a horrible year. First, all that travel and they couldn’t even earn any points from it. Then, having to build a settlement, squabble with the Native Americans, endure hardship, disease, cold and hunger. Finally, the ones who survived prepared what was probably a somewhat meager feast in celebration. There was no Kroger stores in Plymouth, so they had to hunt down their turkey, then pluck it, cut off the inedible parts, and remove the disgusting innards. After going through all that, and wrestling the turkey into a heavy cast iron roaster, you’d think that the Pilgrim cooks would have had enough of turkey prep for one day. But some creative person, staring into the empty cavity of the just gutted turkey said “hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to cut up bread into cubes, add water, lard and spices and stuff this sucker?” And the rest as we say, is history.

Whether you eat stuffing or dressing, may you all have a happy and grateful Thanksgiving!

© Huffygirl 2012

(Dedicated to Aaron and Chris, my stuffing-loving relatives who will be eating someone else’s stuffing this year. Miss you!)

The bride wore lace…


The bride wore lace, the groom wore dreads. Between the convergence of two rushing water falls, the two plead their love and commitment to one another.

No traditional recitation of “love, honor and cherish…” from these two, though their words promised the same, but in promises of the mundane. Their essence was sincere and true: I will love you no matter what; I will let you be yourself; I will let the best parts of you shine though to the least parts of me.

The guests departed with homemade centerpieces in Mason jars, and a warm feeling wrought from a wedding that was all about love and nothing about show.

(All the best to you Aaron and Andrea!)

© Huffygirl 2012

Forget Pinterest, just get a mother-in-law


Take that Pinterest!

Back when I was  new wife and  mom, we didn’t have Pinterest. Instead, we had mothers-in-law. Mothers-in-law back then were all about making pie crust from scratch, sewing their own clothes, canning jam, weaving their own rugs, and worrying that the woman their husband married might not be up to the job of being the super homemaker that she was. Forget Pinterest – just get yourself an old-fashioned mother-in-law. Before you know it, you’ll be shearing your own sheep, then spinning your own yarn to knit your husband a sweater, while you’re aging your own cheese and waxing your driveway.

My mother-in-law was a super-duper homemaker, a post World War II bride. Back then, women who were in the workforce during the WWII were encouraged to return to homemaking and childbearing, so their veteran husbands, just back from the war, could resume their civilian jobs. Women had gotten a taste of being in the career workforce, and many of them liked it. So they turned their super organizational and multitasking skills, and competitive instincts  into being the best darn homemakers they could be. Husbands of the fifties never had it so good, and as husbands of today can attest, will never have it that good again. These women cooked real food, making most meals from scratch. The kitchen appliance industry had just taken off, and women could whip, beat, blend, sauté, bake, and brown to their heart’s content, while the home appliance industry produced improved washers, dryers, and vacuums, so women spent less time on housework drudgery and more time being creative.

But there’s more. Post war women were churning out babies like there was no tomorrow. After all, their husbands had been away at war, and there wasn’t much in the way of family planning then. These babies needed clothes. Women sewed and knitted like mad, producing what we called layettes – all the clothing and accessories needed for newborns. You couldn’t just go to Target and buy packages of inexpensive third-world-produced baby and toddler outfits, so women were making those too. Little hand-smocked dresses for girls and Buster Brown suits for boys. What is smocking, you might ask? It’s a decorative yet functional elastic design, and any little girl who wore hand smocked dresses was sure to be wearing the latest fashion.

Though I loved my super-homemaker mother-in-law, I also feared her. Back then, we still respected our elders, and having a disapproving mother-in-law could make one’s married life hell. When my in-laws visited, I worked for days to have the house spick and span, the children well-mannered, and the meals sumptuous and homemade, with all of my in-laws favorite foods. It was a tiring and thankless job, as, if everything was perfect I heard nothing. Yet if the food was tasteless, or the house a mess, word might  get out to the rest of the family that Dave’s new bride was not really up to wifely standards. The kiss of death to a new bride trying to be accepted into her new family.

Fast forward to today. Now homemakers and other artistic persons searching for creative inspiration go to Pinterest. Once there, as near as I can figure out, they see pictures of what other people have posted of creative projects made by, well, other, other people. So, essentially it’s like having hundreds of mothers-in-law flaunting their superiority in your face, with jaunty pins of homemade slip covers and recipes for making your own yogurt. You too could be making your own kiln-dried bent wood patio furniture if only you’d apply yourself a little.

Hmmm. I think I’ll stick with the mother-in-law.

My dear late mother-in-law, super-talented Mary Jane.

Thanks to Lindsay at Fueled by Diet Coke for inspiring this post.

© Huffygirl 2012

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Save a dying art: sew your own throw pillows (huffygirl.wordpress.com)

Family Ties


Grandchildren. Orthopedic surgery. Arthritis. Cancer. Cholesterol. That’s what we talked about this weekend at my husband’s sibling reunion, while we took lazy boat rides, and sat around the dinner table long after the food was gone. The topics are different from many years ago, but the people are the same.

Playing Yahtzee. Drinking beer around the campfire. Staying up way later than usual for cribbage bragging rights. Eating food made from favorite family recipes. We had chopped bologna, Special K bars,  and hobo pies – old standards for my husband’s family. If it was my family,the nostalgia food would have been homemade potato salad, Polish sausage and Jello.

So many families today are fractured, dysfunctional, broken. My husband and I were lucky to grow up when family life was honored and cherished. We had Sundays at Grandma’s house after church, cookies and milk with our moms at the kitchen table after school, and family dinner every single night. There was no late night sports practice, soccer games, or working on Sundays to interrupt these traditions. To miss dinner with the family was unheard of. And miss church on Sunday? Don’t even think about it.

Our family glue is gone – both sets of parents have passed away. All we have left to hold our families together are each other. The people we fought with over riding shotgun, slept alongside of on sultry summer nights, and covered for when they stayed out past curfew. These people. Our siblings.

We cherish them. We hold dear our time together. Someday, we’ll be the aging parents. We’ll sit in front rows at funerals, while grown-up grandchildren help us with our canes and hush us for talking so loud. We’ll count off who is gone, who is left. We’ll tell quaint childhood stories over and over, but not remember what we ate for breakfast. But I hope we will always remember them, our siblings.

© Huffygirl 2012

(Special thanks to MSB for the photos.)

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Decoration Day


The stone-carved names read like my grade school roll call: Kapusta, Brusch, Karpiak, Chybik, Wydick. The Polish and Slavic names I heard every day, that I knew how to pronounce without thinking about them, were the grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles of my school mates. My sister and I played among these stones, while Daddy knelt at the one that bore his name. He’d tenderly till the soil around the stone, then gently pat begonias, geraniums and marigolds into the ground. Then he’d place the large flower urn that he had carefully planted in our greenhouse back home, under the name of his father, next to the flag. Then, job well done, he’s stand, call us to silent prayer, then depart. This was our annual Decoration Day ritual, the day to honor the fallen.

Now this task is mine. My parent’s grave has two stone vases, into which I’ve placed artificial flowers. There’s forsythia for the spring, mums or poinsettias for the winter. With these flowers in place year-long, I don’t have to come for Decoration Day any more to plant flowers, but I do. I almost didn’t do it this year: with my family’s home sold, I seldom get to this place almost an hour’s drive away. Even when I did come often, the potted annuals would always fare poorly throughout the summer, with only sporadic watering and deadheading. In recent years I had turned to planting the hardiest and most drought-resistant annuals I could find, instead of my parent’s favorites, but still they’d be small and dry, barely alive, each time I visited.

But planting flowers for Decoration Day is a tradition ingrained in me as a child. It just didn’t seem right to let it go, not yet anyway. So my husband and I dutifully brought a pot of flowers to this place of stones. Yellow zinnias for Mom, red snapdragons for Dad. He would have preferred geraniums, but they would never survive in this untended spot. We place the flower pot, tidy the grave, straighten the flag and say our silent prayers. Just as I did as a child.

© Huffygirl 2012

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