Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bits and Pieces---the Winter Quilts

I always looked forward to Winter as I grew up. Aside from the magic of shimmering snow, twinkling trees and gifty secrets, there were Gramma's quilts. As the first fragrant, speckled leaves of Fall spun merrily to the ground, Gramma began one of my favorite yearly rituals. A little second floor attic lay off my grampa's bedroom, and there Gramma and I would go to "wake the quilts," from where they slept most of the year.
The dark brown door to the attic stood out starkly against the pale blue of Grampa's bedroom walls. It had an antique beveled glass knob, and when I was a child I remember pretending it was an enormous diamond. Gramma sat me in the middle of Grampa's king size bed with some toys, and she'd enter the dark cavern of the attic. A few minutes later, she'd return to the bedroom laden with two or three neatly folded quilts. Unfolding each one in turn, she'd flip the quilts high in the air over my head and let them settle over me so I could wiggle my way out.
Within minutes, the big bed was covered with mounds and mounds of bright shards of fabric, neatly forming their own intricate designs. These were the things that would preserve us through the winter. When the weather got too cold, a curtain was pulled at the bottom of the stairway to the bedrooms. No heat went upstairs. It was then that these magnificent covers took over, replacing the warmth of the furnace as efficiently as the furnace itself. One of Gramma's works of art became a permanent fixture on each bed until Spring.
But the quilts did more than keep us warm in the dreadful cold of Pennsylvania winters. When we were ill, the quilts became a comfort and a distraction. All Gram's quilts were made of cast off clothing. Each little, carefully cut and seamed piece was a tiny memory. When the quilt floated out over our sick little bodies, Gramma would sit on our beds, point to a certain pattern in the design and help us remember the garment it came from. We'd remember, then, the days that went with that garment. The summer that little green pop-top became my favorite thing to wear. My sister's yellow dress and the day the dog torn it off the clothesline and danced areound the yard with it in his mouth. My Grampa's favorite plaid hunting shirt, and the day he wrapped me in it as we ran in out of a thunderstorm. A faded red dress of my mothers. One of Gram's many,many worn out aprons. The stories went on and on for hours while we laughed and forgot how ill we were.
Each quilt was pieced by machine, but quilted by hand, something that many quilters have no time for these days. Summer days were spent in front of a breezy window sewing the carefully traced and snipped units together, then the units into blocks, then the blocks into complete tops.
When the chill of Fall arrived, it was time to quilt. The quilting process took place in the largest bedroom of our house, which was mine and my sister's. It was an enormous bedroom, which was needed to accomodate the quilting frame. Gramma pushed my sister's bed and my bed far apart and set up the quilt frame. It was simply a couple finished wood pieces clamped to some wooden sawhorses, but to my sister and I it was much, much more.

At first, the quilt was only a few feet wide, wrapped securely around the wood lengths. But as Gramma quilted, the wood peices were adjusted further and further apart. Soon there was a wide expanse between the lengths and it formed a huge (to a little girl) cloth table. My sister and I, with our Barbies and their clothes and their dollhouses, would scurry under that enormous "roof" and set up house with all our playthings. A big braided rug covered the expanse of floor between our beds, and while Gramma sat quietly quilting and humming, my sister and I acted out chapter after chapter of our Barbie's lives. Ocassionally, when the sun shone into the bedroom, it fell on the quilt and the multicolored patches shone through the muslin lining as muted shades of candy colors.

By the time Winter hit us with the full force of it's fury, we were snuggling under even one more new quilt made with old memories. Gramma's quilts were finer than the most priceless tapestries in any great castle. After all, those quilts were made of pieces of us.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Bears, Pigs, and Roses...oh my!

There aren't a lot of bears in Pennsylvania, and if you want to see one you generally have to hunt for it. But there's always that one-in-a-million time.....

Fall was a wonderful time of year in the little pocket of land between the mountains where I was raised. It was cool, there weren't many bugs, and each day brought a new drift of pungent leaves piling up around the trees. Snakes had gone into hibernation, or were about to, and the air simply cooled your nose and didn't freeze it solid yet.

Our two big gardens held only the stubble of cornstalks, a few discarded brown leaves and perhaps a dropped clay pot. All the gardens were generally beds of dark brown, damp soil, with Gramma's rose garden being the exception. That plot of earth held only the bare limbs of pruned roses, waiting for the spring to bring them back to life. Oh, and a set of deep, unquestioningly identifiable footprints.

Late in the evening, after we were sent upstairs, my sister and I loved to climb out of bed, sneak to the heater grate in the floor, and listen to my grandparents as they sat in the kitchen in quiet, evening conversation. One night, I remember the talk was sparse and to my young ears the words sounded grave. I heard the words "keep watch," and "keep the girls close," and "plain as day," and "crushed one of the rose plants," but couldn't make out anything more.

The next day, we had relatives over. Deer season was about to begin, and Grampa and several uncles had gathered in the kitchen to clean guns and catch up on what each other had been doing for the past year.

At dusk, I decided to go for a walk with my little cocker spaniel, Buffy. An old railroad bed ran behind the house, and along the base of the mountain. The ties had long since been removed and the bed was now a wide flat path that stretched the length of the property and up through the woods. Beyond the railroad bed were our pigs. They occupied a large pen Grampa had fashioned by running the fencing up the side of the mountain and back down. Level with the railroad bed, was the water trough, the feed trough, and the barrel containing the pig feed mash.

Buffy and I crossed the small creek that drained from our pond, passed the chicken coop where the hens had begun their evening acent up the stairs to the warm henhouse, and then started up the small rise to the railroad bed. Suddenly, Buffy stopped and stood as still as stone. As I watched, she began a shudder that encompassed her entire furry frame. With a sound that I'd never heard from her, she backed up and ran, whining and yelping, down the rise and directly for the house.

I peered into the darkness of the woods. Overhanging Witch Hazel branches and beech obscured the view for a few moments. Finally, as my eyes adjusted, I saw a huge dark mass plugging the open end of the overturned feed barrel. In all my young years, I had never seen a bear in real ife, and at first I didn't know what I was looking at.

Ever so slowly, however, it backed out of the barrel. Fascination held me to the spot until the bear was fully out of the barrel. Then it stood up. My brain finally put my legs into gear and I'm sure my feet didn't touch the ground as I ran across the creek, through the back yard, and into the house.

The slamming door caught everyone's attention and I guess the look on my face and my little dog's frantic arrival just before me brought understanding before I could even speak. For a moment there was silence, then suddenly there was a mad rush for the back door. Cleaning rags flew into the air and shotguns were being snapped tight over shells. Gramma sat me in the kitchen rocker, began peeling off my coat and examining me for damage. That done, a cookie cured my fear.

5 men were across the creek within an instant, creeping up the rise to the railroad bed...guns aimed into the murkiness of the woods. Suddenly, as my grampa told it later, they all watched as the bear again backed out of the feed barrel where he'd returned after he scared me off. They all watched as the bear lifted himself to his full, adult height. 5 men raised 5 shotguns. Grampa peered down his site and lifted a hand to stay the others. Saying not a word, he pointed to the bear. There in the deepening twilight of the woods, something shone about the neck of the bear. It lowered itself to the ground and began a slow plod toward the men. Grampa spoke quietly, telling the others to hold off. The bear ambled to the railroad bed, 10-15 feet from the men, gazed languidly at them a moment, then began a slow walk up the bed and into the woods. As it walked, a long chain hanging from the neck swayed to and fro. A tame bear.

Grampa and my uncles looked at each other in wonder. With a few grins and chuckles, the men walked back to the house. Suddenly, there was much more than gossip to discuss.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bowman's Creek

Across the narrow, barely paved road from the house where I grew up, a bank ran down to Bowman's Creek. The sounds of the creek were a childhood constant. As I played in the yard or worked in the garden, the water giggling over the rocks beaconed me to abandon my responsibilities and come play over there. At night, the creek never failed to sing me off to sleep. In my sadness, the creek seemed to speak to me in sympathetic tones and when I felt happy, it shared my joy with it's laughter.
So many great memories flowed in that water.
When my sister and I were growing up, each season had it's simple joys. Fall was crisp mornings, bright leaves, fresh brown mushrooms, and Thanksgiving. Winter was snowmen and Christmas. But spring was almost magical in that little pocket of the mountains where I grew up. It was the best time of the year, because it meant Summer was almost here and no school!
Spring led slowly into Summer. That was good, because it gave us time to savor the enchantment of everything. Each day there was something new growing. I remember scurrying to put my socks and shoes on so I could run across the road and slide on my fanny down the bank to the creek. Once there, I'd stare down into it's recesses. As my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I studied the bottom through the shallow clear flow, picking out the shapes of small, new trout lying near the bottom. Their bodies barely moved, the fins swaying ever so gently back and forth to keep them upright.
There was lots to do down there, within reach of my fingers. Violets, their stems still short and close to the warm earth, grew abundantly through the grass clear down to the water's edge. I only needed to walk a few hundred yards into the woods to find a handful of tiny yellow violets to add to the purple ones.
But I knew what I'd take home. A rock. Every time I took a walk, I brought back a rock for Gramma's rock garden. She'd chosen a special spot on the relatively warm side of the house, near the chimney. There, she'd planted a number of wild flowers brought down through the woods that surrounded our home. It was there that each treasured rock I brought home was placed. Dozens were scattered in that garden. Each time I brought home another one, she moved the others closer together and made room for the new one. Each rock was a trip to the creek, a gift for Gramma. And each time I handed her one, she never failed to exclaim how different from the others it was and what a beautiful addition it would make to the garden.
As it got warmer, my sister and I watched the various flowers very closely. We weren't allowed to put our feet into the creek water until a certain plant was in bloom, and it seemed it was a different plant each year. One year, we were to watch the Dogwood. Not until it was in bloom could we "paddle our feet" in Bowman's Creek. Another year it was the Lilac bush out back. Still another year, we were to keep a sharp eye on the apple blossoms. It wasn't until I got older that I realized Gramma had been careful to watch the plants herself and each year she quietly determined which plant would bloom last, putting our "paddling" as far into the spring as possible.
The creek followed the road, for the most part, and this made swimming easy for most people as they had a place to park when they chose a swimming "hole." The various holes for swimming were named by number, the "1st" being the hole closest to town and the "5th" being a great spot quite a bit up the road from my house. The holes were actually wide areas of the creek where the water ran swift and deep. Everyone loved the 5th because it had a outcropping of rock from where you could jump and a sandy spot on the other side, much like a beach.
But if you lived on my road, you knew about great spots the town folks didn't. Barely discernable paths led through the woods to wonderful places where hemlocks bent way over water so deep and dark you could barely see the bottom. The water barely moved in the depths where the catfish lay, almost immobile. I loved to wade out to where the deep water just began, lay down on my back in the shallows, and let the water float me down under the trees until I bumped into the rapids and had to stand up.
Some summers were so dry that the creek level would go very shallow. Those were hard summers, as the reservoir level for the house would drop as well. But we never seemed to worry too much about it. Grampa would bring in buckets of water and Gramma would boil it for cooking, and if we wanted to clean up, she'd send us to the creek with a small bar of homemade soap. Of course, going to the creek to swim---for whatever purpose---was never a hardship for us girls!
I remember my grampa teaching me how to fish from Bowman's. He taught me the process, but he also taught me the ethics of fishing. Bowman's Creek was stocked with trout annually or semi-annually. A truck would drive slowly up our road and dump hundreds of trout into the creek at a given spot miles upstream. Grampa would stand in the driveway as he watched the trout stocking truck go by the house. I remember him shaking his head in disgust as he watched the steady parade of dozens of cars following the truck up the road. They were there to drop their lines into the water the moment the first fish hit the surface of the creek. They'd park behind the parked stock truck, get their poles ready, spread themselves out along the creekbank downstream from the truck and shout companionably at one another as they waited for their dinner to "jump into their hands."
Grampa knew what those new fish were like. "Soft-bellied, yellow, and corn-fed," he called them. Not fit for catching. He felt a trout worth catching had been living in the creek for at least a year, placed a challenge on the fisherman, and had been feeding on natural stuff for a long while. He also felt that a fisherman who followed a stock truck and caught fish as soon as they dropped from it was not a fisherman at all. Where was the challenge in catching a fish that was so used to being fed daily that it would hit on the first thing that went into the water in front of it? Where was the sportsmanship?
Grampa took me fishing every chance he got. And he taught me how to fish with sportsmanship. Find a spot where you don't cast a shadow across the water...a fish worth catching knew when he was being hunted. Noises...don't make any. A fish worth catching knew when it was being hunted. Need to wade out into the creek? Do so slowly, with the water. Plant your feet slowly between the rock. Don't disturb the rocks in the water or on the shore. A fish worth catching knew when it was being hunted. Did the average trout care whether you held a bamboo stick or a brand new, state-of-the-art pole? Nope. All it cared about was what was on the business end of your line. Did it care if that enticing morcel was the latest spinning, girating, snuffling, glinting, attraction or a big juicy night crawler? What do you think?
Thanks to my grampa, I learned alot about fishing. But along with the fishing lessons, he taught me about people too. "Fish don't care how fancy your pole is," he'd tell me. "They're going to take a good look at the bait. And that doesn't have to be fancy either. Same with people. Fancy clothes, flashy car...what difference does it make when the soul behind the wheel with the fancy duds is as shallow as the creek in a dry summer?"
And he taught me about myself too. "Don't be a corn-fed, trout, honey." He'd say barely above a whisper. "Don't swallow whatever's dangled under your nose. Stay out in the deep water a good long while and eye life's challenges real good, then grab onto a good one and don't let go."
When I was a young girl, Bowman's Creek was known mostly to local sportsmen, but over the years it's gained national attention as a prime fishing area. I don't care. The degree of attention the creek gets may change, but the creek doesn't. The fish don't, nor the violets or rocks. And the lessons I learned from my grampa about life and fishing will never change. And that's good, because some things shouldn't change.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Reservoir

Our farmhouse got it's water from a reservoir, a big hole excavated on the side of the mountain, not too far up behind our house. A spring fed into it from further up the mountain, filling it to within a few feet of the top, and the water fed through pipes down the hill to the house.
The hole was covered with a large sheet of tin and marked so that hunters wouldn't step onto the thin metal and go through, into the numbing, cold spring water.
Each Fall, Grampa would go up the side of the mountain, to check the reservoir. I dearly loved to go with him, as the reservoir was enchanting to me. The walk was fun, through the crunching brown leaves, holding my grampa's hand. We picked wintergreen berries from their little stems near the ground and popped them into our mouths. Grampa brought a basket, and occassionally we'd find a clump of new brown mushrooms. He'd cut them off leaving the roots in the ground then lower them gently into the basket. Later, Gramma would fix them for supper. But knowing what might be at the reservoir was what inspired my little legs to grapple with the climb through the woods.
Fall's abundance of leaves usually covered the metal over the reservoir. We'd sweep the leaves off with an old broom and Grampa would slide the cover off. I kept my eyes on the opening as the metal scraped across rocks and was thrown off to one side. Occasionally, some critter would be near the edge of the pool, lying just under the cover, unaware that his cool, dark hiding place would soon be revealed. Many times I would be priveleged to see animals, snakes and lizards that I ordinarily never saw. They would quickly scoot into the water or tunnel under a drift of leaves and rocks---gone for the time being.
I sat on the edge of the deep, dark reservoir as my grampa used a big net to pull a thin layer of leaves off the top of the water. Somehow, they'd managed to filter down and under the sheet cover.
The water in the reservoir was deep and still. The deeper it went down, the darker it became, but it was crystal clear to the bottom. I remember looking into the depths and being amazed that I saw no fish in such a perfect place for fish.
But there were other things I loved in this place. Moss---the greenest moss I ever saw---grew just inside the upper edge of the hole. Against that moss, bright as jewels on emerald velvet, lay one of my favorite creatures: a red spotted newt. Small and sleepy-eyed, it crouched in a swirled ball within the moss. As the metal moved off and the sun hit it's little orange body, it slowly uncurled and began moving off into the leaves. I'd seen dozens of these newts in my young life, but it was always a fresh delight to pick up the delicate little thing, examine it very, very close to my face, and then put it back into it's place.
Once all the living things had fled from the water, I lost interest and began exploring the stone row that ran down and away from the reservoir. Old stone rows threaded their way here and there all over the mountain. Natural field stone had been piled into rows and used for fences by long-ago farmers on this mountain. Broken down now by weathering and time, their wandering lines were still visible in many places. I loved to sit on the rocks, quietly and slowly lifting each one to see what crept beneath. Many times, another orange newt. Sometimes a large brown lizard. Most of the time simply roly-polys. But the anticipation of what could be under the next rock, always kept me busy until Grampa whistled and it was time to pick up the mushroom basket and head on down the mountain. By the time we'd reached the house, ruddy cheeked and out of breath from laughing and kicking through leaves, we had a basketful of goodies for Gramma. Brown mushrooms, a perfectly formed abandoned bird nest the wind had whipped out of a tree, a great handful of wintergreen leaves, some buckberries, and a few twigs of Sasafrass. We were always happy to trade it for big bowls of hot soup she always seemed to have ready when we appeared from the woods.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Noxen Elementary

For many Noxen folks, our hometown holds the buildings where not only we attended school, but our mothers and fathers, and their mothers and fathers. // When I was a child, the Island Road where this historic building stands was dirt. Behind this building was the one-room school where both my gramma and my mother were educated.

But, by the time I began school, the little one-room had been boarded up. I attended the new, big school building that sat across the field. The playground was equipped with everything we needed to have a great time in the sun. Far out over the grass sat the big swingset with it's wooden seats. When the bell rang, it was always a race to see who got to the swings first. The winners of that race would grab a swing for a freind, and it was "halfway to the moon" for fifteen glorious minutes. Some even had the courage to stand on the wood slats and swing...daring for my time!

Near the swings was the long, steel slide---always so hot in the sun! And the merry-go-round. The girls would sit and the boys would grab a rung and push. It was fun going round and round, your hair and dress blowing wildly, until us girls discovered the boys were keeping that contraption going at top speed so we'd be late getting back to the classroom! Still, there was good-natured laughter as we all pounded for the door. We were usually in our seats before the last toll of the bell.

Under a big, spreading tree we had monkey bars---an apparatus of steel bars where we'd hang like possoms---or monkeys---and drop, willingly or otherwise, to the dirt below. It was fun unless rain had turned the dirt under the bars to mud.

There was a softball field and we played dodgeball against the side of the school. Teachers stood about, arms crossed, watching for anything that warranted an order to "Have a seat on the step and wait to go in. Your recess is over." Oh, the shame of that!

There were things I remember about this old building that still bring a smile to my face. Coming to school on Monday morning...the smell of fresh floor wax because Mr. Schenk has spent time polishing all the hardwood floors. It always smelled new to me. Hot summer days when our teachers would open the tops of the big windows and a warm, sweet-smelling breeze would waft through the classroom, drying the hair at the back of our necks. The scratch of real chalk over the blackboard and the feeling of pride when you were chosen to "dust the erasers" for the teacher. The wintergreen smell of snow-white paste from little tubs. Lead pencils and pencil tablets. The scent of wet wool and fresh mud as out mittens and coats dried near the coatroom. The mixture of heavenly scents that escaped our lunch pails and brown paper and peanut butter and yellow cupcakes. Cheese sandwiches wrapped in crisp waxed paper.

And we ate sitting out on the grass under a tree in the dappled shade. Laughing and talking, we traded goodies from our lunches and whispered secrets about boys and dolls and dreaded spelling tests. Funny how I didn't want to go to school back then. Today, I'd give anything to relive that time of innocence and relative purity. A time when you weren't just a student to your teacher, you and your entire family were friends of hers. A time when not only sportsmanship was taught, but the golden rule as well. When recieving an "F" wasn't glorified, it was a shame. When children shared candy and lunches, not drugs and guns. When discipline was the only method used to call forth the full potential of a child, and "positive reinforcement" and "redirection" weren't part of a teacher's agenda.

As a society, we don't need to return to the days of Mayberry, RFD but a return to the standards of that day would be nice. For big cities, it's too much to ask. But for the small towns across America, it's not too late. How about installing the computers in the classrooms, then teaching kids how to respect them. How about building cafeterias, then teaching kids how to eat properly. We could teach Yoga, but teach sportsmanship and fairplay too. Instead of using timeout and studyhalls for misbehavior, let kids run off that disobedience on the football field. After a few laps, they might be more willing to sit still and study instead of contriving ways to be mischievious.

Schoolmasters of old were rigid taskmaster. That's why some of the greatest inventions, ideas, and changes in the world were born in the minds of our ancestors. We need a few good, old schoolmasters today.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Noxen, Pennsylvania

I was raised in a small town in northeastern Pennsylvania called Noxen. Noxen is about 4 miles from Harvey's Lake, the largest natural lake in Pennsylvania.

When I was young, Noxen was a "blink-and-you're-through-it kind of town. One street ran through town, with a stop sign at a "T"in the road. That was the hub of everything. There was a gas station, a general store, and a medical clinic all on the same corner. About two city blocks down the street there was another general store with an ice cream parlor along one wall(for the kids). Next door stood a bar, converted from an old ice house. And that was it. The entire "big city" experience of my youth.

My grandfather was the town policeman, or, if you prefer, the constable. Every night after work, he would put on his uniform, complete with "dress blue" jacket and offical hat, and announce that he was off to the "big city" for patrolling. Ocassionally I would get to accompany him on his patrols... Sort of like Andy let Opie "ride along." Grandpa and I never found any crime, but he didn't let the dust collect on the car's big side spotlights. We'd patrol backroads where he'd let me look for deer among the trees. It was so exciting to see those two little "headlights" as the spotlight startled the night feeders. I can't remember how those nights ended, but I always woke up in my bed the next morning. It must have been tough work for a youngster, all that patrolling!

Noxen was founded during the 17 and 1800's on the industries of leather tanning and lumbering. When I was a child of three, my grandfather worked at the tannery a mile down the road. At three, you don't remember much, but I recall a story my grandmother told me after I became an adult. Gramma allowed me play on the front porch with my dolls and other toys. She'd bring snacks occasionally, as she worked in the kitchen baking, hung laundry out back, washed dishes, and so on. One day when she came to the porch, I was nowhere in sight. She looked all around our house, which sat on an acre of property. She checked the chicken house, the garden, and the pig's area that ran up the side of the mountain out back. She checked the spring by the chicken house, and the pond directly in back of the house. Panicing, she raced to the outhouse and the tree lot to the north of the garage. Finally, with her heart in her throat, she checked the road. There, in the dust of the road were two little footprints.

She ran, hairpins flying from her hair and apron flapping around her knees, through the woods, a mile down the road, as fast as she could. When she finally found me, I was being held by my grandfather as he stood outside the tannery drive. I was smiling and laughing and being offered candy and cigars and my toes were being tickled by 5 or 6 big, dirty, entertaining tannery workers. When I was questioned about why I had left the porch, I replied, "I just wanted to see my grampa." (Michael Eugene Traver, "Grampa," standing, 9th from the left with hat tilted back)

When my grampa was constable of Noxen, he didn't refer to himself as a cop. He didn't allow others to either. To my grampa, the term "cop" was one of disrespect, as if the job had little significance. He was "Chief Traver," or "Officer Traver." After all, the official mail he received from the state was addressed to Chief of Police Michael Traver."

Each night, when he put on his police uniform, his shirt was standard blue, crisply pressed. The jacket was spotless. His pants had perfect front creases. And his hat was always on straight. Grampa was the law in a small town in the '50's and '60's. The only law. He could have worn anything he wanted...flannel shirt, t-shirt, torn and faded overalls, old boots or straw hat. After all, it was just a dinky town in the middle of nowhere. But to my grampa, it wasn't the size of the town. It was the size of the responsibility. And he embraced that responsibility in every aspect. It didn't matter that most of the "streets" he patrolled were lanes with two wheel ruts, or that the biggest crime he encountered was a domestic dispute involving a couple he'd probably watched grow up. Grampa never thought of himself in lesser terms than "Chief of Police," and as a result, that attitude spilled over into other aspects of his life.

A handshake was your word, good for the long haul, as binding as a signed contract. Never lie. Look a man straight in the eye. Do the right thing, even when no one is watching. Take care of your neighbor. Simple, practical, uncomplicated...the way to live a long, peaceful life.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Okay...I ran across this picture and thought maybe someone would be interested in seeing our Salsa's glamour shot... Anyone familiar with double yellowheads knows that Chips (our other baby) looks almost exactly like Salsa. Salsa is about 5 and Chips is about 40. We found Chips (originally named Ralph) about a year ago at our bird shop where an elderly couple had left him because they could no longer care for him.

Even though the bird shop owner was dubious about us taking Chips home, we really wanted to give him a place for his remaining years. We brought Salsa into the shop and put them together for an hour or so and they immediately began preening each other. We knew they'd be good friends, and we were right. They are inseperable at home!

We've taught Salsa lots of word and phrases, but our favorite is "Salsa cool guy! Cool guy!" He says it in a low, sexy voice. The most interesting thing Chips does is sing the first four words to the song, "I left My Heart in San Francisco."
When we retire, we plan to own a large RV and do alot of traveling. I would love to hear from people who travel with their bird and how they've adapted for it.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Alice Ora Schooley was my gramma. When she was little her mother was sickly, so in addition to maintaining good grades in school, she cared for several brothers and sisters and the needs of her bedridden mother. She grew up quickly with little time for herself or anything that wasn’t practical. Her life was devoted to cooking, cleaning, and household duties. And as a result of that kind of youth, she grew up staunch and sober—disciplined, strict, and to-the-point. At no time did she look at any of the issues of life with anything but common sense and correctness. And she loved me with all her heart.
She taught me the value of "practice what you preach," and "do unto others," and "never put off til tomorrow what you can do today." But she also taught me balance in all things. A time to work and a time to play.
It's peculiar how I think of Gramma. It's true, she was the height of dignity in all things. She walked straight, sat correctly, spoke properly, and behaved even more properly. Indeed, the first word that comes to mind when I think of my gramma is "dignity."
But then there were the times we'd hear her quietly humming to "Song, Sung Blue" as it played on the kitchen radio and we'd watch as she ironed in time to the rhythm of the song. The time we entertained relatives and she took her apron off and danced a waltz with my grampa in the kitchen.
Then there were the times when she'd sit down on the floor and teach us how to create castles with our raw wood blocks and how to add paper dolls to bring the castles to life. She'd wipe her hands on her apron and join us at the table in order to show us how to add shading when we used our crayons and coloring book. Of course, in order to show us, she herself had to color a picture. She'd show us how to cut and glue small boxes and make furniture for our dolls, and how to use egg white and cotton scraps to make a new hinge for a well-loved book. Clothespins and a cardboard box became a fort in her hands, or maybe a 10 car garage for all our tin and rubber cars and trucks.
One Christmas she called my sister and I into the front room where the Christmas tree stood, lit and decorated. Quietly she said,"Let me show you something pretty, girls." To her knees she went, tucked her skirt and apron around her legs, and lay down face up with her head under the tree's edge. "Come down like me." she said. We lay down, face up, with our heads under the edge of the tree. There the three of us lay, like the spokes of a wagon wheel. A fairyland of lacy, dark branches spread in all directions. To our amazement, the lights danced brighter under there. We saw our reflections in the old, intricate glass ornaments. We were so close to the tiny plaster creche nestled in the cotton at the tree trunk, I waited, breathless, to hear the little figures speak. From under there, that tree was magical.
That was how my gramma played. I think it was always her intention to teach us one lesson: dignity, propriety and balance in all things. But she taught us another lesson too. One we'd do well to teach our own tiny ones. The lesson of imagination. That boxes and clothespins can be castles, pots and pans can be an orchestra and mud in a dish can be chocolate pie. That a whole fairyland lies just under the edge of a lit Christmas tree. Leave the mesmerizing, mind-numbing video games on the shelf. Turn off the TV and computer. They'll get educated fast enough in this world. Give the kids the humble bits and peices of household living and you watch...they'll become the archetects of their OWN galaxies.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Onward and Upward...

Well, I left this blog for a time, but the prodigal daughter has returned, this time with a bit more focus and determination. My blogging sabbatical was well spent, however, as I had the good fortune to read and enjoy the word paintings of so many other bloggers. That led to an inspiration to return to my own keyboard paintbrush with a commitment to contribute to this enormous, artistic canvas. Enough blathering...onward and upward! (Alice Ora Traver, "Gramma," 1941)

The title of my blog sums up what I would like my personality to reflect. Being raised by my grandparents and mainly shaped by the hand of a woman born around the turn of the century, the first lesson I learned was practicality in everything. This blog, therefore, has that focus. There's not enough practicality in these throw-away times. People spend more than they make, throw away things that still have life, and cave to excesses far beyond our forefathers. Don't get me wrong. I'm not the saint on the soapbox. This is for me, too. Me, the excessive spender, the throw-it-away-and-get-a-new-one gal, the just-one-more-what's-it-gonna-hurt gal...I could go on and on.
So here is my contribution to what I hope is a growing trend: to do more for ourselves instead of relying on our government to supply for us. Here's to American ingenuity that says, "I can fix that...I can make that...I can learn that!" And here's to a change in our level of frugality. As my gramma used to say, "Wear it out, use it up, make it do, or do without!