Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Lady from Latvia taught the Crochet Nanny to appreciate what you have

I think I am a collector of stories. I am fascinated by people and their lives, and for some reason, people, even strangers, like to tell me their stories. And from them, I learn a lot, and from one lady, I learned to appreciate what I have. These days, with the economy crashing, I am remembering a chance encounter that left a lasting impression on me, that even today makes me think,stop whining and just be happy for what you have. I call her the Lady from Latvia and here's her story.

The Lakewood ShopRite is not a place to go for a quick milk run. For me, at least, any visit there is as much for the experience, as for the shopping. You see, Lakewood is an international melting point, having perhaps as many different cultures blended there as any major urban center. Walking down the aisles, you may feel that you have stumbled onto the ancient city of Babel. The largest rabbinical college in the world is located in Lakewood, and Hassaidic Jews from all over the world come to Lakewood to study. Men with their curly sideburns and tall black hats, rush to the "Kosher Experience" for some last minute touches for their evening meal, making sure they escape before sundown. Middle Eastern men who crowd into single rooms after working at gas stations for minimum wage so they can send their earnings home to their families in Turkey, scour the dairy aisle for yogurt. Mexican men hide in chicken coops behind farm markets, by day picking tomatoes, and by night walking miles to buy plantains before Shop Rite closes at 1:00 a.m. Indian women in their saris load their baskets with onions and search the spice aisles for coriander seeds to season their rich curries. You can hear the chatter of Poles, and Czechs and Russian Jews, all searching the shelves for something that reminds them of home. And they are not disappointed. Shop Rite stocks so many varieties of food that to a curious born in the USA housewife, you can get lost in the possibilities.

It was on a lazy Sunday afternoon that my daughter and I met the Lady from Latvia. We were looking at the meat case, which covers the entire back of the store, and laughing at the packages of pigs feet, pigs ears, chicken feet, and other such delicacies. A very well dressed older woman, with shiny white hair, and brilliant blue eyes, her pale skin ashen next to the bright red lipstick painting her lips, stood next to us, fingering packets of lamb shank, examining and then selecting three. I asked her what she was going to make with the lamb shanks, since my daughter and I were always trying to come up with new recipes. She told us that she had a hard time finding lamb shanks,and when she saw them , she would buy several to keep on hand. Her speech was very formal, slightly accented, and she held her head erect. I would not call it pride, but more an air of confidence and comfort with who she was. She started to explain her recipe, and she told me it was a very European style of cooking. She would cover the shank with water, seasonings, and lots of vegetables and potatoes, and let it cook for hours. It would develop the most flavorful broth and tenderize the little meat on the shank. She was alone and she could get several meals from one pot. It was a dish she had made for many years. Although she was polite, I noted that she was a bit reserved, but nonetheless I took the bold step of asking her more. I said, may I ask what country you are from? I could feel my daughter cringing with the knowledge that her mother was at it again, interrogating perfect strangers because of her desperate curiosity to know about people. She didn't hesitate, and it almost seemed that she wanted to talk. She told me that she was from a little country, called Latvia, had I ever heard of it? And of course, I had, and told her so. She told me that she was born there, and that she had married and had an infant son. When her son was just a baby, the Russians invaded her country, and captured her husband. She was able to flee with her son to Poland where a minister from a church offered her his help to get her to America as a refugee. Knowing absolutely no one, she took her baby son and came to New Jersey. With the contacts that the minister had given her, she was able to get a small apartment and a job in a factory. She worked 50-60 hours a week, for over 40 years, in the same factory, putting every penny into funding a good education for her son. Her son was now the owner of his own computer company in California, had a PhD and was a very educated and wealthy man. She told me that her son takes very good care of her, and that she lives very comfortably now in her retirement, without any worries about money. It struck me that even with this admitted comfort, she was still searching through the cheapest cuts of meat to make a bountiful old world stew. I asked her if she ever had a chance to go back to Latvia, and she told me that she had not. Then she paused and said , but I didn't find out what happened to my husband until just five years ago. I found out that after the Russians captured my husband, they took him to a field, and executed him by firing squad. All these years, I had been waiting for some word from him, waiting to find him, and he had been dead from the beginning. Her eyes seemed a little wistful , and she said to me, is this your daughter? After acknowledging that she was, she said to both of us, America is the greatest country in the world, don't ever forget that, you are the luckiest people that you are born here and live here. And then she said, And now you know my story.

And now so do you.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

It Takes a Village, filled with 1000 markets

You know, when Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village came out, I have to say, even without reading it, I was a critic. What do you mean, it takes a village? What kind of theory is that? I don't need a village to raise my child, or do anything else for that matter. I should have read, No Man is an Island Unto Himself! Recently, a neighbor had a baby after a difficult pregnancy. The baby has some kind of gastric problem that keeps her up and crying 24/7. It's sleeping time is about three seconds out of every five. Very difficult for the baby, and also for the parents who are rotating shifts so that they can sleep. Shortly after the baby was born, I sent over a big dish of macaroni and cheese and fudge, there's that fudge again! My neighbor across the street sent over rotisserie chicken and sides the next day. As I was getting ready for work about a week later, I noticed another neighbor standing on the bus stop with new mommy's older child. On another day, neighbor across the street called since teenage big sister was babysitting and couldn't calm the baby. I went across the street and within five minutes, another neighbor and her husband arrived as well. Our neighborhood is like that, it's like a (gulp) village. And as I sit at my computer at 5:00 a.m., before getting ready for work (the job that pays the bills, not the fun one!), I am centered right smack in the middle of a virtual village. 1000 markets was unknown to me until someone on another marketplace mentioned it in a forum. I took a look and immediately loved it. I mentioned it to a few virtual friends and before I knew it they had shops. Being somewhat graphically challenged but a big blabbermouth, I just mentioned that I wanted to snazz up my shop, and a wonderful lady, Liz Designs, took a look and gave me the finishing touches. Another virtual friend, Alyson 2, was so complimentary on this site and we patted each other's back when we were accepted! In visiting the forums, and writing my blogs and reading other blogs, I am learning a lot about people in my little village. For instance, when I mentioned to Alyson that my husband was recently laid off, she offered her expertise in resume writing, (her other career task!). I have met a lot of amazing people on this site, well, not met, you know what I mean. Amazing people who are honest, sensitive, creative, and willing to reach out and help their fellow virtual market members. I find myself racing to the computer to see what is written in the forums, or the blogs, or just strolling through the markets, incredibly impressed by my window shopping. I have learned a lot by participating, and reading and when you are a grandmother there is a lot to learn about this stuff! So to my fellow shopkeepers, I say, thank you so much, and to Hilary Clinton, I say, you were right, it does take a village, a virtual village.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Better do today what you want to put off until tomorrow

You know, my head is bursting with ideas. Now, I am not going to pretend that they spring from some creative fountain deep inside, but they are snippets from magazines, TV, internet, friends, and real life churning through my head like a subliminal slide show. I am the first to admit they are a little grandiose and if I thought logically, instead of emotionally all the time, I would realize that sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. Like my brother's surprise for his 50th birthday. I was going to make him a scrapbook of his entire life, prefaced by a genealogy, pictures and anecdotal blurbs about family members. I started with gusto, the pages filled, all six of them, the birthday came, the birthday went, and now my goal is to present it to him on his 60th. I had similar success with my grandson’s, his book is complete to his christening at six weeks. He turned six this summer. Yea, there are quite a few, like my great idea to have everyone sign the holiday tablecloth, and then I would embroider their signatures, capturing them forever. They signed, I stitched, but am about three years behind on that project. Also, the book my daughter presented me when she gave birth to my first grandchild, the one where you write all your memories and history to preserve for your grandchildren. I just can’t seem to find the right pen, plus, should I print, or script? These are big decisions when you are creating a heirloom. Don’t even ask me about the 3,000 pictures I have on my computer that I am going to organize into categories, and print out into booklets. Let’s not go there, okay? I have often said if I could eliminate work and sleep, I could get all my projects done. But recently, I learned a real lesson that taught me, just do it, and get it over with! I had read a lot about prayer shawls that some churches were doing to comfort people facing major illness. My church doesn’t do them, my son’s church does. I thought what a great idea, I want to do that, but never took the next step to join an organized group. Then my dear cousin, Tim, was given horrible news. Lung cancer that had spread. This was about two years ago, and I thought, wow, wouldn’t a prayer shawl be nice. Of course, it would, and after all that thinking, it would be nice, I finally bought the yarn, but there it sat, I worked it a little, put it aside. I felt guilty for not being part of a prayer group, and doing it on my own. I researched that to see if it were as effective. These things take time, you know. It should have taken a weekend, it took months. One weekend, I just got a burst and finished it. I mailed it off to him and late on a Monday he called. He wanted to tell me that he had gotten awful news. All treatment was suspended, the cancer had spread into his bones. The pain in his shoulder that he was suffering with was because his shoulder had disintegrated, laced with cancer. There was really nothing more that they could do. But he had received the shawl, and he loved it, he immediately wrapped it around him, he loved the softness of it, he said it made him feel better. I told him, when you wrap it around you, I hope you can feel all my love and prayers and the hope that went into making it. A few days later, he collapsed and went to the hospital. The shawl went with him. His wife said it made him feel better, he said it made his shoulder not hurt so much. It never left him. He lapsed into a coma, and was taken home by hospice. Never waking up, he died the next day. One week after getting the shawl that was two years in the making. His sister said to me the day he died, “ I thought there was more time, I guess I have learned not to delay, not to put things off.” She is right, as it seems that life is speeding away like a runaway train and I am holding on for dear life, hoping to make it around the next bend. They say life is what happens when you are busy making plans. Life - like Aunt Edna always used to say, "nobody gets out alive." Guess I better try to change my mantra from I’m gonna to I did, it’s going to be hard, but I think it is time to start being a verb and not a noun.

We are what we make, not what we buy!

I had just clicked "send" on my All Users email for my co-workers birthday, when it seemed instantly, an attorney from our office sent me a message from his blackberry at court "did you make that awesome pie/cake thing". I emailed back, "yes, and fudge too," and the reply came immediately, "can you save some of it for me because when I get back it will be all gone." And as predicted, when he did come into the office, the foil tray was in the garbage, virtually licked clean. My nephew had a housewarming party yesterday, invites went out quite a while ago, but on Monday he called, and after some idle chit chat, asked if I could make "your meatballs". This is what I called the curse recipe, because once you bring this dish to an event, you are forever, for the rest of your life doomed to have to bring it again. I have renamed it Peggy's curried meatballs, as my mother had torn it out of some newspaper, and the worn and stained clipping was tossed from drawer to drawer over the years until it actually was lost. Thankfully, a friend had diligently copied down the recipe while my mother was making it and years later, nonchalantly said, "oh, that recipe, I have it." It's not that I mind making it, but it is a two day project. You have to make all the meatballs, not spaghetti and meatball size, but those little appetizer size, as uniform as you can get them, and make sure they don't burn. Then you make the special sauce and you have to soak the meatballs in the sauce in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours so everything blends. Then the day of the event, you have to put them in a crockpot for at least six hours to heat, because these are not the throw in the microwave type of food. Yea, it is a curse, but the expression on everyone's face first when you walk into a party with them, and second, as they are savoring their third and fourth helping, all makes it worthwhile. I think everyone has their special dishes, and there is always that person in the family that you associate with a special food. Food that is made from scratch, time consuming, multi-step, always tastes just right, a creation. And that how it is with the artisans in this market. Anyone can pick up a machine made mass marketed scarf, but how many people can crochet or knit one, choosing the yarn, choosing the stitch, all with the intention of sharing a craft, giving of yourself and creating a memory. Whatever the product, the fact that is hand made is special, unique and lasting. I just can't imagine being associated with some mass produced, big box store , grab from the freezer, shove in the microwave speciality, and come to think of it, I have never heard anybody rave about Mary's Sara Lee cake, or Laura's bagel bites, or John's Beefaroni. The fact that people associate the creator with the creation, like Aunt Edna's apple pie, or Aunt Alice's doilies, those are the things that last, that endure, that fill hope chests and are passed from generation to generation. Things that are made by hand, by people,and with the love and joy of the creator.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What I've been up to lately

Well, a new beautiful baby arrived on our block late in October, so I cracked out the recipe for fudge that I hadn't made in so long, and made a tray of that and a big tray of yummy comforting macaroni and cheese and sent it across the street. Then someone in the office had a birthday, so I made the fudge again. I forgot how easy it was to throw together, and of course everyone loved it. I was thinking about when we lived in Erie, PA and would go for rides and see signs that said, "Goat Milk Fudge" for sale. Now, my memory is not that good, so I am not sure if we ever bought goat milk fudge, or ate it, but somehow I have this thought of stopping along the road and buying some and savoring it, but it could just be one of my many dreams/memories mixtures! Anyway, speaking of babies, we are expecting another grandchild! L & S, the newlyweds, recent homeowners are expecting in late May early June. I am really looking forward to seeing if I should buy pink yarn or blue! Also, due to the school holiday, D came to visit since last Wednesday and went home last night. I call it the arrival of the six year tornado! But honestly, it is more or less my participation in the fun that makes the house look like it was ransacked from one end to another. Of course, we had to drag out the afghans and put them on the living room floor so we could pretend we were on a raft in the middle of the ocean, plus D was deputized and gave us a lot of tickets, I got one for not having socks on and PopPop got one for eating grapes in the living room, plus he shot a giant tiger (stuffed) with a tranquilizer gun and caged it up so he could return it to the zoo! Oh to be six again! Also, in my spare time, I finally finished a bunting for M at work and his new baby which is due within the next two weeks. Here's a picture

Saying goodbye to Aunt Edna

You know, people always say, when you get older, time passes more quickly. That seems impossible, there are the same amount of minutes in the day whether you are six or sixty, but why does it seems to just keep going faster and faster? From the last time I wrote, we took Aunt Edna to her final rest. It was a cool day, misty and gentle rain started falling when we moved to the cemetery plot. It was very odd seeing a deep hole and then the velvet wrapped box that contained all the bodily remains. I kept asking myself, is that all there is, is that it, you live your life, and so soon it has passed. As we drove away, the cemetery worker who had been sitting patiently by while we listened to Edna lead us in prayer, came with a lone shovel, one shovelful at a time, filling it in. We all met afterwards and lingered so long over lunch, it was hours, but somehow no one wanted to leave.It was almost a feeling of what might happen before we can all be together again, and the feeling that we should just savor the moments of being together. I have tried to take a few minutes each day and remember Aunt Edna and all the love she brought to the world and hopefully through those memories she will be forever alive.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trying to be a verb, and not a noun.

I can't believe that it has been so long since I last posted on my blog. Reminds me of that saying that life happens while you are busy making plans. I always plan to post, but somehow everything else pops up! My crochet cocoon creations have gotten some "air time" on Denise Snyder's Photography website and I am posting the two precious little angels here as well. We had a nice two night visit with my brother from Illinois, who is coming again tonight. He kept remarking how quiet our house is, and that is certainly true. After having two dogs, a cat, newlyweds, and a six year old and his friends and visitors, it has taken some getting used to. We had a nice visit in Historic Gibbsboro for a housewarming party for L's house which was a great success. It coincided with my birthday and there was plenty of desserts, and a very big cake with a lot of candles on it. Thank goodness for my sisterinlaw Ellie, she was able to help me blow them out, I think I was able to get two extinguished and thank her for helping me with the rest. Have been down to South Jersey to check out D's soccer games and so far they are doing great. S ran in a relay race for the Food Bank of Monmouth and Ocean county and I am very proud to say his team came in 14th out of 120! Quite a showing! Good Job! After many prayers, S's fatherinlaw came safely through his surgery and is home resting now getting plenty of TLC. Of course, I have been busy crocheting, I made a soap holder for some great homemade soap that my friend, K, gave me for my birthday, and am just about finished with a blanket, sweater, hat, sleeping bag cozy and matching hat for a little newborn that is due to arrive in a few weeks. Also, have been working on a prayer shawl for a very special cousin, and that is coinciding with my readng of a very good book, The Shack, about man's relationship with God. My favorite passage today from that book is that God is a verb and not a noun. What a concept! If you have time to read it, it is certainly worth it, but be prepared to re-read a few chapters! This weekend, we are traveling up north to bring Aunt E to her final rest beside her family members, her grandmother, grandfather, mother and father. Has been making me think a bit of how family traditions have changed over the years, how the distance is making it a little hard to stay connected in the old ways, like Sunday dinners, and just meeting for birthday cake. Seems like most of my reaching out to people is through the internet, and though it does seem cold in a way, it is the best we have these days. Just trying to coordinate everyone's schedule for this special occasion for Aunt E was difficult. I will let you know how it goes. And if you have a minute this week, try to be a verb and not a noun

Monday, September 8, 2008

Babies, Babies, Babies

You have got to go right now, right this minute to my friend Denise Snyder's blog and see the most adorable little babies! Little Isaiah Matthew and Little Cassie. If you want to see what pure angelic innocence looks like, type in her website right now! Little Isaiah is wrapped in my boucle cocoon and Little Cassie is swaddled in my cream boucle coccoon. Each one has on one of my little hats, and I mean little, because they are too small for their little heads! Now call anybody that you know that is pregnant, and tell them to go right to Denise's blog and look at those babies, and then call Denise with their due dates. Anyone booking a session with Denise at my recommendation will get a custom made hat for their baby's first picture, and one that fits too!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Welcome to the World Isaiah Matthew

Congratulations to Matt and Melissa as they welcome their beautiful little baby boy Isaiah Matthew into the world on August 17th, 2008. Who would have thought that tiny little Melissa would have given birth to a whopping 9 pound, 1 ounce little treasure. I can't wait to see his precious face, and made this cute little hat that Thumbelina is trying out just for Isaiah. This is what makes crocheting so special, crafting stitch by stitch a special gift for a special little boy. Welcome to the World!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Thanks Denise for the great pictures!

My friend Denise photographed some of my goofy hats for me! Denise has a way of capturing the special moments of life and preserving them in forever memories.Please visit her website at Denise Snyder Photography for some phenomenal pictures. You will not be disappointed! Thanks Denise!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It's a Small World after all!

Had a great week off of work spending time with a special friend that is visiting from Spain. He arrived on Saturday evening, and we were on the go all week. Monday, we went to New York City, but first picked up my godchild, K, who just graduated from Seton Hall University. We took the train from South Orange to Hoboken where we jumped on the Path train, intending to get off at the World Trade Center. As we approached Exchange Place, my Spanish friend, J, wanted to show us Manhattan from the Jersey side, and we got off and mingled with the financial guys during their lunch time stroll on the riverfront. We grabbed the Ferry and traveled over to the World Trade Center site, and just walked and walked and walked. J wanted desperately to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and take the train back, but after convincing him that we would need a wheelchair for me, we saved it for another day. We walked for hours and ended up in a little sandwich shop where unbelievably J ran into someone he knew from Barcelona! Later my godchild got a call from her aunt who was visiting from Oklahoma and was waiting with her family on the island in the middle of Times Square! We met up with them and then walked back to Madison Square Garden to catch the train back to South Amboy. What a great day!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A simple day

Yesterday I spent a great day with my grandson, D, at his new home in Historic Gibbsboro, NJ. I went down to wait for the electrician who was changing over tube and knob electrical wires into whatever it is that they use now. I commented to the electrician that perhaps Thomas Edison had put in the original wiring! Apparently, this was the way that electricity was brought into homes and this house built in 1875 was probably proud of such a modern convenience in its time. Sitting on my daughter's front porch, is like stepping back in time. The house is in the historic district and the surrounding homes have big porches with large baskets of Boston ferns, oversized wicker porch furniture and very ornamental Victorian Gardens. My grandson and I took a nice walk around the town and stopped for a big ice cream cone at Mazzo's. They have a great covered patio that was nice and breezy and my grandson and I tried to catch the dripping ice cream that was quickly melting in the summer heat. Near the end, my grandson's cone dripped down his shirt causing us to race for some napkins. I wanted to circle around to my daughter's house through the cricket fields, but D was determined to retrace our original route. He finally admitted that he was afraid to walk through the cricket field which was home to about 20 Canadian Geese. We scouted out a little park with an old fashioned clock and gazebo built in honor of a long time resident. Also there was an apple tree planted by the 1999 kindergarten class as a tribute to their retiring teacher who served the school for over 30 years. The whole day made me think of simple times, when mothers greeted their children from school with warm chocolate chip cookies, and maybe spent the evening crocheting an afghan for extra warmth on a winter night. Maybe that is why I like to crochet so much, the warmth of the worked piece on your lap, the progress of one stitch after another to make something uniquely yours, and the feeling that life is simple and cozy and good.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My cute little model, Thumbelina

You may have noticed my very cooperative and adorable model, Thumbelina. Santa brought her to me when I was about 10 years old, I think it was the same year that my brother got Mighty Matilda, the pride of the fleet. Anyway, she will actually come to life if you turn the big wooden knob on her back, it is really freaky. My kids used to cry when I wound her up, especially when I added the little voice, but that is a subject for another day. She is really pretty beat up, good thing she is modeling hats, that way you can avoid looking at her very grotesque hairdo, it is kind of Pebbles gone wild with what looks like a poor Joe Biden hairplug job in the front. Poor Thumb has stuck with me all these years, and now hangs out on my bed until I drag her out to try on sweaters and stuff. She doesn't complain which is one of the qualities I admire most about her. So Thumb, just wanted to say, thanks for the memories.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hand Crocheted Items for Sale

Thanks to my friend Denise for suggesting a way to fill the empty nest! I will post pictures of some of my work on this blog for your review. All items shown are for an infant size, unless otherwise noted, and can be special ordered with your choice of yarns and colors and in other sizes which may or may not be at the same price. If you have something in mind, let me know, and I will see if I can make it. All prices exclude shipping and handling, and will take between 1-2 weeks to complete, depending on the item. Keep checking back, I have lots of ideas and how to get them made and posted here, and hopefully will fine tune my little store to make it more efficient as I learn! Thanks for taking the time to browse!~

Thanks to Ella!

It is only fitting that my first post on this crochet blog should be a tribute to my husband's grandmother, Ella Sander Tietke, who had the patience to teach me to crochet. It was a craft that took many years of giving up and giving it another chance, until I figured out how to do it. Ella loved to make the ripple afghan and that was her signature. Over the years, she probably made over 100 of them, all without charge, just asking people to cover the cost of the yarn. As her niece always says, Thank God for Tanta Ella's Afghans! Each of us had our own, and snuggled under them while watching TV, or reading a good book, or sneaking an afternoon nap. In our family, you can see them draped over a couch, positioned on the end of a bed, or piled with others in baskets on the floors. It has been said that Ella first liked to knit but after having a heart attack in her 30's, her doctor suggested that she change to crocheting since it was a less stressful technique. In my memories of her sitting in her comfy chair, fingers laced with yarn, her project was always afghans, and always the ripple, with combinations of two to three colors, and always Red Heart yarn. If you bought her skeins, she would suggest complementing colors and say a total of seven for an adult and five for a child. She had a cottage industry before they had a name for it. And to Ella, I say Thank you for teaching me to crochet.