Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Meet Baby Houdini and Check Out My New Etsy Shop

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the conundrum I went through in finding a bloggie name for Her Highness. Well, it seems I may have been premature in choosing "Her Highness." I believe "Baby Houdini" might have been a more apt choice. Here is the evidence.

This is not just a naked baby. If you look closely you will see that she's holding her diaper in her hand. That's right. At five months old she has learned to remove her own diaper. Pretty much as soon as you put it on, she starts picking at the velcro closures in the front. As soon as she gets it open, off it comes. I won't be surprised when I walk in and find that her parents have had to resort to duct tape to keep her diaper on.

You may have noticed that Grams Made It has a new design. It's been redesigned to match my new Etsy shop banner. There will be a few more changes over the next few days as I add some widgets and links related to my new Etsy shop. As of today, my Etsy shop is officially open for business. Find it at http://www.Etsy.com/shop/GramsMadeIt. I've only got three items listed so far, but more will be added tomorrow evening. It takes longer than I expected to add each one. I hope I get faster with practice.

I'd love to know what you think about my new look and about the items in my shop.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Where I'm From

I am from cast iron skillets, from Mother’s Oats, biscuits and gravy, grape Kool-aid, and sweet tea.

I am from a house so small almost anyone could reach up and touch the ceiling and from water drawn with a bucket from a well. I am from wringer washing machines and clotheslines and chickens scratching in the yard.

I am from pine trees, red ants, and red bugs (known in other places as chiggers). I am from blackberries picked along red dirt roads and from daffodils that sprang back to life every spring. I’m from sweet gum trees with rope swings and from lightening bugs in mason jars.

I am from big Sunday dinners and from short, round, country folk and from bald-headed men, from Skeltons and Chapmans and Zacharys and Lees, from Dotsie and Charlie and Jewel and Boaster.

I am from hard-working men, from mechanics and farmers, and from women who cooked from scratch and “put up” for winter. I am from sisters who sang hymns while we did the dishes at night and from a maiden aunt who saved her nurse’s wages to send her nephews to college.

From Hank-n-Scratch, "be home before dark," and “that’s with the bark on it” (which I still don’t understand). From women who talked as they shelled peas on the porch. I am from bedtime stories told by a loving Granny, from Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs and  The Three Billy Goats Gruff.

I am from Baptists who walked to church on Wednesday nights and twice on Sundays and who said grace before meals. I’m from hellfire and brimstone preachers and from The Old Rugged Cross and Bringing in the Sheaves.

I am from the South, from Texas, from Bryans Mill, Texarkana, and Corpus Christi. I am from oatmeal cookies, watermelon rind preserves, purple-hulled peas, and snow ice cream.

From soldiers, Confederate and American, from heroes decorated with Purple Hearts, from men who were in the first wave on the beaches of Normandy and men who commanded tanks under General Patton and men who stalked the jungles of Vietnam. I am from wives and mothers who served by waiting and by keeping the home fires burning and by doing whatever they had to do to keep body and soul together.

I am from a tattered box of jumbled sepia-tones, black-and-whites, and faded color photos kept on a shelf in Mama’s closet and only opened with permission at the dining room table with everyone gathered around to carefully pass our family’s memories from hand to hand while we learned where we came from.

I am from a long line of love.


This is a writing prompt from Mama Kat's Writer's Pretty Much World Famous Workshop. I must say this template, which is titled "Where I'm From," is one of my all-time favorites. It's a great exercise. I recommend you click over to here, copy it, and do the prompt yourself, even if you don't blog. It's a great exercise.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Skelton Family Connections

Gail, Dotsie, Rita, Rodney, Kay Charlie, Vicki (Grams), & Bylinda
Grams and Grandad attended the second annual Skelton Family Reunion last weekend. The descendents of Charlie and Dotsie Skelton met at the Dogwood Trails Camp and Retreat Center in Larue, Texas for a day of family fellowship.

Our branch of the Skelton Family is not big. Our Grandparents had five children, three boys and two girls. Neither of the girls had children. The three boys had a total of 13 children. One is deceased. That leaves only 12 surviving cousins. Eight of us were there for the reunion. 

We were all pretty close growing up. We all lived in or near Texarkana, Texas and we all spent lots of time at Granny's house, often together. One summer almost all of us lived in Granny's tiny little house. That closeness ended when we moved to Corpus Christi, which was about 500 miles away. About the same time, Uncle Buster's family also moved to Plano. After that, we hardly saw each other at all.

I was ten years old when we made that move. The older cousins  were able to stay in touch over the years, but there wasn't much connection among the younger cousins, so we just lost each other. There were a few individual visits over the years when one of them would visit my parents. And, Grandad and I visited Aunt Suzy once. Other than that, we only saw each other at funerals.

Early last year we organized our first reunion. Last year was sort of just getting to know each other again. This year was even more fun. We shared memories of Granny and Aunt Nava. As well as family stories of things we recall from our childhoods. After lunch, we gathered round the piano and sang old hymns as Nancy played the piano. Many of us were moved to tears when we sang the song that Rita sang a capella at her brother Tommy's funeral and wondered at the strength that must have taken.

It was a beautiful day and we were able to spend part of the day outside. A few of us pitched washers while the rest of us sat and talked.

I realized that, although many of us are virtual strangers after all these many years, we have a real connection. We have a shared history that transcends all the years we've been apart. I believe we are growing closer, even after just two years. Not only do we have a shared history. We have a shared responsibility. Together, we are the keepers of our family destiny. We owe it to those who came before us to maintain our Skelton family ties.

In the two years we've gathered, we have not been very successful in getting our children together. I realize that they are not even acquainted with each other. Most of them have never even met. I realize that traveling halfway across Texas to spend time with people you don't even know is asking a lot, but I'm hopeful that, as the years go by, they too will get to know each other and join in the preserving the Skelton family connection.
"In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future." – Alex Haley

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Grams Made 1965 Huguenot Torte with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

My mother-in-law had five children, three boys and two girls. The oldest boy and the oldest girl share September 12 as their birthday, twelve years apart. We traditionally gather for a dinner in honor of their birthday. This year I made dessert.

A couple of weeks ago I was watching The Food Network and someone mentioned this recipe and said it was an old recipe from The New York Times. I don't remember what show I was watching, but I did an internet search and found that it was indeed published in The New York Times back in 1965. It sounded really delicious, so I decided to give it a try. It was a huge hit. The original recipe called for whipped cream with almond extract. Instead I made cinnamon whipped cream. Delicious!

I will warn you that the recipe says it serves 8, but those are not generous servings. Next time I make it, I will double the recipe. It is supposed to sink in the middle and be gooey with a crisp top. By the way, the cinnamon whipped cream was a huge hit with the family. It was just the right touch for the torte.

1965 Huguenot Torte

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup peeled and chopped tart cooking apples (I used Pink Lady Apples)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat eggs and salt with until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar.

Using a hand-held whisk, fold in apples and pecans. Add vanilla, flour and baking powder. Pour into a well-greased 9" x 12" baking pan at least 2 inches deep. Bake for 45 minutes, until sunken and crusty. Serve warm or chilled, with whipped cream. Serves 8.

Cinnamon Whipped Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chill bowl and mixer's beater attachment in freezer for 10 minutes. Beat whipping cream on high speed until it begins to thicken. Slowly add sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Do not over-beat or cream will begin to separate and break down.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 11

For some reason I'm really struggling with this post. I've started it several times and taken it in several different directions. I'm not sure what I'll end up with, but I'm just going to sally forth and see what I end up with at the end.

This weekend, Grams didn't have much time to spend reflecting on the tenth anniversary of September 11. I was much too busy holding Her Highness and chasing Our Little Princess upstairs and down. And I wouldn't trade the time spent with them for anything. But I did spend about an hour on Sunday morning watching NBC's coverage of the ceremony at Ground Zero. The roll call of names still moves me. I think of all the lives lost and all the people whose lives were changed forever that day because they lost their mother or father or son or daughter or sister or brother or best friend or a casual acquaintance or because complete strangers were lost. The truth is that every one of us has an impact on so many people every day ... an impact that we're not even aware of. In the course of living every day, we all influence and change each other's lives ... the butterfly effect.

September 11th was a pivotal moment in American history. As Americans, it changed us in ways we never expected. But it also didn't change us. What changed and what didn't change?

On September 11, 2001, Grandad and Grams were beginning our second year as empty nesters. Our children were both attending college in Central Texas. Nick was a sophomore at Schreiner University in Kerrville and Katy was in her fourth year at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Up until that morning I thought they were both mostly safe. I worried about all the normal things that moms of college students worry about, underage drinking, unsafe driving, unprotected sex, and the like. After September 11, I had completely new things to worry about. San Antonio is the home of several major military installations. It seemed like an obvious target for future attacks. Kerrville is a quiet little town in the hill country, seemingly safe from terrorists or military action. The threat there was completely different. My son and his friends were suddenly interested in joining the military so they could go get "whoever did this." Believe me, we had a very blunt conversation about how different real war is from video game war. Ultimately, he stayed in school and got his engineering degree without joining the military. Don't get me wrong, I would certainly have supported his decision to join the military, but not under those circumstances and not in the fervor of youthful enthusiasm he was caught up in at the time.

We live in the suburbs of Corpus Christi. It's not unusual for us to hear planes overhead on a landing approach to Corpus Christi International Airport. It's not a big airport and there are not a lot of planes. We also often hear the buzz of small planes as they crop dust the fields surrounding our neighborhood. Both plane sounds are so commonplace that we usually don't even notice them most of the time. After September 11, 2001, the silence was deafening. For three days there were absolutely no flight sounds around our neighborhood. When the flights resumed, sometime on Friday, September 14, we again began to hear the sound of planes overhead. But now it was different! We stopped and listened to every plane that buzzed by. To this day, anytime a plane sounds a little different, whether it's a little louder or a little lower, my heart skips a beat and the thought of what could be happening goes through my mind. I don't think that doubt will ever go away. I can't unlearn what I learned on September 11, 2001.

A couple of months later, on our first flight in the post-September 11 era, we flew to Las Vegas to attend my nephew's wedding. It was our daughter's very first airplane flight. We flew out of San Antonio accompanied by my sister Bylinda and her husband. It was extremely disconcerting to see the presence of armed military in the airports. There were five in our party and two of us got selected for the newly implement random searches before boarding the plane. Katy was among those chosen, but she just took it in stride. It was her first flight and maybe she just didn't know any different. I must admit that it still makes me extremely nervous. Every time I get on a plane, I should probably be selected for search based on my extreme nervousness. Sometimes I think maybe I have something to hide that even I don't know about.

So many things have changed as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11. It was a landmark event in American history, similar in nature to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of President Kennedy. Ask anyone where they were that day and how they heard the news and they can tell you exactly. It was a notable day, not only because so many innocent lives were lost but also because another generation of Americans lost their naivete that day. September 11 changed us to the core. We became more suspicious of people who don't look like us, we became more alert in our every day lives, and patriotism and flag-waving became more commonplace and more accepted.

Less than a month later, I remember standing in my driveway one evening and talking with my neighbors about the military action that had just been launched in Afghanistan. By then we knew what Al-Quaeda was and we knew who Osama bin Laden was. What we didn't know, although many of us suspected, was how widespread and lengthy the military action would be and how it would grow to include Iraq and Saddam Hussein. We also didn't know how many more American lives would be lost.

Over the past ten years, our lives have somewhat settled back into the everyday groove. Some things have just become part of our everyday experience. We know what we can and cannot take on board an airplane. We expect to remove our shoes when we go through security. We've learned to speak up and "when you see something, say something." But we've not been lulled back into complacency; we know we're vulnerable, partly because we are a melting pot of the worlds nations. We don't all look alike or worship alike or act alike. Each of us has "certain inalienable rights." Those haven't changed. America is still a great nation partly because of our diversity and our tolerance. I'm still proud to be an American. That hasn't changed either!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Summer Recap Redux

Grams substituted at the high school today. The teacher I was there for was a "co-teacher" in every single class. That meant that in every single class there was another teacher who presented the lesson. I either sat in the back of the room or walked around to make sure everyone was on task. It was not challenging in any way. Although I did enjoy listening to some of the discussions and readings.

So, as I was sitting through my third English class with pretty much nothing to do I started looking around the classroom at the posters on the wall. Then I remembered that one of the writing prompts from Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop this week was "Your summer recap in a poem and pictures."

Now, I'm not a poet by any means, but it was an English class and all the posters on the wall were examples of different kinds of poems. So I thought, what the heck, I might was well give it a shot. The poster closest to me was an acrostic so that's what I decided to try. I also realize that I've already done a "summer recap" post. My apologies for repeating myself, but I'm trying to be creative here.

Sunshine, sunglasses, sundresses, sunburns
Undulating heat waves over urban streets
Monotonous meteorological monitors
Margaritas, mojitos, merriment
Exploding fireworks on ebony evenings
Red hot sidewalks

Reunions of relatives & friends
Easy living every day
Colorful toes in flashy flipflops
Aquariums and afternoon naps
Playgrounds, parks, and plays

I'll be spending the next few days enjoying the company of my family, especially these two beautiful granddaughters. I'll be back in touch early next week. Have a good weekend and stay safe.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer Recap

It has been a long hot summer here in South Texas. I mean it ... really long and really hot. We've broken records this summer for heat and drought and there hasn't been any sign of a break in the weather yet. Although, our local weather guys are reporting that we should not have any more days over 100 degrees this summer. For the past couple of days its been a little bit cooler in the mornings, although the fires in central Texas have sent enough smoke our direction so that it's not pleasant to sit outside.

I thought it might be fun to celebrate the end of summer with a little photo recap.

In June we traveled to Houston where we spent an evening at Minute Maid Park watching the Astros lose to the Braves. But the evening ended with fireworks so it was fun. We were also honored to be there when our beautiful daughter-in-law, Marie, received the sacrament of confirmation that Sunday evening.

Early in the summer, while the rest of her family went camping, we had a week-long visit from Her Highness. We've seen her several times this summer, and she's really growing fast. Her mom reports that she's teething really hard right now. So even more changes are in store. I'm planning to hold her as much as possible this weekend.

Then we spent several days in North Carolina where we visited the Biltmore Estate and attended the wedding of Andrea and Louis. Andrea is my sister Jan's daughter. It was a beautiful wedding and we were so glad we made the trip. Bylinda, my other sister, traveled with us. We especially enjoyed the two days we spent in Asheville where both the mountains and the weather were absolutely lovely.

In August we visited Katy and Travis in San Antonio and attended a long anticipated reunion with my high school church youth group. It was a day to remember spent renewing old friendships and reminiscing. I had not seen most of them since the mid 1970s. And, of course, a trip to San Antonio naturally means spending quality time with the Grands and their parents. (By the way, Our Little Princess snapped the photo of Grams and Travis. Is it possible we have a budding Annie Leibovitz?)

When we returned from that visit we brought Our Little Princess home for a week of Grams Camp. We had so much fun just spending time together. We played with the water hose, we went to the mall, we spent an entire day at the Texas State Aquarium. It was so much fun that we're planning to make Grams Camp an annual tradition.

Now that summer is winding down, I've gone back to work as a substitute teacher; so summer is over in practice although not in reality. I've worked the past five working days in a row. I will admit that getting up at 6:30 a.m. has been a bit of an adjustment for me. My natural body rhythm is more along the lines of going to bed at midnight and sleeping until 8:30 or 9 a.m. Last week was really tough, but I'm doing better this week. Thank God for coffee!

We have several events coming up in the next few weeks. The annual family golf tournament will be held this weekend in Navasota, which means we'll be traveling to Nick & Marie's house on Friday where Katy, Travis and the grands will join us for the weekend. The men will golf on Saturday while we have a girls day out. I can't wait!

The next few weeks are going to be really busy for us. We'll be traveling to Tyler for the Skelton Family Reunion coming up on September 17 and then in October we'll go to Corn Hill for the Annual Valenta Fall Family Gathering. It is, hands down, my favorite family event. Every October the descendents of Adolph and Louise Valenta gather in Corn Hill for a day of family fellowship. I'll tell you more about it later.

I've been sewing like crazy and am just about ready to launch my Etsy shop, which will also be called Grams Made It. I'm finishing up some behind the scenes details like a separate bank account and photographing my creations. I expect to launch next week. Watch this space for a formal announcement and sneak preview.

I'm sending positive thoughts and prayers for all those in danger from the terrible fires that are burning across Texas. It truly is horrible and resources are stretched to the limit. KRIS TV, our local NBC affiliate, will hold a benefit on Thursday.  Details are available on their web site. Please do what you can to help. I'll have more information on how everyone can help in my next post.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Back to School Book Review & Giveaway

Grams has gone back to school this week. It's the second week of school here in South Texas and I've substituted four days in a row. That means I'm behind on everything. My laundry is not done. In fact, I'm down to wearing that underwear that I don't like to wear. (Admit it, you know you have some.) I had hoped to launch my Etsy store this weekend, but it's going to be a few more days because I haven't sewn a stitch this week. In the meantime, I've got a treat for you. 

Once again, Grams is teaming with Scholastic Press to review a new book and bring a giveaway to my readers. Meet Bailey by Harry Bliss, the dog who goes back to school.

About the Book (from the publisher)
Meet Bailey, a dog who surprises and charms his fellow human classmates with his irrepressible antics.

Follow Bailey the dog as he gets ready and goes to school. Should he wear the red or blue collar? Both are so fashionable! Will he be late? That squirrel is a distraction! And what about Bailey's homework? Would you believe he ate it? That is what dogs do, after all.

In this funny new book from the best-selling children's illustrator Harry Bliss, school proves to be an unexpected place for Bailey to do all sorts of things he loves: reading, fetching, painting, digging, singing — and making friends!
Grams Review

Harry Bliss, cartoonist and cover artist for New Yorker magazine, has written a fun and beautifully illustrated book for primary school aged children (ages 4-8). It covers the basics of going back to school; everything from the importance of  good grooming and punctuality to remembering to have fun and make friends with your classmates.

I love that Bailey uses "the dog ate my homework" excuse and his school day ends with reading time. And I love that Bailey loves books. He loves reading them as well as eating them. You'll find that Bailey's day ends, pretty much like it starts, with Bailey running for the bus.

I haven't shared this book with Our Little Princess yet, but I'll be seeing her next weekend and you can be assured we'll be reading Bailey. We'll be at her Uncle Nick's house. Coincidentally, Uncle Nick has a dog named Bailey and I think she'll really get a kick out of reading a book about a dog named Bailey. 


Scholastic Press will give three lucky readers a copy of the new book Bailey by Harry Bliss. Entry is simple. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post before Midnight (Central Time) on Thursday, September 8, 2011.  Make sure your entry includes either an email address or a link to your blog so I can notify you if you win.


Grams received a copy of Bailey in exchange for writing and posting this review. Scholastic is also furnishing the three copies which will be given away to my readers.

You can buy the book at The Scholastic Store.