Saturday, October 3, 2015
Random Musings: I Wonder as I Wander
I felt more like a rambling post this week than a coffee chat. It's so humid outdoors that it's positively muggy even when the temperatures are below 60F. So muggy that we've still got the AC on in the house, set to come on if the temperature goes over 73 indoors and unbelievably it is still coming on! Appearances are completely deceiving, as it looks like autumn, complete with blooming golden rod and scattered leaves on the lovely green (and very wet) grass but it does not feel in the least autumnal. Ugh. I'm hiding out until the really cooler air shows up! With this hurricane/tropical storm slated to hit us with rain I don't know if that shall be any time soon.
I've been trying to follow several long favored bloggers and I've decided to give up a few. Want to know why? Several are very popular blogs and I really like the individuals who write them but the mass advertising, the ad related content, and the bulletin point brief blog posts are just so impersonal and so bland and so lacking in the warmth and personality and charm that the blogs previously held. It's a lot like enjoying the convenience of the ATM but deeply regretting the loss of the friendly hometown-ish banter with the bank clerk, you know? And I'll go one step further and say that if you've invited me into your home in the past and shown me your creativity, to be pushed back to the front door now and not allowed in anymore...well it's a bit like being an unwelcome guest.
I'm no huge fan of the foreshortened blog posts, either. If I haven't fifteen minutes or a little more to give attention to a post then I'll skip reading. But these one to two minute articles/posts? blech, blah. I can read an outline anywhere. Give me some meat! If you want to write an instructional post then put a little depth into it!
Give me a bit of you personally. Tell me about your dog. Tell me why you wanted to change your living room decor. Regale me with your witty story about the disaster in your kitchen. Let me get to know you.
I get why so many blogs are trying hard to monetize. As a stay at home wife I do my best to stretch pennies, too. I twiddle around the internet looking for ways to earn a bit of money while my mind is semi-occupied elsewhere and I appreciate every little bit extra I can bring into my home. Believe me, the $40 earned this week with Swag bucks and Amazon credits went a long way to helping me purchase some much needed items for my wardrobe (a lovely grey purse) and pantry (gaskets for canisters), neither of which were in the budget. I used earnings from May to pay the bulk of the first medical bill we received. Yes, I understand how that little extra can help.
I'm kind of glad that I'm locked out of getting my blog monetized. I like rambling posts and wardrobe remedies and menus and Coffee Chats and instructional posts without regard of who is linking up an appropriate ad to pay for content. I like being personal and reading your comments that let me get to know you as well.
Sort of on the same subject, this week I was trolling around on Pinterest as I tend to do at least one day a week and there I came across an article from another blogger asking if one should delete 'low traffic pins'. I said "Huh?" The recommendation was that no pin be deleted, lest you lose followers. And then it was all related back to blog traffic and blog content and I thought, "Whoo boy...I just don't do things right at all, do I?" Not only am I not monetized but I've failed to set up a Blog pinterest account.
And about deleted pins? I will randomly delete them in a heart beat, without concern, as I assume any who follow me have pinned those they are most interested in keeping for themselves. Heck at the beginning of a new year, and sometimes just because I am sick of everything I haven't used, I'll clear out whole boards and then start up fresh ones!
I couldn't help but think how all this business of making money from the blog and Pinterest, too apparently, has taken a whole lot of fun out of things.
And I mean that sincerely. I find Pinterest fun. I do go there to learn but I also go there to let my imagination take flight. I pin the things that would best suit my life as it is now because that's the inspiration I need, but oh how my fancies do get shaken and taken up by some pretty awesome decor, gardens, crafts, even by beautiful quotes that make my heart stop for a moment.
Do you know whose blogs I am enjoying a whole lot of late? Dee's. She just revamped her whole blog set up and puts links on new content in facebook posts. I spend more time wandering about her site reading linked articles (including one this week that bespoke the same thing I was already thinking about monetized blogs). I find interesting articles there and I dare not even think of scanning facebook posts because I'll find myself lost in every single link she's posted that day! Dee has captured what I miss on many of the highly popular blogs: interesting content, the "sit and stay awhile and read" mentality, the 'get to know me and what I think' personality that is sorely missing in so many blogs I used to enjoy reading.
Annabelle's blog may seem straightforwardly thrifty and pantry prep based but take a deeper look and the sheer beauty of every thing she does blows me away. Her re-purposed jars with their beautiful paint and decals on jars or lids, her handmade gifts make me long to pretty up my own pantry and kitchen. And then there is her gentle but firm stand on faith that shines through in so many of her posts. Love it!
And finally I love the community that Brandi has built. Here is another blogger who has literally made an art of thrift and reveals it in the beautiful work she does landscaping her yard, in her sewing, floral arrangements, recipes, etc. If those just aren't your thing, her photography alone makes the site worth viewing.
I read many other blogs but at the moment these are the ones I find the most inspiring.
I got well and truly angry one morning this week. I called a company to let them know the item I'd received in mail over the weekend was damaged. It was a book. The book was in a sealed box but when I went to remove it from my mailbox, the mailbox was swarming with ants. I couldn't for the life of me understand why until I opened the box. Something had been ground into the binding at the top of the book and was all between the dust jacket and the book covers. Ants were after whatever the substance was.
Since I paid good money for the book, I naturally assumed the company would be concerned about the condition the book was in when I received it. I called customer service. I gave the account number and the invoice number at the start of the call. The clerk quickly stated that the invoice number was of no use to her and asked for the account number....the same account number I'd just given mind you. Patiently I restated the account number. She told me that was an invoice number. I assured her it was the account number and repeated it for her. She got very exasperated and said it wasn't an account number and testily asked me to read the part of the bill that said 'Account number'. So I read "Account number XXXXXXXX" which was the same number I'd already given her three times. No good.
It was apparent she felt I was a 'problem customer' and we'd not even gotten to the reason for my call...I bit my tongue hard and prayed a quick prayer and suggested we try to locate my account in another way. I spelled out my name. Four times. I gave my address. Twice. At last she successfully located my account. I verified that the account I was calling about was indeed with the book club named.
Finally, I could explain the reason for my call. I explained the book was damaged when I received it. She interrupted me and told me that ants in my mailbox were not her problem. I bit my tongue, said my short prayer again and assured her that I wasn't calling her because there were ants in my mailbox. I was calling because upon opening the book package I'd found the book smeared with some substance that had attracted the ants. I got no further than the end of that brief explanation when she told me there was nothing she could do about it but I could send the book back and they would determine the problem.
I explained that I'd paid for the book and would really like to have another copy forwarded to me but again was interrupted by the clerk telling me that I would not get another copy nor a refund until they had received the book as a return, which I'd already explained I was planning to do. You know, I thought she'd notate my account, etc. Nope. I got attitude with a capital 'A'.
And at that point I was pretty much done biting my tongue. I didn't curse or shout but I was plenty mad and had had enough.
I assured her that I had every intent of sending the book back but I thought I'd just take the refund and I explained to her that she might as well cancel the account while she was on the line. To which she asked "Why do you want to cancel your account?" I explained to her that the phone call had done it for me. I'd expected a little cooperation, a little assurance that I'd get a new copy of the book, an "I'm sorry for the inconvenience," not an 'It's your problem.' I'd paid for the book in advance and I'd lodged no complaints about any product to date so why the problem when I did have one? She then argued with me...and I said quietly and politely, "Ma'am...I am DONE. Cancel my account. Period." and then I hung up the phone.
Truth? I was more upset with myself at letting this woman bug me enough to get angry than I was at her...but I do value businesses that treat customers with respect and want to provide good service. I was not happy in the least with customer service by the end of that phone call. And I realized that I absolutely didn't want to do business with a company that allowed representatives to treat customers with disrespect from the start. I loathe being treated like a 'problem customer' because someone else is having a bad day. I never feel that a business that loses my small amount of business is going to feel a sting due to my account being closed. No. It's more a reminder to myself that I deserve to be treated as though my business is valuable whether it is penny ante stuff or million dollar stuff.
Sunday, as my friend and I shared a dinner of cornbread and homemade soup, she mentioned a dish her mother made when she was a child. "She called it Goulash," she said, "and I've no idea how she made it." I asked her if it had macaroni in it. "Yes, and maybe tomato soup, and ground beef..."
As things will, this very same Goulash has been a topic most of the week in a homemaking group I'm a member of. Each person who makes it has their own variation. Some add corn, some add tomatoes, some leave out the tomato soup entirely, another adds beans. It's one of those recipes that no doubt was born of frugal need and was adapted by each cook as they used it for their family.
I don't recall ever eating this dish as a child, but I had a version of it as an adult. That young woman made it as a soup. I was surprised at how very good it was since it contained so few ingredients. She'd simply 'stretched' it with water and simmered it on the stove, adding the macaroni at the end.
Then Saturday Brenda (Coffee Tea Books and Me) mentioned that she'd made Goulash this week, since it is Fall. I think I have to find this recipe and give it a try!
Most every family has their share of good inexpensive, born of frugal necessity, meals. Granny used to make soup of fresh creamed corn, a few butter beans, tomatoes and cubes of roast beef with a bit of onion diced in. She canned this mixture each summer when she was putting up the garden produce. I've never known anyone else who made this soup mixture but I enjoyed it many and many a cold winter day for supper at her home.
The dish I remember was Mama's go to frugal dish was what we called S.O.S. I now refer to it as Creamed Hamburger. Someone mentioned they call it Hamburger Gravy. It's one of those meals you can stretch long and hard and not forfeit flavor. I know because I used it many times to serve our family of hungry children and if we had guests we simply made more gravy and toast to stretch it all out.
I think these sorts of homey recipes are the one we must be most careful don't get lost. They are part of our history as families, and are as worthy of being handed down as any precious heirloom.
A recipe I found the other day is the same as one Grandmama wrote out for me years and years ago. She always called it Indian War Path Cake but the recipe I found, exact to measurements, mentioned it went back to Depression Era. Grandmama used shortening in the cake recipe but she recalled her mother using butter. And that too is an indication of how old the recipe must be, because Grandmama was an adult by the time the depression rolled around and Grandmama Stewart was old enough to have been in her late 40's at that time. Grandmama grew up in the foothills of South Carolina and I expect the recipe she used does date back to the days of unrest between Native Americans and the foreigners. In fact, the family has an Indian background so I suppose Grandmama's recipe was one handed down in the family. It calls for no eggs or milk and only 2 tablespoons of fat. I'll just bet it's one of those recipes that, lacking the need of rationed items, was brought back to popularity by the depression era. Grandmama always frosted this cake with a caramel frosting and it showed up on both Thanksgiving and Christmas table in her home.
I personally loved the rich spiciness of that cake, but it was never in favor in my family. I'm afraid Mama didn't think much of Grandmama's cooking overall which was plain basic thrift cooking. She was never one to use lots of added ingredients and seasonings were limited more or less to salt, pepper, and Kitchen Bouquet.
Personally I was fond of certain of Grandmama's dishes. She made spaghetti and cheese, which didn't taste like macaroni and cheese, but was so good. She also made meatballs in brown gravy that was out of this world good. She made homemade from scratch mashed potatoes which I also found to be far more tasty than the instant mashed potatoes we ate most often at home. Grandmama always put a spoonful of mayonnaise in her potatoes. This had the effect of whitening the potatoes and adding a little indefinable something to that humble dish.
It was my joy to be spoiled by her. Even into my adult middle years, Grandmama would pull a package of her frozen peaches from the freezer and while they were still icy but pliable, she'd spoon sugar over the top and then pour over evaporated milk. She called this great delicacy "Peaches and Cream" and I love it to this day.
Not only did the Indian War Path cake come to the holiday table but so did a made from scratch Devil's Food Cake which she frosted with a white frosting made from shortening and sugar. It was really good, far better than you might imagine.
But her real skill in the kitchen was making fudge. In my mind I can see her still, standing at the stove, stirring the cocoa, sugar and evaporated milk mixture. She never used a candy thermometer. She just 'knew' when it was ready. I never knew a batch to fail and oh it was so good. The only time she ever refused a request to make it was if it was damp or raining. "There's too much humidity, so it won't turn out," she'd say.
I've tried to make her recipes in the past, without success, and so I've never attempted to make the Indian War Path Cake either, but I think I need to try it.
October...Honestly I love autumn, but the older I get the more sad I am when I reach the autumn part of the year. That may be because I am legitimately in the autumn part of my life now.
It is so beautiful here just now. The trees are slowly changing in color, not brilliant afire sort of colors but faded green and soft yellow greens and here and there a true flame colored leaf dangles from an otherwise green tree.
Thanks to the rains we've had (with more this weekend) the grass is green and lush looking. The roadsides are full of waving fronds of grasses of all sorts, many tinged with a slight purple color. There are little tiny red flowers starred against a delicate network of green, called coral vine, that is blooming everywhere. I noted I have one on the rose trellis, triumphantly waving from the top of the trellis. There is goldenrod and several other yellow flowers blooming, all weeds, all unknown to me. There is the lovely purple pink of Mallow flowers and a bushy plant with tiny white flowers. The roadsides are constantly in motion since the lightest movement created by a breeze will send the flowers waving gently.
An old photo, yes, but the same lovely feeling of hurrying towards Shabat evening and the sunset hour hits me every single Friday. How I do love this time of week. How I cherish the hours meant for rest.
Susan was here Saturday and said "You know it finally occurred to me that the Bible says God worked six days and then He rested."
I knew just what she meant. I've been awfully tempted at times to take a day off, skip out on my tasks entirely but I always come back around to that same thought, "He worked six days and gave us a day to rest...I guess I'll get up and at least do what I can." I might not work as hard on those days when I truly do not feel well, but those days when it's mere laziness, well, I get up and work as hard as I might any other day.
By the same token, there are occasionally Shabats that are not restful. Those days when we've family or guests here and meals must be prepared and laundry done and so on. I always try hard to take a day after the visit is over to do as little as possible and rest. It's all balance really. We need to work. We need to rest. And we need both in the right measure.
I guess maybe I didn't need to wander too far this time...But I like to meander now and then don't you? Take a road you've always been curious to know where it went, or visit town you've always passed through but never stopped to appreciate?
I don't like to be in a hurry, though I can hurry rather well when necessary. But I do prefer the 'Slow down and enjoy' where you are for the most part. I'm not just passing through my life. I live here and so I prefer to act as though I do.
Now have a great weekend!