The Dictionary

(Page 1977 from the dictionary.  Note I have used the slug drawing for this as it is the state mollusk.)

When I was in fourth grade in 1953-54, I had this very mean teacher. I had moved to Redmond Elementary School in January 1954.  I was eight years old and a year younger than my classmates. The teacher wanted me to be in third grade, not fourth. At the end of the year she told my mother she was keeping me back to redo fourth grade.  Mom negotiated and if I went to summer school, my teacher would pass me to fifth.

I didn’t care for this teacher at all but I imagine she probably had good points.  She was old, grey of hair and skin, skinny, squint-eyed and all the other fourth grade classes used to feel sorry for us in her class.  I don’t think I ever saw her smile. Later I found out she was a single lady taking care of a single sister with the latter stages of MS.  I guess her lot in life was difficult. Maybe this was why she never smiled and was gruff with us in class.  Since I was beginning to show a reading problem, may have been the reason she felt that I should be held back, taking the same year over.  I don’t remember getting any extra help with reading, however, and we were not divided into groups according to our reading skills.

I do remember her punishing students, myself included, for not keeping up in class.  Off to the coat closet.  Yes, we had an enclosed closet that spanned the back of the room where we put our coats, boots, lunches and other things we dragged to school for safe keeping during the class day.  I don’t know how isolating us from the studies helped us catch up. She was also generous with the use of the ruler applied to various parts of our bodies when we misbehaved.  Thankfully, it was never applied to me.  She retired two years later.

She always was harping on my not keeping up, though I don’t remember her helping me to get ahead.  I was just lost amongst a lot of new kids.  My dad had a full time job in town and commuted, something that no other parents did.  The rest of the students came from stump farms that raised a few dairy cattle or from small, low income cottages in town, working at the local ice cream factory, helping on larger farms, keeping small shops in town, though many were unemployed. Maybe she thought I had a more privileged life than my contemporaries.

At the end of summer school, which finished the end of July, the room needed to be put in ship shape for the coming year.  Old unclaimed school papers hauled out to the trash, all the desks cleaned out and washed, all the miscellaneous stuff that was taped to the windows removed and all the seasonal stuff, put up for the approaching summer from last spring’s classes, dumped or stored.  I guess the remedial students in summer school also were the grunt workers too (read janitorial help).

At one point, the teacher told me to take the dictionary out to the trash, they were getting new ones for the new school year.  The dictionary!  This thing was a thing of beauty.  Worn to the point that you could barely recognize the once gold-leafed title on the spine and front. The tobacco brown cover now was missing its shine and was worn through to the cloth.  The spine was still intact, amazingly, considering its size and having been used for eons by careless fourth graders.

Its size–I just weighed it–is fifteen pounds. It is nine by five by twelve inches.  I think we forget about dictionaries these days as we have them online when we use word processing and when we are reading electronic books online.  We don’t look up words anymore; we just point the digital pointer at them and are given the proper spelling and an abbreviated definition in seconds.  If we don’t know how to spell the word, several suggestions are given.

This behemoth book was not a pocket dictionary or even one that was held in your lap.  It was located on a special stand in the classroom so it wouldn’t be manhandled (kidhandled) too injudiciously.

The copyright date is 1926.  Maybe the school district felt it was time for us to have access to more modern words.  Today a dictionary is obsolete in about five years.  By then this one was twenty-eight years old.

Some of the wonderful things about it were the lovely engravings throughout.  Lots of engravings with several on every page.  It also had extensive etymological explanations taking up several inches at the bottom of each page.  It didn’t define words using the same word.

I remember finding, in fourth grade, that the word reach had twenty-seven definitions.  It gives variations and synonyms of the words.  It has a pronouncing biographical dictionary as one appendix. The pronouncing gazetteer, the population of the cities in the US with more than 5000 people, elements of pronunciation of foreign names, and pages and pages of illustrations of botanical, zoological, and mechanical objects are in the back as appendices.

That was why I was so surprised later.  This was truly a wondrous tome.  I couldn’t see taking it out and dumping it in the trash.  I asked if I could take it home.  Knowing the teacher didn’t like me, I didn’t hold out for much hope of a positive answer.  Her response was “How are you going to get it home?” Wow! I hadn’t thought about that but was so excited I could hardly believe she was going to be that nice to me.  It was July and summer school was a half day so we could be home for lunch.  The bus stop was three-quarters of a mile from my house.  Maybe she let me take it knowing the punishment it would give just getting it home.

School was OUT for the year.  It was in the 90s outside.  I trudged to the bus with my treasure.  I was tired when I got there and it was only a few steps from the building to the bus.  I got off the bus at my stop with the scorching sun shining down on my head.  The heat was rising in waves from the ground.  Now the trek.

Down a long ditch, one quarter mile down the railroad tracks, and the remainder down a dusty, dirt track to our farm.  Needless to say I stopped a number of times to rest and set down my load.  I was small for my age.  I probably would have to rest these days too, carrying a fifteen pound book in my arms.  I arrived home red-faced and late for lunch.  My mother saw the obvious reason for my lateness and my red, sweaty appearance.  I did have a BIG smile on my face though.

That dictionary always had a special place in my room.  I used it often and it went to college with me along with a new, more up-to-date version.  It is still with me and I use it only occasionally having succumbed to auto correct and online dictionaries as a more convenient and quicker way to get the right answer.

I still treasure it, though it is pretty battered.  I have tried to smooth out some of the convoluted pages in the front and back, but they refuse to stay flat. Who would have thought that one of my worst memories of a teacher would be associated with my having and keeping such a treasure.



The Joy of Baking

baking bread
I guess you could say I am a competent baker. I have been cooking since I was six and baking almost as long. Some of the pastries I bake are elaborate and complicated, while some are very simple like biscuits, which I make well. But for many years, my ability to make a truly wonder French bread loaf eluded me. I would try lots of different recipes, but none had the qualities I sought.
What was I seeking? I wanted a good crust, crunchy and golden, a gelatinous crumb that was slightly transparent but not gummy, and a nutty flavor. Most of all, I wanted it to have holes. Some recipes would give me one of the criteria and some recipes another, but none would give the four I sought in one loaf.
I was always experimenting. For years I faithfully maintained my sour dough starter both in the fridge and the freezer as backup. I got new starters from folks who had bread with the taste I wanted. I tweaked and fussed over them, but to no avail. I wasn’t getting the crumb or the holes.
I tried bigas and chefs, but to no avail. These are similar to starters, made up to several days ahead to give nutty flavors and increased volume. No holes though.
I had almost given up when I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on “No Knead Bread.” I didn’t hold out much hope for the method, but it had been touted in many books and online. I hadn’t tried it. It does have several variations, but I now stick, pretty much, to the one from the workshop. My only modification is to reduce the salt. Their bread was way too salty for me.
Gimmicky methods of cooking do not generally interest me and this one did sound a little gimmicky. How could something that required only minutes of my time and no work kneading be the bread I was seeking. Sure enough, when the instructors bread came out of the oven….no holes. I was sorely disappointed. The taste was good except for too much salt. I could amend that when I made the bread. The crumb was exactly what I was seeking. The loaves were also too small for what I wanted…I could double the batch.
I went home and started the batch. I used the flour I had on hand that I usually used for bread. I reduced the salt and then pretty much followed the directions with the exception I will note below. (This is the double batch)
No Knead Bread
6 cups flour—bread, all purpose etc, but not cake or pastry flour
1 teaspoon salt (my reduction)
1 teaspoon yeast—I use Safer Instant Yeast
3 cups water—not tap water that contains chlorine
Put the flour, salt and yeast in a bowl and combine. Be sure the bowl is large enough to hold the risen dough, large.
Make a well in the center and add the water.
With a rubber spatula stir until just combined. Don’t overmix, the mixture will look rough.
Cover with plastic (I use a plastic shower cap) and set aside for 24 to 36 hours. It can be in a cool room in summer and in a modestly warm location in the winter. The mixture will be very wet. You will NOT be able to knead it. It is sloppy.
After the allotted time, the dough should have risen and fallen again. The original recipe is baked in a Dutch Oven or a large pan with a lid. I spray the pan with oil spray, but if it is a well seasoned pan that isn’t necessary. I spray the lid as well.
Remove the plastic from the top of the bowl and sprinkle generously with flour. Take a rubber spatula and go all the way around the bowl trying to turn the whole lump of dough floured side down without disturbing it too much. Then turn the whole thing into the prepared baking pan. The flour, which is on the bottom now, will release the dough into the Dutch Oven.
I let the whole thing sit while I wait for the oven to come up to 500 degrees. I think this is the trick that gave me holes in this recipe. If you put it into the hot oven immediately, sometimes there are no holes. The workshop teacher dumped it in a hot pan and immediately into the oven and she had no holes. Said she never had holes. I wanted the texture and taste and crust AND holes and waiting until the oven comes up to temperature, about fifteen minutes, seems to allow the dough to start rising again and creates large gas bubbles which become holes in the bread.
Bake at 500 for 30 minutes with the lid on. Take off the lid and bake until the internal temperature on an instant read thermometer is 200 degrees. It should be brown on top by that time.
Refrain from eating immediately as you will crush the loaf and have a gummy interior. I turn it out on a rack and let it cool, covered with a piece of cheesecloth to keep mold spores from settling on it. Eat with lots of butter!
When you are feeling more adventuresome, try pouring the dough onto a well floured counter, cutting it in half and making two long French bread shaped loaves. I use a board scraper to create the shape. It is a little like herding ducks to keep it from running away. It will take practice, but do not knead it. Roll it gently into shape and coax it into baguette pans. Bake about 20 minutes on 550 until the center is 200 degrees.
Well after having solved the problem of making the perfect French loaf, I am onto more complicated baked goods having already mastered croissants, pita, lavash, and many more. Baking is something I should back off from as I don’t need to eat a lot of it, but it is something that I like to share with friends. Things like the fourteen layer ganache cake I just served to a friend for his birthday!

Sewing as a Way of Life


I use to be a seamstress. I use to sew for a living. I loved it. When I was growing up, I sewed. I learned when I was six years old. I sewed almost all the clothes I wore. As I grew older, Vogue patterns and I became intimate.
In college, spring break was a sewing marathon with a new dress every day for each of the five week days of the break. I chose the latest Euro fashions. Only the most stylish designs were for me.
When I first started working, I was probably the best dressed at the insurance company where I worked. Between the designer sale rooms of the local fashion outlets and my sewing skills, I was a fashion plate.
These days a pattern can set you back twenty bucks. That’s just the beginning. You need fabric, thread and notions (buttons, bias tape, elastic etc.). No one cares about fashion. Anything goes including garments that look like they should have been thrown out last year. Retail outlets sell goods that are meant to be worn a couple of times and then used as rags. How do you keep warm and fashionable in a pair of jeans that are more holes than cloth? I can give away my old jeans and someone younger thinks they have found a goldmine after I have just about worn them out.
I wear clothes forever. I am still wearing a T-shirt I bought thirty years ago. I have a sweater that is probably more than forty-five years old that is my comfort garb at home. The elbows are worn through, but leather patches are trendy.
Now that I am “over the hill,” why should I care about fashion. I am only concerned these days about comfort, but not entirely. I still have an eye for something fashionable, but now it comes from the thrift store. Why pay a fortune for some great ensemble when it will probably out live me?
Turtlenecks are my winter go-to. Summer it is t-shirts and cotton slacks or pedal pushers. Am I ever happy that pedal pushers came back into style….or maybe not. Maybe just anything goes these days.
I sewed commercially for a lot of years and those days are past, but sometimes I will fine one of those fine garments hanging at the thrift store. Sometimes someone who knows me will see the label and tell me that they saw or bought one of my designer dresses or coats from back then. They were made to last, not like today’s throw-away society. I hope they get lots more wear from them. I have been tempted to buy them myself, but I am trying to shed some of this stuff that packs my closet, so maybe they will find some more of these in the thrift store soon. I certainly hope so!

The Birds are Singing

ArtExpo stepping up to the plate
Many of my readers know that I have a severe hearing loss. I have worn hearing aids for thirty two years. Though they are not perfect, they allow me to interact in society, teach classes and communicate in general. By the time I went to the doctor to express my concerns about my hearing, I had lost fifty percent of my hearing. Now it is somewhere around eight-five percent. Luckily, somewhere along the line I learned to lip read. If I could not lip read, I could not hear you. The aids now help me hear, but I rely on lip reading.
This morning I was out getting some firewood from the woodshed across my patio from my backdoor. There are woods bordering my patio on two sides. The morning sun was shining (yes, it was shining!) through the trees and the birds were singing. Some of the trills are ones we hear only in the springtime as they are their mating calls. I thrill at the sound of their trills.
I am able to hear some birdcalls without my hearing aids as they are high frequency notes. I can even hear dog whistles. My hearing loss is unique in that it is low frequency hearing loss, the reverse slope hearing loss, as it is called by doctors and technicians. So the high bird notes I can hear. Most people experience some hearing loss in their lifetimes, but it is almost always high frequency, the high notes. High frequency hearing loss causes you to miss the consonants, b, c, d, f, etc. Low frequency hearing loss cause you to lose the vowels, a, e, i, o, and u. Someone with low frequency hearing loss will go a lot longer before they realize they have hearing loss, thus the reason why I didn’t realize it until I had lost fifty percent.
Wel,l back to the birds. The day I was fitted with my first hearing aids was a wonderful day, better than the first day I got glasses. The world was very clear, the sound world, that is. It was “bright” with sound. I could hear the car’s engine running for the first time in a long time. I could hear my husband speak in the car. When I got home, I went out to pull weeds in the garden and I could hear the birds for the first time in a long time, a LOT of birds. Wow! I kept working and I turned up the volume just a little and I could hear even more birds. I guess I did that several times and the world was chirping around me. I worked in the sunshine, pulling weeds, with a big smile on my face.
I am working along enjoying myself when all of a sudden my husband comes out and asks me if I would like a cup of tea. Yow, it was a blast out. I guess I had continued to turn up the hearing aids and I was probably listening to birds in the next block. When he stood behind me and asked me about tea, I thought he was using a bull horn to speak right next to my ear.
I learned a lesson that day. Be careful when you turn them up. Now some of the more modern aids do not have volume controls. They are set to your needs and seek out sounds for you to hear. The ones I have currently are seven or eight years old and will need to be replaced sometime soon. Each new pair is like learning all over again. Technology changes so fast that they are a whole new system each time I purchase them. I am, however, getting to the point where there will no longer be aids that will help me. They will be able to amplify, but probably not to the point where I will be able to understand.
A friend of mine came to this point in her life and she has since moved on to a cochlear implant which is the insertion of a coil inside the ear to do the listening for you. Not something I about which I want to think, but if it keeps me from becoming a recluse, then so be it. I am not sure my type of loss even qualifies for such a device.
But in the meantime, I cherish every moment I can hear the birds sing!