Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Calling All Inventors!

So there we were, all gathered at a friend’s home anticipating great food and absorbing conversations as we remembered the fallen. Somehow the conversation among a few of us women turned to inventions. Yeah, I know. The spirit of Thomas Edison just couldn’t wait to butt in. One friend said she had an idea for children’s mittens. She  lamented that snow always creeps into her grandchildren’s mittens – no matter what – and we all nodded.

She described how these miracle mittens would be designed using gestures and her own hands and arms in case we didn’t know where they should go. Doggone – I think it would work. We threw out a few names for them by way of being helpful and then it was my turn.

Mine is an invention for which a prototype is badly needed. Very useful in summer. From a real genius – me. Wait for it . . . kiddy pool stones!

Say what? Hang on, hang on. Let Lucy ‘splain it to you. When we fill the 4 pools, from a small foot pool to a six footer, for the grandkids who are under ten, we use the garden hose. Splish splash, in the water goes and man, oh, man is it cold. So how about hot pool stones that could be placed into the water, bring it up to a swim worthy temp – let’s call it Jamaica Joy – and the kids could hop in twenty minutes later with no miracle mittens needed? Huh? Whaddya think?

My mistake was in calling them pool stones. 

“It would burn a hole in the bottom of the pool,” my son said incredulously. “The kids would burn their feet on it,” said his wife. “You’d get a shock,” said hubby a.k.a. Doubting Thomas on steroids. He didn’t have to screw up his forehead like that. I’d said Nothing about electricity (much to Edison's dismay).

Big sigh. I pointed out how many other things had heating properties like hand warmers and those dealy bobs you can buy at CVS to plaster anywhere on your aching body and last 8 hours. No burning of pool bottoms or kids feet there, you guys. I used my hands, arms, shoulders etc. to get my point across. It’s rough when you have to over-explain your excellent invention and at the top of your voice, too.

My sister, Wendy, had an idea for a brownie cutter whereby you’d push a grid-like device down into the pan of brownies, pull it back up and, voila!, each brownie would be cut exactly the same size. One piece, sharp, keep it away from kids kind of deal. She only had to explain, briefly, that the brownies should already be Baked. Some inventors have it so easy. But I stood up and cheered and I don’t even like brownies that much. I support inventors whenever I can with Big Fist Bumps and music if available.

Our grandson, Sam, won an award at school for his Kernel Destroyer. The kernels are un-popped popcorn, those little teeth breakers that mix with the popped, buttered and salted kernels and surprise the heck out of you as you’re munching away. Ouch! And other creative expressions I can’t note here. Anyway, this invention involved rigging up a microwave popcorn bag with some netting kind of stuff and when you empty the bag the net catches the kernels that stood their ground and refused to give in to the heat and pop. Fist bumps all over the place.

If you could, what would you invent? And what would you name my pool stones that would encapsulate the concept and fend off the doubters? I really want to know.  I can’t pay you, though, just so you know.  

Image: Free Digital Photos

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Malts

This is a modified version of a past post – but a good way to start off the summer. We remember our fallen heroes and lift a malted milk to salute them.

Memorial Malts

Oh, boy. Here it comes. The beginning of summer. There’s so much to do and so much coming up. Makes me want to curl up with a good book and grab an iced latte. Which puts me in mind of cold things to drink. Like malted milk. A friend was over last week with her granddaughters and we got to talking. She told me her grown kids had no idea what a malted milk is. What??? Is this world coming to? My grandkids know what they are because their grandpa made sure of it. Darn tootin’. I whipped some up for lunch that day and all the kids loved them. So – here’s how you make them in case you don’t know.

Chocolate Malted Milk (Shake)

Milk – put some in your blender – a cup maybe?
Chocolate Ice cream –  a scoop or two and plop it in with the milk.
Malt powder – a couple of tablespoons to  start (find it in the coffee aisle with other powdered drink stuff – Carnation or Ovaltine makes it).
Chocolate syrup – squirt a goodly amount on top of the whole mess.

Whirl in the blender until smooth then open the top and taste. If it’s too thin add more ice cream. Too thick add more milk. Or chocolate syrup or malt powder.

Pour into tall glasses and use a straw for Heaven’s sake. Tastes much better that way. And if you’re feeling decadent top with whipped cream and a dash of cocoa. Double or triple the recipe for more than one.

So there ya go. A summer treat and Grandpa would approve. Especially this Memorial Day weekend which celebrates those brave men and women who have died in our wars. It’s different from Veterans Day where we honor those who have served our country and are still with us. Know the difference.

PS: On a personal note – It takes me about a minute and a half to slurp down my malted milk. I. Love. Them.

Image: Free Digital Photos

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Reviews – I’m Reading

Time for a few book reviews, don’t you think? I mean, you have to have something to read this summer and you might like some of these. So here goes.

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin

Agnes weighs 700 pounds which prevents her from doing a lot of stuff. Like living on her own. So she lives with her sister, Griselda (seriously), and does the best she can. And the best she can do is pray. To pray for others becomes Agnes’ mission in life when she makes the decision to stay indoors – for the rest of her life. Then miracles begin to happen. Then the hoards come with their petitions and so our story begins. And it’s a very interesting one, too. No overload of religious piety here, just a good honest tale loaded with quirky characters and an ending that you don’t expect, but might find yourself approving of. This is the first in Magnin’s Brights Pond series.

The Hitchcock Murders by Gavin Collinson

This one begins with a letter from the whacko killer and the rescue of a small child by a jaded cop. The killer is an Alfred Hitchcock aficionado and deigns to pay homage to the legendary film director by murdering his victims creatively. Yup, he’s a whacko. The premise intrigued me and though there were times I’d skip ahead to avoid reading the gory details (like the murder involving birds - shiver), I got to the end.  Courageous cop with a rain phobia, a female Muslim detective, silly women who fall for the killer’s line and a bunch of info about Hitchcock and his films that you never knew make this a good read.  

Here are some I won’t review at length, but recommend because I loved them.

The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Delightful series (I think I've said that before).

Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise by Joyce Magnin. The second in her Bright’s Pond Series, very different from Agnes Sparrow, but quite enjoyable.

The Lutheran Ladies Circle by Kris Knorr. Recommended to me by fellow writer Christine Collier and, Boy, could I relate!

I read every night and sometimes during the day. I’ve done this since I’m fourteen – so for a very long time. I always want to know what others are reading and why they’re reading it. A great conversation starter and a peek into the mind of another reader.

So, can I peek into  your mind - watcha readin’?

Image: Free Digital  Photos

Monday, May 18, 2015

It Makes You Wonder

We live in a house whose ‘doorbell’ was on the front door when Abraham Lincoln was in office. Yeah, you read that right, good old Abe, he of stern glance and furrowed brow. That doorbell always gets my curiosity up. Like about the woman who tended the kitchen here back then. Would  she have voted for Abe? I know, I know, women couldn’t vote yet. But I’d like her thoughts on the matter.

And then, while raking the dead gunk out of the tiger lilies last fall, I found this dresser pull.

Just one. So what happened here? Did a stricken maiden yank it off and throw it out the upstairs bedroom window when her father discovered her elopement plans? And did it hit Romeo in the head and maybe his body is somewhere out in the soggy end of the garden? Hmmm. Perhaps.

Speaking of digging things up we’ve done a lot of that in the past 38 years. You have to when you own such an old place. And you find stuff. Like small blue marbles, steel combs, half of a shoe (small woman’s – maybe a child’s), and odd bits of old dishes and glass bottles. I’ve saved a lot of it. But one thing we didn’t save was the bag of bones.

Yup, bones. And this was a fairly recent discovery, say ten years ago. I was deep cleaning and had my hands and vacuum down inside a heating vent. The one over the part of the basement where there’s still some dirt. Suddenly something clanked against the end of the vacuum hose. I pulled it up and there hovered a bone. Ewww. A dried up old thing, rather large, but I wondered why it was there. Grabbed a flashlight and did some further exploring. Wow – a whole cache of bones. Dragged them up one by one and shivered.

I looked around in case the owner of the bones had now been summoned back to earth by my meddling. Maybe to say “Boo!” to the bone plucker – me.  No spooky moaning ensued, still I wanted to know if these things were human. So I plopped the bones into a bag and over the weekend mentioned it at cards. One of our pinochle pals said she knew someone at her place of employment – our local community college – in the science department. He would probably take a look at them and hold forth on their origin. Awesome.

It took about a week to hear that it was just a bunch of old animal bones and I had to decide if I was disappointed or not. Had they been human a whole hoard of crime scene types might have stormed our castle. Looking for the skull. Perhaps of the clonked in the head lover of my stricken maiden, Clarice. I thought I’d give her a name so you’d have context.

Anyway, since that day I’ve kind of been on the lookout for more bones. After all, justice needs to be pursued for Clyde, the lover. He gets a name, too. Come to think of it maybe Clarice’s dad didn’t like the name and that’s why he put the kybosh on their elopement. Or it may have had something to do with Clyde’s other name – Clanker. Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Clanker. A double whammy. What decent father would want that for his daughter?

It just makes ya wonder, ya know?


Monday, May 11, 2015

Cartwheels, Kool Aid, and Kids

“When you were tiny I used to fill this sink and set you on the edge. You’d paddle your little feet and splash. I did it with all of you.” This is what I told Sierra, our youngest granddaughter last week as we rinsed her juice glass in the kitchen sink. She grinned. Kids and water. Such a simple combination, but one that never fails to delight. Look at  the picture.

Yeah, that’s her, four now and charging through the sprinkler her dad set up. She and  her sister and a couple of neighbor kids decided it would be the perfect thing to do right after school on a hot, almost summer, day.

You know what? It could have been me and my brothers and sisters. Kids and sprinklers are a classic summer combo. And before there were sprinklers it was probably buckets filled from the pump in the side  yard and before that a dip in the creek.

Which brings to my mind all of the simple things that we love about summer. Like cartwheels on the lawn (or through the sprinkler at Grandma’s like Anna here).

How about that quintessential American business model - the lemonade stand? For me it was Kool Aid because it was only five cents for the package of powder. We had to work at selling the stuff at ten cents a glass and that was after the hard labor of convincing Mom to part with a cup of sugar and some ice. We made almost no money but forged many a sticky memory. What fun!

A day at the beach with sand in your swimsuit and tuna sandwiches eaten under the blazing sun. A trip to the ice cream stand for soft serve. A neighborhood baseball game before it was all so organized. Your face in front of the table fan when it was too hot to breathe and a Popsicle waiting if you cleaned up your room. Strawberry picking with the promise of glistening jars of jam to line the pantry shelves. And corn on the cob dripping with butter come August.

Watching my grandchildren giggle and scream through the sprinkler brings all these simple summer pleasures to mind. Some things never change and it’s nice to look at those things once in a while. It helps push the real, more awful, world away for a bit and keep things in perspective.

What is it about summer that delights you?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cows, Goats and Other Critters

I wrote this article for Guideposts for Kids back in 2003 when our Sunday School raised funds for Heifer International. I came upon it this morning and thought it might be worth posting here. Such a worthy cause! Thanks for reading.

Just One Animal
By Susan Sundwall

Raise your hand if you know what a heifer is. Here’s a clue…moooo. Are you thinking …cow? Well, you’re right! A heifer is a young cow that hasn’t borne any calves. But if you’re a hungry kid in a small African village, a heifer might also be something else – a gift– one that will make a huge difference in your life.

Think about being hungry. When you go to the refrigerator and see food just waiting for you to chow it down, it may be hard to believe that some people worry about having food every day. But what if your stomach was growling and there was nothing to put in it? And what if someone heard about your hunger and gave you a cow, a goat or a sheep? Imagine all the milk, butter, cheese or wool you could have then. You might even sell some of the milk or cheese and buy a hot dog. Yum! The only thing asked in return is that you give another family the first female baby of your gift animal. Pretty cool, huh? That’s the whole idea behind Heifer Project International.

The Kids, The Goat and The Pail

The kids at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church Sunday School in Valatie, New York know all about giving animals to hungry people. They worked with Heifer in the Kids (humans) to Kids (goats) program.  They learned a goat is sometimes called a poor man’s cow because most of the people in the world who drink milk, drink goat’s milk. Heifer provides gift animals to families in many countries. Goats make excellent gifts because they can survive where the land is harsh, eating grass and twigs, and still do well. At St. Luke’s, the human kids needed $120 to buy a goat kid.

There were plenty of ideas about how to raise the $120. The kids decided for themselves how to do it. “I emptied my whole piggy bank,” says Hannah, age 5, “I wanted to help the poor and helpless,” she says. Some made money doing errands. Others collected coins and rolled them. “I had lots of pennies,” says Lauren, age 6.

“We used posters, one of a goat and one of a family,” says project coordinator, Amy Deweerd. “As we got closer to our goal, we moved the family closer to the goat”.

Kids in the fourth grade class helped roll the coins that came in every week. “It was nice,” says Aldan, age 10. “It made me feel good”.

At the end of the program a few kids talked in church about Kids to Kids. Hannah was one of them. “I wanted to tell about helping poor children,” she says. There were baskets available at the end of the service for anyone who hadn’t had a chance to donate. When all the money was collected there was enough not for just one goat, but two! “I was surprised!” says Aldan.

Baaa - Quack – Oink

Cows and goats aren’t the only animals that can be donated. In some countries people are given a camel or a flock of chickens. Ducks, pigs, sheep or even water buffalo are given.

“It’s wonderful to see the effect just one animal can have on a family,” says veterinarian, Dr. James Geistfeld. He and his wife, Dr. Barbara Geistfeld, have traveled to many parts of the world with Heifer. For a recent talk at St. Luke’s, Dr. Barbara brought a live chicken for the kids to see.

“It was kind of odd to have a chicken in church!” says Christine, age 9. “But it was cool,” she adds.

“I wanted to hold it,” says her brother Stephen, age 7. “The chickens lay eggs that the families can share with other people.” There were also some exciting slides of the people and animals in China, Africa, India and Cambodia.

Pass On The Gift

The gift of a healthy, young animal brings prosperity to struggling families. They have food to eat and products to sell and the children are able to go to school. And when they are ready to pass on the gift to another family, a great blessing is shared. It doesn’t seem possible that just one animal can accomplish so much. But the kids at St. Lukes know it can and they agree with Lauren, “I hope we can do Heifer again!”

Image: franky 242                                              Free Digital Photos

Monday, May 4, 2015

Leave Something For the Elves

I fell in love with elves for the first time, as a five year old, when I saw Bashful in the movie Snow White. Later in life I graduated to Tolkien’s wood elves in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. But things really got going when the LOTR movies came out and Orlando Bloom (be still my heart)  played the gorgeous elf Legalos. Oh my. I was really all about elves then. Which brings me to . . .

Raking the yard. Hang on – you’ll see the connection in a minute or less.

Our  “yard” is acres. Three of them and all lumpy bumpy and full of trees. We get a lot of the leaves from those trees raked up in the fall, but spring shows us all the places where the winter winds come and wedge them under saplings, bushes and the slide on the swing set. So, I’m out there the other day, rake in hand (gloves on hands) and it occurs to me as I’m cutting a wide swath that I may be disturbing some homes.

What, you say? Like for ants, spiders and chipmunks? No, silly, elves. You see they love cozy little piles of leaves. They use them for garments (elf lederhosen), patio sets, drapes and, when mixed with mud, walls for their homes. And here I am raking all that away.

Elves everywhere become outraged by such behavior. They have rallies in their town halls way down under the forsythia bush where rakes can’t reach. Well, except for Orlando Bloom type elves. They live in sequestered glades and you can never find them no  matter how rigorously you rake. Dang! Anyway, these town hall meetings of the smaller species can get quite violent. You’ll see the result of that violence when you think the wind is stirring those leaves. It’s actually an elf uprising and there’s only one thing to do . . . stop raking immediately.

The thing is - elves lives matter (to coin a phrase) and it’s up to us, the big people, to do right by them. So – the next time you’re in your own yard raking like a demon driven overlord, remember this. If you get carried away and destroy every last crumbled brown leaf in  your yard, you are doing a great injustice to the elf population. You may even rate a target on your back for a deadly arrow like the one in the picture up there. But don’t fret. You can become a better person this spring. Simply ignore all leaves you cannot easily reach with your weapon – the rake. I promise that a righteous feeling will rise  up in your soul even in the face of scowling neighbors. Ignore them. However, on the off chance that one of them dares ask why you didn’t totally clean up your yard this year just tell them this . . .

“I always leave something for the elves.” Legalos and I will stand in solidarity with  you. 

I tell you, I’ll make up some humdinger stories to get out of raking. I think I’ll go in search of sequestered glades instead. Join me?

Image: Courtesy of quiver.com