Friday, July 22, 2016

The No Sew Bolster Pillow Cover

In less than three weeks, my kinders will be walking through my classroom door! I am infused with the energy I often feel at this time of year while getting things ready. My wonderful sister, Linda and her sweet husband, Jim have offered me an iron crib they bought a few years ago at an auction. Linda planned on making it into a garden decoration but never did so she suggested I re-purpose the crib into a little "sofa" for my class reading corner. What a cool idea! This weekend they are spray painting it my favorite turquoise. In anticipation, I ordered some minky material a few weeks ago to cover the mattress and pillows I bought. It is going to be so cute!

Well after reading about minky, I learned it is a bit slippery and difficult to handle. Yikes! I can sort of sew a straight stitch but that is about as far as my skills go on the sewing machine. The minky material has sat in my craft room for weeks. I've been too chicken to try to sew a cover. 

Today I was out and about and bought some bolster pillows. They were perfect for each end of my little reading "sofa." I just decided I was going to figure out a no sew method of making a bolster pillow cover. I looked on Pinterest but didn't really see anything I wanted to do. After some thought, I decided to make them like those knotted fleece blankets that were so popular ten years ago and it worked!

I think my kinders are going to love it them. If you would like to make them, below is a little step-by-step, pictorial, tutorial...thingy. I will post the pictures of the final result of the iron crib re-purpose in a couple of weeks when it is all done. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

More Oak Creek Tales

Three weeks ago I posted a story from the book of short stories that I am attempting (emphasis on attempting) to write called Oak Creek Tales. The stories are based on my mother's childhood and the many stories I heard growing up. My mother's was always a storyteller. Her stories weren't just popular with my family and cousins but with my sister's friends as well.

I can remember one night in the early 1970s when a large group of my sister's high school friends gathered in our kitchen. We had one of those tables with a semicircle booth around it. My sister's friends were all around the table and sitting on the floor. There were candles and incense burning-it was the '70s and mom was cool like that. Anyway, sitting in the middle of this group was my mom telling about the Crows, an odd family that lived across Oak Creek from her family in the 1930s. These high school kids who could have been out doing whatever had instead, chosen to sit and listen enraptured to my mother dramatically detailing the idiosyncrasies of this family.

It embarrassed my sister. Afterwards, whenever a big group of my sister's friends were over at our house, one of them would say, "Mrs. Monroe tell us about the Crows!" My mother, knowing it embarrassed Linda would decline. Being only six, I loved those stories and was a little angry to think Mom couldn't tell them and I wouldn't get to hear them. Years went by and my sister grew up and realized those stories were a family treasure. She would always say, "We need to write those down!" Well here I am recording those wonderful stories.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.  

One day, late in the summer of 1931, a part went out on our water well. Daddy went to Gotebo, a larger town ten miles south of us, to the  hardware store to get a part to fix it.  Being summer, the thought of being without water for a few hours made us especially thirsty. Momma, tired of hearing Otis and me complain about how thirsty we were, gave us a clean bucket and sent us to the Crows to ask for water from their well.

As we approached their yard, we heard the screech of their screen door's rusty spring as Mrs. Crow stepped out onto their porch. She greeted us happily in her scratchy little voice. “Otis and Mabel!” Otis stepped forward and in his polite manner said, “Miz Crow, our well broke and Daddy went to Gotebo to get us a part. Momma was wondering if we could get a bucket of water from you?”  
Mrs. Crow smiled, “Why shore you can! But come on into the house for a visit before you run off.” Obligingly, Otis and I followed her into their kitchen. 

Sitting in the middle of their scratched up wooden table was a newly frosted chocolate cake. Seeing us eyeing it, she asked, “You want a piece of cake? I just finished frostin’ it when I saw you walking up.”  Otis and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We knew our momma’s strict instructions about not eating any of the Crow's food. Momma said it was because we shouldn’t be taking from people who barely have enough to feed their own. We sensed there was more to it but we were never brave enough to ask momma the real reason.

I watched as Otis hesitated, looking at Mrs. Crow, then the cake and then back at Mrs. Crow. I about fell over when Otis said, “Well...I guess a piece of cake would be nice!” As Mrs. Crow turned to cut us each a slice, I mouthed, “Momma won’t like that!” Otis hushed me with a fierce look. When Mrs. Crow placed a large piece of cake in front of each of us, we could smell its chocolatey goodness and without hesitation, dug in. Though forbidden, it was delicious and Mrs. Crow cackled at how quickly we shoveled it in our mouths. “You like that, huh? Albert says I make the best chocolate cake he’s ever tasted. Guess I’ll tell him ya’ll agree!”

As we were eating our last bites we heard a scratching noise coming from the large flour bin in the Crow's cabinet. At our questioning looks, Mrs. Crow laughed. “Oh that silly rabbit of Buck’s. I swear that boy and his animals. It was driving me crazy runnin’ all over the place and under my feet. I fixed it. Stuck it in the flour bin!"  Oblivious to our horror, she laughed at her own cleverness. "It’s been real quiet too till now.” At that, she turned and pulled out the flour bin drawer and a flour covered rabbit jumped out and scurried off into the other part of the house. She yelled after it, “That’ll teach you to bother me when I’m cookin’!”

Otis dropped his fork and gave me a sick look. I felt the way he looked. The rabbit had been in the flour bin. There was flour in the cake! Otis stood up suddenly. “Miz Crow thank you for the cake but we’d best be gettin’ that water and headin’ home. Momma will be wondering what happened to us.” Mrs. Crow smiled and grabbed our bucket. We followed her out to their old well in the yard and watched as she attached our bucket to the crank and lowered it into the well. She was strong for her tiny size and in no time had the bucket filled and back up. "Here you go Otis. That ought to keep you cool until your daddy gets that well fixed." 

As she handed Otis the bucket, we saw our bucket was filled with cool water-with chicken feathers floating on the top! Our mouths dropped open. At our look, Mrs. Crow laughed. “Oh one of our silly chickens jumped in the well last week and Albert hasn’t gotten around to getting her out yet! Well it shore was nice seeing you two. You tell your momma I said hi!” Turning and heading back to the house, she missed the look we shot each other. What would momma say?

We walked quietly back toward home, each of us wondering what momma would do when she saw the contents of that bucket. As we crossed the bridge out of sight of the Crow house, Otis stopped me with a warning “You’re not to tell momma we ate any of that cake!” At my protest that it wasn’t my fault, he grabbed my arm. “You ate it too so you’re in just as much trouble as me. Keep your mouth shut! Ya hear?”  Keeping my mouth tightly closed, I nodded and we headed across the bridge and home.

I didn’t tell momma about the cake but we still got in trouble. Momma wasn’t happy about the chicken feathers in her bucket. “What would possess you to carry that bucket of water all the way home if it had chicken feathers in it? Momma asked. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well you wanted water." At her look, I knew I had really done it. “Not water with a dead chicken in it!” She was obviously exasperated that she had to point that out.  Momma made us take the bucket to the creek and pour it out. After all that and we still didn't have any water!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Oak Creek Tales

Since I was very small, my mother entertained me with stories of her childhood in Lake Valley, Oklahoma. My mother's stories are famous with her side of the family and one of the things she was known for. At the time of her death almost two years ago, Alzheimer's had erased the stories that had been so loved by my whole family.  At her memorial service, I read one of her stories I had thankfully written down six months before her death. Since then, it has been my dream to write a book of short stories about her childhood. I've started that journey this summer. This is one of those stories. 

 In 1931 when I was five, we moved to The “Big Oak House” in the bend of Oak Creek a few miles outside of the community of Lake Valley, Oklahoma. The house had been given this name by people in the community not because it was big. In fact, it was like most of the small wood frame houses in the community. It had instead, earned its name because of the very large oak tree in the front yard. It was so large, that my daddy couldn’t even get his arms half way around it.

The size of this tree was such an anomaly that occasionally people passing through our community would stop just to look at it. For my older brother Otis, seven and myself, this tree was the perfect setting for our play.  It’s thick roots made the perfect seat and it’s deep grooves and crannies a shelf for the homemade toys my brother liked to make. In the warmer months, its leaves provided a canopy that shaded us from the harsh Oklahoma sun and wind.  
Not long after we moved to the Big Oak house, we met the Crows. The Crow family was our neighbor to the west. Their place was about a fourth a mile across Oak Creek. Though it was never said, I realized early on that they weren’t like us. They didn’t go to any church that we knew of and their house was not clean like ours. Momma was a very tidy woman. We were no better off than anyone else in our community but my momma always kept our little house neat.  As far as momma was concerned, being poor was no excuse for being dirty.

That was the first thing I think I noticed about the Crows. They were not neat and their furniture was old and raggedy looking. Our furniture was older as well, but had been lovingly cleaned and cared for by my mother over the years. Momma and Daddy had always taught us to care for our things. Not having much wouldn’t you care for and treasure what you did have?  I guess maybe no one had ever taught the Crow’s that.

The Crow’s house did not smell the same as our house either. Our home was filled with the gentle scents of mom’s cooking, daddy’s pipe smoke, the burning oil of our lamps, the wooden stove in the kitchen and momma’s lemon oil cleaner. These were all scents I had come to associate with home and were comforting in their familiarity.   The Crow’s house wasn’t that way.  At the age of five, I couldn’t put my finger on the underlying rank unpleasantness but I knew it wasn’t like our house and therefore, not right.

Though they were different from us, my mother, being a good Christian woman, always told us to be nice to them. Sometimes my brother Otis and I would go and visit Mrs. Crow. Momma didn’t mind if we walked across the creek and visited but she had strict instructions that we were never to eat anything Mrs. Crow offered us. We had, she said, food at home. We did not need to eat their food.

The Crows were fascinating to my older brother, Otis and me. They were a collection of odd characters unlike anyone we had met before. Though we found them somewhat repulsive, they still interested us. Mr. Crow was a tall man who was usually working out in the pasture whenever we went visiting. Though we didn’t often see him in person, we would often hear his booming voice echoing across the creek in the evening as he discussed the mundane happenings on the farm that day. We could never hear what Mrs. Crow was saying as she had a normal person’s voice but we knew it was her he was talking to as we could hear him say Daisy this or that. That was Mrs. Crow’s first name, Daisy. It suited her. I often wondered if Albert Crow’s booming voice ever bothered his tiny wife.   

Physically, Mrs. Crow was the opposite of her husband. I remember her as being a diminutive woman and she must have been because being only a five and not very big myself, she still seemed small. She always wore an apron over her plain, sack cloth dress. Her grizzled brown hair was intermingled with gray and held back in a bun. 

Her voice was what we called countrified. Funny, when you consider that we too were country folks. However, Mrs. Crow and the whole Crow family talked with a twang that my family did not. Uneducated, I would call it now.  Not that anyone in my family had more than a high school education and my daddy, being an orphan, had less than that. However, my parents read the bible and listened to the news each evening on the big radio in our living room. Perhaps they were not so much more educated than the Crows, but my parents knew more about the world. I had once heard my mother refer to folks like that as down in the mouth. That would describe the Crows. 

In their dusty front room, the Crows had a large upright piano. It looked old and like everything else in the Crow house, it was slightly dilapidated. Mrs. Crow could play the piano and after having heard her play the first time we visited, we would often ask her to play whenever we came over.  She would laugh and in her little scratchy voice say, “Mabel and Otis! Why do you like to hear me play so much?”
At that point, she would obligingly scurry over to the piano stool.  The stool was the adjustable type that you made taller by rotating the top.  Being so small, she would have to wind it up quite a bit. She must have been stronger than she looked because her arms looked like a whirlwind winding that stool.  When she'd wound it up to the height she needed, she would give a little hop onto the stool and begin energetically playing, while singing loudly, "Boil Them Cabbage Down!” It was the only song she ever played for us. When I think of her to this day, I think of her little body on that stool, fingers banging out that tune and happily singing that song.

Whenever my mother knew we were going to visit the Crows, she wouldn’t just warn us to not eat the food or be nice. She would warn us about Mary. Mary was the grown daughter of the Crows. Mary had something wrong with her. I don’t know what, but she was very obese with black stringy shoulder-length hair. She had an odor that I couldn’t quite identify as a child but later realized was the odor of unwashed body and urine.  Being so large, she couldn’t get around on her own and so she would sit in a chair in the kitchen all day while her mother worked.

For some reason, without warning, Mary’s head and upper body would slowly begin to fall forward and onto her lap. She wasn’t asleep and she didn’t seem to have any control over it. The family didn’t notice or care and would go about as if unaware that this very large woman was slumped over. My mother would always warn us to be nice to Mary and if we ever saw her beginning to fall forward, we were to push her head back up. We would and Mary would smile and thank us. We would smile back. “You’re welcome, Mary!”

Mary’s existence was a miserable one and it would worry me; especially at night.  The Crows would put Mary to bed and they would leave her there until morning.  I would sometimes awake in the night to hear her cries of “Pleeeease! Help me. Pleeeease!” echoing across the creek. Though I knew it was Mary crying to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, her voice bouncing off the creek, had a eerie quality and it scared me.

I once saw Mary’s room.  She slept in a small room at the back of the house on an old, stained mattress. Even as young as I was, I knew it wasn’t okay the way the Crow’s treated Mary. They weren’t mean to her. They just neglected her, almost like they didn’t know any better. I remember thinking that if I ever had a sister or child who was like Mary, I would love her and take care of her.

Though Mary was what we called,” slow” back then, she did have one talent. Mary had an amazing memory for numbers. Mr. and Mrs. Crow didn’t need to keep record books about the farm. They had Mary. Whenever they needed to remember something numerical, they would tell her. I can remember Mrs. Crow telling my mother this during our initial visit to their home. To illustrate this extraordinary feat, she yelled towards the kitchen, “Mary! How many bales of cotton did we have in ‘28?” Mary raised her head and rattled off the number.  As expected, my mother smiled in polite appreciation of this remarkable skill. It gave me comfort to think that Mary had a talent. Something she was good at that her family could appreciate and value.

Mary’s older brother Buck was as different from Mary and the rest of the family as could be. He fancied himself a modern day cowboy. He rode a horse wherever he went and dressed in a style similar to what Otis and I imagined a cowboy would wear. He seemed to take some pride in his horse and western style clothing.

One day Otis and I were playing under our giant oak tree. The tree was next to the dirt road that led over the creek to the Crow’s house. We looked up to see Buck Crow riding his horse toward us on his way to town. Buck was a friendly sort and greeted us. My brother Otis, after saying hello, asked him, “Buck are you a real cowboy?” Buck just smiled down at us and said proudly, “What do you think, Otis?” We nodded our heads. We could tell Buck liked our admiration because his face beamed. We watched as he rode off.

A few months later I heard some friends of my daddy’s make an unkind remark about what a fool Buck Crow was. I don’t know if it was the words I had overheard, but later when I would see Buck around, I noticed his western clothes were rather worn and threadbare looking.  I didn’t think real cowboys let themselves go like that but I remembered my mother’s words to be nice so I always smiled and greeted him just the same. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cruella De Vil: My Fantasy One-Woman Play

At the age of 53, I think I have finally realized what I want to do with my life. Play the role of Cruella De Vil in a local one act, one-woman production. I will call it Cruella: My Story. I came to this realization this morning while calling my son to eat his "faaaabulous lunch!"  It was a hot pocket and I was being sarcastic because like a good mommy, I wanted to fix him something a bit more nutritious but caved under pressure and made the pizza pocket instead.  Seth's reaction was to say, "Mom could you please stop using that voice? It's creeping me out!" 

Instead of calming it down, I did my Cruella face and said, 
"You mean this voice? Mwahahahaha! I looove puppies!" I ended by striking the classic Cruella pose of flinging my arms in the air. I thought it was a really good impression. Seth rolled his eyes and said, "Really?" 

As I walked away to take a shower, I took a moment to sadly remember how much he used loved my voices. He still does but only when I'm reading stories with him. He loved the way I fluently murdered the English language while reading Roald Dahl's The BFG.  

I have always had a knack for voices and accents. As a child, I entertained my friends with imitations of Fat Albert and any odd character that came out of my brain. Whenever the neighborhood girls and I played house, I was the director of the little group and gave myself the most interesting role. I was always from England and Ireland because I could do those accents really well and I could never decide which one I truly wanted to be. I compromised. My backstory was that my "character" had been born in a  car exactly on the border of England and Ireland. 

In my teen years before the advent of 200+ channel basic cable and mind numbing devices, my friends and I would amuse ourselves by making prank phone calls. I was the best because I could say, "Is your refrigerator running?" with a German accent.  

This flair for accents isn't always on purpose. I'm a bit of an accent sponge. One day after being home sick and binge watching the first season of Downtown Abbey, I greeted Kevin at the door with a decidedly British accent. I couldn't quite get rid of it for days. 

The past few weeks I've been listening to Tina Fey's Bossy Pants. After I listen for an hour, I catch myself flattening my vowels and even phrasing things like she does. And you know what? I think I even sound funnier. Could be my imagination. 

So anyway, after being admonished by my son for my clever, accented invitation to lunch, I thought how sad it is I am no longer allowed to give free reign to my funny voices. Not even with Seth who was once my biggest fan.  Not cool mom, just annoying mom.

As I stepped into the shower this morning, I let my mind wander into the world of fantasy-get your mind out of the gutter! My fantasy of was me on the stage performing my one-act, one-woman play.  Cruella De Vil: My Story or perhaps, Misunderstood: The Cruella De Vil Story. It's still a work in progress. Perhaps I'll figure it out during tomorrow's shower... 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Dream a little dream...

I've been home from work for three days recuperating from Tonsilitis. Yes, I have my tonsils at the the age of 52. Due to the severity (measured by the look on the doctor's face when she looked in my mouth), I was given a prescription for antibiotics and a six day steroid pack. Steroids effect me in crazy ways. My dreams become vivid but run at the speed and zaniness of a Steamboat Willie cartoon. Hopped up on steroids, I could have filled a dream journal over the last few days. 

I dreamed my whole extended family was invited to New Orleans to stay in the St. Charles mansion of a friend's rich aunt and uncle. The couple was elderly and eccentric and had all sorts of strange rules such as, tapping the the doormat three times with your right foot before entering the house or buttering your toast starting from the left side. When the accommodations are free, huge, beautiful and in New Orleans, you're not going to mind a few strange rules. Throw in the mix my loud, dysfunctional family and you have a zany recipe for disaster. 

Within a day, it was evident that all the affluent neighbors of the couple didn't like us. They kept having their servants wear large tribal masks, stand on the lawn and yell in their Jamaican accents,"Go home! Go back to Oklahoma." Despite their best efforts, we didn't leave and truthfully didn't see much of anything in New Orleans except that house. 

One evening after dinner, we all walked out onto the huge wraparound porch to find every stray cat in the neighborhood had been found and dropped on our lawn as an incentive to leave. Ha! They didn't know a crazy cat lady was in the house. I along with Seth, his pal Ayden and my granddaughters Aaliyah and Maya, began to groom and transform the smelly cats into the beautiful creatures they were intended to be. During this whole extreme makeover, my sister, Linda, was running around behind us yelling dire warnings of histoplasmosis. However, even she can't resist a cute kitten. The neighbors, seeing that they couldn't get get rid of us, gave up. 

It was just us, the eccentric couple, and the cats living a most blissful existence -until the couple's disapproving children came back from their vacation in Miami and told us to take ourselves and our disgusting cats out of their parent's house! We did. After dropping the lovely kittens off at an animal shelter, and taking a few we couldn't resist for ourselves, we headed home.