The Apple Of My Eye

There’s a picture of an apple tree in my writing room.  It reminds me of the apple orchard on my grandparent’s farm…the one pictured on the home page of this blog.   As a girl, I used to climb to the top of the tallest apple tree and look out over the farm and make up stories in my head.  I suspect those early times observing the life around me were the seeds for my later writing days.

This time of year, the apple trees would have been about to burst into bloom.  By August, they would have been loaded down with apples and I would’ve been begging my mom to take me to the farm.  Once there, I would climb my favorite apple tree and sit on a tall branch munching the apples within my reach.

There are over 7000 different varieties of apples in the world, but of those 7000, there are 18 varieties that are the most commonly eaten.  In the United States, the most common apples to be found are: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, and McIntosh.  My personal favorites are the Gala apples because they are both tangy and sweet!

There’s an old proverb, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” and there might actually be some truth to it!

Some of the health benefits of apple eating include:

*Apples are low in calories (70 – 100 per apple) and eating one can take away sugar cravings.

*Apples contain Vitamin C which is good for your immune system. A lot of people who lack Vitamin C in their diet bruise easily, heal poorly, and have bleeding gums.

*Apples help prevent both coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease because apples are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids are also known for their antioxidant effects.

*Apples are thought to help prevent colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer because they contain antioxidants called procyanidins which trigger a series of cell signals that result in cancer cell death.

*Apples contain phenols, which reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.

*Apples help prevent tooth decay because the juice of the apples has properties that can kill up to 80% of the bacteria in our mouths that cause tooth decay.

*Apples help to protect us from brain disease. Apples have substances called phytonutrients, and these phytonutrients prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsonism.

*Apples can help us have healthier Lungs.  Research at the University of Nottingham has shown that people who eat five or more apples per week have fewer respiratory problems, including asthma.

The average American consumes around 20 pounds of apples a year, which comes out to about one apple a week.  When my kids were growing up, their favorite snack was apple and cheddar cheese slices eaten together.  I peeled so many apples when everyone had braces, that it was common for me to peel an entire apple in one long peel.  I tried this recently, and it’s not as easy as I remembered it being!

Apples also have religious, mythological, and symbolic significance in many cultures including our own.  From the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit, to our pet name of “The Big Apple” for New York City, to board games, apples are very much a part of the fabric of our culture.

Every day, many of us use a product with a picture of an apple on it.  In January of 1977, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple Computer, Inc. to develop and sell personal computers.  It was renamed “Apple Inc.” in January 2007 to reflect the shift in focus toward consumer electronics.

I’ve often wondered why Steve Jobs named the company “Apple” Computer.  Did he love apples?  Did his grandparents have an apple orchard?  Did he simply have an apple on his desk the day he had to choose a name for the company?  When I Google-searched this question, I found several possible answers:

*His biggest competitor at the time was Atari who also made personal computers from 1978 – 1993 and Jobs wanted to be ahead of Atari alphabetically in the phone book.

*Jobs was on a fruitarian diet which consisted of eating primarily raw fruits and possibly nuts and seeds.  He is quoted as saying he had just come back from an apple farm, and thought the name sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.”

*The name was a tribute to the Beatles’ record label, Apple Records.

*Apple Computer was supposed to inspire humanity like the apple that fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

Whatever the reason, today many of us have products in our homes with apples on them.

When my oldest son, Matthew, was in kindergarten and first grade, he insisted upon taking an apple to his teachers on the first day of school.  I wasn’t sure where he got the idea, but it was very important to him, so I made sure he set off to school with a shiny red apple.

Apparently, this practice dates back in history to frontier times when teachers often received food as part of their pay.  According to the Smithsonian Magazine, families were often responsible for housing and feeding the frontier teachers, and taking an apple to the teacher was a way of giving sustenance AND showing appreciation for the work they did.

There are a number of fun “apple” idioms (Sentences or phrases that have a different meaning from what they actually say.) in popular usage in our society today.  Here are some of my favorites:

It takes just one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch!  (One bad person influences everyone around him or her.)

How do you like them apples?  (What do you think of that?  Often used when telling about something exciting that has happened.)

It’s like comparing apples and oranges.  (Used when someone is trying to compare two very different things as if they think they are similar.)

As American as apple pie! (Something or someone has qualities that are typical of the United States or of the people of the United States.)

He’s/She’s the apple of my eye. (This is a way of referring to a beloved or favorite person.)

Here’s the apple of MY eye…our six month old grandson, Graham, wearing a shirt I bought for him!

Would You Like Some Coffee?

I come from a long line of coffee drinkers.  The first thing my grandmother would say to visitors to her home was, “Would you like some coffee?”  And then everyone would sit around the big, built-in table in her Midwestern farm kitchen with coffee in hand, talking over the problems of the world.

The weather didn’t affect this…it was never too hot for a steaming cup.  The only thing that changed was the location of the family summit.  On hot summer days, we would all be in a circle of lawn chairs under the shade of the big apple tree behind her house drinking coffee and talking while the children ran around the yard.

One of my earliest memories was of my grandmother making coffee in a little metal pot on the stove.  When I married my husband, he had a similar model from his youth.  It’s in our kitchen on top of a cabinet and when I see it, I think of my grandmother and her country kitchen from long ago.

I had my first cup of coffee while in high school but didn’t learn to love the beverage until I was in college and used it to stay awake to study.  I remember being really pleased when I bought my first coffee pot…one of those plug-in percolators with a metal stem and basket inside to hold the grounds.  Waiting for the perking to finish and the light to come on seemed like an eternity some mornings, but the pot served me well all through my college years.

Once I got my first job, I traded up to one of the new Mr. Coffee automatic drip coffee makers that were introduced in 1972.  Some of you may remember their advertisements on TV in the 1970’s with baseball player (and former husband of Marilyn Monroe) Joe Dimaggio, as their spokesperson.

A few years ago, I was at a friend’s house and he made coffee that was good and brewed really fast.  It was then that I discovered the three minute Bunn coffee maker.  No more mornings standing impatiently tapping my toe and waiting for the gurgling pot to choke out the last few drops.  (Thank you, John Caldwell.)

My first Bunn coffee maker worked great for over ten years before it simply wore out.  Recently, we replaced it with a new model that is actually very similar to the first one in both design and price.  We also added one of the new Keurig pots to our coffee-making arsenal.  It’s fun to have a collection of different Keurig Cup flavors to choose from, and making the single cup at a time is fast for impatient coffee drinkers like me.

There are much more elaborate coffee makers on the market now that will both grind your beans AND make your coffee.  This is kind of nice but my old grinder still works just fine.  I did recently see a fancy Jura coffee maker for sale at Crate & Barrel for $3499.  It’s made in Switzerland and not only makes your coffee but is programmable and can add milk or milk foam to your specifications.  Call me old fashioned, but for that price, I would also expect it to do my laundry and wash my dishes!

Jura ® Z6 Coffee Maker

Some of the early coffee makers were pretty elaborate and fancy-looking too.  They remind me a bit of a Rube Goldberg machine…one of those inventions that is overly-engineered and complicated  but designed to perform a simple task.

Those of you, who are regular coffee drinkers like me, know that nothing tastes as good as that first cup in the morning.  It’s so soothing to sip coffee and wake up slowly as the caffeine does its magic wake up call.  I’m a purist.  I like my coffee straight but I live with someone who likes a bit of sugar in his.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, 54% of all Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day.  Besides providing us with antioxidants, studies have shown that drinking coffee has other potential health benefits as well.  Some of these include:  promoting heart health and protecting us against Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer and type-2 diabetes.

So, the next time someone offers you a steaming mug of java, perhaps you should take them up on it!



Should I Keep It?

We are getting ready to downsize.  A friend of mine once said, “Your possessions tend to expand to fit your space.” I believe she was right, and, by the time one has circled the sun 50-something times like we have, there are a lot of possessions in the house!

So lately, I’ve been going through years of things…and of memories.  It’s been fun but a little embarrassing to have so much stuff that I’d forgotten about some of it.  I guess that makes it a bit like a treasure hunt.

I’ve been going through drawers, closets, cabinets, and attic space and it feels good to do a little walking down memory lane and also to do some thinning out.  I tend to be sentimental about items and to keep everything that people I love have given me.

Recently, I came across a Catholic Rosary that my friend, Laurie, gave me 20 years ago.  I’m not Catholic but I thought it was a really beautiful gift.  Laurie got it in 1995 during a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Croatia.  Medjugorje is the small village in Bosnia-Hercegovina where the Blessed Virgin Mary has been appearing and giving messages to the world since 1981.  I messaged Laurie with a picture of it a week or so ago, and she was surprised and delighted that I still have her gift all these years later.

I also found my mother’s 45 rpm records from when she was a teenager.  Many of them are pretty scratched up but it was fun to see that she listened to some of the same artists that I did 20 years later! (Elvis, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin)  Her records were stored in a basket along with the 45’s from my own teenage years.

Of course, I had to pull out the old turntable and give them a listen.  It’s been awhile since I’ve heard a lot of them…”Knock Three Times” by Dawn, “Down By The Lazy River” by The Osmonds, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack, “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan…

An exciting find for me were some pottery pieces that my daughter, Anna, made in art classes when she was a girl.  I’m just hoping she doesn’t see them and want them back because I love them!

If you read my blog regularly, you know about the horrible Homer Simpson Santa that I will never get rid of because it’s one of the last gifts my brother gave me before he died.  When I look at that ugly thing, I remember how hard my brother laughed at the look of horror on my face when I opened it.  Yep, Homer has a home for life…as long as I live, anyway.

Some of the items I found are kind of humorous in light of the level of technology in today’s world.  I found an old portable cd player that I used to play with headphones when I walked on the treadmill.  If I walked outside, I only had one coat with pockets big enough to fit it.  I also found the portable DVD players we had for the kids for long car and plane rides so they could watch movies.

Oh, and then there’s the cassette tape player that I used for interviews, and the Polaroid Camera that I took pictures with at all of our Halloween parties when the kids were growing up, and the extra VHS tapes, and the typewriter I received for my 18th birthday just before I left for college…you just never know when you might need those things!

While I appreciate the nostalgic value of these items, I think it might be time to let them go.  Age and wisdom have also taught me that people don’t expect you to keep every little thing they have given you.  Especially if it’s something you don’t really like or use.  So, here are the criteria I am using to decide whether or not to keep things:

*Is it something I use or think I will use in the near future?

*Is it something I love?  Do I get pleasure from having it in my home or by sharing it with others?

*Is it something with family sentimental value that I want to pass down to my children or to show my grandchildren some day?

*Do I have room for it?

Obviously, I will keep items like family pictures from back in the day when we actually had paper copies of our pictures.  And my books…I’m a writer and I love my books.  But the rest of it is up for consideration.

Author’s note:  I’d love to hear how you decide what to keep and what to cast away?


What Is A Button Box?

A couple of weeks ago, a woman about my age came up to my table at a Kroger book signing.  She looked briefly at the books I had on display and asked, “What is a button box?”

Her question surprised me because most women in my demographic are at least familiar with button boxes even if they didn’t have one in their own families.  Fortunately, I had grabbed my family button box and put it in my bag that morning before I left the house.  I was able to show it to her and to tell her about some of the buttons.

For those of you who are wondering…yes, she did buy a book and she also said she might start a button box for her six-year-old granddaughter!

A button box is simply a container for storing your buttons.  I also like to think of it as a memory box since it stores your family buttons as well as the memories that go along with them.  Many people have fond memories like I do, of going through the family button box with a beloved mother or grandmother.

As I tell in my book, my mother and I had a familiar ritual for going through our button box.  We would search for our favorite buttons first, and then we would pick out the familiar ones that had come from our clothing.  Next, we would go through the button box and find other interesting buttons and wonder about the clothing from which they had come.  To this day, I still love to put my hands in the button box and feel the cool buttons against my warm skin.

Years ago, every household had a button stash of some kind.  In the days before we had a store on every corner, people made their own clothing and buttons were used over and over again on new garments when the old ones were worn out.  Think of it as an early version of recycling.

People kept their buttons in all sorts of containers and these were passed down through the generations.  My family’s button box was originally an old fruitcake tin.  “Chicago” is stamped on the bottom of the tin.  This makes sense because my great-grandmother’s family came from Sweden and settled in Chicago.  My great-grandmother also loved fruitcake and had it in her pantry every Christmas when I was a little girl.  Perhaps our button box once held one of the fruitcakes she enjoyed so much!

Since the publication of my book in 2014, lots of people have shared stories about their family button boxes.  Many people used tins for their buttons like my family did, but I’ve also heard of a lot of people using glass jars such as Mason Jars, old cigar boxes, wood boxes, metal boxes, porcelain containers, bags, and baskets.  Some families simply kept their buttons in the drawers of their sewing machine tables.

One day about a year ago, I read “The Button Box” to several classes at an elementary school.  At the end of the story, I asked if anyone had a button box at home and if so, what kind of container were their buttons kept in.  One girl raised her hand and said her family had a long, white button tube sock.  She said it was about halfway full of buttons and her mom kept it hanging in their laundry room.  That was the most unusual button box container I’ve heard about.

During the past three years, people have sent pictures of their family button boxes or brought them to show me.  Many of these family boxes held more than just buttons.  A lot of them are jam-packed full of other treasures too!

Recently, a friend here in town shared her family button box with me.  It was fun to see all of the buttons as well as the other treasures it contained!

Button boxes often held not only buttons but miscellaneous sewing supplies too such as thimbles, buckles, snaps, hook and eyes, sequins, bobbins, safety pins, and bits of lace.  In these containers, you might also find things like marbles, dice, beads, game pieces, coins, keys, screws, chalk, bobby pins, paper clips, and pictures.  All of these items would find a home in treasured button boxes.

In today’s modern world, fabric and hobby stores now sell new containers for buttons and other sewing notions.  But you would be surprised to find out how many people still have and treasure their old family button boxes.

Author’s note:  One of the other fun parts of publishing a book about my family’s button box has been all of the “button” items that people have made for me and have given me.  Here are a few pictures of some of the items I have received from friends and family since my book came out!


Why Do We Celebrate Mardi Gras?

I was downtown recently for a meeting with Crystal, the graphic designer of my books, and I saw fliers and signs for Mardi Gras specials at the local restaurants and bars.  At the end of our meeting, she said, “Tomorrow is Mardi Gras.”  I shook my head “yes” in agreement but got to my car and thought, I really should know what Mardi Gras celebrates.

Image result for mardi gras 2018

So, I did some research.  Mardi Gras literally means “Fat Tuesday” or “Carnaval” in French.  In Brazil, Mardi Gras is known as Carnaval and it’s the most popular holiday of the year.  The celebrations and parades last for a week and the event draws millions of tourists from around the world.  In England, Mardi Gras is also known as “Shrove Tuesday” and is derived from the word shrive, which means confess.

In the United States, we think of New Orleans when we think of Mardi Gras.  I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans one summer with my family when I was 12 years old.  I remember the hot, narrow streets of the French Quarter and how carefully my dad navigated our vehicle through it.

We walked down Bourbon Street…my parents, my two younger brothers and me…and I remember peeking into one of the open doors of a bar.  My young self was completely shocked to see a woman dancing on top of the bar wearing just tiny panties and pasties.  And this was on a regular weekday…  I could only imagine what one might see during Mardi Gras!

But the origins of Mardi Gras are actually religious in nature.  Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday which is the first day of the forty day Christian Lenten season.

The Lenten season gives Christians time to prepare their hearts to experience the full meaning of Good Friday, and Easter Sunday when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.  Many Christians give up something during the forty days of Lent as a way to identify with Jesus and remember the sacrifice He made for us when He died on the cross.

Typically, one would forgo a favorite food or drink (such as chocolate or coffee or meat) during the forty days leading up to Easter Sunday.  In today’s modern world, some people give up things like television or social media during the Lenten season.

So what does all of this have to do with Mardi Gras?  Since Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday, it came to represent a last chance to eat and drink and indulge in whatever one was giving up for Lent.  Over time, it evolved into a one to two week holiday and celebration with many fun events such as parades and costume balls and traditional foods such as beignets.

Mardi Gras came to North America in the late 1600’s as a French Catholic tradition.  King Louis XIV of France sent the Le Moyne brothers, Pierre and Jean-Baptiste, to defend France’s claim on the territory of Louisiane, which included what are now Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and part of eastern Texas.

The group set up camp on March 3, 1699 on the bank of the Mississippi River, just 60 miles from where New Orleans is located today.  It was Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras when they set up camp, so they named the place “Point du Mardi Gras”.

In 1703, French settlers established the first organized Mardi Gras celebration in the United States.  While Mardi Gras is not celebrated everywhere in this country, cities along the Gulf Coast with an early French heritage such as Pensacola, Florida, Galveston, Texas, Lake Charles, Lafayette, and New Orleans, Louisiana all have active Mardi Gras celebrations.