Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Oak Wardrobe - Part 2

In my last post, I told you how a beautiful old oak wardrobe came into our family. After my grandma moved to a seniors home in 1981, my mom was next in line to have the new family heirloom.

The wardrobe was once again moved. This time it went out to my parents farm and sat in their sunroom. It has been admired there for almost thirty years. My parents also received a few offers to sell the piece but always said no.

Since my mom recently moved to an assisted living facility, it is now my turn to have this beautiful old piece of furniture to love, admire, care for and store my treasures in.

I wasn’t around during the last time it was moved, but mom said it could be taken apart to move. She said that it came apart in at least three pieces so that would make it a bit easier to move – bulky and awkward but not heavy. Even so, I still had no idea how I was going to get it back to my suite here in the city. I’d been trying to find someone I could barter with (baking and gas money for the move and reassembly) to help move it for a couple of months already but no luck. I didn’t know anyone with a half ton that could also do lifting. Hiring a mover would cost at least a couple of hundred dollars by the time you added in time and mileage – which I couldn’t afford - but I knew the piece was worth way more than that. I’d loved and admired this piece since I was a kid and I wasn’t about to let someone else have it!

What was I to do? As I mentioned in a recent post, I went out to the farm to sort through things a few weeks ago. While we were out there, my brother came in and said that he thought he might be able to get it in his SUV depending on the measurements. He measured it and decided that it would just fit. He started to take it apart and realized that it was almost all tongue and groove construction with just a handful of screws and hardware. He got it into four manageable pieces and my friend and he carried it out to his vehicle!

Two days later, he brought it into the city. With the help of another of my gal pals, they brought it into my building and assembled it in my bedroom.

Yes, it may be a bit big for my small bedroom, but I got rid of both of my dressers to make room for it! What can I say? I LOVE it!!

My gal pal that went with me to the farm, knows a bit about antiques and thinks that this may be over 100 years old. Many furniture pieces of that time were done in tongue and groove construction to make it easier for moving. Also many homes of the era had little storage space so this type of wardrobe was very popular. It may or may not have been painted when it was first made.

Personally, I’ve always loved the look of a natural wood finish and never really understood why there was such a fascination and trend with painting perfectly good wood. I remember asking my grandma why they painted furniture. I seem to recall her saying something along the lines of this: During the great depression, there wasn't the money to fix things up and then during WW2, there was such a scarcity of everything including paint as almost everything went to the war effort so things just got rather dull looking. After the war there was such a focus on renewal and freshening up things that everything that could be painted was painted - including perfectly good woodwork and wooden furniture. She also said that the brighter colours were a welcome edition in areas where there were nightly blackouts during the bombings.

Painted wood furniture has always been popular ... even before the war years. In some cases, it was done for the artwork and for others it was seen as a way to hide the flaws of lesser quality wood. When people were poor and couldn't afford high end wood they would resort to painting their wood to make a room brighter and cheerier.

When we were reassembling the wardrobe here, we looked for any markings that would tell us who made it and when, but we never found one. Somewhere along the line, this info was removed either by flood waters or through painting/refinishing. That really is too bad, as it would be interesting to know more of the history of the piece. It would be kind of neat to know where all it has been and the treasured possessions it has held over the years.

I’ve only had the wardrobe for a few weeks now, but it is truly treasured!
I find myself admiring its beauty and touching the oak, wondering what stories it could tell. Growing up, I didn’t get to see the wardrobe often. In fact I only saw it a few times when the upstairs suite in my grandparents house was between renters. Still, I used to wonder if other kids had played near it and dreamed of finding a secret door at the back that led to a land such as Narnia.

Actually, I still wonder about that! I also wonder what kind of clothes and other possessions had been stored in it? Did they store everyday clothes, fancier wear for going out or did they use it the way my parents did – for coats, hats and gloves? Where was it during WWI and WWII? How about during the roaring twenties and the dirty thirties?

Truth is, we will never know any of the history of where the wardrobe originally came from or how the church got it, but I for one am thrilled that they were willing to part with it for such a small amount all those years ago!

And just in case you were wondering, NO it is not for sale!!


Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Oak Wardrobe - Part 1

My maternal grandparents moved around a fair bit in the early years of their marriage. He was an agricultural rep and she was a home economist. They moved from town to town and traveled throughout the Canadian prairies teaching farming and homemaking techniques. When my mom was young, they lived in the town where she met and married my father. My mom’s sister also settled in that town and a brother eventually settled in Winnipeg. So, in 1956 when my grandparents decided to retire and set down more permanent roots, they moved back to the town where my mom and aunt lived. That kept them close to three of their four children and most of the grandkids. The other son and his family lived in Quebec but they visited back and forth whenever possible.

My grandparents bought a house in town – coincidently right next door to the one they had lived in back in the late 1930’s and early1940’s and where my parents were wed. The house was larger than they needed so my grandpa converted the upstairs to a self contained apartment that they could rent for a bit of extra income. This, of course was a rather old house – the kind of house that had little closet space - so storage was always an issue despite a fair bit of space. My grandpa was quite a handyman, so he built a wall of floor to ceiling cupboards for his and grandma’s bedroom on the main floor. He also built kitchen cabinets for the small galley style kitchen.

Now this town was also along a river that had a nasty habit of flooding on a rather regular basis in the spring. Parts of the town always seemed to be flooded every time, but the people would band together and work to clean and restore as much as possible. The church that my grandparents were active in was part of that low area near the river – as was their house.

One of those floods – no one remembers which one now - somewhere between 1956 and about 1967, there was a flood that caused the basement of the church to be flooded. My grandfather was helping with the cleanup. Some items were saved and others were deemed beyond recovering and were to be thrown out. Among the items to be thrown out was an old oak wardrobe.

The wardrobe was large at 80” high, 44” wide and 18” deep, but wasn’t ornate. It had two doors with a simple knob to open the panel on the right side. The left side was held shut by a hook and latch at the bottom on the inside. There was a rod inside for hanging clothes. There was enough space from the rod to the floor to hang full length dresses or coats. Under the closet section of the wardrobe, was one large drawer that ran almost the width of the cupboard. There was plenty of room for storage in this old wardrobe.

It had been through the flood and was not in great shape. No one thought it was worth saving.

My grandfather thought otherwise and offered to donate $10 to the church for the wardrobe. That was a lot in those days and the donation was gratefully accepted. With the assistance of another church member, my grandfather took the flood weary wardrobe back to his house about a block or so away. Over the next few weeks, my grandpa cleaned up the wardrobe as best he could. What he found, was a well made, sturdy piece of functional furniture that still had many years ahead of it if it were cared for. He and my grandmother decided to paint it an off-white with a speckled effect (popular at the time) and put it in the apartment on the second floor.

Both my mother and I fell in love with this wardrobe and said that we would eventually like to have it. My grandfather died in 1970 and my grandmother continued to rent the suite upstairs for several more years.

A few years after grandpa died, one of the tenants took it upon herself to strip and restore the wardrobe to the bare wood – without obtaining consent! My grandmother was unaware of this as she rarely went up to the suite. She only learned of the misdeed when the tenant gave notice to move and asked if she could buy the wardrobe!

Grandma was livid! How dare someone do something like that without consulting the owner! She made it very clear to the tenant that the wardrobe was NOT for sale at any price as it was now a family heirloom and would be passed down within the family. Family members had already spoken for it many years ago. The tenant was not happy but had no further right to pursue the matter. Like I said, grandma was furious but mom and I assured her that we were THRILLED! We had planned on eventually stripping it when grandma passed it to us so were glad we didn’t have to do it! Besides, the tenant had done a wonderful job!

Well, my grandma only had a couple of tenants after that before she had it moved downstairs to her part of the house. She moved to a seniors home in 1981 and the house was eventually sold.


Next Post: The Oak Wardrobe (Part 2)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sorting Treasures

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about spring cleaning and how hard it was. I also shared a story about sorting things at my grandma’s home after she moved to an assisted living facility. I said that my siblings and I would eventually have to sort through our mother’s things as well.

Well, that time has come. A few months ago, my mom moved to the same facility that my grandma spent her last days in. My mom spent 66 1/2 years on that farm. All but the last 7 were with dad there as well.

Over the last few years, us kids have been trying to get mom to sort through things so there wasn’t as much for us to go through. But, after so many years there and with failing health, mom just wasn’t up to parting with much from the past. Everything had memories and sentimental value attached.

We all knew that eventually this was going to happen and that it would be us kids who did the bulk of the sorting and the inevitable questioning of “What on earth was mom thinking saving THIS?”

Like my grandma, my mom had also started keeping a list of things she had and who had given them to her and dad. She also asked each of us kids and the grandkids what items we would like to have when the time came. It was a good start but there was so much more.

I’d slowly been making my own list of things that I wanted from the farm. When mom and I had our weekly talks I’d mention things that I’d like to have and she’d make a note of it and also tell me to write it down in my own list.

So, a few weeks ago, on a cool morning in late March, one of my gal pals and I headed out on a road trip to the farm so I could sort through the things I wanted to have. It felt a bit strange to be going there after so many years. It would be even stranger to be going through things without mom there.

In many ways, the place was exactly as I remembered it. It also felt very different.

My siblings had already cleaned out the fridge and some of the other items from the living room and bedrooms. They had moved several items to mom’s new home and also gotten a few of the things they wanted.

I had mailed a list of things I wanted to them a few weeks earlier so they would know what I was interested in having. I didn’t expect them to pack for me but I did ask them not to throw things out from the kitchen (aside from the fridge contents) before I got a chance to go through things. I knew that aside from a few books and other mementos, the bulk of what I wanted would be from the kitchen.

Going through things wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew I only had a few hours so did my best to stay focused on the list and not on the sentimental value. After all, there was only so much that I could take home with me to fit into my small apartment. For the most part, my mom had kept things in the same places she always had so it was fairly easy to find many of the things on my list.

I found my old high school yearbooks, some cookbooks and a few other books that I had given my parents over the years. There were a few pictures and mementos that I wanted to have. I found the old folding step stool that my mom got in the early seventies. (more on it in a future post). I came across a few things I’d forgotten about. Things I didn’t realize that mom still had. I didn’t have time to go through all the closets, bedrooms and other nooks and crannies where mom stashed her treasures. I hit the spots that I knew I would be most apt to find the things that I knew I wanted.

I spent the most time in the kitchen. We sorted through the items still in the pantry. I went through mom’s seemingly endless collection of Tupperware and other plastic storage items.

I told my friend stories about things as I came across them. She has grown up with many of the same things in her home so it was easy for her to relate to a lot of the things.

So what other treasures did I bring home with me?

I found the Wear-Ever cookware that my mom had always used! I loved that stuff and have a few pieces that mom and I picked up at garage sales many years ago when I was first starting out on my own. They don’t make pots like that anymore! I took the blender that my parents got on their 25th anniversary in 1969. I grabbed the old heart shaped cake pans that mom used to bake a layer cake in for birthdays or for Valentine’s Day. I found the set of measuring spoons that looked like little shovels. I loved using them to measure things for recipes! I got the 1 1/2 quart Corning Ware dish and lid that had come from grandma’s.

I’d forgotten about the six Sylvester coffee mugs that mom and I had found at a variety store many years ago. There was a set of eight drink glasses from the bar cabinet. I also nabbed the remaining contents of several bottles of liqueurs to use for desserts and other recipes. Okay, some may also be used for a drink or two!

I came across a set of stainless steel mixing bowls that mom had won in a curling bonspiel a long time ago. I found the tall set of wooden salt and peppers that I had bought for mom when I was a teenager.

One of the treasures that I really wanted was the rectangular pie pans! Yup, rectangular! Mom doesn’t remember where or when she got them, but says they were quite popular in the 1950’s and she had them before I was born! They make the equivalent of a regular round pie – just in a rectangular shape that was designed to save on oven space. The end pieces just had an extra side of crust! I don’t make pies, but these are great for baking things like a pork tenderloin or a slab of ribs in. They are also handy for baking any number of other desserts or baked items if you have limited oven space. I’d gotten one from mom many years ago but she had two more – and I had dibs on them!

We only touched the surface of things in the farm house that day, but I found most of the things on my list and a few other forgotten treasures. About a week ago, I got out for one more short exploration of the farm house and found a few more lost treasures, I left a short list of things I’d still like if my siblings find them. I don’t know if I’ll make it out again before they finish sorting or not.

Oh, there was one more item that I’ve been waiting to get since I was a young girl, but I’ll write about that in another post!


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Going Home

They say you can’t go home again.

Of course, you can always take a trip down memory lane any time you want. Granted, over time memories will fade and the truth of the past can become blurred. We tend to either have very strong memories of the past or vague recollections.

Assuming the physical home is still there, it just may be possible to go back....

I spent all of my formative years on the family farm. I left after high school for a few years but returned for two and a half years in my early twenties. It wasn’t easy to go back after being on my own, but I was broke and needed that time to get going again.

I left again in 1984 and have been in Winnipeg ever since. In those first years after I moved to the city, I went home for weekends as often as I could. Usually every two or three weeks. I enjoyed seeing my friends and spending time with my parents and some of my family who were nearby.

Bus fare was fairly reasonable back then and there were at least two buses in and out of Winnipeg every day. I’d go out on Friday and come back on Sunday evening or Monday morning. For at least a couple of years, it was usually the same bus driver that I travelled with when I went out. If he saw me waiting at the depot here in the city, he’d hold the front seat on the door side for me or even let me on first. We’d chat most of the trip. It made the time go faster. If I told him which bus I was likely to take back and he was driving, then he would try and hold the same seat for me till he got to my stop.

Occasionally, I’d take laundry with me but usually I took out less than I brought back! I always tried to leave room to bring more back. In the summer and fall, I’d bring produce from our garden or new treasures from garage sales. In the winter, mom and I would often bake and cook together so I could bring homemade food back to the city with me. I didn’t have fully equipped or spacious kitchens in those early days!

Mom and I would usually go shopping in a nearby town on Saturday. We hit the garage sales and any sales in the local stores. It was a time to catch up and chat about all kinds of things. On Sundays, we’d cook an early dinner and I’d pack leftovers to bring back with me.

If I wasn’t spending time with friends in the evenings, my parents and I would sometimes play cards or board games. Dad and I would always have a game or two of cribbage. I’d always take at least one long walk around the farm and down the road apiece just to stretch my legs and have a time of peaceful solitude to contemplate whatever was on my mind.

After losing so much of my sight in 1990, going to the farm for a weekend was never the same. My city mobility was much better than my country mobility. Yes, I still knew my way around the farm, but I just wasn’t as comfortable in my movements. We did have a deck of cards that was large print. They had come from my grandma’s so we were still able to play some games.

It was also difficult for me to function in mom’s kitchen. Most of the things were always in the same place, but finding things in the pantry or the fridge were a bit more challenging as she put them where there was room. That meant that things weren’t always in the same place let alone the original container. The fridge was always a bit of a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. When you opened a container from the fridge, the contents weren’t always what the label said was in it. Mom knew what was in all the containers but she didn’t always take time to re-label them. Another thing that made functioning difficult for me, was that neither the stove or the microwave were marked with labels that I could see or feel. Aside from setting the table and helping with the dishes, there really wasn’t a lot that I could safely do in the kitchen.

It may sound strange, but going to the farm after losing so much of my sight often made me feel like I was 10 years old again. I couldn’t function on my own and I felt like my independence was gone. I suppose I could have had them have things marked for me, but I didn’t feel it was necessary given the limited time I spent there.

Overall though, it just wasn’t the same. Bus fare was also increasing and it was getting harder for me to afford the trip even if mom and dad paid part of it. I started going out less and less. Eventually, I pretty much quit going.

From the late 1990’s on, I’ve only been out a handful of times. The last was for my dad’s funeral. I took the bus that day, but only went to the funeral home and then back to the city.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go out. I would have loved to spend more time there. It was more the circumstances and financial limits that held me back. I still saw my parents at least a couple of times a year here in the city. We talked every Sunday on the phone – usually about an hour every week.

I love living in the city. But, I do miss the peace and solitude of the farm. I miss the fresh air, the open spaces and the privacy. There are often times that I close my eyes and drift back in time to the days when life was simpler. I’d mentally take a walk down the lane or along the shady path in the trees. I’ll imagine sitting on the stone steps or laying on the cool grass staring up at the starry night skies or watching a glorious sunset.

You can go home again. You just need a really good imagination to do it.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Citrus Baked Salmon and Veggies

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe on the Peak Of The Market site for a “Salmon Veggie Bake” that sounded interesting. Like most recipes I find, there were a few things that I felt needed to be tweaked to suit my tastes. The originally recipe used only carrots, mushrooms and green onion as veggies. A bit boring for my tastes. I wanted a bit more variety of veggies so I added red pepper, broccoli florets and celery to the mix.

I didn’t like the idea that you had to partially pre-cook the carrots before proceeding to assemble the recipe for the oven. An extra step, that I felt could be avoided if you cut the carrots a little smaller. I also wondered if using only orange would make the dish to sweet so I used an orange and a lemon.

Yeah, I know – I pretty much rewrote the recipe! But anyone who knows me, knows that is what I almost always do!

So here is my version (with pics!) of the “Salmon Veggie Bake” which I have renamed for my recipe box:

Citrus Baked Salmon and Veggies

1 orange
1 lemon
2/3 cups carrots, cut in match stick style
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 1/4 cups broccoli florets
1/2 cup green onion (cut in 1/2 inch pieces)
1/3 cup sweet red bell pepper, cut in matchstick style
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery
1 teaspoon crushed garlic (bottled type)
1 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon parsley flakes
2 boneless, skinless salmon fillets (about 4 oz. each)
2 teaspoons Olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Grate the peel of the orange and the lemon and place the peel in a medium bowl. Slice the orange and lemon into 8 slices each. Remove seeds. Set slices aside. Add the garlic, basil, thyme and parsley to the grated peel. Prepare the veggies and add to the peel mixture. Toss lightly to combine.

Divide the veggies evenly onto two large pieces of foil that have been lightly sprayed with Pam or other non-stick cooking spray. Lay one salmon fillet on top of each of the veggie mixes. Drizzle each fillet with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Lay out half of the orange and half of the lemon slices on top of each of the salmon and veggie mixes. Lightly spray with a bit more of the Pam.

Pull the foil up over the mix and seal edges and top with a double fold. Place on foil lined baking sheet and bake in 350F oven for 30 minutes or until veggies are cooked and the salmon flakes easily.

BE CAREFUL when opening the package as it is VERY hot and the steam can easily burn you!! Serve with brown rice or a pasta such as lemon pepper linguini.

Serves 2.
- The carrots and red pepper will cook in a similar time as the other veggies IF they are sliced in small sticks. Cut them any larger, and they will need to be partially precooked so that all veggies are done at the same time.
- I started to boil water for the pasta five minutes after I put the salmon and veggies in the oven. That way they were both done around the same time. You could also start a casserole dish of brown rice in the oven while you are preparing the packets.
- When serving, I squeezed the flesh and juice of the cooked fruit over the salmon and veggies as it added to the overall flavour. You could just lay the pieces on the side of the plate and let each person squeeze their own if they want it.
- For a more tangy flavour, you could use two lemons rather than the orange and lemon. You could also have a slightly sweeter flavour by using only two oranges. The choice is yours!