As settlers and pioneers, Suffragettes, union organizers and war workers, women always have played critical roles in American history.

On the other hand, I don’t recall hearing the word “feminism” until I was well into my college years.  Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963), Helen Gurley Brown (the somewhat improbable editor of Cosmopolitan magazine) and Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex, 1970) may have been more accessible than philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 1949) and slightly less frenetic than boundary-pusher Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch, 1970), but my friends and I never found their books on our mothers’ bookshelves.

That’s not to say there wasn’t change simmering in the land, even before Friedan and those who came after her began stirring the pot. In fact, it was a pot-stirrer of a different sort who began changing the routines of daily life in our neighborhood through, of all things, a cookbook.  Murmur the word “oddments” around women of a certain age, and at least some will come to attention like a hound who’s just caught the scent of a good rabbit. “Peg Bracken!” they’ll say. “Why, I haven’t thought of her in ages.”

An advertising copywriter, Bracken made history with The I Hate to Cookbook (1960).  After discovering many of her friends shared her distaste for hours of  kitchen time, hours they all considered monotonous and wearying, she solicited, sampled and culled recipes, stitching them together with breezy and irreverent narrative. In the midst of promoting the use of simple cake mixes to avoid baking from scratch, she wrote,

“We don’t get our creative kicks from adding an egg, we get them from painting pictures or bathrooms, or potting geraniums or babies, or writing stories or amendments, or, possibly, engaging in some interesting type of psycho-neurochemical research like seeing if we can replace colloids with sulphates. And we simply love ready-mixes.”

For homemakers hesitant to serve up ground-beef-and-cornbread casserole to a surly husband, she advised adding a bottle of wine to the menu – common enough today but nearly inconceivable then.

“The sort of wine doesn’t matter too much. It can be a whimsical little $4.95 bottle or a downright comical 59 cent vintage; it’s the principle of the thing that counts.”

And what once-new bride or weary, cash-strapped mother can forget her first reading of Bracken’s classic instructions for a tasty and economical Skid Road Stroganoff?

“Add the flour, salt, paprika, and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink.”

Even her daughter acknowledges Peg really enjoyed cooking–she simply longed for a little freedom from the constraints common in those years.

One constraint was the apparently universal conviction that dessert was necessary. Even worse was the expectation that dessert would be homemade, and as complex as possible. A naked brownie for dessert? Impossible. There had to be ice cream atop the cake, with a thick chocolate sauce and a sprinkling of toasted walnuts or pecans. Apple pie? Fine, as long as you remembered the cheddar, or the caramel sauce, and were skilled enough to weave your own lattice crust.

Never mind Shulamith Firestone. Surrounded by cooks who actually knew the size of their saucepans, we knew the revolution had arrived when we read that dessert could be “honeydew melon with a scoop of lime sherbet”, followed by what Bracken called oddments -“a plateful of store-bought petit fours or other rich little cakes, or a dish of good chocolates, or a bowl of nuts and raisins, or all three.” It even was possible to skip the melon and sherbet, and have twice as many oddments. It was revolution, indeed.

We loved the odd little word, and we loved the basic concept of a few small things in place of one big thing – the possibilities were endless, and the word’s meaning began to expand. Sewing baskets suddenly were filled with “oddments” of thread, bias tape and zippers. Junk drawers became oddment drawers, and oddments of soap – the remnants of bars waiting to be melted down for use in the laundry – lurked under the bathroom sink. We may have seized on chocolates and nuts for dessert with enthusiasm and gratitude,  but we became equally appreciative of all the Little Things surrounding us that served perfectly well as substitutes for Big Things in our lives.

And that’s what I’ve brought you here.  After weeks of main-course dishes, I’ve produced a little plate of oddments for your enjoyment.  They’re follow-ups to stories you’ve already read or can read by following the links. No doubt more chapters will be written for each, but for now these are the perfect finish – and like Ms. Bracken’s plate of petit fours, there should be something for everyone.

Yoani Sanchez in Puebla

Slender, dark-haired, Yoani Sanchez walks the streets of Havana. Passing into and through the shadows of the Castros, she thinks of toasters and lemons, a scarcity of pork and the hunger of children. Fingers curled around the flash drive pushed deep into her pocket, she walks quickly, intending a liaison, a tryst, an encounter far removed from the world’s prying eyes.  Her longing is for a computer – her desire, to send her words into the world… (Continue reading “Yoani Sanchez ~ After Five Years”)

After five years of requesting travel documents to receive multiple awards outside of Cuba, Sanchez, 37, received a passport in late January allowing her to depart on a three-month tour of 12 countries in South America, Europe and North America, after which she will return to Cuba.

Speaking to several hundred publishers, editors and journalists gathered for a semi-annual meeting of the Inter-American Press Association in Puebla, Mexico, Sanchez  was reported by Tim Johnson, Mexico City Bureau Chief for McClatchy, to have emphasized that underground blogs, digital portals and illicit e-magazines are proliferating in Cuba as flash drives are passed from one person to another on buses and street corners.

“Information circulates hand to hand through this wonderful gadget known as the memory stick,” Sanchez said, “and it is difficult for the government to intercept them. I can’t imagine that they can put a police officer on every corner to see who has a flash drive and who doesn’t.”

A simple news search will provide details of Ms. Sanchez’ time in New York and Washington, as well as more information on her future travels.


The Way We Worked in Blue Rapids - Greenhouse and Flower Shop

The Way We Worked in Blue Rapids, a photographic exhibit sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council in partnership with the Museum on Main Street program, opened February 2  at the Blue Rapids Museum.
The exhibit featured eighty large-format photographs taken by Blue Rapids photographer Tom Parker and a running slideshow of more than 400 additional photos he captured during 2012.  Parker himself has described the scope of the project.
“Over the past year I photographed the men, women and children of our town performing the diverse tasks that are at their core the building blocks of rural America. While the other [exhibit] sites focused on their particular histories – mining, agriculture, black populations – ours was a photographic record of how we worked in Blue Rapids during 2012. We called it a snapshot of a single year, and thought of it in terms of the historical record. (Continue reading “Working Fools”)

The full exhibit now is available on the Smithsonian’s  Museum on Main Street site. Captions provide the name of the people or persons working and the location, as well as larger-format photographs. It’s a delightful page, and some of the “jobs” shown may surprise you!

A retired elephant named Rosie had lived at the [Endangered Ark in Hugo, Oklahoma] for some time. A bottle-fed orphan, she bonded well with humans but was ostracized by her herd and sometimes attacked by them. After developing arthritis because of her injuries, her ability to walk was compromised, and lying down or getting up were difficult.
Maine veterinarian Jim Laurita and his brother Tom had a relationship with Rosie stetching back to the 1970s.  They met her while working with Carson & Barnes [circus] as teenagers. Tom had been a juggler and ring master, Jim, an elephant handler and trainer. Rosie’s plight moved the Lauritas to establish Hope Elephants, a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation education as well as the care of retired and injured elephants. A primary purpose would be to bring Rosie to Maine, allowing her to receive state-of-the-art physical therapies for her injuries including hydrotherapy, acupuncture, laser treatments, ultrasound, and time on a 60-foot-long underwater treadmill, the first such device designed for elephants. (Continue reading “Victor, Hugo and the Elephants)

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video or two ought to be worth even more. Rosie and her friend Opal have indeed moved to Hope, Maine, and life is very good, indeed. They’ve become quite the attraction, the object of fundraisers, publicity and school tours galore. Sometimes, good intentions aren’t enough. In this case – and at least to this point – good intentions seem to have resulted in a very good end.


The Ghirardi Compton Oak - 22 March 2013

Finally, of course, there’s the tree – the Ghirardi Compton Oak. (Click image for a larger view)
Barry Ward, Executive Director of Trees for Houston, put it best. “If everybody pitches in and cooperates and thinks about what we can do, the likelihood is you will save one of the most significant Compton oaks in North America. The question now is: Does the city council have the will to go ahead and make it happen?”
In the end, they did have that will. A bid was accepted from Hess Landscape Construction of Orange County, California, for $197,500. When Erik Hess and his crew showed up and went to work, they not only impressed the town with their competence, they inspired a community as well. And when they put their 1,300 horsepower and 400,000 pounds of equipment to the test, the old Ghiradi oak groaned, creaked and complained – but she moved. (Continue reading “Follow the Muddy Dirt Road”)

It seems to be generally agreed that five years must pass before the success of such a move can be judged. Still, after ten months, the tree is doing well. It’s been trimmed again, has settled into its spot and has a lovely crop of new leaves just beginning to emerge. Catkins and old acorns cover the ground around it, and should a visitor happen by while the ground still is damp from rain, it will be clear that others have stopped by to visit the tree – deer and raccoons certainly, and no doubt other residents of the thickly wooded land nearby.

Though the fence has been removed, a piece of the red, white and blue bunting that was hung there last July 4th still is in place on a nearby pole. It’s a sign of pride – in the strong, resiliant tree, in the community that made its move possible, and in the nation which so often imagines Liberty as a tree.

Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, please click below.

77 thoughts on “Oddments

    1. nia,

      I’m so happy you liked it. It’s fun to go back and see what’s happened over time, how stories have developed, and it made me happy to find so many positive changes.

      It’s always a delight to see you, too!


  1. Hi Linda

    After waiting for a long time watching the performance of great women in the United States, I think it’s about time for a woman to be president of this great country. The nation already has a black president. A first woman should follow suit.

    Following one your blog posts, I’m reading Generación Y authored by Yoani Sánchez. I’m sure as days follows night, that Cuba will be free again. That wall must also fall,, like the Berlin wall in 1989.

    Let freedom ring,


    1. Omar,

      I appreciate your sentiment about the possibility of a woman President, but my view of things is just slightly different. I’m longing for a time when we can move beyond “slot filling”, and simply elect (or appoint, or promote) the best person – regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

      I have my own tales of being selected for committees or sent to conferences because “they needed a woman”, and I’ve had experience of being elected to a position I wasn’t ready to fill because I was a woman. I once turned down a significant career possibility because it was offered as an opportunity to be “the first female” doing the work. It was an instinctive decision at the time – I couldn’t explain why “no” was the right answer. But it was, and I’ve never regretted it.

      If a competent female candidate for President comes along who reflects my values and takes positions I agree with, I’d vote for her in a minute. But I’ll never vote for a woman solely on the basis of gender.

      As for Yoani – it’s exciting as can be to see her traveling freely. A friend asked me if I thought she’d really go back to Cuba. I do. She returned years ago, out of commitment to her country and her people, and I have little doubt she’ll do so again. Like you, I’m sure the changes will come. How and when still are to be determined.

      Thanks for your great comments!


  2. “The I Hate to Cookbook” sounds like a fascinating read! How sad that so many hours were once expended over a hot stove, when so many other interesting, creative pursuits are available. Does that tell you I’m not the best chef in the world?! Ha!

    And thank you for updating with your “little plate of oddments.” I haven’t been reading your posts long enough to be familiar with all these stories, so I’m eager to delve into the backgrounds. I particularly loved the ones about the elephants and the tree — and I’m glad to hear the tree is still doing well. Shows what can happen with some tender, loving care!

    1. Debbie,

      Bracken’s book is so well-written and funny that even people who love to cook and wouldn’t touch one of her recipes with a ten-foot pole can enjoy it. Some were just too much for me – but there are a few, like her swiss steak recipe, that I still use from time to time. When I still was cooking for Mom, there were lots of recipes that could tempt her to eat when some of today’s choices just didn’t do it.

      Best of all are her cookie recipes. She has an “overnight macaroon” that’s oatmeal based – not a lick of coconut. And her chocolate cookies and “Elevator Lady Spice Cookies” are marvelous. My copies of her books finally fell apart, but I’ve still got the cookie pages in my recipe file.

      Both the tree and the elephant stories are delightful. I hope you enjoy them!


  3. Hi Linda,

    Thanks so much for this wonderful selection. My own favourites are the one about Ghirardi Compton Oak, and The I Hate to Cookbook.

    This latter triggered a memory of a little-known dish, first made for me by my rather eccentric boss in the first English Department in which I ever taught. A group of us from the Department, rather inebriated and much fired up by intense literary talk – he liked to call us the Bathgate Bloomsbury Group – returned to his house for some food.

    After some clattering, banging, swearing and intriguing odours floating through from the kitchen, he served up – Baloush. “What is the recipe for this Baloush?” I tentatively asked. I was 22, and not used to being cooked for by a boss. “Hell. I don’t know,” he boomed. “Just a mix of whatever you can find in the cupboard.” It was delicious, whatever it was….

    I still serve up Baloush now and then.

    1. Anne,

      I thought you’d enjoy hearing about the Ghirardi Oak. Speaking of trees – it looks as though it was a fine time at the Easter Egg Hunt on Kelvin Meadow. I started following supporters of the children’s woods on Twitter, and saw some photos of baby hedgehogs from today’s event. I would have enjoyed that, myself.

      Your story of the Baloush is wonderful. We’ve all had evenings like that – late, marked by conviviality, populated by folks desperately in need of food. In fact, Peg Bracken’s cookbooks take note of the phenomenon, and she includes a few recipes for those times when someone (usually a husband) invites a whole roomful of inebriated folks over to “have a bite” at two in the morning!

      I wonder about the name of your colleague’s dish – Baloush. The first thing that crossed my mind was baba ghanoush, a wonderful eggplant dish I was introduced to in Liberia. It was a staple in the homes of the Lebanese shopkeepers with whom we dined. There are as many recipes as cooks, I suppose, but this one will do.

      Back to Baloush – funny that my folks used the term “slumgullion” for such dishes, a word rooted in the British Isles!


  4. And could this little plate of oddments also be called an olio? By whatever name, it’s delightful.

    In this world gone mad with laws, rules, regulations, and behavior police, I find it reassuring to read your blogs about people doing creative, thoughtful, and meaningful tasks. I appreciate having the updates about these particular stories.

    1. NumberWise,

      You’re right that oddments could be an olio. In fact, olio might be an even better word, except I never had heard it until Bug used it, and I didn’t have any good story to go along with it. Besides, “olio” reminds me of “oleo” and if I take that as my starting point, I’m going to be right back in the land of the margarine-runners!

      I will confess – when I read the story of the student suspended for chewing his PopTart into the shape of a gun, and the more recent one about Honors Night at a high school being suspended in order to keep less accomplished students from feeling left out… There are no words. The only worse story is the one about British educators proscribing “best friendships” in elementary schools – all to prevent children from experiencing the pain of losing friendship.

      A world gone mad is what we have – no question. My hope is that we’ve not gone completely mad. Let’s keep an eye on one another, shall we? ;)


      1. My friend was an assistant principle at a junior high for years. Among other things, she was responsible for behavioral problems, suspensions, etc. After 9/11, a teacher sent a 6th grader to her office for drawing one of those cartoon-type bombs on the blackboard – a round circle with a short line for the fuse and a few little marks around the fuse that were intended to represent sparks. The principle wanted my friend to suspend him. She refused and told him that she was not going to have her face plastered all over our local paper the next morning, but if he wanted to do the honors, she would have his back. The kid was scolded and returned to class.

        1. Every, single instance of good common sense in the world is to be celebrated. I see no essential difference between the neighborhood HOA official who’s out measuring grass with a ruler, the school administrator who sees a potential terrorist in a kindergartner and Mayor Bloomberg. I’d like to sic Willie on ’em all.

  5. It’s odd. As I went to Yoani Sánchez’s site today, it’s down and has been down for over a day. Could an overload of comments because she is out of the country have brought it down? Who knows, but there are assurances that the host in Spain is working on the problem.

    It’s amazing news that she was granted a passport to leave. Another historical son of Cuba, José Martí comes to mind. He accomplished a lot outside of Cuba from Paris, Mexico, Guatemala and New York, in his mission to rally support for Cuba as they sought independence from Spain.

    Enjoyed this rather objective measure of progress you served up for us. All the stories together represent such an array of inroads.

    1. Georgette,

      Yoani’s site used to go down regularly. Whether someone prefers that news of her speeches, interviews and travels not be accessible to people inside Cuba, I can’t say – but it’s not impossible.

      Do you read Babalu Blog? I’ve found it a useful companion to Cuban bloggers and US media. As you surely know, there is no singular “Cuban point of view”, and if there are fissures between the exile community and those in Cuba, you usually can get a sense of it at Babalu. Beyond that, they’re not given to hagiography, even in the case of Yoani Sánchez. She’s a remarkable woman and worthy of respect, but the US media tends toward a certain breathlessness when reporting about her. Babalu’s a good antidote. (At least as far as English sources go – there may be more in Spanish which aren’t accessible to me.)

      I’ve always respected Martí, and one of his quotations is on my “About” page: ““A genuine man goes to the roots. To be a radical is no more than that: to go to the roots. He who does not see things in their depth should not call himself a radical.”

      That’s why someone like Wendell Berry is a radical, and certain high-profile politicians never will come close, no matter how loudly they proclaim themselves so. For some evidence, and a hearty laugh or two, read Berry on why he’s not going to buy a computer.


  6. Oooo. Lots to enjoy here! I’m still working on it.

    The petit fours got my attention and took me back to my single digit childhood years. Lovely, elegant Easter and birthday gifts!

    And my beloved great aunt Mary Tenney Gray is always in my heart. A KS suffragette and woman of many talents. I know I have disappointed her, dropped the flag. But hope to do better.

    And the photographic essay on work is one I just have been thinking of as my own situation gets more and more…challenging, I’ll say. Stand up, pick up the flag and get on with it.

    1. Martha,

      I was so glad to see your blog back up! I’ve known that sinking feeling – and I’ve had my own experiences of dealing with Google “help”. It’s never pretty.

      We didn’t have petit fours, but our decorated cookies and dyed eggs were something to behold. No stickers in our household! We made our own designs using plain paraffin wax “crayons” or used water transfers. Some day, I’d love to try my hand at pisanki, but this won’t be the year.

      I’ve been reading through some letters written by my maternal grandmother to her sisters. Those women could cope, let me tell you – and I’m sure your aunt Mary could match any of them. Our coping may take different forms, but I suspect they’d still be proud of us.

      In a way, Blue Rapids is facing many of the same challenges as your area. Picking up the flag and getting on with it isn’t as easy as it sometimes sounds, but it’s usually possible.


  7. Love the word “oddments.” I hadn’t heard it before.

    I’d love the recipe for overnight macaroons. Any chance you can post it here?

    Your post started me thinking about “woman’s work” and how it has been so devalued (“just” a housewife, low pay/benefits for childcare workers and teachers or any traditionally women’s work, etc.) And it’s too bad, because for me, the most soul-satisfying parts of my life have been the unpaid or under-paid things — I actually like to cook and prepare tasty and nutritious meals; I worked parttime at a paid job so that I could have more time raising my daughter; I like sewing and quilting and making things. We shouldn’t have to give up those important tasks simply because we cannot make a living doing them.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful when all work is valued, regardless of whether it contributes to the economy’s consumer culture. Regardless of whether it’s “women’s work” or not. We shouldn’t just try to be accepted in and join the economic culture men have created (it’s flawed). But instead create a more equitable way to live and contribute.

    1. Rosemary,

      I thought I’d lost the recipe – thank goodness I hadn’t. Here it is, with Bracken’s commentary. Just click the link to open.

      Overnight Macaroons

      You do raise some good points about paid and unpaid work. I remember the days when the question, “And what do you do?” translated as “Where do you work?” and any answer involving the home, children or unpaid labor was cause for embarassment.

      I do see some changes, particularly as the home-schooling movement picks up steam. Some years ago, it often was assumed that parents who home-schooled were people afraid of the world who didn’t want their children “contaminated”. Today, there’s a more general assumption they’re people who want their children to be educated rather than indoctrinated or – even worse, perhaps – simply passed through a system.

      I’ve thought about this a good bit in regard to blogging. I made an early decision not to try and monetize my blog, even to the point of purchasing the “no ads” upgrade from WordPress. I’m still ambivalent about pursuing publishing in magazines or even a book. People say, “But you should be making money from your writing!” and of course that would be lovely. But of the articles I’ve had published, the most I’ve made is $75. It would take a lot of articles to support myself at that price – and it wouldn’t be long before something I love would feel like a job. And, as I’ve pointed out to several people, that button we push to send our blogs out into the ether does say “Publish”.

      Besides, I love the conversations I have here, and cherish my ability to follow my curiosity. Just look at the stories linked above: a Cuban blogger, a Kansas community, elephants and the history represented by the Ghirardi oak. I’ve met a local fellow whose father was killed by Castro, the photographer for the Blue Rapids project and the owner of Hess Trees, who moved the Ghirardi Oak. Would I trade any of that for sitting in a room working on a book to be sold over the internet to people I’ve no chance of knowing?

      Well, I might. But not right now.


      1. Thanks for the recipe! I’ll try these when I need a sweet treat.
        I do wish writers and artists could support themselves with their art. The marketing side does often turn a calling/vocation into work, and like you said, low-paid work at that. How can we turn this around?

        1. One person you need to know if you don’t is photographer Chase Jarvis. His “new paradigm” is something I remind myself of frequently. It’s worth following his blog or twitter feed just to keep up with his thoughts and suggestions. They’re not just for photographers.

  8. Hi, Linda — I remember some of these, others are new, so I must go digging when I have more time! The posts will be all the richer for the updates.

    I Hate to Cook — my mother loved these, and I may even still have one of her paperbacks somewhere in my way-too-large cookbook collection. The cookbook collection is diverse! Julia’s stroganoff or Peg’s… hmmm. But the thing that really made me smile were the petit fours — that brought back memories. I don’t remember the first time I had one, but I must have been hooked because I asked for them every year at Easter as part of my basket. (I also asked for creamed herring and olives, which were also part of the Christmas stocking. I was a weird kid.) Oh, I loved those little things. You don’t see them all that often now, but if they are on a buffet’s dessert table, you know that’s what I choose!

    1. jeanie,

      I suspect I know why you were hooked on petit fours. They taste good, yes. But look at this comment you left on another of my posts years ago:

      “I’m a “smalls” person, too, treasuring things in my special box, saving bits and bobs to make other things with. Miniature books — that’s another! And coins. Not valuable coins — I’d lose those. No, just little coins or stamps or postcards from another time or place and…. well, you see, I could go on forever!”

      Those tiny little cakes were just the thing for a child who already was in love with bits and bobs!

      As far as the recipes, didn’t Ecclesiastes say, “to every recipe, there is a time”? There’s a time for Julia’s stroganoff or boeuf Bourguignon, but there’s a time for Peg’s quick-and-easy-yet-better-than-MacDonald’s meals, too. I didn’t realize there was a new edition of Bracken’s cookbook, but it’s been edited by her daughter and many of the recipes have been revised to account for changing tastes and preferences. (“Enough with the cream of mushroom soup, already!” comes to mind.) I might give the new edition a look, for fun but also for recipes that I’ve forgotten.


  9. Oddly, oddments isn’t a new or even recent word. The oldest example cited in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1796. The definition that the OED gives is: ‘Odd articles, items, fragments, or remnants; odds and ends; esp. articles belonging to broken or incomplete sets, as offered for sale.’

    Looking words up in a dictionary can be fun when one thing leads to another. I see in the OED that the obsolete term oddwoman once meant ‘a female umpire; an arbitress.’ That sense must have come from the fact that when two parties are having a dispute, it takes a third person to act as umpire (three being an odd number).

    1. Steve,

      Another phrase that uses “odd” in the sense you’ve raised is “odd jobs”. The implication is that the jobs are small, left-over or incomplete and unrelated to one another.

      The thought of a female umpire is a bit of an oddity, raising as it does the spectre of a woman nose to nose with someone like Casey Stengel, but it’s interesting to think that “arbitress” might once have been as common as “abbess”.

      As NumberWise suggested above, “olio” might have been a more precise word for Bracken to use, but I would be willing to bet money that she realized “olio” would remind her audience of oleomargarine, and she didn’t want to risk the confusion.


  10. The lead almost scared me away. I’ve learned that there are some topics on which men should wiithhold comments…at least my Mother-In-Law reminds of that all the time. Nevertheless, I am glad that I read on. I love the elephants. Really, Shoreacres, wanted to let you know that I was still out here and enjoy your thoughts.

    1. symonsez,

      My goodness – what a delight! I just bumped into a comment you left on an older post and was thinking about you. I’m glad to know you’re still out and about, and so happy you made your presence known.

      Everyone’s free to comment here, no matter the topic. I certainly gave you a collection of topics to work with this time. Aren’t the elephants great? I still have one more post about Hugo and the elephants. I should do that soon, now that I’ve done the update.

      Happy Easter to you and yours – and don’t be a stranger!


  11. As I recall, it was the Yoani Sanchez story that got me reading your blog. I’m glad to know she was finally allowed out of the country. One hopes that Castro’s successors will realize that communism doesn’t work and that in the long term it cripples the country and start easing up.

    Love the elephant story. After hearing about Edison electrocuting an elephant as part of his campaign to discredit and prove the dangers of AC power which was mentioned on the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America” series, I needed a happy ending, so thanks for that.

    My mom never used a cookbook. Most of what she knows about cooking my dad taught her. Being a working mom for all but about two years of our childhood, we knew all about quick and easy. I was told that by age 3, I could quote the Jello slogan –“Dinner time, oh, dinner time — too late to make dessert!”

    My mom never made cakes from scratch, and never made a pie while my dad was able to make one. But she used to cook roasts on the stove top — braise the meat, then put it, the vegetables and water in a pot on the stove, put the burner on low, and we’d go off to Sunday school and church. Once we came back from church and got changed, she’d have it on the table in 30 minutes. She could come home from church and have a fried chicken and mashed potato lunch on the table in 30 minutes too. She had it down to an art. She’d be home from work at 5:20 and have supper on the table by 6, which was when my dad insisted upon eating.

    1. WOL,

      I read that story of Edison and Topsy with complete astonishment. What surprised me the most was the little detail, down in the notes, that W.S. Merwin had written a poem about the episode. I wasn’t completely impressed with the poem, but I was surprised to see the episode still being written about today.

      As for Cuba – well, who knows? There’s an interesting article that was published today about Yoani’s experience at the UN and the pressures that were brought to bear to prevent her speaking as originally planned.

      Your story about the Jello slogan reminds me of the time I watched a harried father herd three children through a local cafeteria. He’d told them they could have anything they wanted. One boy had blue, yellow, green and red Jello. Some of those products were real boons to our moms, though, and they were new enough to delight us.

      Mom used recipes, but my grandmother never did, and she could turn out those meals with your mom’s ease. There was nothing like her fried chicken – all I remember is the extra-deep cast iron skillet, and those really, really fresh chickens. Some of them were so fresh I’d been chasing them the very morning they landed on my plate!


      1. Did your mom ever do the lime Jello with cottage cheese whipped in? That would be what my mom would usually take to pot luck suppers. It was an “old standby” like tuna casserole (can of tuna, can of cream of mushroom soup, can of cream of celery soup and a package of flat noodles.)

        She used to make a beet salad with about 1/3 cup chopped white onion (raw), an 8 oz can of diced pickled beets, a tablespoon of sweet pickle relish and enough Miracle Whip to moisten. Chill and serve cold. But, that was for on the premises consumption only. My dad was not real sold on it but she and I love it (although I prefer mayo to Miracle Whip). Diced pickled beets are one of those things like bricks of mincemeat that you can’t find any more. All I can ever find are sliced ones, which I have to dice manually. (And when you are actually able to find ready-made mincemeat, the price is higher than giraffe’s ears!)

        BTW, as it’s still right chilly here because of the cold front we sent you, I’m having hot Lipton spiced chai with almond milk. Hot and scrummy.

        1. Mom’s variation was lime jello, cottage cheese and crushed pineapple. From time to time, spiced grapes and walnuts were the complements. Her tuna and noodles was adapted to fit her convictions about the importance of veggies: tuna, cream of mushroom, peas, carrots and noodles. Goodness.

          I’ve got a jar of sliced pickled beets from Froberg’s in the refrigerator. I’ll have to look the next time I’m over there and see if they have the diced.

          I got a personal weather report from your area yesterday. While we all were hanging around the jury assembly room I got to talking to the fellow next to me. He’d been up in Lampasas and got to see some of those dust clouds. He says his new hobby is praying for rain.

  12. Linda,
    I remember these stories. That’s a good sign, since I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday.

    I like Peg Bracken’s use of the word oddments, and I definitely like the idea of adding oddments to a meal, but I think I should consider skipping dessert altogether. When it comes to food, I can’t do anything in moderation. A few oddments here and a few oddments there… You can see where this could lead.

    1. Bella Rum,

      You should adopt my approach – eat the same thing for breakfast every day. It eliminates any necessity for thought, and increases the chances I’ll be able to recite the menu if asked.

      I do see where all those oddments could lead, as a matter of fact. I come from a long line of folks whose philosophy was “If some is good, more is better.” Of course, back in the day they needed more, too – miners and farmers and such expend a few more calories than computer jockeys.

      I was musing over these food issues recently, and mentioned to someone that the biggest difference I can spot between the meals we had in the 50s and 60s and the way we eat now is the presence of processed food. Everything that my grandmother cooked was from scratch, and for the most part my mother’s meals followed suit. Even when we had church dinners, everything was prepared from scratch. Whole days were spent in those church kitchens. I think it’s a reasonable theory that, because the food was far more satisfying, we ended up eating less of it.

      But that’s just an odd thought – and you know where those can lead!


      1. I’m in complete agreement. Processed foods are leading us down a bad path. We may have launched our first weapon to China. I recently heard that McDonald’s is releasing their “Sausage Double Beef Burger” in China. It boasts two burgers and two generous sausage links on a bun. Of course, they’re welcome to have fries with that.

        1. The real news always flies under the radar, doesn’t it? And just like most news these days, I didn’t know whether to laugh or gag when I read this tidbit. ;)

  13. Oddments. What a fabulous word to describe such an aggravating collection of things, like all the “oddments” covering almost every surface in my house, and it only took two years for The Capt. to accomplish that feat!

    I’ve never been one to suffer writer’s block in the past, but earning a living has been taking up so much of my time, that I’ve had trouble noticing inspiration (like I used to) and finding “just the right words”. I feel like I need to just draw away and be still for a little while. I keep saying I’m going to do that, and then the phone rings for a tour, or a speaking engagement, or this or that or, or, or; but I can always count on you, to be a consistent writer! Your sticktuitiveness will be my example to follow!

    1. Wendy,

      I just took a good look at my desk…and dining table…and kitchen. “Oddments” abound here, too. And I must say – sometimes all of the things that take up so much of our time can be just as oddish. It’s not the big crises or the big projects that stop me in my tracks. It’s the multitude of little things, pulling this way and that. You’ve got even more demands than I do – many more. When I ponder just adding kids into my equation, I start to quiver.

      You reminded me of something I wrote after Hurricane Ike, when I was having so much trouble getting coherent posts published. You can see it here. It’s one of those very early pieces that deserves to be rewritten and re-published.

      What I’ve come to appreciate is that lessons learned in a Katrina, Rita or Ike apply perfectly well to other stormy periods in life. Someone asked me once how I kept writing through the post-Ike period. I said I got plenty of sleep. They thought I was kidding. ;)


  14. Oddments is a great word and I’ve enjoyed the journey from women and feminism to cookbooks for cooking haters. I think I saw that book on the shelves of a woman whose children I was babysitting.

    When you wrote about the aggregation of little things amounting to something big, I thought about picnics that roomie and I make out of odds and ends around the kitchen. I’m not sure why we called it a tea party, but it usually begins with a wooden tray that we fill with little bowls of yogurt or pistachios or wedges of brie or left over egg salad or blueberries or cherry tomatoes or olives or slices of ham. Oddly enough, tea is optional. We bring the laden tray out to the garden and let out a cat or three.

    1. nikkipolani,

      I smiled when I saw the recipe for hot onion soufflé in your photo. That’s clearly a recipe Peg Bracken would love: simple, tasty and not dependent on any ingredients that require learning a new language or emptying the bank account.

      Your “tea party” also lead me to think of so many ways little bits of food collected together are enjoyed. Potluck suppers, buffet tables, Dim Sum restaurants, Sushi bars – regardless of portion size, all share the natural attraction oddments of food seem to have for us.

      And one more amusement – Bracken used the word “leftovers” very carefully. As she put it, there can be leftover scalloped potatoes or egg salad. But there never, ever is (for example) “leftover” chocolate cake. As she put it, there’s either cake, or there isn’t. Talking about leftover cake is like talking about leftover whiskey – it simply doesn’t make sense.


    1. montucky,

      And since Steve pointed out that “oddments” is quite an old word, it makes perfect sense to me that the more familiar “odds and ends” derived from it. It is good to have words to identify things – whether flowers on the mountainside or the clumps of clutter on a desk!


  15. I don’t know why this was so, but daily meals at our house did not include dessert. That was true whether the meal was cooked by my grandmother or by my mother. There were exceptions only when we had company at dinner. For that reason, I never developed the habit of eating dessert. I occasionally will order something at a restaurant, but on most occasions, I don’t. It was also the practice at our house to serve the salad last. I know other Italian families that do this, although my family in Italy does not. So to this day, I eat the salad last, no matter when it’s served.

    1. Charles,

      When you mentioned ordering dessert at a restaurant, my first thought was of Bonnie Franklin, urging you to indulge and then adding her fork to the fray.

      We almost always had something for dessert after dinner, even if it just was a scoop of ice cream or a plate of cookies. We had pie, cobbler or cake on the weekend, and often that would do until midweek – depending on how many late night snacks were eaten.

      I can’t remember ever having salad served last or knowing anyone who ate the salad course last. What I’ve learned in the last ten minutes is that there’s an abundance of blogs out there considering the question: why do Italians eat salad last? There’s a multitude of answers, too – everything from “you don’t want the vinegar in the dressing to interfere with the taste of the wine” to “my folks did it so I do it”.

      But no one seemed to think eating salad last was odd. ;)


  16. I laughed when I read about the idea to add wine to a meal to deal with a surly husband! Pretty damned funny. And perhaps my greatest fantasy in life is to make friends with an elephant. This was a wonderful post!

    1. WildBill,

      My dad used to read Peg Bracken’s books from time to time, just because she was so funny, and because, as he said, it gave him a way to keep up with what was going to be foisted on him next.

      If you want to make friends with an elephant, I just checked. Opal and Rosie are 286 miles away from you by road – 5 hours and 11 minutes, give or take. That’s just slightly less than the distance for me to their former home in Hugo, Oklahoma. If you were to call first, they might arrange for you to play ball with them when you get there. ;)

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for adding my blog to your list. I’m honored, indeed.


  17. I can’t believe I missed the I Hate to Cookbook. Being fully engaged in feminism in the early 1970’s, I’d read all the others.

    Because there were 7 of us in my immediate family, I watched my mother loathe cooking, especially when we got older. Coming home from school at different times due to extra-curricular activities, she waited and re-heated the meal several times to feed each of us every day. I’m writing a memoir and one particular story is about my mother’s cooking…this will be a terrific resource; thank you, Linda. Great post. I too, am adding you to my blog roll.

    1. Monica,

      Bracken wrote several books that might be good resources for you – just as memory aids, if nothing else. There was an appendix to the cookbook, a book of household tips and a book on etiquette that every woman in our neighborhood seemed to have. The “I Hate to Housekeep” book was almost the perfect combination of funny and useful.

      The logistics of large families always have intrigued me. I like to amuse myself by inventing qualifications for legislators. Putting candidates in charge of a large household for a month, just to see how they do, might be more revelatory than a hundred speeches.

      I have another reader who’s working on a memoir, and who has written movingly of her mother. It’s a worthy undertaking, for sure – and one that I suspect is filled with surprises!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and pleased that you’ve added me to your blog roll.


  18. Wow. Another wonderful piece if writing. So many wonderful stories and I have read all except the oak story but I’ll go back for sure to read. Also would love to read an update about the elephants wheneve you post a new one about those lucky creatures.

    The oddments is the first time I’ve read the word. Just shows that I have not done much reading since a long time ago. Somehow I missed the word. Usually I know new words or phrases.

    A very nice post, Linda. Loved it.

    1. Yvonne,

      Actually, you may have missed “oddments” because its time has come and gone. Once Peg Bracken’s writing became less popular and her work less well-known, the word tended to fade away. Apart from my mother, I haven’t heard someone use it in conversation in at least thirty years. Just because it seems “like yesterday” to me doesn’t mean it is. (See there? Aging raises its ugly little head again!)

      But it’s a great word, like “smalls” and “olio”. I guess in this bigger-always-is-better society of ours, we don’t need as many words for little things.

      You’ll love the oak story. If you’d be kind enough to send some rain down this way, that tree certainly would appreciate it. It’s getting plenty of drinks compliments of the irrigation system, but it surely would like some real rain. ;)


  19. What a fun and wonderful expose… Full of glory!!

    And, I’m sad / shamed to say — I’ve never read “The I Hate to Cookbook”!! But let me tell you… Coming from a long line of quirky females who really didn’t spend much time in the kitchen (or hated when they had to), it’s now in my queue. :)

    1. FeyGirl,

      The beauty of Bracken’s approach is that she never said arugala is bad or that Bouillabaisse isn’t worth the effort. What she offered was a word of permission to women who wanted to put decent meals on the table for their family and entertain without stress. She was a culinary Thoreau, saying, “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

      Her theory was that if a woman had thirty foolproof recipes, she was good to go. By the time a month had passed and every recipe had been used, she could start over without hearing somebody whine, “What?! We’re having THAT again?”

      And don’t forget – when she wrote her cookbook, there were no microwave ovens. If you wanted a hot meal, you were going to cook!


  20. I remember Peg Bracken. Mama had a copy of her I Hate To Cook Cookbook.

    I didn’t find out until a couple of years or so after Mama passed that she didn’t know how to boil water when she got married. Dad was the one that had to teach her the basics.

    I was flabbergasted. I thought Mama was a great cook.

    Dad’s revelation did explain her strict adherance to recipes. She didn’t experiment around with them, like I do.

    It’s good to hear that Sanchez finally got her passport and was allowed to go on tour. And that the tree is doing well, as are Rosie and Opal.

    1. Gué,

      That’s such a wonderful story about your mom. We do tend to think that every woman has certain innate skills and interests, and that men do, too. In fact, my dad seemed to be missing the “tinkering” gene. He could fix things around the house, and he was fine with painting, basic woodworking and such – but messing with engines or other such mechanical things? No way.

      Don’t you suppose that your mom’s willingness to stick to a recipe contributed to her reputation as a good cook? So often, I’ll do a substitution here and an addition there, and while the dish may still be edible, it may not be anything like it was in the beginning. I’m getting better at improvisation, but I surely can’t make my saucepan “sing” like some folks do.

      As far as those other stories – all’s well so far. Like you, I’m so glad Sanchez finally was able to travel. And speaking of – I hope your trip was safe and that you found everyone well. I’ll be checking in tomorrow to see how things are going.


  21. Thanks for another great post and a wonderful selection of leads. Oddly, I love to cook. I think it has to do with a career that produces few immediately tangible results. Plus, my first career was in chemistry, and cooking replicates the best of what I used to enjoy. Also, I don’t cook every day, but if I did perhaps I could venture to write a I Hate to Cook Daily Book..

    1. Allen,

      I do understand the pleasure of tangible results. A career change of my own was initiated partly because I realized I was taking enormous pleasure in things like floor scrubbing. As I told a friend, at least when I’m done I can see that I’ve accomplished something. Today, scrubbing floors is back to being just another chore – a sign I made the right decision.

      I really don’t think it’s odd at all that you – or any guy – loves to cook. Every one of my best bread recipes came to me from a fellow who was happiest when he was up to his elbows in flour and yeast, and down here in Texas, the best of the competitive barbeque and gumbo teams seem to be guys. I have a feeling my own dad would have rejoiced in the freedom to spend more time in the kitchen. Back in the days when Peg Bracken was telling women they didn’t have to be in the kitchen, there were plenty of assumptions that men didn’t belong there.

      As for the chemistry-cooking link… I’m no cartoonist, but now I have a faint image in mind of a couple of white-lab-coated men surrounded by bunsen burners and beakers. The counters are covered with knives, chopping blocks and veggies, and one says to the other something like, “Just what do you think you’re cooking up in here?” ;)


  22. You made me wonder how often the word oddments has been used, so I went to books.google.com and did a search. I was surprised to get 106,000 hits. One interesting title of a book from 1879 was:

    Oddments of Andean Diplomacy; And Other Oddments; Including a Proposition for a Double-Track Steel Railway from the Westerly Shores of Hudson Bay to the Midway of the Strait of Magellan…

    I also discovered that the branch of modern mathematics called game theory uses the term oddments, which has a technical definition related to zero-sum games, so the word is definitely alive.

    1. Steve,

      I get poker as a zero-sum game (as long as the house doesn’t take a cut), but I’m still undecided about the role of umpires in zero-sum games. ;)

      What’s amazing to me is that “Oddments of Andean Diplomacy” has been republished and is available on Amazon. The author, Hinton Rowan Helper, also published an 1857 book titled “The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It”. According to a North Carolina historical site, “This book ranked second only to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in its influence for abolition. The Republican Party published a compendium of the book as a campaign document, and Helper’s work was credited with helping elect Abraham Lincoln.”

      Oddly enough, Helper was a racist who dreamed of building a railroad from Canada to Argentina. His life ended badly, but he was surprisingly influential for someone called “a racist abolitionist”. So strange – but I suspect his biography and “The Impending Crisis” would make great reading.


      1. I hadn’t followed up on Helper, so I’m glad you did. He turns out to be among the most influential people that (almost) no one today has ever heard of. Sic transit gloria mundi.

        A few weeks ago I became aware of another once-famous-but-now-largely-forgotten 19th-century American, thanks to a Book TV interview with Susan Jacoby, author of a recent biography called The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought:


        There’s a Wikipedia article about him at:


        1. I thought the relationship and mutual respect between Ingersoll and Walt Whitman was especially interesting.

          And I really enjoyed one tidbit from “The Elmira Telegram” – the report that “the evidence adduced [in Ingersoll’s father’s trial] was of the most trivial and ridiculous character, but the committee which heard it decided that though he had done “nothing inconsistent with his Christian character,” he was “inconsistent with his ministerial character.” I don’t care who you are – that’s funny. At least, it ought to be. ;-)

  23. Wonderful lead-in to a terrific post. No doubt about it, Bracken was a revolutionary. Makes me think of Erma Bombeck, too. I suspect these two saved the mental health of a whole lot of women in those days. Your oddments are marvelous. Such a rich, rich post!

    1. Susan,

      Of course Erma’s been lurking around in the shadows, just waiting for someone to mention her. I just spent a delightful ten minutes browsing quotations from her columns and books. It’s nearly impossible to choose a favorite, but this one did make me laugh: “When your mother asks, “Do you want a piece of advice?” it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.” How true that was for my mother, nearly to her very last day.

      The best thing about both women was that they brought a little humor to daily life. Most of what passes for public humor these days is nastiness or crassness – part of the reason Bracken and Bombeck are such refreshing reads.


  24. Another outstanding post! Eggsactly what was needed! We’ve been wandering through some of the same thoughts.

    I remember when many local women looked at the “emerging women’s movement” and wryly commented that those ladies must have been leading very dull lives. Around here women worked and did things instead of holding meetings and talks. Not being deep South, the rigid molds weren’t held to quite so much – especially after WWII. If the men weren’t around, stuff still had to be done on ranches and farms. Being a “lady of leisure” was a luxury – or an insulting comment. Self reliance was considered a good thing.

    OH, I love the elephants. I remember the controversy: Maine is too cold for elephants. They do look happy. Really enjoyed the videos.

    Worked with many Cubans. Very interesting people. Any one who believes they all think the same will be surprised. So glad Sanchez is getting to travel – she will carry treasures back to Cuba.

    HA! You beat me with the Oak. Have some new pix, too – scheduled shortly – like you, couldn’t think of a better symbol.
    Hoppy on to Easter

    1. phil,

      I’m thinking you enjoyed the rain. I’m not sure it was much more than a quarter inch, if that, but at least it will help soften up the ground for what they’re promising for later in the week. And, I caught a good quart or two in the bucket, so my African violets don’t have to drink city water.

      There’s no question farm and ranch women (among others) tended a bit more toward self-reliance, although even among women like my mom the experience of wartime work butted up against expectations of what I “good woman” would be.

      Texas, of course, was a whole new world for me. I still remember 1973, when I first heard Kinky Friedman’s little paean to the women’s liberation movement.. Every time I hear it now, I remember the wonderful line Ray Wylie Hubbard used to introduce his little rallying cry: “The problem with irony is, not everybody gets it.”

      By the time we get past a rainy week, the oak ought to be happy as can be. I was over at Anahuac yesterday, and underneath the profusion of growth, there are cracks in the ground. We need inches and inches of rain. But, we were blessed today – I hope your whole day was a good one.


  25. Thank you for this selection of stories, Linda. It struck me that Yoani, Rosie, the Ghirardi Compton Oak, and even the photography exhibit have all achieved a liberation of sorts — they’ve made their way out to a bigger world, where they can give and receive more.

    As for Peg Bracken, I was shocked to learn that her book was published in 1960. Why do her television commercials seem so much more recent than that? I can hear her voice as though it were last week. “I’m Peg Bracken, and I hate to cook.”

    1. Charles,

      That’s exactly right. Someone – Gandhi? Aristotle? St. Thomas? – said we should pursue the good with no thought of result. In every one of these cases, that seems to have been true. There’s a good bit of freedom in that perspective. We can do what we do, and if the ripples spread, so much the better.

      I can’t believe I never have seen a Peg Bracken commercial. Until I wrote this, I didn’t know she’d ever done that kind of promoting. Thanks to the modern miracle of YouTube, I’ve been brought up to speed and seen Ms. Bracken promoting brown-sugar-glazed carrots. Hooray!


  26. I’m so happy you thought to give us updates of the Ghirardi Compton Oak, and the elephant Rosie. Its good to know they are both doing well.

    My mother didn’t use “The I Hate to Cookbook”. What a shame.

    Yoani Sanchez the Cuban woman may be home already. Its late now I’ll check on her tomorrow.

    Do you still get the Smithsonian Magazine? In the current – April 2013 – issue there’s an article by Paul Theroux about Randall Moore’s elephant rescue camp in the Okavango Delta in southern Africa which you HAVE to read Linda. The article is on page 76 and called “Into the Okavango Delta: the joys and dangers of discovering Africa on the back of an elephant
    let me know if you don’t have access to it and I’ll send you the link.

    1. dearrosie,

      It occurred to me a day or so ago that even if Yoani had returned to Cuba, we might not know anything about it apart from her blog. The US media is too entranced with BeyZ, as I like to think of them. ;)

      I don’t get the Smithsonian, but I stop by the library about once a week and spend some time reading magazines I don’t subscribe to. I’ll put it on my list. Paul Theroux is a favorite, so it sounds like a perfect combination of writer and subject.

      Tomorrow, I’m off to Rosie’s circus! Truly – the Carson Barnes circus is in a little town about fifteen miles from here. A friend and I are going to go down and meet some of the folks who know Rosie and Opal, and another pair of elephants whose tale I’ve not told yet – a couple of kids named Isa and Lilly. It ought to be fun. I hope they have cotton candy.


      1. I’m sure you’re going to have a marvelous day with the elephants though I can’t imagine why anyone would enjoy cotton candy… :D

        Go directly to the PL and read the article Linda!

        1. Oh! No need! I just found it online. I’m so accustomed to paywalls now I never thought it would be available. It’s on the reading list. As for the cotton candy – that’s pure nostalgia. You only can get the real thing in certain places, and if it’s not the real thing, it’s terrible. But cotton candy always and forever is me and Daddy wandering through the carnival together.

  27. I often think about that oak tree and am glad that it’s doing well!

    I realized when I started reading the Faulkner post, that I was ‘overlapping’ one I had already enjoyed! That was ok, as I enjoyed it the second time even more, especially with the bonus of all of those comments!


    1. Lisa,

      We’re getting at least some rain, too, which is a great help to the tree. Even though it’s well irrigated, there’s nothing like rainwater to make any plant happy – I learned that with my African violets.

      As for the Faulkner, you’ve reminded me of my dear mother. In her latter years, as her memory began to fade a bit, she used to joke that a good Russian novel was just the ticket for her. By the time she finished, she had no idea who the characters were or what the plot entailed. She could start reading again and enjoy it perfectly well!


      1. you are so right about natural rain. here in ecuador, garden plants stay in a limbo world until that first rain, and then they bolt into the most amazing growth i’ve ever witnessed. sha-zaham, everything races for the sky!
        your mother was surely a delight!

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