Back in October 2018, I wrote about the 13 women who trained to be astronauts in 1961. Their program was shut down before any of them could be selected for a space mission. Today, one of the 13 astronaut-trained women, 82 year old Wally Funk, will be on a space mission with Jeff Bezos. The flight can be watched here: https://www.blueorigin.com/
Right now, it is 8:12am Central time, and lift off is imminent. They have closed the hatch and are posting updates to their https://www.blueorigin.com/ site.
UPDATE 8:36am: The flight is back on earth, and here is a screen capture of Wally Funk emerging from the capsule!
My post from 2018:
Mercury 13–what I’ve been watching
This week I watched the Mercury 13 documentary on Netflix. It is about the thirteen woman astronauts who trained for the space program in 1961.
I tried to be inspired and not let myself be consumed with anger at the stories told in this documentary. It wasn’t easy. There were plenty of moments that moved me to tears, at how these brilliant, accomplished aviators and scientists were trivialized and relegated to lesser status for being women. They were put through more rigorous testing than the male astronauts, and scored better on some tests. These 13 women qualified, but were banned from the missions to space.
Below is an excerpt from one of the woman astronauts’ testimony before Congress. She used the exclusion of woman nurses from Civil War field hospitals as her example of why women should be allowed on space missions.
National hero John Glenn then testified, drawing laughter from the senators when he said he would welcome qualified women astronauts with ‘open arms’. Then President Johnson ended the women astronaut program, saying, “We have to shut this thing down.”
For us sewing enthusiasts, isn’t every day ‘Sewing Machine Day’? Of course it is! I didn’t know until today that sewing machines have their own day. This article on PBS.org tipped me off. It’s a neat collection of sewing stories they’ve done over the years. (Click on this photo to view the story of this pretty old machine on Antiques Roadshow.)
I’ve done a few blog posts profiling my machines, and have more still to profile. Here are the stories I’ve told so far:
This was my grandma’s 1958 Singer 401A, that I learned lots of sewing skills on at her house.
This was my first antique sewing machine purchase; a 1917 Singer 66k hand crank, manufactured in Clydebank, Scotland. Still one of my most precious machines. The blog post: This machine is a sewing ambassador.
The two below are my ‘modern’ machines. It’s hard to believe the Bernina 930 is about 35 years old. I’ll never want for anything more modern. This will likely always be my main machine. The serger/overlocker is my newest machine. Five years after its purchase, I still have a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with it. (Future blog post coming on that.) But it does serve a purpose.
In future posts from time to time, I’ll continue to profile my machines one by one. There are a couple more Berninas, and the rest are vintage Singers. There’s a Featherweight, another beautiful hand crank machine, and more treadle machines. Each one is different and special, at least to me.
Which is better, new machine vs vintage? The debate will continue to rage on about whether modern machines are better than vintage, and whether to go computerized or mechanical. You can see where I come down on those issues. I love sewing with my old machines, and I love that if something malfunctions, I’ll probably be able to fix it myself.
Yes, you can restore an old Singer yourself. If you’ve wanted one of the old black Singer machines, don’t be afraid to buy one you see at a good price. Use the serial number to date the machine. The site http://ismacs.net/has a great database of sewing machine manufacture dates, and a collection of manuals, photos, etc. The parts for the machines are still made, and the machines are quite simple mechanically. Some cleaning, oil and minor adjustments may be all that’s needed. You can buy the bobbins, needles, belts, etc. at a sewing store, some discount stores, or online. Youtube has many excellent videos on how to do the cleaning, oiling, adjusting and repairs if needed. If you find an old machine at a great price, give it a shot.
This book and the audiobook are now available in the US! I highly recommend the audiobook. The author, Polly Samson, reads it aloud, and her husband provides the soundtrack. This is a particularly big deal when the husband is David Gilmour, the guitar player and vocalist for Pink Floyd, and Polly one of the Pink Floyd lyricists. The book is set on the Greek island of Hydra (pron. EEdra) in the early 1960s, when singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen was living there. The story centers on young adult ‘Erica’ who has escaped the family home of her youth at the Palace Court Bayswater in London. Her recently deceased mother was once a peer of the artists and poets Erica encounters that summer in Hydra. Several of the characters will have recognizable names from that decade. The book is a sublime story and listening experience.
It’s been a long time since I pre-ordered a book, but this one I pre-ordered on the day I found out it would soon be available in my country. I was not disappointed. It transports the reader and listener to 1960s Hydra, during this time in 2021, when the world has endured a year of no travel. It is a soothing escape. I’ve listened to it in the house via my Alexa speakers. But it would be ideal for listening on a chaise or swing in the back yard, or at the beach. or a campground. If you are seeking an escape, it’s right here. Bring your headphones.
There are many mentions in the book of the Palace Court Bayswater in London. That is where Erica the main character, grew up. I’m vividly transported there with every mention, because in 2013, I stayed at the Palace Court in Bayswater. If the walls could talk. It was home to several famous musicians back in the 1960s. It is now closed, but hopefully not being renovated and cleansed of its spirits. I looked back through my pictures of that trip and realized I didn’t take any pictures of my rented flat. It’s as if I knew I couldn’t capture the essence in an image. And it’s true, I couldn’t have.
David Gilmour and Romany Gilmour released this lovely song and video in conjunction with the book. It has a Pink Floyd feel, and a Leonard Cohen feel, set along the streets, walkways and waters edge of Hydra.
Step 1: Rinse the cabbage head and remove the outer leaves. (Don’t discard the outer leaves. They will be used in the jar.)
Step 2: Quarter the cabbage head, remove the dense middle, and slice the quarters into thin shreds, 1/8 to 1/4 ” wide.
Step 3: Sprinkle the salt on the sliced cabbage and knead or scrunch it until the cabbage feels a bit wet and wilted.
Step 4: Stuff the cabbage into a jar, and compact it. Those big outer cabbage leaves you set aside can be used now, to cover the cabbage. Then put a small jar or weight on top of the leaves, and then loosely put a lid or fabric cover over the jar. Don’t seal the jar shut, because pressure will build up.
Then wait, one to four weeks, depending on how strong of a sauerkraut taste you want.
MORE ABOUT THE PROCESS AND TIPS IN PICTURES:
Slicing the cabbage:
This can be done with a big knife or a mandolin slicer. I used a mandolin slicer, which had the cabbage in shreds in no time. My mandolin slicer is the low-end in price and features, but has served me well for over 10 years. Pictures below. Here’s a link to one on Amazon that looks very similar. https://amzn.to/3htT9OA
The slicer comes with a safety warning from me. I have twice tried to cut off the end of my finger while slicing cabbage. I should have been wearing my cut-resistant safety glove.
The slicer comes with a pusher to keep hands away from the blade, but it doesn’t work well with cabbage. Some mandolin slicers actually come with a glove. Here’s an example on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3olbqPu
The scrunching/kneading process:
Once you have your pile of sliced cabbage, sprinkle the salt over it, and knead or scrunch it until the cabbage feels somewhat wet, heavy and wilted. I sliced and kneaded one head of cabbage at a time, because that is the limit of my space and equipment. Here’s a before and after picture of the cabbage. I used a paella pan for the scrunch/knead process, which works great because it’s big and wide, with sides to keep the cabbage from falling on the counter or floor.
Use a big-enough jar for fermenting:
You need some extra room at the top for the liquid to expand during the fermenting stage. For three heads of cabbage, a wide-mouth gallon jar worked well. For one head of cabbage, I used a quart-size mason jar. The one time I filled a jar to the top with cabbage, the liquid expanded during fermenting, and oozed out the top. I lost valuable liquid needed for the sauerkraut.
This picture below shows the packed shredded cabbage, covered with a layer of the outer leaves, and a small empty jar on top, that is being pressed down by the gallon jar lid. The lid on the gallon jar is not tightened. It is kept loose enough for air to escape.
What to watch for during fermenting:
In a day or two, you’ll see the liquid becoming more prominent, and then some bubbles will appear around the top. It’s working. You can periodically open the jar to push the cabbage further down, stir it, rearrange the cover leaves and weight on top. I haven’t done much in the way of stirring, but did push the cabbage down to keep it submerged in the liquid.
The green color will gradually turn to pale yellow. You’ll notice it by the end of the first week:
The sauerkraut taste will become stronger with each week the cabbage ferments. There will be a slight sauerkraut taste after week 1, and by week 4 it is really tasting like sauerkraut.
The salt measurement is approximate.
The amount of salt called for can vary quite a bit in recipes. I added more salt in one batch, and it did change the taste, but didn’t ruin it for me. The amount of salt and taste will be a subjective thing for you.
Storage and shelf life.
What is the shelf life of homemade sauerkraut, and how is it best stored? I don’t know yet, because I keep eating it all! The taste is quite nice.
Nutritional information (for a head of cabbage and tsp of salt):
Is there something familiar about this face and voice? It’s actress Elizaeth McGovern (Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey), and her band.
The links in this post may be ‘affiliate links’, meaning when one is clicked and a purchase is made, I may get a small commission from Amazon. The commission will help offset what I pay to keep my site free of ads.
For someone with limited communication and accessibility abilities, two different Alexa devices in one room can help. My mom now has two Alexa devices in her room at the assisted living center: The Echo Show and the Echo Dot (3rd gen.). Here’s why, and how she uses them.
Customize the ‘Wake Words’. The Show is set to respond to the name ‘Alexa’, and the Dot is set to respond to the name ‘Echo’, so the devices don’t get confused and both try to respond. This is called changing the device ‘Wake Word’. There are four different wake words to choose from. To make the change, go to the Alexa App > Devices tab > [the device] > Wake Word. See the screenshot below.
TheEcho Dot device was added because the Dot mic understands her better. It’s good for when she wants to call someone in her contacts, listen to music, get the news or weather report, or listen to an audio book.
Drop-in setting: This is the other important setting on the ‘Dot’. The Dot is set to allow drop-ins only from ‘My Household’. The ‘My Household’ setting includes only the Alexa devices that share her wifi network. In other words, the only device that can drop in on the Dot is her own Echo Show. Her contacts in other locations can drop in only on her Show. Here’s how we use the ‘My Household’ drop in set up on the Dot:
Enabling her two devices to drop-in on each other, allows them to be used as walkie talkies. This helps her communicate with in-person visitors. She can barely speak above a whisper. Social distancing and mask requirements make it nearly impossible to hear her from the required 8-10 feet away. She can speak into the Dot, and the person sitting at a distance with the Echo Show can hear her well. Sometimes our visits were outdoors, where we had to contend with lawn mowing crews. Other times we we’ve been separated by a glass barrier. The walkie-talkie set up is the only way we could hear each other.
When I drop in on her Echo Show, and our conversation is finished, I can speak through the Echo Show to her Echo Dot, and start an audio book, or music, or a news or weather briefing.
“Echo, read my book.”
“Echo, what’s my news briefing?”
“Echo, what’s the weather forecast for this evening?”
I purchased the digital pattern [link here], printed out the 30 pages of letter-sized paper, and commenced taping them all together in a big rectangle. Then I cut out the fully-assembled pattern pieces.
The pattern instructions recommend using a fabric containing spandex. I did not follow the recommendation, and instead used some vintage thick brown corduroy that I inherited from my grandma’s stash. With no stretch to the fabric, I opted to make loose (baggy) overalls. They feel great and are fun to wear. I can do chores and run errands in them because they aren’t restrictive. I could take 3 inches out of the waist and hips, and they would fit more like the picture on the pattern, but that would compromise stretch and versatility. I’m happy with my baggy version, and am glad to have used some of my heirloom fabric.
More thoughts and recommendations:
No Front Pockets: I tried to put on the optional front pockets. Then I took them off, remade them and tried again. Then I gave up. I couldn’t get them to look right on the corduroy. I learned much, and should be able to get the pockets to look right on my next make.
Bulky facings: I wish I would have used a lightweight fabric for the inside facings and plackets. I used the corduroy, and it’s quite bulky. The bulk makes the waistband and side button plackets unnecessarily thick and stiff. It makes the overalls look wider at the waist and hips than if I’d used something lightweight on the inside, that would have enabled some drape in the fabric.
‘Overall’ Recommendation: Highly recommend. The pattern was accurate and easy to make, and the instructions were very well done.
Future post preview: I’m attempting to make homemade sauerkraut for the first time.
Please allow me to extend Black History Month by a week, to tell about this unique and special place, the town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Nicodemus is the “only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction Period following the American Civil War.” (Per Wikipedia)
The small town of Nicodemus, Kansas sits quietly on the northwest Kansas plains. Founded by newly freed slaves in 1877, Nicodemus was a refuge from the Reconstruction-era South, a reflection of a mass black migration from the South to the Midwest after the Civil War. Nicodemus was the first black community west of the Mississippi River and is the only predominantly black community west of the Mississippi that remains a living community today. An all-black outpost on the frontier, this “unsettled” land offered a chance for black farmers and their families to start anew. Today, a few people and buildings remain from the original township, a testament to the resolve of the people of Nicodemus to build a new life on the prairie. Between the end of the Civil War and the 1880s, many courageous black settlers sought better lives, better land, and better opportunities in the heartland.
When the railroad was built, it didn’t pass through Nicodemus. The interstate highway system doesn’t pass through the town. The challenges getting to and from the town, and the Dust Bowl and other conditions in the region made it hard for the town and citizens to thrive. As the end of the 20th century approached, the town was down to just a handful of residents, and the buildings were badly deteriorating. There was concern that the town might literally disappear. The National Park Service brought it into their system. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and Site.
Nicodemus is a more thriving site now, with the NPS resources behind the ongoing restoration projects. They hold cultural events. Nicodemus has a great, active Facebook page, where they regularly post historical facts and photos of their town and related events and places. Here’s a post from today:
On my visit to Nicodemus several years ago, while I was speaking to the Park Ranger at the Visitor’s Center, a young adult black woman arrived, almost out of breath. She was attending a professional conference in Denver, and saw it as her chance to visit Nicodemus. She had rented a car and made the 5-hour two-lane highway drive to get there. I got emotional seeing her emotion; and I still get tears in my eyes remembering it. Like I said at the start, it’s a special place.
The town of Nicodemus was featured in two episodes of ‘Quick Draw’, a Hulu original comedy series set in Kansas. The filming of the series did not actually take place in Kansas unfortunately, but I still enjoyed the ‘Kansas feel’ to the series. The two Nicodemus episodes are probably my favorites of the series. I’m thrilled that they featured the town. Here’s a clip:
Getting to Nicodemus (It’s not on the interstate, or near any metropolis.):
Below are driving directions from airports in the region (Denver, Wichita, Omaha, and Kansas City), and from the Brown vs. Board of Education site in Topeka. Note: The Visitor’s Center is currently closed for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Happy Pancake Day!!! In 2019 I wrote the blog post below about the annual Pancake Day race competition between Liberal, Kansas USA and Olney, England. They’ve been holding the annual trans-Atlantic race for more than 70 years. I swore I’d try to attend the Liberal KS Pancake Day race in 2020. Then it was cancelled for the then-new Covid-19 pandemic. Now it’s 2021 and the event had to be cancelled for a second year for the pandemic. So here I am looking back at the events and vowing to get there in 2022. Have a lovely day, and maybe some pancakes. (US and UK pancake recipes are at the bottom of the post.)
(The original post from 2019)
They say it started more than 500 years ago, when on Shrove Tuesday (the day before the start of Lent), a housewife in England was cooking at her stove, heard the bell for church, and dashed from her house to the church still wearing her apron and carrying her skillet.
Today it is an annual international women’s race, in which the participants wear a housedress, headscarf and apron, and must carry a skillet with a pancake in it, and flip the pancake.
The event takes place in Olney, England and Liberal, Kansas USA. Each town holds a race, and the fastest finish time wins the international contest.
(Picture from Olney’s website)
A multi-day festival has grown up around the event. Each town maintains a Pancake Day website; and each maintains a Facebook page, which is great for enthusiasts like me who want real-time updates on race day.
How the International Pancake Day Race came about:
Each of the two cities’ websites gives a brief history of the Pancake Day Race. Since each site provides a fact or two that the other one doesn’t, I’ve included both. But hey, the best thing to do is visit both websites for more history and photos of past events.
From the Liberal, KS site:
“In Olney, England, the Pancake Race tradition dates back more than 500 years to 1445. A woman engrossed in using up cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) was making pancakes. Hearing the church bells ring calling everyone to the shriving service, she grabbed her head scarf (required in church) and ran to the church, skillet and pancake in hand and still apron-clad. In following years, neighbors got into the act and it became a race to see who could reach the church first and collect a “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bell-ringer.)
“HOW DID PANCAKE DAY GET STARTED IN THE UNITED STATES?
“It all started in 1950 from a magazine picture of the Olney women racing each other to the church. Liberal Jaycee President R.J. Leete contacted the Rev. Ronald Collins, Vicar of St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Olney, challenging their women to race against women of Liberal. Like in Olney, the traditional prize of the race is the “Kiss of Peace” from the verger (bellringer).”
From the Olney, UK site:
“No one is quite certain how the world famous Pancake Race at Olney originated. One story tells of a harassed housewife, hearing the shriving bell, dashing to the Church still clutching her frying pan containing a pancake. Another tells that the gift of pancakes may have been a bribe to the Ringer, or Sexton that he might ring the bell sooner; for ringing the bell signalled the beginning of the day’s holiday and enjoyment, no less than to summon the people to the service at which they would be shriven of their sins before the long Lenten feast.
“Tradition declares that the race was first run in the year 1445, pancakes at the time being a popular dish, receiving royal favour. It was run on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, and the whole day was given over to a festival of celebration, pranks and pastimes. It is not known where the original start line was but the finish line was at the Church door.
“The race continued through the centuries, and whilst many other local customs died, and the race itself may have lapsed many times, such lapses never caused the race to be entirely forgotten by the womenfolk of Olney. It is known to have taken place during the troublesome times of The War of the Roses (1445 to 1487).
“THE CUSTOM REVIVED
“After a lapse during the Second World War, it was revived again in 1948 by the Vicar of Olney the Reverend Canon Ronald Collins. In clearing out a cupboard he came across some old photographs, which had obviously been taken in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties of women running with frying pans. Filled with enthusiasm to revive the ancient custom, he called for volunteers, and in response thirteen runners appeared on Shrove Tuesday that year. The race immediately caught the popular imagination and people of Olney set out to enjoy this simple and colourful link with their rich past, a day of festivities.
“THE LINK WITH LIBERAL
“In 1950 the race became an International event. A challenge was received from the town of Liberal in Kansas, USA, where they had, after seeing the press photographs of the race at Olney, conceived the idea of setting up a similar custom. Olney readily accepted the challenge and, in a spirit of international goodwill and friendship, the two towns now compete annually and prizes are exchanged. The race is run on a timed basis.”
At 11:55 am Olney time (5:55am Central US time), the Olney Race begins.
At 11:55 am Liberal time (5:55pm Olney UK time), the Liberal race begins.
The (updated)weather forecast for today (February 16, 2021) at what would have been race time:
Olney: Partly cloudy and 50°F with a SW wind of 13 mph, causing a feels-like temp of 45°F.
Liberal: Cloudy and -6°F with a SE wind of 15 mph, causing a feels-like temp of -18°F.
Don’t be fooled by the dresses, aprons and skillets; these races are legit athletic contests. So, what is the actual race like? Here is a recent video from each side of the pond:
The Olney, UK race (2012)
The Liberal, KS USA race (2014)
Attending these two Pancake Day races is a bucket list item for me. It’s only a 3.5 hour drive for me to Liberal, KS, but Tuesdays pose a problem. Once again this year, work has intervened to keep me from going. Next year, Pancake Day is on Tuesday, February 25. I shall try again.
I love to eat pancakes, so pancakes must be included in this story:
American pancakes are typically thicker than English pancakes. I love both.
Last July I wrote about how an Alexa device has enabled us to communicate easily with our mom who is wheelchair-bound with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and has been an ‘inmate’ in a locked-down care home since the pandemic began. Back then, I wrote about the Echo Dot, which is a speaker the size of a hockey puck, that sits on the desk or table.
We’ve since upgraded to the Echo Show 5, which enables video conversations. It’s been well worth the upgrade.
**This is my unsolicited, uncompensated review and recommendation of the Echo Show device, but the links to Amazon are 'affiliate' links, meaning if you click and buy through one of them, I may receive a few cents in commission, at no additional cost to you. The identity of anyone who clicks on an affiliate link will be completely anonymous to me.**
At regular intervals Amazon has the Echo Show 5 promo-priced as low as $45 (regular list price is $89). The Echo Show 5 screen is comparable in size to a smartphone screen.
A few details about our experience with the Echo Show 5:
Mic–The online customer reviews of the Echo Show 5, reveal a recurring complaint that mic is not as sensitive as on the other Echo devices such as the Dot. I agree. It’s not so bad that it keeps me from recommending the Echo Show; far from that. But the Show mic is not as good, which is frustrating at times. I can be sitting inches from the Echo Show on my desk and give it an Alexa command, and the device does not respond, but the Echo Dot in the next room hears me and does what I asked.
The optional adjustable Stand:
Amazon sells a little matching adjustable stand for the Echo Show 5. Many of the online customer reviews express my reaction on seeing the item: Really, $20 for a little piece of plastic? Yes. And for our mom, it has been worth it. She needed a different angle for the mic and camera, and we couldn’t figure out another way to prop the Show at a good angle for her. So, we caved and bought the little piece of plastic, and it did the trick. It is secure and easy to adjust. I don’t need one for my own Echo Show, but for her, it was worth the $20.
Click hereor on the picture below, to go to the stand on Amazon.
Gradually, quite a few of our family members have acquired their own Echo Show 5s to be able to visit Mom and each other.
With the Echo Show, there are a plethora of settings available to personalize the device and maximize the usefulness of the video screen. Examples:
Display a slide show of your photos (uploaded to Amazon Photos, which provides free cloud storage)
Play movies and TV shows
See your local weather conditions and forecast
See curated news updates
See Alexa tips and tricks
You can also limit promos from being displayed.
Some of the Echo Show and Echo Dot settings can be made on the device screen itself. To see the Settings options, swipe down from the top of the screen. But you’ll also want to install both the Alexa desktop browser app and the mobile app. Some settings can only be made on the desktop, and some only on the mobile app. That’s a complaint I have. Figuring out where to find a specific setting is unnecessarily complicated by Amazon having put them in two or three different places.
If you simply want to do an action or a task, speak it to Alexa. Or, to see available actions that you may have recently used, or that Alexa recommends, swipe the Echo screen from right to left.
Selfies (and video):
Just say “Alexa, take my picture.” Take a plain picture, or first swipe through the sticker selection.
There’s so much more. I haven’t even mentioned the Alexa Skills and Routines which enable your Echo do specific useful tasks. It will read your Kindle books to you. And then there are the ‘smart plug’ accessories for turning on the lights, vacuum, etc. Stay tuned…
Alexa can get cheeky on occasion:
“Alexa, what time is the K-State basketball game?”