Saturday, October 20, 2012


My southern mother always made her children's birthdays special.  That meant your cake of choice and a much wanted gift.

I know that Mother always baked a cake for my birthday and that the cake, along with the icing, was made from scratch, but I truly cannot remember any of my birthday cakes.  I do not remember blowing out the candles on any of them although she always put candles on our cakes.  I don't even remember eating any of my birthday cakes or whether ice cream was involved in said cake.  What I DO remember was that since I had a fall birthday that was near Halloween, Mother always made Caramel Apples.

Kraft Ad 1978
I still get a little excited in the fall when I see the Kraft caramels bags have popsicle sticks included in their packages!  It takes a lot of love and time to unwrap all those Kraft caramels (no other brand will do) and melt them properly so they do not burn and stick forever in the pot.  I can remember coming  home from school on the day before my birthday and smelling that buttery aroma.  It was the foretelling of another wonderful fall birthday...and that my mother loved me.

dipping the apples

melting the caramels

Mother brought the caramel apples to me on my birthdays in college and then after I married and moved to another state.  She would either bring them to me or have them waiting if I should be fortunate enough to be home for my birthday.  I know there were birthday cakes too, but I don't remember them.

One year after I moved from northern Virginia to North Carolina, Mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  She came to see me one time after that, but the drive was becoming too much for her.  She was only in her early 60's but the cancer was taking its toll on her strength.
[ Website for the Lymphoma & Leukemia Society:]

It's been almost 20 years since Mother passed away and I miss her more now that I am getting older.  It's been longer than 20 years since I ate a caramel apple.  I miss them too, but what I miss most is the love those caramel apples represented to me, especially as a mother with daughters of my own.  Her making them for me for so long told me that she enjoyed making something for me that she knew I loved, but more importantly that I would always be her Susie Jane.

Gosh, I miss her!

Below is the Kraft Caramel Apple recipe that my southern mother always used.  Enjoy them BUT be prepared to have a sticky kitchen, chin and shirt-front.

what you need


medium   apples, washed, well dried


bag  (11 oz.) KRAFT Caramel Bits


Tbsp.  water

make it

INSERT one wooden pop stick (from bag of caramels) into stem end of each apple. Cover large plate with waxed paper; spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

PLACE caramel bits in medium saucepan. Add water; cook on medium-low heat 3 min. or until caramel bits are completely melted, stirring constantly.

DIP apples into melted caramel until evenly coated, spooning caramel over apples if necessary. Allow excess caramel to drip off. Scrape bottoms of apples; place on prepared plate. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator 15 min. before serving. Store any leftover apples in refrigerator.

Friday, June 8, 2012


My southern mother had three children, Valerie Faye, Robert Andrew, III (Bobby) and me, Susan Elizabeth.
Carrie Mae and Valerie, circa 1950

Valerie was and still is the mother hen, taking care of everyone and doing a great job of it.  A wonderful example of an emotionally healthy first-born.  But her life has changed drastically in the last few months.  Valerie and her husband were married for 46 years when he passed away this year.  She had been his caregiver for quite a while and now, with her house empty, she is learning to do things "for Valerie".  Sleeping a bit later than usual, shopping as long as she wants without having to rush home, watching scandalous TV shows such as "The Real Housewives"!!!  She's doing things that most women in their 60's take for granted.  God bless her little heart.  She's my best friend in the whole world.  

Family Reunion, circa 1956.
Valerie is holding me in the front row, center.
She and I are the type of southern women that when we call one another on the phone, you can count the seconds until one of us starts laughing hardily.  We aren't prim and proper, but women who love each other and really love talking to one another!  Yes, we gossip from time-to-time but a more likely scenario is one of us making fun of the other or ourselves.  It goes like this....Val:  "Hello, my little sister.  What're you up to?"  Me:  "Same as always, 5'4", unless of course I've started shrinking!".  We have said this to one another so many times, but we still laugh about the silliness of it.  We're southern women that know how silly we are and bask in it!  Now, not all men understand or, more importantly, appreciate this in a woman, but we really don't care.  You see, the way we love each other and laugh at and with each other is like being in a secret club.  You have to be confident in yourself to be able to laugh at yourself AND to be laughed at! (yes, I ended that sentence with a preposition)

Me and Val, circa 1964
Valerie is and always has been a real beauty.  I tell her how amazed I am that she's still blonde after all these years.  Why, I'm actually astonished!  She has the bluest eyes you've ever seen unless you've also seen our daddy.  She looks like his side of the family....tall, slim, blue-eyed, prominent noses (of course her's magically shrunk a few decades ago).  I, on the other hand, look like our southern mother....short, brunette, big smile, I mean, a REALLY big smile, and most of the time no one would call me slim.  Valerie and I look nothing alike at all.  No one would look at us side by side and even be able to guess that we are related until we opened our mouths and started talking and laughing.  We've been told many times that we sound the same on the phone.  It may be that our voices are very similar but I dare say that some of that similarity comes from the fact that we're both joyful, happy, gregarious women and you can hear all of that in our voices.  I know I hear it in hers.  

Valerie, age 16
If you're blessed as I have been to have a big sister like Val, then you understand how much I love her.  I tell her I'd take a bullet for her, but since she's so much taller than I am, well, I'd probably just duck!

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Homage to the Lowly Pecan

Ah, the pecan.  Such a wonderful southern nut with so many possibilities but so mispronounced.  I have heard people in Alabama and Tennessee call it puh-CON, puh-CAN, PEE-cun, and the most comical of all...PEE-can.

My southern mother trained her children to call it a puh-CON and we would knowingly smile at one another when other, less cultured folks, would mispronounce the football-shaped nut.

We were fortunate enough to have a mature pecan tree in our backyard when I was growing up.  Being the youngest in the family and closest to the ground, I was given the job of picking up the nuts.  Then we would crack them and pick out the meat, being very careful not to let a piece of wondering shell get into the nut bowl.  These meats were destined for mother's pies and she would have died of embarrassment if a tooth was broken because of our carelessness.

After our pecan tree no longer produced fruit because of age and too many storms ravaging it's branches, Mother ordered boxes of shelled pecans from Georgia.  She would set aside a day to do nothing but make pecan pies.  After they cooled, they were placed in gallon-sized ziploc bags and stored in her deep freeze in the basement.  For those of you that do not know what a deep freeze is, it always reminded me of a casket because of it's size and shape.  It could hold innumerable containers of frozen foods.

In our small town, friends and family came to expect one of Mother's wonderful pecan pies when they had a death in the family or were recuperating from illness.

It wasn't until after Mother died in 1993 that I realized how much I loved those pies.  On a visit with my Dad a few months after her death, we decided it was time to clean out that deep freeze.  There was no telling what needed to be thrown away.  Opening the lid, we were amazed to find a pecan pie!  Her last pie!  We felt as if we had opened a treasure chest and found something of great worth....and we had.  After the pie thawed, we had my sister and brother come to help eat Mother's last pecan pie.  We savored every nut, crumb of crust and dollop of sweetness.  I can still taste it now!

My sister and I have tried to duplicate Mother's pie but always seem to fall short.  Perhaps we really can't make it as well as she did, or perhaps we don't want to.  We do think of her every time we make a pecan pie, though, and that is a sweet, sweet memory.

Below is Carrie Mae's Pecan Pie recipe.  A word of advise, combine all the ingredients but stir very sparingly.  Don't over-do it.  Also, use dark corn syrup.  It's just the southern way.

Carrie Mae's Pecan Pie

3 eggs, beaten slightly
1 cup dark corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons margarine or butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecan halves

Pour into a 9 inch pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Legacy in Satin

Being a child of the fifties and sixties, I well remember my mother going every week to the 'beauty shop' to get her hair done.  This involved shampooing, rolling, sitting under the hairdryer, having her hair 'combed out' and teased (or back-combed) and then the obligatory clouds of lacquer hairspray.  The most difficult part in this whole process was keeping her hair beauty-shop-fresh until the next week.  A hairbrush did not touch her hair for that week.  She didn't even scratch her head except with the end of a rat tail comb!  Then there was the sleeping to keep her hair from getting mussed while she slept.  There were bobby pins to be placed at strategic spots in the 'do' to keep the curls from uncurling, and for a long time she would wrap toilet tissue around her head to keep her hair in place.
Carrie Mae, 1965

Then, one glorious day, she heard about sleeping on a satin pillowcase!  It seemed that the slickness of the satin would keep ones hair from static, thus preserving the do.  This was a big deal!  The answer was here and she wanted that satin pillowcase, but where to find one?  None could be found on the shiny pages of the Sears and Roebuck or JC Penney catalogs.  She made the trip to downtown Knoxville and to the Shopping Center in Oak Ridge but found no satin pillowcases.  Not to be defeated in her quest for the perfect coif, she set out to find the fabric and make them herself, and with true "Little Red Hen" determination, she did.

Using flannel-backed satin, she made herself beautiful pillowcases.  She slept on one every night for the rest of her life, even taking her pillow with her when she had to be in the hospital.  That hair could not survive without it!  She made one for my daughter, Sarah Grace (yes, another double name) who still uses it even though it's getting threadbare and worn.  The pillowcase torch has been passed down and I gladly take it in hand.  So, here are the instructions for making Carrie Mae's Satin Pillowcases.  Happy sleeping and may you never have a hair out of place.
After measuring an existing flat pillowcase and remembering that a pillowcase is all one piece of fabric, folded in half, transfer your measurements to your satin.  (I bought one yard of flannel-backed satin that is 45" wide.  You can get at least 2 cases out of this amount.)  Add 3-4 inches to the top so that it can be folded down for the opening.  Add 1/2 inch to the sides and bottom for a seam allowance.

Continue by turning top of case down 3-4 inches and pin in place.
Carefully sew in place as this seam will show on the outside of your pillowcase.  Sew 1/2 inch seam allowances on long side and bottom.  You may want to serge or use pinking shears on the raw edges.  I used an old fashioned zig-zag.
Turn your pillowcase right-side-out and press on appropriate setting for satin.   There your have your own satin pillow case.

If you do not want to make your own cases, visit my Etsy shop at

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Vegetables and Quilts

When I was a little girl, my grandmother "Grace" who lived next door to us would work all through the spring, summer and early fall in her garden.  It was a labor of love for her as she loved raising vegetables, cooking them and, above all else, eating them.  She sang hymns as she tended her garden.  I can hear her high soprano voice even now.

She was such a humble, country woman but one of the most talented people I'd ever known.  She never thought that she could NOT do anything...even things that normally a man would do.  If Grace wanted a back porch on her house, well, she'd build a back porch.  She did everything with joy and that made me want to be with her as much as possible.  What fun she was!  From turning up the country music on her AM radio so we could dance and sing in the kitchen, to getting a watermelon fresh out of the garden every afternoon and devouring the juicy sweetness just a few steps from where it had grown.

Grandaddy & Grace, 1930's
When all the canning, freezing and drying of her vegetables had been done, the weather would soon be turning cool.  This was when she brought out all her bright, colorful fabrics, cut them into shapes and magically turned all these pieces into a quilt top.  Then it was time to turn the quilt top into an honest-to-goodness quilt that would be placed on someones bed.  I would run to her house after school in the cold winter months and she'd be down in the basement quilting.  She hung her long quilt rack from the ceiling near the furnace and we sat in straight back chairs as she taught me to quilt.  "Now Susie, you want to put some stitches in this quilt?"  Would I?  She taught me to rock the needle back and forth in order to get as many stitches on the needle as possible before pulling it through the fabric.  It was as if we were in a contest with some unnamed quilters.

After my grandaddy passed away, Grace started making quilts full-time and made a modest living at it.  She would make a quilt and mail it to a shop in New York that would sell it for her.  How blessed are the people that may still be sleeping under one of her creations!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Welcoming the Future While Remembering the Past

This is my first post on my new blog and I'm really excited!  You may look at my profile picture to the left and think that I'm 6 years old but this is my first grade picture that was taken in 1960 (you can do the math).  I call it my Susie Jane picture because my mother named me Susan Elizabeth but always called me "Susie Jane".  I don't know where she got that but it had to have come from her southern roots.  Her name was Carrie Mae and she was born and reared in central Alabama.  Most of the women in her family went by double names such as "Lily Mae", "Willie Mae", "Joyce Faye", etc.  

Carrie Mae (my mother)

Mother was a beautiful lady that only lived 66 years.  She had green eyes that could look right through me as she would stop and look down at me before we entered a business or someone's home and say, "Now, Susie Jane, don't you embarrass me in here, you hear?"  The cardinal sin in our family was to do anything that would embarrass Mother and I was always the one that succeeded in doing just that.  My older siblings were much better at "being good".  

Mother came from a home where the women sewed.  They made their own and their daughters' clothes, crocheted intricate tablecloths and bedspreads, kept every scrap of fabric and turned these scraps into warm quilts for their families.  I do not remember ever visiting my grandparents' home in Alabama and not seeing women sewing in the living room.  In that part of the state there were many textile factories at the time and my step-grandmother (Wilbur Sue, yes that was her name!) would get scraps of fabrics and trims from friends that worked in the sewing factories.  I made many night gowns for my dolls from the nylon and lace scraps that she always seemed to have.  

In future blogs, I'll be telling you more about the women in my family and how they influenced my love of sewing.  I'll also be posting old family photos and new photos of items I'm sewing today.  

Thanks for reading my blog and come back soon, ya hear?