Today is Special and Precious

As a kid growing up in the Martin household in central Kansas, it never occurred to me that those moments were unique and precious. This quotation made me think about that:

“But if you knew you might not be able to see it again tomorrow, everything would suddenly become special and precious, wouldn’t it?” ~ Haruki Murakami

Mom was busy raising six children, managing our home and garden and livestock. Dad worked long hours to earn enough to keep a roof over our heads. Living in the country, we were allowed to wander freely in the pastures, along the creek, and soak up nature. Of course, we had chores to do as well.

sisters March 59

Martin kids – Ginger, Cindy, Susan & Karen in summertime

Everyone pulled their weight. Our responsibilities included feeding and watering the rabbits, gathering eggs from the henhouse, and endless weeding of the garden under the hot Midwestern sun.

rooster pixabay

Showy rooster (photo from Pixabay)

Bantam Cockerel and Hens Postcard

Our hens were various sizes and colors, mostly big Rhode Island Reds. At some point, we acquired a bantam rooster with a gorgeous black and gold curving tail feathers. His chest and wings were golden. He fancied himself the king of the flock, so we named him Foxy Loxy.

What else can I remember from growing up in the country?

The years have passed, and my mind struggles to recapture the feel of clover and grass under my bare feet. Watch out for the bees! I would wander the perimeter of the yard early in the morning to see if new iris were blooming. Mom had some stunning hybrids, dark blue with flecks of white in the throat and ruffled edges.


2012-04-06 fl to nh 010

The iris that Mom had was more a blue. She had gold ones too. (photo by Virginia Allain)


Our giant lilac bush perfumed the air. Nearby grew the head-high clump of pampas grass. Mom saved the tall white plumes from that, drying them under the sofa, then displaying them in a deep vase.

It’s interesting to see that as I write down a tidbit of a memory and then it opens up additional ones.  I’ll save these “special and precious” memories here.

Buying Tips for the Farmer’s Market

Shopping at a farmer’s market is the best way to get really fresh and local food. For many years, we sold vegetables, homemade bread and jellies at farmers markets, so I’ll give you my insider tips for getting the most from a visit to a farmer’s market.

  • Post the schedule for the farmer’s market on your calendar so you don’t miss the day. If you get there early when the market starts, you’ll get the best selection. Sometimes everyone wants the fresh tomatoes or the first cantaloupes of the season. Before you know it, they’re sold out and latecomers are disappointed. The vendors have to set up real early, so don’t be surprised if you come right at closing time and everyone is packing up.

    2008-08-17 gail and ks photos 554

    Clyde and Gail Martin at the Fort Scott farmers market.

  • Be courteous and friendly. Don’t criticize the vendors’ produce, as they work hard to grow it and bring it to the market. Yes, it isn’t as cheap as the truckloads of produce shipped in from Mexico or Chile, but it’s a lot fresher. Most of it was picked that day or else the day before.
  • Tell your friends, fellow workers and neighbors about the market. You could even ride together to save on gasoline and it would help eliminate the parking hassle. Often a market has limited space.
    Don’t park in front of the vendors unless you are really handicapped. Park, so there’s room for other vehicles. Leave the space in front of the booths for buyers walk along looking at the produce and to and from their cars.Farmers Market Cottonwood Tree_1999
  • Remember who you buy from. If you get great fruit or vegetables, you’ll want to go to that seller again. If you weren’t happy with something, you don’t want to go back complaining to the wrong vendor.
  • Take a quick walk around to all the vendors to see what’s available. Most vendors have the same kind of veggies but some look better than others. Don’t pass up something really good though as it might be gone when you walk back.
  • In Kansas, the vendors are not allowed to use scales as the scales are not accurate when they are moved around. So they sell by the box, bundle or bag. Sometimes you can bargain on the prices if you’re buying a large quantity.
  • The vendors recycle clean grocery bags by bagging what they sell in them and are very appreciative of buyers bring them more bags. Some even give a bonus to the buyer bringing back canning jars.

    old fashioned thanksgiving vintage

    Gail Martin’s homemade jellies. Photo by her sister, CJ Garriott

Further Tips & Warnings
  •  Enjoy the visit to the farmers market, get to know the sellers and make it a fun outing, rather than just another shopping trip. You get fresh air, interaction with people and good local produce.
  •  Look for booths where the produce looks clean and neatly displayed.
  •  Produce that’s in the shade stays fresher.
  •  Don’t expect the farmers to have out-of-season fruits and vegetables. Sure you would like a juicy, home-grown tomato in May, but you have to wait for the weather and growing season to reach the right time.

(This article by Gail Lee Martin first appeared on eHow in 2009)


MargaritaBobita on 11/11/2009 – Good tips. Farmer’s markets are often freshest, most natural, least expensive and fuel local economies.

DelawareGeek on 9/13/2009 – I love farmer’s markets, they offer better produce and are cheaper than grocery stores

How to Raise Good Children the Old-Fashioned Way

(former eHow article by Gail Lee Martin)

I raised my six children in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, it wasn’t uncommon to be a stay-at-home mom. Raising six children was a full-time job.
Here’s my method for raising children.

Live in the country or a small town. Give them animals to raise and teach them to grow a garden.

Shannon_and_Kittens_June_1963 - Copy

This was taken out at the farm north of El Dorado. Shannon turned 5 that June. Owen, the oldest of us, would have just graduated from high school in May.

Teach them varied household skills like baking a muffin, sewing an apron, and decorating a room. Give them chores like ironing, bringing in the firewood or washing the dishes. Everyone contributes to the well-being of the family.

Develop their interests. 4-H is a good organization to introduce children to a variety of projects from photography to cooking, to news writing and many other skills.

Expose them to nature. Let them play in the creek and ramble the pastures. If they like butterflies, teach them to make an insect net, to identify the insects and label them properly. If they bring home an interesting rock, help them learn about geology. Make sure they understand about being kind to animals.

Teach them to love reading. Set an example by reading for your own pleasure. Read aloud to them. Take them to the library. Give them books as gifts.

Teach them resiliency . When they can’t do something, encourage them to try again or try it a different way. Learning not to give up is an important life skill.

Teach them to strive to be the best at whatever they do. Raise rabbits? Make yours the ones winning all the purple ribbons. Like bugs, become a national 4-H winner in entomology and attend the national conference in Chicago.



Shannon Martin with her award-winning insects display at the county fair.

Sit down to eat together. Put food on the table that builds healthy bodies. Use the dinner time to reconnect, catch up on how everyone feels, and to establish family values. Let them know what you think about the news of the day and about events in the neighborhood. This helps them learn what is acceptable and what is not.

Tips & Warnings
Take time to talk to your children. This is how they develop their language skills.
Take time to listen to your children. Keep the lines of communication open into the teen years by talking and listening over the early years.

lynsuz12 on 11/19/2009 – Bravo!!! Children learn what they live. The old-fashioned way is still the best way to do a lot of things.
trillity on 9/19/2009 – Awesome practical advice! Thanks! 🙂
mbailey18 on 9/16/2009 – How refreshing to be reminded of the proper way to raise children. In this day of kids being upset if they aren’t allowed to text message their friends or play video games all day, it is nice to be reminded of the basics. 5 stars and my recommendation
jonhensley said on 9/23/2008 – Good parenting is needed in this ol’ world today. This should be a must read for every new parent.

Gail’s Advice on Picking Wild Berries

(Another article by Gail Lee Martin that she wrote for eHow) During my childhood in the 1930s we picked wild berries along the Cottonwood River in Kansas. It was fun for me, but it also put food on the table. Here’s how to go berrying.

  •  Locate a wild area that you can access without trespassing. We had permission to camp on a farmer’s land by the river. He didn’t want to bother with the wild berries so they were free for the picking.Catfish for dinner
    We would gather mulberries and gooseberries on sunny summer days. These made a good dessert when cooked together to go with the fish that we caught in the Cottonwood River.
  • Be sure the area is free of pesticides or chemicals. If it is next to a farmer’s field, there might be some sprays drifting onto the wild plants.
    Wild blueberries
  • Don’t eat pokeberries!!Don't eat pokeberries!!

    Learn which berries are edible and which are not good. Ask someone to show you which are the right fruit to pick or check in a wild foods book. I’ve provided a link below to find books like that.

  •  Learn when certain types of berries ripen. It changes slightly with the weather, so you may have to check several times to catch the raspberries at their peak. Mark it on your calendar so you’ll remember to check around that time next summer.

  • Poison ivy – keep away from it

    Wear long sleeves and even gloves if you’re picking thorny fruit. Watch out for poison ivy and snakes. Don’t forget the hat and sunscreen.

    Poison ivy - keep away from it

  •  Take a lightweight bucket and start picking. Enjoy lots of cobblers, jams and other berry delights. They are tasty just to snack on too.

Comments on the Article:

momose said on 9/19/2009 – We always carry a “beating stick” for our blackberry picking forays – to beat the bushes a bit first to roust out any rattlesnakes that might be lurking. I’ll bet you have done that, Gail! Five stars for your berry picking tips!

bjs1979 said on 8/21/2009 – mmmm fresh berries. Recommended you and rated 5 stars! Keep writing great articles!
Mindee Lee said on 7/10/2009 – Nothing is better than snacking on a handful of wild berries. Teaching children identification of berries is a crucial point not to be discounted. Thanks for these great and important tips!
kittycooks said on 7/10/2009 – OOO, I love wild berries. So flavorful!  A good tip to watch out for poison ivy!

Using the Clues in Old Family Photos

(This is an article that Gail Lee Martin wrote for the eHow website back in August 2009. I was able to retrieve it with the Wayback Machine and add some photo examples to it.)

It’s so sad to see a box of vintage family pictures that no one knows who’s who. Unlabeled photos present a challenge, so you need to play detective to figure out the who, what, where and when that goes with the old photo. Here’s how to figure it out.

  1. If you recognize anything in the picture, use that as a starting point. If you recognize the setting (a room or the outside of a house) then you narrow down the possibilities. If that’s great-grandpa’s house, then start mentally reviewing your relatives to see if any look vaguely like these people.

    dated on front 8-16-1912, house with man, woman, 2 boys with bicycles

    Vintage family photo, dated on front 8-16-1912. It features a frame house with a man in overalls, a woman in a floor-length apron, and 2 boys with bicycles. We think it might be from our Joy family line.

  2. Even if you know only one person in the picture, that helps identify the rest. If that’s Aunt Margie, then the fellow with his arm around her might be her first husband that you never met.
  3. Try to establish the time period for the picture by looking at clothing styles and any known children in the photo. Bobbed hair, shorter skirts with a dropped waist, and long stockings indicate the 1920s. If you know that one child is Cousin Bobbie, then guess at his age by his size. If he looks to be about ten or twelve, use his current age minus 10 or 12 to get an approximate date for the photo.

    Reading Kansas_Cora and Gail Martin with Martin Kids 1952

    Gail Martin with her children and her mother-in-law, Cora Joy Martin.

    Once you’ve determined one child in a group photo, it helps you identify the other children. If this is Clyde, then this younger child has to be Howard and the baby must be Charles.

  4. If you have several photos with the same people wearing the same clothes, then review them as a group to figure out the event and who’s who.
  5. If the photo is faded and hard to see the details, scan it into the computer. Use any photo software to enhance the picture or brighten it. In looking at a picture of my mother in her 20s, I thought there were trees in the background. When I brightened the picture on my computer, I realized it was clouds of black smoke, possibly from a prairie fire.

    Ruth and the cow_edited

    Ruth Vining McGhee (Gail Martin’s mother) with the cow. Smoke clouds on the horizon.

  6. Take any labeled photos that you have and compare them with the unknown photos. Look for similar backgrounds, and similar clothing and haircuts. If this is Aunt Bertha, then probably this lady is her again but thirty years later.
  7. Take advantage of older relatives’ memories. Take your unidentified photos to a family reunion or make a personal visit to Great-Aunt Viola with them. In some cases, you can email the photo to a distant relative and ask for their help identifying the person and place.
 A reader commented on the article back in 2009 –  “Oh, I’m so glad I read this! I have all of my family’s old photos, tintypes and all, and I never thought to look for clues on the ones with no names or dates. Thank you very much for such a well-written and informative article!”

McGhee Sisters – National Siblings Day

Inspired by the vintage photos everyone was posting on Facebook for National Siblings Day, I rummaged out some pictures of Mom with her two sisters.

July 1955

July 1955 – The McGhee sisters with their parents. (L to R) Melba Harlan, Clarence McGhee, Carol Garriott, Ruth McGhee and Gail Martin.

For views of them as children, take a look at these posts: Photo Memories and Vintage Photos.


2011-11-22 gail martin celebration of life 014

Same day – Just the McGhee Sisters


gail melba carol

Gail, Melba and C.J.


2013-01-28 gail and ks photos 041

This was the occasion of Gail and Clyde’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. C.J. tweaks her brother-in-law’s ear. Melba and Norman Harlan stand behind Gail.


The Hoosier Cabinet

My grandmother, Ruth McGhee, had a Hoosier cabinet in her kitchen. It had a flour bin and a nifty rack for spices with glass jars to hold those. These were really useful in old-time kitchens which didn’t have nearly as much storage space as modern kitchens do.On the counter of the cabinet, she would roll out pie crusts or noodles.


baltimore kitchen hoosier cabinet

Hoosier cabinet in my 1970s kitchen in Baltimore, Maryland.


Here’s a photo of a similar cabinet that I had in my rowhouse in Baltimore back in the 1980s. Mine didn’t have the spice rack, but the accordion front provided a great hiding place for the mixer and other appliances. The square drawer was lined with tin, I remember.

Sadly, I no longer have this vintage piece. We’ve made several moves halfway across the country and it wasn’t practical to drag it along with us. I hope it found a good home with someone who appreciated it. I didn’t go to the auction as it would have been sad to see those things being sold.

Do you remember such a cabinet in your family? Maybe you’ve even had one yourself. We bought ours at a flea market in Maryland. Sure was useful.

Here’s one that I saw at a restored village.


2012-03-06 2103 09 03 049

Hoosier cabinet with vintage Fiestaware dishes and a Mixmaster electric mixer.