The Cardboard Play Kitchen

Gail’s daughter, Virginia, shares a memory. 

Make your own play kitchen

When my little sister was eight, Mom made a play kitchen for a big Christmas gift for her. The play kitchen appliances were made from large cardboard boxes. Just decorate them with paint that you have around and felt-tipped markers. There was a “stove” and a “refrigerator” plus shelves for storing the “food.”

The play food for the play kitchen started out as real food for the family. When Mom shopped for groceries, she bought small sizes of boxes and cans of regular food. She opened the cans from the bottom and washed out the interior. They looked like child-sized versions of real food sitting in the play kitchen cupboards.  Nothing was wasted, as we ate the food. There were small cans of fruit juice and single-serving boxes of raisins.

I still remember how much fun my sister had playing with those cans and boxes and her cardboard appliances. The empty containers looked colorful and realistic on the shelves.

The house we lived in then had a large basement, so there was plenty of room for the kid-sized kitchen down there.

Melissa & Doug Grocery Cans Play Food - 10 Stackable CansMelissa & Doug Grocery Cans Play Food – 10 Stackable CansView DetailsKidKraft Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen with Lights & SoundsKidKraft Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen with Lights & SoundsView Details

The play kitchen and play foods above are available from Amazon. Of course, you can just make your own, like Mom did for Shannon.

After Graduation in 1942

In May of 1942 I graduated (barely) from Hamilton High School in Greenwood County, Kansas. I lived with my folks in the Seeley school district where Daddy worked as an oil field pumper for Phillips Petroleum Company. By the time school started in September I was offered a job caring for three-year-old Ann Neumayer and doing light house work for her family. Her mother taught at the Seeley grade school, her dad was a pumper for the Ohio Oil company, and she had an older brother, Robert and an older sister, Peggy, who went to school with their mother.

hamilton-high-school-kansas

Hamilton High School in Kansas where Gail Lee McGhee graduated.

My job was like any babysitter of today. Ann was a darling toddler, who loved to tag-a-long doing whatever I was doing. That family ate big servings of fried potatoes every night for supper, with fried meat and gravy. I used to say after peeling that big pile of potatoes every night, “I might as well be on KP in the army.”

At the start of the next school year, Mrs. Neumayer was allowed to take Ann to school with her. So I was wondering what I was to do, then we heard about the government’’s NYA program for the young people of America. The closest school for girls was at Winfield, Kansas. My folks agreed for me to go and they took me down there. My boyfriend, Johnny Faylor, had been sent to Fort Leonardwood for training in the army. Our friend Clyde Martin was rejected when he was called up because he was a farm boy and was needed on the farm as his older brother, Ralph was already in the air force. He went to the boy’’s camp in Cherryvale and took welding classes.

1942-postcard-of-cherryvale-ks

1942 postcard of Cherryvale, Kansas’ downtown.

My parents took me down to Winfield shortly after school was out in May of 1943. There they tried to teach me to be a riveter. But I was a skinny kid weighing only ninety-nine pounds so I couldn’’t hold up the big heavy rivet gun. So they tried to teach me to hold the bucking bar on the back side of the sheet metal. I couldn’’t even do that the way they wanted. I was so disappointed that I wasn’’t going to be one of the famous ‘Rosie the Riveters.’

nya-poster

NYA poster  (source)

Due to politics and shortage of funding the NYA closed down July 12, 1943, just a week or two after I arrived. Most of the girls decided to take the bus to Wichita and try to get jobs in the aircraft factories. I went with them. I was lucky and got a job with Boeing helping build the B-29s in the electrical wiring department. I was thankful that Boeing was not union! After all the Phillip’s employees trouble with City Service union guys, I didn‘’t want anything to do with unions.

I found a room in a castle looking house at 1313 N. Emporia. I was on the second floor and in the north turret. The biggest problem was having to go downstairs to the basement for the communal bathroom.

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Photo by Karen Kolavalli. The rooming house that Gail Lee McGhee stayed in during WWII while working at Boeing.

My paycheck sure looked good but the money disappeared so fast. I had to pay for my room and all my meals plus bus rides to work and back. No matter where I went I had to ride the bus or walk. The winter approached and I had to buy a warm coat, mittens and a stocking cap that would pull down around my ears. I bought a few things for Christmas presents but also had to save money to buy my bus ticket to Emporia in Lyon County for the holidays. My parents and little sister, Carol drove up from our home in Greenwood County to  Emporia to pick me up. Being with my loved ones was so good that I do not remember what gifts were given to whom.

After working in the electric wiring department for several months I became unhappy when the inspectors ran a slight electrical charge to see if my work was OK. They didn’’t tell me when they were going to do it and I became scared that the charge might get stronger so I asked to be transferred to another department.

The next department was in the tool shed, where the employees checked out tools they needed to work with. I enjoyed this after learning what each tool was called and where each was stored. It was kinda like working in a library only at the end of the shift all tools had to be checked back in and I had only a short time to get them put where they belonged before I could check out.

(Aug 11, 2012 email from Gail Lee Martin to daughter, Virginia Allain)

 

Decorate for Christmas the Old-Fashioned Way

Gail Lee Martin first published this article on the eHow website some years ago.

Here’s how to celebrate Christmas just like a prairie family in the 1930s.  If you want a Christmas with an old-fashioned feel, just try the steps below.

 Things You’ll Need:
  • a cedar tree
  • cranberries
  • popcorn
  • thin cardboard
  • silver foil
  • a magazine
THE TREE: The arrival of our Christmas Tree was the beginning of the holiday season for my family. I remember the first time I experienced the thrill of going with Daddy to locate an appropriate tree for Christmas. On a nice sunny Sunday after a heavy snow and shortly before Christmas, Daddy would have us bundle up warmly in four buckle overshoes, hand knitted mittens, stocking caps and long scarves wrapped around our necks. Then we would follow in his footprints as he trekked through the snow-drifted Bluestem grass to a canyon in the fold of the hills almost a mile from our home.
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Scattered along the rocky sides of the canyon were many cedars of all sizes. We would select a well-rounded tree about my height. After scraping the snow from around the tree, Daddy dug out around the tree roots. The snow kept the ground from being frozen solid, so the digging went well even in the rocky soil. Daddy carefully packed the tree in a container and placed it on our small sled. We would take turns pulling our treasure home. This living tree stayed on our front porch until the day before Christmas.
Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

Clarence McGhee pulling toddlers on a sled. Kansas Flint Hills.

CRANBERRY CHAINS: When the Christmas season neared our home on the snow-covered prairies, our house would take on a cheery atmosphere as we began making lustrous long, red garlands using fresh, whole cranberries. We would thread a large darning needle with string from Mother’s string ball. Our mother saved string through the year. Every time Daddy opened the hundred pound cotton sacks of flour or chicken feed, Mother would unravel the string that the sacks were sewn shut with, to add to her ball.

POPCORN STRINGS: Stringing cranberries and popcorn took many long hours to get the strands long enough for a big tree. But the evenings of family togetherness around the living room stove were lots of fun as we enjoyed big bowls of popcorn drizzled with golden home-made butter. Daddy was in charge of popping the corn, that he had grown and as we munched, we would carefully thread unbuttered kernels into white garlands to drape in contrast with the ruby-red cranberries.

SILVER STARS: Then we made bright silver stars. We would go to Mother’s hoarding drawer and get our small supply of foil we’d saved from spearmint chewing gum wrappers. Back then each stick of gum was in a foil and wax paper wrapper and we had to carefully peel them apart. With the resulting thin silver foil we covered cardboard stars cut from the backs of our Big Chief writing tablets. The first one we made was a large star that went on top of the tree each year. We covered smaller stars to hang here and there on the tree. With the darning needle, we would poke a tiny hole in one point of each star to thread a piece of string to hang them with. Each year we were able to make a few new ones.

PAPER CHAINS: Mother showed us girls how to cut magazines ads and turn them into glossy, paper chains. We would cut many rectangles, one-half by five inches long, from the colorful ads. Then we would start by making a loop by lapping the ends and sticking them together with paste, we made from flour and water. Next, we would loop another strip of paper through the first loop, then pasted the ends and so on until the gleaming chain was the length we wanted. Draped in scallops on the tree or across the windows they were eye-catching.

DECORATING: When he brought the tree inside and placed in the living room corner, the day before Christmas, we would transform it into a shimmering dream with all the scallops of red berries and white popcorn and little silver stars. In between, we arranged the glistening paper chains. At the very last, Daddy placed the large star at the top and our plain old Kansas cedar tree was a sight to remember. Best of all, it didn’t cost very much, just the cranberries had to be bought.

AFTER CHRISTMAS: The week after Christmas we removed the stars and stored for another year. Then Daddy moved the tree to the front yard where we could watch the brave winter birds feasting on a banquet of popcorn and berries. Each year Daddy replanted our Christmas trees to make a much-needed windbreak and shelter for the birds.

Here are some comments from when it was posted on eHow:  “This is enchanting! I was there with you, munching the buttery popcorn and sliding the cranberries onto the string . . . I just love the way you recount the simpler times of days gone by. Thank you for sharing. Five well-deserved stars!”

Here’s another comment – “I loved this article. The glimpse of your life in those days was so interesting and wonderful. What a contrast to the commercial holiday of today.”

Susan H on 9/2/2008 – “This article is so precious and wonderful. My brother and I made paper chains every year for our tree. We would put them on the tree and our mantel. I echo JMKnudson when I say, ‘Please keep writing’.”

Another comment on 9/1/2008 –  “What beautiful memories you have. I will be adopting some of your traditions this Christmas season.”

The Christmas of Our First TV

Gail Lee Martin posted this to the Our Echo website in 2011. Here it is for your Christmas reading enjoyment. If it triggers some Christmas memories for you, please share them in the comment section at the end.

The advent of the TV in our home happened the first Christmas we lived on the Greene farm three miles north of El Dorado. This was in 1960 and Clyde had a good job and working regularly so we decided to get a brand new television for a Christmas for a present for all our six kids! We keep it hid in that old garage under some junk until Christmas morning. Clyde and I went out and brought it in before the kids woke up.

We had an end table to put it on and one of us had the idea that we ought to have it turned on when the kids got up. So making sure the volume was turned real low we turned it on. Now remember it was Christmas time and colder than blue blazes outside. Clyde and I were really excited as we turned on the TV on and snap, crackle, and pop the cold tubes broke as the hot electricity hit each tube. What a bummer of a Christmas this was for the Martin family as we hadn’t bought anything else for anyone. All they had was their filled up stockings.

But the kid’s Dad came to the rescue and wrote down the numbers from each broken tube and as soon as the stores opened he went into the Graves Drugstore on the west side of north Main and was able to buy every TV tube we needed. He came back home and replaced the burned out tubes and put in the new ones and PRESTO we had television to watch for Christmas.

I know it is hard to believe this but that was the way TVs were built back then and not every store closed even on Christmas. Totally different world 50 years ago.

Second-Hand Christmas Tree

(A Christmas memory by Virginia Allain, formerly published on Bubblews)

Some families face a spartan Christmas, particularly if they are out of work. Thinking of that brought to mind a Christmas where the generosity of others saved our family from a bleak holiday.

cylde-and-cindy

An earlier Christmas in the Martin home – Cindy and Clyde. I’m sure Dad made the rocking horse in the picture.

My dad had been in a car accident and was hospitalized for almost six months. My mother was expecting and with five children she couldn’t go out and work. It looked like there would be few gifts and certainly money couldn’t be wasted on a Christmas tree when there was barely food for the table.

When our school closed for the Christmas break, my fifth-grade teacher brought the tree from the classroom to our house. Also that week, some kind soul left a box filled with holiday foods on our front porch.

It must have been a frightening and sad time for my mother trying to cope with it all. I’m thankful that the second-hand tree and the food brought some Christmas spirit to our home that year.

When I shared this memory with my younger sister, Karen, she said,

“I would have been 5 that Christmas. Don’t remember any of those things! That was in the days when kids weren’t allowed to visit in the hospital, so I remember not seeing Dad for a long time. The father of another kid in the neighborhood was an over-the-road truck driver–I remember thinking maybe that’s what my Dad was doing since he was gone for so long.”

Make Giblet Gravy

My mom wrote her instructions for making giblet gravy and posted them on the eHow site back in 2004. Here’s that article.

 

Here’s my way of making gravy for serving with the turkey for special meals and Thanksgiving.

Things You’ll Need:

  • giblets (liver, heart, neck, gizzard)
  • water
  • flour
  • a shaker
  • crock pot
  • turkey dripping
  • salt
  1. When the turkey is thawed enough, remove the packet of giblets stored inside. If they are difficult to remove, run cold water into the turkey.

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    The giblets are inside the turkey.

    Remove the giblets from the wrapper and place the heart, gizzard, liver and neck in a pan of water. Boil until tender. The liver can either be removed before the others, as it cooks more quickly or placed in the pot near the end when the others are almost done.

  2. Remove the giblets and neck into a pan to cool. Turn off the heat. Save the broth.
  3. When they’re cool, cut all into small pieces and add back into the broth. (I usually eat the meat from the neck while doing this. You can pull it off the bone and put it into the gravy if you want to go to all that trouble.)
  4. Heat all to boiling and add a cream sauce made of water and flour prepared in a shaker. I use a Tupperware shaker. (1/2 full of cold water, add 4 heaping large-serving-spoon size of flour). Shake it vigorously in the shaker to blend the flour and water. While pouring the cream sauce from the shaker into hot broth, stir vigorously.
  5. After the gravy thickens, I pour it into a preheated crock pot. When the turkey is cooked, my husband drains the drippings into one end of the pan and we add that to the gravy for more flavor. Add salt to flavor.
Tips & Warnings
  • This makes enough gravy for a crowd. We’re usually feeding 20 or more.
  • If you don’t make the cream sauce in a shaker, you might have lumps in your gravy. You can pour it through a sieve to remove the lumps in that case.
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Clyde Martin carving the turkey

This is the kind of shaker used for the cream sauce that goes into the gravy. //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ss&ref=as_ss_li_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=gailmartin-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B0101426V0&asins=B0101426V0&linkId=77f4416de6391f7c16d8d644a31caffe&show_border=true&link_opens_in_new_window=true

Sell Nuts for Extra Holiday Income

Medium sized black walnuts

If you have nut trees, here’s how to make extra money selling the nuts at Christmas time.

Things You’ll Need:

  • a source of nuts
  • sifters
  • white pan
  • tweezers
  • tins and mugs
  • foil cupcake liners
    • Where to sell them:
      We had great success making spiced black walnut nut meats which our family and friends praised. We then decided to go one step further. We sold them at the farmer’s market. You could also sell them at a flea market or even online like on eBay.
    • How to increase sales at holiday time:
      Around the holidays, we fixed the special nuts in tins and mugs that we found at garage or estate sales. Look for ones appropriate for the season. Look for clean, rust-free, undented tins. People particularly like ones with holiday scenes on them, but other designs make nice gift tins too. Don’t spend too much on these, or you will have to raise the price of the nuts.
      We advertised in the local Shopper’s Guide and people flocked in to buy these unique gifts.
  • Sort the nuts by size:
    To get the biggest nut meats for the spiced nuts, my husband used different strainers with different size grids, large and medium. The large grid let everything go through except the largest pieces. Those large nuts worked great in the spiced nut recipe.
  • Continue sifting using smaller and smaller grids:
    Now he had lots of smaller sizes of nut meats. Really just bits and pieces. So he shook them up in a strainer with a smaller size grid. The smaller grid lets the tiny pieces of shell and other debris fall through. Then these can be run through a strainer with even a smaller grid for the best results.nuts-med-strainer
  • Make sure they’re free of shells:
    Clyde dumps them into a white baking pan and searches for more shells that slipped through. Some tiny pieces of the shell stick to the nut meat and can be removed with tweezers. No one wants to bite into a piece of shell in their spiced nuts or Christmas baked goods.

    Clyde Martin preparing the nuts.

    Clyde Martin preparing the nuts.

    The shaking in the strainers seemed to bring out the oil in the nut meats, making them shiny and tastier. We loved the results of shell-free goodies. It brought return buyers who knew they could count on our product.

  • Offer a variety of flavored and plain nuts:
    With the medium-sized nut meats, we made candied nut clusters. Click on the link to get my recipe for these. We also sold a lot of plain nuts for people who liked to bake. Some would get the smaller nuts for this, but many wanted premium nuts to use in their Christmas cookies.
    The price of the plain nuts reflected the work we put into sorting and the demand for the holidays.cracked-nuts
  • Store them: We stored the spiced nuts and the different candied nuts in the large, empty ice cream buckets until we were ready to fill gift tins and mugs.
  • When we filled the tins, we divided the different candied and spiced nuts using foil cupcake liners.
  • For the mugs, line one with plastic wrap and fill with nuts. Pull the loose ends of the wrap up to twist. Tie it at the twisted area with colorful Christmas ribbon. Use scissors to curl the ribbon.
  • When someone responded to the Shopper’s Guide advertisement, we set out a display of the different nuts in tins and cups on our dining room table. Try to make it festive and appealing.
Tips: These also make great gifts for the family. Fill some of your own fancy dishes that are sitting in the cupboards collecting dust. It’s one way to pass on an heirloom piece of china to your grandchildren.