Category Archives: Women I Wanted to Know

Quarantine Cooking in the Year 2020: Grandpa Darrel’s Sheepherder Potatoes

Upstate New York  I  Sunday, 1 November 2020

Idaho russet potatoes, or yellow potatoes
Salt (Redmond RealSalt is preferred)

I’ll leave the quantities up to you, since I don’t know how many you’ll be feeding, and I never ate his cooking. I DO know he loved onions, and so did my mother, so I used one medium onion: to one large potato: to two tablespoons butter.

Do NOT use margarine in this recipe, or Grandpa Darrel will come back from the grave to lecture and haunt you, just like all the other farmers I know. He died in 1970.

Bake the potato, stabbed with a fork on two sides and wrapped in foil, in a 350 degree oven for around an hour, or however long your oven takes make a potato that’s easily pierced with a fork.

Carefully remove the potato from the oven and unwrap, being careful not to give yourself a steam burn. You can let the potato rest, as it’s much easier to slice when it’s cooled.

Slice the potato in half, so you can always have a flat side down on the cutting board.

Choose your sharpest knife. If you can’t slice easily through the peel, pierce the potato with your knife point first, and then place the blade of the knife in the slit and then slice as thinly as you can, without the potato crumbling.

Once your potato is sliced, chop up an onion. The pieces don’t have to be very small, as they will cook down.

Choose a metal spatula, NOT plastic or wood, one with a flat end. You’ll be using the spatula not only to stir, but to turn the potatoes, and to chop any large bits of potato and onion into smaller pieces.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. I don’t know what type of pan he would have used, but I’m guessing cast iron, based on the time period he would have been making this recipe, and the type of stove or campfire he was might have been cooking on. I use vintage Revere Ware.

When the butter is mostly melted, add the onions all at once into the pan, and stir them around in the butter until they start to soften and take on a clear appearance. (This is called sweating an onion.) Push the onions to the sides of the pan, leaving the center open for potatoes.

Next, add your potatoes, making sure to only add as many as you can place in the pan so most of one side of each potato is touching the pan and will get nicely browned.

Once the potatoes are crisply browned around the edges, you can stir the onion and potato together. Continually stir them, until the potato pieces are brown and white and the onions a dark brown.

Remove from pan to a warm ceramic or stoneware plate. I suppose if you had a small cast iron skillet, you could place it on the table on a dishtowel, and eat directly from it.

I don’t know what Grandpa and his kids put on top of Sheepherders, other than the infamous salt and pepper. I love to streak ketchup across mine, and eat them with a slightly runny over-easy egg.

I think a glass of orange juice tastes best to wash them down with, but I also like to have a mug of milk on the table, too.

Grandpa Darrel, the farmer, would want it that way. Enjoy!


Mrs. S.’s Halloween Treat Bags

Columbia County, New York I Wednesday, 30 October 2019

I don’t remember a whole lot about Halloween when I was young. I never had a fancy, store-bought costume, and besides, it would’ve been a waste if I did, probably. It seems it was always too cold to go trick or treating without a coat, so a costume would have been lost underneath a layer. Anyways, I’m sure I had no knowledge of the fact you could buy Halloween costumes brand new.

When I dig way back into my misty-edged memories, it seems I was always a gypsy. I would throw on some wildly mismatched outfit, a plaid poncho, and gobs of my mother’s jewelry. I might have even worn some blush to rosy up my cheeks.

I never had a special trick-or-treat bag or one of those cute plastic pumpkin pails, I always carried my loot in a pillow case. There weren’t very many places to go trick or treating, since we lived in the country, and it was too far to walk between houses, so we had to be driven around. I don’t even know where we went. Like I said, I really don’t remember much.

But one thing I DO remember is going to Mrs. S.’s house. I thought her house was amazing! Most of the houses on our street were older colonials or farm houses, but hers seemed brand new.

Mrs. S.’s house was a modern ranch house. It was made of red brick, and the front door had diamond-paned glass. I don’t think anyone ever used that pretty front door, though, because there wasn’t even a path leading up to it. I think everyone would have used the kitchen door, which was closest to the driveway.

Her house had a two-car detached garage. It also had a carport which was right next to the kitchen door, on the side of the house. As an adult, I admire the genius of this, think how easy it would be to carry in groceries!

Her front lawn was a gentle slope, always neatly mowed. To the left of the driveway, behind some trees, but quite close to the road, was a pond with a little changing house. Later on, a small barn was built on the other side of the house, because her daughter got a horse.

Enough about her house, though. Let’s get back to Halloween! This little gypsy girl would march right up to Mrs. S.’s kitchen door in excited anticipation, because she always handed out those little paper treat bags full of candy. When you went to Mrs. S.’s house, you didn’t get just one little miniature candy bar or, even worse, a dreaded apple.

Mrs. S. was dark-haired and petite, and she would come to the door with a bowlful of those neat little bags with cute Halloween patterns, full of a bunch of treats. I don’t even know what kind of candy she put in them, but I remember absolutely loving those bags. It seemed wonderful, how she took a little extra care, stuffing them. She seemed so generous!

Anyways, Mrs. S. is long gone now. She died many years ago, a tragic death. Her husband still lives in the same house, though, and their children have long since moved away. But when I drive by her house, which I do very often, I always smile inside, and remember how happy she made a little gypsy girl on Halloween.


Carol W.’s Cookbooks

Columbia County, New York  I  Tuesday, 25 September 2018

I once knew a lady named Carol, and she collected cookbooks.

My mom was named Carol, as well, but this was a different woman. I’ll call her Carol W., because her last name started with W.

Anyways, between 2000 and 2004, I worked in a small B.Dalton bookstore at the mall, and it was pretty easy to get to know my regular customers by name, and a little bit about their lives.

Carol W. loved cookbooks, and would place a lot of special orders. I remember being a bit in awe, because she would order big, hardback, beautiful cookbooks, and they usually cost about $40.

I remember asking her about it one time, and she said how she loved to curl up in bed with a cookbook, and just look at it, that it was even better than reading a novel for her.

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Columbia County, New York  I  Monday, 26 February 2018

No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, and the wisdom of cookbook writers.
~Laurie Colwin

After my mom died recently, I commandeered all the cookbooks and recipe files she had here in New York.

Some of my most treasured memories are of our family, sitting around the table, eating certain meals she made over and over throughout my life, the perennial favorites.

Some of her recipes can be traced back to a mysterious Sister Lunt, a lady who was serving a church mission with her husband, here in New York, and just so happened to rent the upstairs apartment I now live in, Valoftten. This would have been in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

I can’t picture Sister Lunt’s face, and I don’t even know her first name, but I’m told she was from Hawaii. She must have been a pretty good cook, and a big influence on my mother, who would have been in her late 30s or early 40s when they knew each other.

Sister Lunt made cream of mushroom pork chops, and a special kind of chicken, which my mom aptly named Lunt Chicken.

At the end of Mom’s life, she made Lunt Chicken as often as two times a week, still referring to various renditions on umpteen index cards she’d written and rewritten of this now infamous recipe.

It got to the point where I could recognize the smell, wafting up the stairs, the smell of green peppers and chicken. It was like my mom got stuck, in her ripe old age of 85, stuck on Lunt Chicken.

Mom seemed to forget she also knew how to make killer creamed chicken with homemade mashed potatoes, an amazing boiled beef dinner with tangy, yellowy, saucy mustard pickles I still long for, a melt-in-your mouth Swiss steak, and yummy goulash.

Mom also knew how to make a superb rhubarb cobbler, sinfully rich apple dumplings, and a showstopping Black Forest Cake.

But, in her later years, she lamented that her cookies never turned out right. She was starting to get fuzzy…

But getting back to me, and my own little kitchens. For a long time now, I’ve been bothered by the state of my own recipe collection, or lack thereof. Shambles, complete.

I have umpteen file folders with: color pages torn out of magazines; black-and-white photocopies from magazines and cookbooks; loose clippings from cans, bags, and boxes; and lots of recipes on index cards, as well as odd-sized sheets of paper.

How in the world to make any semblance of order out of this mess? I’ve been wondering for pretty much years now…

The only solution, in my mind, seems to be to organize them into a looseleaf binder, with a table of contents. Smaller recipes can be combined onto one page.

I feel a sense of urgency, now that Mom is gone, to organize her recipes, not only for myself, but for the rest of her posterity.

Her favorite recipes are positively filthy with splatters and fingerprints. That’s how you can tell, you know, someone’s favorite cookbook.

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Grandpa’s Sheepherder Potatoes

Columbia County, New York  I  Friday, 26 January 2018

I never knew my grandparents, really. Both my paternal grandparents, James and Emma Christina, died before I was born.

On my mom’s side, Grandpa Darrel died just eight days shy of my third birthday. Grandma Gladys died when I was almost 31, but I barely knew her.

I have vague and fuzzy memories of her sternly crimped grey hair, polyester pants and button-down shirts, and her love of gardening. I also remember her orange-and-brown velvet sofa, and the hot cereal she would serve for breakfast.

She wasn’t a cookie-baking grandma, although I’m told by my mother and cousins she made delicious bread, twelve loaves at a time, to feed her large brood on a Great Depression, farmer-husband budget.

I’m also told by my cousins she had a room full of beads upstairs, and they loved to go over to her house and make jewelry. I, however, have no memories of this, although I surely would have loved to banish my boredom at her house by making a necklace or bracelet!

I DO have two white necklaces she made, though, and I wear them all the time, close to my heart. I wear them to remember my mother, Carol, who wore one of them very often to church.

I wish I had known Grandpa Darrel. My mom, his oldest daughter, says he made the BEST Sheepherder Potatoes. And he was, you know, an actual sheepherder, in southern Utah. That’s where he met my grandmother, when she was teaching school.

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REPOST: Frost’s Oatmeal Muffins

Monday, 4 December 2017

(Author’s note: this was originally published on 31 May 2015, when I was still living in West Valley City, Utah. Enjoy!)



I am going to blubber at the end of this week, blubber like a baby. Because, you see, everything is about to change. My kids’ last day of school is Friday, and after then, I will no longer have a child attending elementary school, as I have for the past thirteen years. My older son is set to become a senior in high school, and my younger son is heading off to junior high.

I will miss heading down that walking path with my sixth grader, holding his hand. He still lets me! I will miss the way the sky looks so gorgeous in the morning, with the sun breaking though its curtain of clouds, over the misty mountains to the east. And, oh, how I will miss that one tree. You know the one, at the end of the walking path, it’s always so shadowy and mysterious and beautifully silhouetted against the mountains and the sky…

I will also miss Carla, the cheerful crossing guard, an older lady with a fluff of short white hair. You know, she’s married to the crossing guard at the other school crosswalk we used before we moved. He’s short and cheerful, too.

One day I lingered at the school, and as I walked back and approached the crosswalk, I saw him picking her up in their little black truck. And I exclaimed, “Oh, you’re married to her?” And he said, “For about 53 years now!” How wonderful, the cheerful crossing guards who’ve helped my kids get across the street safely for years now, the crossing guards are married to each other!

I like to chit chat with her a bit, and last Thanksgiving she told me about the steamed carrot pudding she makes every year, the one passed down from her grandmother and mother. I haven’t tested it yet, but I will, and when I do I’ll share it.

Anyways, I’ll miss her and her husband.


So, for now, how about I share my recipe for Frost’s Oatmeal Muffins? My kids love these and will gobble up a whole batch in minutes. I think it’s so nice for them to wake up to the smell of baking muffins in the morning before school!


There’s just something special about a home where you can smell bread baking, something so wonderful and inviting and cheerful and cozy and hopeful. And, conversely, something so very bleak and disappointing about a home where you can’t ever smell any food cooking or baking. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the friend my older son used to hang out with all the time. The one who’s mom didn’t ever cook…)


These are super easy and delicious. And you can’t even tell there’s oatmeal in them, so the kids don’t squawk too much. Because there’s nothing I hate worse than kids squawking about “weird” ingredients in food! You’ll eat it and you’ll like it, dang it!

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour buttermilk over oatmeal in a medium bowl and let stand a few minutes. (I never have buttermilk, so I just put a blurp of vinegar in the milk to sour it.) Add the egg and brown sugar and mix well together. Mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a larger bowl. Then add the buttermilk mixture, and lastly, the melted butter. Pour into greased muffin pans (I prefer silicone pans because the muffins pop right out without getting stuck) and bake 18 minutes. Serve with butter and jelly or jam.

I hope you enjoy these muffins. They’re inexpensive and easy to make! On the inside, they’re really light and airy, and on the outside, they have a nice crunch if you get them slightly golden brown. You’ll feel great about feeding these to your kids before school, or eating a couple of them yourself before work. They taste great with a dab of butter and a small spoonful of jam on top, too…

Recipe adapted from Early American Recipes: Traditional Recipes from New England Kitchens,
by Heloise Frost. Illustrated by Barbara Corrigan. (copyright 1953, Jack Frost Studios, Phillips Publishers, Inc.)


EMMA CHRISTINA: The Things I Carried

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Ghent, NY  I  Thursday, 19 October 2017

The oval, cut-glass bowl on the top left came from Goodwill in Greenport, NY. The gorgeous cut-glass dish on the top right belonged to my father’s mother, my Grandma Emma Christina. She gave it to my mother, Carol, and now, finally, it’s been passed down to me!

The two pretty dishes on the bottom came from Deseret Industries, a thrift store in Utah. The rectangle tray, on the left, is pressed glass. The oval fanlight or sunburst on the right is cut glass.

When you’re traveling cross country by airplane, like I did earlier this month, you have to decide what to put in your carry-on luggage, and what to check.

Because, as we all know, sometimes the airlines lose your checked luggage. Sometimes it turns up hours or days later. But sometimes, it’s never found again. In December of 1995, my garment bag, containing all my favorite dresses, it disappeared into thin air and was never seen again. Thank goodness I learned this lesson early in life, and only with clothes!

So, when I was flying on this trip, I carried with me my white Herschel backpack, the one I got on a fantastic sale at Urban Outfitters, which used to be by my work in downtown Salt Lake City. I paid $20 for a bag which was $75 normally.

Can we talk about pockets? “Because you know how a bear feels about pockets!”

One of the things I loved about my new backpack was all the pockets, right down to a fleece-lined pouch in the very top, perfect for sunglasses and reading glasses, a fleece-lined laptop slot, and all kinds of other little zippered and tabbed pockets, plus a key clip. It’s lined with red-and-white stripes, a signature of the Herschel brand.

Anyhoo, on this trip, in my backpack, I carried:
-some old family photos
-my mother’s little dark-blue suede high school diploma
-two pieces of her wedding silverware. (The dinner knife was confiscated by TSA and I had to mail it to myself from the airport.)
-Black Beauty, my treasured Fujifilm X30 camera
-a bunch of camera cards
-a composition book (I use them to plan events.)
-my keys
-my wallet
-my journal
-an assortment of pencils, pens, and Sharpies
-some snacks
-October issues of Martha Stewart Living and Southern Living. I love me some fall magazines, I do!
-my Chromebook, which fell out of my carry-on tote and into an overhead bin, getting left behind. It had to be retrieved by a ramp attendant, panic!

But in a separate black Barnes & Noble book quote tote bag, I carried some other pieces I treasure too much to leave behind, and far too much to put in checked baggage. Three dishes: one of them pressed glass, two of them cut glass. I have a large collection of pretty, clear-glass dishes, picked up at thrift stores for 50 cents here, $1 there. (It’s all Cami’s fault! Her mother got me started on this hobby. But that’s an entirely separate blog.)

But these three are my absolute favorites, and I simply must have them on my table at Thanksgiving this year. My pickles and olives demand the best!

Last October, as I was moving to New York, I was determined to take two of these favorite, fancy-glass dishes, and placed them on the table for last-minute packing in a carry-on bag. But, after a rough all-nighter of closing out my apartment into storage and suitcases, then turning the place over to Thing 1 and his best friend, I was just too tired, too rushed, and too stressed to pack them.

They got left behind on the table, and I’ve missed them so.

This past trip west, earlier this month, I went to Thing 1’s apartment in Salt Lake City to drop off a bag of BLT fixins from our favorite sandwich shop in New York. (That’s a story for another day. Or another blog, as well. Or whatever.) I ransacked his cupboards until I found the two dishes.

They were coming with me this time.

Up at my parents’ house in northern Utah, two of The Rockets helped me pack at the end of my stay, before driving me, my father, and Thing 2 to my friend Tina’s house, to spend the night before flying back to New York. What good friends I have, truly. Anita took the task of wrapping the three dishes carefully in newspaper and plastic grocery bags.

Pretty sure she wanted the chance to admire them up close, since she likes antiques as much as I do!

I can’t wait to see them on the table this Thanksgiving, holding Cranberry-Orange Relish, dill pickles, sweet pickles, and black olives…

Welcome to Emma Christina @ My Copper Kitchen! New features will be available on an intermittent basis, whenever I inherit a cool dish owned by my paternal grandmother, Emma Christina. I will also feature newly acquired dishes from her era which I think she would have liked.

She, a lovely Swedish lady who died before I was born, she loved cooking and gathering her many children around her Craftsman table, with its four leaves.

I’m told that sometimes, when Emma Christina felt bad and life was wearing her down, she would head to the Implement and put a nickel down on a dish. Kinda like me, her youngest granddaughter, heading to a thrift store and picking up something inexpensive to buoy my spirits, something special and beautiful, all for 50 cents…

“You know how a bear feels about pockets” is a line taken from the wonderful children’s book, A Pocket for Corduroy, written and illustrated by Don Freeman. I highly recommend it, and its predecessor, Corduroy, for all the children in your life.

The first book, Corduroy, was groundbreaking in that the main character, a little girl named Lisa, she and her mother are obviously not white, probably African American or Hispanic. They live in an apartment in the city, several flights up.

Considering the white-picket-fence, blond-haired, blue-eyed Dick and Jane books (used to teach children to read in the 1930s through 1970s), Corduroy is welcomingly inclusive of ethnic children who live in large cities.

Plus, Don Freeman’s artwork, scratchy black-and-white outlines, filled in with color, is truly delightful.

I love Herschel backpacks!

Read Finding 50: The Things I Carried, at:

Read more about Grandma Emma Christina at:
A Word About Windows

Learn how to make Cranberry-Orange Relish for Thanksgiving at:

The subtitle of this blog is a derivation of the book title, a modern-day classic, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien.

Aunt Jan’s Peanut Cookies

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  Philmont, NY  I  Wednesday, 21 December 2016

When I was growing up, my sisters and I waited with bated breath every December for the arrival of Aunt Jan’s Christmas cookies.

Sometimes, my childish heart would despair, thinking this might be the year she would forget us, five little girls growing up in New York, far away from our grandmother and all our aunts and uncles and cousins who lived in Utah and Idaho.

But she never did. Every year we would come home from school one day in December and there it would be on the kitchen table, The Package. The cookies were always securely packed in big coffee cans, with Aunt Jan’s careful touch. She made the same things, year after year: snow white divinity, milk chocolaty fudge, crunchy peanut brittle, and my two favorites: pretty date pinwheels and cakelike peanut cookies.

My dad, Jan’s brother, would squirrel the package away so we wouldn’t devour it all in one day. Every once in awhile he would bring it out and let us have a treat or two, and this ensured there were still some left to enjoy on Christmas Eve.

That night, we always had a program which included saying prayers, singing Christmas carols, and reading the Christmas story from the Bible (Luke 2) which seemed to take forever. (I was surprised, as an adult, when I started this tradition with my own boys, to see how short it actually is!) Then, we were each allowed to open one present and have some treats.

Heaven, when I could get one of the coveted peanut cookies.

I have many other memories of Aunt Jan and Uncle Ed, too.

Sometimes, in the summer, we would drive cross country from New York to Utah, in a crowded Pontiac station wagon with no air conditioning. How we ever made it, I’ll never know.

I have vague and fuzzy memories of eating sandwiches at rest stops, the bread drying quickly in the warm wind, buying little wooden animals or polished rocks at souvenir shops, and lounging on a mattress in back of the car. All there was to do was sleep or read or stare out the window at cornfield after cornfield after cornfield.

After these hot and tiring journeys, we would arrive at Jan and Ed’s house, luxurious, in the foothills of Bountiful, a suburb of Salt Lake. We kids all thought they were rich, and maybe they were.

Their house was very different than ours. It was a ranch constructed of sloppy mortar brick, with white carpet in the living room, delicately painted china and figurines on display, and floor-to-ceiling curtains in the bedrooms. They had a shady back patio bordered by a short brick wall with rosebushes, and a small and tidy back yard.

Their basement, where we usually stayed, was cool and dark, mysterious and comfortable. Uncle Ed had a built-in bar, which fascinated us, with rows of liquor bottles and sparkling glasses hanging up high, and there was always a bowl of nuts with a nutcracker on the coffee table.

In the morning, Aunt Jan liked to sleep in, because she stayed up late to see Uncle Ed when he came home from work. But before she went to bed, she would put out everything for us to have a good breakfast. They had a tiny TV in the kitchen and an ironing board which folded down from a wall cabinet, and I thought this was amazing.

I remember writing in my little journal about their luxury car, with its vinyl top and tiny windows on the sides, in the back. It was very different from our station wagon and somehow felt like riding in a fairy coach, whisking us around in enviable style.

Aunt Jan and Uncle Ed had no children together, so they would spoil us. Aunt Jan would always take us to Lagoon, an amusement park, and let us ride all day. Then, and THEN, she would take us to the mall for new clothes, a completely new outfit of shirt and stylish jeans. Oh, happiness!

Eventually, in 1992, after I was graduated from college, Aunt Jan died, losing her long battle with cancer. I always remembered her peanut cookies fondly, but figured the recipe died with her. So you can imagine how excited I was to be rifling through my mother’s recipe box a few years ago and find that Aunt Bonnie, Jan’s sister, had written it down and given it to my mom!

I made the cookies for the first time a few weeks ago, and they tasted just like I remembered from years ago! The recipe is very inexact, though, so I’m still working on it and can’t share it with you yet. (It calls for butter the size of an egg, says the eggs should be cooked in a double-boiler mixture, and doesn’t even tell how many minutes to bake it!)

The cookies are difficult to frost and to get the peanuts to stick. My sister and I’ve been researching other recipes for cookies with the same name, but they’re very different from Jan’s recipe. This one will be in progress for awhile, I suppose…

But the important thing is this: Aunt Jan cared enough to always remember us. God bless her for making our childhood Christmases a little brighter. I can’t imagine how far in advance she must have had to start to get all the cookies baked and mailed in time. And she worked full-time, too.

Just yesterday, I sent a goodie package to Thing 1, containing three things: Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies, Celestial Chocolate Chippers, and Jo McCall’s Toffee. Somehow, though, I also longed to send him Peanut Cookies…


Aunt Jan was also a talented seamstress. When I was digging around in the barn apartment (same episode where I found the fabulous orange and yellow curtains!) I found this suit, miraculously unscathed by little critters. When I asked my mom about it, she told me Aunt Jan made it for her.

I thought, “Oh, that can’t be true. There’s a tag in the skirt.” But upon closer inspection, I found the tag simply said “front”.

Isn’t it pretty?

Valma and Valerie

BY VALERIE BELDEN WILDER  I  West Valley City, Utah  I  20 July 2016

DSCF1514Gloria’s Approving Gaze/1514BB

Valma. She finished the quilt 93 years ago, she did.

She and two friends, Del and Pearl, carefully embroidered the just off-center patch in pink floss with their names, the completion date of March 20, 1923, and her group’s initials, SCG. Then, perhaps (let your imagination enter, stage left) it was sold or auctioned for benefit.

They made the quilt that I, Valerie, I slept under three nights ago, on 17 July 2016, while still on vacation at my childhood home. I marveled at the quilt’s comforting softness and fine, impeccable condition, with no rips or tears or stains.

I slept in a beautiful four-poster bed, the nicest one I’ve ever had, chosen by my sister Cheri. I slept upstairs in a bedroom which faces warmly west, with orangey pumpkin-pine floors, the Winter Bedroom of the V House, located in Columbia County, New York, God’s gorgeously green upstate.

The house was built at the dreary beginning of the Great Depression, in 1930, built by hard-working Germans, the V Family, on land purchased from the nearby S Family, both lots originally part of the B Farm. My dad says they used scrap from Meltz Lumber, a local lot, and finished the upstairs much later than the downstairs, adding two large dormers and reversing the staircase to make a separate apartment with its own entryway.

Thank goodness, downstairs Mrs. V had a cheerful yellow Formica kitchen counter to look at and wipe down carefully, and an immaculate white porcelain sink with large drainboards on either side (and a brass drain), at which to wash her dishes.

She also had a neat kitchen floor to sweep and mop, made of sturdy linoleum squares of white, with the palest-of-pale chunks of pink and green and gold sparkly flecks.

But more about that later, right now let’s focus on my precious quilt…

I remember when I first saw it.

I was living in Provo, Utah and bored out of my mind, having graduated college and watched all my favorite roommates, The Rockets, move away and leave me. To pass the time on weekends off, I liked to make trips up to Salt Lake City to shop for frivolous things like cowboy boots and antiques.

Pretty things to try and fill the gigantic hole in my heart at having been left behind by my best friends, and to kill the pain of not yet being married and having the children I always knew I wanted, a family of my own.

When I stumbled upon the quilt in a stack of bed linens in an armoire in an antique shop in Midvale, I knew, I just KNEW, it had to be mine. I kind of started to sweat a bit, because It was around $250, and, even though I had a good job, I really couldn’t afford it, at least not all at once.

But I simply couldn’t leave that place without making it mine. The shop’s owner let me make payments, a layaway of sorts. And so, $20 here and $25 there, I slowly made it mine. I was grateful and gleeful upon making the final payment, and took the quilt carefully home, packing it away for someday.

The reason I had to have the quilt was the signatures, of course. Each nine-patch was signed and dated with red or pink embroidery floss, covering carefully penciled script, dating even further back, to 1921. The squares were made of simple checked and striped or polka-dotted material, bordered by ecru flour sack material.

DSCF1550Mystery Quilt/1550BB

When I sleep under this quilt I feel of these long-gone ladies’ love and creativity, industry, frugality, and sheer determination.

To create beauty out of something useful and utilitarian. To use the contents of a sack of flour to make loaves of soul-sustaining bread and fluffy celebration cakes and dozens of oatmeal raisin cookies, and then to be provident enough to save the sacks, recycling pioneers, and cut them into squares, which became nine-patches, which became my beautiful quilt.

The quilt I slept under in the Winter Bedroom of my childhood home in July of 2016. My beloved boys, a mother after all, they slept under the eaves of the twin bedrooms at the other end of the house.

And Thing 1 slept under a new quilt made with imagination and love by his Aunt Cheri. 

Popcorn Vampire/4035BB


First two photos: Carrigan Buhler, Germantown, New York.
Last photo and Interior Design: Valerie Belden Wilder, Ghent, New York.

The last photo, Popcorn Vampire, did not appear in the original blog. It was added to the post on 27 October 2017. I’ve also made extensive edits since the original posting.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes, by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.

The World of Gloria Vanderbilt, by Wendy Goodman. Harry N. Abrams, 2010.

To read more about pumpkin pine flooring:


Vivian and Valerie

By Valerie Belden Wilder


There used to be this bookstore downtown on Main Street, convenient to the high-speed TRAX train I take to work. So sometimes on my way home, I’d stop there and browse a little. Okay, a LOT.


I’d go there all the time, in search of the elusive Trixie Belden #39: The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost. (But that’s another story for another day, don’t even get me started on Trixie or we’ll be here All. Stinkin. Day.)


(Julie Campbell Tatham created the character Trixie Belden in the 1940s and wrote the first six books in the series, with #1: The Secret of the Mansion being published in 1948. She also created Ginny Gordon and worked on other strong female protagonist series such as Cherry Ames and Vicki Barr, books which were a huge part of my childhood reading, thanks to my local library in Philmont, New York. Julie’s home, Wolf Hollow, is located in the beautiful Hudson River Valley, near Ossining, New York. Oh, wait, I said I wasn’t going to get started on Trixie right now. I lied.)



So, back to my favorite used bookstore! Sometimes, besides invariably hunting through the children’s books, I’d browse fiction or local interest, the art and architecture sections, and the cooking and entertaining books, finding little old gems I’d never come across at Barnes & Noble. My requirements for purchasing a cookbook were threefold: the recipes needed to look interesting and contain everyday indgredients; they needed to feature fun, playful artwork; and the photographs had to be thoughtfully styled with cool old props and delicious looking food. Oh, and the price had to be right for my small budget. I guess that’s four things, then…

Suddenly, I started to come across her cookbooks. You know, Vivian’s cookbooks. Vivian’s cookbooks! There were dozens of them, but they weren’t all together in a collection, because they fell into different cookbook subcategories as defined by this particular bookstore.

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