“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”
~ John Burroughs
“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
~John Howard Bryant
Hello, I’m Karen. Welcome to my cyber suite. I’m glad you stopped by. I’m not Merle, that was my father, but I’m honored to give my blog his name. He was hilarious, difficult, loving, and complicated, and his presence is filtered throughout these pages. I’m fairly new to blogging. My very first post featured a …
Have you given thought to where you come from, why you are here, and about the people who lived before you? I don’t mean do you know who your grandmother was; rather, I mean do you know what she thought about President Kennedy? How she felt about women working? What was her home like, …
Hi! I’m so glad you stopped by. Isn’t it awesome? That letter up there was written by my great, great grandfather in 1892. I’m stunned we have the originals, that they are so well preserved. Check the History tab to see those I’ve posted. You may not be able to write me a letter, or …
“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.”
~ John Burroughs
“Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile.”
~John Howard Bryant
I really ought to stay off the internet. Really. Last weekend I opened my news feed and one of the first things I saw was a video of the largest, most luscious-looking cinnamon rolls I’d ever seen. I might have drooled on myself. The rolls were the size of a dinner plate and at least a couple inches high. A baker at heart and a lover of all-things-I’m-not-supposed-to-eat, the self-imposed challenge was on. Could I make something similar? I had to know.
First, a little background. Our family tradition on Christmas morning has long been scrambled eggs, sausage, orange juice, and Cinnabons. Supplying the full calorie count for the remainder of that week, the “meal” can stand on its own. Regardless, tradition is tradition. We all know that you don’t mess with tradition according to Brubaker in the same movie (although for mess, he used a choice F word. We won’t go there). You get the idea.
My mind was made up; I had to know. It’s October and Christmas is around the corner. Could I make a giant, gooey roll? Might they rival our coveted Cinnabons?
Turns out, the rolls in the video were made at a bakery in Texas. Isn’t this where everything is big? Bigger? Biggest? Indeed, the place lures the customer with three pound rolls! It is fascinating watching the baker use giant slabs of dough, buckets of filling, and gallons of cream cheese icing. How many calories can one burn from handling mass amounts of dough (as I try to offset the inevitable)?
I didn’t want three pounders, but at this point, there was no going back.
The dough was very easy. With little effort it rose beautifully and I had to take it out long before I sometimes do given the result. As this was in the works, I started on the filling.
I have never been able to roll out a perfect rectangle. Ever. I tried spreading the dough into a well-greased 9 by 13 inch pan with great results. I did this for each half of the dough. Then, on went the filling.
This appears to be a lot of filling, right? It is. I doubled the amount. I can’t really tell you why except that it seemed right. The amount in other recipes seemed insufficient for the amount of dough.
Once the dough was fairly covered, I sliced it into three lengths and rolled them into rolls. My pizza cutter worked great.
Striving for giants, this amount of dough made six large rolls. Can anyone really eat a whole one?!!?
Almost immediately they started to rise. I put them back into my warm* oven for the second rise. It took about 15 minutes.
While I waited for the final rise, I made the cream cheese icing.
Before I knew it, the rolls were done. There are no words to describe the aroma. I don’t indulge like this often; I soaked it up. We’d avoided lunch to make room….
…and they didn’t disappoint. Not by a long shot. In flavor and consistency, they rivaled our favorite Cinnabons. The dough is gooey, the filling very rich, and the icing perfect.
And it’s true. Neither of us could eat a whole roll. They are too rich, too filling, too sweetly dense…just what one expects from the perfect cinnamon roll. I set mine aside after the first few delicious bites. I tried later in the day but still could not finish. It took me three tries to finish one, over the course of one day.
Can you finish one at one sitting?
KAREN’S GIANT CINNAMON ROLLS
2. Dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water. “Bath water warm” has always worked for me. Cover with a towel and let stand several minutes. You’re in business if the yeast has bubbled. If not, start over.
3. Combine the flour and milk mixture in a large bowl. Beat slowly until well mixed, scraping the sides of the bowl. Add yeast mixture and beat until mixed well.
4. Add eggs and mix well.
5. While it’s temping to add all of the remaining flour, don’t. Add enough to make a very soft dough. This part just takes experience. Imagine a gooey cinnamon roll. Gooey dough makes gooey rolls. When it’s ready, it will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl yet remain sticky. Too much flour results in a dense roll. Cover and let rise in well-greased pan inside oven. I use a pan of boiling water underneath the pan of rolls in the oven. No oven heat is necessary.
6. When dough has risen, punch down and divide in half.
7. Spread one half of dough in well greased 9 by 13 baking pan. Spread half of filling mix over the dough. Add raisins and pecans or both if desired. Using a pizza cutter, slice the dough into three lengths and roll up. Place each roll on a well-greased baking sheet. Repeat with the other half of the dough to make six large rolls.
8. Let rise in warm oven until the rolls are touching each other, or are the desired size. This took about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or longer as these rolls are large. I stopped at 20 minutes, covered with foil, and baked an additional 10 minutes.
I may not survive these Texas-sized portions, I most definitely should stay off the internet, and I’ll bet you can’t finish a whole one in one sitting.
Oh, but it’s worth a try. Let me know how you do.
…then I’m happy to share. Here’s a splash of color, the final hurrah, from my garden.
Have a lovely day!
❤ Find the beauty. ❤
When I found Josiah’s letters, my work on everything else came to a screeching halt. My series The Malevolent Matriarch about my unkind great grandma took a back seat. Our matriarch wrote hundreds of letters in the 40s and 50s. When I came across letters her father Josiah had written to his parents in the late 1880s, my focus shifted.
Seeing Josiah’s letters as the treasure they are, I knew I had to share. We have 14 letters in all, written from Ironwood, Michigan, beginning in January of 1889. Today I share Letter #6. As before, I type them here as written, with spaces between ideas, and each page as written appears as a paragraph here. I highlight in red interesting facts about their life, and I discuss these below.
In Letter #5 you may recall that after tearing out my hair, I found the street in Ironwood where the family lived, the home Josiah built. Icing on the cake is the hint Josiah’s wife Helen gave me about which house was theirs. Read on and enjoy!
It always helps when I can see the players. Seen in happier times, the woman on the left below is our malevolent matriarch, Orah Myrtle Smith Butterfield with her daughter, my grandma, Lalla Marie Butterfield ( pronounced LAY la).
Josiah Aug 12/89 answered Aug 16/89 Ironwood Mich Aug 12, 1889
Dear Father I have been looking for a letter from you but hant seen it yet I have been at work the last 2 weeks on my house fixing it up for cold weather I have been putting on my cornice and siding up I want to have it warmer here than it was last winter I have put about 75 dollars in lumber and work on our house(1) this season I have a good garden if you were here I could show you the largest potato tops you ever saw they are
like punkin vines I want to set out our strawberries now I think it will be better to set out up here in any (case?) send me what you think best but I want a few Sharpless what do you think about setting out any thing else now if it will do to set anything else send it along please send me two or three hundred plants(2) if you can spare them
Si has not told you about my house plants(3) I have over 40 different kinds and they are awful nice I sent to Vick and got 2 fuchsia’s champion of the world and Aurora Superba one Begonia Mrs Stuart 2 Geranium’s Cloth of Gold
& Mrs Pollock one Heliotrope Mrs Davis Wood they looked splendid when they got here but the Geraniums are going to loose there leaves I shall send in the spring and get a dollars worth of his monthly roses I do wish you could see our plants we have an awful nice place for them we have a double window in our front room facing the south(4) and they do splendid how are all the folks down there it seems an awful while since we have heard from any of you well I must stop for Si is waiting to take this to the office how was Nell and John(5) when last you
heard from them do you hear from them often with love to both hoping to hear from you soon we remain your children Si and Helen
In Letter #4, Josiah described the dimensions of the home he built. “I am building an addition to our house 12 by 18 that will make my house one part 16 by 24 and the other part 18 by 24 we have a front room 14 by 15 inside a bedroom 10 by 12 a closet 4 by 10 in the wing we have a dining room 11 by 12(3) a kitchen the same 2 bedrooms and a bullery (?) so you see we will have room enough.” In this letter, he writes he wants the house warmer here than it was last winter(1). The family lived in Ironwood at least from 1888 on. The house dimensions will come in handy later.
I searched for the meaning of bullery, and one internet definition was the following:
OK, then. It seems a bullery could have been a bath space. Am I correct?
It seems that this far north and with extreme cold, planting the garden presented quite a challenge. I love that he asked his father what he thought about which plants to set out now, and asked Charles to send two or three hundred plants(2) if he could spare them. Unsure at first where Josiah’s parents lived, I checked the census records and found that Charles E. Smith and wife Mariah P. Bixby lived in Stockton, Portage, WI in 1880 and at the time of Charles’s death in 1893, he and Mariah lived in Plover, Portage, WI. Portage, WI is 226 miles due south of Ironwood, MI, a four and a half hour drive by today’s calculations.
I wonder how they packaged plants and/or vegetables for the mail back then. Burlap? Newspapers? Cloth? How long would that trip have taken, and how many plants likely survived the trip?
Paragraph three is written by Helen, my great, great grandma. When I realized I had a glimpse of not only Josiah but of Helen, I was overjoyed. It is nearly impossible to know who they were, what they liked, how they felt, and how they lived from what a record can reveal (my very goal with this blog is to bring them to life for my children). This again is icing on the cake. Helen was a busy woman and to keep over 40 different kinds of house plants(3) shows the determination to bring in some beauty.
Finally, I think I’ve got it. Helen drops a clue about their home: “we have a double window in our front room facing the south” (4) My jaw dropped open when I read her description of where the house plants do best. I rechecked the homes on the north side of North. Tell me what you think:
The home Josiah built was probably one of the three center homes on this, now Evans Street (once named North Street; see Letter #5 for how this was determined).
Looking at windows, the two story home on the left might have a double. It’s difficult to be certain since each photo is blurry and there is some sort of lattice on the porch. Since Josiah did not mention a second floor in the home, my guess is the left home here was not theirs.
Here are more views of the remaining home behind the red truck (in the home on the far right there is no double window; not only that, it appears to have an upstairs/attic).
Based on the 1892 Ironwood directory listing of the family’s residence (in Letter #5), Helen’s description of the south facing window, and Josiah’s dimensions of the home (above and in Letter #4), my guess is that this–the home with the lone bush in front, the one with the red truck–is the house my great, great grandfather built. (Of course, it’s entirely possible this could be the same location but with a different house, the original having been rebuilt. As of this writing, even though Google guesses, I was unable to read a house number and therefore determine the year this house was built. I’m not done yet; I’ll keep trying.)
Finally, I wasn’t sure about Nell and John(5) until I delved further into the family of Charles E. and Mariah Bixby Smith. Nell, or Nellie, is one of Josiah’s sisters who was married to John D. Lytle. Nellie’s sister Alice married John’s brother George Lytle. I recall my grandma Lalla and her sister Hazel mentioning the Lytle family in Tacoma, and they appear several times in Orah’s letters. I have photos of James Hamlin Lytle, wife Cora, and their daughters Frankie and Ida Lytle, descendants Alice Smith and George Lytle, in my large collection.
NEXT: Letter #7. Where Helen worked and how much she earned per week, who was living with the family that year, how they spent Christmas, what burned down after two fires, and a surprising skill of their daughter, Orah.
I found myself giggling like a kid when researching this one, had to force my eyebrows down. It was an “Oh, goodie!” moment, and I thought, “this is too much fun.”
Today I share #5 of 14, letters written by my great, great grandfather Si Smith from Ironwood, Michigan beginning in 1889. The reason he changed his name and my mistake (anyone catch it?) can be found in Letter #4. Onward.
I decided to backtrack a bit when I discovered these letters (in my very own house). I’d already started a series about Josiah’s daughter Orah called The Malevolent Matriarch, largely because I discovered she was unkind, but also for the gift they contain. Orah wrote hundreds of letters in the 40s and 50s–unwittingly preserving our family history and gifting us with a glimpse of my father’s childhood–for which I am grateful, but I’ll get back to great grandma.
For now, I am stepping back a generation to share Josiah’s letters as he wrote them, leaving spaces between ideas. I am highlighting in red new or interesting facts which I discuss below, and each paragraph is a page. I had a lot of fun with this one; enjoy!
“June 1889 Josiah June 2/89 to be addressed to Helen
answered June 18 Ironwood Mich June 2 1889
Dear Father and Mother, Yours of the 11th of May I rec’d about the time I mailed one to you. Your letter found us usualy well with the exceptance of Orah she had a bad time with her throat her toncils were so swelled that you could not hardly understand her the doctor said that an ulcer formed on her toncil but she is all right again now we have been having very cold weather here for the last 10 days and it aint over yet the ground has frozen here(1) 2 or 3 nights we have over 100 cabbage set out but I am afraid I will have to sit out the most of them
again they look yellow my beets have stood the cold pretty well I have peas that stand 4 inches high they look well in spite of cold weather. I am glad you did not send those plants this spring If I had been ankious about them I should have written for them but I found when I began to dig up our garden that there was to many roots and stones in it to do much with it till fall I think I should set things out here in Sept so they could get a start in the fall our ground here never freezes in the winter(1) the snow comes before it has a chance so you can have your vegetables in the ground all winter and they will be better than they would be in the cellar. I am at work in Hurley(2) and probily will for the next 6 weeks we are
a theatre there 110 by 50 we have it nearly enclosed but there will be a good deal of nice work to be done inside and will take a good deal of time(2) we were sorry to hear that ma had been sick but glad to hear she was better Lew’s folks were here last Sunday they are all well but Ida’s hands are fearful sore she is taking hoods sarsparoula and so am I(3) I have not been feeling well all the spring but I think the medicine is going to help me Ida has taken one bottle and she says she feels better than she has for 2 years. I came near forgetting to tell you what we are the most interested in just now they are making a road in front of our house(4) they have never done anything to it since we built here we built on a back
street right among the timber but now there ant any timber within 80 rods (?) of us we are going to have sidewalks(4) so it will be nice. There is a good deal of building being done in Hurley now there was a good deal done here early in the season but it is a little dull now but I must close for tonight it is bedtime love to all I close for this time write soon J A Smith and Helen Direct your letter to Helen Smith your last letter we got from had been opened before we got it.
1. Josiah writes on page one the ground has frozen here, but says on page two it never freezes in the winter. Living this close to Lake superior presented significant gardening challenges; he was right, however, that the snow acts as a protective cover. Folks in the nursery business in the Pacific Northwest–prior to times of bitter cold–water plants sitting outside to form an ice layer for protection. I wonder how many winters they endured losing plants before the ancestors learned that one. No wonder people were skinny.
2. Josiah once again mentions the theatre in Hurley, with dimensions of 110 by 50. The theater that came up in my search was the Mabel Tainter in Menomonie, WI. I assumed this was the theater Josiah helped build. I guessed Menomonie and Hurley were close by. I was wrong; they are not. Josiah’s comment a good deal of nice work to be done inside made me smile. Hoping to find photos of the inside, I searched further and, not only is the inside quite ornate, the place is haunted. What a great blog post this will make, I thought. Oh, my.
As I dug a little deeper I could not get the Menomonie theater out of my mind (and while I’d like to think that’s the good researcher in me, maybe it’s more a matter of following my gut). I learned that the theater in Menomonie was too far away for Josiah to have as a steady job. After a quick message to Rita, the Chamber of Commerce event coordinator in Hurley, I learned there had been a fire in a theater in Hurley and one was rebuilt in 1889. Bingo!
11 April, 2016
Thank you for the email.
We have a history book here titled “ Early Hurley “, which tells of the great fire of 1887 in which the Alcazar Theatre burned down. It was reopened in 1889. Maybe that is what you are looking for? Hope this information helps.
Marketing & Events Coordinator Hurley Chamber of Commerce
Josiah had likely worked on the Alcazar Theater which was rebuilt in 1889. The distance between where my ancestors lived in Ironwood and Hurley proper was less than a mile.
The Alcazar Theater became the Klondike Theater but burned down again in 1901: http://www3.gendisasters.com/wisconsin/16978/hurley-wi-klondike-theatre-fire-nov-1901
More on the Klondike fire: http://www3.gendisasters.com/wisconsin/16978/hurley-wi-klondike-theatre-fire-nov-1901
3. As mentioned in previous letters, Ida was Josiah’s sister, and she was married to Lew Seeber. The two families lived close enough to share meals and for the cousins to spend time together. Lewis Seeber and wife Ida Smith Seeber:
I found it quite interesting that both Josiah and Ida used sarsaparilla tonic as a medicine given that today, it appears there are many benefits. What do you think they knew back then about this product? One purported benefit was to help arthritis, I’m guessing the reason for Ida’s fearful sore hands. It is interesting that both siblings were helped by this product. I wonder how it helped Josiah. The link below is a current overview of this product.
4. As you may have noticed, geography for me ties together visually the what, when, and where of my ancestors’ activities. When Josiah wrote about building their home, I had to see if I could find the where.
Shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I reasoned, to find where they once lived since the family appeared with an address in the Ironwood city directory for 1892 (see Smith, J A…carpenter, res n s North bet Lawrence and Albany).
Turns out, this became a sharp thorn in my side: I was unable to find North Street. At first I thought it was a printing error, that the family lived on Norrie St, not North, since Norrie crosses between Lawrence and Albany (the red arrow below points to Albany). I also found a Northland Avenue and my excitement grew until I saw that Northland does not cross between Lawrence and Albany; the red dotted line shows no cross street.
Now what? When in doubt and if Google is no help, it’s best to ask someone in the know:
14 June, 2016
It’s amazing to me, still, in spite of that last quarter mile. It’s one of those things that catches people’s attention, even though they might not try it themselves. It could be the act itself or the timing. Regardless, I’m still in awe. It was our vacation Day #3, the reason for this trip, and it was FABULOUS.
We hike in Oregon on a regular basis, and over the past few years, we’ve seen several old fire towers; in fact, The Husband likes to choose our hikes based on whether there’s a tower up top. Returning to a certain spot in Montana had long been on his bucket list but I didn’t hear about it until more recently. At first I thought, “What are the chances?” He learned last year that someone there organizes hikes of this very area, including Mt. Henry. By the time he found out, it was too late to plan a trip.
Well. He’s never been one to give up.
While in college The Husband was the lookout in a fire tower one summer–about seven miles from the Canadian border–for three weeks. It was a summer job with the Forest Service for which he came all the way from Pennsylvania. The destination: Mt. Henry, Montana (P.O. Box: In The Sticks). Nearest
town area: Yaak.
The eye wear takes us back a bit as does the car, but that’s another post. Answering a Penn State ad, these adventuresome college boys headed west. They were 20 years old and the year was 1968.
This year’s vacation location turned out to be Montana. We were going to see The Husband’s fire tower atop Mt. Henry. Wondering where Yaak is located, I checked a few maps and see it is quite close to the Canadian border. Do you see Yaak in the center near the top?
Here’s a closer view below. The top red X is Yaak, the bottom red X is Sylvanite. The Ranger Station back then–where he lived when not in the tower, when he worked on the roads–was located in Sylvanite. The arrow points to Mt. Henry. The horizontal line near the top is the border, and the area is in the Kootenai National Forest.
We looked for the Ranger Station in Sylvanite and found a few remnants:
And, finally, Mt. Henry is on the right of this map and Yaak at the bottom.
The reason for this trip: to see the fire tower where The Husband worked in 1968. The hike: eight and a half miles.
July 29, 2017; the day was finally here. We rose early and had breakfast at The Dirty Shame Saloon. You read that correctly (and, while the Yaak dining choices are few, it didn’t disappoint. Click the link to see Chef Floyd’s plate-sized huckleberry pancakes).
After breakfast, we met in front of the Yaak, Mercantile (across the street from The Dirty Shame) at 9:00 a.m.–we were Mel, Edwin, Jessie, Amy, Heidi, The Husband, and myself. Oh, and Juan, Heidi’s dog–to caravan to the trail head. After meeting everyone, I had a really good feeling about this hike. I felt energized. I was very glad we decided to go.
I used to backpack and hike and run for exercise. Crabby knees and achy feet now slow me down, but I refuse to sit home and watch life pass me by. With brand new custom inserts, I was ready.
And, nervous. When The Husband was here in 1968, he came across a mama bear and her three cubs ON THIS VERY TRAIL. I’d heard this story many times, and, while he knew to back away and did so without incident, it can go horribly wrong. We reviewed bear safety before the hike, but I was still nervous.
It was with trepidation that I hit the trail, but to my delight, no more than 10 minutes in, I realized something that blew my fears out of the water. We were seven and a half (there is safety in numbers), we were chatty (bears don’t like noise), and three of us had bear spray (no guarantee but I felt a helluva lot better having it). Once I relaxed about our furry neighbors, I was able to enjoy this beautiful hike. I could sense I was with a fabulous group of people and I wanted to get to know them. I hung on to that good feeling. And, oh, what a beautiful area.
Several rests were much appreciated.
Part way up we found the most delightful lake.
Here is that same ridge 49 years earlier, and a view of the lake from the ridge top.
As we hiked along I was quite impressed by the passion I heard from my hiking companions. Passion for the environment, that is. Several of them, maybe most, are part of a group, work for a group, or volunteer with a group whose aim is to protect and preserve the Montana wilderness. I happily hiked along, kept an eye out for bears, but smiled as we ascended, impressed by their passion, knowing this land is in good hands.
Before I realized it we were near the top. I knew the last quarter mile would be steep, but didn’t know the hike was rated “difficult.” I so appreciate the team effort in the group to stay together. These people are caring hikers and I smile now to think of their good hearts.
We hike on a regular basis. I have done “difficult” hikes. The final ascent was a challenge, but once I found a tree and dehydrated myself, and once we began to see portions of the tower–THE REASON FOR THIS TRIP–I could not contain my excitement. I paced myself and kept moving. I would see that tower, I would go inside, I would see the look on The Husband’s face, 49 years later.
It was impressively breathtaking and worth every single step, now and then:
The door was “secured” with a loose board, so, we took advantage:
A bit windy up top, Jessie had to spot Mel so Mel could get the next photos of Bruce and I up top:
And, while up top, I spied Edwin enjoying the view:
Here is the tower in 2017 and in 1968:
He did it; he made his way back 49 years later. He accomplished something he’d been wanting to do for a long time. It was a fabulous day on many levels. While up top, we lounged on the rocks for lunch, took a rest, and wandered to absorb the view. I took off my socks and boots, just because. And, of course, photos of each other:
And the best part: GROUP SHOTS!!!
While it was very tempting to stay, all good things must end. Besides, we knew we had something very appealing awaiting us down trail.
The trek down was just as lovely.
We each were ready for the cooling freshness of that beautiful lake; some swam, some dipped.
Shortly after, we reached the trail head once again, and, along with tired feet, I believe collectively refreshed and happy to have visited a gorgeous area and to have found new friends in these wonderful hikers. It was a dream come true for one and a beautiful hike for the rest. My cup is full.
Thank you all, new friends, for a fabulous day.
Photo courtesy: Heidi J., who graciously shared her photos of the day. Heidi took the group shots at the top. Thank you, Heidi! ❤
Hike: Organized by Jessie. Thank you, Jessie. ❤