Sweet Grit

Lisa Sweet Cambridge is a communications professional writing about all that retirement brings to her life ... some of it is sweet and some requires grit.

Friday, October 21, 2016

New England - Stepping Back in Time

During the first week in October, Dan and I spontaneously took a trip to New England. Spontaneity isn't exactly at the core of who we are ... we don’t usually buy plane tickets on a Sunday for a flight that leaves in a week nor is it our normal approach to vacation planning to arrange hotel accommodations for only one night out of six and then take each day as it comes. But, then, life for us right now isn’t exactly normal.

So, that’s what we did … bought plane tickets, rented a car and took off across New England. It was fabulous! We couldn't have chosen a better time to participate in "leafpeeping," track ancestors and visit friends.

Day 1 – Monday, Oct. 3

We arrived in Providence/Warwick, R.I., on the evening of Monday, Oct. 3, and spent the night at a Best Western located directly across the street from the airport. This was the one advance reservation we made. Glad we did, because our connecting flight had been delayed several hours and we weren’t going to do any sightseeing. All we wanted was a place to lay our heads. The Best Western Airport Warwick was more than sufficient for our needs – a decent bed and a free breakfast.

Day 2 – Tuesday, Oct. 4
Matteson Family Cemetery – Earliest Known Grave of Sweet Ancestor
First on our agenda was to locate the gravesite of one of my Sweet ancestors. Thanks to my sleuth husband, we were able to locate the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery No. WGO76 in West Greenwich where there is documentation of the grave of Mary Griffin Sweet. Mary is my sixth great-grandmother, born 1662 and died 1751. The Matteson family cemetery is located in the woods on farmland outside West Greenwich.


Mary Sweet
2 May, 1752

We took a dirt road until we saw a walking path that went downhill into the woods. That path forked and fortunately we took the right (and correct) fork to find the cemetery. The gravestones are primitive with only initials and date of death. It is very difficult to read and most of them only show the top 12 inches or so of the headstone But, we found her!

Look closely and you can see the engraved MS. The picture doesn't do it justice, but at ground level, you can also see her date of death: May 2, 1752.

There is no record of her husband’s, my sixth great grandfather, Captain Henry Sweet, burial in this cemetery or any other place, nor any record of his date of death. He most likely served in the Army of the King and during the Indian uprisings. He sired his last child in 1711, so perhaps he was killed in service during Queen Anne's War. That's just a wild guess with nothing to document it.

Another educated guess is that Mary was buried in the Matteson cemetery because she lived with at one of her three daughters, Alice, Ruth or Hannah, all of who married Matteson brothers. Alice and Ruth were twins and Hannah was the youngest child of Henry and Mary.

The Sweets’ First Stomping Grounds in America

Our second stop was in Providence to trace our ancestor who brought our branch of the Sweet family to America, John Sweet. In 1631, John and his family of four (wife and three small children) sailed from Devonshire, England, to Narraganset Bay. John is my eighth great-grandfather. This Sweet family along with about 20 other people were part of the religious freedom movement and settled in Providence with Roger Williams, founder of the Baptist Church.

Williams granted 6-acre lots of land to those families. John Sweet’s lot is where Rhode Island’s Old State House, the original capitol, is now situated. (See Lot # 18, Map of Providence Home Lots). Of course, we stopped in and I tried to claim back rent, but they weren't in the least bit intimidated.
Map of Providence Home Lots
Rhode Island Old State House
(located on the site of John Sweet's home in 1637)

Artist's rendering of homebuilding by the first settlers of Providence
For interested Sweet family members: John Sweet was married to Mary Periam (or Westcott; there is some discrepancy between sources as to her last name). They had three children, John, James and Meribah. (There is also a reference to a child named Thomas who died when he was 6 years old, before the family migrated to America.)

John Sweet I died in 1637. His wife, Mary, our eighth great-grandmother, remarried within a year of John I’s death to Ezekiel Holiman who, by the way, had received the grant to Lot #25. Records show that a disposition of John's Providence land took place in 1638 due to “moved to Warwick.” Sons John and James (who would have been 18 and 14 years of age) did indeed settle in Warwick where John (our seventh great-grandfather) subsequently built a grist mill, married Elizabeth Jeffries (Jeoffries) and had nine children. All but one lived to adulthood, which is remarkable for that time.

A quick Sweet ancestral summary:
  • John Sweet and family arrived at Narraganset Bay, Mass., in 1631 and moved from there to Salem to Providence where he died in 1637.
  • His son, John, moved to Warwick, R.I., built a grist mill and married Elizabeth Jeffries. They had nine children, one of which was Henry Sweet.
  • Henry married Mary Griffin and they had 13 children. There is documentation that 12 of them lived to adulthood. Again, rare for that time.
  • Mary is buried in Matteson Family Cemetery near West Greenwich, R.I.

From Providence, Dan and I drove to Plymouth, Mass., home of Plymouth Rock and Plimouth Colony which will be covered in my next blog. This historical city has significant meaning for the Sweet's Pilgrim ancestors who came to America on the Mayflower.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tender but tough.

Two years ago today our mother, Mary Lewellwyn Gwaltney Sweet, completed her journey on earth and joined our dad and brother in Heaven. I don't look on this as a sad day, but rather a day of triumph for her. She accomplished much during her lifetime and deserves her rest.

I think of her every single day. Today, in her memory, I am sharing the tribute written by my sister, Eva Sweet.  I had the honor of delivering this at Mother's funeral. For those of you who knew her, I hope this tribute will bring back memories of just who Mama Lew was and maybe remind you of some little piece of her that you may carry within you.

Remember This.
Mother. Mama Lew. Mrs. Sweet. Lew.

Regardless of how you knew her, you had one name for her. And you didn’t waiver in your use of that name. The only person with the privilege of calling her by more than one name was our dad – Kid, Mommy Doll, Lew, Lewellwyn. Name choice was situational and dependent on what he wanted. The name you used, defined your relationship with her and will define your memories.
In her final weeks, she was conflicted by certainty and uncertainty – certainty that the end was near but uncertainty about when and how and then what. She was anxious to get going, but not quite ready to leave.

As her last day neared, her wishes became clearer … to be reunited with our dad and our brother.
But, she had a few requests that exemplified how she approached life and would guide how she approached death. A simple casket – “Don’t let them prey on your emotions and sell you something expensive.” A closed casket – she didn’t want people looking at her. No gaudy funeral-looking flowers. And, in true understated Lew-like fashion, she asked that we say something nice about her.

This was her way: no fanfare … no extravagance … no fuss … no carrying on. Keep it brief and practical. Don’t get too sappy. Simplicity and truth. And something slightly unexpected.
This is how she lived. This is how she died.

A product of the Great Depression, she accepted adversity as a way of life. When asked about living through the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, she brushed it off.  “It was hot. It was dusty. It’s just the way it was. We didn’t know any better.”
Despite her beauty, she lived her life on the edge of the shadows … preferring to be seen but not noticed. She provided support to our dad’s success in the livestock industry. She was his confidante, his muse, his timber of strength, his partner in adventure. By his side, she saw the world, traveling to nearly all 50 states and more than 40 countries.

It was in those shadows that she reared four children and taught by example about responsibility and loyalty and humility and modesty and restraint and resourcefulness and discipline. There was no question in our home about Saturday chores, making your bed every day, attending church two times on Sunday and once on Wednesday, doing the dishes on our assigned night. There was also no question about love, despite our apparent reserved and stoic nature.
By her example, we knew …
… if there is work, just do it.… if there is crisis, just deal with it.… if there is adventure, just go with it.… if there is still life to be lived, just live it.
When she entered a room, she unknowingly turned heads with her quiet confidence.

When life threw her a tragedy, she surprised us with her fortitude … although we shouldn’t have been surprised.
She ruled her home with discipline. She listened with intensity. She entertained with flair. She loved our dad with passion. She never failed to remind us of the things we already knew but had perhaps lost sight of. She met others with insight. (Did you ever notice how when she made a new acquaintance, instead of shaking hands and saying, “it’s nice to meet you,” she said, “It’s nice to know you,” because in that moment she had checked you out and sized you up, and, indeed, she knew you.)

But here is the one thing for her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to know, to teach, to carry forward for generations. Remember this: Be tender but tough. You’ve seen it in her but not noticed it. You understand without explanation what it means. It’s time to notice it. It’s time to hold it in your heart every day.
This is how she lived. This is how she died. This is what she wanted us to be. Tender but tough. It is her legacy. It will be ours, too.

--Eva Sweet, August 31, 2014

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pie Perfection

My goal this summer is to make a pie (from scratch) using every fresh fruit … well, not all in the same pie, of course.  And, using only fruits I like. So, that limits the possibilities somewhat, but has already exceeded the number of pies that I have made in my entire lifetime.
Peach. Check!
Apple. Check!
Lemon. Check!
Cherry. Check!
Assorted berries. Check!
Strawberry. Check!
Every single pie baking exercise has presented its own unique challenges.  
The lemon meringue was too soupy – had to eat it with a spoon.  

The cherry pie required pitting cherries (duh!), but in my case without a cherry pitter. I thought a fondue fork might work until I stabbed my thumb with it. Turned out that the best solution was the big end of a chopstick.
The assorted berry pies (more appropriately should be called tarts) – well, I forgot to set the timer on the oven, started talking on the phone, and voila!  -- tarts were a little overdone resulting in berries that were very dark and a little dry. However, covering them with a large blob of whipped topping or ice cream eliminated having to look at the berries, and they tasted super.

The peach and apple pies were divine on the inside, but the crusts were a challenge. Crusts are always a challenge!
Yesterday, I made a strawberry pie and I nailed it! My crust was perfect and I’m going to share how I did it.

I started with a recipe given to me by Dan’s dear departed Aunt Ruby, who grew up on a farm in Iowa when everything was made from scratch. Her pies were always fabulous. However, using her recipe, I wasn’t quite getting it. Something in my technique or touch must have been wrong because it just wasn’t flaky enough. And, I never seemed to have enough dough to make a double-crusted pie, top and bottom. I imagine that was because back in the day, pie pans were only eight inches.  Mine are all nine inches.  So, I made a few adjustments and my AARP (Adjusted Aunt Ruby’s Pie) crust recipe is below.
But, first a few tips:

·         You can use only Crisco or only butter, but some combination of the two is better. I go with ½ and ½.
·         While you’re sifting the flour, sugar and salt, let the Crisco sit in the freezer. Five minutes should do it. And make sure your butter is cold. Everything must be cold!
·         An easy way to measure the Crisco, if you aren’t using premeasured bars, is to fill a 2-cup glass measuring cup with cold water to the 1 1/8 c. line. Add the 6 T of butter and then add enough Crisco until the water line hits the 2-cup mark.
·         Let your 3/8 c. of cold water sit with ice cubes in it for a few minutes. Again, everything must be cold.
·         The vinegar is critical. Don’t leave it out just because it sounds weird.
·         If you leave the dough ball in the refrigerator much longer than 30 minutes, it will get quite hard. That’s okay because it will soften as you roll it out. But, just beware. I thought I had ruined mine and almost tossed it in the trash.
·         When you roll out the crust, don’t skimp on the flour. It’s okay and your dough won’t stick.
·         If you’re making a single crust pie shell and don’t have pie weights, use beans. Or, until I purchased pie weights,  I used coins that I stole from my shoe-shopping jar, wrapped in foil.

AARP Crust
2 ½ c. flour
2 ½ t. sugar
1 ¼ t. salt
½ c.  Crisco
3/8 c. butter (=6 tablespoons)
1 egg
2 ¼ t. white vinegar
3/8 c. cold water

·         Mix and sift dry ingredients in large mixing bowl.
·         About a tablespoon at a time, cut butter and Crisco into flour mixture.  
·         In small bowl, mix egg, vinegar and water.
·         Stir egg mixture gradually in to flour/butter and mix until it forms a ball.
·         Wrap dough in saran wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Now, I just need to master the technique of making the rim pretty once I place it in the pie plate.  If anyone has tricks or tips, I’ll gladly listen.
As I mentioned, I’ve made more pies this summer alone than in my entire lifetime. Since beginning chemo, Dan has a real sweet tooth. We now always keep desserts in the house. And, since I retired, it just seems only right that I make them all from scratch.  Well, all except the stash of vanilla wafers that we always have on hand.  

I’ve also discovered the best whipped topping ever. Another side effect of Dan’s chemo treatments is lactose intolerance. And, I endured the Whole 30 diet a couple of months ago. Since then, I too have removed most dairy products from my diet. The best solution for whipped topping for pies is Coco-Whip by So Delicious. It is a coconut milk-based whipped topping and is divine!
Thank you for reading my blog. I lack a theme because I have so many topics I want to write about.  I might cover anything from cooking to gardening to sewing to tips for retirement (which I recently did and learned a lot about how to prepare for this new stage in life.  I’m still learning.) Perhaps some updated geneology for the Sweet/Gwaltney family. I’ll try to refrain from political commentary but, with the RNC and DNC right around the corner, I may not be able to keep my thoughts and sarcasm to myself.

To coin a phrase, I’m good at many things, but a master of nothing. Maybe that’s why I want so badly to “master” the perfect pie crust.

Please come back and God bless!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Let me just start out by saying -- I've never blogged before. I don't even know what I will say over the course of time. Hopefully, I'll surprise myself and have something interesting to put out there. Perhaps I'll surprise even you and make you a dedicated reader with some interest in the life of this ordinary gal who is recently retired and navigating a new phase of her life.

Despite a degree in journalism and a long and successful career in communications, I must tell you that I truly dislike writing, but I know that lately I'm being called to do this blog.  It's been gnawing at me for some time now. Every night when I lay down to go to sleep, the first thought that pops into my head is that I should get up and write something ... but what?

Maybe I do have some things to write about afterall. The question is ... is there anyone out there who would really care enough to read it? I guess I'll find out. Let's give it a shot, shall we?

Let me introduce myself. I am recently retired from a medical school in the Midwest where I served as the head of the communications department.  My husband and I have three children, four grandchildren, two dogs, three grand-dogs. I love to garden (newly found passion), cook, sew, crochet, knit, travel and read - just to name a few of the things that keep me busy. I don't like to write and I don't like to exercise, but I find that these are two necessities to remain sane. I'm also a cowgirl wannabe.

I consider myself very fortunate that I could retire early - I'm a few years premature of Medicare and traditional Social Security. My retirement was a more or less spontaneous move I made in March after my husband was diagnosed with stomach/esophageal cancer.Lots of factors played into our decision for me to retire and that is a blog in and of itself. (If you've ever seen the movie "Nell," this would be where she pokes me on the forehead with her index finger and says "you 'member dat!")

I'm not quite ready to get into why I've titled my blog "Sweet Grit." For now, suffice it to say that Sweet is my maiden name and a name that I'm quite proud of. However, this is the perfect day for "Beginnings" because it is my Mother's birthday. She would be 88 today. She's been gone for almost two years and I miss her "sweet grit" every day. Happy Birthday, Mama Lew! This is in your honor!