Friday, December 19, 2014

Shopping Etiquette

My mom, Sybil Beck, was a fun-loving, but firm mother in many ways.  I was reminded of an incident that happened while shopping by a posted video on Face Book. The video was of a boy who looked about five or six years old, ramming a shopping cart into the person in front of the boy and his mom with one of those mini-shopping carts. The man being assaulted tried several times to push the cart and child away with gentle shoves and redirections, but the child returned to use his battering ram. Meanwhile, the mother seemingly unconcerned, allowed the youth to repeatedly push the cart into the other shopper.
Finally, the man had enough and reached into the child’s cart and removed a small carton of milk. Then he proceeded to open it and dump part of the contents onto the boys upturned and smiling face. The smile disappeared and so did the child. The mother, apparently insulted by the male shopper’s lack of decorum, grabbed her child’s hand and left the area.

My mother would never have permitted it to go that far. The incident that I thought of was a shopping trip at a large grocery store. My brother, Ken, was pushing the cart. It was something that he liked to do and Mom allowed him. I think he got bored because it was a large store and Mom had a long list, because he began to drive the cart from side to side in the aisle instead of driving in a straight line.
Soon, that wasn’t enough and looked for other ways to amuse himself. What he settled on was to lag behind, then charge ahead. At the last moment, he would leap into the air and slam his shod feet onto the buggy’s back two wheels laying black rubber wheel tracks onto the tile floors. Mom didn’t notice what was happening behind her until she turned o place something in the cart and caught him in the act. When she looked behind him, she saw that the entire aisle was a trail of black marks where Ken and the cart had been.
She took over control of the cart and warned Ken, “If you ever do that again, I will march you up front to the manager and have you clean the floors for him. Someone has to clean the floors at night and you are making his job harder.”
That put a stop to the grocery cart drag racer, although when my brother grew older, he did drag race souped up 1972 Dodge Demon. It was black with two white racing stripes from the air scooped hood across the top and back down the trunk. I would kid him that it looked like a skunk.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Even Gray Days 

Ice on black branches
becomes nearly translucent
in the thick, gray fog.

As I was driving home through a thick gray fog that had been lingering day and night for several days, I was feeling a bit down and out of sorts. There was only wan, filtered sunlight. The daytime was wrapped in a depressing gray cloak. I think that I was on the verge of giving in to the doldrums when I noticed that the cold temperature and the thick fog had transformed the black and bare branches to an icy crystal covering. The mist had draped itself on the limbs and made transient diamonds where there was once only coal hue.
The crystal of the ice hid the dark branches and made them almost transparent and invisible against the gray curtain of mist. Driving and seeing the spectacle from different angles developed into a kaleidoscope of ever-changing patterns. The shapes continued to change, but not the clear lack of color that covered the branches. It was remarkable. It changed my vision from the thinck blanket of fog to what the fog had created.
The scenes changed from tree to tree. Some were straighter while others were twisted and gnarled. The dark green leaves of the Mountain Laurel took on an impressive new color and sheen. Trees that still retained some of their leaves became a cascading fountain of shining brown heavy with the armor of ice.

It became apparent that so often we are distracted by the big things in life that we miss the beauty that is all around us. It is as easy as shifting our focus or looking at things from a different perspective. I marvel at what God can do with some cold air, a little water, and uplifted arms.

Monday, December 15, 2014


I recall so many things and they sometimes jumble together and not enough to link together as a post. So, I will circle the wagons around my uncle Amos Jacob Stahl and his wife Helen Irene Beck-Stahl. They were a good-hearted couple with six kids. George, Barbie (She calls me Tommy so I have to tease her with Barbie and not Barbara), Glenn, Dottie (Dorothy), Anna Gail, and Larry. Each paragraph may be just a short fleeting recollection with Jake , Helen, and family as the only thread.
Their home was perched on a hillside above Indian Head, Pennsylvania. The kids would spread out in the town, playing with their friends. When it was time to eat or for the kids to be home, Jake would stand on the side porch and bellow. It could be heard everywhere in town and kids would head for home.
Helen was an extremely clean person. With all of the kids, I think it was nearly impossible, but she did chores like washing, ironing, baking, etc set for specific days. On top of that she had a room that she did what we would call a “spring cleaning” for each day. She had a little ball of a belly that would jump and shake when she laughed and always dressed to the nines when she left the house, high heels, purse, and pearls.
Jake was an excellent stone mason. Built like a small tank, he was robust, rotund, and had short legs. His always drove an Oldsmobile automobile. The combination of the shortness of his legs and the size of the steering wheel, he ended up with a worn area on the front of his pants. To provide for his family, he moved to Orlando, Florida so that he could work year-round.
I recall stories of the kids taking coal shovels and cardboard to sled ride in the winter while they lived in Pennsylvania. The story was told that they took off their shoes and had them beside the road as they sledded. The snow plow came through and many of the shoes couldn’t be found until the spring thaw.
Once when our family visited for a meal, there were no mashed potatoes left. Jake placed slices of bread on our plates and we were introduced to “gravy bread.”
Helen was struck by lightning. I believe it was three times. Her favorite footwear, like the kids, was bare. They had a small, uncovered, concrete back porch-stoop. She would go out there to shake rugs etc. That is where the nearby strikes jolted her.
When I was stationed in Orlando as a naval corpsman, they would be offended if I didn’t visit every weekend that I was free. It was a bus ride for me to their home, but I was always made welcome. I wanted to pass these memories that I have as a tribute and a thank you to Helen, Jake, and their family.

Friday, December 12, 2014


There are so many unassociated and disassociated ideas vying for my attention this morning, but none are actually long enough to write with any length and many may think that is a good idea. So I will randomly write about things that press.

The first is that I woke to the fragrant and spicy aroma of my venison jerky curing in the dehydrators. It wasn’t finished and the smells had my breakfast appetite whetted. I settled for some hash brown potatoes and a cup of tea.
I did break out some ibuprophen. I was sore from hunting and walking yesterday with my brother. My hips, ankles, and knees were glad to get in out of the cold, windy, snow covered hills of Somerset County.  We did see some deer and one of the guys with us was able to shoot one.
The package to my son, Andrew and his family is on it’s way to Amarillo, Texas and I am sending a birthday card today for Celine and later in this month is my daughter-in-law Renee’s birthday. So, I will hunt for a card for her. I am not a Hallmark junkie like some, but I have to find a card that is what I want to say, inside and out.
Tomorrow, if the snow holds, I may break out the cross country skies and shuffle around my yard to try them out. They were only $5.00 at a yard sale for the skis, poles, and the boots. I should get my money’s worth, even if I make one circuit of my yard.
This year has certainly gone by fast. In a way I think it is because I don’t have the daily routine of employment days to measure the time. Days swiftly turn into weeks then months without the marking of days.
Sally is an active octogenarian and when I wrote my one story, she read the love scene. It was on the beach and she said, “They would have made love in the water. No one wants sand in their crack.” Well, she invited our writers group to her house for a Christmas party today. I made a “Sand” dessert for her, decorated with “beach” umbrellas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Venison Cornucopia
This year I was able to get an eight point buck during the Pennsylvania antlered deer season. It was close to my home place, just along Poplar Run Road. I was glad that I didn’t have to trudge too far off the roadway, I sprained my ankle more than a month ago and I still have pain in the joint. As long as I am careful, it isn’t bad, but the strength to keep it from happening again on the uneven surface of the woods isn’t there. I don’t want to reinjure it.
Another good thing is that my brother has an ATV quad and I didn’t have to drag the heavy carcass too far. Those off road machines are great for older guys like me. It’s not that I mind the exercise, but there is a small leap to a heart attack with the heavy towing.
Ken, my brother, and I hauled the buck back to an outbuilding on his property. We hung it on a lift and peeled off its hide to let it hang and cool before I would take it home to butcher.
I spent most of the past two days cutting up the carcass and wrapping it to freeze. I butcher my own deer, because I want to be sure that I get the same deer, the same amount of meat back, and a deer that hasn’t sat around unrefrigerated for days. I remove the meat from the bones before I cut the meat. Deer bones are brittle and often will shatter when cut by a band saw. If the bones don’t shatter, the saw makes a “saw dust” of ground bone that I don’t like either.
I remove the inedible bits and hair. Some butcher shops are careless in these things. If I find anything that I don’t like, I know who to blame. I got almost fifty pounds of steak and “chunk meat.” Chunk meats are the smaller pieces of venison, too small for steaks. I sometimes cold pack it, grind it and make it into bologna or sausage. This year, I decided to freeze it in bags with smaller portions.
There were some pieces that I cut specifically and put aside to use for jerky. Yesterday, I made the marinade for the venison strips, poured it over the orts of meat in gallon bags, and placed them in the cold on my back porch to allow the flavors to permeate the meat. This evening, I will start to dehydrate it.
My mom bought two smaller dehydrating “ovens” that holds several racks. The low level of heat slowly dries the meat, vegetables, or fruits placed inside.
The leftover scraps don’t go to waste either. I could have cooked everything in a large spot and made a meat pudding like my ancestors, but I stated over the last few years to put all of the inedible bits into the rib cage cavity and hang it in a tree at the edge of my property. It looks more like Halloween, but for the crows, ravens, and the blue jays it’s Thanksgiving with the rib cage being a cornucopia of fresh food for them.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Gray Skies

There are times that gray skies make me feel sad and depressed. Not as in a clinical depression, but more like I feel down. It is more so since my wife, Cindy, has passed. Many times I really don’t notice the skies, either I am inside writing, taking a nap, or my daughter is home and that keeps me busy. But when the gray skies have sleet or snow, or rain, I do notice because they tap on the windows to get my attention.

The intensity and hues vary with the type of weather. It can range from a silver-white with a misty rain to a dark gray from ice and snow laden winter clouds. They can appear as almost a midnight blue of a spring thunderstorm to a sickly gray-green of possible tornado weather.
Some days it’s smooth and one solid color as though it had been spray painted or rolled on. There are days when it looks like swirls of cotton candy. Broken clouds look as though they were spread through the sky with a palette knife, thick, patchy, and broken.
Gray clouds may by wispy, like a veil of tightly woven spider webbing, barely concealing the sun. The very solid and dark clouds seem almost oppressive, hanging low and swallowing up Old Sol.

One scene that I always love is a stand of trees that can be seen from my front porch. In the spring and summer the green of the leaves hide the nakedness of their branches and trunks. In the autumn, the colors blaze against the background sky, but my favorite happens infrequently. It is when the leaves have all fallen and before the snow decides to blanket them. The clouds are a deep gray-blue and as the sun sets, it lights up the front of those trees. Their nearly white trunks almost glow, framed by the cobalt of the sky behind. It is a glorious thing to behold. I watch until the bark darkens and the sun disappears.
Gray clouds can bring me down if I allow it or they can be a thing of great beauty, It is my interpretation of what I see and how I internalize it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Managing a Manger

Today, I decided to break out of my lazy mode and get busy. I got up early and was able to get an eight point buck. Taking it to my brother’s place, we skinned it and hung it to cool in one of the out buildings. While we skinning it, I got a call from my daughter that there had been a cancellation and if I could go at 10:45, they could fit me in. I said yes and went with blood stains and mud spattered jeans.
When I got home, I began the renovation of a plywood manger scene. I had cutouts of Mary holding Jesus, a standing Joseph, two sheep, and the manger. I made them about twenty-five years ago. They decorated my yard each Christmas, but stopped when they began to fade and get worn looking. They have been tucked in my basement for almost fifteen years.
They weren’t good enough to display and because they were handmade by me, I couldn’t throw them out. I’ve been eying them for most of last week and decided it was time to refurbish them and stake them out for this Christmas season.
One sheep was beyond repair and I used my jigsaw to cut another. Spreading them out in the basement, I went from one to another repainting the figures. The hues weren’t quite the same, but it wasn’t necessary to match them, I painted over them with the new colors. The original palette was chosen from small amounts of the leftover cans of paint that I hadn’t thrown away.
Mary is sitting, holding a swaddled baby Jesus. Her dark hair and dark blue robe, highlights the holy infant. Joseph is standing holding his staff in brown and green robes, his face vivid against his black hair and beard. The two sheep are painted white with black faces, one is lying down and the other is standing.
Tomorrow, I hope to build a triangular background to support Mary and Joseph. They are taller and need support to stay erect in the wind. I’ll fasten them to the triangle to be more solid and to remain standing against the wind. At the apex, I have a light up star and two solar spotlights to illuminate the scene.