Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Hunting I Will Go
Monday morning, the first day of buck season, I went to my brother’s place for a day in the woods. It was a chilly twenty-one degrees. We were to hunt in opposite directions, but I needed to use his four wheeled ATV to get to the area to watch. The spot I wanted was about a mile back an old logging road filled with ruts, some of which were water filled. After parking it, I had to walk the last quarter of a mile to stand at the crest of a hill overlooking a flat bottom area with a promising area behind.
The sun was the first to greet me, peeking over the horizon with the promise of warmth in its coral glow. A frisky gray squirrel soon clambered down a tree, chirred and twerked its tail before scurrying down some fallen trees and disappearing in to the trees below me. Later, as I surveyed the woods, I saw a movement. It was one of the gray wraiths of Pennsylvania. A small doe was moving almost silently, no antlers. In a short period of time, two more ambled, browsing along the same path.
A hawk swooped up from the valley below, and settled in a tree in front of me. It surveyed the vale before flying on. Several crows flew overhead with their raucous calling. The woods quieted and I moved slightly to see behind a bit easier. I decided to sit on a wide, moss covered tree for a rest. After I settled, I saw movement again. Two more does, but they were moving in the opposite direction from the first three. Ambling ever closer, I scarcely dared to breathe. They took a few steps, then glanced around before nibbling at some plant. They walked past my perch only twelve yards away, before wandering off in another direction.
Later a spot of white caught my eye. It hadn’t been there earlier. My brother said there was an albino doe and that is what it was. There was also a buck travelling with her. I could hear him snort every so often. Today, she was protecting him as much as she was him. Each time they came into an open area, he was on her far side. When he wandered ahead of her, the brush was too thick to risk a shot. Slowly they meandered off.

Later, I got my buck. I think my brother chased it out as he came to check on me. Six points, but it was quite a haul to get it out. The hills were rocky, slippery, wet leaf covered and steep. Thank goodness, another logging road wasn’t too far away and the “impossible” journey was made just a bit easier.

Monday, November 28, 2016

This morning as hunters go off on their quests to bag a buck, I thought that I’d share this piece I wrote  several years ago.
Gray Ghosts of Pennsylvania
            I was reminded of these ghostly creatures as I drove home from my daughter Amanda’s home after eating a wonderful evening meal of roast beef, whipped potatoes, and corn.  There are several ways I could have driven, but I prefer to take the ones less traveled. At night, headlights from oncoming cars, especially those new bright-white ones, play havoc with my vision.
            As I drove along a straight-away that was forested on one side and scattered homes on the other, suddenly one of those ghosts appeared in my headlights, moving at breakneck speed, barely missing the front end of my car. One second it was there and the next, it had disappeared into the darkness outside the beams of my headlights. It was almost as though I’d imagined it, but my racing heart told me otherwise.
            My second reminder of these wraith-like creatures came last evening as I drove home after a meeting with friends, fellow writers, and a meal. I was again reminded of them by the sudden appearance and almost immediate disappearance of these woodland wraiths, twice on my journey home. Their reminders occurred at different, separate wooded areas.
            By now, you’ve probably guessed the identity of these beasts to be the Pennsylvania whitetail deer. A gentle creature in most folks eyes, but a beast that can wreak havoc with a vehicle, destroy a summer garden, or browse into oblivion the landscaping around homes. Almost silent, these herbivores wander through the forests and suburbs with equal ease.

            I do hunt, harvest, butcher, and eat their meat, actually preferring to do that that to purchase what is offered at the neighborhood stores. Their almost silent stealth-mode sometimes makes it difficult to locate them in the brown, leaf strewn woods. Their coloration camouflages them makes them difficult to see in the clutter and debris of the trees. Sleek and slender, juicy and tender, these are the gray ghosts of Pennsylvania.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

An advertisement on television shared the information that this year, The Grinch That Stole Christmas special would be celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of airing on the television. It is so hard to believe that this wonderful Dr. Seuss Christmas classic has been around as a part of the holiday season for that long. I can remember my kids spellbound and growing up to the message of the Grinch’s attempt to steal the joy of Christmas. He, of course failed, and finally joined the residents of Whoville, realizing the true spirit of Christmas. When the Grinch saw that Christmas was a celebration separate from the gifts, food, and decorations, he returned all the outward trappings that he had stolen, mistakenly thinking that they were the essence of the season.
One central character was named Cindy Lou Who. She was a major reason for the changing of the Grinch’s mind about the holiday. Her innocence did much to change the Grinch’s view of Christmas and for him to return the roast beast, the wreaths, and the assorted toys and gifts.
My wife’s name was Cynthia, but preferred to be called Cindy. Each Christmas she would get the additional moniker of Cindy Lou Who and it lasted until the last Jing Tingler, Flu Flooper, Who Hoover, Gar Ginker, and Trum Trumpet were unwrapped and enjoyed by the children.

Cindy Lou Who was put away after each Christmas and was resurrected as soon as The Grinch That Stole Christmas would march across the television set. Happy fiftieth anniversary to the Grinch, to Max his dog, and to Cindy Lou Who.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Food Storage
The memories of how my grandparents canned and stored food was sparked when I posted that I’d made three pies and a cranberry Jell-o salad. Someone asked, “How would I keep them fresh?” I explained that I have them stored on an unheated, closed in back porch. I recall that unheated parts of the older generations often used parts of their houses as refrigerators during the winter months: an unused stair well landing could be closed off, a back porch, or a room in the basement. Cold cellars and root cellars would keep things from spoiling for months.
Smoking meats was another way of storing meats. Sometimes salt and pepper was applied to the outside of hams, bacon, or ribs and hung in the smokehouse to be infused with the rich down-to-earth flavors of cherry or hickory smoke. The fumes of a smoldering fire were directed into a shack filled with the curing meats.
Bits and pieces of the butchered hogs were cut from the bones or collected orts of flesh too small to be part of a meal by themselves were processed through a meat grinder. The ground up pork was seasoned, mixed, then stuffed into the animal’s casing to make link sausage. Grandma would cut and fill mason jars with sausage links, then can them. She didn’t use canning lids like we do today, but topped the jars with zinc lids and a thick layer of lard. I can still remember seeing the pale grease about an inch thick covering the juicy sausage inside.
Later, when Grandma bought a freezer, everything changed. The farm’s harvested pork, beef and chickens were wrapped and frozen until they were needed. The smokehouse was repurposed for storage and the glass jars were used to can fruits and vegetables. The meat grinder was still kept busy making hamburger and sausage. The ground beef and sausage were made into patties and frozen.

The memories and flavors as well as the texture and richness of the canned sausage were lost. But that was the trade off for modern conveniences. Much of the cutting and saving the meat was hard work. Even as a youth, I can recall helping where I could. It was necessary for all to help to have food available for the family, only buying things that were an absolute necessity.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

It’s That Time of Year Again
Now that I am older, snow is just another four letter word. It’s appearing after such a long run of sunny warm days is an insult to my system. Some people despise the word, while others love it. Me, I just tolerate it, but not caring for the cold winds that accompanies it. It does seem strange that when we were children, the snow didn’t bother s nearly as much and we even looked forward to its return. The snow provided all the materials that we needed to build snowmen, snow forts, igloos, snow caves, have snowball fights and of course hours of sledding. Our play outfits were layer after layer of normal clothes almost to the point that they restricted breathing and limited movement.
When I was a kid, we didn’t own skis or snow boards. Sleds were a necessity. We were proud of our Flexible Flyers, but weren’t always satisfied, often trying to build toboggans from pieces of wood, straightened, used nails, and scraps of metal. The first toboggan I can recall helping to build started with a wide plank, a car’s steering wheel, and the chrome trim from several scrapped vehicles for runners. Constructing it was a formidable accomplishment. The bulky contraption did slide fairly well downhill, but it took all of us to tug and drag it back up the hill because of its weight. The toboggan wasn’t very pretty to look at and was of the Little Rascal, piecemeal design.
The second toboggan that we made several years later was much lighter. It was a ten feet long sheet of corrugated metal roofing. Curling back the one end, it made an almost perfect toboggan, light and speedy.

As kids, we would wake up to a snow storm and would huddle around the black and white television set, hoping and praying for a school cancelation. The anticipated announcement would give us a twenty-four hour reprieve from teachers, books, and homework. It allowed another day for us to revel in the winter wonderland.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Teenager Remembers
I shared a postcard today of Daytona Beach, Florida. It was bought the first time that we visited my uncle Amos Jacob and my aunt Helen Irene Stahl after the family moves from Indian Head, Pennsylvania to Orlando, Florida. Jake was a cement mason and with a family of six, it was difficult to make ends meet with seasonal work. My parents kept one daughter, Anna Gail here until she graduated her senior year from high school, but back to the story.
Back then, driving and parking on Daytona Beach was permitted. After visiting my uncle on Mercado Avenue, my dad decided that it was time to drive to the beach to see the ocean. My brother, Ken, my sister Kathy, and I were ecstatic, wearing our swim suits under our regular clothing and clutching towels in our arms. There were no seat belts to curb our enthusiasm and we would often sit forward in the back seat to look out of the windshield to look for our first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean.
After what seemed like hours, we were at the beach. Dad drove the car down onto the packed sand. As we started down the slope to the beach, what to my wandering eyes should appear….no not Santa, but I did see a dear. She was shapely and clad in a bikini, the first I’d ever seen. The bottom was just a swathe of cloth and the top seemed little more than bottle caps covering the tips of her breasts. It was a jarring sight for a teenage boy. At the beach, it became just another part of the beautiful scenery as other walked around similarly clad.

It wasn’t all fun and games. The day was overcast and being pale people of the north, I soon had a second degree sunburn covering my upper back. It actually made me ill and ruined the rest of the visit. On our way back to Pennsylvania, it did earn me a front seat where I could lean forward away from the seat and the torture of a brother and sister. In the back seat, my mom Sybil wasn’t a happy camper either, wedged between two kids and earned my dad, Carl, the nickname Zoom-zoom.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Rush Towards Madness
The rush toward madness continues this week. The past few weeks have been a jumble of rushing here and there with appointments for doctors and meetings with friends and fellows writers. I did share a few events but didn’t include the luncheon with fellow retired Frick Hospital nurses or the myriad of tests, doctor visits, and return to pick up medications for the deficiencies that some of my tests revealed. If I get much busier, I will sell my home and spend the time on the road and living out of my car. Sometimes that almost seems like a better alternative than trying to sort through the accumulated things in my home, deciding what to throw out, and what to keep and clean around.
Almost a month ago, I ordered a new couch and chair. My old one was in fair shape, but it embarrassed me. The furniture store from which I purchased it promised me the material would wear like iron. That wasn’t true. I complained and they sent a repairman out to do repairs that didn’t last after first accusing me that a pet had done the damage. I didn’t have a pet at the time.

Saturday, I coaxed my son-in-law James to help me pick up and haul the new couch and chair to my house. The furniture was still in protective cardboard boxes and was even more bulky, but for the ride, we kept them on to be safe. At home, we opened and carried in the recliner chair. Now, comes the fun part. Opening one end of the couch’s container, we slid it out. I was too close to my porch steps and it overbalanced me, causing me to tip backwards, striking a butt cheek on the stair tread with the 300 pound couch sitting in my lap. I sat that way until the Charlie horse pain eased, then we wrestled it into the house. I guess I will have a permanent attachment to the couch, because the cat Willow has claimed the chair and branded it with a puked hairball.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Remembering When
Now, to finish the explanation of the wearying week of activities, last Friday, early in the morning, I had an MRI to help to evaluate a persistent pain I’ve been having in my right shoulder. It is no wonder that shoulder should cause me trouble; it is the location of many injuries, starting in 1976 or 1977. I was helping to lower a mobile home onto new piers when it slid sideways and dropped about eighteen inches. The impact folded me double and I had a dislocation and spontaneous relocation. Several other times, there has been trauma to it from trips and falls. Monday, I have a follow up to discuss the findings.
In the afternoon, I was invited to attend the annual Veteran’s Day celebration at Mt. Carmel Christian School. The young men and women students memorize poignant recitations of veterans that have sacrificed much to keep America free. Attired in uniforms from each branch of the service, they sing anthems, carry the flags of the different branches of the military, and single out each attending veteran by calling their name and honoring them. Such a tribute to us is refreshing where patriotism, honor, and loyalty have been cast aside and trampled in the mud.

There was a meal that followed and it was an impressive spread. It was also a time for fellow veterans to mingle and to talk. I helped to persuade a fellow veteran to attend for the first time this year. He too was impressed. It was an emotional pageant. I told him if any person walked away without a lump in their throat or a tear in the eye, they were a cold hearted soul.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Now the Election is Over
Now that the election is over and people on opposite sides with the candidates, I want to finish sharing my wonderfully tiring times I had last week. I’ve already shared the Eagle Scout ordination Saturday evening. I will share more of Saturday morning. I picked up a fellow writer to sell our books at the Mount Pleasant Ladies Auxiliary’s craft show. She has six types of books to sell; two coloring book, child book combinations, three poetry books, and a book that her cat wrote. She brought along a few of her framed photographs as well. We split the cost and shared a table.
I had my three Tommy Two Shoes Mysteries books for sale. All around us were other vendors: Avon, Mary Kay, several jewelry sales people from the handmade to the brand names. One lady hand painted flowers and scenes on glassware and bottles. A gentleman was selling solid wood cutting boards, toys, and other handcrafted items. Two ladies were selling warm, soft tights, another vendor offered women’s clothing, and two other entrepreneurs had a station to wash hands and to try their creams and potions. It was a myriad of people and products.
The nice thing about having two people at our table was that when one got tired of sitting, we could get up and move around the building while the other manned the table and our books. I slipped into my drummer role, attracting folks to our table to look at our writings and to accept our business cards. I want to thank the people for buying eight of my books and I hope that they will enjoy reading them. I know the plots of each of the series of short stories are readable. Many have told me that they are page turners.

I am hoping to have more people read these blogs as well. Thank you all again.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Eagle Has Landed
This has been a remarkable but tiring week. It has been enough for several posts, so I will start with the last event. I was blessed to be invited to attend the ordination of a new Eagle Scout into that honored and respected tradition of obtaining the highest rank in Boy Scouts, the Eagle Scout status. It is obtained only after years of diligence and hard work; the giving of self to his fellow scouts, to the community, and to God.
Slowly over the years, a series of achievements and merit badges map the trail that each scout has traveled to achieve this much sought after goal. It is lined with the struggles of time, self discipline, and endurance.
I was blessed to see the culmination of all of these things this past Saturday evening. The one thing that made this achievement so powerful and poignant was his father was recently killed in a motorcycle accident and yet he persevered and accomplished his goal. His father was Dan Baranski and this young man was Lucas Baranski. Congratulations.
Let me take you back several years. Dan became the foster son of my brother-in-law, Kevin Morrison and his wife Beverly. They took into their home older boys that were often overlooked by the system and helped to redirect the young men into different paths. Dan aged out of the system and chose to become a Marine. Finished with his enlistment, he married TaShawna and had three beautiful children.

Kevin and Beverly were at the ceremony for Lucas. Beverly as usual with her generous ways, was the hostess and prepared the wonderful meal that preceded the award ceremony. I watched as TaShawna went forward to join Lucas and receive a pin honoring her, but I was wonderfully surprised to hear Lucas call out the name of the recipient for the “mentor” pin. It was Kevin Morrison, a man who helped to redirect Dan’s footsteps and made Dan the man that was Lucas’s father.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Pennsylvania Traditions
While I attended a luncheon for the retired nurses who worked at Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania, one of the subjects we talked about was the wedding, to be more specific, the reception after the wedding. There is one tradition that seems to be a trademark of western Pennsylvania that seems less prevalent or completely absent elsewhere in the country, even in the eastern part of the state. The food served elsewhere is often finger sandwiches, cheese and relish trays, and little tea and crumpet type cookies that do little more than to whet an appetite.
While here in western Pennsylvania, basically a full meal is served. Anything may be served from a sit down dinner to a buffet line. Chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, fish might be on the serving line. Some of the staples that are often are rigatoni, halushki, halupkis salads, perogies, potatoes, and string beans.
Usually there are tables of hors d’oeuvres trays of cheeses, crackers, and pepperoni to assuage the appetites of the attendees until the bridal party completes their photography session. Other tables are laden with cookies of myriad shapes and flavors, all baked by generous relatives.
When the ladies at my table hit this part of the discussion, they paused long enough to share the trials and tribulations of baking and some cookie recipes.
The newlywed bride and groom sit with the wedding party in front of the crowd and subjected to calls for the couple to kiss, by the attendees either pounding on the tables, tapping their glasses with eating utensils, or the “new” old tradition of ringing bells.

Some receptions have an open bar, and if the couple is lucky enough, no fights, no arguments, and no need for the police to intercede. Finally, there is the cake cutting ceremony and a time of reflection, should we or should we not smear cake in each other’s face. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Elections and Commercials
I have to go to the Laurel Highlands Cable Company tomorrow. From the multiple assaults on my psyche from the immature and idiotic commercials and the outrageous mudslinging and outright lies of the advertisements of the political hacks, I have worn out the return button on my channel changer. Many of the commercials insult the intelligence of the viewer. I cannot believe that they will sit through an entire offensive promotion of a product without changing the channel or at least using the mute button.
Toomey and McGinty must be sweating bullets. Their ads seem to be on between every program and Hillary’s almost constant barrage of her advertisements show just how worried she is that the polls aren’t true or that the FBI and the law will catch her and jail her before November 8th.
I wish a company wouldn’t put the same commercial on time after time. Why not make two and switch them. I have to turn the channel when the woman with the burgundy sweater with the television for Deal Dash dot Com comes on. I am so tired of hearing her nasal whiney voice. The two jerks in the car at Sonic are another pair of rubes that rub me the wrong way. AARP and UPMC also get the switcheroo. I finally had to threaten AARP and UPMC with legal action to get them to cease and desist from an assault with flyers in the mail.
AARP I detest, because they supported Obama care so they could sell supplemental insurance, in opposition of supporting the elderly. I don’t like UPMC because of several incidents. When my wife died on the 24th of March, I had her bill in the mail, before the second week in April. UPMC also lost my father, not his records, but him. Thirdly, UPMC tried to kill me running a potassium drip in at a higher rate than it should have been running.

Enough ranting, tomorrow; I will have my new television scepter and shall again rule my castle from my comfortable throne.