Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Critters

 I don’t know about you but since Elsa paid us a visit on July 7th, I have had an over-abundance of wildlife critters in and around my yard and sometimes in my house. The entrance to my subdivision, including three homes, were flooded by Elsa’s heavy torrential rains. I was shanghaied and unable to partake of the “outside” world for four days as I watched the water slowly recede into a super-saturated earth. Thankfully, my home was high enough, farther up the street, and outside the inundation of water.


But back to the critters. My first notice of a slight change in my own little ecosystem involved some herbs I had planted in pots near my back porch, dill to be specific. Each day I puzzled how instead of getting bushier, they were getting thinner so I at last took a closer look and discovered caterpillars on three of the stems, eastern black swallowtails, a friend in the know told me.



After they devoured every last feathery green leaf of the dill, they went on to my parsley but were sated before the plant was stripped. This was on July 10th.






And then, on August 28th, I managed to snap a phone shot of this little guy on my 

penta plant. I think it posed just for me.





As I understand it, most people plant butterfly gardens especially for this process but my butterflies came by chance of Elsa I think.


I also have had sightings of two black racers (snakes). One caught me by surprise as I opened my porch door to step outside. It “raced” under my foot trying to get away from the huge thing coming at it! Now I am careful to rattle the door before opening it. Before I was widowed all these wildlife problems would have been out of my range of responsibility, but now I have had to “brave up” and take care of things myself. Snakes always scared me and I would be lying to say they do not scare me now, but it is a different level of scared and with a little reading and understanding, I realize I need to share this planet whenever possible. My mantra has become “if you don’t bother me, I won’t bother you”.


Wasps also have invaded my space more than usual since Elsa, the paper kind and maybe some yellow jackets. I have tried to dissuade them from coming into my porch by spraying peppermint (a web thing) but they are diligent and keep hanging around. I have decided to wait for cold weather. Again, my mantra.


Yesterday, another critter came to visit. As I made my way to the kitchen to start breakfast, my eyes lit on the intruder sitting below a rocking chair in my family room, not a frog but a toad, and how he got in is a mystery. I got my broom and thought I might herd him out the door but he was too fast and scooted under another chair out of sight. I went to the web and discovered an upside down bucket with a cover slid under it (I used a pan splatter screen) was the solution but it took me almost two hours to catch the little devil. It did work though and he is happily back to roaming the outside world again.


Don’t let anyone tell you days of retirement are uneventful. Each morning brings a new surprise and keeps me on my toes for which I am very thankful. All creatures are here for a reason and have as much right to be here as I do. Taking the life of any creature is a thing I desperately try not to do...except mosquitoes, that is.


Thursday, August 26, 2021

How Do You Feel About Trees

 



How do you feel about trees? Love them, hate them, indifferent to them? I have thirteen pines, big ones, in my backyard. Yes, an unlucky number, but I don’t believe in that stuff, although one is giving me some cause for concern.


A few years ago I had three backyard pines cut down which were too close to the house for peace of mind, and one had water inside (found after the fact). All of them were over ninety feet tall and over forty years old. My fence had to be taken down for access and huge equipment invaded my property leaving their marks of intrusion for months to come. For a few days I was as the cliche says, “a nervous wreck.” It was not a happy time and not something I will lightly agree to again.


But back to my problem tree. It also is nearing one hundred feet to its tippy top, curving and twisting its way to the heavens, and that is one of the causes of my concern. Pine trees like mine should not curve. It does have plenty of luxurious healthy-looking pine needles on the heavy branches of its uppermost parts. Woodpeckers, however, have been attracted to it, and a wiggly line of their drilling is marking its lower third. That worries me, too.


But I am a lover of trees and wildlife, and I am wrestling with the first step of calling a tree service because I know what they will say, “Cut it down.” How many living things will that displace? Thousands, maybe millions. Is it really necessary? Will I regret not having it cut down later, later when the frenzy of Hurricane what’s its name is raging all around me and the upper part of the trunk is swaying to and fro in the fierce winds and rain? Probably.


I wouldn’t call myself a tree hugger but I do have a special love and respect for trees, having been known to take photos of leafless winter trees, lonely trees, trees in fall colors and spring greens, trees heavy with pecans, and trees that have fallen in storms whose upended roots reminded me of wild hairdos. So many trees, forests even, have been sacrificed to civilization right here in our own fair town that the thought of cutting down another for my own benefit seems so selfish.


Trees seem so dispensable nowadays. They used to be much more important. I am thinking of the turpentine industry in the very early 1900s. It could be that the seed from which my “problem” pine grew is a relative of one of those early pines, and that story that I wrote years ago about my mom putting turpentine on a lump on my head when I fell down the stairs, well, suppose that turpentine came from a tree that grew right in my backyard. I know, silly, but possible.


And so, I am thinking more than twice about removing my twisting pine. Maybe its destiny is to fall or snap during a storm and do some damage, but how would I know that for certain, and is it my call anyway?



Wednesday, August 4, 2021

A Visit to Remember


 

This question has been coming up on Facebook lately, too often for me to resist answering. Where is a place you have visited that, if you could go again, you would? It did not take long for me to come up with an answer. On my first visit I did not appreciate everything I should have due to some particular circumstances, but now I would cherish the opportunity of a return visit.


In early 1964 Jim and I planned a trip to Beckley, West Virginia, to visit Jim’s mom. I was pregnant with our first child, but I was anxious to see my mother-in-law again. I knew that when she heard we were coming, there would be homemade chocolate and coconut cream pies waiting for our arrival. Pregnant people have food cravings.


We planned on two days to get there from Delaware, and thought we might do a little sight-seeing on the way as long as snowstorms eluded the forecast. We usually went from Manassas to Culpepper and on south to I-64, at least the part that was finished, but this time we decided to go to Front Royal and down the Appalachian Trail for a more scenic view. Our map told us that Luray Caverns was on the way and after reading about it, we decided we would stop there for the tour.


It did not look like much when we arrived, sort of like a welcome center, but we were in for some spectacular sights. Military personnel got a special discount so that was an additional plus to our adventure. A prominent sign informed us that in the caverns it remained a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit. That was no problem since the air outside was colder. We were already bundled up in winter coats, hats, and gloves.


As we followed a downward path, eventually we came to Dream Lake, a spring with stalactites reflected in the water appearing to connect to stalagmites making the actual bottom unseeable. It was beautiful, made more so by the electrical lighting illuminating the cave walls. As we walked on we saw many large rooms with crystallized calcium stalactites in all colors of the rainbow, reds from iron, black from manganese, and blues and greens from copper. I had never seen anything so beautiful.


The Great Stalacpipe Organ is one of Luray’s many touted features but because it had some man-made parts, I was not as impressed as I should have been. I thought it would have been better to leave it au naturale since tunes could be played on the actual formation, but instead a custom console had been connected to the stalactites. Granted, the music played from the natural “pipes” was impressive.


The caverns have stalactites (form downward) and stalagmites (form upward), all with majestic names that somehow fall short of their real beauty, Giant’s Hall, Elfin’s Ramble, Saracen’s Tent, Castles on the Rhine and many more. I thought I was in a fairy tale.


The actual hike through the caverns is about 1-½ miles and being pregnant at the time, I did not give it the attention it deserved, and so, yes, I would love to go back. If you are ever nearby, stop. You won’t be disappointed. And if you cannot go in person, click here for a virtual tour. There are other virtual tours online, but I liked this one best and, still, it does not do the formations justice. Be sure to click “full screen”.


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

First Times Away From Home


Although I can’t remember the exact year, I think it was around 1974 so Eric would have been 9 and Erica almost 8. The church we attended had organized a camping excursion for the boys that was quite a distance away. We lived in Delaware and the camp was in western Pennsylvania. Eric was excited to go and, always the adventurer, he had no qualms about going so far away from home for a week. He had a list of things to take and was packed and ready to go far in advance of the actual date of departure. I snapped a photo of the group of boys standing in front of the bus on the big day, and I think Eric was the only one smiling. (I promise I was not an evil mother!)


Erica, exhibiting some sibling rivalry and possibly some jealousy,  expressed the need for a trip of her own so I suggested we ask my mom  if she would be up for a visit. She was delighted to accommodate and Erica begged to use my adult suitcase which she began filling immediately with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. The only time she got a little teary was when she had to say goodbye to her cat, who was expecting kittens.


All was well, though, when we got to Grandmom’s. She lived about 40 miles away in the country, a short distance from Middletown, Delaware. We had visited often in the past and everything was familiar to Erica including the chickens and two beagles. And Grandmom had bought a new Barbie as a surprise. Miss Kitty was a faint memory by the time we left to go back home.


Needless to say, Jim and I were delighted as well. A whole week to ourselves! We planned a couple of short trips of our own, and we could see that movie we had been yearning for.


Days one and two came and went without event until the evening of day two when Grandmom called to say Erica was homesick and was begging for us to  come up and get her. I talked to her on the phone and asked if she could stay that night as it was very late, and she agreed, but not ecstatically. I thought it might be just a spur of the moment longing for home that would pass. No, bright and early the next morning, Grandmom put a sniffling Erica on the phone. She wanted to come home. Now, I know my mom and I know she went out of her way to show her love and entertain her granddaughter, but I don’t think homesickness has been aptly defined by Mr. Webster. Erica was out of her comfort zone, and we hit the road.


As we neared Grandmom’s house, I saw this little person standing in the middle of the road, chin down and arms dragging. Grandmom was nearby looking almost as sad. Erica ran toward us as soon as she saw who it was. She didn’t even give us a hug, just jumped in the car and stayed there while we gathered up her things. All of us were clueless as to why. She did ask if I had gotten her new Barbie. At home she hugged on her kitty until I feared suffocation.


Eric, on the other hand, did not communicate for the entire week. We picked him up at the church, and he couldn’t stop talking about what a great time he had. He brought back gifts for us, a duffel bag full of dirty laundry, and a blossoming case of poison ivy. And that’s the difference between boys and girls.


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

It's What is for Breakfast!

 


Although my mom always worked outside the home, I can’t remember one morning without a hot breakfast, and it usually varied from day-to-day. One morning I might have pancakes (I called them hotcakes) with blackstrap molasses, another morning it might be a fried egg, over easy, and toast, or maybe French toast, but it was always something yummy and many times included half of a grapefruit always cut into sections for easy eating. I took all this for granted and never considered it anything special until I was a mom and realized the work and commitment involved. Then, I gained a whole new appreciation of motherhood.

I had one other item for breakfast, occasionally, of which you may never have heard. Let me tell you all about it. It is regionally specific in the mid-Atlantic States and German in origin, actually Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s called scrapple, derived from the word “scraps” because that is what it is made from, the scraps of pork plus cornmeal and spices. Okay, now you’re saying that does not sound very appetizing but, believe me, it grows on you. You probably remember reading somewhere about how frugal the Pennsylvania Dutch were. Well, that frugalness trickled on down with them to Delaware where I grew up.

Scrapple comes in a raw one-pound loaf, and, jokingly, is said to be made from everything but the oink. My home state is one of the world’s largest scrapple producers. The most well-known is Rapa brand, made since 1926 in Bridgeville, which is a small town about thirty miles south of where I grew up. Now there are many brands and it is even sold in our local Publix here in Gainesville, Florida, although I haven’t looked for it lately. When I was a meat-eater, I bought and prepared it for breakfast many times.

The trick to tasty scrapple is to fry it brown and crispy on the outside but to leave the inside tasting creamy. It’s that crispy crust that makes it delicious, no extra oil or butter necessary as fat is one of those all but the oink ingredients in the raw product.

I read some time ago that a few New York City restaurants had tried to upscale the lowly scrapple by calling it pan-fried country paté. I’m not sure how well that went over. As much as I liked it, I can’t imagine that it would make much traction in the city. Best to leave it to the country-folk.

There is a Facebook page called the Scrapple Trail that has a map with all the places where you can order scrapple, many many of those places in Delaware. In fact, that place where I said I was working as a waitress during the summer I met JIm, well, the owners of the restaurant known as Kirby and Holloway’s owned a scrapple plant in Harrington, my hometown. When I googled it, guess what came up? Yep, it’s available at Walmart, Kirby & Holloway scrapple. Who knew?

And the moral is, don’t mess with a good thing. I guess scrapple is in my DNA.








Thursday, May 27, 2021

Summer at the Highway Department

 




The year of my seventeenth summer began with job hunting, much the same as the one before it had. I graduated in a college prep program but had taken typing and shorthand as backup so my job search began in the want ads for secretaries, office assistants and on down the ladder. This was before fast food places, and temporary summer jobs were hard to find in a town of less than 10,000, but then my aunt came through with a real winner.


Aunt Dorothy worked for the Motor Vehicle Department, Drivers License Division. She had some seniority so when an opening came up in the Highway Department, she put in a good word, and I got the job. It seemed perfect. I was a summer temp for secretaries on vacation. By the time one office got boring, I was off to another one more interesting. I guess you could call it a secretarial pool, except I was the only one in the water.


My home base was Clara Warrington’s office. She was secretary to the Director of Operations. At first sight, I was awestruck by her appearance, a tall model-like platinum blond, expensively dressed, completely in-charge individual. When she told me to do something, she didn’t have to say it twice. If no one was on vacation, Mrs. Warrington kept me busy sharing duties with her office staff. I typed letters, filed, made copies, collected and sorted the mail, answered and re-routed phone calls and anything else she told me to do.


Clara sent me to other offices most of the time, some in the same building, but many in locations across town. Mondays were the start of all vacations so on the prior Friday I went to my new place of employment to meet the vacationee and find out what the job required.


The Office of Right of Way was first on my list, one week only and by the following Monday I was more than happy to go back to Clara. Everyone in the R/W department seemed depressed including my boss and most of the typing was statistical with lots of degree signs and more-than or less-than arrows that I never could keep straight. It was an office of all men, and my most important job was keeping coffee in the coffeepot.


The next week I went down the hall and across the back of the building to Human Resources and met Marilyn, my favorite of all those I temped for. She had the best boss, too. He took his vacation at the same time she did, which left me not very busy. I read a lot that week. Clara’s assistant checked in a few times with things for me to do to keep me from getting really bored.


A couple of weeks after that I went to the stinkiest place you can imagine, the blueprint department. It was a huge room, wall to wall with drafting tables and located on the second floor of a strip shopping mall. The ammonia smell was overwhelming, but like everything else after a while you get used to it, and it actually became one of my favorites. Typing, filing, and opening the mail were my duties. The guys went out of their way to be nice, probably hoping I would show up the next day. They even gave me a little present and cake party at the end of the two weeks.


A short time after that I went to a statistical department that I can’t actually remember the exact name of, where all day I did nothing but type legal descriptions. I almost went bananas that week. One entire wall was nothing but girls in front of typewriters. The regulars competed with each other for the number of pages typed per day. I wasn’t interested. The girl I replaced deserved her vacation. I wonder if she came back.


My last assignment was in the soil testing lab. I think this was mainly done for highways and the entire building was full of engineers. All these years later the one thing I remember about that week is the steady pounding on the core samples. It went on all day and in my head even after I left the premises. I have no memory at all of what I did that week.


On reflection, the variety of the places and the people was an education in itself. Although some of the jobs were not pleasant, they certainly were not difficult, and the summer went by quickly. I was sad to leave Clara’s office and hoped I would be lucky enough to come back the following summer, the summer after my freshman year at the University of Delaware. But that was not to be. There were no openings that year, and I ended up waiting tables in a family restaurant called Kirby and Holloways. That’s where I met my husband, Jim, and as they say, the rest is history.



Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Happy Mom's Day

My first Mother’s Day was celebrated on May 10th, 1964, exactly one week after our son, Eric, was born. Eric’s birth came as a big surprise to both Jim and me as our baby was not due for another month. He arrived at 4 pounds 14 ounces and remained in the hospital (DAFB) until reaching the required 5 pound mark. So that is where we celebrated my first Mother’s Day, sort of unusual but a very joyous one! Like most preemies, one would never guess today that Eric fit into that category.


In 1966 I celebrated being the mother of two, Eric and Erica (don’t ask as I have no idea where those names came from). Erica was a full-term baby, almost, and arrived at 6 pounds 7 ½ ounces. She was born just after Jim’s separation from the Air Force so she was a civilian baby making her first appearance at Dover’s Kent General Hospital. We were in on a Friday evening and out on Sunday afternoon.


Eric & Erica at around 4 & 5 years old.


This year will be my 57th Mother’s Day celebration. That seems very unreal! My Jacksonville daughter always makes a point of visiting that day, my son not so much as he lives in North Dakota, but distance celebratory sharing is not as much of a problem as it used to be. Thanks to Covid-19 we now have Zoom.


During those 57 years I have been given grandchildren and great grandchildren providing many more voices of celebration. 




This is one of my very favorite cards from Erica’s Mandy and Jimmy, two of my grandchildren. The card is about 25 years old.


I have to include my 2 great grandsons who are fairly new additions to the family. I can’t wait to get Mother’s Day cards from them but that will be a while yet. Their mother is Eric’s Connie Elizabeth, my granddaughter who was named after me (the Connie part).



Russell (2+) and Colt (7 mos.)


My own mother passed away in 1975 and I have missed her now for 45 Mother’s Day celebrations, missed but always remembered not just on Mother’s Day but everyday. Below are some keepsakes from my mommy. In the photo I am probably around 3 years old. The picture was taken at the end of my pop-pop’s farmhouse lane in Caroline County, Maryland, near the town of Ridgely. We most likely had walked down to the mailbox. The little bauble is a pin found in “Mom’s” cedar box, one of many, but this one bears that special word Mother.


I remember going to the Holiday Inn restaurant at the corner of Newberry and Tower Road for their Mother’s Day special buffet. Usually, we went after church with other couples. They had every food you could imagine including scrumptious desserts and even a long-stemmed red rose for all the mommies. It was sad to see them close many years ago.


Even those who have no babies can still celebrate Mother’s Day. We all have a mommy, right? So I wish everyone a happy Mother’s Day and may we all stay safe and healthy and be around to celebrate many more.