Over the River and through the Woods, to Grandma’s House We Go

Finally, life is returning to normal.  But today I’ll skip the rants about why it isn’t.  I’ll celebrate life instead.  Camera Girl is cooking a spoon roast and humming and even singing slightly as she goes through the rituals that precede the magical food that will appear on time on the dining room table today.  There are potatoes and asparagus and corn and mushrooms and gravy and buttered rolls and of course the roast.  And pies and cakes have been baked and I know there will be ice cream to go along with that pie.  And of course there will be chocolate for the little girl who will be old enough this year to really know what’s going on.

And today is sunny and it will be warm enough to go outside and walk around and look for bugs and flowers and birds and look at the trees and the sky and play catch with a ball and pet the rabbit (alias bunny-hop-hop or Petey).  And we can sit around and talk about the barbecue that will be happening in May once it’s warm enough for the tables to be outside and the pool will be opened and we can have the rest of the family with us too.  That will be another milestone.

But today is for enjoying today.  New England forgot to provide one last, end of March, nor’easter snowstorm so the ground is pretty dry now and fit for walking and running and having a catch so today is a wonderful opportunity to declare the world is open for living again.

And as Kazantzakis said through his character Zorba this Easter dinner can’t be wasted,

“We ate and drank for some time in silence. The wind carried up to us, like the droning of bees, the distant, passionate notes of the lyre. Christ was being reborn again on the village terraces. The paschal lamb and the Easter cakes were being transformed into love-songs.

When Zorba had eaten and drunk quite copiously, he put his hand to his big hairy ear. “The lyre … ‘he murmured. “They’re dancing in the village.’ He stood up suddenly. The wine had gone to his head.

‘What ever are we doing here, all alone, like a pair of cuckoos? Let’s go and dance! Aren’t you sorry for the lamb we’ve been eating? Are you going to let it fizzle out into nothing, like that? Come on! Turn it into song and dance! Zorba is reborn!’ ‘Wait a minute, Zorba, you idiot, are you crazy?’

‘Honestly, boss, I don’t care! But I’m sorry for the lamb, and I’m sorry for the red eggs, the Easter cakes and the cream cheese! If I’d just scoffed a few bits of bread and some olives, I’d say: “Oh, let’s go to sleep; I don’t need to go celebrating!” Olives and bread are nothing, are they? What can you expect from them? But, let me tell you, it’s a sin to waste food like that! Come on, let’s celebrate the Resurrection, boss!’ ‘I don’t feel like it today. You go – you can dance for me as well.’ Zorba took my arm and pulled me up.

‘Christ is reborn, my friend! Ah! if only I was as young as you! I’d throw myself headlong into everything! Headlong into work, wine, love – everything, and I’d fear neither God nor devil! That’s youth for you!’

‘It’s the lamb talking, Zorba! It’s turned wild inside you, changed into a wolf!’

“The lamb’s changed into Zorba, that’s all, and Zorba’s talking to you!”

 

So I’ll take Zorba’s advice and put the Easter feast to good use.  I’ll celebrate the Resurrection and spring and new life and old life and I’ll put off Biden and woke ignoramuses and even the dissident right for another day.

Happy Easter.

Reclaiming the Family – Part 7 – Team Work

I have a very close relative who was in Iraq.  Well, actually, I have several close relatives who were in Iraq but in particular there is one who runs his family using the Army’s manual on discipline and unit cohesion.  And I have to say that has a lot to be said for it.

Full disclosure I never served in anything more regimented than the Boy Scouts.  I was too young for Vietnam and too old for 9-11.  But my father and my grandfather served and they always talked about military discipline and unit cohesion as traits that were sadly lacking in civilian life.  Well, when I was a kid, we gave all that talk very short shrift.  We were way too smart and savvy for all that regimentation.  At least that’s what we said back then.

But it recently occurred to me that discipline and unit cohesion were the answers to a lot of the problems we see in the world today and also a source of satisfaction in a world that is drifting apart into chaos.  Even within close family there is a tendency to become strangers.  I don’t mean that literally but rather compared to the closeness that existed when people didn’t move away from each other every other year.  We see each other once or twice a year.  We talk on the phone every few months and we lose track of what’s going on in each other’s lives.

But then when something goes wrong, we’re all alone.  And that’s even considering the old days when families had a passel of kids and everyone had plenty of brothers and sisters.  Imagine now where every family has at most two kids.  You start out almost alone and then by the time you head off to college your family is just a forgotten period in your life that is only revisited at Christmas and the Fourth of July.

The alternative to this is feeling responsible for your family.  If your brother has a problem.  Maybe he’s having trouble in school.  Make it your problem.  Help him out.  Tutor him.  Or maybe you notice that he’s not making friends very easily.  Include him in some activity or ask one of your friends to have a younger brother include him in some activity.

And of course, parents have to lift up their kids.  We take that for granted but you’d be surprised.  With two parents working often the kids get lost in the shuffle.  Spending time on kids’ homework and paying attention to teacher’s reports and what your kids tell you about school is critical.  Instead of the extra toy at Christmas, the weekend camping trip or the vacation in the mountains or at the shore is a much smarter investment.  You build the memories and you build a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.

And just as important is having the kids do their part around the house.  Chores and responsibilities are vital to keeping kids engaged.  Even if mom is home every day, she is swamped with things that have to be done.  Enforcing discipline and teaching the value of work is probably the most important activity a father can have with his sons. And when kids become teens a first job is the transition from childhood to responsible adult behavior.

Grandparents have their place too.  Having get togethers that bring together your children and their children allows the cousins to know each other and stay close.  With the smaller family sizes today, this is even more important to maintain some sense of familial closeness.  Let the grandkids know they are part of a bigger and older family than just their parents and siblings.  There is magic in that for children of all ages.

I’ll be the first to admit that I came from a family where all of this was woefully missing.  We were a large family and my poor parents were outnumbered and unprepared for the insanity that we inflicted on them.  We ran amok.  Somehow, we all survived but sometimes it was a close thing.  But I have since seen it handled better and I attribute it to discipline and unit cohesion.  Give the kids plenty of love and attention but also expect family loyalty and responsibility for themselves and for each other.  Drill it into them that families don’t disband when the kids turn eighteen.  Family is a multi-generational structure where we support each other and make life better for those who came before us and those who are coming after.

Family is the closest relationship you should have.  But friends don’t have to be disposable.  It’s possible to have friends that are almost like family.  They’re rare but they can happen.  Probably for servicemen it’s less rare.  I have friends whose service buddies are lifelong pals who are there when they need them.  I envy them the camaraderie they have.

And finally, we have the wider community.  These are folks who share the same values.  With them we can share stories and good wishes and strategies.  Maybe sometime, something we say to somebody, may provide a morale boost or a bit of information that gets him over the hump.  At least that’s how I like to look at it.  But the same idea applies in each case.  Show a sense of solidarity with those you are related to.  Take responsibility to do your part and maintain your place in the family or community or even movement.  Feel like you belong and let the next guy know it’s not every man for himself.  And who knows, someday you might say something to someone who’s feeling very alone and it might give him a reason not to give up.  That’s not nothing.

Reclaiming the Family – Part 6 – The Miracle of a Traditional Wife

I never tire of reminding Camera Girl that in my mind she and I are very close in behavior to the married couple in W. C. Fields two classic movies, “It’s A Gift” and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.”  In both movies Field’s hen-pecked character has a wife played by Kathleen Howard a tall, stout woman who affects the character of a cultured, histrionic scold who constantly hectors and nags at Fields’ character.  And Fields’ answer to almost every utterance of his wife is a meek, “yes dear.”  And I tell her this not because there is any resemblance physically or temperamentally between her and this shrewish character but because this reminds me of the natural antagonism that husband and wife experience in the course of their wedded bliss.  Well, also because I am sort of a jerk.

A few weeks ago, we were sitting down to dinner and she had cooked a soup using the leftovers from a ham we had for the holidays.  It was a ham and lentil soup and she decided to make it so thick that we call it a stoup, meaning stew/soup.  As I started eating dinner it occurred to me that being married to a woman like my wife is probably the greatest good that a man can have in his life.

A traditional wife makes your house into a home and raises a family.  And a family is the only true wealth that any man ever actually possesses.  And if she’s also pretty and a good cook like mine then it’s as close to heaven as any man can hope to see on this side of the great divide.  That’s the information I can provide to the young guys around today.

But where can you find such a woman today?  All the American girls have been sold on the idea that they have to have a career to be fulfilled in the modern world.  That is the root of the problem.  There are only two solutions, either convince some woman that there is a better option or go outside of the local pool of women.

As far as convincing women to move away from careers I think a man has to have the wherewithal to convince a woman that he can support a stay-at-home wife.  Probably that means owning your own home and having a stable income.  It would be best if you are up front about your plans and expectations so that you can eliminate the girls that will never work out.  I’m too old to know anything about on-line dating services but I would imagine a primary function would be trying to line up marital expectations.  Correct me if I’m mistaken that they must have a profile that corresponds to a traditional homemaker.

One thing that might be a starting point is avoid any girl who is planning on going to some very expensive college.  Unless her parents have funded her entire education, she is going to have to pay back those student loans and that will make it doubly difficult for you to afford a one income lifestyle.  So maybe you should be looking at women who go to the local community college or even better ones working in local jobs that do not require high powered college credentials.

But however you find one, if she has all the qualifications I mentioned in my intro then marry her and never let her work a day of her life outside of the home.  Have a passel of kids and enjoy every day of it for as long as you both shall live.  Raising a family is a challenging and sometimes a confusing task but as you get older, you’ll find that it really is the only meaningful thing that most human beings ever accomplish.    Ray Bradbury wrote a story called the Happiness Machine.  In it an inventor tried to make a machine that would make a person happy if he sat in it.  It had all the sights and sounds that he imagined could make a person happy.  Music, exotic vistas, delicious aromas, everything he thought he would want.  But by the end of the story, he discovers the truth when he looks into the window of his own house and sees his family, his wife and his children, performing their routine daily activities together in his own home.  That is the true happiness machine.  And if a man can’t find happiness in that then maybe he never will.

25DEC2020 – OCF Update – Merry Christmas All You Wonderful People Out There!

As is now emblematic of 2020, this morning was as weird as any other day of the year.  Freight train winds rattled the house and frightened the dogs.  Torrential rains melted the foot of snow that was on the ground and roofs yesterday.  The little steam that feeds the pond is a raging torrent this morning and is swelling it up beyond it’s normal shores.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the spring peepers woke up and started singing.  Somehow the power hasn’t flickered and the internet connection is still intact.  But yes, it’s more of the good old 2020 pandemonium rolling along.

But Camera Girl is un-phased.  Potatoes are boiled and mashed.  The roast and the ham are in the oven.  The cakes and pies are baked.  The kids’ presents are wrapped (I helped with that!). The rolls are baked, the side dishes are cooked and the house is clean.  The various Christmas cookies are loaded into cookie jars and the table is set.

And right on cue the winds are dying down and the rain is down to a gentle tapping on the roofs.  The kids will be here in a few hours and we’ll have some fun.

Wherever you are I hope you get at least a little enjoyment from Christmas 2020.  These aren’t exactly the best of times but they are our times and we have to make of them what we can.

 

Merry Christmas to all of you folks out there and we’ll take what comes and try to make it better.

Christmas Cooking, Sony A7 III, Sony 90mm f\2.8 macro lens

 

Guest Contributor – War Pig – Autumn Memories – Part 3

Wild turkey has a flavor totally unlike domestic turkey. They feed on insects, acorns and other goodies. Just as wild rabbit tastes better, in my opinion that tame rabbit. When mom was laid up in hospital one year before Christmas, I went up to dad’s and cleaned and cooked for him. My own dear wife had passed on by then. I took up three squirrels I had shot and the first meal I made for him was mashed sweet potatoes covered with squirrel gravy. Sauté the squirrels in a cast iron pan in butter until the meat falls from the bones. Then keep cooking it until the butter browned, add the flour and brown the resulting roux, then put in the milk and make gravy. He ate so much I thought he’d choke. Mom had been sick for weeks before her hospitalization so they had been eating mostly carry out or delivery fast food. Dad would only eat so much fast food before he just stopped eating. I also made him some pie crust cookies. He liked it so much we had leftover squirrel gravy and biscuits for the next two breakfasts

 

I made pork tenderloin fried in that cast iron skillet, baked him an apple pie after making the pie filling in the skillet (par cooking the filling means less liquid to ruin the crust). and then as a Christmas present, I bought them one of those spiral-sliced honey hams. I took most of the meat off it and we had ham for breakfast most mornings, and I froze a lot. Then I took the bone and the meat off the bone and put it in a pot of beans and put it in the oven for 6 hours on low. Hot damn, was it good. Made cornbread to go with it. When mom came home and was able to take over her own household again dad tried to get me to stay a little longer and cook. Mom was a great cook, but she insisted dad needed healthy food at his age. I just fed his belly with what he liked as a child.

Guest Contributor – Jason M – Autumn Memories – Part 2

Late every summer the entire extended family would get together. I mean the “very extended” family. Both my grandfather’s and grandmother’s families and their children and grandchildren. The men would seine the pond in the cow pasture behind the house I grew up in. All the bigger fish they caught would be cleaned and fried that same day for a giant fish fry. My grandmother made the world’s greatest hush puppies and coleslaw to go along with the fish. Come to think of it, I need to see if I can find her hush puppy recipe from one of my aunts. We only had large-mouth bass and little bluegill bream in that pond. I still love bream more than any other fish I’ve had.

This past summer I took my boys to Walmart and got them both fishing rods. Then I pulled my old rods out of my parent’s building and got the reels working again (they hadn’t been touched for 20+ years), and showed my boys where to look for worms. I took them to that same pond and taught them how to fish. We caught several decent sized bream and a couple small bass that first evening. It was enough to take home, clean and fry so my boys (and my wife and daughter, too) could get an idea of how good “real” food can be.

A few days later I managed to land a bass that topped 6 pounds. I got her off the hook cleanly and let her go back in the pond. Maybe one of us will hook her again someday.

I’m trying to give my kids memories like mine. I took my older boy squirrel hunting with my dad last fall. I’m looking forward to more of that this year. Squirrel hunting was one of my favorite pastimes growing up. My best friend and I spent countless hours out in the woods with our little .22 caliber rifles. Would you believe that squirrel tastes like chicken?

By now, the squirrel population behind my parents’ house has recovered nicely. I’m talking to my wife about getting my older boy a rifle for his 13th birthday in a month. Hopefully I can pass along that love of hunting and fishing to him. So far, he’s truly enjoyed it, and I’m encouraged by that. He might just be a better shot than me soon. While I’ll hate to admit it when he finally is, inside I’ll secretly be elated by it. Now to start working on his little brother…

My grandfather used to complain about Canada Geese. I’ve never had it, but apparently it was not uncommon as a Thanksgiving meal a couple generations ago. Grandad told me that the problem with them was that you had to soak them for hours before you cooked them because they ate so many of the wild onions that grew around here the meat tasted too much like onion. He said it smelled bad when you cooked it…to the point that you had to leave the house. He could exaggerate at times though, so I don’t know exactly how serious he was.

 

Several years ago, those same wild onions came up in a conversation I had with my dad. I was asking about milk cows and how many cows a family of 5 would need. Despite growing up with cows on the farm I had no idea because grandad raised beef cattle when I was growing up.

My dad, on the other hand, grew up milking cows. He told me that their family of 6 had so much milk from two cows that they threw half of it out every day. They had enough for milk for all its various milky uses and even enough cream for my grandmother to churn her own butter. I asked him why they threw away half of it and he told me it was because of the wild onions! Of course, that made no sense to me and further questioning revealed the rest of the story: they threw out the evening milk because the cows would be grazing in the pasture all day and the onions made the milk taste bad, so they threw it out. They only kept the milk from the morning because the cows were in the barn all night munching on sweet hay and the morning milk tasted good. I still haven’t decided if a couple milk cows are in our future or not though.

Guest Contributor – War Pig – Autumn Memories – Part 2

There’s nothing like a home smoked ham, is there? Uncle Dana liked his bacon. Autumn also meant that Grandma opened up the first of the bread and butter pickles she had put up the year before. Absolutely delicious. She always allowed them to sit a year in the dark root cellar before she served them to let the flavors mingle. Autumn was also the season for putting up apples and pears in jars. You make simple syrup and leave it plain, or add cinnamon or mint (makes the jars ruby red or emerald green). They have to sit for at least a year. Grandma (and my mom) also made jars of pie filling. Apple, peach, apricot, mixed berries. strawberries with rhubarb, pumpkin and sweet potato. That way you had filling ready for making pies after they were in season. Both my grandfathers were partial to grilled tenderloin or fish tail sandwiches and autumn was the time to eat them as the tenderloin was fresh from the hog slaughter. Us boys would make a weekend trip to Lake Erie and catch a mess of perch and walleye and we’d have a big family fish fry. The catfish we had was locally caught. Perch, walleye, catfish and crappie were the staples. If we were lucky the white bass would run in the local creek and we could bag a mess of them, too.

Fresh game was good, Rabbits, pheasant, quail, grouse, duck, Canada geese and deer. Me and my brother still make our own venison summer sausage.

Aye, we had good times, didn’t we?

Guest Contributor – Jason M – Autumn Memories

Memories around autumn. The most common thread was the presence of extended family.

We didn’t raise tobacco, but my grandfather leased fields to a man that did. I got my taste of pulling tobacco as a young child and got a few bucks as a reward. I was too young to do much, but getting those few dollars meant the world to me. Every now and then you’d see one of the laborers take a leaf straight off the plant, cut it up and share it with his buddies. They’d roll the leaf right there and smoke it like a cigarette.

When I was older and soccer practice began in mid to late summer, we’d run anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 miles as a team before practice. The entire run was surrounded by tobacco fields and I still remember the aroma. That farm is still in business some 28 years later. They’re still growing tobacco, soy beans and milo depending on the crop rotation.

Fall meant festivals and pork BBQ of any variety you could imagine. My school had a fall festival each year and they smoked hundreds of pounds of hams over hickory wood and sold plates to local businesses all night long for the 3rd shift workers, and to the festival-goers the next day.

It meant Saturdays with the cousins trying to knock each other off of rolling barrels while our parents made furniture to sell at the fall festival.

Fall meant dove hunting, squirrel hunting and deer hunting were all in full effect. You’d wake up to the sound of shotguns in the field next your house every Saturday… that is, if you weren’t the one waking everyone else up at sunrise.

It meant playing in the hay loft and building forts out of the square bales. Or setting up obstacle courses to try and conquer to see who could do it the fastest.

It meant Halloween and candy and a party at the church near our house with all the younger kids in our area.

Man, I miss those simple times.

Seeing the world today is almost enough to make you weep. I read an article two days ago where the white author was proclaiming how racist it is for a white person to own a dog. He ended it by saying that all white people should give their dogs to POC or give them to the nearest no kill shelter.

What have I done to my children by bringing them into this world? I moved “back home” 18 months ago. We’ve built a house “on the farm.” I’d love for my kids to experience things like I did growing up. It beats Atlanta, that’s for sure, but they’ll never know those simple joys. I didn’t intend for this to be such a downer comment. Focus on the good parts.

Guest Contributor – War Pig – Fall Color Ride in Ohio

Takes a little longer for the change (which comes from East to West) to get to Ohio. our best leaf-peeping times are mid to late October. To remember mom, I go on a fall color ride in October at peak color and take a few pictures. She loved for me to take her after she could no longer drive. We made a day of it. I’d pick her up early then meander our way to the Hocking Hills area. We’d go usually on a Saturday to avoid rush hour traffic. We’d eat breakfast at McDonald’s (she loved the McGriddle sandwiches) and I made sure to brew two big thermos bottles full of black coffee for us on the road to refill our insulated travel cups.

We’d drive and look and comment. She’d remind me of stories from my youth and told me stories of her youth. I told her stories of the far-off lands I’d seen in my military career. How Bavaria in Germany looked a lot like Ohio during the fall colors. We’d eat lunch in a sit-down diner, then hit the road again, stopping as necessary as dictated by mom’s water pills. See the colors, stop at roadside rests and breather the crisp air. Refill the travel mugs and go on. We’d stop at an Amish restaurant for supper that had superb baked steak in gravy with home fried potatoes and German chocolate cake for dessert. Mom always got another baked steak diner to go and I put it in a warming chest that plugged into my rear electric outlet. More driving, more leaves, more color, seeing the buck deer with full crowns, seeing the geese and ducks fly south for the winter in squadron formations. I’d get her home after dark (later, it was to the nursing home). She’d then eat the second baked steak dinner as I had more coffee. I’d leave her and she’d go on to bed.

Autumn for me has always been the color of the trees. That’s what I hated about Vietnam and the Middle East. No bold change of the seasons, wet or dry, hot or very hot. No crisp days when apples still on the tree were as sweet as nectar. No gathering of hickory nuts or black walnuts or butternuts. No toasting of pumpkin seeds for snacks. No fresh apple or pear cider. The Amish restaurant is still in business and I still stop for a baked steak dinner in mom’s memory. I talk to her as I drive even though she’s not there. Been gone 14 years now. The Amish store bowed to using electric cash registers as the state got pissy over sales tax receipts. I miss the ring and cha-ching of the old mechanical registers.

One day it will be my last ride. Being over 70 that day is closing in on me but I’ll hang on as long as I can. I’m like Slade in Ghost Rider. One day I’ll have one last ride in me. I hope to make it a good one.

10MAY2020 – OCF Update – Happy Mother’s Day

Greetings everybody out there.  Hope all the moms out are somewhat enjoying Mother’s Day.  Although the whole cowering-in-place has rendered Camera Girl’s Mother’s Day sort of an academic exercise.  None of her kids can come to see her.  In recognition of this injustice I have spent the weekend as her company.  Unfortunately I’m a poor stand in for her children.  But I did what I could.  She is a Scrabble fanatic so I volunteered to play several games of this bizarre pastime.  It confirmed my belief that she has somewhat unorthodox ideas about what constitutes as legitimate English word.  She used “droid” without any embarrassment.  In addition we watched some movies together.  Interestingly we watched the movies I wanted to see but I attribute that to coincidence.  But I have been incredibly attentive.  I have been talking about all kinds of stuff and asking her all kinds of questions and talking about all the good things we can do together alone.  I’ll have to say, in my opinion, her enthusiasm was somewhat lacking.  Several times she seemed to wander away in the middle of one of these displays of attentiveness.  Apparently laundry and floor sweeping are time critical in her mind.  I’ve always thought men are much more sociable creatures.  Not to mention our pleasant and even-tempered personalities.  Well what can you do?

So anyway, I’ve been unavailable for output on OCF this weekend but that interregnum is now over.  I’ve got a post cued up for tonight on the Flynn fiasco.  I think that should be a major point of discussion for folks on our side of the aisle.  The fact that the information has been transmitted to the public is in itself encouraging.  More to follow.

We had a little more snow here yesterday but it wasn’t much to talk about.  But it really makes you wonder how much later into the year it would have to snow before we could question the reality of global warming.  Would a foot of snow at the Fourth of July qualify?  I’ll have to ask one of my Green friends (if I had any).

So enjoy the holiday to the extent that circumstances will allow but I’m back on the job and content will follow.

Christmas Cooking, Sony A7 III, Sony 90mm f\2.8 macro lens