Monday, March 27, 2017


 43ES may not mean anything to you but it means a lot to our family.

 As I understand the story, back in the 1930's my grandfather, Elwood Schmidt, decided to order a "reserved license plate" for his car. He knew he wanted his initials (ES) to be part of the number and he decided the current year could complete the rest.

 But whatever the year, it wasn't available. I remember him saying that the first year he could get was 1943. And so 43ES it became.

 That was, of course, perhaps 80 years ago.

 When he died in 1970, I asked my grandmother whether the license could be transferred to me (she didn't drive). She agreed and we filed the paperwork with the state. I've had the plate for 47 years. The state no longer requires we buy new plates annually and I opt for keeping the current plate until a new one is forced on me. Whenever I remove a plate I hang it on a couple of nails in the rafters of our garage.

My current car, a 2006 Chevrolet Impala sporting 43ES

The last time I bought plates was in 2003

The shot two above was taken on March 20 when I was at the laundromat in Germantown and a freak storm dropped heavy rain, snow, sleet and even hail.

 In the past couple of days I've been looking through slides my grandfather took in the late 1940's and early 1950's (I assume he bought the camera in anticipation of my arrival in 1949, but maybe I'm just being narcissistic).

Here's the first shot I found with the 43ES plate on his car.

 I don't know cars by model years but I think the plate says 1949.

 I think this is a different car. The color appears lighter but that could just be the lighting. But look at the parking lights beneath the headlamps. Also note the piece above the windshield. Anyone know what type either of these cars are?

 There's yet another piece to this story. Ernie Smith, also a Miamisburg resident and a very close friend of my grandparents, ordered reserved plates, too. I always thought he received ES43, the reverse of my grandfather's plate. But I located this slide, taken in Bear Lake, Michigan, and Ernie has ES49.

 I have grandpa's and my plates from 1964 ...

 Is it worth the added expense to have a plate that isn't so much "vanity" and just good memories? I suppose so. I was once parked at a motel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when someone came up to me and said, "I know that plate!". It's a small world and we have too much history with 43ES to give it up.

 I wonder if we've broken any records with this license plate?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

AJ Rahn Greenhouses

 Yesterday Tom and I toured Spring Grove Cemetery late in the afternoon hoping for an explosion of spring color and some good material to photograph. But the recent cold snap must have frozen many of the buds and we found the place drab. Magnolias in particular had been nipped in the bud. There was nothing left but a brown, papery material where the open blooms should be. They looked something like tattered paper sacks.

 As we left the cemetery, though, we happened upon A.J. Rahn Greenhouses on Gray Road. The place was still busy, even late on a Saturday and they provided the color we had missed at the cemetery. Click here for information on the greenhouse.

A. J. Rahn Greenhouses
4944 Gray Road - Cincinnati OH

 Pansies were in the spotlight. They had single pots and trays with every color of the rainbow. Tom bought a small package (four, I think) to place on his porch area. Pansies can always be counted on for early spring color. They won't mind any cold weather and snow.

 I remember my grandfather always buying us a few pansies in the spring. This is the flower with a face and one that anyone instantly recognizes.

 Tom pointed out this hanging plant, an insectivorous pitcher plant. The leaves are refereed to as "pitfall traps". The cavity is filled with a digestive liquid. These are the exposed stomachs of the plant world.

 Tom's paying for his pansies. The day is late and I have to get on the road home.

 Tom's pansies after planting and placing on his porch area.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Bandit

 How quickly can the birds eat the sunflower seeds?

 That's a question we've posed a number of times this winter. I'd fill the pop bottle feeder and find it half empty a day later.

 No doubt the birds love it. Some sit there, unwilling to move when other birds try to alight, taking seed after seed, dropping shells and crumbs, eating it seems for hours.

 But birds surely don't have that big of an appetite.

 This morning I was working in my bedroom when I heard Mom call up the stairs. "Come quick," she said. "And bring your camera."

 This is what I saw ...

 Back turned towards the kitchen window, all I saw was a red hairy rump.

 Soon enough he turned around. He'd hang on for dear life, clasping the aluminum dispenser with his agile feet and nails, circling round and round. When he stopped to eat, his back would again be turned to us.

 In fact he showed no fear at all to us watching on the other side of the glass. I walked right up to the window and he paid no attention.

 Finally I tapped on the glass a time or two ...

 His ears perked up - and he might have glanced at me - but he went right back to eating. This was too good to allow for an interruption.

 Finally I'd had enough and walked out the back door and yelled "You get out of here!" He dropped off and hit the ground at a full run, climbed the pine tree at the front of the house and was gone.

 We haven't seen him sense. But is he gone? I'll bet not.

DAI with Tom and John

Last Saturday (03/18) Tom, I and his brother, John, took an afternoon tour of the Dayton Art Institute, Tom and I were there a couple of years ago and enjoyed the art museum. To see a more thorough tour of the DAI, click here.

Tom (l) and John stand before "Untitled" (1985) by Louise Nevelson

John (l) and Tom 

 John (78) is visiting from his home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He was formerly head of the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts.


Summer Afternoon (1957) 
Ray Parker (1922-1990)

  A view out a southeast window of the DAI, facing the Great Miami River and I-75

John (l) and Tom 

 A new Indian sculpture adorned a large room where a wedding was being held. It's easily twice life size. Another room seemed set up for a reception.

 I don't remember who this character is (or the artist) but the detail was stunning.

 Besides the DAI, the three of us enjoyed lunch at Fazoli's in West Carrollton.

 John will stay in the Cincinnati for much of the week, then visit Florida and finally return home to Wyoming, perhaps along a Gulf route.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Vinegar Pie

 I showed Mom an article ("Make-Do Pies") in the April 2017 issue of Early American Life. There were several recipes. One was called Vinegar Pie (or Poor Man's Pie) and the recipe was from 1854 (Huntington Country Cookbook [Indiana]).

 "That doesn't sound good to me," Mom volunteered,

 Well, I think it's the "vinegar" that makes the recipe sound less than enticing, even sour. But it looked easy and I was intrigued by the scarcity of ingredients (water instead of milk, for instance). What could I lose?

 I added the optional lemon extract as I thought the pie would be virtually tasteless without it. The recipe only calls for 1-1/2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and I thought that too little to be noticeable. I was right.

 I hadn't given the pie "several hours" to chill properly when I removed a thin slice (above) so that I could taste it. I'd call this a custard pie, even though it tastes nothing like the usual heavy egg custard. The lemon highlight is clearly there, though maybe sparkling in the background. The filling is extremely light - almost like a lemon pudding, but one with very little flavor. It is refreshingly light.

Had I given the pie more time to cool, I suspect it would be thicker. But who can wait?

Here's the recipe (click to enlarge):

Vinegar Pie - circa 1854
Credit: Early American Life, April 2017

 I can't imagine how they got the top of their pie browned since it isn't baked in the oven. There's no mention of cinnamon or nutmeg being added to the top.

 Here's the pie just made. The pie crust is baked (I used a Kroger frozen crust) and then the filling is simply poured in and left to cool. Once cool enough, it is placed in the refrigerator for several hours.

 Mom thought the pie had a hint of green to it, like a key lime. But it's actually a light lemon-yellow (due to the eggs).

Bottom line: Easy to make. A light, delicate dessert. If you want lots of flavor, this isn't for you. But I see it as a simple upscale pie, one you almost certainly will never come across again. With its rarity, I love it even more.


 A few years ago we made our own maple syrup. That was on March 9, 2013 (click here to read the story). So with the same date just passed, I knew it was time for the sap to be flowing in our maples.

 Yesterday I was in the second floor bathroom and looked out through the maple tree and saw this sapcycle ...

 They form where maple branches have broken or been damaged by the winter wind. On warmer days, they're invisible. There's just a slow trickle of clear sap that drips to the ground unseen. But then, when a cold night arrives, the flow continues but it freezes and betrays the spot.
 This sapcycle is quite wide so the tiny branch it is connected to much be leaking along its entire length.

 Also in the south maple is this smaller sapcycle. It just points out how this would be the perfect time to hang a bucket on the tree and collect the sap for maple syrup.

 Finally, last evening as the sun was setting, I walked to the back door and saw this sapcycle on the northernmost maple. This is the tree we made syrup from four years ago. Both trees seem to produce copious amounts of sap. I really should plan ahead and have a tap ready for both trees and hang buckets each spring.

 The weather has been perfect for sap flow. The day have been pleasantly warm (03/09 was 66°) and now the nights are cold (the night before these sapcycles formed it dropped to 20°). That wide excursion of temperature is just what the tree needs to begin heavy sap flow.

 We have missed a perfect year to make syrup, I'm afraid. But the sapcycles are some consolation that the trees remain ready to produce and they offer further proof that spring is just around the corner.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Daffodils in Full Bloom

 It seems particularly early this year for our daffodils to be in full bloom but I suppose I think the same thing every year. It is such a shock to see color in the gray, brown and tan world. The meadow is alive with clumps of yellow. brilliant blossoms among last fall's weeds and dead leaves. It is a shock to the system.

March 10

 Two days ago I walked to the meadow and cut a bouquet of daffodils and Mom placed them in a deep blue glass that she keeps mostly for this purpose. They are sitting on the kitchen counter, a touch of spring while winter continues - on the calendar, anyway.

We have had an unusually warm winter again. February was nearly 13° above normal; January was up 7°. Temperatures like this - and the lack of snow cover - have prompted the spring bulbs to explore the tepid air.

February 6 

 I first walked to the meadow in early February and pushed a few leaves aside. I found the clumps of daffodils already above the soil, probably having sprouted a week or so before. This day was 59°, a full 13° above normal.

February 19 

 By mid-month, the shoots had formed buds and were testing the air to see whether it was safe to open. This day it was 58°.

March 9 

 Then, in early March, the flowers burst forth. I probably missed the opening by several days. As I walked to the meadow on 3/9, it was 66°. Winter of 2017 just passed us by.

March 10

 And finally a bouquet for the kitchen. I'll leave most of the blooms in the meadow where they can make a natural display. But we needed a few to enjoy up close. The picture at the top of this blog was taken in macro-mode of a blossom in this bunch.
 Though we will surely have some cold days ahead - Wednesday is forecast to dip into the lower teens - spring is well underway and there is no turning back. Winter is behind us, even if the calendar says eight days remain.