Friday, November 26, 2010

Tree Trimming

 Mom's the one who wants a Christmas tree every year; Dad and I have almost nothing to do with it and couldn't care less whether we have a tree or not. My job, though, is to un-bag the artificial tree which has spent the last 10 months atop our potting table in the garage (bagged so it stays clean). I bring the tree indoors, plug it in and check the bulbs. The rest is up to Mom.

 So, this year it's Thanksgiving Day itself when Mom decides she has the time and the inclination to put the tree up. She spreads the boxes of ornaments on the dining room table and begins her work. Eventually she'll finish by adding flocks of cotton to the ends of each branch, giving the impression of snow.

 How does the finished job look? Here's the tree as I climbed the steps last night to go to bed:

 The tree sits atop an old trunk on the north wall of the dining room, right at the bottom of the steps. Mom would have preferred the living room but couldn't find a place she liked. One spot, by the fireplace, blocked my view too much. And so we placed the tree where there was room, not where we really wanted it.

 The decorating Mom does at Christmas extends well beyond the tree. She brought a pine cone snowman to my room and sat it on the floor, leaning against the chimney. A friend who now lives in Florida sent it to me many years ago and it is a decoration we still use annually.

 The large bay window in the kitchen holds a few Christmas trinkets, too. This nativity set is a special one to Mom, made of corn husks. The location is one we can enjoy often, as often as we cook or do the dishes.

 And here's a small collection of woolly sheep along with a pine cone we picked up on one of our walks. 

 We do not decorate outside, have no lit trees. I don't care to spend the money on electricity nor do I like the work of putting displays up and taking them down ... in January yet, the hardest month of the year to work outdoors. So Mom's entire efforts are concentrated on a few spots indoors.
 My own attitude is no better than tolerance mingled with a "Humbug!" or two. I do not have the Christmas spirit and have never had it. I'd rather go on day to day, as steady as possible and pay no mind to any of the holidays.
 Mom worked on this yesterday because she had a cold and we could not join my cousin's Thanksgiving gathering. We had a quickly planned meal but enjoyed staying inside on a very wet day.
 Last evening, about 9:30 p.m., the wind began to blow as a cold front passed through the Miami Valley, washing the rain along with it. This morning the rain was frozen in the gauge after a nighttime low of 22. Our pleasant fall temperatures are gone. The timing for Christmas decoration couldn't have been more  better.
 On January 1 - not a day later - Mom will say she's tired of Christmas and will take it all down. Dad and I will sigh and things return to normal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Foggy Fall Morning

 It is late November and still we are without our first flake of snow. We've been as cold as 18 degrees, though. Last night melted into morning with an almost-full moon and when Mom awoke, about 5 a.m., it was shining brightly. A couple of hours later, she said she stepped into the kitchen and was met by a thick fog staring back.

 This view of Pinehaven, facing northeast, was taken just before sunrise and shows how we were enveloped in white. Many trees seemed to disappear into the clouds. It was cold - in the upper 20's - but the fog did not stick to many objects as might have been expected. I think the fog formed too quickly for that.

 Behind our property, my row of pines faded into the distance. The first deciduous tree you see (left) is a volunteer wild cherry and beyond it the field has gone to white. The corn stalks crunched beneath my feet.

 From behind the garage, Pinehaven lies hidden in the earth-bound cloud. It was a ghostly morning, ripe for spirits, but I shared my walk with no one. All was quiet. There was no traffic about and no dogs barked. It was as though I was alone in the world. If there was any sound, it was lost in the blanketing fog.

 At the front of our property, along S. Clayton Road, the pines stood silhouetted against the rising light. Still no sun at 8 a.m. and none at 1 p.m either. Though the fog has disappeared, the sky has remained cloudy, the atmosphere heavy and cold.
 These are the times, just before winter arrives, when I feel gratitude for a walk without wind and cold. The days are short now and I can feel the change coming. On mornings like these, when the fog mimics a gentle snow, my very bones begin to sense it, too.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sky-High Steeple Work

 I got an email yesterday from Kim Izor, historian for St. Jacob Lutheran Church in Miamisburg, that work on the outside of their steeple had begun. The top of the steeple, originally a Fleur-de-lis, is about 150 feet above the ground and certainly not employment for the faint of heart.
 So today I drove by twice - once on the way to grocery shopping at Kroger's and again on our way home - and a single workman was moving around the steeple, seemingly unconcerned for his precarious position.

 Myself and another photographer were walking around the building and the workman was aware of us on the sidewalk below.

 I suppose this little "bucket" chair, attached to the end of a rope, is the comfortable seat one is to use while moving up and down the steeple. It would seem to me that it offers no comfort at all!

 The workman is located at the southeast edge of the steeple. Later he was traveling up and down the center line (south), dangling on the end of what must be a very secure rope. From my trip up inside the steeple a few weeks ago (read about it here), there us no way I'd go up on the outside. This work takes better nerves than I was born with.

 If there's something positive to say about the work, at least the weather was perfect: calm, clear, sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-60's. Amazing for November 13.

 If I had to find myself out on this roof, this would be the place I'd be most comfortable. Even so, the height is nothing to sneeze about and I think I'd avoid even this at all cost.
 The steeple work should be finished soon, just in time for winter. Let's hope this beautiful steeple is again weatherproof for many years to come.

Note: The pictures above are presented in higher-resolution. Click on any of them to see greater detail.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


 It's close enough to the holidays - and who cares about the time of the year anyway? - to make gingerbread.
 Today I walked by the kitchen while Mom was stirring the dark batter and I knew what she was up to. We had a great lunch, and an even greater dessert.
 Mom tops her gingerbread with whipped topping and adds a sprinkling of black walnuts. The walnuts, in fact, we picked up nearby, dried in our garage and cracked here. That makes the dish taste that much better.


1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1-1/2 cups white flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1/2 cup boiling water

Cream shortening and sugar. add eggs and molasses; beat. Combine dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with water. Beat thoroughly. 
Bake in a greased and lightly floured 8x8" pan. 350 degrees (325 for glass pan) for 35-40 minutes. [Note: We often find this done in 25 minutes.]

Home Sweet Home

  I'm a Farmersville boy, through and through. I love the place, love the people. It is home.
 And yet it is Miamisburg where I was born and Miamisburg that holds a special place in my heart.
 I attended a board of education meeting on Thursday (10/28) evening and when I left, about 8:30 p.m., I detoured from my usual route home and was taken by the sparkling beauty of the downtown area at night.

 I pulled the car over, parked and got out on foot. Though I saw no other walkers, there was enough traffic to feel safe. I've never had reason not to feel safe. I was looking at the rear of the Market Square Building, now the home of the Miamisburg Historical Society. How many times did I go in there as a child when my Aunt Mary (Masters) had her Mary Ann Shop in that building? How many pair of hosiery did Mom send me there for? Either Mary or Alma Boiston would pull a flat box from a shelf, slide a hose from between the tissue paper and fold them on the glass counter.

 Looking to the northeast, there is the building that was Silberman's Drug Store. Mom and I would often walk down town on Friday evening and stand there Silberman's was the front building, located on Main St. It is the building at the middle of the picture. On that very spot, 50 years ago, Mom and I would stand with our backs against the wall, waiting often for my grandfather to pick us up. Or, more likely, we'd begin walking home again.

 Turn around now and look the other way (east). As a kid, the building on the left was Mutual Federal Savings & Loan. My grandfather worked there as an appraiser. As a young woman, my mother worked across the street (beyond the right edge of this shot).
 I love the warm lighting of downtown. I love how the city of Miamisburg is being revitalized.
 Miamisburg is no longer my home. But it will always be my beloved hometown.

Winter's Early Signs

 The past week has found us beginning our annual battle with winter. The first sign was found on the cap of our "burn barrel" at the edge of the garden on Saturday (10/30) morning before the sun rose. There, overnight, long fingers of ice had formed in the cold night air. It only got down to 25 degrees and the air has been quite dry but what little moisture was present was wrung from the air by the chill.

 This barrel is at such an exposed location that I use it as a sort of "frost sensor". I don't have to look for lightly frosted grass or dry leaves with a fringe of ice. I walk to the barrel and check this cap, have a look along the barrel's metal edge. It is all the proof I need.

 On a sadder (and more expensive) note, our heat pump wasn't defrosting properly (probably not at all) and a fringe of ice several inches high formed along the outside edge and on the coils. If the coils are covered with ice, they're insulated and insulated coils don't exchange heat efficiently. So we called the serviceman who had to replace a circuit board that controls the defrost cycle. We have a ten year warranty and he was nice enough to not to charge even for the trip.

 Looking across the field in front of our house, what we call the "Shell Farm" was enveloped in the icy fog and seemed to be a haunted house. It's Beggars Night so it's only proper that it should look a little scary before the sun rises. The cut corn has a fringe of frost along it's edge, too.

 Later the sun is up and the day is warming and my brother, Bob, has stopped by to cut down another dead pine. We're losing pines at a tremendous rate. I suppose our climate is changing too fast for the poor trees to adapt. Frankly, it's hard enough for us.

 The top of the tree looks pretty small - and it is - but the trunk is large enough that a chain saw is needed. We added the logs to our nearby woodpile and will use them in the years ahead. I hate to see the view changing so rapidly. Our privacy is being eroded by every tree that dies.
 And yet on this cold weekend, the sun shines and the air is fairly calm. There isn't a snowflake in sight. But winter is ready and I can sense that it is just over the horizon. Already an electric blanket feels good. The calendar confirms that we must be ready for the dark days ahead.

Baking Bread

 There's nothing quite like homemade bread, is there? The lovely feel of the warm dough, the yeasty smell when it bakes, the warm slices with butter and jelly.
 We use a bread maker to mix the actual dough and then we take it out, knead it by hand, rise it again in a warm spot and bake it in a regular loaf pan. That's a little bit hi-tech and old-fashioned all rolled into one.

 Here's the dough just out of the bread maker. We've tucked it into an aluminum bread pan and are ready to cover it with a light cloth. We used to dampen the cloth but found that it sticks less (actually not at all) if the cloth is left dry. Our house isn't very warm so I placed the bread on our south porch, warmed by the mid-day sun. The pan sits atop a small homemade rug for protection from the cool tabletop. In the winter I warm a small room with a space heater. About 30 minutes to an hour later (depending on the temperature and the quality of the yeast), the dough has risen out of the pan and puffs the cloth up like a tent. That's the sign we watch for.

 And here's the loaf, newly out of the oven, smelling just like fresh bread should! Mom adds a little margarine to the crust (using a paper towel) to soften it. That's an unnecessary step if you like your crust a little tough (I do; Mom doesn't).
 The recipe we used is this:

Classic White (one regular loaf)

3/4 cup water
2 cups white flour
1 tablespoon dry milk
1-1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon margarine
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds (roasted, salted)
1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

We place this in our bread maker (water on the bottom) and set it for "dough". When it's done, we take it out, knead it a couple of times by hand and place it in a greased loaf pan. We let it rise again (30 min. to an hour; the loaf should double in size in surroundings that are comfortably warm; I cover it with a dry cloth).

 Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes (until crust is nice and brown)