Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Old Mother Hubbard

 I'm up before 2 a.m. checking the pipes. It's -4° this night and the stars stud the country sky with unusual brilliance. When the Canadian cold is deepest, the stars are clearest. And so I check that the pipes still carry liquid water, stand a few minutes at various windows to admire the universe above my head and then crawl back beneath my quilt on the living room floor.

 What is there in the human body that keeps time? I have, each night for the past week, set my alarm to wake me every couple of hours. In every case but one, I woke up just in advance of the alarm. Last night I set the alarm for only a single excursion of the Pinehaven Pipe Brigade: 2 a.m. My eyes flew open at 1:57 a.m. I could not quite believe the precision of some hidden clockwork that resides somewhere in the human body.

 At 5:15 a.m. I hear Mom's little bed creak and she says to me, across the cool divide of the dark living room, "Come on, it's your turn." She grabs her cane and walks bent over to the kitchen. I get up from the floor, climb into her warm bed and am quickly back to sleep.

 When I do arise, at 7:35 a.m., I make the beds (both), folding my covers into a pile that I lay before the television, out of the way and ready for another night on the floor. I am hoping, though, that this one was the last. If the temperatures rise into the upper teens and if the weather service thinks we won't dip below a wind-less 7° tonight, I may climb back into my almost-forgotten blessed bed. The living room floor is close to the action but it is hard.

 By 7:45 a.m. I'm just sitting down to breakfast and lifting the first spoonful of cold cereal to my lips when the kitchen goes suddenly dark. "Did we lose power?" Mom asks, as though from a cave. I am sitting in a still-lit dining room so I know we've only blown a fuse.

 The basement steps are cold and hard on my stockinged feet. I lift the latch on the breaker box and see a familiar orange flag pointing to the tripped breaker. With the flip of a switch the kitchen reanimates. We tripped the breaker because Mom was making toast (for me), heating a cup of yesterday's cold coffee (for me) and had the drip coffeemaker working on an entire 12-cup pot (for both of us). Of course an electrical space heater is working away on the opposite side of the kitchen but I know from past experience that that's on another circuit.

We're going to have to go to the grocery today. The situation is getting critical. We were initially trapped here by a huge snow drift in front of the garage. Even with that plowed out, the bitterly cold temperatures have kept us home.

 I began to worry that two emaciated bodies would be discovered here in the spring. Each day the refrigerator has been looking more bare.

 We have beer, some fruit drinks, a bit of cottage cheese, a container of commercial mashed potatoes, butter, mayonnaise, yeast, apple sauce, a partial carton of eggs. There is in the hydrator a stalk or two of celery and part of small Italian tomato.  And in the refrigerator's door there's a few slices of cheese and a handful of packets of Taco Bell hot sauces (for what use is a free condiment left behind?).

We might make bread with the yeast except that we're all but out of flour.

Mom's cupboard is equally bare. We have some canned goods and some cereals. But stocked we are not. Surely, anything we become hungry for, we will not have.

So to the grocery we go later today. We'll pick up a few essentials today and then make a more thorough shopping trip to Miamisburg tomorrow. The weather promises to moderate. It's time to stick our nose back out of the winter den and sniff the warming air.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pinehaven Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

 Instead of regular peanut butter cookies, how about using one of the new "chocolate" peanut butters? Some time back I bought a jar of Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread with Dark Chocolate (creamy). Would it lend the taste of chocolate to a peanut butter cookie?
 Well, not much. The cookies are darker than regular peanut butter cookies and they come out of the oven with a hint of chocolate. But Reese Peanut Butter Cups they are not.

 Using our standard - and much loved - peanut butter cookie recipe, I simply substituted the chocolate peanut butter.

Pinehaven Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup chocolate peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (artificial in my case)
1-1/4 cups white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cream margarine, chocolate peanut butter, white sugar, brown sugar, egg and vanilla together.
Combine remaining dry ingredients: flour, soda, salt
Blend into creamed mixture
Shape into one inch balls with a teaspoon, drop onto ungreased cookie sheet*
  * Note: I use parchment paper on my cookie sheet for easy clean-up
Crisscross with a fork as desired, pressing down.
Bake at 375° for 12 minutes, a dozen at a time, evenly spaced
Makes 30 cookies

 I tend to like larger cookies than many recipes call for. This recipe makes 30 of what, for me, is a standard size cookie. I made two dozen by pressing them down with a small glass dipped in granulated sugar but did not crisscross with a fork (these are the ones pictured). The remaining six I made as the recipe notes. Conclusion: save yourself some time. Just crisscross and leave it at that.

Added: Note 1 -What do I think of them? Well, I figured my comment about them not being Reese PB Cups offered somewhat of an explanation. With only a nuance of chocolate, they're pretty much regular PB cookies (which I love). They look a bit different (darker) but that's about the most I can say. Are they good? You bet!
            Note 2 - This recipe makes a crispier cookie.

A Winter's Week from Hell

 We knew this week would be bad. Sunday I decided I had to get our washing done and ventured out. I drove the six miles north to New Lebanon. The roads were snow-covered and slippery but I drove slowly and made it there without any trouble. Just north of here, a four wheel drive truck lay in a roadside ditch, angled as though it might topple over.

 I did the wash, loaded the car and began the return trip. It also went well ... until I tried to put the car away in the garage. I figured I had backed out OK so why should I have trouble getting back in? I suppose the answer is that the wind distributed the snow even deeper while I was gone.

 So there I sat, mired in ice and snow, the garage door not twenty feet away. I backed up. I drove forward. I rocked the car. I put carpeting under the front wheels. I dug and dug and dug some more. Nothing. The car would not budge. I called Bob. "Could you come and help me get my car put away before the weather gets any worse?" I asked him. Sure he would. You can count on Bob for anything, even when the timing (and weather) isn't convenient.

 This is the drift I faced ... 14" deep. Don't believe it? Here's a close-up of the yardstick.

 Even with the car put away, I considered how I was going to get back out if we needed to. What if we had an emergency? What were we to do once the groceries got low? I mentioned it on Facebook and our neighbor to the south, Pam Erisman, said they could help. Mid-afternoon her husband, Jeff, walked up the road with his snow blower, a heavy duty industrial model, and began digging us out.

 The wind grabbed the plume of snow and blew it everywhere. Jeff was white as a snowman when he finished. He dug a path a little wider than our car and provided us with emergency access. Thank goodness for good neighbors!

Weather models showed a second Arctic cold front - the Polar Vortex actually - dipping well into the mid- and eastern United States on Monday. Sunday evening I watched it drop south by using electronic weather stations in its path. One after the other nosedived as the front whipped through.

Monday night we went to bed prepared. The front did not arrive here in Farmersville till shortly after midnight. It was, in fact, 42° when the front slammed into the back of our house. I heard the wind and got up from my bed on the living room floor (where I planned to be much of the week) and walked to the kitchen window thermometer and saw it already dropped into the upper teens. That was 2:30 a.m.

I lit both kerosene space heaters: one in our first floor bathroom, another on our enclosed porch. I turned them as low as they would safely go (and still burn cleanly and smokeless) and I watched them for half an hour making sure they burnt steadily. Then I went back to "bed" and slept fairly soundly until morning.

Bob did not. He told me that when the wind began he became frightened and abandoned his second floor bed for a recliner in the living room. "I've never heard so much noise," he said. "All night long the wind just screamed."

By morning we were in the upper single figures. I filled both kerosene heaters.

 Here's the heater in our first floor bathroom. Just to the right (off screen) is the plumbing access for the bathtub. I open it so warm air can flow onto the pipes there. Still, it was the hot water that stopped running when the first Polar Vortex came through on 01/06-07. I'm doing my best to prevent a repeat.

 Our enclosed porch gets a heater, too. Mom overwinters many of her plants here and the temperature regularly dips into the mid-40's. Though I keep the basement door open, the furnace is a heat pump and there's little residual heat. In fact, there's little heat at all. I push a few ceiling tiles open because the second floor bathroom is directly overhead and I can warm those pipes from below.

 Last night into this morning we were to have the coldest air atop us. At 7 a.m. we dipped to -12°. That temperature is rare enough in these parts but it is following five sub-zero readings already this month. That's certainly rare for Dayton. Last year I did not see a colder temperature than +4° (01/03/13) and that was interspersed with warmer nights.

 I was up every hour and a half, checking pipes. I run water (both hot and cold) at every faucet. I go upstairs and make sire the second floor bathroom is OK. I flush toilets. When I'm not up, Mom is often taking a turn. I see her rise from her little twin bed in the living room, take her cane and walk towards the kitchen

 This morning this lovely "ice blossom" is on a second floor east-facing window. Other windows have frilly straight lines of ice, crossing at odd angles. Yet others are covered with a coating of solid ice and are completely opaque.

 Looking towards sunrise just before 8 a.m. gives me some hope. The day appears to be sunny and that will help to heat the house. At the very least, it'll boost my mood. And yet it promises to be a brutal day. We will only see a high temperature of +4°. But how nice it is to see that plus sign!

 I plan to spend the next two nights bedded on the living room floor. By Friday we'll rise to freezing ... and that seems absolutely spring-like.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Mary's Quilt

 One of my favorite quilts was made by Mary Phillips of Monterey, Tennessee, quite a famous quilt-maker in those parts. Besides quilt-making, Phillips wrote a weekly column for the Monterey Press.

 Mary Ann Phillips, born June 9, 1904, died August 26, 2009 in Monterey, Tennessee at age 105. Her husband, Miller, preceded her in death.

Mary Ann Phillips at 102 holding "my" quilt on her lap

 The year after Phillips died, for the 2010 federal census, Monterey numbered just 2850 residents. Located in rural Putnam County, Monterey is 93 miles east of Nashville.

In January 2006, my brother, Bob, and his wife, Nancy, bought one of Phillip's quilts while visiting a friend (Jay). Nancy owns several of Phillip's quilts. This quilt was given to me and I've always counted it as a special possession.

 While Jay lives north of Monterey, Phillips, Bob remembered, lived in the town itself, in a small cottage-sized house. They visited a number of times to buy quilts from her. While Bob didn't think it was an actual business, more of a hobby or pastime, Phillips was an avid quilt-maker.

 I've always enjoyed the colors chosen for this quilt ... mostly a deep bold brown with sandy tan and aqua.

 Here's a close-up of some of the piecework. The quilt has had some use through the years and is no longer in perfect condition. But of what point is a museum piece when it might instead warm your bed?

 Here's a macro view of some of the tiny stitching.

Mary Ann Phillips

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Woodpecker at the Feeder

 I watch the birds at our suet feeder every day while I do the lunch dishes. Usually it's the downy woodpeckers that come - both a male and female - and they seem fairly unafraid of me. This comes through familiarity.

 Since the weather has become cold and snowy, a certain re-bellied woodpecker visits the feeder often, too, though he has been skittish and is apt to fly away at my first movement. In the past, to capture him with the camera, I've simply backed away from the window and shot from the recesses of the darkened kitchen.

 Today that wasn't necessary. Perhaps he's colder or hungrier than usual. He stayed while I took some shots, right up near the window.

 To show the actual native resolution of the above photo, here's a small cropped section ...

 The following shots were taken on 01/07/14. We had a windy high that day of 8° after a morning low of -10°. The woodpecker still came for suet - maybe more so because of it - but he'd remove a snibble and fly to a nearby maple branch where he was somewhat protected from the wind.

 Here he'd peck suet in the lee of the tree

 He'd almost "snuggle down" and make himself as small as possible while he ate. Winter must be a miserable time for wild animals. Where is the rest from the brutal cold? Night only makes matters worse.

 The zebra-back of this woodpecker is stunning.

 If you look carefully at this shot, you'll see why this bid is called red-bellied. There is a small pinkish-red patch on his abdomen, usually quite hard to pick out. In this shot, the patch is showing through the metalwork of the suet feeder.

 Added 01/20/14: Another close-up of 'Ol Brown Eyes ...

The Table

 The table, given to me by my aunt and uncle, has generated some interest. I decided to show it off a little more clearly and hope that someone might date it, tell me who made it. Surely it is a commercial product and not something made locally. The hardware seems to support this.
 See the previous post for additional details. The story is this: Charlie bought the table at an estate sale or auction, brought it home and stripped the heavy coats of paint, made various repairs and covered it, I believe, in either a light varnish or maybe no more than a linseed oil (that was his usual technique).
 Originally the table was owned by the Gebhart & Schmidt Funeral Home in Miamisburg. I suppose it was used for various services at the funeral home. Might it not have held flowers or a book to sign? It is slightly smaller than a regular card table but strong, owing to its wooden construction.

 I've always admired the blonde coloration of this table. The top has various cracks and gouges, betraying years of hard use before Charlie bought it. Some spots were repaired with no more than a simple wood filler.

 The bottom of the table shows how the legs fold inward. Springs assist folding and storage. It's as compact and sturdy a table as it possible for its size.

 Large springs keep the table flexible but solid when opened. It cannot wobble from side to side. The springs, I think, point to an early construction date. The funeral home was originally the William Gamble House, deeded on April 11, 1893. Could the table have been leftover from this home? My grandfather, Elwood Schmidt and his partner, Howard Gebhart, bought the house from Thomas Lyons in 1938.

 When the legs are fully opened, two black clasps fit snugly over boards and hold the table open. It cannot be folded again until these claps are listed away from the boards.

 Angle irons at the corners give the table even more stability. They are quite thick for so small a table. The screws seem 19th century to me.

The wooden legs are turned on a lathe with minimal decoration.

 Here's a close look at the top of the table. Who would have ever painted this? My uncle loved working with and seeing bare wood. I do, too.
 It seems only fitting that the table return to the Boyer family when I pass on. That's what I plan to do with it. So, though it will spend the next years as a Schmidt heirloom, it will return to Charlie's family at last.

Gebhart & Schmidt business card: ~1925

 The undertaking business was originally located at 57 South Main Street, Miamisburg, as of 1925. A furniture store was constructed at 16 North Main Street in 1930 (now an art gallery). The Gamble House served as the funeral home (the furniture part of the business was discontinued) beginning in 1938.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Memories of Charlie

I lost my Uncle Charles Boyer last Monday. He had been sick for some time, hospitalized in early November and then moved to a Miamisburg nursing home (Kingston) where he declined steadily over the past two months.

In recent weeks, he was unresponsive. Mom and I visited him on Friday, January 3 and that would be my final time.

 Born December 4, 1926, Charlie's life consisted of 31,811 days. Perhaps all of them weren't good ones - certainly the last handful were not - but they contain many memories etched into my own life forever. Here are a few highlights.

Charlie at my cousin Mel's wedding

My earliest recollection was when Mom and I visited Mae and Charlie while they were living above his Aunt Clara's hat shop in downtown Miamisburg. That would have been in the very early 1950's. I was still young enough that walking was a chore. I remember holding Mom's hand and climbing the long dark stairs to their second floor apartment. I had no idea where I was.

While still a young child, as I placed relatives in their respective slots, I was confused whether the Boyers were famous or not. I'd heard of Charles Boyer, the actor. Was this the same? And Chef Boyardee surely had something to do with them, too.

As a young boy we once went swimming at Whitewater State Park. Every Wednesday we'd meet for a family dinner at my Grandma Paulsen's. We'd visit Mae and Charlie's on summer holidays for picnics on the patio Charlie built, floored with local Ordovician stones.

I remember, while I was still very young, Charlie building a wooden model of a stagecoach and how intricate the details, how perfectly he assembled it.  Later he would construct a flintlock rifle. His woodworking skills were unparalleled.

In the 1960's the Boyer's had a fallout shelter dug and constructed in their back yard. It was part of the fear of an all-out nuclear war with the Russians. The fallout shelter remains to this day, still unused. Like many insurance policies, it's better to have than to have to use.

A WWII vet, Charlie served in the US Army in Europe. He played saxophone in the band.

Charlie - WWII Portrait

Every now and then, especially when we were young, Charlie would pull the sax from the closet and play some songs for us. He was good ... mellow, jazzy, accomplished. Dad often talked of accompanying Charlie on piano with "Monk" Hughes, another Miamisburg notable.

In later years - probably the 1980's - when we helped prepare a Miamisburg house for his son, Doug, I marveled at the job Charlie did while washing the windows. I wrote about it in Pinehaven. He was slow, but exquisitely detailed in his work. The windows were clean when he finished.

We once went camping in Friendship, Indiana where he often attended their semi-annual "shoots". It was a muzzle-loader's group that met there for contests. Though Charlie didn't shoot that time, I remember helping set up his large canvas tent and laying awake till well after midnight, talking, while a rock band played into the night. The next day, upon finding a toilet broken, Charlie took it upon himself to fix it.

Charlie - 2012

Once, in the mid-1990's, I accompanied Mae and Charlie to Rocky Mount, Virginia to visit his son, Doug, and his family. Charlie and I shared a basement for sleeping.

I especially remember when my own father died in 2011. We stopped over at Mae and Charlie's and found him working on clearing honeysuckle from a fence at the rear of their property. Charlie turned and saw me, gathered his balance and gave me a big hug. He knew I had lost my best friend. He made sure I knew I had another one left.

When we visited a restaurant, Charlie would always order coffee, "Half and half. Half regular, half decaf," he would tell the waitress.

 Charlie was always a gentleman.

This past fall, when he and Mae visited Pinehaven the last time, he was having a hard time maintaining his balance as he walked to their car. I took him by the hand - as warm and soft as his heart - and helped hold him up while we stepped down from the porch into the driveway. I somehow knew that would be his final visit here. I suppose that was last October.

Many years ago Charlie bought a wooden table at an estate sale. It was apparently owned by my Grandfather's firm, Gebhart & Schmidt Funeral Home in Miamisburg. He refinished it with the same care he handled all wood. From  an old dirty card-table-sized wooden table, it became something of a family heirloom.

 I always joked with Mae and Charlie that the table should be passed to me when they died. It was a Schmidt table, after all, and rightly should be returned to a Schmidt. They'd always laugh about it. And they'd  warn me that Doug wanted it, too.

A few months ago, Mae said the table was mine and to come pick it up. Charlie was hospitalized at the time. I carefully carried it from their home, laid it out gently on the floor of the trunk and have had it standing against a wall in the living room. I admire the smooth, blonde wood.

At Charlie's memorial service yesterday, Doug came up to me smiling. "Do you know what Dad's final words were to me?" I told him I did not.

"Dad said to tell you to give that table to Doug!"

 He was kidding, of course.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Winter at Pinehaven

 Yesterday's forecast called for heavy snow. 8-12" wasn't out of the question. But the low pressure system jogged to the west and left us in the warm sector of the storm. Instead of heavy snow, we got heavy rain (0.90").
 But with an Arctic cold front just to our west, winter weather wasn't something we could escape entirely. Between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. the cold air began to push in, the winds increased and the snow began to fly. We got no more than a trace (there is 1.5" of snow remaining on the ground this morning) but areas just to our west, in Indiana, had to put up with late day blizzard warnings.
 Throughout the night I was kept on edge by the wind. I worry about our pipes and about the cost of heating this old house. I set my clock radio for 2 a.m. I got up, came downstairs and found Mom up having breakfast (I smelled the toast even before I left my bedroom). She had checked everything already.
 This morning it is cold (-5° at 9 a.m.) and the wind continues to blow.

 On January 4, as the winter storm was beginning to form to our southwest, our weather was quite beautiful. The low sun produced marvelous shadows and the jet contrails in the blue sky were stunning. This was shot from my second floor bedroom window, facing south.

 This is how Mom's bedroom window looks this morning. As usual on cold nights, it becomes crossed with delicate lines of ice, feathery structures that seem too good to be true. There are also individual snow-like flakes of ice, islands of ice among the lines.

 At 8:08 a.m. I walked to the front window near the sofa and shot across the field to our east. The gray light of night still controlled the scene.

 But just nine minutes later, the sun had risen above the horizon and bathed the snow in its orange light. It looks warmer even if it isn't. All area schools are closed, not because the roads are particularly dangerous, but because children would have to wait for their buses in the brutal cold.
 Tonight the "Pipe Brigade" will be called to duty again. Colder still. -15° is possible with wind chills of -40°. We won't get a break until Thursday, three days off. Winter at Pinehaven can spell trying times.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bear Lake - Now & Then

 Bob and Nancy headed to Bear Lake, Michigan this week to check out some property. He left New Year's Day and he's returning today. It was a quick three-day whirlwind. Cold, too!
 He called me about 5:30 p.m. as he was coming across County Road 600 and could see the frozen lake in the distance. He doesn't remember seeing it frozen before. I went up the week after Christmas in 1963 with Grandma and Bobo Schmidt. We stayed at the Bella Vista Inn on US-31 and visited the Dayton Club and other sites. I remember walking on the lake for the first time, visiting ice shanty's and finding the scenery so different from our summer vacations.

 First thing that evening, Bob sent me this picture from Benzonia. We had eaten at The Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grill  many years ago and I remember Bob ordering a three pound burrito. No, they didn't have them any longer. In fact they didn't even remember having them in the past. But Bob and I do!

 Next morning (1/2/14) Bob and Nancy drove to the Dayton Club.

 This is their first view of the Dayton-Bear Lake Outing Club as they came around the corner from Lakeside Avenue onto Butwell Road .

 This was our family's cottage from the 1934 until 1981.

 "The Point" has changed quite a bit from when I was a kid. A large pine, a real focal point on that spit of land, is gone. So, too, there is less land there.

 Another view north on Butwell Road from the corner with Lakeside. "Our" cottage is the yellow one dead center in this photo.

 As is our usual custom nowadays, Bob and Nancy stayed at Fredrick's Cottages on Lakeside. They stayed in this cabin.

 Here's another view of their cabin. Bob said the snow depth was "about a foot".


 Here is the driveway leading out of Fredrick's Cottages. That's the frozen Bear Lake in the distance.

 At Lakeside Avenue in front of Fredrick's with a good view of the frozen lake.

 They drove over to Pierport and took this picture of Old Faceful, an artesian spring that apparently runs just as well in winter as in the summer. I'll bet that water's cold enough to hurt your teeth.

 Looking across the snow-covered sand towards Lake Michigan at Pierport.

 Also at Pierport, a view looking southward.

 Another view of Lake Michigan in winter (at Frankfort).

 Bob said he caught this shot just as a wave hit the shore and sent a frozen spray skyward.

 This is a view of the lighthouse at Frankfort. Called Frankfort Light, it's a place we invariably visited every time we were in Michigan on vacation.

 Here's a very cold Nancy on the beach at Frankfort.

 And finally Bob on the wintry beach at Frankfort.

 Now, let's go down memory lane and look at a few of the Polaroid's I took on December 26-27, 1963, almost precisely 50 years before Bob took the shots you've just viewed ...

 Here also is the Dayton Club taken from Butwell Road. I was well past the corner of Lakeshore and looking back at the club. Our cottage is centered in this shot, too.

 Here's the Boathouse, long ago removed. It always anchored the Little Bay.

 Our cottage on 12/27/63. I remember the snow being almost too deep to walk, I would have been just 14.

The Point was always very distinctive when I was a kid, winter or summer. That tall pine, just left of center, could be seen from far away and seemed to me to say "home". The Point isn't the same without it.

Helen & Elwood Schmidt
December 27, 1963

* All photos ©Robert J Schmidt and ©William G Schmidt