Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Decorating- Alaskan Style

 For the first ten years that I lived in Alaska, the only way that I was aware that it was Christmas was to look at the calendar, or perhaps take a trip into town during December. The farm, where I lived, was run by a Christian organization that didn't celebrate Christmas. At least not all the outward appearances that are so common in the country today. We had no trees indoors, except for the ones we cut down and chopped up for firewood. There were no decorations or gifts or fancy dinners. There was nothing to distinguish Christmas from any other day of the year. On the one hand I could understand the doctrine. The commercialization of Christmas that is so prevalent now bears little resemblance to the reason we celebrate the holiday. For so many people Christmas is a time of great stress- too much busyness, too much pressure, too much money spent, and for some, too much time spent alone. All that being said, here in the North country, the nights are long and cold, and Christmas provides us with a good reason to dress up our homes and businesses with tinsel and lights and ornaments. It's nice to pass by a place that has some colored lights in the window and some streamers of garland draped around the tree.  When I came to town to live, I decided that it would be fun to decorate the house a little. For thirty years, more or less, we've strung garland and lights on the front porch and hung lights and tinsel in the windows. It breaks the monotony and drabness of a dark winter night. Here in Hoonah I've seen homes with the outdoor lights still strung up well into March and beyond. More power to them I guess. I was out at the Forest Service building and one of the employees decided to add a little Christmas cheer to the usual displays. As you can see, in place of a mantle to hang a stocking, there is the open mouth of a small brown bear. I hope Santa exercises caution when he goes to fill it. An art project from some of the local kids is dressed up with a few Christmas bows, and the display of bear skulls has a ribbon of green garland framing it. Up above the cross tree on a troller down at the marine storage facility, a bald eagle serves as a sort of tree topper. Even the dog gets dressed up this time of year when it gets cold and snowy outside. He's wearing his ugly sweater, complete with little jingle bells that go tinkling with every step he takes. His biggest challenge is to keep from peeing on his sweater when he lifts his leg. Apparently the sweater is a little big. As he was walking  through the snow on his way to sniff out another dog's marking, he stepped on the back of the sweater and ended up walking out of it, right through the collar. I guess he needs something a little smaller, but kids, please don't send him any more. He's got a pumpkin suit upstairs in the closet as well as a red rain coat- neither of which he cares for. If he wasn't so old I'd try to get him a hot dog bun sweater, like the wiener dogs in the Heinz commercial, but I don't want to humiliate the poor fellow. In any event, I hope that you'll take some time this year to go out and enjoy the light displays that your neighbors have set up.  If you're with the electric company, I hope you'll be giving out generous bonuses and if you're just a schmuck like me who likes to decorate the house, thanks for making Christmas a little brighter.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


   I received a call from my older brother, Mark on Monday night. Our mother, Barbara Jean Botts succumbed to the disease that had been plaguing her for several years. It was a call that I both dreaded and almost welcomed. She's spent the last two and a half years in the memory care unit at the Kingston assisted living facility in Marion Ohio suffering with Alzheimer's Disease. I think most people are familiar with the disease and how it robs those afflicted with it of their minds and bodies over time. Towards the end she was sleeping 20-22 hours a day so that even the possibility of calling and carrying on a conversation was almost impossible. I don't want to dwell on her last days though.   For the past few days I've gone over memories from my past. The struggle to get us kids zipped up in our snow suits, and searching for gloves and hats in an overstuffed closet so we could go out in the snow and play, and ten minutes later having to deal with the whole zipper thing again because someone forgot to go pee before they left the house. The carefully wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree. It always surprised me that Santa and Mom had the same hand writing. The wonderful meals she cooked; never anything too fancy, just  good home cooking. The backyard barbeque's with friends and neighbors on a warm summer evening. Getting us ready for a night of Trick or Treating on Halloween. It seems like I was always a tramp, though I may have dressed like a woman once. It's funny what you remember.
 She was always Mom to me. The only time I ever called her Mommy was on a family excursion in Mohican State forest one fall day.We were on a hike and Dad thought it would be quicker if we left the trail and tried climbing a rather steep hill. We were slowly making our way to the top when Mom stepped on a piece of loose debris and started sliding down the hill. In a split second I had visions of her lifeless body at the bottom and a future without her. Thankfully, after about fifty feet she stopped sliding and was able to stand up. We found the trail again and made it back to the car before sundown. She was scratched and bruised, and we were all shaken up, but other than that she was fine.
 Mom was pretty low key. She seldom got dressed before noon, and spent long sessions on the phone talking to her neighbors. As was common when I grew up, Dad went to work and Mom stayed home with us kids. She always kept a neat house and more importantly, she was there when we came home, whether from school or playing in the neighborhood. I don't doubt that I caused her grief and more than a little heartache or heartburn growing up, but she never dwelt on that.
   Mom didn't learn to drive until her and Dad and my two younger brothers moved out into the country to a new house. I guess she didn't have much choice if she wanted to buy groceries or visit her friends. I think she was darn near fifty when she got her license. Dad bought her a big red Pontiac, about half the size of a school bus and it amused me to see this little woman in such a big car.
 She had a few odd habits. Mom would make four or five cups of hot tea each day, and then leave the cups half empty, scattered around the house. For reasons I never understood, she would occasionally get a desire for some crushed ice, so she would grab out a few ice cubes, hold them in her hand and smack them with the back of a butter knife so she could chew the shattered pieces. Whenever she was using ground beef for a meal she would break off a little bit and eat it raw. To the best of my knowledge she never got sick because of it. She loved playing Scrabble, and if you entered her home, it was almost certain you wouldn't be able to leave without playing a game or two. In all my years growing up at home I think I only observed her with her hair down three or four times. She always wore it up in a bun. I never asked why, it's just the way it was. One of the last times I visited her she had bought a wig that she wore. I'm not sure if it was because of thinning hair or because she didn't want to look older because of her hair turning white.
If you were to search for her name in a book of Who's Who in America, you wouldn't find it there.  She never held public office or cured a disease or ran a corporation. What she did do was to be a good wife and mother and friend and citizen. Things that really matter.
I miss her, and I suspect I will miss her for the rest of my life. Not the person who was stricken with Alzheimer's, but the Mom I grew up with. I'm glad that she's free from the confusion and fear that she experienced in her final years and that she's finally at rest. She's earned it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mr Cookies

 I baked some chocolate chip cookies for my mother this past week. She's in an assisted living home back in Ohio, and like many elderly people, she's developed quite a sweet tooth. She never used to eat too many sugary snacks, but  time has had a way of changing all that. Anyway, I wanted to send her a little something. It wouldn't be very practical to send her down some turkey and stuffing, so I opted for some Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies. I've only baked them once before that I recall. I was baking them for Mom last year, and I had my friend Whitney, the downs syndrome fellow helping me. He had never baked them either, so it was an experience for both of us. While he was stirring the mix, he sneezed right into the bowl. We ended up sending that batch to HIS mother. Fortunately the heat from the oven must have killed any germs. I had the same problem this time that I had last time. I followed the directions to a T, but the cookies kept creeping in to each other. As I recall, the directions said to use a tablespoon of batter per cookie, which I did, but it didn't seem to matter. They were attracted to each other like the two poles of a magnet. They were almost big enough to use as targets for shotguns, like clay pigeons. The difference is that you could eat these. Actually, that's not a bad idea. If cookies were used instead of clay pigeons, after they were shot, you wouldn't have to deal with the mess. Either the birds or raccoons or some other wild animal could come and clean up afterward. They could almost be used for Frisbee's too. In fact they would probably be the perfect size for playing Frisbee golf. As you can see from the forth picture, trying to separate cookies that have an attraction for each other is very difficult. It's like breaking up  a family, very traumatic. At first I thought that I would just eat any of the broken ones. When it became apparent, after about the third giant cookie, that if I ate all the broken ones, not only would I have very few to send to Mom, but I would put on an additional few pounds that I'm trying desperately to keep off. Losing weight in Alaska in the winter is almost a joke. Not only do I spend more time inside sitting around, but I get hit with the double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas. To top it off, certain family members think they are showing Jan and I love by sending candy or fudge or cookies. I should send them a picture of us naked so they can see the damage that they've done. I can promise you that never again would we be the recipients of such goodies. Nothing but The Fruit of the Month Club or gym equipment for us. Back to the cookies. When I got near the end of the cookie dough, I was forced to put less on each spoon to kind of stretch it. They actually came out looking pretty good, although by comparison they seemed a little small. On the plus side though, they were easier to get off the baking sheet because I was only trying to remove one at a time. When I was trying to package them for shipment, I had to lift them en-mass into the gallon freezer bag. If I'd tried to separate them, there would have been nothing but crumbs for Mom. This way she can bite off as much as she wants. The Keebler elf I am not, but if my idea of chocolate chip clay pigeons ever catches on, I'll have a full time job in my retirement.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day 2017

Today is Veterans Day. It was first celebrated to mark the end of WWI and the Allied victory. In a number of cities across the country there are parades to honor those who have served and who are still serving in the military. A number of restaurants have chosen to honor the vets by serving free meals, including I Hop, Applebees, TGI Friday's, Outback, and Hooters. Apparently there are a number of others as well, not mentioned here. I find that admirable.  Of course, because this is America, and because millions of young men and women have made the sacrifices that it takes to serve in the military, we have enjoyed freedom in this country. That freedom even extends to those who hate the military or the government or the president or people like myself who don't agree with them. I see that Bradley (Chelsea)Manning had something degrading to say, and some students at Brown University felt the need to go around and rip up flags that were set in the ground on the campus. I don't doubt that is some of the milder stuff that has happened. Personally, I'd like to go through and rip them a new one, but they're entitled to their opinions, even as I am. As President Ronald Reagan mentioned, -if those who are protesting got the kind of government that they want, they wouldn't be able to do the things that they're doing. That fact gets lost in all the liberal teaching that is being passed off as an education on so many campuses today. It saddens and frustrates me, and I fear that one day this country will most certainly reap what it has sown and the things that they yearn for, they'll get. I would encourage them to take a good look at Venezuela to see what they can look forward to if they get what they want. In any event, this post isn't about the dissenters and anarchists, it's about the vets. Vice President Pence gave a speech today at Arlington National Cemetery, and one thing stood out to me. He mentioned that the benefits that vets receive aren't entitlements, they've been earned by the sacrifices of the vets and their families. I was very happy to hear him say that. My family has proudly served in the military down through the years, from my grandfather during WWI, to my father at the end of WWII to myself during the Vietnam War, to both of my sons. As the saying goes, freedom isn't free. So, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my fellow vets, wherever you are. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. God bless and keep you.

Monday, November 6, 2017

My Dog is Sick

 A few weeks ago, Jan and I decided to send in our eleven year old daschund, Rigby, in to the vets. He'd been having problems with peeing on the floor, and getting up two or three times a night to go outside to pee. We noticed that he was drinking an uncommon amount of water as well. Needless to say, the interruptions played havoc with our sleep patterns. Jan was gone for a few weeks, so all the babysitting was left to me. I slept with the bedroom  door slightly cocked open so he could push his way in and wake me up in the night. It wasn't any too restful to say the least. On more than one occasion he pushed open the door after he had already peed on the floor outside my room. Lovely. Anyway, we finally decided to send him in and see what the vet had to say. I was reluctant to send him in, I knew the bill would be a doozy, and I also hate to put him through the trauma of going into a kennel and transporting him on the plane. I'd rather be in the cage myself. I know, I know, he's terribly spoiled. I knew that would happen if I had a dog. I also knew that vet bills would be part of having a pet, and that when a mammal eats, it also produces waste. All things that I didn't want to deal with. Just today I was checking the anti-freeze in the truck when I stepped in a pile. I was really happy to have to find an old tooth brush and give my shoe a thorough cleaning during my lunch hour. I just finished and decided to don my slippers and go back to finish the job. I promptly found another pile hidden in the gravel of the driveway. I love my dog dearly, but I'll never have another. My heart will break when he passes on, but as we enter our golden years, there is less and less gold to go around, and his latest vet bill is going to set us back about $1,000.00. Plus his meds, which apparently he has to be on for the remainder of his life, costs an additional $72.00 a month. The hits just keep on coming folks. The bottom line is that he has Cushing's Disease. I guess it's caused by small tumors on the pituitary gland, causing it to put out too much  cortisol. The end result is the uncommon thirst, the need to urinate frequently, a rather large abdomen (not totally the result of the disease), and some hair loss. As it was, he was already taking thyroid medicine. Two pills a day. He has hypothyroidism. Unbelievably, so do Jan and I. All three of us are taking meds for it. What are the odds? In any event, if things keep going the way they are, all three of us will be sharing  the dog food, because we won't be able to afford both the medicine and food. Isn't life grand?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Trick or Treat?

As most of us who live in the U S know, last night was Halloween. It's a night when multitudes of children dress in costumes and go around the neighborhood knocking on doors and asking for candy. Of course the popular phrase when someone answers the door is "Trick or Treat! I recall years ago hearing from some friends, that the neighborhood where they used to live had one old grouch who, when the kids spouted their usual phrase shouted "Trick!" and poured soup in their bags. No doubt he would have been a candidate for the flaming bag of dog crap landing on his front porch. I have to admit that Halloween isn't my favorite holiday, but I go along with it. I remember it being a highlight of the year when I was a kid, and I don't want to rob other children of the chance to enjoy it. I do, however, like to have a little fun too. Last year when one group of kids came knocking, I answered the door and said that we didn't have any candy, but I'd be glad to give them some meatloaf. The leader of the pack looked a little crestfallen and said he didn't like meatloaf and turned to leave. Of course we stopped him and made sure he left with some more desirable loot. His father was escorting the kids, and couldn't stop laughing. He's mentioned it several times over the course of the year. This year, I thought I'd try something different and offer the kids a choice of Cream of Mushroom soup, a can of spinach or an instant lunch, like a Cup O Noodles. The first kid that knocked on the door was a nice little guy from down the street. When Jan mentioned that we didn't have candy, but we had soup. spinach or Cup O Noodles, he kind of mumbled that he didn't really like noodles. I don't believe he was all that fond of the other two choices either. Fortunately we had a bowl full of more desirable treats to share. We offered the alternate gifts to most of the kids who came knocking, with the exception of those too young, who in later years might be traumatized by the event. There were a few kids who liked the idea of the noodle soup, although no one seemed in the least bit interested in the cream of mushroom. At the end of the night, the same kid who was offered the meat loaf came by. When Jan offered him his choice of alternate treats, he piped in that he wanted the spinach. Since he was the last beggar of the night, I don't doubt that he left with an ample supply of candy, and Jan threw in the can of spinach as well. When he was walking off the porch he exclaimed to his father-"Hey Dad! I got a can of spinach!"  Oh Boy! Snickers and spinach, who could ask for more? Jan and I were both a little surprised that there weren't more kids out and about last night, but I guess that when the treats involve meatloaf, spinach, noodle or mushroom soup, you only attract a certain clientele. In any event, we didn't have to extinguish any flaming bags of excrement last night. Thank God we had some candy in case our other offerings weren't acceptable.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Move Over Smucker's There's a New Kid in Town

crab apples

Weighing them on the scale

Jen doing the tedious work of cutting them up

After they're cooked

Running them through the seive

The final product
  Several weeks ago, as I had mentioned, my daughter, Jen, and I went out on a rainy afternoon and raided the crab apple tree in front of our church. Last year it had actually fallen over because most of the branches were on one side of the tree, and a wind storm had knocked it over. Fortunately, our pastor is a tree person with the U. S. Forest Service, and there is an arborist out at the farm and with the help of some machinery, they managed to right it and secure it with ropes and stakes. They were so successful that the tree bore a bumper crop of fruit this year. I don't know what got into me, I guess that ancient desire to prepare for the upcoming winter, but in any event, I had a hankering for some crab apple jelly. I'm not even sure I've ever eaten crab apple jelly before, but nonetheless, I wanted some, and since I've never seen it on any of the store shelves, I thought I'd make my own. I discovered that it's quite a labor of love. First of course we had to get the crab apples off the tree, which was a feat in itself. I used a ladder, but the tree is located on a hill, which also happens to be lumpy, so standing on the ladder was a real challenge. I convinced Jen to go up the ladder and I would hold it for her. Foolish girl, she should know better. However, I needed her help after the harvest, so made sure to hang on tight, and no one got hurt. It wasn't until after we had tempted fate that I got the brilliant idea to get a rake and a tarp, and rake the tree and catch the fruit when it fell. Oh well, I'll know next time. Once we got the fruit home, it had to be sorted and washed in the sink. Then it had to be cut up. The stems and blossoms had to be removed and any unsightly bruises needed to be taken out. These things aren't much bigger than a marble, so by the time the parts that needed removed, were, there wasn't much to them. Thank God we didn't need to core or peel them or we'd only be left with a whiff of the original fruit. According to the Certo pectin box, we needed to have 3 1/2 pounds of cut up fruit to make a batch of jelly. We got them cut up, weighed, and dropped into a large pan of water and started cooking them. Eventually they were rendered down to a pink mush and they were soft enough to put through a sieve. You can use cheesecloth  too, but fortunately a friend had a sieve we were able to borrow. Once we extracted all the juice we could, we added a packet of Certo and seven and a half cups of sugar. Not a cheap operation. The jars were $12.00 a case, the Certo was $7.00, the sugar was probably another $3.00 or so. A little spendy, but when I did the math, we still came out cheaper than if we were to buy jelly from the store. The whole operation took about  three hours or so, but it was so worth it. I wish that when the kids were little we had done something like this. It was really fun, and I had the pleasure of spending time with my daughter. I still haven't tried the jelly yet. I wanted to use the store bought stuff that was already opened first, and I kind of want to wait until the winter winds start blowing before I crack open a jar, and even in the unlikely event that it tastes like crap, I'll at least have the memory of making it with my daughter, and you can't buy memories in a store.