Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Barbecue

Memorial Day Weekend is next week.  It's time to make plans for spending fun times with your family as well as to do the traditional patriotic things or visit the cemeteries.

Our house has always been patriotic since my Dad returned from World War II, the big one, and put me on his shoulders to watch a parade in Downtown Pittsburgh.  That was scary for a toddler watching those enormous tank wheels pass by but I was always a scardy-cat.

On the fun side of Memorial Day we always had a cookout and potato salad was the fare of the day.  Yum, my favorite.

In my adult years, I have to admit I was not one for cooking on a grill but God is good and he gave me a husband who loved to do just that.

barbecuing is open for the season.
In our house Bear was the grilling king.  He made opening up the grill and getting ready a real production.

In the old days we used a charcoal grill that took a long time to make enough burgers and franks for our family.  The real trick to doing the cooking on this type grill was getting the charcoal briquettes hot enough.  You had to light your fire earlier to get it going.  The most important thing to be grilled was the almost burnt hot dogs for Bear's Mom.  She loved those black delicacies.

As the years went by, he invested in bigger and bigger grills until he got a really big gas grill with a side table and it had a side burner on the other side for beans or a whatever pot.  I think the only reason this was so great was that it gave Bear more places to cook outside.  It wasn't that I couldn't cook the beans inside on the stove, it was the thrill of being able to do it all outside.  It also had two racks on top for heating up the buns or keeping the already cooked meats warm.



Before I was dating him, we belonged to a radio club that had a yearly picnic.  Bear would bring a grill to the picnic that was made out of stainless steel with a screened top to lay the hamburgers and hot dogs on for grilling.  Not exactly like the one pictured but similar since it was made by the people he worked with.  He delighted in standing over that grill while he drank his favorite brew cooking for the entire club.


At home the grilling started as soon as it was almost warm enough to stand outside.  He would start off with the hamburgers since they took the longest.  Even though we normally made our own burgers, we sometimes cheated and bought the frozen ones from the supermarket.


The buns were not bought in the store but the sandwich buns I loved to make for special occasions out of our weekly bread baking.  I learned this from experimenting with the recipe.  I was lucky to have a cousin who baked this traditionally every year and was a professional baker.


Then would come the hot dogs because they didn't take as long to cook.  Those were not as popular as the hamburgers but there was just one that had to be overcooked for Nunny.




bear's Mom loved her hot dog black.  As the year went by, some of the children started asking for a black dog but I think it was just to be cute.


Bear was creative when he entertained and I remember one cookout for his buddies from the tavern when he made shish kabobs and his friend brought a smoker to do a roast.  Our house was full of gadgets that went with the grill such as shish kabob racks to allow you to turn the kabobs without picking them up.

We have covered the grilling part of the barbecue, let's talk about the side dishes that are every bit as important as those hot dogs and hamburgers.


No barbecue is complete with out the potato salad.  My mother made the best potato salad and I have passed the recipe on down to my daughter who is now the potato salad queen.  I have never been fond of all the work that goes into it and whenever I can, I pass the chore on down to her.


Our other favorite cookout food is the fresh fruit salad or an ambrosia.

 Cold foods are now made safer outside with the invention of a blow up cooler that holds ice for the salads that are being served.

Our house was a conflict of what to drink when it came to soda since Bear loved Pepsi and I only drink Coke.  It was always bring your own drinks when the grill was on for a party or holiday.

Add your favorite beverage and there you go with a Memorial Day Barbecue.  Remember why we are celebrating and thank a veteran at the Memorial Day Parade.  Happy Barbecuing.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Bird Feeding By Trial and Error Continued

The latest find is a Thrasher that didn't come to my feeder but I noticed a different bird on the street with a long curved beak and dark legs.  It was all brown and peaked my curiosity.

picture used to identify Thrasher
When I looked it up I found that it is a Thrasher.  It was just standing there defying me to do something as I gazed at it out of my car window.  It's beak was wide open in the cruel summer heat and it had two other companions of the same breed.  If I live long enough, maybe I'll get to identify more birds I don't recognize.

This past Winter I was disappointed that the birds did not come to the feeders.  I tried several types of feeders and finally bought some that make the birds cling to them while they peck at the seeds inside.  My neighbor told me that they are now afraid of the cats in the neighborhood that roam free.  I know this neighborhood is ferrel heaven and I see cats at all hours of the day and night instead of the one I used to see occasionally.

The birds with red heads that are about the size of a sparrow have been coming but none of the others.  About a month ago I saw the chicadees but they have not been back since.  The cardinals flew by last week and landed on the fence across they alley from my vantage point but have not stopped to eat their favorites.


A few years ago, I kept a monthly log of all the birds that visited my newly revived interest in the birds and bird feeding.  My deck had recently been completed and I had added some new hanging planters on each end.  Then the final step was to reinstall the double plant hanger in the middle.

New bird feeders early 2011 off my new deck.

Mistake #1:  I hung the feeders right off my deck.  I'm sure you can see the flurry this caused in the picture above.  There were birds on both feeders and waiting their turns on my freshly painted railing.

Mistake #2:  I bought huge bags of bird seeds and kept the feeders full at all times.  This attracted all types of birds.



I saw chickadees, wild canaries, mourning doves, sparrows (some of which were song bird types), starlings, grackles, robins, blue jays,



cardinals and finally one bird I couldn't identify that had white bands on the tips of its under wings and tail when it flew.  The biggest surprise was the red hawk that visited one morning and just sat there daring any of the smaller birds to descend.


Hawk on Fence across from my deck.


The above photo was taken from inside my house through a screen so it's not such a good photo but you can imagine my surprise seeing this fine specimen outside my windows observing my feeders. 

All was grand until I realized that I was a captive of my interest.  I was spending way too much on feed and the birds just kept coming and coming.  To top it off, my beautiful new deck was covered with little presents left behind by my little feathered friends.  Oh! and did I mention the pigeons?  Well, let me tell you; I had a flock all my own and my poor little buddies were being over run by them taking their food.

Fall and Winter Feeder Replacement


As a result I took down all the fancy feeders when Fall came and replaced them with a big rugged feeder.  I fed the little blighters a half full feeder at a time over the winter months.  This kept my friends coming back.

The double hanging rod (almost 10 years old) got weak and I had to remove it.  I was still getting presents from my little friends over the winter so I got smart.  Birds are used to foraging the ground for their food.  So I threw a cupful of feed into the middle of the alley and sat and watch my little friends to my heart's content.  I'm still getting the sparrows, starlings, grackles, and my best loved cardinals.  Best of all the cardinals are not just doing a fly in hop about and fly out this year.  They are actually picking and choosing what they want to take away with them.  So, I get to watch them a little longer and a little closer.  I have even seen the song birds that have the pointed tails that open up to have white bands under them when they fly.  Of course, the pigeons found the new digs but I guess they have to eat too.



At the end of last season I replaced my roll down blinds in preparation for the winter.  I bought the shortest bungie cords I could find and latched the bottom of the screen around the posts on the porch railing


The last thing I did was replace the hanging planters with my red bird feeder outside the corner of the porch where I could reach it from inside to fill it.



Last spring there was a new addition to the birds that come to the feeder.  This is the first time that the blue jays are came and walked underneath on the ground to get the seeds that the sparrows throw around with great abandon for the other birds to enjoy.  That is not the best though.  While I was sitting on the chair pictured in the picture above, I observed what I knew was a jay bird from its shape but it wasn't the brilliant blue that I'm  used to seeing.  After I looked through the ornithology sites, I was able to identify it as gray jaybird.  How neat is that, I found a new bird I had never seen before and learned about their habitats and peculiarities.

new location off the deck in a hidden corner
I now have canvas awnings on my porch.



I hung the newest feeder along the side rail nearest the house which is flat with a screened bottom and the bigger birds can land on it instead of wandering around the alley below the feeders.  I've seen blue jays, mourning doves, cardinals, starlings and purple martins.  Both seem to be attractive to many types of birds.  The second one is round with wire mesh which allows the birds to cling to it.  I've seen goldfinches, house finches, chicadees, and several types of sparrows.

I can now view my visiting friends from inside my window as do my cats.  The awnings give my porch more protection and the birds seem to have taken to the new spot.


I hope you enjoyed my little review of my bird feeding endeavors.  I will continue to feed them with the blinds rolled down to save my porch rails from the little presents my feather friends like to leave.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

So That's What Goldfinch Looks Like

When you live to be 70, you think that you have seen it all or had all your "first times"  but I was proven wrong in a most surprising way.


Never in my lifetime have I seen a goldfinch but I did that day.  I was sitting on my deck and out of the corner of my eye, I spied a speck of yellow fly out of my neighbors dense foliage and over the top of the garage roof next door.  I thought to myself that must be a wild canary and I looked up wild canary the next time I came inside.  What popped up was a picture of a goldfinch.

Since I saw the yellow speck in my lazy part of the day, I just registered it a question for when I actually went back into the house.  A short while later, I noticed a beautiful yellow bird with the black cap and v-shaped black wings sitting on a rung in my other neighbor's fence.  To my wonderment this bird stayed perched there for several minutes letting me take in the beauty of a first time experience.

I had never seen such a bird in all my born days except in nature books and I was thrilled beyond words to have seen it.  As a young adult my neighbors owned a greenhouse and neighborhood flower shop.  Mister Blaha was a great outdoors man and he loaned me several books, one of which was a bird guide.  Since I have long since lost that book, I now rely on my internet for my sightings.

As you know I spent two months in 2011 just attracting birds to my deck with a selection of seeds in various bird feeders and did a whole list of the birds that I had seen and heard.

This beauty never visited my feeder but that is understandable since I have now read their migration habits and what types of flowers attract them.  They are attracted to seeds and since my neighbor recently planted a sunflower in his yard that is as tall as an elephants eye.  I'm guessing that it should be going to see about now and I attribute the attraction to that plant.

I will never again make the mistake of thinking that I have seen and done all my "Firsts."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Gardening with Lilies of the Valley


In the past, I have told you how I love Lilies of the Valley and how I was thinking of putting them into my little garden out front.



My neighbor who had them growing in her front garden has since moved away and the ones she told me to take did not survive.I took about six of her plants which are pictured above and put them into my garden around the lone white lily that is coming up.

If there is one thing I know about Lilies of the Valley, it is that if they take hold they will multiply and in a couple of years my Lilies will have to vie for space in the garden.  My grandfather had a row of them along the back fence near the gate and every year they came up in profusion and the smell of the flowers was pungent when you went to the back gate.

Another neighbor has them growing in bunches by her back gate.  She also offered them to me.  This year I will either have to buy the plants or see if I can get them to grow in my garden.  Even though they only flower once around in June, the tight green foliage is pretty in itself the rest of the growing season.

This is how you can grow lilies of the valley in your garden:

  1. Make sure the ground where you plant them has good drainage.
  2. Lilies of the Valley like partial sunlight and shade.
  3. Soak the flower stems in lukewarm water to give them a faster start.
  4. Snip off the end of the roots before inserting them in the soil so that the plant will take up water and grow faster.
  5. After planting, soak the plants with water to get them started
  6. Snipping the blooms will not hurt them after they have bloomed but they only bloom once.
  7. Leave the plants in place after the flowers have gone to give the plants strength.
My first attempt at transplanting this flower was a complete failure but the second plant took and came back last year with bigger and more aromatic flowers.  As I said earlier, these flower tend to spread over the years and multiply.

Friday, May 5, 2017

My Madonna and Her Plants


A few years back, I had planned to have my porch railings repainted so that I could put the planters back onto the railings.  This didn't happen for various reasons.  But what did happen, my neighbor came to me and told me he was painting his mother's Madonna for their yard and he had paint left over and he would paint mine.  What a surprise and what an answer to my prayers.  My Madonna didn't get her crown this year but she is back to looking as beautiful as she should be.

The other toss of the coin was I wasn't happy with one particular wildflower that was taking over my planter and I didn't have the energy it would take to dig it out by the roots.  So I put my porch railing planter right over the main plant.  Some of the leaves from the wildflower extended out around the planter which gave it an appearance of having a border.

That year I filled the planter with red, white and blue petunias.  I'm not really fond of petunias but they do continue to grow over the summer.  I ran into a sale of hanging planters priced at 4/$20.  I bought 3 petunias and hung two of the hanging planters at my deck.  The other petunia I centered in the planter and split the fourth planter that had a small white and blue flower in it.  I placed each half on the side of the petunias.

This year is gardening on a budget due to family medical problems so I'm satisfied with my red star flowers that are growing each year further into the entrance surround.

Asian Lilies budding and ready to pop open
Lily of the Valley new growth in garden

My day lilies are coming back each year a little more profuse than the previous year and I expect them to bloom very shortly.  To My wonder this year the lily of the valley popped up with 3 very strong plants.  I expect these to take over the garden in a few years.

My biggest disappointment is that my star flowers are no longer growing in my garden.  They were getting very hardy but got pulled out by mistake last year and now I have a decision to make as to what to plant in their place.

I pulled out all of the wild flowers that grow in my rock garden but they are still coming up in my entrance surround.  It's going to be a chore getting those pulled up without disturbing my Asian Lilies.

So another growing year has started and I have to start over with my surround since all my plants other than the lilies got pulled out last year and I'm left with just the weeds and wild flowers.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Planters In The Works

A few years ago, I had my box planters and hanging planters well on the way by this time.  Then I scrapped everything from previous years and started over.  I  moved my box planters from the front porch to the railing on the side deck for a different look.  I did this mostly because my front porch railings need to be scraped and painted.  To date that has not happened.  My original intention was to hang some hanging planters on the front porch that gets very little sun.

All of my plans have gone awry again this year since we have had very little sun and mostly cold up until this week.  I  again moved my box planters and the one is sitting over a wild flower that just wont die and detracts from the rest of my entrance garden.  I would like to go back to the red, white and blue theme this year.




I've been thinking about going back to ivy geraniums for the hanging planters since those seem to do so well in the past and the fuschias that I planted last year died over the winter even though I wintered them with care in my basement.


My biggest problem this year is getting time to work on the plants.  Besides that the box planters now catch bird seed so that my rock garden doesn't get overrun with weeds.  I think I'm going to start all over again and decide on a different look for the porch.

Next week I'm going to be selecting my plants and we will get a view of what happens to the planters next week.  I'm determined to have them all done by Memorial Day in honor of my son.  I can't plant at his grave at The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies but I can put out a nice garden at the home he once owned when I put Old Glory out for the season of Memorial Day in May to Veterans Day in November.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reflections of a Gold Star Mother

It's been five years since the call came and I returned home from church to find my children waiting for me.  They had known since before I left for Mass that my son wasn't coming home again.  They took me into the house and sat me in my lazy boy before they told me.

I banged my fist and I cried but it was something I could not change.  It was something I had to accept.  My son's wife and two children returned to the states and the sensitivities between siblings and in-laws was something that had to be overcome.  Everyone's emotions were raw.  We had to wait for the Navy to make the arrangements to get him home to us so that we could take him to his final resting place in The National Cemetery of the Alleghenies.

Later in the day, two uniformed officers from the Navy came to tell me what I had already heard through a telephone call from my daughter-in-law in England to an older son.  They informed me that I would be contacted to sign paperwork since I was second beneficiary.  Of course, I knew that my daughter-in-law would be the first contact but I was grateful to be recognized.


I didn't go to the cemetery until his headstone was put up.  I didn't want to go visit an upturned earthen spot in the ground.  I go from time to time to put fresh flowers on the grave.  Each year the Veterans put Christmas Wreaths on the graves for Christmas.

It's been a topsy turvy few years going between days of deep depression and days of doing what needed to be done for the rest of the remaining family.  As a member of the BPOE, Elks, I continue to proudly serve our Veterans at luncheons and services held in their honor.

The Navy investigation into the incidence that took my son's life concluded that he died from accidental causes and that he died while on active duty.  I had proudly flown a blue star pendant in my window while he was serving and now a gold star pendant to replace it for special days such as Memorial Day, The Fourth of July and Veteran's Day.  At our home Old Glory flies from May to November between Memorial Day and Veterans Day to lend support to our troops and this great nation. 

I applied to the Department of Defense for my Gold Star Pin and have received it to wear proudly on all National Holidays.  All in all, I have accepted the fact that my son isn't coming home but I can't help feeling emotional every time I hear a patriotic song or see a commercial concerning worthy veterans who have returned in need of help.



I went to the Memorial Day Service two years ago at the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies as I had observed the Veteran's Day Service the previous November from a spot on the hill near my son's grave who is buried in a direct line with the huge flag pole in section 1.

My son's wife and children planted a Cherry Tree in the yard next to our American Legion Post 77 in memory of my son and his years of residence in Aspinwall, Pennsylvania before leaving to join the Navy.

This is a society that I never wanted to join even though I always knew the possibility was looming in the background.  I grew up to honor Gold Star Mothers as my family was always linked to our Legion Post and I knew many of them personally from World War II.  My heart is healing but there will always be a spot there that longs to have my son home again.