Monday, July 31, 2017

It's My Way Or None

The title of this article has a bold ring to it.  In my world, I only have to cater to myself since I no longer have a husband.  Yes, my son did live with me, but he was every bit as opinionated as I am when it comes to personal needs and habits.  We co-habituated but we each did our own thing.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am very opinionated and have an opinion on just about anything and everything.  That's one of the reasons why I write this blog and post to other media.  It's just my opinion and you are free to disagree with me.  After all the Bill of Rights guarantees our right to freedom of speech.

I love carrots raw cut into sticks or baby carrots, but I have an aversion to cooked carrots.
Baby Carrots with Ranch Dipping Dressing
 They are too mushy for my taste.  It's something to do with the consistency rather than the taste.  I can eat some cooked carrots in stews or soups as long as they are cut small and there isn't an overabundance of them in the mix.

From the time I was a small child, I could not eat beets in any form.  I don't know why.  It could be that they have the same mushy consistency.  But just seeing those hard boiled eggs in beet juice turns me off and I love hard boiled eggs.

I spent many a long evening sitting at the dinner table until bed time with a plate of something in front of me because I would not or could not eat what was on it.  Oysters was another of those but I loved the warm milk they were served in and oyster crackers in it.

I don't like what I call designer coffee products that you can buy at most coffee stands or delis.  I drink black coffee but only black coffee.  I prefer Maxwell House, "good to the last drop" in their Master Blend.

Maxwell House Master Blend
Today, it took me half an hour to find the latest version of that blend since they continually change the packaging and I had to find it.  They now package it as Master Blend, Light.  They have stronger versions that are Medium and Bold. I don't like what I call designer coffee products that you can buy at most coffee stands or delis.  When I was younger, I tried drinking coffee as a courtesy visiting my first husband's home.  I tried it with sugar.  I tried it with milk.  I tried it with both.  Unforturnately, I didn't try it black until I was stuck in a snow storm one day on the way to work and black was all that was left in the coffee machine.  I've been drinking it that way ever since.

When I was growing up I had a best friend.  She was every bit as opinionated as I was and had no qualms about telling you what she thought.  I bring her up because a lot of my best recipes came from her family and a lot of my best memories went to rest with her just before Christmas in 2013.

One such memory was the wonderful Fudge that her Aunt Grace used to make.  It was just the right consistency that melted in your mouth with just a hint of the chocolate coated sugary granules melting into your taste buds.

Hershey Cocoa fudge
 She made her fudge from the Hershey's Cocoa Recipe and it was sent many times to Korea where her son was stationed and it arrived in tact rather than a pool of sugary drool.  She had perfected the ability to test the cooked chocolate by the small ball in water formula.  That is how I love to eat fudge.  I don't like the versions that so many of the stores carry that is smooth and creamy.  No one can get just the right consistency that Aunt Grace achieved which was not rock hard but slightly harder to the touch.

I have opinions on religion and opinions on politics but I have lived long enough to learn the value of keeping those opinions to myself.  It profits no one doing battle over those two subjects.  So I've lived my life as stubborn as they come because "it's my way or none."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Party Food: Fruit Salad Trifle

Is the same old Ambrosia Salad getting old?  Have you gotten stale at making the traditional Fruit Salad for your family picnic?

Grandma's Ambrosia Salad
Grandma made her ambrosia salad before they had canned pineapple and she would cut her own from a fresh pineapple.  She would put the cut up fruit and juices over the marshmallows that she had to snip into pieces and put into the refrigerator.  There were no miniature marshmallows in those days.  The next she made her own whipped cream and folded it into the fruit.  If she had some walnuts she would chop them over the mixture.  With the availability of canned pineapple and miniature marshmallows, I use these to make my ambrosia salad.  If I'm feeling adventurous, I use the colored miniature marshmallows.

The traditional fruit salad combines as many different fruits as you like and my favorites are linked to this article.

I have a new and exciting salad that combines all of the above into a fresh idea that is sure to please even the most picky family members.

You start with a large clear serving bowl only to make this colorful and exciting salad more enticing with it's layers of goodies.

2 loaf size prepared pound cakes, cut in 1 to 2 inch cubes
2 packages (3.4 ounces) instant coconut or vanilla pudding
3 cups cold milk
1 pint heavy cream whipped with a little sugar or 1 container (12 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
4 cups assorted, diced fruits

In a large bowl, beat the milk and pudding mixes together until pudding starts to thicken. Fold about 3/4 of the whipped topping into the pudding mixture. In another bowl gently toss fruits together. Layer half of the cake into the bottom pretty clear glass bowl.  Next, spoon half of the pudding mixture on top of the cake. Then, spoon about 1/3 of the fruit on top of the pudding. Then add a layer of your ambrosia salad.  Repeat. Cover trifle, remaining fruit, and whipped cream with plastic and refrigerate at least a few hours before serving. Right before serving spoon remaining whipped cream on top.  You can sprinkle coconut over the top of the mixture but I prefer to leave it off.

This was not originally my recipe but I've added to it to use my own recipes and to come up with a different fruit bowl for our picnics.  Add or subtract what you wish from this rendering but always make sure to include the fruit salad in your summer fun.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

So That's A Purple Finch

As I grow old, I've been blessed with the visions wondrous wild life creatures.

At an annual picnic in Plum Borough, my friend who hosted the picnic had several bird feeders hung back away from the house above a wooded area.

Purple Finch
Of course, my attention was immediately drawn to the creatures that were feeding there.  I was thrilled when I saw a slightly red headed bird that I didn't recognize.

My friends had only recently moved into their new home which they had built for their retirement years.  They told me that they had only hung the feeders that weekend using the feed they had left over from their previous home.

These beautiful finches came immediately and have been feeding there ever since.  She also has hummingbirds but she attracts them with the hibiscus planters she has on her deck.

House Finch

In my yard I get House Finches at my feeders.  They have red feathers on their heads and breasts.  The rest of their feathers resemble sparrows.

Goldfinch at my feeder
Yesterday, the Goldfinch flew past.  It was headed for my bird feeder but when it saw me it turned in mid flight and zoomed away to the neighbors fig tree.

Pete's fig tree is always alive with birds
This has been a wonderful summer for my love of bird feeding and watching.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Prayers and Money

A very wise man, my grandfather, once told me, "A penny saved is a penny earned."  He was obviously expounding Benjamin Franklin. Papa was a frugal man who had come through the depression on the other side of wealth. Once a steel mill executive, he was now a hard working pipe inspector who went to work daily on his split shifts. He was by no means wealthy in the form of money but his advice and parenting were golden.

As small children, Papa would give my brother and I a nickel and then later in life a dime with the same piece of advice which revolved around saving. Every week, I would run around the corner to the local store to buy my nickel or dime's worth of penny candy. I hadn't learned the lesson of saving for a rainy day yet.
That's not to say we didn't have the proverbial piggy bank. Ours were plastic Planter's Peanut Men. Mine was green and my brother's was red. It was stuffed with birthday money and what I thought was a fortune in silver dollars.
As we got older, Papa increased our weekly money to a quarter and I felt like a millionaire as I went down street to the five and dime variety store to spend my fortune. I loved paper dolls and every week I would come home with another booklet of dollies with an assortment of beautiful clothing. My pride and joy was my Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles paper dolls.
Then came the day that I wandered across the street to a new shop. It was called the Swagger Shop and it carried a little more expensive toys and sundries. In the window was a dress making doll. It came with a doll and what I thought were gorgeous dresses and cost a small fortune; almost $10. I lusted for that doll for months and months.
It was about that time that I learned the secret to praying for money. What you really needed you were to ask in Jesus' name. Every night, I would say my night prayers and at the end I would add a prayer for that doll set until I finally forgot all about it and quit asking. A couple of months later came my birthday and in my envelope from Papa was a crisp $10 bill. I had no trouble spending that $10. I all but ran to Swagger Shop to make my purchase. As I said, it had been months since I started praying for that toy. In the end, it gave me less pleasure than I had thought it would and the packaging was very deceptive. There were no clothes with those dolls just the material to make them clothes. Here was another lesson lesson to learn, "All that glitters is not gold."

Papa lived with us a few more years and retired from his mill job at the age of 75. I remember my mother telling us to not ask Papa for money because he was retired and didn't have the money to spend that he used to have.  Papa was the only driver in our little family and when he retired he sold his automobile which cut back on those luxury trips we had learned to love.
By this time, I had learned my lessons that Papa had taught us.  When he left us, I soon began my own earning life.  At the early age of 12, I begged my Dad to let me do dishes at his little diner that he had purchased when Papa passed. I did that until he no longer had the restaurant and I was old enough to get a paying job at the age of 16. Hard work never hurt anyone they say and I started young. I'm well past 65 now and I'm still working rather than rust away. I may not work until I'm 75 but that is my goal.  It is my time to respect what God has given me and spend it wisely on what is needed.
I still ask God for what I think I need and in the name of Jesus for the important life events. What God wills me to have he gives me.  God always answers my prayers, but not always at the time I ask and the answer sometimes is "No" because it's not in my best interest.
The best Prayer by which to live our lives is the Serenity Prayer:

The lesson here is: "Yes, God answers our prayers for money but only to the extent we need it. He also tempers in some of life's lessons to go along with what he provides for us."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Praying Mantis, Bunny and Chipmunk appearing in my yard

Being from a neighborhood that boasted entrance to the woods within walking distance, I was used to seeing wildlife in my yard.  We always had bunnies, chipmunks and squirrels with the occasional possum that would show up under our garbage can stand.  When I moved to my present home, I was disappointed that I never got to see these creatures within the limits of my yard.

This year has shown me an abundance of wildlife again.  We had one chipmunk, there could be more, that came back and forth in the alley from a neighbors yard to climb my bird feeder pole and raid the goodies that I put out for the birds.

But this year for the first time, I was privileged to see a newborn bunny that would go back and forth between yards eating the clover.  It is now half grown and still gives me pause to wonder at the beauty of nature.

We talked about the purple finch that visited the gardens in a friend's yard.  We talked about the goldfinch that flitted across the neighbor's garden and stopped at my bird feeder.

In another event, I was sitting idly thinking about all the weights of the mind that cloud a peaceful day.  I have excellent peripheral vision and movement of bugs and spiders catch my attention for no other reason but that they moved.  That day I was not aware of being watched ever so carefully by the tiniest of preying mantis that I had ever seen.  It had been a few years since I had spied a full grown mantis crawling up the side of my house.

Before the new owners tore it down, my neighbor and I shared a dead space between another neighbor's garage and our property lines.  Behind this garage grew a menagerie of vines that I'm not totally sure what they are.  For years I have bent them back and tried make them grow away from the fence that separates our yards.

I spoke to my neighbor about trying to cut them back together and he said he was trying to find a natural weed killer instead of using one that was on the market.  To make a long story short, I concocted a batch from one I had seen on Pinterest and sprayed the vines.  When I reported what I had done my neighbor told me he had not sprayed the vines because he had spied two preying mantis among the vines.  I felt horrible because I had literally killed their home.

To my relief, this little fellow came to visit me.  All is well with the world again because nature has proven to me that it's creatures do survive.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alternate Transportation, Riding the Rails

on his 50th birthday

Three years ago, our family booked a family reunion in Orlando, Florida.  Some of the family went by airplane, but my son and I decided to book onto a train that would take us from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Orlando Florida.  The cost was right and we would be on the upper level with the option of watching the sights go by and not having to keep the foot on the pedal or pull over to see the scenery of our country.

After we booked our trip we told my second son about the great prices and they decided to book the same train for his wife and two children.  The plan was hatched.  Double deck train to Washington DC and then in the regular Amtrak cars from DC to Orlando.

Everything was fine until the my oldest son had a foot amputated and we had to change our e-tickets for handicapped seating.  My son and I sat on the bottom deck and the other son and his family sat in the upper deck.  He boarded with his wheelchair and was seated in a front seat.  This was a shame because he missed the opportunity to get to the dining cars and to the observation car.

I did the running between cars to get sodas and snacks from the cafe which was a trip up the stairs then cross over from one car to another twice and then down the stairs to get to the cafe.  Remember, I'm the one with the handicapped parking and hovering just below 70.  But, I made it.  We are a coca cola family so that meant we had to substitute Sierra Mist for our drinks because Amtrak carries only Pepsi products.

I did get to see the observation car it was nicely laid out with seats that faced out the windows and tables for larger groups to sit.

Other than that the trip from Pittsburgh to DC was great.  We left about 15 minutes behind schedule but ended up getting to DC about 45 minutes late which cut us back to a much smaller time to get into the station and onto the platform for the train to Orlando.

The second half of the trip was overnight.  I think if I were to do this trip again I would consider getting a sleeper.  My son and I were very uncomfortable and needed to switch often.  The only good thing turned out to be a bad thing.  We were seated right behind the bathrooms.  There are two on each car.  The rest of the bathrooms were having customer problems and the two by us seemed to be the choice of the entire four cars that were on this train.  They were lined up constantly for the train until someone did the unthinkable and stopped up the big one.  Then it was locked for the rest of the trip into Orlando.

My sons are smokers and the younger boy was able to hop off the train on the longer stops and grab a quick puff or two from a cigarette.  If he lucked out and there was someone being loaded by the lift then it took longer and he got two cigarettes.  The oldest boy though was confined to the inside of the car and was not able to get out for a cigarette.  The conductor offered to get him out at one station because they had four people who were going to need to be lifted onto the train.  That was very nice of them since they are not obligated to offer that service.  He refused the courtesy though because we were so close to Orlando by this time and we were well over an hour behind schedule.

We were behind schedule because we had to sit on sidings and let freight trains pass by.  That is because Amtrak uses Conrail tracks and Conrail has preference if there is a conflict on a one track section.  At one point the freight train passed us and then another Amtrak train whizzed past us going like the wind.  That held us up from getting into the next station even longer.

Coming home the conductor explained to us that they let already late trains wait if they have one that is on time go first to stay on time.  This picture show us so much more relaxed on the way home since the son had two massages that gave him two and a half hours of therapeutic massages.  I got a half hour Swedish massage while I was in at the timeshare.  We traveled home by way of train from Orlando to Washington DC where we rented a minivan for the rest of the trip home.  We decided to do this because there was going to be an eight hour layover in DC while we waited for the next train into Pittsburgh and then a seven hour train ride.  Even though we had to wait for the car rental office to open we were home in Pittsburgh before the train left DC.

Even with the cost of the car rental my round trip only cost the two of us $750 total.  That was the full train ride from Pittsburgh to Orlando.  The Train ride back from Orlando to DC and the car rental.  I don't think we could have flown for that price and at least I had the opportunity to get up and walk around.

All in all, I enjoyed the ability to move around during the ride and even though it took a longer time to get where we were going, I got to see places and things I would never see from the air.

It is my recommendation if your travels allow enough time for taking the train to give it a try.  Our check in was for Saturday at 4 pm.  We left Pittsburgh on Friday at 5 am and arrived in Orlando well before our check in time at around noon on Saturday.  Of course, coming home was more of a hassle but would have gotten us home by train before the end of day on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

All Work and No Play Syndrome

     The phrase, "All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy-" is so true.  For years, I have been throwing myself into work because of losing my life's companion.  When I was hospitalized a few years ago, I found that the phrase was so true.  I had been staying away from all of the fun things that we had enjoyed doing as a couple and was not mingling with other people except for a select number of friends.

     As a result, I was just that a dull Jane.  I started going out again with the select friends but to a social club where I could mingle with others and enjoy the music for an evening.

     Then disaster struck again.  My youngest son died and my oldest son broke his ankle which has had him off work for four months so far.  Needless to say that put a crimp in the budget because being the person I am I took on too much and left the fun side of me go back into my shell.

     My youngest son is gone a few years now and my oldest step-daughter along with him.  I find that I'm not mourning as deeply as I did when my husband passed.  I have been able to get myself back into the swing of things so to speak.  I went back out to the social club and I bought a ticket for the picnic and went.

     I know it sounds callous to say you can't miss what you didn't have, but to be honest I have only been with my son and step-daughter a select few times over the past two decades because of where they were living.

This year my oldest son, who had been fighting diabetes, passed away and I find myself knee deep in grief again.  It was a total shock when he went downhill due to undiagnosed MDS, pre-leukemia,  in a matter of three months.   I live in disbelief that he has gone on to a better life and I am left behind to pick up the pieces.  Again I'm working more than I should to keep busy.

I miss them all but I know I have to get on with what is left of my life because there may not be that much of it left.  We never know what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Flower Explosion

We have had such a mild winter that the growing season for flowers was upon us faster than we expected.  During a similar winter a few years back, I was disappointed when I found the bulbs from the previous year's lilies unearthed in my little side garden by my entrance stone.  It seems my neighbors were not so nice when they were walking their dogs because they dug them up for me.  I took them out and dried in my basement to replant them in the Fall.  The bulbs took nicely and I now have a profusion of Asian Lilies in front of my newly painted Madonna.

I did some pregardening and dug up the dandelions in front of my pedestal.  After I re aligned the pedestal, I moved my Madonna statue back onto her pedestal and planted two new Asian Lily plants that had a lot of buds on them.  Now I see the dogs missed one of my white lilies because the stem is popping out of the ground and the ones on the other side of the entrance stone are coming up.

I wanted to add some new plants this summer but had not made up my mind what to plant.  I love lilies of the valley but they only bloom once each year and then you have greens the rest of the year.  I may do those and then I wont have so many weeds showing in the garden.  My neighbor gave me some from her garden but when my other neighbor was weeding for me last year he pulled them out.  This year yet another neighbor gave me some from her garden when she was thinning them out.  Hopefully, these will take hold and I wont have to do anything there in years to come.

I'm not a good gardener.   My grandfather had a green thumb and could grow anything.  Each year he went to the greenhouse to pick out something new for his garden.  I just want to get something growing that will come up year after year and look nice.

This year I bought some annuals that were left at the garden center too long and I planted them between the Asian Lilies and the front of the garden.  I got some delphiniums and lantas.

If you have any suggestions on what to put in such a small planting area, please comment so I can consider your suggestions.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Easy Casserole Dinners

Just being lazy is one reason to make a casserole.  In some recipes it all goes in one bowl and the result is a delicious change to your menu.  When I'm being particularly lazy I buy a pan of macaroni and cheese and then microwave a chicken breast and some broccoli.  When the macaroni is just about done you can add the chicken and broccoli and you have a one dish dinner that is tasty and mostly nutritious.
Mac and Cheese with Broccoli and Chicken

Of course, you can do it the long way and make it all from scratch such as the linked recipe for home-made macaroni and cheese with chicken and broccoli.

Sausage, Apples & Rice Casserole
Another one of my favorite casseroles is Sausage Apples and Rice.  This recipe I made up after eating something similar at a cafeteria where I worked which used Stouffer Recipes.  I served it to my step-children soon after I married my second husband and to this day they are asking me for the recipe.  It's rather easy to make and the secret to it's good flavor is that I boil apple juice to make my rice.  The apples come from the ones I put up for winter usually or I have to microwave a batch while the rice is cooking.  The sausage is usually leftovers from breakfast but you can start by cooking down the sausage from scratch.

Chicken and Stuffing Casserole
I have to admit I got this idea from the side of a box of stuffing mix.  I mix the stuffing with chicken broth, place chicken breasts on top of the dish, cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees until the chicken is cooked through and the stuffing is moist.  You can also add some broccoli to this recipe.

Each of these recipes is easy to make and takes varying cooking times but the result is a fabulous dinner.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Memories of Hilton Grand Vacation in Orlando

I'm reflecting on this vacation because it is by far my favorite vacation site and the last one that I took my oldest son.  This is the only timeshare location that he likes to visit.  So here is my story.

Three years ago, We arrived in sunny Downtown Orlando an hour later than expected at the Orlando Amtrak Station.  Getting off the train was fun since we needed a lift for my son's wheelchair and the lift was just on a level to be concerned about wheeling out right into the blades of a ceiling fan.

My other son's family was renting a car and we waited for our ride so that they could follow us to our resort which is on Grand Vacations Way right next door to Sea World.

We were still an hour early for the 4 PM check in so we checked our baggage and went about our business for the hour.  We were expecting to use two three bedroom suites with one being the penthouse.  The second suite was ready early and I sent two younger son's families off to those rooms to settle in.

That left my party waiting for the Penthouse to be ready for use.  As it turns out, the people who were in our rooms left late and we didn't get into our suite until well after 4 PM.  This is unusual and the LP on duty tried to move things along for us since we had been traveling 48 hours to get there and were dog tired.

Bill with a big sandwich

Family lunch
We all landed in the Coral Reef Cafe for a late lunch an relaxation while we waited for our rooms to be ready.

Living room across the dining table
The wait was well worth it though because the Penthouse was every bit as beautiful as I remembered it and I settled in for a much needed night's sleep and the end of Day 2 of our vacation.

Poolside Cafe
Day 3 started with the wheelchair rolling down the path from Building 1 to the poolside area where the Coral Reef Cafe is located on the pool deck.  My son was disappointed because his mouth was watering for their breakfast buffet.  Oops!  They terminated the buffet two years ago so it was order off the menu, but he survived and had a hearty breakfast in his favorite spot.  I followed along about a half hour later and had my breakfast just as he was leaving and my second son joined me for a chit chat.

Waterfall and Pool side view from my table 
I had planned a vacation week of sitting by the pool and lazing in the hot tubs and I spent all day Sunday doing just that.  This is by far my favorite destination for lazing by the pool and spending my timeshare points.

This has got to be one of my favorite vacations because it was spent with family and we all had a good time together even though my younger children were off doing the theme parks.  We spent our evenings together around the table in the Penthouse Suite.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

My Red White & Blue Porch Planters

A few years back in my search for blue flowers, I came across this little blue buttercup flower that I stupidly threw out the name card at The Home Depot on Route 8 north of Pittsburgh.  It is somewhat purplish in the centers but the flower itself resembles blue.   My red, white and blue porch box was the center of my display over the summer months.

For those of you who don't know my story, I am the proud gold star mother of a navy man.  In the spring my flag comes out and flies in my garden from May until Veteran's Day in November.  I have replaced my flag many times but it is part of my summer garden display.  So the one you see above is ready for replacement but I haven't found one yet this year.

Four years ago I found the begonias that you see pictured at Giant Eagle in the Waterworks.  I bought two plants to be hung on my double plant hanger right off the middle of my deck out back.

I was so proud of my find because they were red and would compliment the white ivy geraniums that I have out back.  Well the best laid plans of men so to speak.  The two plants were so heavy that putting the first one up bowed the cast iron plant hanger.  I tried reversing the plants and hanging the ivy geraniums on the double hanger but they also bowed the hanger.  At this point I gave in and pulled the old and worn out hanger out of the ground.  It was originally bought when we moved into this house some 12 or 13 years ago and has seen it use.  I gave it to a neighbor who will use it at his summer cottage to hang hummingbird feeders.

Last year, I tried lobelia for the blue which as you can see is gorgeous in hanging planters.  I started with seeds and nothing grew.  I bought a few small plants and put them in my boxes and again they didn't make it.

I should have bought the hanging planters I saw at Home Depot and done the red in white ivy geraniums in the box planters on the railing as I had done in years past.

This year I went a different direction and I bought Fuschia hanging planters for outside my deck.  I am trying to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  I still have the box planters but they are going to need some thought as to what to put in them this year.

I tried to winter my fuschia plants and followed the instructions but I ended up with dried up plants that broke off at the roots.  I will abandon that idea this year and just concentrate on my hibiscus that I bought to attract butterflies.  I think this year I'm going to try to do the hibiscus for the entire garden and I'm up for a Yoshima Cherry Tree like the one we planted at the Legion in my son's memory in the back yard to attract my birds.