My most memorable Christmas


Everyone has a Christmas they look back on that stands out for a wide variety of reasons or circumstances. The one that has been most special to me over the years happened in my Sophomore year of high school. Lots was going on that year. The summer before, we’d finally moved up from the basement and into the finished upstairs of the house my dad had been working on since I was in 6th grade. Girls came on the scene. Elvis was the rage. I had a job mowing greens at the golf course across the road and I’d gotten my first car.

It was a 1946 Chevy. My dad had driven me to countless used car lots in the area. Times were tough in those days and deals were common but my dad was not opposed to driving a hard bargain. Sometimes to the point it was embarrassing for me. More than once I’d heard him emphatically state “I’ll give you …(sometimes half of what the guy was asking)…. and then turn and head out the door only to hear the guy at the counter at the very last minute before the door was closed say, “Wait a minute.” At that point it was deal making time. When the used car salesman said, “OK, I can go down to fifty bucks.” I couldn’t have been more proud. The price painted on the windshield was $90.00.

The fact that the fire department or the state police didn’t catch up with us on the way home was a miracle. The trail of blue smoke left behind was so thick I could barely see my dad in the rear view mirror driving behind me. “You’ll have to fix that,” he said. So with the money saved I began overhauling my first engine. With a pile of ordered parts on the work bench, a book in one hand and my dad’s tools in the other, I plunged into the unknown. To say I learned a lot that summer was an understatement because I had to do it all a second time. Seems I’d put everything back together much too tight for the engine to even turn over with the starter. Feeler gauges were obviously in my dad’s tool box for a reason.

A car to a sixteen year old was like having wings. With two dollars in your pocket you could put in a dollar’s worth of gas, take a girl to a movie and still have enough left for a soda afterwards. More than once, 50 cents was all my friends and I could afford for the gas when we went “cruising” for girls. It also got me to some new hunting areas as well. My dad had hunting and fishing well engrained in me by that time in my life. He’d let me take a week off from school in the Spring to go trout fishing with him and a week in the Fall to go deer hunting. When I finally decided to apply for college a few years later, one of my teachers actually asked me how I was going to be able to take enough time off from my hunting and fishing to spend 4 whole years in college? Needless to say, visiting bait and sporting goods shops and drooling over the new equipment displayed in all the isles was something we did regularly. The new Mitchell Garcia 300 reel came out that year and my dad fondled them at every chance he got. But, who could afford $30 for a fishing reel even if the rod came with it?

So when Christmas finally came around that year, pennies counted. My mom was big on Christmas. Plum puddings were made well in advance and the decorations were up. Cookies, pies and candies were her specialities plus presents. She’d always managed to squirrel away enough grocery money for presents. My sister and I bought what gifts we could. She from her allowance and me from my greens mowing. Socks or a tie for dad or sometimes a fishing lure. Always something nice we thought mom would like and something for each other as well. The brightly wrapped presents that year were already under the tree as Christmas Eve day approached. “Mom, do you think we could get dad that fishing pole and reel he’s been wanting?” When she heard the price she cringed. “How can we afford that?” “Well, I’ve got a little money from this summer. If I had a couple more dollars, I could still drive up to the sport shop and get it back here before dad comes home from work.” Hesitantly, she went to her purse and dug out a few dollars. I was in the Chevy and on my way almost immediately. $30 and some tax later I was speeding for home. The unwrapped Mitchell Garcia 300 reel with its accompanying rod had gotten stuffed behind the couch just as dad walked in the door that afternoon.

Christmas Eve was always the festive part of our Christmases once my sister and I got older. Christmas carols would be playing on the phonograph. Some candles would be lit. We’d have a nice dinner and then everyone would gather in the living room and start exchanging gifts. This particular Christmas, things seemed to drag on forever as the presents were opened. Dad as always thanked us for whatever little things we’d given him. He never expected much and never got much but he was always appreciative. The Mitchell 300 waited patiently behind the couch. Finally it got quite late and just as everyone was about ready to go to bed, I said, “Oh wait, we forgot something” then went and reached behind the couch and pulled out the very rod and reel my dad had fondled so many times and handed it to him. “Here Dad. From all of us.” It was the first time I saw my dad cry.

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The long awaited sauna

As soon as maple syrup season ended, work resumed on the sauna which was started the fall before.  Of course, a lot of other things were going on as well.  Chickens and gardens plus keeping the grass mowed mostly.  We may have overdone the gardens a bit because nobody needs 80 winter squash!  In the chicken department, our mother hen hatched out some Guinea eggs we’d slipped under her plus we hatched out some chicken eggs in an incubator so it wasn’t all sauna work.

We call it the “long awaited sauna” because it was a duplication of the one we’d left behind in Alaska.  At this point we were nearly two and a half years without having a steam bath so rather than plugging on with the project alone I hired some help and four days later we were ready for the metal on the roof.


Lots of engineering went into the floor and way too much time.


With some help, the rest of the structure went up in 4 days!



Time for the metal roofing!


Then insulation and the cedar tung and groove inside.


And finally windows, doors and the cedar siding pretty much finished it off for this summer.


Eventually a screened in porch on the front as well as a smoke house added to the back will complete the project.  Let the winter snows come!

I guess another photo is in order at this point.


When the heat room was operational, Cindy and her mom started cutting tomatoes that would become “sun dried” tomatoes.  We dried them on removable screen shelving I’d installed along with some of Cindy’s herbs.  By definition, sun dried tomatoes don’t have to see the light of day to be classified as such.  They are absolutely scrumptious!

Maple Syrup Time

If making apple cider defines autumn and the coming of winter then boiling maple syrup could certainly be considered  a celebration of winter’s end.  Spring is many things to different people.  Garden seeds are sprouting over heat mats and under grow lights.  And while snow may still blanket much of the area, the sun now has some warmth to it so it won’t be long before the first shoots of rhubarb are pushing out of the ground which means the asparagus won’t be far behind.  Before we know it, peas and spinach seeds and perhaps onion sets will be going in the ground.  But, for me it is the tapping of the maple trees and collecting and boiling the sap that most defines spring.



A neighbor supplied the sap and we did the boiling.  We split the take.  20 gallons and one pint of pure rich syrup!  As good as maple syrup is, we were quite glad when if was all over.  Probably the best part of it was that, at that time, we still had something like 340 days left to think about whether we’d do it again.  And as of this date, we’re still thinking about it.



Things electric have been on my mind a lot lately. Christmas had much to do with that. The bright lights in front yard decorations; trees sparkling in all colors every where you turn; downtown store windows decked out in holiday splendor. It’s a warm glow feeling time of year and one I hope continues. However, having lived on a boat in rain drenched Southeast Alaska for something like 15 years and now having moved onto dry land, I cannot help but think of how special electricity was to us when we lived on the boat.

Oh I don’t mean the 12 volt kind that boat alternators generate to operate the boat systems, I mean the 110 volt house current kind. The real kind that operates bright lights, sewing machines, quick chilling freezers, power tools, being able to watch a movie and all the other things that make modern life possible. On a boat that electricity comes from storage batteries through a converter that magically changes 12 volts to 110 volts. It’s something you keep a close watch on constantly. So much so that it becomes automatic because with dead batteries on a boat, life as we’ve all become accustomed to living it, turns grim very quickly. Besides the obvious of not being able to start the engine or  pump out the bilges, without charged up batteries there’s no VHF radio to even call for help. There’s not a more “alone feeling” in the world than being miles and miles from help just because you were careless with the use of electricity. While on our boat, we never EVER left a light on unnecessarily which brings us to our now living on land. We still never leave lights on!

We have friends who start turning on lights when they wake up in the morning and continue turning things on all day long. They need to live on a boat 100 miles from nowhere and wake up in the middle of the night with a set of dead batteries. It’s a wake up call you don’t soon forget! The thing I kept wondering about as I drove about looking at all the beautiful decorations and bright lights over the the holidays was how much less electricity would need to be generated if we’d all had first lived on boats.    

Old Fashioned Thanksgiving

One of the reasons for leaving Alaska was to grow as much of our own food as possible and when November rolled around what better way to celebrate than to emulate the Pilgrim’s first feast with a feast of our own.  If they could make everything from scratch, so could we.  After all, we did move to the land of milk and honey!  We have oh so much to be thankful for!

The photo is of our “featured” guest as “he” came out of the cooking bag (the only non old fashioned part).  Probably the most flavorsome turkey we’ve ever eaten as well as a 1st for us all being that it was a wild bird.  The fact that it was arrow killed wasn’t too shabby either.  Wild turkeys are not butterballs in any way shape or form but don’t think for a minute the Pilgrims missed anything!



We also had cornbread stuffing made from leftover cornbread from corn that we grew and ground into meal, cranberries, a variety of pickles, sweet potatoes (the very first Ted’s ever grown), and deviled eggs from our own chickens.   Except the cranberries which were grown about 20 or so miles to the west of us and a few spices, milk, etc., everything on the table was of our own making.

Ted baked a cherry pie and Cindy made a couple of pumpkin pies from one of our winter squashes.  The whole wheat flour for the crusts we also ground (but didn’t grow not that we didn’t try) and the needed lard we  rendered as well.  Our own honey sweetened the pies.  Skimmed the cream off the milk we get from a neighbor and made whipped cream topping.  All in all quite simple and about as old fashioned a celebration feast as we could make it.

Oops!…….almost forgot…….our homemade cider served in wine glasses to wash it all down.





September 2, 2013.  On this Labor Day (also our 6th wedding anniversary) it seems appropriate to sit back and contemplate just what has taken place this last year and a month since leaving Alaska.  Certainly, we’ve hardly stopped since our arrival in Wisconsin.  I keep telling Cindy who keeps telling me to slow down that “I have no tomorrows!”  And at this stage of life, who does?  And so project after project keeps coming up and ever so slowly some get done!  Others may always be a work in progress.  Our web page is a perfect example.

September 12, 2013.  Building a webpage isn’t much different than building a small “storage building” which is  the current project I’m working on and what I was doing today.  Being semi illiterate computer wise doesn’t help with the website building and not being a carpenter isn’t very conducive when it comes to putting a building together.  I should add that this is the first building I’ve ever tried to build entirely on my own (I found “blueprints” on line).  It is my “on the job training” for the sauna we have in the works for later on.  Cindy was busy canning plums and tomatoes in our canning kitchen while the gnats and I and Joey were busy cutting 2 by 4s and plywood just outside and around the corner.  By evening, sleep always seems to get in the way so the webpage and blog entries suffer (as you can see from the non sequential dates).  While the carpentry project came together with few problems, it wasn’t that way with the website.  It ended up finally getting published about the middle of October and didn’t really get most of the snags worked out until just a few days ago (well into November).  At least we’re up and running so now maybe things will smooth out a bit.  Here’s my finished project (except for painting) along with the incredible anvil cloud that formed a bit south of us in the evening.  It might be me but that “storage building” looks an awfully lot like an outhouse!


The Search

This  was supposedly going to be the first entry to the “Ramblings” page.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way but here it is anyway.

After 28,000 miles of driving over a couple of winters plus at least two jet flights and hours and hours of computer time to look at specific properties, it finally happened.  Cindy knew it was the right place almost immediately.  I knew we were in the right area as soon as I started seeing birch and spruce trees again.  While the southern states had their charm and certainly the climate to grow almost anything, we ended up in Wisconsin where the winters are long and the summers are short… and (as we are discovering) hot!  Plus, it’s where my grandsons live!  We wanted a mature orchard with at least one peach tree, a creek or a pond, a house with out buildings all in good shape, and at the end of a dead end road with zero noise from neighbors and highway traffic.  While we didn’t get the orchard or peach tree or the pond or creek, we did get the dead end road, good sound buildings (lots of them), nice but not too close neighbors and no noise.  While sitting out in the yard one evening watching the deer in the neighbor’s field our first summer I said to Cindy, “What’s that noise I’m hearing?”  “The refrigerator in the kitchen just turned on.”   We found our home!