Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!
Frazzled Marc, half way through my 40s!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What Would Meryl Do?

As we end 2014, I wanted to share some wisdom I have learned from this past year. You will come across the worst in people. It is up to you to ignore it. It is up to you to rise above it. One of the greatest gifts of getting older is realizing that you do not need to be friends with these types of people. Move on, spend time with close friends and family, and stop wasting time on the others. Life is too short and too precious to waste. 

Help others as well. Do random acts of kindness. I have preached this before. It helps them and makes you feel better as well. I was getting a coffee this afternoon and helped a senior citizen struggling with the door into the convenience store. She thanked me and then went in to buy some lotto tickets. 

While in line, she apparently lost her money from the car to the store. I helped her retrace her steps and found it with her. She thanked me profusely and then asked if I wanted to adopt her. I said, "Only if you can cook well." We both laughed, wished each other a Happy New Year, and went on our separate ways. This is what life is about. It's about helping others, not tearing others apart. 

The actress Meryl Streep says it so eloquently. I will leave you with her words of wisdom:  


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Toys-R-Us Big Christmas Book Time!

I was flipping through the newspaper the other week and the Toys R Us Big Christmas Book insert fell out. I grabbed it and began thumbing through it smiling. Such different toys these days or maybe not so much.

I see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still around. That Disney chick Elsa from Frozen is apparently really big (um, no kids here). Has Barbie had botox? My Little Pony also looks, um, odd, like there has been an infusion of Harajuku girls somewhere along the line. It is also comforting to see that Lego is bigger than ever. I'm also happy to see that NERF is still making questionably safe toys which could take out an eye if given to the child which has had too much caffeine or sugar.

Batman Colorforms
Remember back when your parents brought home the toy catalog each year before Christmas or Hanukkah? The excitement we would feel?  There were a couple out there I remember: the Sears Christmas Wish Book, the BEST Store Gift Book, and the Toys R Us Big Christmas Book with that giraffe, Geoffrey. Remember how you would just dream about the toys you could get from Santa or during Hanukkah?  I sigh and think of those times with fondness; the innocence of youth during the holidays.

Each year, around mid Fall, I remember my Mom starting to get the holiday catalogs. I would sit down with my pen and paper and begin making a long list of everything I wanted. Now I new I wouldn't get everything so through the power of marketing, this kid put the most important things up top.
"Aaaaaay!!!"

I remember asking for over the years (and being lucky enough to get) a Captain Kirk doll, a Fonzie doll, Dungeons and Dragons stuff, Star Wars figures and toys, Hot Wheels cars (I wasn't a Matchbox kid), models,  board games, Spirograph, books, Micronauts, Fisher Price playsets, Ramagon construction sets, Loc-Blocs, Tinker Toys, Colorforms, Lincoln Logs, an awesome microscope set, a Grey's Anatomy Coloring Book, a dissecting kit, a camping knife, a junior back pack, 45 records then cassette tapes, and all manner of art and craft stuff.

Every now and then, we'd ask for an electronic toy or game. TOMY was the big electronic game manufacturer back then. We once got a Tomy Digital Derby Auto Raceway and a Tomy Blip pong style game. Adam also once got a Mattel eletronic football game. The electronic game Simon rose in popularity too, as well as a bunch of knock off type games.

Digital Derby!
There was the year we got our ColecoVision game set. Adam and I played with that for hours.  Just loved it. One year we got a Jungle Jim. Another year we got a ping pong table, And still another year we got a tether ball set. That was so big in the 70s and early 80s! I remember when we got our first VCR for the family. We never did figure out how to set that damn clock. :)

There were some duds as well. There was the year we got a Commodore 64, one of the first home computers. Didn't do much with that. I think we were bored with it after a couple months.  Home computers were just too difficult to figure out and yet too rudimentary back then.

BLIP
Anyway, I thumbed through the toy catalog and remembered back to my holiday wish list writing. One year, Mom and Dad surprised us kids with it just seemed like miles and miles of wrapped toys under our Christmas Tree / Hanukkah Bush. Years later, Mom admitted she completely went over board that year and kept forgetting she had already bought stuff for us. It was a very good, very fun Hanukkah/Christmas that year. We didn't have another one like that and yet, that was OK. Every year was always a good year. I was a very lucky kid, never had to want for anything in the world, and as an adult, I get that and am completely thankful.

My heart goes out to those kids who may only receive one gift for the holidays or may not receive any at all. Donate gifts if you can, to a charity that accepts unwrapped gifts for kids. Let's give these kids a holiday that they can remember too.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

My 20 Favorite Holiday Songs

We all have our favorite holiday songs, those songs you can't wait to hear each year. They get you in the mood, they get you sad, they bring you up, and they put you in the spirit f the holiday season! There are so many versions of songs year after year by your favorite artists. This year, Christmas albums have been released by country star Darius Rucker, Broadway star Idina Menzel, comedian Seth McFarlande (YES, you heard correctly!), R&B supergroup Earth, Wind, and Fire. Okaaaaay. I may get the album by Darius Rucker to add to my collection. Earth, Wind, and Fire? Um, I'll pass.

From my favorites list, you will see I mostly love the classic songs performed by artists of years gone by.  I also love holiday songs sung in a retro big band, swing style. There are a couple of quirky ones such as "Father Christmas" by the Kings or "Christmas Wrapping" by the Waitresses. And still several others, like those two, are from the 70s and 80's which reflect my youth.  There are several sad ones but mainly happy uplifting ones. As many of you know, the holidays bring out every emotion.

Nestor the Long Eared Donkey
I had the list up to 30 but paired it down to my favorite 20 songs. Included are the videos of the songs or lyric videos from the website Youtube. The four honorable mentions at the end are grade school favorites. No list would be complete without including a photo of my favorite Christmas character, Nestor the Long Eared Donkey.

And for those  people still say I remind them of Hermey, the North Pole Elf who wanted to be a dentist, I don't see the resemblance.

Hermey the Elf

THE LIST:

1. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  - Judy Garland

This song brings up such sad thoughts over the holidays of how much I miss my Mom and other family and friends who have passed. The holidays are wonderful, but bittersweet. It reminds me that I can and will get through it. It's not easy. There are fun times, but also sad memories. May we never forget those that we lost over the holidays and cherish those that we still have.  The Frank Sinatra version is great too but I like this one as it has the original wording.



2. "Jingle Bell Rock" - Brenda Lee

I love the Brenda Lee version. I sang this waaay back in some elementary school Christmas show with my 5th grade class at Wenonah Elementary School.



3. "Feliz Navidad" - Jose Feliciano

My family and I were traveling through St. Augustine, Florida on our way to Sanibel Island when I first heard this song. I reminds me of those years I spent with my family in Sanibel Island over the holidays. We laughed so much because it kept coming on the car radio!




4. "Christmas Through Your Eyes" - Gloria Estefan

Another slower Christmas song. I remember my past holidays as a child, so happy and wide eyed. I am so nostalgic.





5. "No More Blue Christmas" - Natalie Cole

This is sad but has a positive message.



6. "Christmas Waltz" - Natalie Cole

I love the Christmas Waltz because it is so sweeping in its sounds and arrangement. I can just imagine waltzing to it ... if I could waltz. And even then, I'd still step on  your feet and make fun of the people dancing around me. Just a feel good uplifting Christmas song from years ago that many young people do not even know exists.



7. "Last Christmas" - Wham -

Brings back great high school memories. And we all know now George Michael was really pining after Andrew Ridgeley. Totally geeky dorky video. LOL  Nice hair George. If I remember correctly, I think I had the same hair style one year.



8. "Silent Night" - Stevie Nicks

Just truly amazing.



9. "Do You Hear What I Hear" - Whitney Houston

Such a great rendition of this song, R&B but not over the top. She totally does it justice, my favorite version.  What a voice and what a loss.



10. "Little Drummer Boy" - David Bowie and Bing Crosby

Bowie and BING!!! What an incredible duet. I am still amazed they sang together so well! Their conversation though was just a bit odd. LOL



11. "We Need a Little Christmas" - Glee Version

This song always puts me in a great mood. The original version was in the Broadway musical "Mame". I think this snippet from Glee is hilarious.



12. "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" - Andy William

SUCH a classic!



13. "Happy Holidays" - Andy Williams

What can you say about Andy Williams! So uplifting and he puts you into the mood for the holidays. How can you not sing along?





14. "Father Christmas" - The Kinks

I love this song from 1977. I saw the Kinks when I went to Rutgers back in 1988. I was right at the stage and Ray Davies accidentally spit on me when he sang this song. Crazy disgusting memory huh? LOL



15. "Christmas Wrapping" - The Waitresses

Great 80s song. 




16. "Sleigh Ride" - Leroy Anderson

I always seem to hear this in department stores or elevators. I still love it though.



17. "Merry Christmas Darling" - Karen Carpenter

Anyone who knows me, knows I just LOVE the 70s. If my Mom could sing to me, I would imagine it would be Karen Carpenter's just lovely melodic voice, so soothing. I get emotional over this one, too. Makes me realize how much I miss Mom.



18. "Do They Know It's Christmas" - Band Aid

From the 80's again! The original just brings CHILLS to me. Bono is just haunting is this song. Even bluesy Boy George gives me goose bumps! I remember made Mom and Dad run out and buy me the 45 rpm single of the song.



19. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - Frank Sinatra

Great swing version by Ole' Blue Eyes.



20. "Let It Snow" - Michael Buble

Love Michael Buble's voice. He really could've been part of the Rat Pack.




Honorable Mentions: 

"Charlie Brown Christmas"


"Dominic the Donkey"


"Snoopy vs the Red Baron" - The Royal Guardsmen







"Jingle Bells, Batman Smells"

Hahaha, we sang this in 1st grade I think. Now I was at a Giant Supermarket last year and a little kid was singing this. His mother exclaimed, "Michael, stop singing that!" And I'm yelling down the aisle, "NO!!! Keep singing it!!! I had no idea kids were still singing this!" as I ran to her. They ran away from me. LOL.



Now I reserve the right to add to this list!  
What songs do you love and can't live without each year???

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanksgiving Message 2014






I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! I wanted to share with you some thoughts and pictures of my Thanksgiving trip up to Worlds End State Park. I went up with John and we stayed for 4 days/3 nights at a cabin up in the middle of Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains. It was fun, relaxing, and calming for the soul.

Our little cabin, Cabin #6
Snow anyone?
We traveled north the day before during some really bad weather. The Mid-Atlantic states were socked with our first bad Nor' Easter of the season. We even left early at 6:30 AM to avoid the incoming snow storm. Thankfully, we got out of Schuylkill County before the brunt of it hit the area. I heard afterwards that there were many accidents on our road after we left that morning. After we drove over a huge mountain just south of Numidia, the weather thankfully cleared for a bit. The mountain was pretty scary driving  with snowflakes falling as large as silver dollars.

Toasting the snow!
Driving past Bloomsburg up to the state park was clear though. It was actually a nice drive. Once we got into the cabin, the snow bands whipped around and hit Sullivan County. We unloaded the Jeep, started a fire in the wood stove of the cabin, and hunkered down for a bit.

The beautiful snow was too exciting to stay inside so we bundled up in our snow gear and headed out for a short hike up to the park ranger's office about a mile through the park. The snow fell heavily and whipped into your face but it was actually a lot of fun trudging through it. Later in the cabin, hot chocolate, marshmallows, reading, and a movie passed the time.

John hiking the World's End Trail
On Thanksgiving day we had a great breakfast of eggs and Spam (Yes Spam! I love it during camping!). We hiked through 5-8 inches of snow up the side of the mountain to the World's End Vista. I wore a bright orange ski jacket and red ski pants. John referred to me as the walking lighthouse. You couldn't miss me! If there were hunters in the area, they would have seen me a mile away. And if we needed rescuing, any helicopter flying over head would definitely see me. I'm always prepared just like a Boy Scout!


The fall and the slide
Can't breath! Wind knocked out of me!

Coming back down the mountain was a bit more treacherous. Many times we had to take little half side steps to avoid falling face first down the trail. And even then, we often fell flat on our backs, sliding down the trail 10 feet or so. At one point, I fell so hard, I got the wind knocked out of me and just lay there for a minute to catch my breath. And where was John? Helping me up? Nooo, he was happy to get out the camera and take pictures of me lying (feeling like I'm dying) on the trail.

Later that day, we ended up watching the Eagles trounce the Cowboys at a local B&B watering hole called the Sonestown Inn. The Inn had what looked like a great Thanksgiving platter but John and I looked at each other and said "Naaah."  He had the open faced roast beef and I tackled a 1/2 pound burger. This was after downing (and sharing) a dozen wings, pierogies, and onion rings. Hey, it was a long game!

One exploded turkey coming up!
The day after Thanksgiving, we had our a smokey turkey in the cabin. The cabin had an electric stove and since the turkey was already cooked, it just needed to be heated up. John did tell me one thing though, "It doesn't look pretty but I got it 1/2 off."
I said, "Um ... Why?"
"Because our turkey exploded in the smoker and the guy gave it to me for 1/2 off," he laughed.
I busted out laughing too. And the turkey did looked butchered by a serial killer but I gotta tell you it was soo damn good!

It was a great mini-vacation. We shopped the quaint little nearby town of Eagles Mere, smoked some cigars, drank some whiskey, hiked through snow, fell down the mountain, and ate an exploded turkey. Now that's an interesting Thanksgiving!

On the Loyalsock Creek

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Little Kid Rambles

While camping at World's End State Park in Forksville, PA, I had to use shower/bath house one evening to wash up. I set up shop at the sink and immediately heard a young child in a stall with his Dad. This little kid was doin' his business and was just talking away.

This young little chatterbox was asking his Dad a million questions! He must've been about 3.

"Why is it snowing?" he asked in his meek yet eager voice.
"Because it's cold," the Dad replied.
"What is that?"
"Well, that's the light on the ceiling."
"Oh, OK, Daddy can we talk about the snow again?"
"Sure, what do you want to talk about?" the Dad asked.
"Let's talk about the snow," the little boy replied.
"Well what do you want to know?"
"How much snow is it?"
"It's about 6 inches of snow."
"Is that a lot?" the little boy could be heard asking.
"Well it's enough!" the father laughed.
"Yeah, that's enough ... what's that?!"the little boy asked.
"That's a skylight in the ceiling."
"What does that do?"
"It lets in light."

I turned on the sink faucet to brush my teeth, washed my face and then moved to the hand dryer to dry my hands. The little boy kept going on and on. He had the most patient Dad just waiting for him to do his business. I began to enjoy this little kid with his endless questions.

"What was THAT Daddy?!"
"Just someone using the sink, it's alright."
Oh great, I thought, they are talking now about me.
"Oh, OK. What is he doing?" the little boy asked.
"Probably washing up, focus on what you are doing, OK?"
"OK ... is he staying in here too?"
His father chuckled, "Yes, he probably is."
"Oh ... OK ... where?"
"Probably in a cabin just like us."
"Oh. OK."

I  moved to the other stall to grab some tissue to blow my nose.
The little boy immediately noticed that I had entered the stall right next to his and exclaimed, "DADDY!!!"
"What? What's wrong?" he asked with a chuckle.
"That man has shoes JUST LIKE YOURS!"

I looked down at my hiking shoes and busted up into laughter. The father immediately started laughing along with me. I just couldn't help myself!

He said out loud to me while laughing, "I'm so sorry!"
I was still cracking up and replied, "That's OK. I've enjoyed the conversation. And hey, what happens in here stays in here, right?"
"Absolutely!" he exclaimed. "Have a good night."
"You as well!" I replied.

I gotta tell you, some conversations you just can't make up. I haven't laughed that hard in ages.








Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great Customer Service from Elmo Pio Wines


Elmo Pio Wines
I love my wine. Anyone who knows me knows that. I especially love a good affordable wine; something to gulp, I mean sip, during the evenings after a long hard day at work. (every day). One evening, I was enjoying a bottle of Elmo Pio Chianti. You know the bottle, the kitschy one with the straw basket on the lower half? I love it! It is a great wine which always reminds me of that classic Billy Joel song, "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant". 

Now I had an issue with a bottle of wine I was drinking and subsequently contacted the distributor about it. It wasn't a major concern and I'm not going to go into detail about it because the matter was handled quickly, thoroughly, and professionally. AND I wanted to tell you about the wonderful customer service I received from Pio Imports / Elmo Pio Wines.

I initially left a message on their website asking for a callback to address my concerns. A couple of days went by and then finally, rather annoyed, I called the distributor directly in North Wales, PA. I left one of my typically long rambling messages requesting and expecting a callback.
I finally got a callback from a man named Dave Dahme who turned out to be the general manager of the import company in the US. He apologetically explained that he had been in Europe in Italy at the vineyards (wish that was my job!) and then was doing a wine tasting back in the states in Hershey, PA. Gee did I feel like a demanding, annoying rube. I think we each apologized to the other several times.
Photo taken by a very appreciative customer!
After I explained my issue with my bottle of Chianti, Mr. Dahme set about to make things "right." He kept in touch via phone and email throughout the next couple weeks. He also kept me in the loop with his correspondence to his business partners in Italy which I thought was pretty cool, too.

Now all I had wanted was a new bottle of Chianti but Mr. Dahme went above and beyond the call of duty. We set up a meeting outside of Allentown for me to drop off my old bottle of Chianti. He had driven an hour north to meet me and presented me with two higher end bottles of Chianti and a bottle of Prosecco expressing his regrets on my experience.

Needless to say, I was very impressed by how hard he worked to rectify my issue. In one of my previous careers, I worked for the Ritz-Carlton Philly for 8 years and have come to recognize and expect great customer service. More often than not, you don't receive it and leave an establishment disappointed.

Mr. Dahme's response showed me that there are still people and companies out there which run their business with a foundation of incredible customer service. It is becoming a rarity these days.  For that, I am thankful and  he has now gained a Elmo Pio customer for life!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Brussels Sprouts, Memories and Music

John and I were on vacation visiting family the other month. We spent a week seeing his folks in Sedona, Arizona, and then a week seeing my folks in Arcata, California. My stepmom Martha has a great cookbook called "The Chopped Cookbook" by the Food Network Kitchen. John and I, as well as Dad and Martha, are big fans of the show so I eagerly copied some recipes from the cookbook.

I love Brussels sprouts and usually saute' them up with garlic, olive oil, and finish them off with a balsamic glaze. I was looking for something new and I found a great recipe in this book for roasted Brussels sprouts with salami, potatoes, and onions. (By the way, I always thought is was just Brussel, not Brussels.)  So thanks Martha, for a new recipe and a new favorite! The recipe will appear below.

While prepping, my mind began to wander as it always does. I was also playing some great music on my phone so I figured I'd share the evening with you. I began slicing up the salami, it called for 1/4 cup. I think I put in 1/2 cup and was munching on it along the way. 

This video, by Dianne Reeves, "Better Days" was one of Mom's favorite songs. I starting thinking back to the 70's and my childhood.



I thought back for some reason to our former president Jimmy Carter. I think it was because he was recently in the news commenting on our current president. Anyway, I was six years old, it was 1976, and Jimmy Carter was running for president. As a kid, I didn't know politics. My parents talked about being Democrats but I had no idea what it meant. They were for this man called Jimmy Carter, he liked peanuts and he was running against someone called a Republican, Gerald Ford. I didn't know much about either man but I knew I liked Gerald Ford. He was stately, impressive, tall. Apparently he tripped quite often but I still liked the guy. I told my parents, at six years old, that I wanted Gerald Ford to become President again and they were mortified. LOL. My parents were happy when he was the last Republican for president that I ever supported. :)

So the salami was chopped, and I moved onto chopping the Brussel(s) sprouts. Now I am so annoyed while typing this because I found that it is actually Brussels with an 's'. Being a 'foodie', I pride myself on my knowledge of food  and never realized that it had an 's' on the end. ARGH! 

OK, OK, back to chopping. And back to my cocktail. I am drinking a smokey single malt Scotch, Laphroig, YUM. :)  

I chopped up the Brussels sprouts and began to listen to another favorite song, "They Don't Know" by Tracey Ullman. This is an incredible song from the 80's about love. How many of us related to this song!!! Great 80's sounds with a 50's/60's doo-wop vibe. I often post it on my Facebook page and friends just can't get enough of it.



I finished up with the Brussels sprouts and started chopping up onions. My thoughts wandered again back to the 70's with a story of my mother driving our light blue Chevy Chevette. Those ugly little cars looked like this: 


So I was riding with Mom. I was either 4 or 5. I don't think I was in school yet because I remember driving with Mom somewhere during the day, just me and her. That would have meant that Adam and Sheryl were both in school. Anyway, I was sitting in the front seat (with no car seat - HELLO, it was the 70s!) and I decided to be adventurous and roll the window down. Mom yelled at me, "Marc, don't touch the window, ROLL IT UP!" 

Like the good boy I was, I did and proceeded to roll the window up on my finger. Don't ask me how, don't ask my why but I kept my finger there. I manually rolled up the window on my finger so tight I screamed. I was in such trauma I could not figure out that if I only 'unrolled' the window, I would be free. No ... I just screamed. Mom had to pull the Chevette over and save my finger from the manually rolled up window.  No wonder I am freaked out by cars that still have those manual roll up windows.

My eyes started watering from the onions, I had forgotten to chill them in the freezer for 10 minutes. This helps in cutting down the watery eye syndrome. I worked on quartering about 12 ounces of red bliss potatoes, cleaned beforehand of course.

The next song I listened to was the Bangles "Manic Monday." 



By now I had poured my self a glass of Coppola Vinyard's Rosso red wine and was enjoying humming along, thinking about the 80's. I thought about a trip I took with my family one summer through Colorado and New Mexico. We were having lunch at a rest stop picnic area and I went off wandering. There was a large hill overlooking the rest stop so I decided to hike up it. I was about 50 feet above the picnic area and Mom saw me at the top.

"Marc!! What are you doing?! Get the hell down from there!" she screamed.
I screamed back OK and I began to scramble down the hillside.

As I went to descend, I spied a vibrant pink cactus flower. I thought, Mom would just love this! I proceeded to pluck it and climb down the hill. I presented her with the flower and she instead screamed. My hands were COVERED in cactus spines. Yes I realized I had a couple but I figured it was just a couple, not over 20. So the next 15 minutes at the picnic table were spent with Mom and a pair of tweezers carefully plucking out cactus spines from my now swelling hands.

Thanks to the website www.desertusa.com for the example of the cactus flower!
Eventually the swelling went down on my pin cushion hands. Mom kissed me for picking her the flower and made me promise never do that again. The flower was put on the dashboard of the Ford station wagon so she could look at it as we continued on the road down to Taos, New Mexico. It wilted from the harsh desert sun but Mom's memory of it lasted until her last years bringing it up every so often to me with a smile on her face.

Back to the recipe! After chopping up all the ingredients, I sauteed up the salami and put it aside. I mixed up the chopped up Brussels sprouts, onions, and potatoes and roasted them in the oven. Afterwards, I stirred in the cooked salami and topped the dish with some fresh flat-leaf parsley.

The recipe came out great, and it was a nice evening listening to music and reminiscing. Even though this was not Mom's original recipe, I feel it has a place in my series "Cooking Through Family" just because of the evening preparing it.

Going into the oven!



ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS with SALAMI, POTATOES, and ONIONS

1. Cook 1/4 cup sliced salami in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a small skillet until crispy, about 4 minutes.

The cooked dish.
2. Reserve the salami. Toss the salami oil with 1 1/2 pounds cleaned halved Brussels sprouts, 12 oz quartered small red potatoes, and 1 diced onion on a rimmed baking sheet.

3. Season with  1 1/4 tspn kosher salt. Roast at 400'F stirring the veggies halfway through the cooking time, until browned, about 30 minutes.

4. Stir in the reserved salami and a handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homespun Yard Advice

I love wildlife more than your average person. I will not trim a bush if I know there is a rabbit's nest in it.  I refused to trim my holly tree because a robin was sitting in it on two eggs this season. I also conveniently forgot to tell John that one of the bottom steps of the deck was "wobbly" because I feared we would disturb the salamander family living underneath. That's the type of guy I am. I feel these animals have just as every right to live on G-d's earth as I do. (Not that I want them in my home, now that's a different story which I'll get to in a bit ... Don't judge me people!)

I was working at my office one afternoon when I saw that John had called me not once but three or four times. OK, somethin's up, I thought. So I buzzed him back. He notified me that the tractor almost went belly up in a gopher hole. Not a little chipmunk hole, we are talking about a gopher that seemed to come up from China (actually just north from Charlotte's yard.)

Remember those holes you dug as a kid and you told your parents you were digging to China? They laughed at you and said, "OK Marc, just be home by dinnertime" and then they walked back into the house to fix themselves an afternoon cocktail. This was one of those types of holes. This sucker was DEEEP.

I came home and checked out the hole myself. There were rocks the size of Volkswagen Beetles dug up and strewn about the hole. OK, maybe a little smaller, but ya get the point. So what to do, what to do. I remembered how my Dad labors against the gophers in his yard waay out in Northern California. He battles a relentless campaign against the critters. Each time he finds a hole, he fills it with a special present made by his two loyal doggies, Fiona and Archie, and then covers over the hole. Yes, you can guess what their special presents are.

I decided to try this technique with my own gopher hole. Unfortunately I don't own any dogs so I had to improvise with my two faithful companions, Max and Moxie the Cats. After a week, I was able to dump an entire bag full of ... umm ... special presents down the gopher hole made by the cats. I topped it off with the strewn boulders and topsoil and now I wait to see if Mr. Gopher stays over in the other yard or decides to make another emergency exit by one of our flower beds. If he does, I will be ready with Max and Moxie!

*********************************************************************************

I received yet another call at the office from John the same week freaking out that there was a furious pecking and scratching at the side of the house in my room! It sounded like it was in the walls or ceiling. The cats were literally glued to the bedroom wall waiting to pounce on whatever was about to come through the wall.

I told him I thought it was a chipmunk or mouse scratching at the wall. I remembered way back when I was growing up when Dad had to literally go through the wall to find a foul smelling chipmunk in the stair hall off of the breakfast room. He dug through the drywall and eventually retrieved a maggot-ridden chipmunk corpse. That was the first time that I smelled a rotting animal, and in the breakfast room of our house no less. You never forget that smell.

Anyway, I told John that I feared that at the worst, Mr. Gopher was looking for another passage way ... through our house! I advised him to check it out outside and call me back when he found something.  After investigating, John called me back and confirmed it was not a chipmunk. It was not a mouse. It was not a gopher scaling the side of the house. It was a woodpecker that has decided to make his fall home in the back corner of our house!  Now honestly, that was the last thing I was expecting.

We both were freaking out. Woody (yes Woodpecker) had pecked a quarter sized hole into the side corner. He was not looking for grubs, he was looking to add a condo to his real estate holdings. What the heck do you do about that?

Now I know you cannot kill birds like that. It's against the law as they are migratory birds. You have to deter them by various means. This can include hanging chicken wire from your house, putting up big fake owl or hawk to scare them, covering the side of your house with fur or cloth (YES that was a suggestion on the internet), hanging shiny noisy objects to scare them off, or putting out food (suet cakes) to feed them instead of them pecking up your house!

John filled up the hole with wood filler, an entire tube! He also hung a wind chime right off of the house by that area to make noise. I think honestly the birds will enjoy the wind chimes. I think we need something more like a foghorn, but that's just me! :)  Charlotte suggested hanging aluminum pie plates together so they reflect and make noise. I searched the house but had no pin tins. I spied an aluminum roaster pan wedged into the back of the laundry room closet and decided to make something out of that.  I cut it up into quarters and strung it together to form a sort of mobile.

Well, let's just say it ain't pretty. But hopefully my aluminum monstrosity of a mobile will scare that woodpecker away. Let's just say it scared me.
The Woodpecker Deterrent System
The Deterrent System in Effect!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nana's Meatballs

Can a Jewish mother have a good recipe for Italian meatballs? Yes she can and I set out to make my mother proud. I have never made meatballs but I figured I'd give these a try.  I remember both my Nana and my mom making them but I don't remember how they came out. My sister Sheryl filled in my memory gaps for this blog.

Sheryl stated with a chuckle that Mom's often came out dry. Perhaps she had a habit of over cooking them? Or the oven's temperature wasn't calibrated? Nana's, on the other hand, were always moist.

Lumpy but MOIST!
Well, I am happy to say that I followed in Nana's footsteps with regards to this recipe as my meatballs came out moist. The only discrepany would be that after cooking, they should have correctly been called meat lumps. As I browned them in the skillet pan, they tended to flatten out on each side. Before you know it, my balls became lumpy, almost squares.

I really think the milk helped to keep them moist. I watched them like a hawk too, making sure each side was cooked the same amount of time and not overdone. I then put them in the sauce to simmer and finish cooking.


Nana's Meatballs by Abby Deeds

1. 1 to 2 lbs ground beef
2. 1 egg per pound of meat
3. 1/2 cup milk per pound of meat
4. 1 slice of bread per pound of meat
5/ 1/2 cup parmesean cheese
6. Add onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper (Mom did not specify any amount.)
***I would also recommend possibly adding some Italian seasoning.
7. Combine, mix well, make meatballs, each the size of a golf ball
8. Lightly brown meatballs in skillet
9. Add meatballs to sauce
10. Cook 45 minutes to 1 hour
11. Serve over your favorite pasta with Parmesan cheese.

***I ADDED some bread crumbs to further bind everything together, but not a lot, maybe only a 1/3 of a cup.

Mom also wrote down these suggestions for jazzing up your pasta sauce:

Add onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, fresh onions, green peppers, tomato paste, or basil.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Bullied in High School

There was recently another bullying story in the news. No, actually there were two which made the national headlines. I was so angry and disgusted that extreme bullying still occurs. I know as children, we go through a certain amount of bullying as we grow up. It is, unfortunately an expected part of growing up ... especially if you are a geek, dork, nerd, gay, lesbian, or another minority. Hopefully it doesn't effect the individual in later life but in too many situations, we have seen that this is not the case.

I was bullied. Let's face it, I was a meek, a smaller kid, bookworm, geek, effeminate, nonsports-oriented. Did that make it OK for me to be bullied, NO! But, I was a prime candidate for bullying. Luckily, I survived high school unscathed for the most part. You learn how to stay under the radar and not attract unwanted attention to yourself. I wasn't bullied too often and had enough bigger kids looking out for me.

My high school girl-friends Marguerite and Angie were also great friends and my protectors. Love those gals! Many a time, they stood up for this geek and I appreciated it. Again, I was lucky. I even actually really enjoyed the majority of my high school. My senior year was great. I had plenty of friends, was pretty well liked, and was active in not only varsity sports but also held some officer positions in a couple of clubs.

One time, in 7th grade, I was punched in the stomach by this asshole Alex. All I had done was flirt with one of my classmates Marnee, whom I had known since I was 5! I had always had a crush on her. We were in gym class, he liked her and saw us kidding around. Before I knew it, he came over to me and exclaimed, "Stay away from her!" and punched me square in the stomach. I doubled over in pain, out of breath. It was so stupid and in my opinion just showed how much of an idiot he was. Other kids saw and just let it happen. No one helped me. It goes without saying that I avoided Alex for the rest of high school. I just saw Alex as a pretentious 7th grade asshole. Even though I have never seen him since, I still think of him as a 44 year old pretentious asshole. Sorry, that just happens when someone bullies you. You get scarred. GET IT?

Luckily, Marnee and I remained good friends. (Blush and beaming smiles)

I also remember waaay back in grade school that I got into a pretty bad fight with my best friend Jeff Cope. I don't even know why we fought but he was stronger than me, and tossed me into my neighbor's bushes. I climbed out, told him off and walked home all scratched up. The next day we were friends again as if nothing happened. I also got into a fight on the playground with John Mullens. Next day, friends again. Too bad things don't work that way these days.

This next anecdote is one that I've only told to a few close friends. I've been scarred by it. Truly shamed and hurt. All the other bullying incidents are nothing compared to this one. I used to say I was embarrassed that it took me such a long time to get over it. Now though, I accept that it is a part of me. I acknowledge it and move on. BUT it will always be a part of me and it has taken years to deal with it.

If only I had known that Steven McQueen wore a turtleneck.
I was in line in the cafeteria, 9th grade. I was waiting in line for food when a larger classmate imitated me, my mannerisms, my speech. He told me quote unquote that Jews only wear turtlenecks. I immediately felt fire, but not the type of fire associated with rage, but the fire and heat associated with the feeling of embarrassment and shame.  It crept up my body, my head, my eyes. OMG, I fought the urge to cry and run. I felt tears but I held them back. I just told him to shut up, turned around, and went silent in line.

Let's think about this for a second (as adults). WHAT THE FUCK? What does that even mean? Only Jew wear turtlenecks. That is one of the most ridiculous statements, as an adult, that I have ever heard. BUT, as a 15 year old, it was truly damning.

I was so embarrassed. I felt so obvious, so noticeable in my turtleneck. I felt like a Jew, because only Jews wear turtlenecks. This kid had been tormenting me for 2 years since 7th grade, but now he had tormented me about something different, my religion, the one thing which at this point in high school, had set me apart, made me different, but it was never negative up until this point. With regards to turtlenecks,  I had never worn one for at least 15 years because I hated the way I looked in them, always thinking back to that incident in the cafeteria.

This bully was a monster, grabbing at anything which made a kid different and then negatively capitalizing on it. Asshole yes. Monster (in my eyes) yes. Pathetic and pitiful ... yes.

He tormented me through high school. It was Hell. But luckily a couple of good guys by the names of Mike, Chris, and Joe (of our Gateway HS football team) befriended me and I got through it unscathed. He seemed to back off. I have always (mentally) thanked them for this, maybe not publicly until now. Mike, unfortunately passed away a couple years ago and it pains me that I never was able to thank him. That's what happens though after high school as you more than often go your separate ways. I feel Mike somehow, somewhere, knows how much I owe him.

I saw the bully at my 25th reunion back in November 2013 and was cordial and pleasant to him. His wife though was sooo nice. I had all of these grandiose plans that I would finally confront him and tell him what an asshole he was. Then I realized, why am I talking to this asshole? After a short meaningless conversation, I pretty much walked away from him mid sentence. 

I finally bought a turtleneck in the mid 2000's. Wore it, got compliments, and kept it until I wore it out. It's a shame we are scarred this way. Luckily my "scarring" has faded, as true scars do. The pain grows less each year as the scar fades. It sucks though that I still have pain. I recognized that at the reunion and there is nothing wrong with that. I choose though, to not have to talk or acknowledge that individual anymore in my life. I can say he doesn't have any power anymore, but sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. I can honestly say though that he still is such a fucking asshole.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Charlotte is a Peach! (Charlotte Drops Off Food and other Anecdotes - Part II)

"Hi Charlotte!" I yelled across the yard.
"Hi Marc, the hummingbirds are still around!" my pint-sized 70-something neighbor exclaimed.
"I know, they are fattening up before they leave."
"Yes, pretty soon they be leaving south on their long trip for the winter."
"I read that they go to Mexico.  Do you wanna go with them?" I asked half-laughing.
"I can't go to Mexico, I don't like Mexican food." she said matter-
of-factly.
"Um, OK, how about they go to Mexico and you and I go to the Bahamas?" I replied.
"I'm there!" she yelled across the yard.

*********************************************************

John and I had just pulled up to the house and began to unload groceries from the car when we heard a familiar voice across the yard.

"John and Marc, get inside! There are major storms coming!!!" screamed Charlotte across the yard while frantically looking for Abby the cat.

"Ok thanks Charlotte!" I yelled back. I could see the advancing storms across the valley above Pottsville. It was angry dark and gray; menacing clouds were interspersed with streaks of lightning.

We worked quickly to get everything inside the house. I  glanced over from our deck and saw Charlotte in her kitchen. Abby the cat was sitting contently on her living room window shelf. OK, good, I thought, they are both in.

The rain started coming, not too heavy at first. Rumbles of thunder rolled through the valley.  Any sunlight was now hidden behind fearsome clouds. In the thirty seconds it took to transverse the living room to the kitchen, there was a knock at the front door. There was Charlotte standing at our door. I went down the stairs to greet her.

"I forgot to give you this," she stated as she thrust a tin foil wrapped loaf of something into my hands. "It's zucchini bread."

"Oh, OK, thanks. Charlotte, this could really have waited 'til tomorrow. It's gonna pour!"

"Nonsense!" she replied.
I didn't get another word in and she was already across the side yard to her house just as the heaven's opened and the downpour began.


*********************************************************

For two weeks over the summer, Charlotte was baking cookies, cakes, and breads for a volunteer church program that she was involved in. She would wake up at 4 am on the dot and begin baking for that day. She decided to experiment and use John and I as her guinea pigs. We didn't mind for the first week, but after 7 days of random baked goods, we found our waist lines beginning to grow. So for two weeks, Charlotte would sneak over at 5 in the morning and tie plastic bags of baked goods to our side-view mirrors so we would see them getting into the car that morning.

A couple of the items were winners such as more zucchini bread, banana bread, banana chocolate chip cookies, and lemon white chocolate chip cookies. Others I didn't care for such as ... Yeah, are you crazy? You think I'm gonna speak up when I have fresh baked goods being dropped off each morning? I loved everything!

She also got into a habit of leaving us random fruits and vegetables in baggies tied to either our front door knob, on the bench by the door, or tied around the car side-view mirrors. The random zucchini or cucumber, Bags of these incredibly delicious large oval cherry tomatoes. A bag of frying peppers for John. 1/2 pint containers of frozen chili for my lunch. Larger containers of homemade cranberry relish or cucumber salad.

And finally, one morning, Charlotte left each of us the largest, most beautiful peach with a lovely note. The peach was fragrant, deep red orange and yellow. My mouth watered. I saved it for a couple days and allowed it to ripen further. It was my only peach of the summer, and it was worth it. What did my note say, you may be asking? Well, Charlotte remembered that I cannot stand fuzz on my peaches and she had the thoughtfulness to wash my peach. I read the note and smiled all the way to work. That peach, and Charlotte, made my summer.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Chicken Parmigiana

Tomato sauce splatters included. 
Sunday, August 24th, would have been my Mom's 72nd birthday.  The birthday of a loved one is always a tough day to get through. I went through her recipes and chose two to consider making in her honor:  homemade meatballs or chicken parmigiana.
I left it up to John and he chose the chicken. It is a good recipe, easy to do for a "school night."  In addition, it's also one that I have not made before.

Mom used to make this for us when we would visit her and my stepdad Barry at their home in Lake Wynonah. The breaded chicken, topped with a rich tomato sauce and tons of mozzarella cheese just filled you up. She paired it with a simple garden salad and garlic bread.  There was seldom room for dessert.

I copied the recipe down below as she wrote it. I did make a couple changes. The first being that I wasn't sure if she used a "pound of chicken breasts" or she wanted me to POUND the chicken breasts. Since the meal was for two people, I bought a couple pounds of chicken breast and pounded away to flatten them out. Problem solved and I worked out my frustrations with the meat mallet! Hahaha.


The second change was that after coating the chicken with bread crumbs, I baked it for 15 minutes before topping it with the tomato sauce so that the bread crumbs wouldn't fall off the chicken so easily. After the baking was completed, I pulled the chicken out of the oven and topped with shredded Parmesan cheese. You could use grated cheese instead if you wish.

And finally, I enjoyed the dinner with a 2013 French Bordeaux Rose by Baron Phillippe De Rothschold. It only sounds expensive but tastes wonderful.  I know in my video I said I was also going to open the Rex Goliath Shiraz but Mom would have frowned on me drinking the TWO bottles in one sitting. :)


Chicken Parmigiana by Abby Deeds

Mom's chicken parmigiana
Boneless chicken breasts
butter - pasta or tomato sauce
Italian bread crumbs
mozzarella cheese - shredded

1. pound chicken breasts
2. melt butter
3. dip chicken in butter
4. coat w/ bread crumbs

Put in baking dish
Top with sauce
Bake 1 hour at 350'F
Put cheese on top to melt

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Charlotte Drops Off Food (Part 1)

I was going to write about something else tonight but thought about an encounter with my neighbor Charlotte a couple month's back and decided to write about that instead.  Since I haven't written about her in a while I decided it was time for a Charlotte story. I love my neighbor Charlotte, she is a free wheeling tough as nails pint sized 70 something divorcee.

Picture Source
That evening, John and I were going to grill some homemade Italian sausage from Russo's Market in Wyomissing, PA. If you haven't tried it, it is so good that let's just say it saves us Philly transplants when we need our Italian! It is just as good as anything from the Italian Market, but without the local smells and colorful street urchins. ;)

Anyway, I was hollering into the house from the deck for John to bring out the veggies to grill them up.
"John!!! Bring out the peppers and onions! I need to get them on the grill!" OK, I was kind of like screaming. It had been a long day. "JOHN, where are you? I see you in there walking away from the kitchen! I know you can hear me!" I was actually running from window to window yelling at him. (By now, I realize I could have gotten the veggies myself.)

I had just put the sausage on the grill, heard a creak on the deck, turned around, and there was Charlotte standing next to me. I freaked and jumped almost out of my skin. "OH MY G-D ... MOTHER #$*@&!!!" Even after catching my breath, I could barely muster out,  "Why did you do that?  Charlotte, you snuck up on me without making a noise! Why did you do that!?"

She giggled and handed me two paper bags.
"Here is a bunch of zucchini and here are a couple of peppers so you can stop yelling at John."

With that, she bounded down the deck steps and was across the yard to her place within seconds. At that point, John came out and I handed him the vegetables and said that Charlotte stated I needed to stop yelling at him. He humped triumphantly and said that she was the smartest person in the neighborhood. I rolled my eyes and went back to my grilling.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mom's Meatloaf

First, some interesting history about meatloaf from the website Wikipedia:

"American meatloaf has its origins in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal served by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial Times.  However, meatloaf in the contemporary American sense did not appear in cookbooks until the late 19th century."    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatloaf

"In 2007, meatloaf was voted the seventh-favorite dish in the United States according to Good Housekeeping.  During the Great Depression cooking meatloaf was a way to stretch the food budget for families, using an inexpensive type of meat and other ingredients as leftovers; along with spices, it was popular to add cereal grains to the meatloaf to stretch the meat. The tradition lives on with the merits of producing a lower-fat dish with superior binding and consistency.The meatloaf is typically eaten with some kind of sauce or relish."   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatloaf

Almost as American as apple pie,  meatloaf is one of those classic dishes that you should learn to make if your mom has a recipe. My Mom was no exception, and while I was growing up made meatloaf at least every other week. My brother Adam and I would fight over the ends of the meatloaf.

Dad would give one of us the end of the meatloaf and the other end would stay on the meatloaf to prevent it from drying out. After years of our bickering, each proclaiming it was "MY TURN" for the end, he eventually gave in and cut off both ends of the meatloaf just to shut us up. My sister, apparently was above the "meatloaf ends" controversy. Or did she just realize that Adam and I were louder than her and would ultimately win? How funny that we fought over it. And why? I think because it was the ceremonial first piece. I laugh as I think back to some of my siblings and my ridiculous squabbles. And the next day, we were so excited to open up our lunch boxes and find inside a cold meatloaf sandwich on white bread with ketchup.

I pulled out Mom's recipe this past week and decided to make it for John and I.  After a stressful week, I was looking for one thing, comfort food! I used ground turkey for this recipe, an equal amount as if I used ground beef, just a personal preference.  I also added some ground black pepper for a little bite.

While I make these recipes, my mind wanders to various meals around our kitchen table in the breakfast room at the Wenonah house. I think back to the 80's wallpaper and cabinets, the kitchen set which is still in Mom's most recent home in Lake Wynonah, the dry sink area nestled in the cabinets where the old small black and white TV sat, Gretchen, our German Shepherd begging silently, and then retreating to the colorful braided rug, her rug, at the other end of the kitchen. There are memories of meals in which we would go around the table by the direction of our father or mother, each of us kids recounting the experiences of the day, what happened at school, what learned. Rambling thoughts that one has while jumping from memory to memory to memory.

I smile, then grow sad, then smile once more. Such is the way of these blogs. They continue to be an emotional journey for me. I have grown so much from the experience of these creating these recipes and writing about them.

And one more thing about the meal with John and I where I served the meatloaf. I got the end. Some things never grow old.  :o)

Meatloaf by Abby Deeds

1 1/2 lbs of ground beef (I used ground turkey.)
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp of salt
2 cups bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 tspn ground pepper (My addition)

Mix well and pat evenly into a 9 x 5 glass loaf dish OR make a loaf in a large glass baking pan.
Bake at 350'F for 1 1/2 hours.

Optional: Brush meatloaf with a mixture of 1/2 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup chili sauce, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp dry mustard, 1 Tbsp Worcester sauce.

Bloggers note:  When I was growing up, Mom made her's without sauce. Her later recipe included a "sauce." I chose not to include it and make it as I had it growing up.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Yard Rabbit & Friends

Hummingbird feeder and the rabbit.
(A little blurry due to screen window)
Last week was an incredibly stressful work week. I'm not going into detail but it was a doozy. I don't want to alienate anyone so I will keep mum.  I have an incredible view out my kitchen window across my yard; First, the middle aged oak tree with all the bird feeders, then onto the long rectangular shaped flower garden in the middle and finally ending at the other side of the yard at our fire-pit.

I will often come home and make myself an after-work cocktail and just gaze out at the yard, either from the kitchen window or relax out on the deck. I love my yard. This particular day, I leaned up against the kitchen sink counter and spied our "yard" rabbit out by the middle flower bed.

Looking towards the house with the middle flower
bed on the left side of the picture.
He was munching away for a good five minutes on clover, irises, alfalfa, various grasses, lily of the valley, and whatever else within hopping distance. One of several chipmunks taking up residence in each corner of the yard ran down the long railroad tie along one side of the bed just like it was a boardwalk. He passed the rabbit eventually coming to the bottom of the oak tree where the bird feeders hang. Neither reacted to each other's presence. Quickly gathering up fallen birdseed, he sped back passing the rabbit once more, down the "boardwalk" and across the rest of the yard to one of his little storerooms in the rocks next to the fire-pit area.

Meanwhile, one of our two hummingbirds zoomed in to feed at the hanging feeder in the oak. Hovering for 30 seconds at a time at each feeder, he took his fill and then sat on a branch nearby for a moment before being almost shoved off by the passing of one bully of a cat bird.

The oak tree with the middle flower bed (color enhanced).
Two robins hopped by pulling up worms.  One of them flew vertical up into the oak tree. I followed her with my eyes and actually discovered that there is a nest with two babies that I can see from the window! It is way up but I can just make out their bobbing heads. My stress began to melt away.

Moxie, my cat, rubbed at my ankles wanting some attention so I picked her up and held her in my arms. We both continued to look outside. Moxie began chattering her teeth in excitement at all the activity. I looked at her excited by it all, smiled, and then looked back outside again.

I figured all I needed now for perfection was Bambi or Flower the Skunk to wander by.