I have been thinking about writing this blog for YEARS, even before I blogged.
And I realize that anyone reading this who was born after 1980 or so is going to think that I am a curmudgeon, and it is entirely possible. I am a proud Gen X-er who is approaching fifty-four, grew up in the 70s and 80s and have been adulting for several decades.
When I was in grade school, shoppers could lay away five items of clothing at Hills Department Store for $5 for back-to-school shopping. When you paid off the balance after however many payments it took, you THEN took the clothing home. My parents and honestly no one I knew had a credit card. I am not sure there even were credit cards back then. People paid with cash or by check.
I remember being 5 years old and my gramma Feinstein taking me to the beauty parlor. The beautician had me sit on about five giant Yellow Page books so I could fit under the hairdryer with gramma next to me leafing through a magazine. This nice woman washed, curled and teased my hair and gave me an amazing coif! Because it was raining when we left, gramma put one of those plastic babushkas on my head that you unrolled and tied under your chin so my hair would not wilt. I believe we went to the Maple Restaurant for lunch afterwards.
Gramma also applied bright red lipstick to my lips and taught me how to rub my lips together, kiss a tissue to blot and she painted my tiny fingernails bright red too. Va va va voom!!! To this day, that is one of the best memories of my entire life! I still remember the gold metal container that she twirled in front of me to reveal inches of red loveliness. The smell and taste of the thick waxy paste made me feel grown up. I LOVED it.
Sadly, my gramma died shortly after that. She was only 74 years old. In my twenties, I bought a bottle of Jergen’s lotion and as soon as I opened it, I smelled GRAMMA. That cherry almond scent is like getting a warm hug. I keep a bottle in my purse.
I never got my nails done again till after I graduated from college and had a real job. No one was going to pay for me to have that kind of extravagance.
As soon as I turned sixteen, I worked after school, weekends and all summer and holiday breaks. I paid for anything that I needed beyond necessities, and I bought groceries and paid rent. I walked to school and work and did not get a car till I could buy a used 1981 Buick Skylark for $1900 in 1991. I was 23 years old. Until then, the bus and my 10-speed bike and I were terrific friends.
AS SOON AS I DROVE IT AWAY from the previous owner, the rack and pinion steering went. I had a heck of a time driving it to the mechanic. Larry worked for cash and helped us poor folks. God bless Larry! He was truly a Godsend.
I understand this is a new generation and we are living in a much different world than the one that I grew up experiencing. Each generation presumably wants better for their progeny than they had, and I get that. I do not have children, but if you read in my blogs about Jaya, trust me, I am understanding about giving to youth. I enjoy giving new experiences, items of mine and shopping for Jaya. It brings me great joy.
Jaya really APPRECIATES each and every thing I do for or give to her. She does not expect things from me. Jaya works hard for what she has and goes without if she cannot afford it. She practically asked as a birthday gift for help buying tires for her car rather than wanting an extravagant gift. She LOVES going thrifting with me and we have pulled things off the side of the road to paint and repurpose and use. That “headboard” behind her in the photograph above is one of our terrific finds. Jaya appreciates the value of a dollar and the hard work it takes to make those dollars. I will never have to worry about Jaya living beyond her means.
When Mitch was a boy like many kids, he would set his alarm for EARLY, get up without his parents telling him to or making him breakfast, deliver papers, ring the doorbells of his customers yelling “collecting”, figure out the money and took care of the whole job by himself. He tells stories of those 4 am wakeups for Sunday paper delivery and he and his buddy helping each other.
He also mowed lawns around the neighborhood and at age 11 started working on a tobacco farm doing HARD work. As a child he learned to save up for purchases and learned responsibility. There was also a little money-making scheme that got him into trouble by selling M80s to his classmates. He and one of his buddies, who is a twice retired corporate executive living in Vail Colorado, cooked up this endeavor and have many colorful stories about their youthful exploits to regale. Those boys now all in their early sixties get together annually at their Boy Scout camp (Mitch and several of his pals are Eagle Scouts), pitch tents, do some community service and then relive their childhoods, talk about their lives, share the news of their families, build and tend to a big fire, consume beer and possibly a bit of whiskey. How blessed they are to still have each other and this annual pilgrimage back home.
Anyway, Mitch’s mother being a travelling school nurse in the district would hear about her son’s misdeeds within minutes and disciplined appropriately at home and let the school handle things as they needed. These days, that kind of discipline is illegal, but I dare say, when the boys at my school were sent to the principal’s office to get paddled, they got the message.
Am I to understand that today a child can threaten a parent with calling in authorities if they are spanked? My generation of kids were respectful and followed rules or there WERE consequences. Building character is important and learning to follow rules and behave was part of that.
We opened doors for others, respected our elders, was quiet and let adults speak, could entertain ourselves, shared the one telephone and television with the family, ate what mom cooked and we did not earn participation trophies.
We also paid for our college loans. I took ten years to pay mine off of which is an accomplishment that I am still proud.
I was born a Jew but I didn’t know growing up if I was REALLY Jewish or if it was something my parents exposed me to. My paternal grandparents were Jewish and they adopted my father. There was a culture of not talking about that apparently and my father never knew anything about his birth parents nor found any records. There was a lot of rumor and innuendo about my grandfather’s businesses. He was a well-respected pharmacist in the little town of Ambridge, PA. He was involved in the Rotary, President of the Lion’s Club and probably others. Apparently, my grandma was a member of Eastern Star. My dad tells me he heard my grandfather carried illegal alcohol in his pharmacy wagon during prohibition, ran “numbers” and may have helped unwed Jewish women find homes for their babies in the 1940s and 50s. My dad could have been one of those babies. Apparently, my grandparents were unable to conceive children. Whether or not my grandpa paid a Jewish woman $10,000 for my dad will never be known, but it is an interesting thought.
My dad was raised Jewish and he married my mother who was also raised somewhat Jewish but was not officially in the faith so she went through the conversion process which is pretty intense. My parents married in a civil ceremony but when my mother’s conversion took place, a Jewish wedding was held at the synagogue and I was cooking in my mother’s belly at that time so….. according to Jewish law, born of a Jewish woman, I’m a Jew.
My first 6 years were spent in Ambridge, PA, a little town along the Ohio River. My mother and I moved to Squirrel hill in 1974 when my parents divorced. I spent half of first grade through 5th grade with lots of Jews. At that time, Squirrel Hill was definitely “Jew Town,”, MY words and I honestly seem to remember that Mineo’s pizza was actually closed during Passover when Jews are to abstain from flour.
Before 6th grade started for me, we moved back to Ambridge and I began school in a 99.8% Christian filled school system. In fact, there was only one other Jew in town. As there once was a thriving Jewish community in Ambridge, when the economy started to tank in Beaver County, I think all the Jews moved to Pittsburgh or Florida. It wasn’t I don’t believe, anything about discrimination or anything, but I honestly have no idea what led that mass exodus. So, Jews were very scarce around me and I felt very much ill at ease as I grew, admitting to the fact that I was Jewish. I think being any kind of minority, if you are perceived as “different” expect some bumps in the road. Not, that I could do much hiding as my name was Feinstein, but being very insecure, I definitely kept my nose down and was not even the hint of the woman that I am now full on OUT and proud.
Did I get bullied in school? Yes. Did I keep a low profile so as not to stand out? YES. But my name screamed JEW so there it was. I pretty much lived my youth as quietly as possible impatiently waiting to make a break for it in 1986 and head back to Pittsburgh and attend Pitt. In college, I ran into lots of fellow Jews from my elementary school days at John Minadeo and there was a very diverse community of people, religions, cultures and more.
Everywhere I moved during my 20s, 30s,40s and now in my 50s, I carefully looked around for other Jews near me. When I co-owned the hardware store with my ex-husband in Sarver PA, I was told there is a KKK group there so to lay low and don’t wear my Star of David. I would NEVER want to jeopardize our business or alienate our customer base, so I was quiet. One day I was helping a customer with something in the lawn and garden department and this man said something to me about “Jewing him down.” I literally walked away and asked one of my employees to help him. I wonder what he thought. I am betting he didn’t even realize what he said.
Years later, Mitch and I bought our cabin up hear Pymatuning and I met a neighbor who introduced himself as Gene Benkovitz (not his real name) . I immediately filled with excitement and said, I’m a Jew too to which he replied, I’m not a Jew. My stomach dropped and my first thought was WOW, you look like a Jew and second, I blew my WASP cover as a Cassel and we hadn’t even moved in yet. I was a bit worried. Seriously, there are hate crimes everywhere against all sorts of people. I felt embarrassed. I can tell you in my heart after reading countless books on the Holocaust and seeing so many documentaries, if we checked his DNA, that man was a Jew but a hidden one for generations back. After Hitler came to power in Germany, being a Jew was dangerous and caused many people to change names, religions…… Jews went into hiding and many never came out.
So, speaking of DNA, when 23 and Me came about, I asked my dad if he wanted to do it so we can maybe find some blood relatives and learn about family medical history etc. He was up for it so we sent in both our saliva samples and guess what we found? Despite us both being blond haired and blue eyes (the ARYAN DREAM combo) it came to be that dad was 50% ASHKENAZI Jew. I told him, dad, you are OLD school Jew like related to Noah and stuff. We had a good laugh at that.
We did find out who either his mother or father were. We were lucky to find a really close relative who did a ton of genealogy work. We figured either his great aunt or uncle were my dad’s mother or father. Neither one ever married or had any children that anyone knew of and they were alienated from the family so there wasn’t much there except pictures and names. They are all long gone now but we have about 1100 cousins running around the world. Some I have connected with on FB and it is great fun to see their families all over the planet, speaking many languages and all Jews! I finally have some paternal family!
I am an avid listener to the Howard Stern Show on Sirius/XM radio. He’s a Jew and I just love his interviewing style and his profuse use of the F word. I enjoy swearing too. I apologize to those readers who get offended by curse words, but I do like to cuss and when I am around my friends, I let it fly!!!! Check out the Netflix series on the History of Curse Words with Nicolas Cage. It is hilarious and educational!!!!!
Anyway, recently Howard was interviewing Sarah Silverman, one of my favorite comediennes who is Jewish and also likes to swear. She talked about being typecast as an actress and only getting roles as the annoying literary agent or the (really bad word) girlfriend, or sassy friend of the main character and other stereotypical roles. She also said roles about Jews are mostly played by non-Jews, RBG and Mrs. Maisel. Winona Rider in her 50s is actually playing a Jewess on a really interesting HBO series now. The plot is set in WWII and Charles Lindbergh is a powerful politician and a big time Anti-Semite which apparently has factual basis. Sarah remarked with a well-placed F-bomb that Winona would never have gotten the role in Age of Innocence and other great roles in her youth if she had she been Winona Horowitz. I kind of agree.
This blog isn’t about discrimination though. It is more about ignorance or lack of interest in anything non-Christian. I will end with a funny story that illustrates that point from the event that actually inspired this blog.
I am having a Passover Seder this Saturday night. Traditionally, Jews have this meal and ceremonial retelling of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt on the first two nights of this long holiday.
I was shopping at Giant Eagle for some Jew supplies, Kosher for Passover Matzo and Matzo meal, and saw this big display of Maxwell House coffee with Passover Haggadah’s. If you bought a Maxwell House product you could get one FREE Haggadah. Maxwell House started doing this almost 80 years ago but I hadn’t seen this in action for decades.
I thought, I needed new Haggadah’s and wanted one for each of my guests so I asked at customer service if I could have 12 copies. I showed her the booklet and she asked what it was. I explained. Blink blink was the response. So, I asked if she had ever seen the Ten Commandments. “Let me get a manager,” she said. GOOD. Now we are getting somewhere.
The manager comes out and I start again with my request and this time I explain that there are probably 5 Jews in Washington including me and they will most likely toss those out in less than 2 weeks so giving me a dozen, won’t even be noticeable. She asked me to show her the display. There were a plethora of copies and she said, take what you want. So, I bought one Maxwell House product and took a dozen Haggadah’s and now each of my guests will have their very own without having to share.
I am 100% sure neither one of these ladies know what Passover is, what one might do on Passover, eat or talk about yet I and probably every other American Jew knows about Easter and not just about Easter bunnies and chocolates. The world population of Jews is now only .2%. That is staggeringly low so no wonder there isn’t a lot of general world knowledge about Jewish holidays and customs. Jews know about the core beliefs of Christians and WHY they celebrate. I am not complaining, but merely bringing up a point that if we take an interest in our differences, maybe we can all learn to appreciate what makes us similar too. There is much more that brings us together than divides us.
Looking forward to my Passover Seder and introducing my “daughter,” Jaya to all things Matzo and her first Jewish holiday.
Happy Spring peeps and wishing you all the joys, delicious foods, new growth and holidays coming to your world. #passover2021 #covidseder #weareallhuman
I have been thinking a lot about how we lived pre-internet, pre-wireless connections and have decided that despite the massive time saving aspects the technology seemingly continues to bring us, I really wish the kids today were growing up more simply.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember carrying change so I could make long distance calls on a payphone. Remember you could actually make collect calls too and reverse the charges? That was way before nationwide calling on a cell phone. This was in a little private booth or a bank of phones on a wall where you would make your calls in front of God and everyone. You would be talking and an operator would interrupt and tell you to put more money in to continue the call and when you ran out of change, that would be the end of your call. I’m pretty sure you could make a local call for a dime when I was a child and then a quarter. Toby Keith has a song, that goes something like, here’s a quarter, call someone who cares. The kids these days might not even understand that.
The phone was usually dirty, possibly sticky and intensely gross but it was the way we could keep in contact if you weren’t at home. They had a little bench to sit on usually and a GIANT phone book cabled so you wouldn’t steal it (really?) where you could look up phone numbers yourself. You could also call INFORMATION by dialing 0, talk to a live person (usually a woman) and ask them to help you connect with people, find addresses and phone numbers. As long as some hoodlum hadn’t taken the phone apart, it was a very dependable mode of communication.
Today, if you want to talk to a real, live person and are trying to contact a utility or mortgage company or pretty much anyone for anything, you have to go through menus of prompts and quite often you get disconnected. It is a very frustrating thing and wastes so much time just TRYING to get something accomplished using the phone. I usually go the “not a customer yet” route which can shave off a little time and get a real human, then apologize and ask to be redirected. I think the world is trying to discourage us from actually connecting to humans and prefer us to use online services to do anything. I like to shout repeatedly into the phone REPRESENTATIVE till someone comes along. This is for another blog but WHY are all the call centers seemingly in India?
I remember the summer between 5th and 6th grade living with my aunt and grandma and cousins and walking to the municipal pool several days a week. For a dollar a person we could pay admission of fifty cents and then buy greasy fries with tons of ketchup and an ice cream, frozen candy bar or a drink. We each had a towel with us and maybe some sunscreen and that was all that was required. Four quarters made for an entire day of entertainment and sustainment. There were water fountains. We stayed hydrated! Those were the days.
When I was a child, I read a LOT. This was pre-cable and we only had an old TV with a few channels. PBS was there though and I watched a burgeoning show called Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Electric Company and Zoom, but I mostly read or played with toys. I am sure it happened, but I never remember being bored without anything to do. I also played my mom’s records endlessly. Being an only child, I was by myself a lot and I guess learned to be independent. I WISH while I had that time, I learned to play guitar or something. Looking back now on all that TIME, I wouldn’t say I regret the lounging around watching clouds move across the sky, finishing reading a book and immediately starting it over again, but at almost 53, I am conscious I have less time on earth than I did. Time is getting short. Every time I start scrolling on FB, I feel a bit of guilt. I spend WAY too much time on there and for the past couple of months have made a conscious effort to NOT. I want to be more productive doing, learning, writing, cooking, hiking my dogs, planning my garden, spending quality time with my husband and “daughter” Jaya…… lots of things to do.
I want to take my husband and Jaya to the library in my hometown, the Laughlin Memorial Free library. I remember the excitement of getting my first library card and exploring all parts of this massive library. The children’s section is downstairs and when I graduated to Young Adult upstairs, I was so happy. I can sit here writing this and know exactly how that amazing building smells, how it looks, hear the echo my footsteps made as I walked.
I want to show them my old house a few blocks away where I learned to ride a bike and would ride around the block 1000 times because I couldn’t go onto the street nor cross any streets.
I remember being in my bedroom when I was five or so and there was a big box fan in the window. My mom had a harmonica and I was standing in front of the fan blowing through that harmonica and it made the most entertaining sounds. I did that for hours. It was simple fun. Those were the days.
I worry that today’s life has so many bells and whistles and shiny things that take our attention that we don’t have the ability to just sit and do one thing or nothing for long periods of time. I hear lots about ADHD and conditions where people can’t focus. I honestly don’t remember these sorts of things when I was young. We had some slow learners in special classes who needed a bit more attention and help, and a few hyper kids who may have misbehaved here and there, but those kids were definitely in the minority. Life was less complicated and different when I was a child.
For almost a year now, COVID-19 has forced people to be inside and not socialize and connect like we used to. The whole world has changed and things are definitely in upheaval. People who can are working from home and probably all that expensive office space will be open soon as companies realize employees CAN be productive from home. The face of business is and will change. Commercial real estate is going to be CHEAP soon. Or maybe, the population will get vaccinated and people will be free to roam about the world unmasked and working in towns, meeting in parks for lunches, going to bars for drinks and live music and sitting in restaurants for long, leisurely meals. It sounds nice, doesn’t it? That has now become the Good Old Days and it was only a year ago. WOW!
How are you filling all your time these days? Are you loving working from home or feeling like a caged animal? I would love to hear from you and learn about your experiences. Write me!! I am currently recovering from COVID-19 and looking forward to starting my seeds! Spring is coming!!!! #timewellspent #thesimplelife #livelife
When I met my husband, it didn’t take me long to realize that he had some challenges with hearing. I would say he didn’t notice, but he has one ear that is better than the other and when he was trying to listen closely, he definitely would turn that ear nearer.
I don’t know how long he had been missing a lot of dialogue and sounds, but considering he had been playing loud music in different rock bands since he was a teen and attended countless loud rock concerts, had served in the military, piloted planes and never in any of these endeavors worn ear protection, it was inevitable that he would suffer hearing loss by his late 40s.
When I came into the picture, I yelled a lot and repeated things to him when we were at parties or in conversation with friends and during TV time. I became his default ears, but I started to worry. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t missing any important information for work and other situations so I gingerly brought up the idea of maybe getting him a hearing aid.
He eventually agreed and we went to this hearing aid center in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. The audiologist talked to us both and then brought out this machine that looked like it was from the 1960’s. I am not kidding you, this machine was as large as a suitcase, had buttons and knobs and was completely analog. As he checked Mitch’s hearing, it reminded me of someone trying to open a safe using touch and intuition. I think we both had doubts. Mitch told me after the appointment that his mom, who was a school nurse, had the EXACT same machine with those giant head phones. When she would bring it home, he and his sister played with it. So, that didn’t exactly give us confidence considering it was 2013.
So, we learned you have to wear two hearing aids to balance the sound and he would have to have one in each ear. The man took some kind of measurement of his ears by inserting cold, wet wax in his ear to get a mold from which to make a custom hearing aid. And in about a week, Mitch had new REALLY EXPENSIVE ears. And I do mean expensive. My first two cars did not total the cost of these new ears.
I can’t imagine what it is like to have foreign objects in your ears which run on batteries and send out high pitch squeals when dying, but he did seem to be hearing better, so I was happy.
He wore those for a while, but you could tell, he really didn’t like them and he started wearing them less and less. I started yelling more and more and would say PUT YOUR EARS IN.
At some point he looked into something more 21st century and found the hearing aid center at Costco. Now THIS was a modern fix for a common problem and they had some smaller and really cool hearing aids that he could adjust with his smartphone and these worked MUCH better. There is an APP for EVERYTHING.
Mitch was definitely hearing better; I was less frustrated and things were good. The only real concern was battery life. His ears sound an alarm really loudly then stop working when the batteries need replaced and after the first one dies, the second usually goes within an hour of the other and it is ALWAYS at the most inopportune moments of course. I carry batteries in my purse for quick changes.
Then COVID-19 hit and we had to wear masks all the time.
A few months into lockdown, one of our dogs had to go to the emergency vet. We were not allowed to go inside so had to wait in the parking lot. It was taking a long time so I left and picked up some Burger King and we ate in the grass sitting on a dog blanket.
When Bandit finally came out and we saw he was going to live, we were so relieved and took him home.
Sometime later Mitch noticed his hearing aids were gone. Oh no. We took the masks off and on during the vet visit with the doctor and nurses coming out for consultations and when he whipped off the mask during one of those times, they must have caught on the mask and went flying away. Mitch jumped in his truck and went back to look. It was getting dark by now.
An hour later he came home without those hearing aids.
Those little guys cost thousands of dollars. I was going to find them. I took the flashlight, got in my JEEP and drove back to the vet office.
Since I have met Mitch, he also needed new eyes. He has these gas permeable hard contact lenses to correct a cornea issue that Lasik surgery decades ago caused. It is AMAZING what technology has done for artificial devices to help us humans be whole or at least better as we age and our parts wear out. He has this “claw” type of device to insert them and remove them and that is a whole other story about what happened when he left the claw back home while we were travelling.
I have a bionic husband. Besides the eyes and ears, all his parts are original but trust me, if he needs a new knee or hip or whatever, I will chirp in those bionic ears to make it happen. I want him in good condition to run with me, see me, hear me and love me!
In the meantime, if any of your loved ones are having a hard time hearing you, if it is a male, first off speak in DEEP tones as the high-pitched sounds have been documented as passing right on by men’s ears. This is the TRUTH. Google it! If speaking in a lower register doesn’t get through, take him to Costco! It worked for us anyway. #canyouhearmenow #hearingaidswork #bionichusband
As I have written about before, I like to keep busy. I might even say my desire to DO things and go go GO is maybe a little OCD or ADHD or one of those maladies you hear about all the time. Perhaps it is in my DNA, but I like to DO. I’m not really good at just hanging out without a chore.
Part of my DOING nature is all the planting and growing and weeding and harvesting and preserving and then cleaning out the growing area. Then there is organizing what seeds and such are left, cleaning and storing the useful pieces to start growing again in February. The farm provides many avenues of chore and profession. One could literally never have nothing to do here.
Even though there is nothing growing on the farm in the winter, now in early December my mind is busy thinking of the next planting season. I am eagerly awaiting the seed catalogs and fussing over the remaining plants I have set up under grow lights. I am trying in mostly vain to keep fresh herbs growing in the basement along with some baby trees and such.
During the growing season I have several friends who enjoy coming to the farm and taking produce home. One friend in particular who I adore, will take one GIANT zucchini every year and several handfuls of the hot cherry peppers I grow specifically for her. She will take them all the while lamenting about all the WORK I am creating for her. Once her zucchini has been made into whatever she is making and her batch of hot sauce is done, she feels very accomplished. I tried giving her more produce later in the season and she always says NO. TOO MUCH WORK. She did come to help me when I broke my wrist though. She wanted to help pick berries but let me tell you, a berry picker this woman is not. She kept yelling over to me in my patch that she wasn’t very good at this and was so HOT. After an hour I came to see what all the fussing was about and saw about 7 berries in her container. See the blog I did about the tribulations of a professional berry picker. Picking berries is indeed a lot of work and greatly unpleasant work at that.
Another friend messaged me about a whole slew of green peppers she grew and asked what to do with them. We also talked about juicing celery and the comment came up again about all that work. This is from a friend who has 14 horses and a big family and a real job and I thought that maybe people consider the domestic tasks more work than the usual or too much to do after all those other things are done. I wonder.
Years ago, when I co-owned the hardware store with my ex-husband, I was mesmerized by this new paint the True Value paint factory was making. It was magnetic paint. Now, I had seen the chalkboard paint, but this was different. As soon as I heard about it, I thought of all the fun you could have by making walls magnetic. From early learning of the alphabet to creative artistic ways to hang teenager’s posters and more, this seemed like an AMAZING thing to me.
To help promote this paint, we arranged to have a table set up in Heinz Hall during a Sunday matinee performance of Scooby Doo. I considered this an entire audience of thousands of low hanging fruit who would be as wowed as I was and with their kids in tow. How could they NOT want to buy this paint? Boy was I wrong.
EVERY SINGLE PERSON who picked up the gallon of paint immediately put it down, said TOO MUCH WORK and squashed my naïve thoughts that this was going to be a lucrative item to sell. We transported a truck load of that paint to the home show, different schools and barely sold any. The metal in the paint to make it magnetic made each gallon weigh probably 20 pounds or more. People were not interested in lugging around gallons of super heavy paint and doing the work of painting. People usually paint when it is necessary, not just for something cool to do. Hmmmmm….. what a huge disappointment this was for me.
Are people lazy or do they believe they have a finite amount of energy and enthusiasm within them and when they have reached their perceived limit, they just shut off? I wonder.
What is work? Is walking your dog every day work? Someone recently told me when I asked about the family dog and if he is getting walked that dad said he is “too old for that.” I asked who is too old, dad or the dog? I was told dad. WOW. Dad is young and in good health. Is the act of taking the dog out regardless of heat, rain, snow or even great weather too much work? This disturbs me on so many levels.
I’m judging. I know this and honestly on the dog issue, I don’t care. If you have a dog, you have to walk the dog, EVERY DAY and more than once please. You should actually ENJOY the walking too. On the cooking and everything else, to me it comes down to the fact that I truly enjoy the domestic things and I think many people, men or women, just don’t get joy from homemaking. One of my ex-husband’s friends once said that I have always been a bit strange. I guess I am a bit DIFFERENT than many, but so what? My uniqueness has brought me so many amazing experiences. 😊 My response to calling me strange is saying, “I’m receiving what you are saying. I accept your kind gift.” I fly my freak flag all the time and proudly at that. I’ve never been accused of being ordinary or lazy! Strange is just fine!
I like to iron. This one really throws people. I like the hot steam that comes out of the iron, the creases coming out of the fabric as I apply pressure to the tool. As I iron tablecloths and napkins, I remember the meals I have served and start planning the next one. I get true satisfaction from seeing those linens all lined up waiting for their next trip to the dining room table or even the coffee table and couch if we are eating casual, which we often do. I am not a “save the good stuff for special occasions” type of girl. Use the good glasses and gramma’s china now and the good towels and soaps. And yes, create more work for yourself by having to hand wash the china and crystal but try and enjoy that work. When I am cold, nothing warms me up like handwashing dishes. Seriously.
So, after I finish this blog, I am going to make a huge batch of Fire Cider. I ordered little amber bottles yesterday and in about 2 weeks, when the fire cider is good and fermented, I will bottle all this homemade medicine and give them out for Christmas gifts to loved ones along with elderberry wellness syrup, mushroom extracts and who knows what else. I am going to call it Marsha’s COVID-19-Free elixirs or something like that.
Kathy Lee Gifford has a new book out and when she was interviewed on the Today show the other day she said, DO WHAT YOU ENJOY DOING AND FIND A WAY TO GET PAID FOR IT. I am still in the figuring out how to get paid stage, but I am certainly WORKING at all this culinary, farming and creative stuff and spending these winter days (after I hike the dogs) really learning about all the healing powers of herbs. Hopefully by next year at this time I will be a full blown certified Herbologist and will hang out my Good Witch shingle and take on clients. I will start charging for all the free advice I currently give. But in the meantime, help a sister out and buy my book for you or someone you love. The healthy recipes and no nonsense talk about good nutrition are bound to inspire you to do a little bit of new work! I hope so anyway!!! http://My Healing Cookbooklet: Recipes for Restoration and Good Health: Cassel, Marsha: 9781734711905: Amazon.com: Books
I have always been a person who likes to do more than one thing at a time. To me it has always seemed efficient. It never occurred to me that perhaps being constantly active in body and mind might be too much and not really healthy. What I mean is, in my daily life of farm, house, work, animal chores, volunteering, errands etc., my mind and body are constantly active on what I am doing and what I need to do. In the efforts to get all the things done I want to accomplish in a day, I am constantly busy. From the moment I wake up, I am on the go.
I stage items to move about the house while whisking pet hair on the floor with my foot and will scoop that up on my next trip by. I water and transplant plants, check on the gardens, harvest produce and herbs, preserve everything, clean out garden beds and endlessly weed……. Clean out the chicken house and gather eggs, water everyone and clean those containers, take out or stock canning jars in my she shed, check on the drying herbs there, then go next door to the garage and pull beef from the freezer for dinner and 100 other things that just need done. I am not alone. I am sure anyone reading this can relate to the endless “to-do’ list.
I am so far behind on my reading that I always have a stack of magazine including the latest editions of Mother Earth News or Mother Earth News Living with me in the bath. Every book and magazine I own is water logged.
For the last decade I do butt scrunches while I watch TV or drive so as to be exercising while I ‘waste” time. My mind and body never really STOP and I move around at breakneck speed. This year it caught up with me.
This year I turned 52 but honestly don’t feel any certain age. I am not sure how 52 is supposed to feel but I have tons of energy, rarely get sick and my body feels like it did in my 20s. I go to the gym 4 or 5 days a week consistently year-round, and hike my dogs for about an hour pretty much every day. I cook all of our meals from real, unprocessed food, take high quality supplements via pill or powder form every day, drink lots of water, power and care for my body by consuming herbal teas and lots of natural remedies and I try to sleep enough though at times, sleeping is difficult for me. I don’t sit for long periods of time; I move my body all day long at chores and schedule errands and volunteering for after the gym. Last year I got a pair of Traq shoes which keeps track of those steps and one day I walked over 14 miles in just normal activity. I think that is a lot. That is a little above average for me but I am on my feet A LOT. I like to joke that the only time I sit down is to go to the bathroom and eat dinner.
After all the planting was pretty much done in late June, I was getting the farm ready to host our annual Summer Solstice Party. We save our cardboard and paper refuse and burn it several times a year. I store all that on our lower back deck and wanted it all cleaned up for the party so was taking trips back and forth to the burn pile. I slipped on one of those trips and fell down injuring my right middle finger. I could bend it so splinted it and went on working. There was much to do.
Four weeks later it was still REALLY sore and I had my annual doctor’s appointment with a physician I have had for decades. She examined the finger and said it will eventually heal. Tendon/ligament damage but no bones broken. I asked about a bone density test and she said not yet. I went on my merry way.
Several hours later I was rushing around as usual and needed to retrieve some light bulbs I had stored in our pole barn. I didn’t take the time to secure the ladder and box that I stepped on to reach them properly and, on the way down lost my footing and fell backwards onto the ground with the ladder whacking me on the head. I heard a snap and felt PAIN.
I looked at my dangling right wrist and knew I had broken it. I ran into the house to my husband who was working in his office. I said I think I broke my wrist. He looked at it, ran from the room, got ice, sat me down and said we are going to the ER. I broke both bones of my right wrist and had to have surgery to repair the one and now have a plate and screws in my body.
Being a farmer, I was devastated that work as I knew it would have to STOP. This was July 23rd, a VERY busy time on the farm. For two weeks I had to lie down and do basically nothing while the gardens grew, the chicken house got pretty icky, the meals were very basic and I SLEPT. I had NEVER been able to nap in my life unless I was ill, but I couldn’t stay awake now. I made a little bed on my screened in porch with pillows and a sheet and started reading the Harry Potter books on my settee. Every day I napped for 2-3 hours and when I resumed the dog hikes VERY carefully, I had to take TWO 2-3-hour naps daily. The dogs and cats were good company as they will take every opportunity to nap and I got through 5 Harry Potter books.
After two weeks I returned to see the surgeon. They removed the cast and the doctor said I could wear a splint now. Yippee. This was much less restrictive. I had several follow up appointments and each time the doctor has been really pleased with how fast I was healing. I was on weight restriction of course but as soon as I finished the physical therapy, I could do pretty much everything! I resumed as much farm work as I was able and accepted help from friends and neighbors.
Last week, in mid-October, after my gym class I took two big boxes of gifts I needed to post. I could have taken them in one at a time but no, in usual Marsha fashion, I piled them both in my arms and was quickly walking to the door. People were exiting and considering we are living in the era of Covid-19, though everyone was masked, I moved out of the way to give them some room to pass and stepped off the sidewalk rolling my right ankle like I had never done before. Down I went like a sack of potatoes, boxes flying and I watched my ankle instantly swell. The urge to retch was really strong and I was in intense pain. At this point I cried a bit too as I was feeling like I broke my ankle this time and if that would be the case, I was REALLY screwed. A wrist was hard enough but this injury would stop the dog hikes and the massive running around the farm. I had a bit of a pity party right there on the ground.
While I was laying there with my head in my hands, one lady did stop and ask me if I was ok and in about ten minutes, the urge to vomit passed so I got up and hobbled into the post office, mailed the packages then went home. Mitch was getting ready to leave for his annual camping trip with his childhood buddies and I presented my bruised and swollen ankle to him for review. He went and got the athletic wrap, tightly wrapped it and brought me some ice and Advil, kissed me and left. The pets gathered around and looked sad. This was one day Bandit and Bubba were not getting hiked. We have 6 fenced-in acres, go walk yourselves. Mommy is possibly broken AGAIN.
So, I lay there and Googled ankle injuries and agreed it was probably a sprain. There are 3 degrees of sprained ankles I now know and I thought I was a 1 or a 2. I did not rush off to the ortho and all my friends were chastising me for this.
After the first 24 hours I pulled off the bandage and had a look. Lots of swelling and bruising but it seemed stable to walk on. 72 hours in I had my regularly scheduled final post-surgery follow up with Dr. Welker on my wrist and I asked him to look at my ankle. He examined it and said it was a sprain and if it isn’t 100% better by Thanksgiving I am to return. Ice and elevation and rest to continue and I am doing all that. As when I was newly injured on my wrist, every day during that first week, I simply HAD to nap.
Again, I am healing remarkably fast and people keep commenting on this. I am 11 days in and back at the gym.
I truly believe that all the efforts I put into taking care of myself every day of the year is to credit my fast recovery. Since I started deeply delving into growing food organically, raising chickens and bees, growing mushrooms, growing herbs for teas, tinctures and herbal extracts and exploring healthier ways of eating, I am not only preventing illness but fortifying my body so it is strong and healthy and able to concentrate on healing. I also have a grateful heart and I think that is also helpful.
I need to and am going to make a conscious effort to slow down and take my time. It won’t be easy for me, but what has happened to me in 2020 has truly scared me. I did get that bone scan and while I don’t have osteoporosis, I do have osteopenia. I already take the recommended dosages of calcium and vitamin D3 and ingest lots of collagen, magnesium and Triflex for joint support, but I need to take my speed through life below 70 MPH. I believe I am doing a really good job at caring for this body but I will be a senior citizen in three years (OMG, really?) and taking careful and slower steps are becoming necessary.
I want to become a real natural healer and expert with herbs and through attending several Mother Earth News fairs, know just the teacher I want to contact to reach that goal.
Winter is coming. The pace of life around the farm is slowing. Now is the perfect time for me to get a deeper understanding of all the medicine growing right outside under my healing ankle. #naturalmedicine #herbalremedies
For a great many reasons, the year 2020 will stand out in everyone’s minds. We don’t need to beleaguer the points about the horrors of trying to avoid and hopefully survive a world pandemic, the economic devastation, the great loss of life and restricted activities worldwide. Those are all serious things. I’m going to talk about one thing in particular that has affected me and lots of my people, the great canning supply shortage.
In March and April when things were getting locked down, I already had hundreds of peppers, eggplant, tomato and lots of herb seeds started in little four-inch pots in my indoor greenhouse which is the guest room closet all outfitted with grow lights, aluminum foil coated walls and fans. I buy all my seeds during the previous fall and winter to I can leisurely organize them, get the planting calendar all filled in and dream about where I will plant everything this year. This activity sustains me through cold winds, snow and ice.
As I am pondering the coming planting season, I usually get ideas about adding this or that to the growing and I have 3 seed purveyors that I like to buy from. When I went online in April to get a few things I was puzzled by the “out of stock” notifications on like EVERYTHING. That is when I discovered that if people are going to be home, they all of a sudden decided to put in a garden. Every store I went to, every online shop I checked out, everyone, was pretty much picked clean of every seed in America. WOW. I thought to myself, this is getting serious.
Now, if I was as smart as I think I am, I would have at that time went to a different aisle in those stores and bought all the canning supplies I would need for the season, but I didn’t. Honestly, I thought sure, people will grow some tomatoes and cucumbers and make some home cooked meals, but they are not going to go through the considerable effort to can and preserve all that produce. I was wrong.
Now because I have a great many friends who know I can, I am the grateful recipient of a large amount of quart canning jars. Throughout the past two decades, many moms and grandmas (sorry if this appears sexist) are giving up all that work and I am always pleased to take the jars. There is one friend in particular who’s mom Beverly in one giant heap pretty much filled my pole barn room with jars. Of the hundreds of jars were these really old ones with glass lids and I knew immediately that I would make bath salts with essential oils and house those in there for gifts and for sale. The older jars can’t withstand the heat and pressure of water or pressure canning, but are still great for other storage and simply beauteous.
At times over the past decades, I have attended estate sales where the folks had passed away leaving piles of jars and canning things that smell like musty old basement or barn and I have happily paid a few bucks and took them all home. I actually LOVE that stench of old, falling apart boxes that mingles with dirt and grime, mouse poop etc. It smells like HISTORY to me.
So, I always have lots of quart jars in storage ready to be filled, but I was short on jelly jars and the small mouth lids that go under the bands and make the seal to preserve the valuable contents. I like to give my dad easy jobs, so I put him on the case. I told him to call every store he could think of and find me some small mouth lids, jelly jars and any plastic reusable lids that he can find. I use those to store the dried herbs I save for teas and medicines and for the yogurt that I make for the chickens. He came up completely empty and gave me the helpful advice of next year to stock up. Uh, thanks dad.
Many years ago, when I co-owned a big True Value hardware store with my ex-husband, one of the departments I maintained and ordered for was the canning supplies. Ball jars are now made by the parent company Jardin and like many types of supplies, their glassware and bands and lids are all made at least a year in advance and there is as much as there is. I don’t know if they knew the whole world would be canning 6 months after the pandemic began so they could start new production to keep up with demand this year, but unfortunately they ran out which means all the stores they ship to also ran out. Those shelves are empty my friends but I look every time hoping against hope there will be more than an errant salsa or pickle mix on the shelf. I would bet even Megan and Harry couldn’t manifest canning supplies if the royal ones were in need.
I drove three hours to my Amish store and get some lids but there were no jars and even pectin is hard to come by this year.
I was also able to trade some wide mouth lids, which I use less frequently, and 2 jars of already made jam for some jelly jars and lids from a neighbor’s garage. That should keep me going. I am done with jelly making for the year. I still have pumpkin to can and potatoes but I should have enough for this season.
Speaking of pumpkin, I hear canned pumpkin puree in in scarce supply now too and another thing I was amazed to see gone from store shelves is tapioca and corn starch. There seemingly wasn’t one box left of anything to thicken pies and gravy. As I stepped back I saw WAY in the back on the top shelf one lonely package of Arrowroot. After I spotted it, my five-foot two body climbed up the shelves and snagged that last package. Thickeners are needed for many, many dishes and yes you can use flour, but I like tapioca for pies and cornstarch for gravy. What is everyone doing with all of that I wonder?
So, what next will be in short supply. There is once again toilet paper (the good stuff too), flour and yeast availability which is good. I have learned how to make natural yeast though and we have a terrific flour purveyor 7 miles away so I’m covered there. I should have enough canned supplies to get us through winter which is also good. I’m just wondering what else I will find astonishingly gone from shelves soon. I just hope everyone doesn’t join me on my medicinal tincture work and clear out the liquor store of Everclear grain alcohol. Maybe I better stock up now!!! You just never know.
The year 2020 has been different, odd, crazy, and full of unexpected circumstances. We started quarantining in late February, before the mandates were issued and though prior to the pandemic we were not the type of folks who go out a lot by any stretch of the imagination, we did go out occasionally. A few times a year, we would hit a karaoke bar and dined out here and there probably a couple times a month, mostly Asian food of some variety.
We truly didn’t have to alter our lives too much with this pandemic. Perhaps we already lived a bit in quarantine since we “bought the farm” in 2017. It certainly seems that way. Even with the restaurants soon going to 50% capacity, I have only dined out once since March to meet a girlfriend for some Mexican food. I just like to be home and cook and farm and it is probably safer that way though I am concerned with the fate of all the bars, restaurants, hotels and everyone being affected financially.
I am a born entertainer. Now, not in the way that I invite people over to my house and sing to them or something, (though that has happened). I like to cook for people and gather folks who don’t know each other and watch everyone engage. I especially like to watch first time guests enjoy the sights and sounds of nature at our farm and covered back deck area and watch them look around our groovy hippie house! Hospitality is my thing. It started with cooking dinner for my first boyfriend’s coworkers and friends when visiting him in Cleveland while I was still in college and has evolved to a whole experience that I like to give people. I just adore readying our house or chalet for guests, putting out linen napkins, preparing plates of all sorts of yummies and libations, lighting my oil lamps (see a previous blog on the secret of life which is also about people) asking Alexa to play something in particular that I know they will enjoy and then sitting back. I just love people.
Even during Covid, I don’t believe I have curbed my desire to talk to strangers. Usually it is ME engaging with others, but here is a story about two folks who came to me and because of them both, I am grateful and hopeful for the future.
This summer, while dining on some takeout from a favorite Thai restaurant outside the restaurant, a really BIG young man came up to talk to Mitch and me. He had just eaten his takeout in the car and came to speak with us, telling us he was kind of new to Pittsburgh and wanted to meet some people. So, we had Bryan over to the farm for dinner the very next day and when I broke my wrist, he volunteered to help out in any way. Soon Bryan returned to the farm with a lady friend and they helped Mitch work on a fencing project while I cooked and healed. I feel very certain we have made a lifelong friend. Coach BAM is so awesome!
Jaya is a young woman who would talk with me while checking out my purchases at Tractor Supply. Every time I came in there, you could see her smiling under her mask and she was always so sweet. We would chat briefly and she seemed so interested in the farm that I gave her a business card and told her to contact me. Now, I meet tons of people and have passed out hundreds of cards at supermarkets, gas stations, the post office, etc., and very rarely people contact me. If they do it is usually a man and honestly, he isn’t interested in my cooking, my honey or my blogs. I find many people puzzling, but Jaya took me up on my offer and sent me an email, started reading my blogs and soon we had her over to the farm. I had no idea it would be an hour drive for her to get to us, but she didn’t seem to mind.
During her first visit, I wasn’t sure how old she was and told Mitch, a young lady is coming to the farm. She could have been 16 or 21 and of course that didn’t matter. I just had no idea honestly. Well, Jaya is a 20 year old artist and studying to be an art teacher. She is beautiful, kind, smart and such a talented painter. She seems interested in learning everything I can teach her!
We talked and talked and ate a bit but mostly talked and I began thinking as I watched her, this is the daughter I never had. Conveniently, she could use a local mother figure too so visits with Jaya are just THE BEST. I have taken her hiking, shopping and exploring Pittsburgh, we have painted together, we have had her and her boyfriend (who is an amazing guy in his own right) over for dinner and I can’t wait till the next time we get together. I have so many ideas!!!!! This is going to be a lifetime of fun and I am hoping opportunities to offer advice, help out in ways she may need and be a maternal figure to this amazing young woman.
Because I could also use a mother figure, I will leave you with one more new friend story from the Covid-19 era in my life.
I had my first ever surgery right before the lockdown in early March and the nurse Molly who cared for me while I was being prepped was just so sweet. She saw I had brought a copy of Mother Earth News and a Better Nutrition magazine to read and before they wheeled me in, she wrote her mother’s name and phone number on my MEN magazine and told me her mother and I are two peas in a pod, to CALL HER. So, I did.
We had one chat on the phone then started emailing and we became pen pals. I have never before and may never again meet a woman who has all the same interests that I do. Heck, she even grows elderberries and when we finally did meet in August, after 5 months of sharing farm successes and failures, and talking bees and healthy herbs and foods and husbands, I just knew that she was my soul sister. I mean, SHE GAVE ME 2 GALLONS OF ELDERBERRIES (see previous blog on the trials and tribulations of a professional berry picker) and has bees living in the WALLS OF HER HOUSE that she will not harm. I am working on a way to have them move themselves to a new spot that is a bit more convenient for both her and the bees. That day, we exchanged many handmade and home-made things and she has inspired me to work with colloidal silver. Stay tuned for more on that.
We have been to England to visit a man we met eating a chicken wrap and drinking a Guinness at Quaker Steak and Lube, 300 feet from where we met Bryan. I have made friends with Russians and Bulgarians and folks from other cool places by just saying hello.
You can wear a mask and still not shut yourself off from meeting new people. I challenge you to open up yourself and you never know who will come on in and move into your heart! I’d love to hear about those encounters. Write me, call me, text me… #secretoflifeispeople #putyourselfoutthere #makenewfriends #betheinspiration
Earlier this month I was asked to help work the polls during my state’s primary election day. Two of my neighbors who I also know from my women’s only gym have been working the polls alongside a small group of other women for decades now and I was honored to be asked to join them. In all honesty I had always admired the folks who “man” the polls during elections. I often wondered what that job was like. So, I said yes with no questions asked and showed up at 6 am with a soft packed cooler of food and drink and a book. I figured there would be some downtime during the day and I always like to have with me a book I am reading and a pile of magazines I am behind on reading.
I had voted several times in the three years we have lived in Hopewell Township and had casually seen the whole setup in the township building, but now I was going to experience every minute of it.
There were new voting machines to be put into operation and since this was during the whole Covid-19 global pandemic situation, new protocols were in place to keep the community safe during the voting process. We had tape to place 6 feet apart on the floor for people to wait in line, lots of hand sanitizer and wipes for the machines to set out, cotton swabs for people to use to sign their names and also choose their selections on the machines. There were signs to put up everywhere. Mrs. Black was in charge and this is a charming woman in her 80s and I was amazed at her energy. We did what we were told and at 7 am we were ready and opened the polls.
We had an armed constable to keep the peace I guess and a parade of residents came in throughout the day. There were plenty of farmers fresh from the fields, several mechanics in uniform and covered with grease, families showing their young children and grandkids about the whole democratic voting process, couples, singles and people of all shapes, sizes and ages. What I did notice and I had already figured this out from living in this community, we didn’t have anyone of color come to vote. We live in a rural community where there isn’t a lot of diversity. It isn’t an issue, it just is.
I bring up diversity because at this time there were lots of protests, demonstrations and rioting happening in large and small cities around the country due to a recent horrible incident involving Minneapolis police officers and an African American man, but there wasn’t even a mention of any of those things here. This reminded me of a Norman Rockwell idyllic drawing of peaceful, caring people coming to cast their vote and visit with their neighbors and friends.
I loved seeing people gathering several feet apart but talking about and celebrating babies being born, showing concern for those who are ill or passed away, passing on information about who might need some assistance and help and everything in between. Many people were discussing the economic issues facing our local businesses. Many people’s businesses had been on a mandatory shutdown and we were all feeling the effects of living a smaller, closed-in life. I was so pleased to meet many new folks and do some networking.
In the 14- and one-half hours that I worked the polls, there wasn’t one incident of anything even remotely upsetting or stressful. Yes, we had some blips with people not showing up on the record and one ballot wouldn’t feed into the machine, but all those minor and few issues were resolved and in addition to the previous mail-in ballots, we had a showing of less than 150 bodies come and cast votes. I learned the we had 600 registered voters in Hopewell Township and I was surprised at finding out who was and was not registered. I have always felt voting is an important responsibility.
In amazing and unexpected news, I was paid! When my friend Minna, who recruited me, announced I had paperwork to complete so I could get paid, I said, “I am getting paid?” Honestly, that had never occurred to me. I thought this was going to be yet another thing someone asks me to do that is a volunteer thing. Happy day! 😊 So, leaving the farm for an entire day was going to put a little jingle in my pocket. Cool.
There were plastic cards we gave everyone as they signed in and they were not surprisingly red and blue so everyone knew who everyone was voting for and in the primary, you could not do any straight party votes nor vote for the other team. It didn’t matter who you cast your vote for, there wasn’t any discussion, argument or anything. People voted and either ran out to continue the rest of the lives or hung out a bit to catch up with neighbors. I loved every minute of it.
When Shirley’s husband of more than 60 years I believe came in, seeing her get so excited and tell us all that her heartthrob was here, just tickled me. I was also excited when my husband came in and I had told the girls to prepare for long rock star hair on him. Since this was near the end of lockdown for hair salons, everyone came in with 3 months of roots and unkempt hair unless they were able to take care of those grooming issues themselves. Again, no one cared about any of that. Everyone was here to do their civic duty.
By the end of the day, we were all tired and even my usual perkiness was wearing off. The last resident came in at 7:58 pm to vote. Then we took down all the signs, packed away all the supplies, printed out the final voting tally, locked up all the machines, gathered all the important paperwork, signed off on everything and went home. I am really happy that I participated in this and was asked to come back in November so I guess I did a good job. Now, I can say that I am one of those people I admired who worked the polls and I was pleased to do it.
I also admired those women who run around in gym clothes carrying yoga mats and water bottles and look sweaty, fit and contented. I’m one of those gals too and look forward to seeing all my sisters from the voting booth at the gym now that this is again a place we can go!!!
I love that I have a community of supportive and active women who do all sorts of things, are so much to so many and are there for each other.
Who knows what adventure awaits me next but I’m looking forward to learning and doing it whatever it is! Bring it on!
When I was probably 4 years old, my gramma lived on a mountain in a heavily wooded area about an hour from where I have my farm now. This was in Elco, Pennsylvania, a very small and rural town. She lived with my grandfather and aunt and her kids and they lived rather primitively. For at least a while when my father drove and deposited the trailer on the land they purchased, there was no indoor plumbing from what I remember. Until the trailer was dropped, there was an OLD outhouse for doing your business near an old shed and a nearby spring to gather water. My cousins and I would fill gallons of plastic jugs with the water and carry it back to her trailer. We made a lot of trips back and forth.
At that time, I remember going to the general store in town and she purchased a bunch of peeps. Looking back on it now, I don’t understand why they weren’t put into a fenced in area at that time, but I remember chasing around a little peep trying to catch her and it having a heart attack and dying. In my memory, it sort of exploded which was traumatic and my first memory of chickens. but this story is about berries, so we won’t have any more dying chickens here. It is just a memory I have of the same time period I am describing so wanted to share that.
On that mountain I was taught to pick blackberries with both hands and carried a container that must have been tied to me. I just loved picking the warm, ripe berries and after we were done with the picking, we would get a bowl of berries topped with sugar and milk. It was the most delicious treat.
I would watch my gramma make pie crust from butter and flour and she baked many blackberry pies and made jam and jelly.
On this mountain there were probably more than a hundred acres of beautiful land and the woods were filled with blackberry bushes. We could wander anywhere we wanted. There were no neighbors, only a gun club at the top of the hill, but no one there ever seemed to notice or be bothered by us as we were playing on the rocks and picking berries.
Because blackberries have very harsh thorns, or jaggers as we call them in our part of Pennsylvania, we had to be fully covered with long sleeves and pants while picking despite the humid summer temperatures. I would always get a lot of scratches on my hands and face but I never remember suffering from poison ivy as a child. That change to my tolerance happened in my late 20s. I had moved to Ben Avon and found a walking trail where I took my dogs and I was delighted to find blackberries.
The heat, mosquito bites, poison ivy and scratches are a small price to pay for all this free food though and to this day I feel that exact same way. Despite having to get Prednisone every year at least once, if I see ripe, wild berries growing somewhere, I WILL submerge myself into the thicket come what may!
I have been known to get out of the car while waiting in traffic to get into Star Lake Amphitheater in Burgettstown and yes, I know it isn’t called that any more. If you are local to Pittsburgh and over 35, you know where I am writing about!!!!
Anyway, along route 50, the back way into that place, I have left the car, grabbed a plastic bag that inevitably would be under the seat for potential dog poop needs and go pick berries until we were moving again. I have been golfing a few times too and inevitably there are wild blackberries growing along the wooded areas and I have stopped and pick some then too. I just can’t help myself.
Don’t even get me started about visiting my family in Bellingham Washington. They have bike trails EVERYWHERE and bordering all those MILES and MILES of trails are the most giant blackberries I have ever seen. They are a different varietal than we have here in PA and apparently are a nuisance there because they are so prolific, can you believe it? The first time I saw them I thought, I need pickers! I need to move here and hire pickers. No one wants for blackberries in that beautiful place and probably never has to buy one single berry.
I am pretty sure I blogged about the yellowjackets that I stepped on while picking berries on my grandma’s mountain when I was about 9 years old. I didn’t know they lived in the ground and as I stepped on them, they attacked me and I panicked and kept jumping up and down on their nest and aggravating them. 30 stings later I enjoyed my bowl of berries, milk and sugar once I calmed down and didn’t die from all those stings. Today, I carry an EpiPen with me as I am also now allergic to bees, yellowjackets and mixed vespids. I’m still picking berries and keeping bees though. Those are some of the more severe and dangerous trials and tribulations that I meant in the title!
Over the years I have picked millions of blackberries, tens of thousands of black raspberries and now I am on a huge elderberry kick.
Back on that mountain there were some elderberries, but I don’t remember there being a plethora of them. I remember grandma making some elderberry pies and jams but not too much. The taste was different than a blackberry for sure and they were so rich and PURPLE. I did like them but largely I forgot about them for decades.
Anytime I am hiking the dogs in a new place, I am always looking for more blackberries and was thrilled to see so many wild dormant berry bushes when we first looked at the farm. I could certainly recognize those bushes even in winter. The previous owner also showed me the berries he had planted. In addition to a row of dilapidated grapes, there was one elderberry bush, two gooseberries and some honeyberries. I had never heard of, seen nor tasted gooseberries or honeyberries but I was thrilled to be the new owner of such interesting and unique berries. Turns out, honeyberries are similar to a small blueberry and the gooseberries are unlike anything I had ever experienced. I will say when you pluck them from the bush, they come off with a small stem that needs removed before you do anything with them so those are a bit of a pain to actually use in any capacity, but I still enjoy them.
Last fall, I was visiting a friend up near our cabin. This woman and her husband are true lovers of everything green. They have a nursery at their home and sell tons of starter plants of all kinds.
I told them I was looking for more elderberry as my Mother Earth News magazine and the annual fair we attend had gotten me interested in making healing elderberry wellness syrup. I decided to do that, I needed more bushes. Why buy berries when you can grow your own, right?
They sold me one small plant and told me about a wild bush about 5 miles away right on the main road. I was excited and immediately got my berry picking gear and went searching. After some scouting, I did see them and the bush was COVERED with clusters of wild elderberries but they were probably 8 to 10 feet high and a few feet into the woods with no clear path to get to them. I knew it would be impossible to get them so left them for the birds.
Back in my younger days, I would have considered somehow catapulting myself to get to the center of the berries, but I am over 50 now and decided I better not. If you have ever been deep into the woods where I find myself pretty much daily, you’ll know it is tricky getting through all those ‘jaggers” and all kinds of old thorny trees to get to the good stuff. Nowadays, I also have to diligently look for poison ivy too and there are ticks EVERYWHERE and all matter of tangled trees, vines and whatnot grabbing at you. Picking wild berries is definitely not for the faint of heart and you better not be afraid of spiders or their webs. So many varieties of nature’s beings are trying to trip you up and the birds do not like you stealing their sustenance, so 40 + years of berry picking has resulted in all kinds of injuries, stings, bites and various booboos. As I said earlier though, these are FREE and gifts from God, so I just plow through literally, to get to those giant luscious berries, but I TRY to be careful!!!! I’m tough or crazy or a little of both!
Anyway, seeing those wild elderberries lit a fire in my belly and I decided I needed to stop focusing on blackberries and see if I could find some wild elderberry bushes near the farm. I mean, there must be some. So, back home I took a really good gander and found 3 or 4. I was excited. I have no idea how I hadn’t seen them before. One was smack dab in the middle of a really good blackberry patch and 3 were planted around this old pony barn that is falling down. The whole thing needs torn down and eventually we will get to that but for now, I could see some decent bushes and I was so excited.
Then as I started to really recognize what the bark and the leaves looked like, I found one more. This one was near the pond and covered on all sides by some really thick thorny bushes, but I figured, I could cut my way to it to harvest. I was motivated.
I showed Mitch all of these telling him that as he is clearing some old crap around the farm, he is never to touch these. To me, these were like the fabled unicorn, something magical and I was beyond blessed to have found these.
Well, 3 weeks ago, Mitch went up to the pony barn to tear down the one part that was really falling down and while I did momentarily think I should remind him about the elderberries, I honestly never thought he would touch them. I knew where he was going to be working with the backhoe and thought, only one was in the way and I was pretty emphatic when I gave the instruction to leave them. Spoiler alert! My next blog is going to be called Can You Hear Me Now and deal with Mitch’s significant hearing loss. But suffice it to say, when I went up the hill to see what he had done, I almost cried. I could not believe he had mowed down 3 beautiful bushes. I went running back down to tell him what he did and I knew he felt terrible but I was so MAD and hurt that those things that were so important to me, he just didn’t see them. Metaphor for larger things? Maybe, but maybe not. I took my snips and went back up to try and salvage pieces. I was going to attempt to root them and make a whole slew of new bushes from those. I was also able to pull the old roots out of two of them and Mitch helped me pot all the pieces and parts. They are now in various stages of either dying or surviving and I told them that I will keep them in those pots until next spring and keep them under the grow lights and tend to them every day through winter if they will just PLEASE DON’T DIE. We will see how all that goes. I read a bunch of articles online and am hopeful at least some of them will take.
In the meantime, I started clearing a big area opposite our house. It is still early spring and it will be easier to do this now than in summer and I needed something to do while the seedlings grow. Outside work is still my favorite and though it has been largely chilly, we have had some decent weather days.
As I was clearing, I was struck by a few long stems with leaves that were emerging and looked so familiar. Could it be? Was this an elderberry? I went up to the one planted in the grape field and compared them. My heart started beating fast. I thought YES. So, I then opened my eyes and kept clearing and low and behold, I uncovered more than a dozen elderberry bushes in this area from a few feet to taller and with many shoots like they had been here for YEARS!!!! At this early spring stage, there is not much growing yet so they truly stood out like a sore thumb. Now that I WAS LOOKING for them, I could see what I had been missing. I put little fluorescent flags at the base of each one and Mitch cleared out several old and gnarly trees that were blocking the sun from them and over the past two weeks, we have really cleaned up Elderberry Grove. Mitch is forgiven and I told him maybe everything does happen for a reason. If he hadn’t chopped those ones down by the pony barn, I wouldn’t have really looked at those plants in early spring and known what to look for. Now, I am finding some more small ones here and there in the woods and marking each one so I can measure their growth and planning my new elderberry business. I can’t wait to blog about the mountains of berries I will be picking. Good times are coming!!! #berrypicker #farmlady #wildforallberries