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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Family Day

This was our year to do a sightseeing tour as a family. We had to go all the way to the end of the summer before we found a date that suited everyone--August 29. We planned to spend the day at Valley Forge doing outdoor activities. Plan B for a rainy day was to go to Harrisburg where we could do indoor things. The forecast at the beginning of the week looked good but the closer we got to Saturday the worse it sounded. The rain began about 10 p.m. Thursday and continued on and off all day Friday. The big question was whether it would stop for Saturday or not. Finally, late Friday afternoon we decided it would eliminate the stress if we just went with Plan B. There was some light rain on the way to Harrisburg Saturday morning and we knew we had made the right decision.
All 27 of our tribe met on the steps of the Capitol building soon after 10 a.m. and took the 11 a.m. tour of the building. I was there on a school trip when I was in about sixth grade but did not remember much of it. Even if I had, I would have seen it from a different perspective now. I could not believe the amount of real 23-carat gold used in the trim. Our guide told us this is one of the most ornate Capitol buildings in the United States and I believe her!

This is the third building, constructed in 1906 to replace the one which burned at the end of the 1800s. Thirteen million dollars was spent in 1906 to construct this building and today it is priceless. Some of the building materials are granite, marble, bronze, mahogany, stained glass, and Moravian tile. The marble used on the walls of the House of Representatives was quarried in France. The quarry closed after it was removed so this is the only place in the Western hemisphere you can see that particular kind of marble. Some of the chandeliers weigh as much as an adult elephant. A lady was commissioned to do the paintings on the walls. She spent 28 years completing the project.
Here is the sweeping staircase in the rotunda.
When the tour ended, it was lunch time. We carried our finger-food lunch to a large patio behind the Capitol where there are a lot of small round tables for that purpose. Just as we started to set up, rain began to fall. We quickly grabbed everything and dragged it to a wide porch. It was close fellowship with no tables or chairs, but we munched our lunch while it rained. By the time we finished the rain had stopped so that no one got wet carrying the remains to the vehicles. We walked across the street to the William Penn Museum where we spent the afternoon in dry, air conditioned comfort.
Some of the families with children headed back to our place first and started cooking supper. When we arrived the men and boys were finishing the grass cutting Leroy had been unable to do because of the rain. The food was ready by the time they finished mowing. Just as we began to eat, the rain came back. This time there was wind but we were in the house instead of on a porch. Gerald's contribution to the meal added a memory but was not popular and tasted by very few. I took a small bite of his Pickled Pig Snout and it tasts like tripe. In the end, the offending plate containing a whole pig snout was removed from the table for the sake of the squemish majority.
We had a good day that stretched out until 9:30 p.m. even if we had to take our second choice of activities. Where we are is not as important as simply being together. I am thankful to have a family that can enjoy each other's company.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spaghetti Sauce

I just finished canning 10 quarts of spaghetti sauce. That makes a total of 25 quarts to tomato products from four (yes, 4) tomato stalks. I never dreamed just four stalks would produce so many tomatoes, but this has been an unusually wet year and everything is producing by the bushels.
The flash sort of washed out the color in this picture but, trust me, the spaghetti sauce is a deep red. Some of that lovely color comes from using tomato paste to thicken the sauce. This is the best spaghetti sauce recipe I have ever used. It doubles well as pizza sauce too.
If you have an abundance of tomatoes and don't know what to do with them, maybe you'd like to try this recipe.
1/2 bushel of tomatoes (3 gal. juice)
2 tbs. onion powder OR 3-4 onions cooked and pureed
1 tbs. garlic powder
2 c. vegetable oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 tbs. dried parsley
3 tbs. oregano
1 tbs. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tbs. chili powder
1/2 c. salt
48 oz. tomato paste
Add all the ingredients to the tomato juice except tomato paste. At boiling point, add paste and boil until thickened. Pour into jars and process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Yields 10-12 quarts.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pickled Pig Snouts

Ever seen these things before? I'm sure you have, but have you ever seen them in a jar?

Yesterday we had some guests here for a cookout. Leroy grilled some bratwurst I got at Dietrich Meats in the upper end of Berks County. They specialize in PA Dutch meats and have things you won't find anywhere else. When I told the guests where I had gotten the bratwurst I said that one of the unusual things Dietrich Meats has is pickled pig snouts. Gerald thought that was something he had to see. He passes by there on his way home from work, so this morning he stopped in and bought a jar. What you see there below the label is a whole pig snout snuffling up against the side of the jar. Anybody want a taste?

Friday, August 21, 2009

He's Back!

We're back to a three-ring circus. :-) Gerald came home from Haiti yesterday and our nest is no longer empty. As we feared, his flight out of Port au Prince on Wednesday was delayed which made it impossible to catch his connecting flight in Miami. American Airlines gave him a voucher to stay at a hotel and rebooked him for 8 a.m. Thursday morning. It was a hassle for him but they took care of him and we were actually happier that way than if he had landed on schedule at 12:20 a.m. Thursday. We got to sleep all night and drive to the airport in the daylight instead of at night. We never were city slickers and it's too late to start now. I hate to think what might have happened if we had tried to find the airport in the dark.
At any rate, Gerald enjoyed his visit to Haiti. Helping his cousin in the clinic was only one of the things he did. He helped with anything from wiring lights to installing programs on a computer, to hauling rocks. If you want to hear more about his experiences and see some pictures you can get it straight from the horse's mouth on his blog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ripe Hour

(Here is a piece I clipped from a newspaper many years ago. It's still beautiful and true. The writer is not indentified.)

After a humid August day when a hot sun has pressed heat on the land, there comes that poignant hour between dusk and darkness when one can feel Year's ripeness.
Time is sliding downhill. Now the shorter days and longer periods of darkness mean that Nature is hastening toward the time of maturity.
When the sun is low above the mountain rim and shadows have started to thicken in the valleys, there is an interlude when one can feel the ripeness. Perhaps it is psychological; perhaps it is man who is in tune with the Great Symphony of the seasons.
But when the countryman walks his acres at day's end in the eighth month, he feels he can sense the ripeness.
Ripeness is a cumulative process. Countless small insects and plants have finished their life cycles earlier in the season. Now it is the beginning of the ripening hour for field crops and fruits.
Stand beside a cornfield on an August evening when the brooding silence is like a blanket and you may think you hear the corn grow. A man cannot hear apples swell nor acorns grow in their saucers, but he knows as he looks at them that growth is occurring and ripeness coming.
This it has been since plants took their places on our earth. Seeds sprout in the magic of humus; they grow to maturity and insure the continuance of the species.
Life goes in its ordained cycle. The Master Planner decrees that after the time of growth there is ripeness. The ripeness of an August evening is a meaningful lesson.
It is not sad. It is part of life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mementos From The Past

Yesterday Leroy was sent to Ephrata for something so while he was down there he stopped at the place where I was born and took some pictures of the bare spot where the house used to be. This is how it looks now.
The barn is still standing but the big old tree that was in front of the house is gone and there is an empty hole where the house was. Some of the limestone rocks that had been used to build the cellar wall were still scattered around in the hole. Leroy asked one of the construction workers if he could have a few of them as mementos and was given permission to take anything he wanted. He brought a few small rocks home and we used them to form a short path in a flower bed behind the house. The most ordinary objects become precious when they are the only visible things that are left.

"Save a few mementos from your past
or how will you prove it wasn't all a dream."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Runs Like a Deere

Last evening Leroy came in from the garage all excited and with shining eyes. The antique Novo engine he bought in February was running! It did not run when he bought it at an auction and he did not know what it would cost to get it going. He started by taking out the cherry seeds some rodents had stuffed in the muffler and kept tinkering with it. He spent a lot of time but not another dime to get it running.
Since he takes me out of state and patiently walks cemeteries with me to find people I am seeking, the least I could do in return was walk down to the garage to hear the engine run and share his victory. It ran like a top and really does have the sound of an old John Deere. He bought it for that sound and now can actually hear it. The next step is getting it mounted on the frame of the scale model John Deere B he is building from scrap parts of this and that. It may take another year or two but someday he'll get it together and drive it out of the garage.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Empty Nest Trial

I got an email Saturday evening from my niece, Bethanie, saying Gerald had safely arrived at her home in La Source, Haiti, and she had fed him a pizza supper. After two days of traveling to get there, I am guessing he could use a Sunday day of rest before he starts helping her in the clinic this morning.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch I have already noticed the difference one less person makes in a household. The dishes of food I cooked yesterday were pitifully small and this morning's laundry was three measly loads. A few of Gerald's items were in the wash but there will be none on Thursday which is my normally my second wash day of the week. It will hardly be worth washing more than once a week but we don't have enough of some things to make it that long.
I remember the empty feeling when I shipped Gerald off to kindergarten and was alone in the house for the first time after twenty years of having preschoolers underfoot. It took me about three days to get used to it. But this is different. Some of our friends have been empty nesters for many years. We have been blessed to have children (or at least one child) in the house for over 40 years. I can stand an empty nest for two weeks but I'm glad it's not permanent.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Stauffer or Male Genes?

Several months ago Gerald got a passport and bought a ticket to fly to Haiti today. He is flying from Washington DC to Miami this evening where my brother Merle will meet him. They will share a motel room in Miami and fly to Port au Prince tomorrow morning. Merle speaks Creole and will shepherd him through Haitian customs. Someone will be there to pick up Gerald and take him north to La Souce where Merle's daughter, Bethanie, runs a clinic for Christian Aid Ministries. Merle will go south to Cadiac to have a seminar. He will leave Haiti on August 13 but Gerald will stay until 19th. He is scheduled to return to Washington DC at 12:45 a.m. on August 20--provided everything is on schedule, which it very well may not be.
Gerald will be helping Bethanie in the clinic while he is there. Nursing in a third-world country will be quite a switch from the high-tech 900 bed hospital where he currently works. I'm sure it will be a good experience for him and am glad he could go. It also helps that he has paid vacation days.
Since we have Leroy's company picnic this evening, Gerald asked one of his friends to take him to the airport and we will pick him up when he comes back. He worked from 6 p.m. last night to 6 a.m. this morning and got home around 7. He was going to take a nap but decided he better pack first. Good idea! Next thing I know he takes off and is gone until around 11. I'm pacing around at home wondering what is keeping him. Finally he comes back with a bunch of WalMart bags. He had to go shopping for supplies before he could pack!
And then, "Oh yes! I have to go to the bank yet and pay my bills." So he takes off again for the bank. While he is gone the friend shows up to take him to the airport. He is not only not at home but has not packed anything yet. Finally, about the time he said he wanted to leave, he starts packing. And then he needs to get a shower yet, write down some phone numbers, and . . . and . . . and . . .
I needed to do the weekly shopping today but decided right away this morning I am not going anywhere until he is packed and off. I don't care if he is almost 26, he still needs a mom at times like this. I didn't live with him 26 years without learning anything!
He knew months ago he was leaving today, so it was no surprise. Why did he wait until this morning to start packing? And worse, do his shopping? He did start making a list of things to pack on Monday, but nothing was actually put in a travel bag until a few minutes before the time he said he wanted to leave. I would have been having a fit if that had been me. I hate last-minute cramming to get things done.
So where does the procrastination come from? Is it from his Stauffer genes or is it just a guy thing?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Icon of Berks County

Darrin Youker answers questions about Berks County in his column, You Ask Youker, in the Reading Eagle newspaper. Below is today's question and his answer. I don't endorse the pantheistic worship of this tree but how many counties have a 400 year-old tree, still alive and growing?

Q: What are the meaning and the story behind the Sacred Oak in Oley Township?

A: She's a little out of place here in the Oley Valley. Towering 80 feet tall, with a crown of gnarled branches that arches over the forest floor, and a girth of 20 feet, the Sacred Oak of Oley is one massive tree.
Truth be told, she does not belong in Berks County. A yellow oak, and the second largest of its kind in the United States, the Sacred Oak is not native to this area. No one knows for sure how long the Sacred Oak has stood in Oley, but experts estimate the tree is at least 400 years old. There's no way of knowing how the oak got here. Reading Eagle reader Emily Yoder-Scheider had heard bits and pieces about the Sacred Oak but wanted to know its significance to Berks County.
Dating back to Native American times, when the Lenapes were the only people living here, the oak was revered. According to legend, a chief prayed to the tree, asking the Great Spirit to heal his gravely ill wife. She eventually recovered, said Lorah Hopkins, an Oley Township resident who has studied the tree's history. Warring tribes smoked peace pipes under the tree's massive canopy, Hopkins said. "Either the tree had been such massive size when they got here, or they had received it as a gift," said Hopkins. "It has been here an awful long time."
The mystique of the Sacred Oak has not dimmed over time. Rachel Theis, who owns the land the Sacred Oak sits on, has met hundreds of people from across the country who visit the tree. People have spread their loved one's ashes at the tree, and Native Americans continue to hold ceremonies here.
Theis, who has studied horticulture, believes the tree came from an acorn brought to the area by another Indian tribe. A yellow oak acorn was either dropped here by accident or was part of trade, she said. Theis bought the property three years ago and has become the tree's caretaker. Years of neglect had left the oak slowly dying. Trees were growing up in the oak's canopy, choking its growth. "This is a field tree, not one that belongs in a forest," she said. Theis cleared out more than 50 trees to give the oak some breathing room. It's still hidden in a grove, but the tree is producing acorns - a good sign of health, she said. Theis checks the tree most days and is sometimes surprised by the tokens left behind - stuffed animals, pictures and flowers. On a recent visit, someone had scribbled little messages on a pieces of birch bark.
There is something magical about the oak, maybe its size or the legend that surrounds it. Whatever it is, the Sacred Oak has become an icon of Berks County.
"The sacred oak holds a fascination for people. It has a special aura around it," Hopkins said. "It is more than just a tree."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Greetings to all the readers and friends of the "Scribbler." She has graciously allowed me to post a research question on her blog. I am interested in hopefully writing and publishing something on the story of the Canadian Mennonite families that left the May City, Iowa, Stauffer Mennonite settlement in 1915, and migrated to Myerstown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. The main families including children which were involved are: Peter K. Lehman, Elias Gingrich, Emanuel M. Brubaker, Jacob M. Brubaker, Jesse S. Bauman, and Daniel G. Weaver.

Any information regarding these families, with particular interest in why/how these families settled in the Myerstown, PA area, would be greatly appreciated. My new email address is:


"August, the month of muggy heat and rich harvest, is the meetingplace of the currents of the year. The waters, coming from many different directions, surge into one mighty river as they rush through the month and out of it, leaving behind rich deposits of the natural resources needed to sustain life. New potatoes with tissue paper thin skins are big enough to eat, corn hangs heavy on the stalks, pumpkins are the size of a baby's head, and cucumbers are ready for pickling." (Romaine Stauffer: Annie's Day of Light, page 292)
It's August again and the bountiful produce harvest is forcing me to shift from playing with the past to living in the present. I don't need to can any pickles this year but this morning I picked up a bushel of beautiful peaches at the orchard. There are beans in the garden waiting to be picked and the first ears of corn are ready to eat. I called the Amish man to place my order for corn for freezing next week. The potatoes in the garden are big enough to eat and the tomatoes are starting to turn red.
I'm glad I don't need to can 100 qt. each of peaches and applesauce like I used to do but I don't want to give up canning either. It's not as much about saving money as it is about taste. There is just nothing in the grocery store than can compete with homemade. If I can my own fruit I can drastically reduce the sugar to accommodate Leroy's diabetic diet. I like to restock my can shelves in the basement and arrange the jars so the colors complement each other. That's my jewel box. So why am I sitting here blogging when there are beans and peaches calling my name?

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Toy

I got a new toy! Berks County is digitizing all the deeds that have been recorded in the courthouse since 1752. It is a work in progress with another stage expected to be completed by the end of this month. At this point, images of all the deeds are not yet visible but you can see the deeds recorded since 1973 and from 1752 to 1774.
As soon as I saw this, I immediately thought of several things I have been wanting to find but not taking the time to go to the courthouse to look for them. The amount of this kind of information online is steadily increasing, making history and genealogy research much easier, cheaper, and more convenient. In addition, it saves the wear and tear on these old deed books. Lancaster County deeds are also available online but the index is not, which means I still have to go to the courthouse to look for deed numbers. Berks County will have the index online when the work is complete which means I can soon look for anything any time without driving to Reading, paying to park, pawing through the books, or messing with reels of microfilm.

If you have any interest in Berks County history, here is the link to get started searching for deeds: