A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bird Houses and Bird Nests

The annual cleaning of the birdhouses has arrived! 

This little terracotta birdhouse was purchased in Dahlonega, Georgia about 20 years ago and it is a favorite of little wrens. We have had wrens nesting in it ever since we got it.

This nest came out of another wren house. It has snake skin incorporated into the nest!

The nest below is made almost entirely of deer hair.

We cleaned our martin houses out also. We have had the houses up for 6 years and have yet to have martins in them. The Ash Throated flycatcher nests in them each year. They add some turkey feathers to their nest.

The yard is alive with all the birds this time of year and we are busy filling the feeders! Some of the birds we have are lesser goldfinches, scrub jays, house finches, pine siskins, juncos, cardinals, ash throated flycatchers, wrens, white wing doves, eurasian doves, titmice, and ravens. The summer tanagers and vermilion flycatchers will arrive later.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Woman of Substance

The little girl had a lot of things working against her. Her parents were 16 years old when she was born.  Her mom, whose education didn’t go past junior high, stayed home with her while her dad worked for his father-in-law, learning the plumbing business. Things went along well for a couple of years. The young parents tried but things didn’t work out for the marriage and they split up.

The little girl was 2 years old. She lived sometimes with her mom and sometimes with her mother’s parents. Her mom struggled with alcoholism. A few years after her parents separated, her dad died under mysterious circumstances and there was never a satisfactory resolution to the case. It was ruled suicide but those of us who knew him did not believe it.

The little girl moved in full time with her grandparents. They gave her love without bounds. But their method of parenting involved a lot of freedom for the girl. She had plenty of opportunity to make her own decisions at an age that did not equip her with the skills to make them. 

Her mom moved into a mobile home on her grandparents’ property. She brought with her an abusive boyfriend and they had another little girl. The first little girl continued to stay in her grandparent’s house.

She was just becoming an adult when her mom died from complications of alcoholism, leaving her and her little sister without a mother.

Had she drifted aimlessly into trouble and despair, no one would have been surprised and those of us who loved her would not have blamed her. But this little girl was made of sterner stuff than that. She was not defeated by what life dished out to her.

What this little girl had was not something she was taught. It was what was inside her. It’s what makes a person carry on and succeed without bitterness in spite of hardship. Without it a person can fail in spite of every advantage. It was courage and it was determination and it was some unknown quality we sometimes call “guts”. That’s what this little girl had.

She grew into a beautiful, talented, artistic woman. She married her childhood sweetheart and had two beautiful sons. She worked hard at a stressful job and the family purchased a house and she decorated and painted and did carpentry work and made it her home.

But hardship and heartache were not through with the little girl. One day her husband was on his way home from an event family and friends had gone to. The family had gone ahead of him in the car and he was riding his motorcycle home. There was an accident. A friend drove past it and saw the EMS and police and recognized the motorcycle. He went and picked her up. They went to the hospital. Things did not look good. He had been traveling at a high rate of speed and had no helmet on. Word went out to family and friends that they were at the hospital and the outcome was very bleak.

She railed against the injustice of it. She had already lost her parents, the grandfather that raised her had died, and the grandmother had recently been admitted to a nursing home. She cried out wondering what more could be taken from her. We prepared ourselves for the worse.

But we underestimated the power of the little girl. She stayed by her husband day and night. She talked to him and pushed him through therapy and carried him when he could not carry himself. She continued to work when she could at the stressful job; she was now the only financial support the family had. She brought stability and hope and strength to her little sons as they struggled to deal with what they did not understand. She bathed them with her tears and by leading her family through this nightmare she brought herself to the other side.

The husband came home; his recovery was remarkable. The sons moved on from the pain and things got back to a routine, with some changes to accommodate the husband’s recovery. There were happy times again in the little girl’s home.

This little girl is my niece. When I need someone to look up to, I look to her. She’s a woman of substance.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mama's Fig Preserves and Homemade Biscuits

I just ran across Mama's Fig Preserve Recipe. It's very simple but it has been years since I made it and couldn't remember exactly what she did. You can make as few or as many jars at a time as you like, which is great for processing them as they become ripe. 

She always peeled her figs. Most people don't but they are so much better if you peel them. I would not recommend doing them without peeling. The peels are too thick and sometimes bitter. We always had a fig tree in our backyard, so we were never without fig preserves. Served on a hot homemade biscuit - yum, you can't beat it! Might as well put a little butter on that biscuit first too.

This biscuit recipe has been in our family for years. It was originally Grandma Hattie's recipe and Mamow and Mama used it all our lives. It's easy and the best I've ever had. Puts a crusty bottom on the biscuits!

Fig Preserves
Peel figs. Using 1 cup sugar to 1 cup water, mix enough in large pot to provide enough syrup for the amount of figs you have. Bring this to a boil. Drop peeled figs in. Cook until thick or until figs are transparent. 

Ladle into sterilized jars that you have kept hot. Top with lids (also kept hot) and jar rings. Check when cool to make sure that all have sealed. If any don't seal, store in refrigerator. 

Homemade Biscuits
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put a heaping big spoonful (approximately 1/3 cup) Crisco in biscuit pan and put in oven to melt.

Mix together:
2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
(you can use self-rising flour instead and don't have to add the baking powder and salt)

1 cup buttermilk (add 1 tsp vinegar to regular milk if you don't have buttermilk)

Stir together and add more milk as need to make a gooey dough. Sprinkle with flour and dump out of floured surface. Sprinkle with flour as needed so that dough is not sticky and can be worked without sticking to fingers. You are looking for a dough that feels light, not heavy, so you need to add more milk than you might think, then add the flour on the outside of the dough so you can work with it. If not your biscuits will be too heavy and not good.

Knead 5 or 6 times, not too much. Pat into a circle about 1/2" thick. Cut biscuits with biscuit cutter or glass turned upside down. Keep patting left over dough into a circle and cutting biscuits until all dough is used.

Take the pan with the melted Crisco out of the oven. Dip each biscuit into the melted Crisco and turn over, so that both top and bottom have the Crisco on them, and put the biscuit into the pan. Continue until all biscuits are in pan. 

Bake approximately 20-30 minutes until golden brown.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sing Me Back Home

My Dad, Perry, loved to sing. He was a great honky tonk style country singer. He burst into song all day long, singing little snippets of songs to suit the occasion of what was going on. He sang with a joy and abandon that we loved.

My mom told me that on amateur night he used to sing and play the guitar at the old Paramount Theater in downtown Monroe where we lived.  

I remember we used to have some 78 rpm vinyl records of him singing. He told me one time that he had recorded them at the state fair. They had a booth there you could go into and sing and produce the record. The vinyl was a red color, not the usual black.

None of his children inherited Daddy's singing voice or his easy style. Whenever I burst into song such as in the car traveling, my family turns the radio on and up! 

I did learn from Daddy that you should sing anyway, even if you can't. I can never iron clothes without singing; it's physically impossible. For ironing, my choice is old gospel music. And I always sang my kids to sleep as I rocked them. I never sang the typical lullabies though. My standards were Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down", Emmylou Harris's "To Daddy" and her "One of These Days". Which could account for some of the odd behavior of my kids at times! I may have warped them with my choice of baby tunes. I did throw in an occasional Roger Miller's "Old Toy Trains" to offset the dark side of life in the other songs.

I remember one time we were on a family driving trip somewhere and Mama got mad at us for something, probably because we were annoying the heck either out of her or each other and she threatened to run away if we didn't stop it. Taking my cue from Daddy's policy of singing it out, I started singing Skeeter Davis's song "Got Along With Out You Before I Met You, Gonna Get Along Without You Now........." This caused Daddy to burst into his big boisterous laughter and even caused Mama to laugh, although she tried not to. Daddy's laughter was the same as his music to us kids. We could have listened to it all day long.

Daddy and his mom Grandma Hattie gave us all our love of music, even if we can't sing. Grandma Hattie played her records of Jim Reeves and Eddie Arnold on all occasions we had to gather at her house, all the holidays and parties and fish fries. Daddy not only played his country music to the point of driving Mama crazy, but he knew all the trivia about every country music singer. He was always telling us stories about "little" Johnny Rodriguez or Webb Pierce, who was his classmate in high school, or Carl Smith, one of his favorites. 

I wish I had recorded my Dad singing and laughing. 

If teardrops were pennies and heartaches were gold.............It's a lovely, lovely world since I met you.............I'm in the jailhouse now.............I've got a tiger by the tail it's plain to see.................I'm a honky tonk man and I can't seem to stop...............There he goes, he's walking away, each step he takes brings heartache my way...........