Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lessons from my Father - part 2

     Last week I opined on some life lessons that were passed on to me from my father, now deceased for 20 years.  I continue those here......

Lessons from my Father - part 2

Keep your food sources close - It's tough to talk about my Dad without making him sound kind of super hero-ish, and this paragraph won't help to dispel that kind of thinking, but the fact is, as I think back, it was amazing how much my father knew about how to make food.  He had a farmer's
A Hobart grinder similar to the one we had
background, so you won't be surprised to learn that we kept a root cellar at our house and we had a 6 foot long bin, filled with sand, where we would store our potatoes and carrots through the fall and winter, but where did he learn how to butcher?  Our garage was set up as an amateur butcher shop complete with a commercial band saw and meat grinder.  I always remember this happening in the winter, but a farmer would call, late at night, and say that he had lost a cow on the ice.  An hour later, the farmer would arrive and back up to the garage, and the whole family would be put to work butchering the animal.  The ladies mostly stayed inside and wrapped the steaks, cuts and hamburger that came in on long enamel coated trays, and the men and boys cut, trimmed and ground.  In a matter of a few hours, the cow would be taken down to the bone, and we'd get to keep half of the meat for supplying the labor and the butcher shop.  Dad would use that same grinder to make our own sausages sometimes. With the leftover pork trimmings (everything but the squeal), he'd make pon hoss or scrapple. I wasn't a fan back then, anything that you had to put on the inside porch to help "set up" just wasn't
How pon hoss is made
appetizing to me as a kid, but I miss it now.   This was just the start of the stuff that I remember making as a kid.  We canned spaghetti sauce, corn, jellies and jams, peaches, pickles, and more.  We made applesauce and homemade ice cream.  We would help my Uncle Charlie out at his "garden" (several acres makes me call it a farm, but they called it his garden), and we'd share in the proceeds.  I helped butcher chickens out there one time, and yes, it's true that they still twitch after their heads are cut off.  My Dad had me swing the chicken in the air first, he said it made the feathers come off easier, and then chop the head off, and to this day, I'm still not sure if he was
Our vat was 3x this size, but you get the picture
pranking me or if I learned a valuable butchering lesson that day.  Dad and Charlie had even built a small contraption that helped shull black walnuts, I think it was a modified corn sheller.  We had a vat in our basement where the homemade sauerkraut lived, we'd remove the wooden cover, reach through the brine and put what we needed in a strainer, rinse it several times, and it would be ready for consumption.  I don't remember my dad making beer, but I know he helped make some elderberry wine one time.  I never lived in a farmhouse with my mom and dad, so I'd appreciate hearing from my older siblings on other foods that he made that I may not have know about or remembered.  Point is, anything my dad could do for himself, food related, he did, and we were better off for it. 

Work what you need to, to take care of your own -  My dad worked two jobs for much of my adolescence.  He would go from work at a factory, to working the counter at a heating supply store and then back home.  His day never ended after his first 8 hour shift, and sometimes not even after his second.  An unexpected expense would sometimes have dad picking up a short time 3rd job, because he felt simply, that you had the obligation to work 
A lunchbox like my Dad used to take to Garlock
as much as you needed to, to support the family that you had.  I missed my dad, as he walked out the door carrying his black metal lunchbox, to one of his jobs, but I understood what a valuable lesson that he was teaching me, when I became a father.  That's not to say that my dad wouldn't accept assistance, we did participate in the free and reduced meal program at school for instance, but he never did this easily, or without first doing everything humanly possible to provide for his own first.  To do less than that, would never have occurred to him.  My household runs differently, as my wife has always worked as well, and I've never needed to take a second job, but if my salary was cut and one job wouldn't support my family, you bet your bippy, I'd be
Shout out to brother Aquaman
looking for a second one.  I'd be remiss in my duties as a blogger, if I didn't mention the sibling that took this lesson to heart and epitomizes my dad's work ethic, more than any other one, and that's my brother Aquaman.  For a decade he worked back to back factory jobs, 8 hours a piece each day, and then found time to help out a Chinese restaurant too.  I've never known him to have a single job and he juggles 3 more times than he juggles 2. 

Marry well and keep dating your spouse - I've told you that my dad basically stalked my mom to get her to pay attention to him, but it worked.  Maybe he realized that she was the perfect fit for him and knowing that,  he fully committed to pursuing her.  It was only after I left the house that I realized how aligned they were in their parenting and how they balanced each other out so perfectly.  To my recollection, I never remember my mom questioning his decisions in front of the family, however, there were times when she would take him aside later, they'd have a brief conversation and dad would come back and at an opportune time, announce that his decision had changed.  I've had this happen in my marriage too and Char will approach me with something like, 
"Honey, you really can't ground her until she's 30 you know..." and I of course acquiesce (Ok, til she's 21 then).   My dad could go off to work his many jobs assured that his household was well taken care 
Mom and Dad
of.  The respect my father earned each day, was given to him by my mother, because he married well. There is nothing sadder to me than to see a couple denigrate each other to their children or others, and because of the example my father set, I try each day to give my wife the respect she deserves, and I get the same in kind.  Another lesson that my dad taught me was the importance of continuing to date your wife.  In spite of the number of kids he had, the financial situation the family was in, and his hectic work schedule, my dad tried and set aside Friday night each week for a date night with my mom.  Most week's it was just a trip to a local diner for a fish fry or they'd host another couple for a euchre game, but dad understood that you should date your wife after you marry her too.  I have friends in Canandaigua that I love to see out because the way that they interact remind me of my folks.  It might surprise you to know that they are a same sex couple, but every time I see them out or read their Facebook statuses, it seems like they are still honeymooners (Shout out to Val and Janine).  It's a hard thing to do, and it's work sometimes, but they make it look easy.  I mentioned 
Me and my better half
that Aquaman was the epitome of my Dad's hard work ethic, but I'll actually point to my own relationship as a prime example of marrying well.  Char accepts and supports me, warts and all, and I can travel each week knowing that my household is in good hands.  We'll choose to miss one of our kid's activities sometimes, because we need a date night more.  After our kids leave, we won't be one of those couples that find themselves sitting across from each other, with nothing in common, because over the last 30 years, we've invested in our relationship equally to investing in our kids.  Dad taught me that.  I have a younger sister, "She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named", who likes to say that in the best marriages, each spouse is convinced that they got the better half of the deal.  In my marriage each of us feels that way. 

Final part next week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lessons from my Father - part 1

     Last week marked the 20th anniversary of my dad's untimely passing due to cardiac illness.  I was traveling, and only my sister's Facebook post reminded me of the significance of that day.  I've wanted to blog about my dad for a while now, and while he's certainly made appearances on these pages before, I've never sat down and thought about all that I learned from him and put it into a comprehensive blog, so that is this morning's task.  I'm not sure how many normal size blogs that it will take, but before I even begin, I know the number is more than 1.  

 Lessons from my Father

Paul Cooper Yarger
     Persistence pays off - I could cite a lot of examples of this in my dad's life, but none more powerful than the story of how he wooed my mom.  My mom and dad met in the Navy and I'm not sure if their first ship was the U.S.S. Upshur, but that seemed to be the ship that they talked about the most.  There were a couple of ships, over time, that were named Upshur, but I'm fairly certain that the one that they served on was a Troop ship (T-AP-198).  The crew consisted of a couple of hundred seamen, and 2-3 women that served in the infirmary.  The main mission, at that time, was to transport Troops and the families of military personnel.  The ratio of men to women on board was at least 100 to 1, and larger when you only count the women who were single.  My dad a clod-hopping farmer from the hamlet of Cheshire NY, wooed my mom, a beautiful urbanite from Boston, simply by wearing her down.  The story goes that he would bring her a coffee each day and while she initially insisted that he wasn't her type, he continued to do it, and then moved to escorting her platonically on shore leave.  After many months of this, she finally agreed to their first date, and not
Tattoo on my nephew Derek memorializing my folks
only did that lead to them marrying, she left the big city, moved to the farm, and the woman who thought she might not have kids ever, bore my Dad 12 children.  A movie could easily be made about this courtship, and it would be a blockbuster, so you see, persistence does pay off.

     Church is not just for women - Unless my Dad was traveling, a Sunday did not pass where I did not see him occupying the church pew next to my mother.  Dad wasn't born Catholic, like my mother was, but after he joined the faith, he set a shining example of how a man and a father should practice it. An ABC news poll recently confirmed that many more Catholic women attend church weekly( 49%) than do men (26%), but that is not the lesson that my dad taught me.  He felt, that if you found value in your faith, that you had the duty to participate fully in it.  Dad stood proudly each week in his pew, with his hands clasped in front of him, standing erect and listening intently with his family next to him, looking like descending step stairs.  I try and do the same, because he taught me that church is not just for
My family 1972, I'm in red on the bottom

     Stay connected to your family - Love em or hate em, they are all you get.  Dad's love of his family was inspirational.  While still in his father's home, he disregarded his father's wishes and continued to visit an ex-wife of his father's, who also lived in their hamlet and later on, a sister of his who had fallen out of favor with his dad.  While dad was raising his family, he reserved Sunday afternoons for trips to his sibling's houses and farms.  We'd  find ourselves spending the day on Waneta Lake at one of his sister's cottages (they had places next to each other), Atlanta NY at their camp, outside of Cdga to visit his brother's farm, or sibling's places in Buffalo, Cheshire, or Bristol.  We never went to to the state of Florida without a stop in to see his brother there (Abe, his sole surviving sibling).  My dad, to my knowledge, never missed a family reunion and hosted it far more than his share.  He's chastise us if we suggested we had other things to do, with the rebuke, that
My family a year or so later
you only get one family and it was once a year that they all gathered.  My father hosted New Year's eve parties and the guest list always included his siblings, nieces and nephews.  When he started his heating, plumbing and electric business, he frequently hired his older brother, Charlie, to work with him.  For a while they did some out of town jobs and shared a pop-up camper together for the week, and would come home for the weekends only. I reach out to my siblings regularly, have helped to develop events that bring us together, all because my dad taught me to stay connected.

     There is always room for one more - Dad's generosity was legendary.  Rare was the night that someone didn't join us for dinner, if you were around close to the time, you were invited to break bread with us.  Dad would invite passing veterans
Dad in his element at the head of the table

in for coffee and a hot meal, and at least a dozen people shared our home for varying amounts of time while I was growing up.  Our house-guests were down on their luck contractors, teachers that couldn't find housing, cousins that passed through, and the list goes on from there.  I still meet people today that tell me of how much that my dad's generosity meant to them as it relates to dinners with us, or short respites at our house.  Even on vacation, I remember my dad inviting neighbors in campsites next to us, over to have breakfast, lunch or dinner, over to our campsite.  Truthfully I haven't practiced this lesson as much as my Dad did, but I've never turned a friend or relative away either, because there is always room for one more.

More to come next week...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

We are even sappier this year....

Me in front of Bob's sugar shack
      2 years ago, I chronicled my first foray into maple sugaring with my son Nolan.   I got suckered  into helping him but I truly do like to do things that connect me to my food sources.  There is something that seems "real" to me about this, and it reminds me of my experiences working in the garden or helping to butcher beef when I was growing up.  This year we've taken our sapping to a whole new level.

     We missed last year's sap season, it came earlier than anticipated and with us having to borrow our tapping equipment, we weren't prepared when it started and it seemed like it only lasted 10 days.  If you want to read about our first attempt, the year prior, you can find it here (Oh what a Sap I am).  This year we started the discussion earlier and when quizzing a neighbor about where to purchase tapping supplies, while at the local diner, Nolan and I got an offer that we couldn't refuse.  It actually happened over a series of conversations where we had asked if we could bring our sap to his sugarhouse to boil it, and he had agreed.  That would have entailed tapping the trees from a few miles away, pouring it in 5 gallon buckets and then hauling it uphill a quarter of a mile to be processed.  A few weeks later we ran into our neighbor Bob again and he mentioned 
Nolan inspecting the lines for leaks
that his partner wasn't going to be able to assist him in his production this year and offered us a larger role.  If we would help him tap the trees and monitor the flow and with the boiling days, we could keep a portion of the syrup.  We discussed it and then jumped at the offer as it meant that we would be involved in a lot more efficient operation. 

     Bob and his partner built their sugar house in a maple grove or sugarbush (that's what you call a group of maples that  are clustered together and used for syrup production).  This year he tapped about 70 trees and he uses taps and plastic lines to feed the sap to barrels and a holding tank that sit next to his sugarhouse.  The system is gravity fed and the evaporator is wood fired.  There is no power run to the building, so if we work into the evening, we have to use lanterns to see what we are doing.  This is a pretty sweet deal (pun intended) for us as we only have to provide some labor and we get use of the shack, trees, fuel, and access to a $6,000 stainless steel evaporator.  This is quite the step up from our driveway boiling operation from 2 years ago that used a propane tripod cooker

The evaporator
and a large flat pan. That year we made 80oz of syrup from several weeks of collecting and boiling off and this year, we hope to help to make about 10 gallons.  If you remember the ratio, then you'll know that it means we will boil off over 400 gallons of sap to get to that point.

     Nolan has a couple of obligations this year that conflict with the sap season, a middle school production of Charlotte's web (he will play Wilbur) and an Order of the Arrow fellowship weekend, so Mom has even gotten tapped (groan) to help out.  She helped with the set up of some of the lines and has come out to visit a couple of times already.  We spent the majority of last weekend in the woods and produced 1 3/4 gallons and we expect to be tied up for the next 2, doing the same thing.  The process is simple but time consuming. The sap comes into the top evaporator tank from the holding tank outside.  There is a float where you can set the desired level and that will continuously feed the tank.  If you overfill the tank, the water bubbles have trouble escaping and cool down before they boil out, so you want to keep a medium level and maintain a rolling boil.  As the sap becomes closer to being syrup, it drips into a lower finishing pan, whose level is
Nolan skimming the particulates out
controlled by another float, and you check that to see when it becomes syrup.  Bob has a hydrometer that floats to a pre-determined level when you put it into a cylinder filled with liquid and that is how we know the product is ready for bottling.  When it is ready, we run it off into a clean bucket, strain it though a cheesecloth, and then bottle it.  You have to pay attention at this point, as you are handling very hot sticky liquid which would burn like napalm if you spilled it on yourself.  We are using plastic syrup jugs in quart and pint sizes and after we cap them, we invert them for a while to seal them.  This weekend Bob gave us 2 quarts for our efforts, which just about equalled our total production from 2 years ago.  The process reminds me a lot of BBQing, as they both involve long stretches of fire tending while you are waiting for something to slow cook.  I think I've explained the process well enough and since I've already blogged about this topic, I'm going to let the remaining pictures tell the rest of the story, they'll do a better job than me, and without the bad puns. 

Holding tank and collection barrels

Nolan using the hydrometer
Filling the cyklinder to check the syrup

The finished product

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Garaj-Mahal

     You might be a redneck if you build your garage bigger than your house, so we are guilty as charged.  We bought our 100 year old home well after it was built, but we built our garage from the ground up and had a chance to cater it to our liking, and it ended up being larger than the original home.  Too big?  Nah, just big enough, read through and you will see.

Front view of building with BBQ smoker showing
     We had a garage on the property when we purchased our home.  It was small and run down and slanted with warped wooden floors, and I'm not saying that it was worthless, but the town assessor did the year we tore it down, where he argued that our property value went up when we removed it.  We put a lot of thought into what the new structure should look like, and we took advice from our friends who had constructed before.  A good number of them stated "Don't build it too small" and I think we did a good job taking that advice, our house is 1800 square feet and the Garaj-Mahal is a whopping 2400 square feet !  As my plans for it got bigger and bigger, my wife exclaimed one day that we weren't building a garage, we were building the Garaj-Mahal, and the name has stuck ever since.  My HS friend Bobby Johnston (shout out to B&B Builders) constructed the pole barn exterior with two color metal siding and a metal roof, oh and a balcony, and then framed the inside. 
Right side of downstairs
He would have done the rest, but I had a brief period of unemployment at that time, so I decided to finish the interior.  Over the past 10 years, I've worked with family and friends and finished parts, and left others unfinished, and while you can't say any of it looks professional, you can say that it reflects the people who built it, a little rough, polished in spots, but comfortable in our skins.  Let me walk you through it....

     The right bay of the Garaj holds 2 cars, one behind another.  The right wall holds a lot of our extra junk and catering equipment and in the picture you might just be able to see a new fryer that my sister Meter Maid donated to our business. Tools and implements are hung along the
Left bay Tikki bar and kitchen
walls and in the back I have a work bench and cabinet where I've been known to do small projects, think more Pinewood Derby cars, than DIY woodworking.  That bench was donated by one brother in law and the cabinets and light fixtures were donated by another.  Hodge-Podge doesn't even start to describe what you'd see in this building, but it's as close as we can come without making up our own word (and we already did that with Garaj-Mahal).  This side of the Garaj works well for tables and chairs, when we have parties in it, like pictured above, or it makes a great spot for a beer pong table.  I've spent many nights standing on this side of the Garaj attempting to put a small ball in a big Solo cup unsuccessfully, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

     The left bay of the Garaj hold two cars, one behind another.  The left wall is strewn with golf clubs and camping gear and party decorations.  The back is dominated by a Tikki bar and a full kitchen
What this side more typically looks like
complete with sinks, fridge, wine fridge, stove and counters.  The heat source for the downstairs of the Garaj hangs in the back corner, which is a forced air heater run from our boiler.  This is one of the only things I would change about the building if I could, the upstairs has radiant heat in the floors, but we opted not to bury the tubes in the concrete downstairs, and I'd rethink that if I could.  We can heat it up quickly with the system we have, so it's convenient if a party suddenly develops, but it's a little loud when running and the bays don't warm up evenly.  This is my favorite side of the Garaj and while the work bench isn't my comfort zone, I'm in my element on either side of the bar, or standing at a stove. The center of the Garaj has a walled in utility room where the boiler lives, and where the water, phone, cable, Internet and utilities all come in to.  There are fire doors at the back of
My office cubbyhole
each side opening up to a landing with outside back entrance and a wide staircase to access the upstairs.  That completes the downstairs tour.

     If you go straight up the stairs and enter the door that you see, you'd find yourself in my office, the largest room.  I have a desk and filing cabinets and file boxes tucked in one corner and then the rest of the space is currently used for storing bikes and exercise equipment.  I eventually want a conference table and chairs in there, but like every other room, we finish them as time passes.  I travel almost every week, but most Mondays and Fridays you'll find me working there.  I had the foresight to put in a balcony off the front of the office, so when the weather is nice, you'll find me working out there.  It's a great 3 season spot for a
Office storage and balcony
cigar too.  I've given each room its own paragraph so far, but I'll include the bathroom in this one.  It's fully functional with toilet, sink and a jacuzzi tub/shower combination, so once I head off to work, I don't have to go back to the house for anything.  I am certain that the 100 foot separation between the house and Garaj has helped me be more disciplined and more successful in my business.  While I am in my office, I can make calls without distraction, no kids crying, or dogs barking or kitty cats wanting to nuzzle, and when I leave the office, I can leave my work phone and fax and problems of the day there.  I've found this to be a great help in keeping my work from invading my home time, too many of us answer work e-mails 24 hours a day, and I need my down time, so I try and avoid it as best I can. 

     The next room is a rec room and was designed to help relieve stress.  A small pool table is in the center, but the room can quickly be converted for a poker game.  Beer signs hang on every wall and a bar rail runs the length of most of them.  A closet on the east wall holds 15 years worth of our charity
The rec room
golf tournament files and paraphernalia.   The floor remains unfinished and I'm not sure how we will finish it.  I want something unique but durable that will take the spills and cigar ash that may drop there.  Nolan has been collecting plastic hotel cards from my travels for 10 years and we've toyed with the idea of using these as flooring, but we may not have enough yet.  This room is equipped with 2 circular light/fan combinations that have 25 CFM vent fans in them to help abate the smoke.  They will keep up with a bunch of card players smoking cigars pretty well, and if we open a window and leave them running for a night, they'll remove the rest.  I've hosted a few different poker groups in this room over the years, and I'm pretty sure that I agreed to do a monthly one at a recent party we had, so this room gets used exactly as it was designed.  I cannot say that about the last room.

     I had grand plans for the remaining space in the Garaj, it was going to be a media room.  I ran speaker wire in the walls and set it up for surround sound.  I envisioned a huge flat panel TV on one wall and theater seating in the middle, where we all would gather and screen the new releases or watch my beloved Buffalo Bills, but that all changed the first year Molly came home from college.  I
Upstairs bedroom
passed her on the stairs one morning as I was getting up at 4:30 and she was headed to bed.  I almost had an argument with her, but as I thought it through there was no reason to have it.  She had become accustomed to a later schedule at college, and to her independence, and while she was home she was working full time and helping out whenever asked, so I dedicated that room to be a bedroom for our kids when they returned home.  Both Molly and Danny have used it now, and they both have been great about spending dinner and prime time with us, but then heading out to their space after we retire for the night.  It was well worth the sacrifice of my media room to keep better relations with our kids during their college years and maybe one of the best uses for space in the Garaj.  This concludes the tour of the Garj-Mahal, a lengthy blog for a very large space.  I'll end with some other advice that I took while building it, from friends who understood the occasional need for separation from a spouse,  which was...." If you are going to build a dog house, you might as well make it a good one".  I think I did alright.