Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buckeye Candy

Buckeyes, the name brings to mind several things. First, Buckeyes are the state tree of Ohio. They are a deciduous tree, related to the Horse chestnut. The fruit is said to resemble the eye of a buck (deer), hence the name. Carrying this smooth, chestnut brown seed in your pocket is considered good luck. Then there are the Buckeyes, the name of the sports teams from that school out in Columbus, Ohio. Being from Pennsylvania we tend to pay to much attention to them. And finally, the most delicious of the Buckeyes, that delectable peanut butter and chocolate treat made to resemble the buckeye seed. These candies are very popular in both Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. The homemade ones are much better than the packaged ones you can sometimes find.

I make these every year because they are the favorite of my husband. Also in their favor is that a batch makes a lot, and they keep exceedingly well when kept in the refrigerator and can even be frozen with no ill effects. I haven't made mine yet this year, but will probably do so in the next day or two. This recipe comes from a postcard I bought years ago, at an Ohio rest stop along the turnpike.

Ohio Buckeye Candy
Mix together 3 cups (28 oz. jar) creamy peanut butter, 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) softened butter, and 2 lbs. confectioner's sugar.
Form into small balls.
Place on wax paper and refrigerate.

Using a toothpick, dip balls into melted dipping chocolate (recipe calls for 16 oz. although it always seems to take me 32 oz.) until almost covered, leaving some of the peanut butter mixture exposed on the top.

Refrigerate and Enjoy!

Bee at From the Desk of Bee Drunken has started a virtual candy exchange. Go to her site and you'll find candy recipes that will give you a sugar high just reading about them. It's also interesting to see what candies are considered the traditional holiday must haves in different parts of the world.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blogger Book Boost

'Tis the season for giving and receiving, and what better gift to give or receive than that of a book. In the age of over-consumerism and economic meltdown, a book is a gift that will be cost effective as well as entertain, transport, and be thought provoking. Books are the perfect gift of the young and the old and everyone in between. Even my one year old is a book lover and will sit and page through a book by herself. Of course, she also sometimes likes to eat her books, but we're working on that.

Sarah, at Sarah Laurence Blog, has come up with a great way to share book recommendations this holiday season. Click on the link to her blog and you will find her recommendations. Be sure to read the comments as well, because they are filled with more info and links to other Blogger Book Boost posts. If you don't know what to buy, this is a good starting point.

As I mentioned, I have a young daughter and so most of my book buying of late has been for her. One of her most beloved books and one that is very engaging is "Baby Says Peekaboo!" by DK Publishing. This was her favorite book when she was between six and nine months old, and she still picks it up at least once a day.

One of her current favorites is "One Snowy Night" by M. Christina Butler and Tina Macnaughton. This is a touch and feel board book with a winter gift-giving theme. Lillian loves the different textures.

I recently had the good fortune to acquire the garden book "Planthropology" by Ken Druse. This is a great choice for any plant lover or gardener on your list. Not only are there beautiful pictures, but there is so much information about the history of plants, the mathematics in plants, and plants in art.

These last two selections are novels that I enjoyed, although I read both of them some time ago. The first, "Ocean Sea" by Alessandro Baricco, I read so long ago (probably eight years), I can't even describe to you what it is about. I just remember that I loved the language of this book and it was one that I saved to re-read some day.

The second is a book I bought because I love Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and thought it would be an interesting companion book to P&P. It is "Mr. Darcy's Diary" by Amanda Grange. I loved reading about the characters I had come to know and love from a different perspective and would recommend this to all Austenite's.

Thus concludes my list. Although I would also like to mention one book that is on my list to receive this year. "Hello, Cupcake" by Karen Tack and Alan Richardson is the foodie book I must have. Cupcakes seem to be the hot item these days and I love the artistry of cake decorating. This book just looks fun to me.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

On our recent trip to the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium we saw all three and much more. It was a perfect day for being out and about, the sun was shining, there was still gorgeous fall color, and being a weekday, it wasn't too crowded.

Lillian thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the animals, especially in the aquarium since she could be closer to them there. We thoroughly enjoyed her enjoyment.

The lion sleeps. Lillian is very good at roaring like a lion.

This rhino was pacing all over the place.

In the elephant house we saw not only the big elephants, like this one, but also one of the baby elephants. I'm sad I wasn't able to get a good picture of the baby, he was soooo cute.

You may have to enlarge this photo to see the poison dart frog. He's right in the middle, black and gold. This is Pittsburgh you know.

It's impossible to not include a picture of the jellies.

The penguins were having lots of fun swimming around.

Isn't this guy just the greatest? He's a sea dragon.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Birthday Traditions

As my daughter's first birthday approached I contemplated what birthday traditions I wanted to instill in her childhood. My own childhood birthdays seem so long ago I can barely remember much about them other than there were presents, homemade cake, ice cream, and since I had so many siblings and there were cousins and grandparents close by, there was always lots of family to help celebrate. I think we also got to have our favorite meal on that day too. And does there need to be anything more to it than that? Probably not, but I did want to do something to mark the specialness of this first birthday and perhaps come up with some traditions that could follow for years to come.

Of course her proud Papa wanted to be sharing in all the festivities of the day so a vacation day from work was necessary. Our original plan was to take her to the zoo on her birthday but the weather was uncooperative. There were snowflakes coming down with the rain, not exactly a good day to go to the zoo. Two days later, the sun was shining and it was beautiful, a perfect day for the zoo, so her birthday was extended. But I will cover that in a different post. Forgoing the zoo for perhaps interior fun, we contemplated going to the Children's Museum, but in the end decided we would rather just enjoy her and her wonderment at wrapped presents and the subsequent unwrapped presents, in a leisurely day at home. It was raining with snowflakes after all. And what child wants to open toys only to be whisked away from them.

Her party with her nearby grandparents and a few close friends was to be on the weekend and she would have her homemade cake and ice cream then, but I wanted to make something special for her on her day. I decided on apple dumplings, since we had just had them at a fall festival. Although she enjoyed them at the festival, she was less enthusiastic about her birthday ones, although I enjoyed them very much. But maybe this is a tradition I can continue each year. And maybe next year she will gooble them up since they are so tasty. But if apple dumplings are not her thing, perhaps she will have a favorite dish that she will want on that day.

I also made her a birthday crown. This was after seeing numerous birthday crowns in catalogs and stores but deciding I could make one that I would like better and would cost less. I just had to pull out the sewing machine and dust it off a bit. I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to do when I started and it turned out totally different than I had pictured in my mind originally, but to me it was perfect. Of course, since she hates anything on her head (hat,hood, etc.), I could only ever get it on her for mere seconds at a time. Forget a picture! Good thing I saved my money. Too bad it won't fit her next year, but one of her dolls can be the eternal birthday princess. Since I am hoping she outgrows this aversion to a head covering, I think making her a birthday crown each year might become a new tradition.

So I think she has had a good birthday start with several things to make it special and magical.
1. A party with presents, homemade cake, ice cream, party guests
2. Special treatment all day with a special meal
3. A Birthday Princess Crown
4. A special outing

What are your special birthday memories and do you have any family birthday traditions?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spooky Halloween Treats!

Since Halloween is such a favorite event, it deserves one last post as a wrap up to the Halloween season as we look onward to that day of eating delight ~ Thanksgiving.

Our Halloween decorations included these lovely jack o'lanterns. My husband carved the Raccoon free hand, while I used a pattern for The Monster Mash. It was my first time using one of those intricate patterns and I would definitely do some things a little different next time. Just in case you want to delve into this pumpkin art next year I will share my "I should remember this for next time" list with you. And this way I can refer back to this post next year before the carving begins!

The list is not too long but the main thought was that I should have scraped the inside of the pumpkin wall much thinner so that it would be easier to cut in the detail of the design instead of having to saw through an inch and a half of pumpkin flesh! Well, I guess that's my main tip, everything else seemed to be ok. I did have a slight mishap in breaking off a main piece but a toothpick helped secure it back, so keep some toothpicks handy. We were able to enjoy these for a couple of days but then the real raccoons found them and ate out my whole design. They didn't touch the pumpkin Raccoon, maybe they thought it some sort of deity.

And here are some spooky treats that can be enjoyed by all ghouls and goblins!

These Spooky Brownies will satisfy any sweet tooth. You can find the recipe at Betty Crocker's website ~ thanks Betty, they were a big hit!

And then my favorite ~ Cheesenstein from Taste of Home Magazine. As soon as I saw this, I had to make it. Not only is he just perfect for Halloween but delicious too! And he can easily be adapted to the other holidays, just use your imagination.

Prep: 45 min. + chilling
Taste of Home
Nila Grahl, Gurnee, Illinois

2 - 8oz packages cream cheese softened
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 - 4 oz cartons whipped cream cheese
Moss green paste food coloring
1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives, drained
2 pepperoncinis
2 slices peeled parsnip
4 colossal ripe olives
Black decorating gel
1 pretzel rod
1 small cucumber
Assorted fresh vegetables

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce until smooth. Stir in the cheddar cheese, bacon, and onions.

Shape into a 5 inch x 4 inch x 3 inch rectangle; wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until chilled.

Unwrap rectangle and place on a serving platter with a 3 inch side on top. Tint whipped cream cheese green and spread over top and sides of rectangle.

Add ripe olives for hair, pepperoncinis for ears, and parsnip slices and 2 colossal olives for eyes. With black decorating gel, pipe the brow, mouth, and stitches.

Break pretzel rod in half and add a colossal olive to each end. Press into side of head for bolts. Cut a small piece from the end of the cucumber for a nose.

Serve with vegetables, crackers, etc.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Pennsylvania Autumn

A Maple on Fire

The leaves are quickly finding their way off of the trees and to the ground so I figured it was high time I posted some pictures of the glorious fall colors. Most of these were taken just a day or two ago. For more fall photos taken a week or so ago, you can check out my fall color post on my garden blog. And if you still need to see more leaves, go to Dave's Garden Blogger Fall Color Project, where he has compiled a collection of fall color posts from bloggers around the world.

I just love this photo, maybe it's the framing of it.

I think the red of the maple against the chartreuse of the lilacs just pops!

Most of the yellows of the Silver Maple are already down.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cooking Under Pressure

No, I'm not a contestant on a cooking based reality show. But I was using my pressure cooker to help me make dinner last night and I started thinking about this kitchen gadget. Yes, to me it is a gadget, simply a time-saving gadget. I bought this electronic gizmo almost a year ago and have used it a handful of times. Because I don't use it that often, each time I have to relearn how to use it and a couple of times I started out incorrectly so it ended up being more of a hassle than a help. No saving time on those nights. Last night I got it right though (finally!). Which was good because using it was just the first step in the Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas recipe I was making. Easy it was, after having all the ingredients assembled. I hate those recipes that say prep time is 10 minutes but call for cooked chicken. Unless you have leftover cooked chicken on hand, prep time is NOT 10 minutes. This is where my pressure cooker comes in handy. You can put frozen chicken in and about 15 minutes later, you have cooked chicken, ready to shred. And depending on the liquid that you add in with it, you could have flavored, cooked chicken, ready to shred.

Of course, I don't like chicken cooked this way normally, but if I need it for a recipe like Easy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas the cleanup is a whole lot easier than sauteing chicken on the stove. When you cook chicken in the pressure cooker, it comes out similar to poached chicken and poaching is a cooking method that I have never been crazy about. I don't go in for poached eggs despite the whole cache of Eggs Benedict. When I was in culinary school, we of course had to learn poaching. Poaching is not boiling! While I am not crazy about poaching, boiling would be much worse. The trick with poaching is keeping the poaching liquid at 170F. One thing that I thought poached very well was salmon and I have in fact made a poached salmon that was superbly flavored, all due to the poaching liquid. This is a recipe I made only once, years ago, and I still remember that meal. That's a good recipe. But I digress, back to pressure cooking.

My Grandmother used her old fashioned, stove-top pressure cooker all the time to make simple things like potatoes or carrots. To her, it was just like any other pot, it just had that wobbly thing on top. I've always been scared of those kind of pressure cookers. Maybe from the horror stories I've heard of how you have to be careful or you'll get a horrible steam burn. The new, electronic ones are made with all sorts of safety features so you can't get hurt - if it's under pressure, you can't open the lid, etc.

When I'm not using my pressure cooker to cook up chicken to shred for a casserole or tacos, I'm using it as a super fast crock pot. I love my crock pot and use it more than the pressure cooker, but if it's 4:30 in the afternoon and you want to eat the same day, you have to go for the pressure cooker. Just throw everything in, still frozen even, turn the lid on, and in about 15 - 20 minutes you have dinner. And like the crock pot, once it's going you can do other stuff. Of course, make sure it is going before walking away and coming back 15 minutes later to find you didn't have it set up correctly and you are still at square one (this has happened to me more than once).

I bought my pressure cooker on impulse, it wasn't a thought out or researched purchase. But it has broadened my cooking options. And I have a cookbook that has bread machine, crock pot, pressure cooker, and clay pot recipes in it. Hmmm, maybe I need a clay pot. Any opinions on clay pot cooking out there, please let me know what you think of that cooking method.

Here are two very different but both tasty recipes from my collection.

Easy Chicken & Cheese Enchiladas (cut from the newspaper)
Prep: 10 minutes Bake 40 minutes Makes 6 servings

1 can (10 3/4 oz) Condensed cream of chicken soup (I use Campbell's 98% Fat Free)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup salsa
2 tsp. chili powder
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 - 6" flour tortillas
1 small tomato chopped
1 green onion sliced

1. Stir the soup, sour cream, salsa, and chili powder in a medium bowl.

2. Stir one cup of the soup mixture above, the chicken, and cheese in a large bowl.

3. Divide the chicken mixture among the tortillas. Roll the tortillas and place them seam side up in a shallow baking dish. Pour the remaining soup mixture over the filled tortillas.

4. Cover and bake at 350F for 40 minutes or until the enchiladas are hot and bubbling. Top with the tomato and onion.

I increased almost all the ingredients and also added a can of corn and a can of pinto beans to the chicken mixture. I ended up with 12 tortillas which was plenty for a couple of meals for two people plus some leftovers for lunch.

Salmon a la Michael (from MasterCook cooking software package)
Serves 4

4 - 8 oz fresh salmon fillets
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley sprigs
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 oranges, quartered
1 whole lemon, quartered
1 whole lime, quartered
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 gallons water
12 egg yolks
1 pound clarified butter, at 120 degrees
1 pinch salt, to taste
1/8 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest

1. Prepare the Citrus Court Stock --

In a large pot, lightly saute onion, carrot, and celery. Add water, bay leaf, parsley, oranges, lemon, and lime. Bring to a boil, simmer for 25 minutes and strain. Put strained stock in pan large enough to hold salmon fillets. Keep liquid simmering.

2. Prepare the Orange Hollandaise --

Whip the egg yolks with orange juice until light and frothy.
The butter must be clarified and at 120 degrees for the next step.
Slowly add butter while constantly whipping the egg mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Note: I've always made Hollandaise over a hot water bath so if you are comfortable making Hollandaise I would use whatever method you are familiar with.)

3. Poaching the Salmon --

Place the 4 salmon fillets in the simmering Citrus Court Stock. Salmon must be poached for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove from the stock and coat with the Orange Hollandaise.

Garnish with orange zest and serve.

I don't think I made Hollandaise sauce when I made this salmon. It's not a particularly favorite sauce of mine (another reason for not being so thrilled with Eggs Benedict.) I don't remember how I served it, just that the flavor of the salmon from being poached in the citrus stock was fabulous. And to be honest, a Hollandaise sauce would complement that very well, but I don't care for it well enough to make it.

Monday, October 13, 2008


In continuing my showcase of Hollywood's greatest stars and this month particularly, horror film stars, let us learn a little more about Bela Lugosi.

Best known for his role of Dracula, Bela actually began his acting career far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. Bela was born Be'la Ferenc Dezso Blasko in Lugos, Austrian-Hungary (now Lugoj, Romania) in 1882. He began his stage career in 1901 and became the number one ranked actor in Hungary. It was at this time that he changed his name to Lugosi. He toured with the National Theater of Budapest and was well known for his versatility. With the onset of WWI, he volunteered to fight for his country, even though actors were exempt from military service. It was after his military service that he first began appearing in films and he was also active in the actor's union. With the change of the regime during the Hungarian Revolution, he was forced to flee to Germany where he made a few films before coming to America.

In America, he pursued his acting career in the theater with a Hungarian stock company since he did not speak English. In his first English speaking role he learned all his lines phonetically, and received rave reviews. He continued working both theater and film through the twenties and received his big break when he played the part of the Count in the Broadway production of Dracula in 1927.

When Universal Studios was looking to cast the film version of Dracula, they wanted Lon Cheney to play Dracula. His death forced them to look for a replacement and they settled on Lugosi who made the part his own. Dracula (1931) was the first talking horror movie. It launched Lugosi as a star in the horror genre. He went on to appear in several horror movies, a few of which include Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), White Zombie (1932), Island of the Lost Souls (1933), The Black Cat (1934), Mark of the Vampire (1935), Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Devil Bat (1940), The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), The Return of the Vampire (1944), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1949), and posthumously in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).

With his role of Dracula, Lugosi personified evil and defined our image of the vampire. This was not a grotesque, misshapen monster, but an aristocratic, sophisticated one. An interesting fact is that Lugosi did not wear fangs in this original portrayal of the Count. Lugosi became so associated with the part that he was not able to break out of the horror genre, despite his obvious ability to play other roles. Lugosi died in 1956 and was even buried wearing the Dracula cape (this was at the request of his wife and son). While viewing the body, it is said that fellow Hungarian actor Peter Lorre quipped to Vincent Price "Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart, just in case?"

Enjoy this tribute to Bela Lugosi and his work.

To see my post on Lon Cheney, click here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gettysburg - Fields of Courage

If you've never been to Gettysburg Battlefield, you really need to go. Every American should go and take the time to drive around the now quiet fields, and learn some of the personal stories of those brave men who met there, three days in July 1863. I had never been to Gettysburg, despite my living within a four hour or less drive for most of my life. But that all changed this September when we took a trip to Central PA to enjoy some of the beautiful fall weather and take a trip back in history.

Don't worry, I'm not going to bore you with a history lesson with dates and regiment positions. And neither did the CD set and field book we purchased to act as our guide. It took us along the National Park auto tour stops (with just a few diversions and adjustments) and we thoroughly enjoyed this audio tour at our own pace. The National Park brochure says to allow 3 to 4 hours for following the auto tour. We completed it over a day and a half, but we do have a baby who at 11 months probably slowed us down a little, although I doubt we would have completed it too much faster if it was just us adults. There are also numerous bus tours with licensed guides if you prefer to let someone else do the driving. This might be advisable in the busy summer months when the streets get rather crowded. You can also hire a licensed guide for your individual party. I'm not sure if they drive or if you drive, but this would be worth it if you are really interested in learning detailed stories and facts about the three day battle. These guides are extremely knowledgeable, they have to be, they have to pass numerous written and oral exams in order to become licensed. The tours are not limited to car or bus. I saw walking tours and tours by horseback advertised as well. There is a tour for everyone.

The Pennsylvania Memorial

Even if you are not on a tour, you will know when you are driving through the battlefield grounds because there are monuments and markers everywhere. The first of these was placed in 1878 on Little Round Top, marking the spot where Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent was mortally wounded. The placing of memorials by both northern and southern entities continued even in recent times with the Tennessee State Memorial not being completed until 1982. There are many regimental memorials from the northern states, however the southern states decided to create one memorial from each state to honor the sacrifice of their soldiers. This decision was made in part due to the lack of funds from the south but there was also some degree of opposition from the northern veterans in the early years after the war. In the early nineteen hundreds the park service erected 'without praise and without censure', the history of the Army of the Potomac (the north) and the Army of Northern Virginia (the south). These markers and tablets of bronze and granite equally represent both sides of the battle, unlike the regimental monuments.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial, was dedicated at the seventy-fifth anniversary of the battle by President FDR, 'to the spirit of the valiant men, with no division of sides, who here, such a long time ago, made the supreme sacrifice for a cause so dear to them'. This memorial, with it's inscription 'Peace Eternal in a Nation United', is very moving and was just one of many stops where I could barely keep control of my emotions. I suppose it is possible to take in the scenic rural vistas of Gettysburg in a completely carefree manner, but not for me. There were several times where I felt uncomfortable taking pictures, knowing the horrific fighting and deaths which occurred right where I was standing. When stopped at The Wheatfield, the site of more than 4,000 dead and wounded, I could literally feel the spirits of the dead, making it hard for me to breath. And when at the site of the Union line, looking across the open ground in the direction that Pickett's Charge came from on the final day of fighting, I could only think of the courage of all those that fought and how they all deserved to be honored.

The Eternal Light Peace Memorial

This was the bloodiest battle North America has ever seen with 51,000 dead, wounded, or captured. Four months after it was over, President Lincoln attended the dedication of the National Cemetery there, and gave the famed Gettysburg Address, a part of which I quote here.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. "

Gettysburg National Cemetery

This small piece of Pennsylvanian land is indeed hallowed ground. I know I felt it with every step I took there. I don't mean to sound like I was gloomy on this trip, I really enjoyed our time in Gettysburg, learning a bit of history, being in the out of doors, enjoying the scenic rural vistas, even getting in some geocaching and letterboxing. But there was always the shadow of the men, real people, brought to life through letters, first hand accounts, and photographs, hanging in the air, reminding me of the reality of Gettysburg and helping define what Gettysburg means to me. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be 'Courage'.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lon Chaney - Master of Makeup

October is the start of the Holiday season for me. October has, of course, Halloween, followed in the following months those other great holidays of Thanksgiving and finally, Christmas. One of the great October traditions in our house is to watch old horror films all throughout the month, culminating in a marathon session the weekend closest to Halloween. And I do mean old films, no Nightmare on Elm Street for me, I've never seen it. I like the black and white originals, not the special effect laden remakes. To celebrate this I thought I would highlight some of the great horror stars of the past throughout the month (and perhaps beyond), starting in the silent era with Lon Chaney.

Lon Chaney was born in 1883 to deaf mute parents. He became skilled in the art of pantomime in order to communicate with them. In 1905 he married a singer, Cleva Creighton, and they had a son, Creighton (aka Lon Chaney Jr.), the next year. At this time they lived in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. By 1910 they had moved to West Coast and were divorced in 1914.

In 1913 he began working for Universal Studios. In 1915 he remarries and young Creighton comes to lives with him. In 1918, after over a hundred films, he leaves Universal because they refuse to give him a raise.

His first big break comes in 1919, when he plays a villain in Riddle Gwane. He began working at Universal again and was receiving more parts. After this he played a cripple in The Miracle Man (1919), which proved a great success for him.

He started to appear in many films which required elaborate makeup and contortions of his body, makeup which he designed himself. In The Penalty (1920), he wore a leather harness, binding his feet to his thighs and walking on his knees, to portray a legless criminal. His costume and makeup for his role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) included a hump and harness which twisted his body in the pain of the character. On top of this 50 - 70 pounds of equipment he wore a skin tight rubber suit covered with animal hair. This was clearly getting into the mind AND the body of the character. His elaborate and painful makeup continued with his role in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), but it also secured him film immortality. Who is not horrified at the moment his mask is removed and his horribly disfigured face revealed.

In the later part of the twenties he did many films with MGM Studios including The Unknown (1927), with Joan Crawford. He did not want to make the transition to the talkie films, and made only one, which was also his final film, The Unholy Three (1930). He died at the age of 47, in August of 1930, of a throat hemorrhage.

Enjoy this video tribute the "The Man of A Thousand Faces".

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Happy 250th Birthday Pittsburgh!

Pittsburgh's 250th birthday celebration kicks off this Saturday, October 4th and will be continued for the next two months. There will be all sorts of activities at Point State Park and on Pittsburgh's North Shore, including a Flotilla Cruise on the rivers, the Fort Pitt Museum Historical Experience, live music, fireworks, and much more. You can find all the details at theImagine Pittsburgh 250 website.

Birthdays are a great time to remember beginnings and so I will share with you the story of the birth of a great city and it's name. In November of 1758 the British attacked the French Fort Duquesne, which the French burned before they abandoned it. It was in this vicinity that the British constructed Fort Pitt, named for William Pitt, the British prime minister. The surrounding settlement was referred to as Pittsborough. I also found references which say it was referred to as Pittsbourgh. At any rate, the current spelling of Pittsburgh is found on a survey map made for the Penn family in 1769. This spelling was used in the official charter of the city in 1816, although printing errors on official copies have the name listed as Pittsburg - sans h. In 1891 the United States Board on Geographic Names was standardizing place names and the spelling of Pittsburg was used for the next twenty years. Stubborn Pittsburghers refused to make the change and the h was restored in 1911.

As an aside, on my recent trip to Central PA, I was noticing many towns with the -burg suffix and wondered of the origin. -borough is the English variant, -burgh is the Scottish, and -burg is German.

Fort Pitt was situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, forming the Ohio River. These are the three rivers of Pittsburgh and one of the reasons control of this area was important to the French and British.

In 1762 a coal seam was discovered. Many communities sprang up around coal mines in the Pittsburgh area. The age of industry began in earnest around 1812 with iron, rope and boat manufacturing. Pittsburgh's iron factories supplied the Union army during the Civil War with warships, armor plate, and other materials. After the war, glass factories flourished. In 1873, Andrew Carnegie opened his first steel mill and in 1888, ALCOA began producing a new metal - aluminum. In the 1980's, Pittsburgh had to redefine itself with the loss of the steel industry. Health care and high technology replaced the old steel industry. Today, Pittsburgh is still surviving and going strong. So help celebrate the past 250 years.

The John Heinz History Center is a great place to learn about the history, ethnicity and industry of Pittsburgh.

To conclude this birthday post on Pittsburgh, here are some famous firsts which occurred in Pittsburgh. These are from
  • First Heart, Liver, Kidney Transplant - December 3, 1989
    The first simultaneous heart, liver and kidney transplant was done at Presbyterian-University Hospital.
  • The First Internet Emoticon - 1982
    The Smiley :-) was the first Internet emoticon, created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman.
  • First Robotics Institute - 1979
    The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University was established to conduct basic and applied research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks.
  • First Mr Yuk Sticker - 1971
    Mr Yuk was created at the Poison Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after research indicated that the skull and crossbones previously used to identify poisons had little meaning to children who equate the symbol with exciting things like pirates and adventure.
  • First Night World Series Game - 1971
    Game 4 of the 1971 World Series was the first night game in World Series history, a series that Pittsburgh went on to win, 4 games to 3.
  • First Big Mac - 1967
    Created by Jim Delligatti at his Uniontown McDonald's, the Big Mac debuted and was test marketed in three other Pittsburgh-area McDonald's restaurants in 1967. By 1968 it was a mainstay on McDonald's menus throughout the country.
  • First Pull-Tab on Cans - 1962
    The pull-tab was developed by Alcoa and was first used by Iron City Brewery in 1962. For many years, pull-tabs were only used in this area.
  • First Retractable Dome - September 1961
    Pittsburgh's Civic Arena boasts the world's first auditorium with a retractable roof.
  • First U.S. Public Television Station - April 1, 1954
    WQED, operated by the Metropolitan Pittsburgh Educational Station, was the first community-sponsored educational television station in America.
  • First Polio Vaccine - March 26, 1953
    The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk, a 38-year-old University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor.
  • First All-Aluminum Building - ALCOA - August 1953
    The first aluminum-faced skyscraper was the Alcoa Building, a 30-story, 410 foot structure with thin stamped aluminum panels forming the exterior walls.
  • First Zippo Lighter - 1932
    George G. Blaisdell invented the Zippo lighter in 1932 in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The name Zippo was chosen by Blaisdell because he liked the sound of the word "zipper" - which was patented around the same time in nearby Meadville, PA.
  • First Bingo Game - early 1920's
    Hugh J. Ward first came up with the concept of bingo in Pittsburgh and began running the game at carnivals in the early 1920s, taking it nationwide in 1924. He secured a copyright on the game and wrote a book of Bingo rules in 1933.
  • First U.S. Commercial Radio Station - November 2, 1920
    Dr. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer of Westinghouse Electric, first constructed a transmitter and installed it in a garage near his home in Wilkinsburg in 1916. The station was licensed as 8KX. At 6 p.m. on Nov. 2, 1920, 8KX became KDKA Radio and began broadcasting at 100 watts from a make-shift shack atop one of the Westinghouse manufacturing buildings in East Pittsburgh.
  • Daylight Savings Time - March 18, 1919
    A Pittsburgh city councilman during the first World War, Robert Garland devised the nation's first daylight savings plan, instituted in 1918.
  • The First Gas Station - December, 1913
    In 1913 the first automobile service station, built by Gulf Refining Company, opened in Pittsburgh at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty. Designed by J. H. Giesey.
  • The First Baseball Stadium in the U.S. - 1909
    In 1909 the first baseball stadium, Forbes Field, was built in Pittsburgh, followed soon by similar stadiums in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and New York.
  • First Motion Picture Theatre - 1905
    The first theater in the world devoted to the exhibition of motion pictures was the "Nickelodeon," opened by Harry Davis on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh.
  • First Banana Split - 1904
    Invented by Dr. David Strickler, a pharmacist, at Strickler's Drug Store in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
  • The First World Series - 1903
    The Boston Pilgrims defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in baseball's first modern World Series in 1903.
  • First Ferris Wheel - 1892/1893
    Invented by Pittsburgh native and civil engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896), the first Ferris Wheel was in operation at the World's Fair in Chicago. It was over 264 feet high and was capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers at a time.
  • Long-Distance Electricity - 1885
    Westinghouse Electric developed alternating current, allowing long-distance transmission of electricity for the first time.
  • First Air Brake - 1869
    The first practical air brake for railroads was invented by George Westinghouse in the 1860s and patented in 1869.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Spirit of Moose Pass

Since I recently got a new toy, it was only fair that John should get something that he had been wanting for a long, long time. We have many model trains of the Alaska Railroad, but the one locomotive that we did not have was the SD-70 Mac. We happened upon some while on EBay one night and watched for a while. Well, it's always good to see what the going retail pricing is, too often I see things on EBay sold for much more than you could buy the item for outright. This was the case with this locomotive. I was able to find our choice of numbering scheme and buy it outright. We wanted "Spirit of Moose Pass, #4003".

The SD-70 Mac's are the workhorses of the Alaskan Railroad. The locomotives are named for stops along the railroad. Moose Pass is a small town in Alaska.

We haven't run our new locomotive yet, but maybe I'll be able to get a small loop up soon, just to see it go.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Queen Autumn

Autumn robes the trees
In fiery reds and golds
Signaling her reign

Today is the first day of my favorite season - Autumn. My favorite because the weather (at least where I live) is, in my opinion, the best at this time of year- nice warm days, cool nights, low humidity. It's also the time of year we usually go on vacation and so the memories of those past trips always come rushing back when the days start to get shorter. And since my daughter was born in the fall last year, there is a new reason for me to enjoy it.

Not to mention that the changing of the leaves is one of nature's most beautiful annual events. I could drive around leaf watching for days. Of course instead of driving, hiking is really the preferable mode of transport.

Enjoy the fall days and the changing of the leaves. These days are fleeting.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never Forget

Please take a few moments out of your day today to remember the victims and heroes of 9/11/2001. May they be forever in our hearts.

Learn more about this 9/11 Remembrance flag here.

This is another 9/11 Remembrance flag. You can read about it's symbolism here.

I wanted to share two poems with you. The first one is below. The second was rather long, but if you are interested in reading it, you can find it here. It's titled "Out of the Blue" by Simon Armitage.

The Names
September 6, 2002
by poet laureate of the United States Billy Collins

Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name --
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner --
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O'Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening -- weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds --
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Rehoboth Beach, DE ~ Part 3 ~ Some Day Trips

In my continuing saga of the 2008 Family Beach week at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, I have decided to write about a couple of little excursions we went on. The first being Cape Henlopen State Park.

Cape Henlopen State Park is in nearby Lewes, Delaware at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. It was just a short drive away. We drove over by ourselves, my parents met up with us a little later, and my brother Jerry biked over. There is a lot to see and do at Cape Henlopen, it's hard for me to know where to start. I guess I'll start where we did, at a World War II Observation Tower. Several of these towers were built along the coast during WWII to spot enemy ships. We were able to climb up one. There was a great view from the top, you could see out in all directions.

View from the Observation Tower. You can see another tower in the upper right of this picture.

Next we headed over the the Seaside Nature Center. Here there is a bike shed where you can borrow (i.e. FREE) a bike for a couple of hours to explore the park. There are also several fish tank exhibits inside. Lillian was fascinated watching the fish up close. From here we were off to do a little geocaching. This was the first time geocaching for my parents and brother, I think they enjoyed it. We had to walk through the frisbee golf course to find our treasure, so if you like frisbee golf, you could do that here too! Of course you can also go to the beach here as well. There is a beautiful bathhouse but the beach was quite crowded. We just took a look, for we were off to the old Fort Miles (another WWII area) and to climb up the 80 foot dune. This is the highest dune between Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod. There was a paved walkway along the Great Dune area so it was not hard to do with the stroller.

The guys with our geocaching find.

The view of Fort Miles from the Observation Tower.

The view while walking on the Great Dune.

Another little trip we took was to Nassau Valley Vineyards. This is Delaware's first farm winery. A farm winery is where the grapes are grown, wine produced, and wine sold, all at the same location. The winery had a self-guided tour which was not a tour so much as an exhibit, but it was an interesting look at the beginnings of this particular winery as well as some history on wine making. At the end of the exhibit, there was a tasting room and of course we had our tastings and bought a couple of bottles to enjoy later. As you can see from the photos, they have very picturesque grounds.

Next time, I'll give some restaurant reviews. You can read my earlier posts on our Rehoboth Beach trip: Family Fun at the Beach and Letterboxing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Rehoboth Beach, DE ~ Part 2 ~ Letterboxing

Letterboxing is a hobby which combines navigational skills with rubber stamp artistry in an outdoor "treasure hunt" style quest. The quest is similar to that of geocaching, but how you get there and what you find are different.

To get started you will need your own personal rubber stamp, an ink pad, a log book, maybe a compass, definitely a sense of direction, and the "clues" to a letterbox. Once you find the letterbox you seek, you will find inside a rubber stamp for you to stamp in your log book and a log book for you to stamp with your personal stamp. Many people carve their own rubber stamps and the hidden stamps often correspond with something about the locale.

My brother David first told us about Letterboxing early in the summer when we talked about going geocaching while on vacation. So we looked to see if there were any where we were going to be and printed out the clue descriptions before we left. We should have taken more time to read through the descriptions and plot out where exactly they were because that was difficult to do without internet access and without a intimate knowledge of the local area. But we managed and have two adventures to our credit.

Our first adventure was a small party of myself, John, Lillian, my brother David, and his son Vincent. Vincent and Lillian are twin cousins, they were born the same day.

Here are the clues:

Turtle Hunting in Silver Lake
From downtown Rehoboth, 2nd Avenue heading South turns into Bayard Avenue. About 1/2 mile from downtown, you'll come to the white bridge over Silver Lake. From the bridge we've seen many a turtle, fish galore, even an occasional nutria. As you start along the western shore of Silver Lake, you'll see the Waterfowl Refuge sign - 'ware their leavings! At the asphalt pullover, there's a 3-sided evergreen hedge hiding the water treatment equipment. Standing with your back to the lake, in the central 3-sided hedge, locate the shrubbery at the right forefront. At about 5' high, there's a microbox velcro-strapped into the branches.

Luckily, I had remembered seeing the sign for Silver Lake on our way to the beach. So we knew right where it was, although the directions would suffice as well. When we arrived to the pullover, I stayed with the babies, while John and David went for the search. It only took a few minutes for them to find the container velcro strapped in the bushes. The stamp was of a turtle.

There was a second letterbox close by, so John stayed with the babies, while David and I went on the search. It was a little more walking then we first thought, but not too far. We passed many wild areas and docks!

Here are the clues:

Silver Lake Cat-tails
Coming south on Bayard Avenue from downtown Rehoboth, cross over the white Silver Lake Bridge.
Stop by the Turtle Hunting letterbox and continue along the lake's edge from there.
Walk past: a small grove of trees, and then a dock.
Pass another grove fronting an overgrown bit of the lake's edge.
There, a retaining wall starts with a dock about half way along it.
There's another wild area, another dock, and then the LAST wild area.
At the fire hydrant, head down to the lone tall pine.
There, take a 160 bearing and walk 14 paces to the low pine branch extending from the underbrush.
The letterbox is pushed rather far in and covered by a pile of pine cones - a pine cairn? - it's easiest to sit down in the grass and reach in.

This stamp was of Cat-tails and had it's own ink pad. Both of the logbooks had many stamps from visitors all around the country. Looking through the log is very interesting in itself.

Not all Letterboxing adventures are victorious. After these two quick finds, we decided to try one that was a series of ten, based in town. Here are the clues:

Delaware is known as the Blue Hen State because this nickname was given to Delaware after the fighting Blue Hen Cocks that were carried with the Delaware Revolutionary War Soldiers for entertainment during Cockfights. One of the oldest hotels along the boardwalk is the Henlopen. Go to the traffic island filled with pines and a piling structured fountain – probably not working. There is a bench upon which to rest and revel in the fun of Letterboxing. As you face the Atlantic Ocean spot the 3rd pine tree on left. On the side facing the 4th tree there is a bird nest on the lowest main branch. If no one is home, remove the micro box velcro strapped to limb.

This is where some prior planning would have come in handy. We just parked and had to walk the boardwalk until we came to the Henlopen, the last hotel on the boardwalk. Then we found the parking island the clues talked about. But the 3rd pine on the left? Left of what? We looked in all the trees we thought it could mean. We found a bird's nest, but it didn't seem to correspond to the clues correctly. Well, we searched and searched - every pine, but we never found this one. Not every search is a success.

Our next Letterboxing adventure was a lucky, spur of the moment, it's good to be prepared, type of outing. We had two carloads of adults and kids headed down to the Fenwick Island Lighthouse one morning. On the way I saw a sign for James Farm Ecological Preserve. I recognized it as the location for a couple of Letterboxes that we had printed out. This was good because after the long (to a child) ride to the lighthouse, there wasn't that much to do there (it was closed). So we needed an activity for the kids - fast, so off the the Ecological Preserve. This was a neat little sanctuary area that had trails through different types of terrain and a couple of observation platforms. The four year olds had a great time looking for the "clues" (some which we made up for them to find once we knew we were on the right path). And when we got to the hidden box, they each got a hand stamp! That was very exciting. There were two Letterboxes here, the second one John found first and hid some little prizes for the kids, so they had something to keep. This was a lot of fun for everyone and we never would have stopped if it hadn't been for the Letterboxes.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware ~ Part 1 ~ Family Fun Time

It's hard to believe we have been back from our family get together at Rehoboth Beach for almost a week now. Even though the temperatures are still in the eighties, there is a definite feel of autumn being just around the corner. It's now still dark out when John gets up to go to work in the morning. And with the lack of rain, everything is all dried up outside. But before we welcome fall with open arms, here's a last look at summer vacation.

John, Lillian, and I left on the Friday, to avoid the Saturday traffic. Our travels took us over the magnificent Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Going over this bridge always scares me a little bit. You get so high above the water.

That evening we stayed at Heritage Inn and Golf Club. This was a really nice place to stay. The staff was very friendly and the rooms were clean and spacious. Another interesting thing was that each of their rooms had a different theme. We were in the South Carolina room. It had a corner display cabinet with all sorts of "stuff" from the state of South Carolina.

We couldn't move into the house my parents had rented until 2:00 pm, so we spent the morning in historic downtown Lewes. What a delightful area filled with little shops and cafes, very quaint and very picturesque, and all the gardens I saw were perfect. One of the shops we visited was Marsha's. Marsha Holler is an artist with a storefront. We met her while we were there and one of the beautiful pieces on display was a wall plaque of sea horses which looked very similar to one I had bought a couple of years ago at a North Carolina Aquarium. She told me that her work is sold all over, but if it is one of hers it would have her initials on it. Sure enough, when we got home I looked, and it is one of hers. How great that I got to meet her.

By Sunday morning everyone had convened at the house. It was a bit chaotic to say the least, but since that is how I remember growing up, I was able to adapt for the week. Sunday and Friday were rainy part of the day which gave us a chance to just sit around and talk or play games. Everyone had fun with the bean bag toss my brother Matt made. He did a great job, and my Mom bought beanie monkeys to toss. It was a favorite for the little and the big kids.

We spent a couple of days down at the beach. The first day was the building of the big sand castle. Construction went on for quite some time. Finally it was finished and then it was ransacked by the youngsters in our tribe.

One evening, after dinner, we went to the beach with the kites. I had mine that I had purchased at a past beach vacation, and the kids had ones my parents brought for them to color. Even the babies enjoyed watching the bright colors fluttering in the sky. Everyone had a lot of fun, but was it my Dad having the most fun of all ?

On our last night we went to the Boardwalk. There is an area with rides called the Funhouse. There were lots of rides for the little ones, and very inexpensive too. You didn't have to wait long to get on the rides and I think they were enjoyed by all.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fun the big kids had at night, after the youngest generation was fast asleep. Every night was spent watching and commenting on the Olympics (especially the announcers). This was something that we could all enjoy and the competition was so exciting. Those evenings will for sure be special memories of this Beach Week 2008.

There is still a lot more about this trip I would like to post about. I decided to break it up so the posts wouldn't get too long. Check back for posts on Cape Henlopen State Park and Nassau Valley Winery, Letterboxing, and some Rehoboth Restaurant Reviews.