Falling in love is for the birds

I’ll be the first one to tell you I’m a birdaholic. I started feeding birds about 20 years ago to entertain my cat but I was the one who became hooked. 

Fortunately they have support groups for people like me. They are called Feeder Watch programs, bird counts and nature centers.

Whenever I get a chance to be at home in the daylight hours I have to tear myself away from the patio door or I would not get a single thing done.

This year has been better than ever because we moved our suet feeder up onto the deck. And then I got a bonus big suet feeder for Christmas

The birds are just lovin’ my yard. And I’m lovin’ them right back.

Darryl Speicher of the Monroe County Conservation District said birds love suet because it’s instant high energy. Think of an Atkins bar for birds. That’s suet.

The neat thing about suet is that it attracts so many birds you wouldn’t normally see at feeders. I always had cardinals, sparrows (of all varieties but all brown in color), chickadees, juncos, titmouse and an occasional nuthatch

But suet feeders attract nuthatches and woodpeckers. Lots of them.

This year I have two woodpeckers on a regular basis: the downy, which is black and white with a red spot on its head and a red-bellied one. This year, a hairy woodpecker came to visit. They look just the downy but are huge, 8.5 to 10.5 inches long. 

I couldn’t believe it when I saw that big bird just feet away from my door. I tried to grab my camera but I scared him. I could almost see him swallowing.

I’ve yet to see a pileated woodpecker or red-headed woodpecker (yup, they look just like Woody) but I know they are here in the Poconos. Our readers have been sending us photos.

Children learn to make birdfeeders at the Monroe County Conservation District.

Speicher said Carolina wrens have been spotted in the Poconos, but you won’t see one at your bird feeder. “Put a suet feeder out and boom, there they are,” he said.

 

Suet cakes come in all varieties, including ones with fruit and insects embedded in them.

Yum!

But Speicher says it’s really the suet that attracts them. Suet is rendered fat from meat. Beef and pork are good choices. You buy the trimmings in the store, cook it down so that it liquefies, mix it with seed and then let it get hard.

Speicher recommended mixing sunflower seeds or good birdseed mix with white millet and cracked corn. Stay away from oats, wheat and red millet. Those are fillers that birds don’t like.

Before I started buying suet cakes, I used to make my own mixture with bacon fat, peanut butter, ground cornmeal and bird seed. I’d put it in netting and hang it on a tree. You can buy suet cakes on sale for 89 cents so I stopped making my own.

It’s a great activity though with children. The conservation district works with school children to make feeders. They stay away from peanut butter now because of the allergies. Instead they use lard (rendered fat), cornmeal and birdseed.

If you do want to make your own suet, About birding offers really good directions.

Class coming up

The West End Park & Open Space Commission will provide materials to make pine cone bird feeders from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 16, at the Chestnuthill Park, Brodheadsville.

The program is free and fit for all ages.

 Share your birdfeeding stories and photos

So how do you feed the birds? If you have a feeder or suit feeder, take a picture of birds at your feeder. If you have a recipe, please share it with us. If you have a bird story, we want to hear it.

As an incentive, I have a great book I want to give away. It’s the Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in Pennsylvania. Everyone who sends me a bird story, a picture of birds at their feeder or a recipe for feeding the birds will get entered into the drawing for it. Email me at mgouger@poconorecord.com. Deadline is Thursday, Feb. 14.

Hey, that’s Valentine’s Day! Yup, we’re just lovin’ the birds.

 

 

 

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Don’t skip the seventh grade furniture lesson

One of my first assignments in junior high economics class was to figure out how to arrange living room furniture by filling in little squares on graph paper with colored pencils. 

You would measure the furniture and then color in the appropriate number of squares based on those dimensions to see where everything would fit.

In those days, it was just another assignment like the tank top I had to sew but would never wear. It was just a requirement.

Fast forward to 2013. My husband Ronnie and I had been shopping for a sofa since November. The mission was to find something high enough for his head, but comfy enough to lie down if he wanted to.

A recliner sofa would not do. We had one that was too hard in the center, making it difficult for sleeping unless you’re a contortionist who can sleep with your body in a zigzag position.

We encountered a problem: Most regular sofa backs are just not tall these days. We found out that furniture sizes go up and down as often as skirt lengths in the fashion world.

Our new sofa looked fine in the store. We had to make some adjustments for size when we brought it home.

I finally found a sofa with possibilities and dragged Ronnie to the store one Saturday. Just like Papa Bear, he said it was too soft.

 We kept trying to find something that was just right.

 Five hours later we settled on a nice leather-look microfiber that met just about all the requirements.

Now It was my turn. I wanted to find matching end tables.

One of my resolutions this year is to be more organized so I was looking for anything that has drawers to hide our junk

I picked a round table which would spin to hide shelves filled with junk and a leather ottoman that had four sections that could be used for seating or flipped for use as a tray.  Both were conversation pieces, I thought.

Until the next day when I walked around our small living room with my yardstick.

Turns out the sofa was 11 inches longer than our present one. It would fit, but we’d have to move it.

The ottoman was 36 inches square and left little room for walking.

Besides, if anyone would sit on it, they’d be blocking the TV from the people on the sofa. No, that would not work.

And just how can you put a plugged-in lamp on a table that spins?

File this in the cabinet drawer of life called “What was I thinking?”

I trotted back to the store.

We got the sofa, a smaller table with a drawer that can hold a lamp, and an accent chest with three drawers to hide my junk, er stuff.

I measured everything before I left the house and before I left the store. If I would have remembered that seventh grade lesson, I would have avoided that second trip and had the dimensions the first time.

Yet, it took 40 years for that simple task of graph paper and colored pencils to make sense.

Maybe one day I’ll even figure out why we dissected a frog. 

Nah, probably not.

 

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Things you want to do on Christmas but you really shouldn’t

It was something right out of a cheap Christmas movie.

My husband was putting up the decorations throughout our yard. Lights on the bushes here, lights on the arbor there, spiral Christmas trees throughout the yard. And the Moravian star hanging from the porch ceiling. We’re not even going to talk about the dangers of being on the top step of the ladder with the wife holding the ladder, just quaking in her sneakers.

No, we’re talking about electrical safety.

He turns to me and says, “We can’t have these many lights on one circuit…but let’s see what happens.”

The circuit is our porch light. He has this thingamagig that turns an outlet into a receptacle. It’s an adapter that just screws in like a bulb, available in any hardware store for a few bucks.  This might not be news to you but it was to me.

He runs orange extension cords through the yard where people have no business walking, around the steps and up to the receptacle.

Now, this means we no longer have a porch light so we have to make the lights in the yard extra bright. Hence, the temptation to put too many lights on one circuit.

Back to the trial run. So he turns on the lights. We “ooh and ah” and they go out.

He says, “We can’t have too many lights on one receptacle.”

Uh huh.

We have an outlet at the side of the house. A very nice one. But the cord would have to cross the driveway and the sidewalks.

New plan. He plugs in half the lights into another orange cord and runs it all the way around the other side of the house (where no one walks in the winter) and up to the outlet on our deck.

The idea is to control the lights from inside the house.

Now every night he turns on the porch from the living room and I turn on the deck switch from the dining room. We have to do it simultaneously so that all the lights turn on at once. But it works.

If you want to practice safe lighting, here’s the right way to do it.  

Show us your lights

Share photos of your holiday lights, decorations, pets and other Christmas scenes. You can get all the details here.

There is an added bonus. We have three $10 gift certificates to Johnny O’s Bar and Grille in East Stroudsburg that we’ll be giving away in a random drawing. But don’t dally. Christmas is coming and so is the deadline: Dec. 27.

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The best turkey ever

The older I get, the easier I want things to be. Thanksgiving is no exception. The key word is streamline.

My mom always made a tent of foil over the turkey. It made the skin crisp and brown while keeping the meat moist.

Once she tried making it in a paper bag and the bag burned. Not one of our finer Thanksgivings.

When I got married I followed the recipe from my treasured “Joy of Cooking.” I bought cheesecloth, soaked it in melted butter and spices, placed it over the turkey and basted away – every half hour. Really. It was always moist, always tasty. But really, every half hour?

Enter  husband Ronnie, who had been a single dad and cooked most foods in the microwave. He looked at me like I had a baster for a nose.  “You have to cook it in a bag.”

Been there. My mom tried that.

No, a plastic oven bag.

So I told him to cook the turkey if he thought he knew so much.

And he did. And it was great. My grandmother loved it. She liked everything he did anyway.

Now that’s standard procedure. And it saves me time.

Now I understand why my mom bought Mrs. Paul’s sweet potatoes rather than making her own.

 

Have some cereal with your turkey

 

One year I decided that I was eating healthy and so would everyone else at my dinner table. Instead of our usual stuffing made with lots of butter and onions, I made a recipe from the American Heart Association cookbook. It replaced the fat with apples.

 

My brother Mike, who really is not adventurous but does eat liver (gross!), did taste it.

“Tastes like breakfast cereal,” he said.

 Had lots of leftovers that year.

 

Potato filling

This year I am counting calories. I use MyFitnessPal.com to keep track of everything I eat. I won’t be substituting apples for fat, but I will be watching my portion sizes. I will stop at half a cup of my sister-in-law’s famous potato filling. I hope.

Can’t provide my sister-in-law’s recipe because I don’t have it. But here’s my mom’s recipe, with no particular measurements, and my additions along the way.

Potato filling:

Peel, cut and boil potatoes. (At least eight, depending on your crowd)

Drain and mash them with a hand masher. Don’t add milk.

Meanwhile, sauté onion and celery in butter or margarine. I add shredded carrots and garlic for color and flavor.

When vegetables are soft, mix them with potatoes and one can of chicken broth. Cube day old bread and mix it in. Season with salt, pepper and parsley. I add sage and thyme because I like those flavors.

Bake for one hour. You can bake this ahead of time or with the turkey.

We never stuff the turkey. My mom did it once, but that was too much effort.

No matter how you cook it, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

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Retain the rain and keep West Nile away

For some people rain is annoyance. To a gardener it’s manna from heaven.

Even though the growing season is over for many of us, I smile as I listen to rain falling on the roof. I’m glad it’s not snow – not quite ready for that yet – and I’m happy that our water tables are being built up after a hot, dry summer.

I wish I could capture that rain for my garden next year. My husband and I are always tempted to set up all our buckets when it rains so we can capture the water.

Turns out that’s a really bad thing. Mosquitoes can breed in standing water  like, well mosquitoes.

 All over the place.

Heard of West Nile? This summer the disease really hit home with cases in animals – and even one person – in Monroe County. We learned it really can happen here and we need to prevent it. Sigh, no more buckets of water to save for a non-rainy day.

But wouldn’t you like to catch the rain? I know I would. That’s where rain barrels come in.

Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg residents can win a rain barrel.

They don’t cost that much, but they cost more than a shovel and some plants. Most gardeners, including me, like to spend garden dollars on plants that produce vegetables or bloom.

But having a rain barrel is like storing gold. You hook it up to your downspout and water fills your barrel instead of running away.

 If I lived in Stroudsburg or East Stroudsburg boroughs I would hook up with an artist and enter this really cool rain barrel challenge.  

The Monroe County Conservation District is sponsoring this challenge with several other organizations and they’re giving 20 free rain barrels. That’s an $80 value.

All you need to do is submit a design to be placed on the barrel and have someplace on the front of your property (business or residential) to display the barrel to get other people psyched about them. If you’re not artistic, the Pocono Arsts Council will hook you up with an artist.

It doesn’t get any better than this. It’s Christmas in November. And a gift that keeps on giving. My promise: If you win the barrel you won’t be sorry. And your neighbors will envy you next summer.

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Bye, bye garden season. Hello farm tour

The 2012 gardening season as we know it is about to end.

With temperatures as low as 24 and a freeze warning,  those delicate blooms will likely not survive past tonight.

That means you need to pick everything you can today. I have all my water bottles lined up for the last of the dahlias. If a bud has cracked open at all, it has a chance of blooming inside. I’m picking it today for I’ll be weeping tomorrow.

Now if you planted cold weather crops in August like gardening experts advised, you can extend your growing season. You’d have turnips, kale and other fun vegetables.

I didn’t. So today is my last day.

If you planted in pots, you can bring them inside, but let’s face it, we’ll only get more cold nights. It is October, after all.

Lucky for us, production on farms does not stop, and Saturday we’ll get a rare opportunity to experience life on the farm.

The Penn State Extension and the Monroe County Conservation District are hosting the free tour of eight Monroe County farms from 11 a.m. to  3 p.m. Saturday. Did you see the word free? When I go on vacation I pay to see even one farm.

There’s Royce Fetherman who operates a family tree Christmas tree farm in Cherry Valley. Who knew how much work goes into growing your Christmas tree?

The wine makers at Big Creek Vineyard will discuss the challenges of growing grapes in the Poconos.

Visitors to Brian Bruno’s Apple Ridge Farm in Saylorsburg will get a glimpse of the chicken and egg operation, and experience baked goods fresh out of the stone oven.

But you won’t want to miss the doings at the Josie Porter farm.  That’s the home of the Cherry Valley Community Supported Agriculture.  Full shares and half shares are offered between the months of June and October for 22 weeks. Produce is grown on the farm and members can pick up the bounty starting in June.  

They also sell the produce. What a great way for non-gardeners to eat local produce.

The Penn State Master Gardeners are starting demonstration gardens here  at Josie Porter’s too. Why sit in a classroom when you can dig in the dirt, Master Gardener Marilyn Baughman says.

A memorial garden will have native plants so you can see how they can fit into your yard, a rock garden and a teaching garden.

Saturday, Baughman will be at the Josie Porter farm discussing the benefits of mulch in your garden. Heather Haas will be there discussing good bugs and bad bugs.

There are good bugs? You bet.

Haas says wasps are great pollinators, and some bugs, such as lady bugs, eat the bad bugs. It’s a good day when someone else does my work.

So take a few hours Saturday to learn about what is happening at farms around the Poconos. I’m willing to bet you’ll get some useful tips for you own yard, too.

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Dried tomatoes worth the wait?

Many years when I have an abundance of tomatoes, I freeze them in 2-cup containers for soups, sauces and chili.  I star by dunking them in boiling water until the skins crack, and then moving them to cold water –  the skins pop right off. I chop them and freeze. What could be easier?

This year I decided to try something different with the few tomatoes that did not succumb to blossom end rot.

A few weeks ago, I came across directions to dry tomatoes to be used later to cook a rich and flavorful sauce.

I love sundried tomatoes and jump at the opportunity to order them in dishes whenever I can at restaurants. If I could make my own, it would be awesome.

My mom used to have an actual dehydrator. She bought it to make beef jerky, but vegetables were an added bonus. They didn’t take up a lot of room and you could use them in many dishes.

I was psyched and I rushed right out to the kitchen.

The directions said to slice them thin (¼ inch) and place them in one layer on a cookie sheet.

All you had to do was drizzle on a tiny bit of olive oil. I added some seasonings for effect.

The instructions were to bake them for two hours, and check them every 15 minutes after that.

I eagerly started them at about 7 o’clock on a Sunday night. My husband was also interested and even offered to buy me a dehydrator.

I told him I wouldn’t need one because this was a quick process.

At 9 o’clock I checked them. Still totally soft.

At 10 o’clock I checked them. Almost totally soft. 

At 11 o’clock … well, you get the idea.

At midnight I gave up.

And again the next day…

I started over the next day. They finally did dry, but it was more like 10 hours. They smelled good, I must admit.

Later, I searched online for more directions, and most of those said 10 to 12 hours.

The whole process required little effort on my part. Was it worth it? Maybe.

Here’s what I learned. If you’re going to try something you know nothing about, search for several sets of directions. Make sure one of them is from a trusted source such as the Penn State Extension.

For example, here’s a blog on drying pears and apples. I could make my own trail mix.

Or I could make my own fruit rollup.

Hey, maybe I’ll try it… No, better not. I have to be at work in the morning.

 

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Frost, oh no. Say it ain’t so.

Checked the weather forecast for the Poconos and there it was: the worst word in a gardener’s vocabulary. You got it, frost. Patchy frost is in the forecast for Monday morning.

In this season of extremes I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But with the warm weather we’ve had this year, I feel like it should wait until October. I don’t want to accept that my dahlia growing season is over. We have too much life left in the plants that we’ve protected from several heavy rain storms.

We’ll cover the dahlias. It will take at least an hour with 100 plants. And we’ll hope for the best.

I’ll spend the day marking them with curling ribbon to show what color they are. You need to store them separately to keep their colors true. We don’t dig them out until after they are completely dead. Then we store them for the long winter.

The tomatoes and zucchini are just about done, so I won’t bother there.

Some people, those with allergies, will be happy to see the frost. We’ve recently dealt with fleas on our beagles. The cold weather will send the fleas into dormancy.

But I really hoped for a couple more weeks of dahlias…

Mums are the word

VNA/Hospice of Monroe County will hold its annual hospice mum sale from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26 at the agency’s office located at 502 VNA Road in East Stroudsburg.

An assortment of fall mums will be available for $6 each or just $5 each when purchasing three or more plants. All proceeds of the Annual Mum Sale will benefit

The sale is while supplies last so call ahead for availability at 570-421-5390.

VNA/Hospice of Monroe County, a non-profit home health and hospice agency serving the community since 1950.

Directions to the office are also available at www.vnahospiceofmc.org.

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What’s all the fuss about chickens?

My brother Mark and his wife Kim raise chickens in their yard in Whitney Point, N.Y. They’ve got quite the nature preserve with a full garden and golden eagles sweeping down in the lake behind their house.

Mark has shown up with cartons of fresh eggs, telling me that I didn’t know what I was missing until I tasted fresh eggs.

I was mildly impressed but didn’t know what the fuss was about. I became more interested when we published a story about raising chickens in your backyard. I don’t have room to do that so I dismissed the thought.

Then came the West End Fair.

Penn State Cooperative Extension Agent Steve Hughes and members of the newly formed 4-H poultry club actually had eggs in an incubator

A chick hatches from an egg at the West End Fair.

and I saw a chick hatch.

Now I am hooked and  extra space here spent way too much fair time just staring at an egg with a crack in it, waiting for it to open and a chick to climb out.

The Fox-Cicconi farm in Canadensis donated the eggs to the club. The eggs were kept in an incubator and turned several times a day to simulate the movement by the mother hen. The eggs were placed in incubation on a staggered schedule so that some would hatch every day during the fair.

It was all planned out. Except one hatched on Sunday and some hatched the following Sunday. You can’t really predict nature, you know.

Not all the chicks hatched.

“In an incubator situation we can expect 75 percent to hatch,” Hughes said.”The hen does a little better.”

Part of the problem was the weather. It was really dry so Hughes spent days and nights spraying the eggs with water. The humidity needed to be above 80 percent, and the temperature had to be about 100 degrees.

 

It wasn’t just the fair. “This is true at commercial hatcheries this time of year. Hens and roosters aren’t as fertile in the summer (too hot for good sperm viability) and the weather can be extreme,” Hughes said

The humidity softens the shell so the chick can poke its way out. The chick is wet when it comes out and all curled up as it spent days trapped in an egg. Gradually it lifts its head, stops flopping around and straightens up.

A chick that's just a few minutes old tried to "uncurl" and walk around.

Hughes kept newborns segregated from older chicks until they could hold their own.

Friday night I happened upon the 4-H building after some were born. Saturday night I had the fortune of seeing one being born. That clinched it. I kept coming back to the building until the fair ended.

Sometimes I thought the crack in the egg was a little bigger. Then I realized it was wishful thinking.

.

A total of 41 chicks hatched, with 37 being sold to benefit the new Sunnyside Up 4-H club. There were three born Sunday morning that should have hatched Saturday. (These were THE ones I was watching.)

Hughes gave them to a 4-H’er who had guinea chickens so now she has chicks for next year. They were a little weak so they needed some TLC and she could do that, he said.

One chick early on had some issues and the club leaders took that one … bought six more.

The money will be used toward four different projects that are designed to increase the students’ knowledge of chickens. They will keep records on costs and they can exhibit a live bird at the fair to be judged on conformation of the bird and showmanship of the student.

Imagine if next year I could see the one I witnessed being born. All grown up.

If it’s special for me, I can just imagine what it’s like for 4-H kids. Wow.

Interested? Call the 4-H office at 570-421-6430.

 

 

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Is it bread yet?

What’s the most asked question at the West End Fair?

“When will you be baking bread?”

I don’t know if this is the most asked question, but Norman Burger sure hears it enough.

Norm Burger talks about the bake oven rescued from the Joans Hotel

Burger, the president of the Polk Township Historical Society, says he’s hoping the bake oven at the West End Fairgrounds will be operational next year.

Volunteers from the society rescued the oven, built around 1790, from the Jonas Hotel oven and moved to a building at the fairgrounds.

But it still needs a lot of work.

Burger said the oven and its chimneys were damaged in the hotel fire in 2005.

The Jonas Hotel was a stop along the stagecoach route from the Wyoming Valley to the Lehigh Valley. The oven is big enough to churn out several loaves of bread for the day.

Historically, to break bread a fire is built inside the oven. Then the baker waits a couple of hours for the temperature to build to 400 to 450 degrees. “To test it, they’d stick their arm in and if your hair stands straight it’s ready,” Burger said.

Then they rake the coals out and put the baked goods in.

The building where the oven is housed is next to the fair museum. Burger said a window has been built where bread will be served to fairgoers.

Burger hopes to one day make stew in cast iron kettles donated by area residents.

The historical society needs $20,000 to get the oven in working order.

If you’re going to the fair, you shouldn’t miss a chance to see this awesome piece of history. You’ll be surprised at its height and depth. And its beauty.

And while you’re there, take a chance on a raffle ticket to help out this cause. The society is selling tickets for $2 a piece or three for $5. There are 37 prizes including meats, cash and gift certificates. Tickets are available at the oven building.

We need to preserve our history and this is one small way we can help.

And if you’re really into history, take a few minutes to go through the museum next door. You’ll be glad you did.

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