Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mrs Buzz Saw Update - November, 2015

    I was informed that some of my grandchildren were hungry for news about Mrs Buzz Saw's daily activities. I have some reservations as to whether that is a good idea. Mrs Buzz Saw tends to alternate between being lazy, behaving badly, and intense neediness. However, to comply with the wishes of my darling grandchildren I've decided to do this post anyway.
Mrs Buzz Saw doing what she does best

    The above photo depicts Mrs Buzz Saw doing what she does for most of any given day, that is indulging in extreme laziness. She takes laziness to an art form. Her two favorite locations for this activity are one, on the back of the living room chair closest to the front window, and two, on our bed, usually curled up next to Linda's laptop.  I'm not too sure the time she spends on our bed stems from any loyalty or love she feels for us. I think she likes to lie next to the laptop because its like sitting next to a little heater. The laptop's cooling fan sends a constant jet of warm air in her direction. I think she likes the back of the living room chair because of the wonderful view it gives her of small helpless birds should she actually wake up for a few moments.

Examples of Mrs Buzz Saw's Needle Felting

     Mrs Buzz Saw has a number of favorite activities that can all be grouped under the general heading of "behaving badly." She has recently taken up the hobby of needle felting. If she can get access to any of my wool bats she delights in working them over with their claws until they are all felted together such that they could never be spun into yarn.  I would be more supportive of her needle felting if she formed the wool into any sort of useful shape. Sadly, she only does abstract free form sculptures.  She also like to sharpen her claws on the upholstery. We got her a scratching post once, but she ignored it in favor of Linda's couches and chairs.

Catching mice and rats does have my full support 

    In addition to her needle felting Mrs Buzz Saw also enjoys hunting, specializing in small helpless creatures.  This is a hobby which I halfway support. That half being the vermin she kills such as mice, rats, and moles. She really is a skilled hunter and does have some positive impact on reducing our vermin population. The half I don't support consists of all the little song birds she kills.  While she eats a portion of her prey, she sometimes decides to share them with us.  It is not uncommon to get up in the morning and find Mrs Buzz Saw has left a dead bird or mouse on the welcome mat.  Once I found a rather long rat tail and an undetermined internal organ on the mat on the back deck.  Sometimes in lieu of a bird there are just a few feathers. This morning I found a decapitated chickadee at my back door. I could add bird watching to her list of favorite activities, but she only likes watching birds as prospective prey. When I refill the bird feeder I have to remember to move the ladder back away from the feeder. If I don't take the time to move the ladder, Mrs Buzz Saw will climb to the top of the ladder and watch the feeder from a few feet away.  Oddly enough, the birds are reluctant to use the feeder with a hungry cat sitting close by.
Mrs Buzz Saw likes the "high ground"

    The last category, "intense neediness", usually manifests itself after we return from a trip.  I will try to sit down to watch a football game only to discover that isn't going to happen until after Mrs Buzz Saw's need for petting is satisfied.  My options at that point are to either walk downstairs to throw out the cat or simply give the cat what she wants and watch the football game over or around the cat for a few minutes.

Nature in my backyard.

   I haven't posted for a while, a reflection of things being busy at the bee store and teaching beginning beekeeping classes two or three days a week.  We're getting closer to the package bee craziness, but at least all of the bee classes are through.

   I had a quiet morning at home on Monday and was surprised to see a humming bird.  I am amazed that such a small bird with such huge energy requirements can be active when the temperature is in the 40s.  The high on Monday was only about 55 and it wasn't much above 40 degrees Fahrenheit at 8:00 am. Sadly, the humming bird wouldn't stay in one place long enough for a photo.

The rough skinned newt when I first noticed him.

   On Thursday morning last week I was putting out the trash cans.  When I went to move our big blue recycle bin I saw a little salamander next to the can.  I needed to move the can but I didn't want to run over the salamander so I moved him out of the way with a stick.  As soon as I moved him the salamander went stiff and bent into an odd position that exposed it's bright orange belly.   I took some photos and then spent some time on the internet trying to identify the type of salamander.   It turned out to be a rough skinned newt.  That identification was later confirmed by a zoologist friend. The rough skinned newt is native to Western Washington and Oregon. They are poisonous to eat, their skin having the same poison found in puffer fish.  Apparently someone once ate one on a dare and died a half hour later.  That explained the odd behavior when I moved the salamander. His bright orange belly was advertising that he was poisonous.

The newt after I touched him with a stick
        I was amazed to learn we had a local creature that was so deadly poisonous.  If they were larger their poisonous nature might be more commonly known.  As it stands, they are so small that even the most adventurous survivalist probably wouldn't be tempted to eat one.  I'm guessing the death I mentioned above probably involved alcohol.

Morels growing in our yard

       On an edible note, I discovered these beauties growing in my back yard.  More specifically, my grand daughter, Hannah Kang, asked me about the weird mushroom she found in the back yard. I was amazed to find they were morels.  They were growing where we had briefly had an above ground pool for last summer's cousin camp.  We had to bring in some dirt to even the lawn before we replanted the grass.  I can only surmise the morel spawn was in the dirt we imported.  Morels are supposed to form a symbiotic relationship with certain tree species. Morels are somewhat mysterious compared to other mushrooms.  They don't appear in the same places from year to year.  In Washington State they tend to appear in old burns up in the mountains. This past summer having been a bad fire year, this spring is predicted to be a wonderful morel year.

      Morels also happen to be the first wild mushrooms I ever hunted.  When I was about eleven years old we lived in Centerville, Iowa.  My grandparents, Guy Dudley Tunnell and Sylvia Linnia Lee lived on an 80 acre farm, a few miles west of Mystic Iowa, about eight miles from Centerville.  One spring we hunted for morels in a small oak forest across the road from my grandfather's farm.  I knew next to nothing about mushrooms at that time.  Someone showed me what they looked like and I got busy hunting.  I think all kids enjoy a treasure hunt.  I don't remember exactly how much we found, but it was a significant amount. We ate them sautéed. I remember them tasting a bit odd to my eleven year old palate.  I learned to appreciate the taste more as I grew older.  I used some of my backyard morels last Saturday in a wonderful mushroom gravy over pork chops.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Family History Friday, #18, Mary Ann Erskin and Jonathan Calvin Cunningham

     I thought I would write a little about my maternal third great grandmother, Mary Ann Erskin.  She was the second wife of Jonathan Calvin Cunningham, his first wife having divorced him at the end of the Civil War. Jonathan Cunningham served in the Union Army and it appears his first wife favored the other side.  We are descended through Laura Isabel Cunningham, born in 1872, the second daughter of Jonathan Cunningham's second wife.

     I have been searching for information about Mary Ann Erskin since I was sixteen years old, when I first started doing family history work.  At that time all I knew about Jonathan Cunningham's wives is what I learned from the census records.  On the 1860 census in Barren Creek Township, Marion County, Arkansas, I found Jonathan Cunningham living with his first wife, Sarah P Cunningham, each of them 30 years old, and living with two daughters, Elizabeth, age 3, and Nancy, age 7 months. On the 1870 census, still in Barren Creek Township, Marion County, Arkansas, I found Jonathan Cunningham living with his second wife, Mary Cunningham. the census listed his age as 38 and her age as 22. They were living with two daughters, Nancy, age 10 (from the first marriage) and Mary E, age 1.   On the 1880 census in Barren Creek Township, now in the newly formed Baxter County, Arkansas, I found Jonathan Cunningham as a widower, living with three daughters,  Nancy, age 19, Mary E, age 11, and Laura A, age 7.  At this point all I knew about Mary Ann Erskin was that her first name was Mary, she was born in about 1848 in Indiana, and that she probably had died before 1880.  All I found was the one census record that made any mention of Jonathan Cunningham's second wife, Mary.

    Over the years I would come back to Jonathan Calvin Cunningham's family and I did make some progress here and there.  Some years ago my mother purchased a book about the history of Baxter County, Arkansas.  Jonathan Calvin Cunningham is mentioned a number of times in the book, along with other relatives.  I learned that Jonathan Cunningham grew up in a slaveholding family in Tennessee, but was very strongly opposed to slavery.  He had moved to a part of Arkansas where there weren't many slaves in order to get away from slavery. He even declined his mother's offer to loan him sixteen slaves to clear his land in Arkansas.  Jonathan Cunningham owned a boat landing on the White River, but wouldn't allow boats to dock at his landing if they had slave help on board. When the Civil War began, he enlisted in the Union Army to fight against slavery.  Jonathan Cunningham is also mentioned in a book about men from Arkansas who fought in the Union Army, titled "Arkansas' Damn Yankees".  I also learned from the History of Baxter County that Jonathan Cunningham had married Minerva Casteel and after her death had married her older sister, Tabitha Casteel. That book described Minerva Casteel as his second wife and Tabitha as his third wife.

     Other interesting tidbits gleaned from the History of Baxter County include that fact that for a time Jonathan Cunningham was a riverboat pilot on the White River and that he was also part owner of a whiskey distillery. There was a story about a theft from the distillery that resulted in a serious fight between Jonathan Cunningham and one of the alleged thieves.  The distillery was built up on piers to protect it from the river flooding. The enterprising thieves bored a hole into some whiskey barrels from under the floor and drained out some of the inventory.  In the ensuing fight, Jonathan Cunningham is purported to have bitten off the man's ear.

     I tried repeatedly to find a marriage record for any of Jonathan Cunningham's marriages, in Tennessee for the first marriage and in Arkansas for the second marriage.  Eventually, I found a marriage record, dated 4 September, 1874 for Manevia Casteel, age 22, and Jonathan Cunningham, age 45. That would clearly make her the third wife rather than the second.  It would also indicate that Mary Ann Erskin, the second wife, probably died before September, 1874.  Some of this research was conducted on infrequent trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Some was conducted the hard way by ordering microfilms from Salt Lake.

    At some point my mother turned up a letter from her great aunt Ellar  (Lurellar Sinor) which listed in detail most of her Baxter County relatives. Aunt Ellar's letter was written in 1970, the year I graduated from high school.  She listed four wives for Jonathan Calvin Cunningham as follows:

wife #1:  Unknown, who had one daughter named Nan Cunningham(not the Nan made famous by the limerick).

wife #2:   Mary Erskins, who had two daughters, Mary Evaline Cunningham and Laura Isabel Cunningham.

wife #3:  Minervia Casteel, who had one daughter who lived, Jane Cunningham (It saddens me to read the phrase "who lived" as I know some of the pain that lies behind that phrase)

wife #4:  Tabitha Casteel, who had two kids who lived, Caroline Cunningham and Jim Cunningham.

     I gradually obtained a little more information regarding Mary Ann Erskin, but it was a painstakingly slow process. I still had no marriage record and I had no clue as to her family other than she was born in about 1848 in Indiana. Now we enter the era of indexing, when thousands of people labor diligently to index many different types of records so that they are searchable on the computer.  Even better than that, Family Search and Ancestry do some searching for us and are always giving us little hints.

    About a week ago I logged into, looked at Jonathan Calvin Cunningham and saw such a little hint, the marriage of "Anna Jonathan Cunningham and Mary Ann Erskin" in Butler County, Missouri on October 10, 1867.  The combination of Jonathan Cunningham and Mary Ann Erskin in the same record instantly grabbed my attention. However, I just knew that the "Anna" had to be wrong.  Fortunately, I was able to look at the original record and verify that was indeed the case. The actual wording of the document (of course written in cursive) was "before me came Jonathan Cunningham and Mary Ann Erskin to be united in the holy bonds of matrimony".  Two indexers and one arbitrator all looked at the word "came" and read it as Anna. We really need to help more people learn to read cursive before it becomes like hieroglyphs.  It also shows just  how helpful indexing can be, in spite of mistakes.  So it wasn't indexed exactly correctly.  It was done well enough for me to finally locate this critical record.

      I took the next step and looked at the 1860 census in Butler County, Missouri and found Mary A Erskin, age 12, living with her parents, John and Mary Erskin, and her six siblings.  There is still a little conflict as to her place of birth. The 1870 census indicates she was born in Indiana. The 1860 census lists Illinois as her place of birth.  I also found her family on the 1850 census in Crawford County, Missouri. The surname was spelled Earskin, but the ages and names of the parents and children matched up. That record also lists her place of birth as Indiana.  I haven't yet looked yet to figure out the locations of Butler and Crawford Counties in Missouri. Their marriage in Butler County raises all sorts of interesting questions. How did they meet?  Did Jonathan Cunningham serve in the army with her father or brother?  I'm also a bit curious about the difference in their ages.  They both lived through the Civil War as well. Obviously they lived both interesting and difficult lives.  I'll look forward to getting to know them better some day.



Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Blustery Day

    We had a serious blustery day this week, although if came on Tuesday rather than "Windsday" ala Winnie the Pooh.  I don't know what the winds got up to but we had two tree falls.  One wasn't very tall, a big leaf maple that the goats had girdled a few years back. That one came up by the roots, but failed to do significant damage. It crushed one section of fence which wasn't actually fencing anything in at the moment. It had the decency to fall in such a way that it didn't damage any of my bee hives. The other tree fall was of much greater consequence.  One of the main upper trunks of one of the big leaf maples broke off and fell to earth.  The trunk section is about a foot in diameter at the point where it broke off the tree.  It is stretched out about seventy feet across my bamboo, my raspberry patch, my Hudson sweet cherry tree, our glass and steel picnic table and chairs, and finally taking out one of my small espalier apple trees and part of our picket fence.
The remains of our picnic table

Looking back towards the tree from which it fell

   It could have been much worse. At least two people were killed in the storm. One man's car was hit by a falling tree somewhere near Monroe.  The other fatality that I know of was electrocuted by power lines. A lot of people haves been left without power too. Depending where they live that can sometimes take as long as a week to be fixed.  We have friends who now have a tree laying through their living room.  I feel fortunate that all we have to deal with is a little inconvenience and cleaning up a mess.  The goat pen, the chicken pen and the duck pen are all still in tact.  I don't have any animal containment problems that require immediate attention. It definitely could have been much worse.  Besides, now my sweetie is telling me I need to buy a new chain saw.
The smaller maple came up by the roots

    I was at the Bee Store when we lost power there at around 4:00 pm.  Since it gets dark so early there was really no reason to sit around in the store in the dark. I just closed up and came home.  While driving home I noticed that a significant section of Snohomish was without power.  Some time after I got home, Linda sent me to the store to pick up a few things we needed. While at Fred Myers they lost their power. When I arrived home I found we were without power as well. It was a good excuse to light some candles.  The world was a much darker place before the invention of the electric light.

     On a different subject, we in the

Friday, October 30, 2015

Wild Mushroom Stroganoff with Moose Hamburger

      I went on a mushroom foray with my friend Ian a few days ago.  We drove up onto Tonga Ridge  where Linda and I had found the mother lode of Boletus Edulis a few weeks ago.  We walked a lot more and found a lot less mushrooms than I had before.  I suspect its late in the season for a place with that altitude. However, we did find three King Boletes, two of them very large prime specimens.  We also found a gallon or so of Woodland Blewits and Golden Chanterelles.  I sent Ian home with the Boletes while I kept the Chanterelles and Blewits. Chanterelles are relatively easy to identify.  Their gills are blunt edged rather than sharp edged like most gilled mushrooms. Also the gills run down onto the stem as evident in the specimens below.  I included the photo of the non-chanterelle as a warning.  This mushroom was growing among the Chanterelles, but is obviously not a Chanterelle. It is important to look at each and every mushroom and not just throw them in the bucket because they are all the same color.
Chanterelles. Note that the gills run down onto the stem

Not a Chanterelle. Note that the gills end at the stem

     I found a package of moose hamburger in the freezer last week. It was a gift from a friend that had gotten misplaced in the freezer.  I decided to use the hamburgers and my Chanterelles and Blewits to make a lovely Moose and Wild Mushroom Stroganoff. It turned out quite tasty.

Moose and Wild Mushroom Stroganoff
      The other excitement we had this week was Linda's broken foot.  As we were leaving Tuesday evening to attend grand daughter Abby's band concert, Linda slipped on the back steps. At first she thought she had just bruised her foot. By the time we got to Granite Falls High School her foot was hurting much worse.  We passed on the concert and went to the emergency room instead. As it turns out she had broken the outside metatarsal bone in her right foot.  Fortunately the bone was in the right place so it didn't require setting. They put a boot on it to protect it and gave her a pair of crutches.  Today we went into Everett and they put a pretty purple cast on her foot.  Its been an inconvenient week for all concerned.

The finishing touches on Linda's pretty purple cast

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Pleasant Weekend with Grand Children

    Linda and I have had a very nice weekend hanging out with the Veatch children.  Linda picked them up Friday evening so they could spend the night Friday night.   I got up early on Saturday to drive Madelynn to Granite Falls High School so she could catch the bus to her cross country meet.  After I got back home, I coached Natalie through making homemade biscuits.  She did a pretty good job and should soon reach biscuit self-sufficiency.
Natalie cutting out biscuits

Natalie rolling out the biscuits

     After breakfast, we went to Lakewood High School to watch part of the Hole in the Wall Cross Country Invitational.  We specifically wanted to just watch Madelynn's race, scheduled to start at 11:40 am.  We arrived ten minutes late, which was okay as Madelynn's race started 20 minutes late.  It turned out to be a much bigger event than we had expected, with about sixty schools participating . That is an estimated 750 runners divided into ten separate races.  This was the third year Madelynn has ran in this event. They have a shorter middle school race while the high school kids run 5,000 meters.  While she didn't come close to winning her race, she made substantial improvement on her time with a personal best of 25:05.  It rained cats and dogs throughout her race so she gets extra credit for grit. After the race, we took Madelynn back to her house while we took the  rest of the Veatchlings back home with us.
Madelynn crosses the finish line

    Linda has always had a strong liking for all baked goods made with pumpkin. That includes, pumpkin bread, pumpkin roll, pumpkin pie, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin waffles.  I saw an interesting recipe on the Yummly website a few days ago that I thought she just might like. Pumpkin Snickerdoodles. Combining one of Linda's favorite cookies with pumpkin seemed like a surefire winner.  This particular recipe came to Yummly from the Iheartnaptime blog.  The blogger adapted it from a Martha Stewart snicker doodle recipe.  She had simply added cooked pumpkin and traditional pumpkin pie spices to Martha's recipe. This seemed like a worthy use of the leftover baked Potimarron squash I had in the fridge so I mixed up a batch of the cookies in my tangerine colored kitchen aid mixer. The cookies turned out very well. They even met with Linda's approval and she maintains pretty high standards when it comes to cookies.  The only unfortunate thing was that I had made three dozen wonderfully tasty cookies just before Fast Sunday. However, the cookies will still be there to enjoy on Sunday evening.
Unbaked pumpkin snickerdoodles

The finished product

    Linda was a bit tired after watching Madelynn run three miles in the rain.  While Linda took a nap to recuperate, I took the rest of the Veatchlings to see the new Peter Pan movie.  The outing turned out well although Conner was pretty squirmy during the action parts.   We returned home to one of the Veatchlings' favorite dinners, orange chicken.

    A little follow-up to my previous post about the King Bolete Mushrooms we gathered last Monday. I sautéed some in butter which Linda had then used to make a very yummy beef stroganoff. I dried most of them in our little dehydrator which reduced them substantially in volume.  Last night I ran the dried mushrooms through the blender which reduced four gallons of fresh mushrooms into four half pint jars.  That wonderfully tasty powdered mushroom can be added to soups and sauces.  The best pasta dish I have ever eaten was a fetuccini which had the powdered mushroom added to the pasta itself. It was absolutely heavenly.

Dried King Bolete mushrooms from the dehydrator

Into the blender 

The very compact finished product


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Glorious Day in the Mountains

    I took advantage of my day off on Monday to drive up into the mountains to find a nice place to sight in my rifle before deer season. I invited Linda to come along and we had a very nice day together.  First of all the weather was beautiful, the leaves of the Big Leaf Maples in the mountains are turning yellow, and the temperature was comfortably balmy.  The drive up to Tonga ridge was absolutely beautiful.  I found a nice quiet place off the road part way up the ridge that gave me an adequate distance with a good backstop for sighting in the rifle.  We actually stopped about 100 yards past the famous "Mother of All Huckleberry Patches" that I discovered with my mother almost twenty years ago, a good story that I will save for another time.  Sighting in the rifle went quickly. We then decided to drive further up the ridge to see if there were any huckleberries left.

     We drove another mile or two up the gravel road until the terrain leveled out some.  We parked alongside the road and explored one of the numerous old logging roads that crisscross that part of Tonga Ridge.  The bad news was that there was no sign of any huckleberries.  I suspect that it had been a bad year for the berries due to the extremely dry summer. October is rather late to be looking for berries anyhow.  We did notice a few mushrooms. There were some Panther Amanitas as well as some Amanita Muscaras. Both of them are very pretty, but poisonous.  We also found a few Russulas and various other types, but nothing to get my mouth watering.  Linda paid me a huge compliment when she told me that I was about the only person she would trust to tell her that a mushroom was edible. We decided to give up on the mushrooms and drive further up the ridge to find a place with a good view.  As I was waiting for Linda at the truck, I heard her call out my name.  She had stepped a little bit off the logging road and had stumbled upon a mushroom she thought looked interesting.  As it turns out it was a Boletus Edulis, known in English as the King Bolete, and mushroom that is not only edible, but described as choice and delectable.  As we explored the immediate vicinity we discovered a large number of the King Boletes and picked enough to fill our small ice chest.
Boletus Edulus or King Bolete

   Further up the ridge, near the trailhead, we found a place with a better view, suitable for a nice selfie of the two of us.  The views from the road are not as expansive as they used to be. I hadn't gone up to Tonga  Ridge in about ten years. During that time the trees have grown considerably taller.  After the photo op we drove back down the mountain, heading for home.  We stopped at Zeke's Drive-in on our way home for a celebratory ice cream cone and blackberry milk shake. We arrive home in time for me to watch the last three quarters of the Seahawks vs Detroit on Monday Night Football.
Me with my favorite mushroom hunting buddy

    I spent most of the evening cleaning and preparing the boletus for drying or cooking. The boletus dry very easily and can also be easily reconstituted. the dried mushrooms can also be powdered in the blender and used to flavor soups and sauces. The mushroom powder can even be used to make mushroom flavored pasta. The King Bolete is the only mushroom whose name I know in five languages. They are called Porcini in Italian, Cepes in French, Baravik in Russian, and Steinpilz in German.