Scandal at Maple Valley – Episode 18: Thanksgiving Day

It’s Thanksgiving Day in Maple Valley. How can there be a scandal hanging over town when it’s time to stir a sense of thankfulness for all the good things that people enjoy and take for granted? If only for a day, the folks who are still very worried about Sylvia Meisner are stepping back to spend time with families and enjoy traditional meals and skirmishes.

Mayor Alvin Thrashborn gave his annual Thanksgiving speech almost no one attends. He stood on the steps of the town hall, which is also the public library, and read from his notes he prepared last year. He mentioned his thankfulness for volunteers, business owners, neighbors and friends of Maple Valley. The mayor also mentioned Sylvia Meisner and thanked everyone who is still searching for her. Six people shook the mayor’s hand and thanked him for his inspiring recitation.

Quintin O’Dillmotte’s three brothers and their families are visiting from out of town. Sage O’Dillmotte runs the Colson County Landfill in Kwinhaven. He is very proud of the landfill’s notoriety as the largest of its kind across five states. Carlton O’Dillmotte is the curator of the village museum in Shilhauer. Harvest O’Dillmotte is the youngest brother in the family and has overcome a great deal of ridicule. Gordon O’Dilmotte, the boys’ father, farmed eighty-seven acres throughout his life and named his youngest son Harvest in thankfulness for his family’s greatest year on the farm.

Salvene O’Dillmotte, Quintin’s wife, prepared a beautiful meal of turkey liver soup, jello salad, homemade sausage, turnip greens, squash, and fresh fruit with whipped cream for dessert. The families do their best not to use the word “harvest” when they express thankfulness for the season.

Ver and Vee Burthrap make fig-prune-walnut crunch cookies every year to share with their neighbors. And every year when they discover no one is home, they walk over to Sheriff Pete Terkinberry’s house and give all of the cookies to him. Sheriff Pete expresses his appreciation to the sisters for their generosity and the next day he buries the cookies in the flower garden.

Shorty and Hannah Cloverton open the Y’all Sit Cafe on Thanksgiving Day from 7 until noon. In gratitude for the many years of business they have enjoyed in Maple Valley, they reduce prices on breakfasts by twenty percent. There are several people who eat free at the cafe on Thanksgiving morning. Shorty and Hannah never charge them because they know how they struggle at home.

Most families in Maple Valley stick to the familiar turkey dinner with all their favorite side dishes. Arguments always arise over whether the stuffing should be baked in the turkey or separately. The older of Maple Valley residents insist the stuffing must be loosely stuffed into the turkey. Others demand the stuffing be truly stuffed until it bulges from every possible turkey spot. The fight over whether turkey giblets should be included in the stuffing almost caused Gladys Kuerhing to stomp out of the house dragging Henry behind her. Luckily, Grandma Kuerhing won and the stuffing was delicious.

The Kafflen clan almost came to blows when Uncle Klem said Eliverna’s pie crust tasted like tennis ball fuzz. Able put his fork down and stared at his uncle, then said, “You sit in my house, at my table, under my roof, eating my food, and you say something like that about my Eliverna’s pie?! Apologize now!”

“Well, I can’t apologize for saying what’s true,” Klem said.

Standing up now, Abel loudly said, “I said, apologize, Klem, or you can get out of my house, now!”

Then Uncle Klem stood up and was about to speak when red-faced Aunt Wiletta, staring at her husband, spoke first. “Klem!! You apologize this instant and sit your butt in the chair!”

Klem Kafflen looked like a saggy balloon. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled as he deflated into his chair. The remainder of the Kafflen dinner was quiet.

Holiday meal time with extended family at the Shermer home is always interesting, and tense. The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church eats while holding his breath. Although he’s not one to argue, it would be better if he was. His dear grandmother believes she is a blood and spiritual descendant of King David. She refers to herself as a princess and it’s always in third person.

The reverend can always tell when it’s about to start because Grandma asks some crazy question out of the blue.

“Grandma, will you pass the potatoes, please?” the reverend asks.
“Did you ever think about Melchizedek!?” Grandma shrieks.

“Mel who?” he says, knowing exactly what she’s doing as he scrambles for something to throw her off track.

“You’ve got gravy on your chin, Grandma.”

“When Princess Shermer comes into the kingdom, you will all be priests in the court of Kind David, and…” Grandma says as she gets that all-too-familiar dazed look on her face.

“Grandma! Stop!!” the reverend yells, embarrassing himself and his family. For now, the conversation has ended.

It’s been a good Thanksgiving Day in Maple Valley. Nothing has happened that wasn’t, at least in some way, expected. The meals were good. Most of the conversation was normal. Everyone thought of the things they are thankful for.

Giving Thanks – Day 17: Cereal

I’m thankful for cereal. Where would we be without cereal? Where would parents be without cereal. Cereal answers so many life questions, it’s almost a miracle. In the cereal aisle I’m like a kid in a toy store five days before Christmas.

What do you eat when you don’t know what to eat? Cereal. What do you eat after church on Sunday night? (Wait, what?) Cereal. What do you eat in secret between lunch and dinner so mom won’t yell, “Don’t eat that you’ll spoil your dinner!” Cereal.

What do you eat when you don’t know what to eat because everything sounds good when you’re going to sit on the couch and watch a movie? Cereal. What do you grab when you’re late and you haven’t eaten yet? Cereal. What do toddlers eat while sitting in their high chairs so mom or dad, or aunt, or grandma, or sitter, can get just five minutes to stop chasing the little one around the house? Cereal. What do you find when you’re looking for your keys under the couch or chair cushions? Cereal.

What gives you a little sugar kick when you don’t want a huge chocolate chip cookie (Wait, what?) but need something sweet? Cereal. What fits in your pocket so you can discretely reach in and pull out a delicious morsel while you’re supposed to be paying attention to something? Cereal.

What do you need on a long trip for a crunchy munch while you’re driving? Cereal. What tastes great when you’re bored? Cereal. What is the magic item that has absolutely no calories because you’re only eating a few at a time? Exactly! Cereal.

Whoever came up with these little gems was a genius. Kids today don’t know how special snack packs are. In the old days, the boxes were scored so you could open the side, then open the bag inside, pour some milk in and eat the cereal right out of the box! Incredible!

Cereal has changed so much! Years ago, the cereal choices were slim pickin’. Cheerios, Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Puffed Wheat, and Puffed Rice was about it, at least at our house. Quaker used to have shredded wheat that was a round biscuit rather than the more familiar crumbly pillows that are the size of a bundle of steel wool. A great variation to plain Shredded Wheat was pouring hot water on the biscuit, let it soak for a moment, then squeeze out the water, add milk and a good bunch of sugar, and it was delightful! (Delightful is a word I never used when I was a kid. I don’t use it much now, either, except when I’m writing reviews of restaurants we might never go to again.)

Cereal can be colon central without being obvious about it. Kids will never know that their insides are being messed with when they need help. Bran Flakes. Raisin Bran is a little sneakier. If you’re serious, Bran Buds. Now there are all kinds of bran choices. All with the same results.

The only thing I ever heard my dear grandfather say that might raise an eyebrow among the very, very old-timers was a joke. He told me, “A man went into a grocery store and asked the clerk, ‘Do you have Grape Nuts?’ The clerk answered, ‘No, it’s rheumatism.'”

Hot cereal is not as easy to carry around, but it’s still great. The generational favorite is Oatmeal. Not that I think it’s worthy of the trophy. Oatmeal has found its way into all kinds of recipes. Granola, which is cereal, sort of. Apple crisp. Cookies, including chocolate chip!

My favorite is Cream of Wheat, although corn meal mush is right up there. No one remembers Ralston, which was like eating a mouthful of hot grain. I thought Malto-Meal was nasty. The hot cereal wonder-treat is Cocoa Wheats. “Cocoa Wheats, Cocoa Wheats can’t be beat. It’s the cream hot cereal with a cocoa treat. Tastes like chocolate, smells like it too. Helps make you strong for the things you want to do.” Can you hear the music? Sure you can.

When it comes to cereal, there’s a lot to be thankful for, and I am. My sugary crunch favorite today is Golden Crisp. I think I’ll grab a handful. Yum!

Giving Thanks – Day 16: Coffee

I’m thankful for coffee. I love coffee. I always have. I really love hot chocolate, but if I had to choose between one or the other or never have it again, I would choose coffee. I think I was four the first time I had coffee. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I associate different flavors of coffee with places we’ve been. By flavors, I don’t mean Irish coffee, or Vanilla, or Hazelnut. I just mean the different flavors of coffee. One town we lived in had a restaurant called “The Junction.” It was a small cafe and their coffee was like a meal. It was delicious. We sat with friends for hours and just drank the coffee. I discovered they used Bunn coffee machines, so we got one. Not the same. It was good, but it wasn’t The Junction’s coffee.

During visits to Louisianna, in restaurants they ask, “Do you want light or dark coffee?” And they don’t mean with or without cream. They mean light or dark black coffee. They also add chicory which is kind of a bitter taste. It was wonderful. The spoon could almost stand up on its own in the dark coffee.

When we were in Australia, in a restaurant we ordered coffee with cream. The waiter looked at us like we were from another planet. They brought black coffee with a small cup of heavy whipping cream. In Australia one is supposed to order a flat white, a long or short black, or a short macchiato, among others. It was a learning experience for sure, and the coffee was fantastic.

Coffee is serious. Coffee is not something to be messed with. I don’t take trips, no matter how short or long without coffee. Almost every time I go to town, it’s time for coffee.

I think the very best cup of coffee I ever tasted was Kona coffee in Hawaii. It wasn’t just being in Hawaii that made the coffee taste so good. Kona coffee is magical. I can’t begin to describe it adequately. We’ve had Kona since then and it’s good, but not like that first experience.

For consistent taste in coffee, one only has to visit any McDonald’s in the country. Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, all McDonald’s coffee tastes exactly the same. Many years ago, they changed their coffee blend and it’s better. Before, it had kind of a burnt taste. Or maybe the people making it didn’t know what they were doing. No one ever says, “Hey, let’s go get a glass of milk,” or, “Do you want to stop for a tea?” It’s always coffee. Big decisions are made over coffee, not milk or tea, at least not in the US.

I remember metal coffee cans that were opened with a small key that was welded to the bottom of the can. You broke off the key, stuck a little tab through a slot in the key and twisted the key around the top of the can, releasing the most incredible aroma from inside. Perked coffee has always been my favorite, but I have to admit, the new automatic coffee machines are pretty great, especially if I need a coffee quick.

I think our first drip coffee maker was a Bunn we purchased forty years ago. I hoped it would taste like the coffee we had at The Junction. Not quiet, but really good. We’ve had several Mr. Coffee makers, a few percolators, and three or four Keurig’s.

I have to admit the ambience of the place has a lot to do with how good the coffee tastes. You can have a lousy cup of coffee in a great place and it makes the coffee better. You can have a great cup in a cold, drafty, bland place and the coffee loses some of its appeal.

If bad stuff is happening, coffee is a great companion to ease whatever it is. If great stuff is happening, coffee makes it even better. If I’m tired, coffee. If I’m bugged, coffee. If I’m anxious, coffee. (I know what you’re thinking – hey, can’t caffeine make nerves worse? Yeah, I know, whatever.) If I’m happy, coffee. Sad, coffee. By myself, coffee. With family, coffee.

I usually drink coffee black. But sometimes I treat myself to cream and sugar at restaurants.

I’ll let you in on some great places to drink coffee. Zehner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan. There’s a place on Mackinac Island, Michigan, that was called J.L. Beanery. I think it changed hands and the name was changed. It’s still a great place to drink coffee, right on the water. Culver’s Restaurant usually has great coffee. Tim Horton’s has good coffee. We had breakfast at Omega Ham & Corn Beef Deli in Grand Blanc, Michigan, this morning. Their coffee is fantastic!

Of course, we all know Starbucks captured the market when “Friends” became such a hit on TV. That show started the coffeeshop craze that is still with us.

One more thing. I do drink decaf a lot, but not always. I have some Nescafe Tasters Choice decaf that I sometimes sprinkle on ice cream! It’s amazing!

Coffee. I love it. I’m thankful for a great cup of coffee.

Scandal At Maple Valley – Episode 17: Death in Maple Valley

I really hate to say this, but life has moved on in Maple Valley. Sylvia Meisner has been missing for five months. All the arguing has stopped, thankfully. The summer tourist season everyone looked forward to has ended. The Founders Day Celebration now seems forgotten. The Old General is being prepared to take visitors to Maple Valley Christmas Town.

Even though folks are no longer consumed by news about Sylvia, or the lack of it, the investigation has continued. Sheriff Pete Terkinberry has not slowed his efforts to either find Sylvia, or uncover what happened to her. He still pays very close attention to his neighbors, which is everyone in Maple Valley. Have any changed their behaviors? Yes, some have. Are any relationships strained? Yes, some are. Are any hiding? Yes, there are some who have been nearly invisible since Sylvia disappeared. Is it coincidence? Sheriff Pete doesn’t know, but he’s determined to find out.

Maple Valley folks have acquired a characteristic that is annoying. I don’t know if other people have traits like this, but it is unmistakable in this small town. Maybe it’s a result of being part of a well-known tourist stop. In order to be successful, everything in Maple Valley has to be boxed up and pretty. No loose ends. All the windows are clean, the eaves are painted, the sidewalks swept.

As I think about it, this might explain why so many people who come here want to stay. They all say the same things, “I would just love to live here.” “Don’t you just love it here?” “This place is magical!” “You are so lucky to live here!” What they see is not real. Painted boards rot. Roofs leak. Grass dies. Maple Valley isn’t just a showplace. The people who live here live every day. They struggle, are disappointed, and get angry with each other.

There’s another Maple Valley reality tourists don’t usually discover, unless they have the unhappy experience of a surprise visit. Maple Valley has bats. Say what you want about how much good they do, bats and people don’t mix, at least not on purpose. Just last week, a sixty-four-year-old woman from Conklin, Iowa, Madeline Overweist, stepped out of Y’all Sit Cafe, in a hurry to get to the last train leaving Maple Valley. Five steps outside the cafe, a bat landed squarely on her face. Mrs. Overweist will be sorely missed.

Last spring, Mayor Alvin Thrashborn commissioned a special task force to deal with the bat problem. He called it the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team. The group members are Shorty Cloverton, owner of the Y’all Sit Cafe, Quintin O’Dillmotte, owner of O’Dillmotte Funeral Home, Able Kafflen, leader of the Young Hopefuls Club, Henry Brimmerton, owner of Brimmerton’s Auto Sales, Stew Hanmin, town council chair, Hardin Sievers, village attorney, Mayor Thrashborn, and Sheriff Terkinberry. Anabel Wizzleby, Wanita Havertons, Velma Kreitzhammer, and Veronia Burthrap were all invited to join the task force, but all declined, presumably because of the force’s task.

The task force had their first meeting last March. Bats have been a problem in Maple Valley for as long as anyone can remember. This is the first time a task force has been organized to deal with it. So far, not much dealing has happened. The group meets together on the first Tuesday of each month at the cafe. The first order of business was to choose a chairperson and by common consent, Quintin O’Dillmotte was selected as the group leader. Henry Brimmerton is vice-chair, Stew Hanmin is secretary, Shorty Cloverton is the treasurer. The second order of business was to discuss why a treasurer was needed since the group would not have any funds to treasure. It was moved and seconded the title of treasurer would remain with Shorty, but it would be in name only. The vote was unanimous, the motion carried.

The monthly BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team meeting includes the reading of minutes from the previous meeting. The secretary, Stew Hanmin, takes very detailed notes, so the reading of minutes with discussion, motion to accept as read or amended, second, and the vote usually takes half the meeting. There is discussion of where the group will meet the following month, which is always the cafe, new business to discuss, nothing, comments from the public, nothing. Just about then, Quintin declares the meeting adjourned, and everyone goes home. This is the BAT Strategic Health Investigation Team in Maple Valley.

That brings us back to the original point. Folks in Maple Valley like things to be tidy. Neat and clean. That seems to be the explanation for the unbelievable suggestion made to Mayor Thrashborn. The person who asked to meet with the mayor will remain nameless, at least at this point. He or she gave a piece of paper to the mayor.

On the paper was typed a short note. “Mayor Thrashborn, in the interest of the health of our community, and in order that Maple Valley may forward in a positive way, we (several names included) recommend the following:

“As of this date, Sylvia Meisner is declared deceased.”

The mayor was speechless, which doesn’t happen, ever. His face turned red. He stood up from his chair, walked around the front of his desk to where (nameless) was standing. Silently, the mayor ripped the paper into tiny bits and threw it into the air. He looked squarely into the person’s eyes and said, “Merry Christmas, now get out of my office!!”

Giving Thanks – Day 15: Bronner’s

It would be a tough task to say something about Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, in Frankenmuth, Michigan, that hasn’t already been said, written, broadcasted, and reported many times over. Even for those who find Christmas to be something other than “the most wonderful time of the year,” Bronner’s is special.

Open 361 days each year, my guess is that the most difficult day of the year at Bronner’s is December 26th. The anticipation of Christmas that begins to seep in during the days before Halloween is unmistakable. I have allowed my ornery-old-man streak to show through when I have written about the commercialism that controls this season in other articles. However, I still love the real Christmas.

Today, I went to Bronner’s again for the first time. I chose to see things I hadn’t before. I purposefully walked slowly through each aisle, taking in as many of the colors, lights and sounds I possibly could. I think the good folks at Bronner’s have applied the magic of Christmas to everything possible, and I mean that in a good way.

We have visited Bronner’s many times through the years, and each time is special. We have had the privilege of personal contact with the Bronner family three times. As you know, if you have read “A Coffee State of Mind” posts about our family, we have four children, a daughter, and triplet sons. When our boys were babies, we visited Bronner’s. We had a single stroller our daughter pushed, and a twin stroller my wife pushed. I carried all the diaper bags. Irene Bronner noticed us walking through the store and stopped to talk with us. Before we left, she gave us four Christmas bulbs with our children’s names painted on them. That was thirty-seven years ago.

During a visit to Bronner’s when our boys were in elementary school, Wayne Bronner asked us if his photographer could take a picture of them for a promotional brochure they were working on. We happily agreed, even though the boys weren’t too excited about it. We still have the flier.

In the summer of 1989, I was sitting on an airplane at Detroit Metro Airport, waiting to fly to Atlanta, Georgia for the Christian Bookseller’s Convention. I looked up and saw Mr. and Mrs. Bronner coming down the aisle. I was thrilled when they stopped at my row and Mr. Bronner said, “Hi! I guess these are our seats!” What a gift it was to spend two hours talking with this delightful couple. They treated me like I was a lifelong friend. When we landed they offered me a ride to my hotel.

While strolling through Bronner’s today, I spent time reading some of the many articles written about Wally and Irene Bronner. Family photos include Wally playing saxophone in the high school marching band, and Wally and Irene playing instruments with their grandchildren which was a Christmas tradition. Sadly, articles also include many covering the story of Wally Bronner passing away in 2008, at the age of 81. Hanging in the corner of the display is Wally’s bright red suit coat and the colorful Christmas tie he always wore. I am persuaded that the only friends Wally and Irene Bronner didn’t have were the ones they had not yet met.

After a heartwarming walk through Bronner’s during which I bought a puzzle we already have, and an Advent Calendar, we finished our trip to Frankenmuth with lunch at Zehnder’s Restaurant. Beautifully decorated, the ambience at Zehnder’s is like snuggling in a big easy chair under a warm blanket.

I have thought about asking one of the associates at Bronner’s, “Do you ever get tired of this?” I honestly don’t think any of them do. I really don’t know how anyone could work at Bronner’s without having the childlike excitement about Christmas that for some never fades. It’s just like Wally Bronner used to say, “Christmas is always just around the corner.”

Giving Thanks – Day 14: Camping

I have always loved camping. But I have a serious question. Why? Why do people move themselves to another location for maybe just a few days, take everything they have to so they can do all the things they do at home somewhere else, use a smaller stove, smaller sink, public toilet and shower, and maybe sleep in a tent that attracts rain?

Camping is great. I remembered camping when we were kids and I wanted our own children to experience the same thing. Our first tent was an 8 x 8 canvas tent that had been torn apart in a wind storm. I sewed the rips, treated them with water-proofing, and expected the best. The old tent had an awning over the door and windows on two sides. We didn’t have cots so we all slept on the floor. We used that tent for several years.

Our second tent was 10 x 14 with a room divider. The tent was supposed to be waterproof. Not. I really don’t think there is a truly waterproof tent. Waterproofing means stretching a huge tarp above the tent and tying it to trees so the water runs away from the tent. We had a 12 x 12 screen tent for cooking and eating. Of course, we had the necessary camping lights to hang across our campsite so we had the colorful glow at night.

We finally moved up to a used camper. Our first was an old Nomad 15′ single-axle trailer. We had so much fun with that little trailer! It was so exciting to have a solid roof over our heads when it rained outside. We never had access to a full-hookup campsite, so we never used the toilet in the camper. It had a couch at the back that folded down to a bed, as well as the table-top that dropped down to make a bed. There was a shelf bed over the couch but we never used it except for storage. The sink, stove, and cupboards were all we needed to have a great time camping.

We sold the small camper when we no longer had a vehicle to pull it. We didn’t camp for several years. What an exciting day it was when we purchased a 24′ double-axle trailer that slept four. It had a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. The kitchen had a microwave, stove, oven, large sink, and refrigerator. We had air conditioning, heat, and hot water, a stereo, and a TV antenna! Just like home!

We most often used the trailer at campsites with full hook-up so it really was just like home, except for one thing. To take a shower, I had to stand with my head in the fan above the shower. The longest trip we ever took with the camper was to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I have to admit, I was a little nervous pulling the trailer over the Mackinac Bridge, but we did it just fine.

We again ran into a problem of not having a vehicle to pull the trailer. My truck was getting up in years and looking like it. We purchased a large heavy vehicle with plenty of towing capacity, but the vehicle was a disaster. Nothing but trouble the entire time we owned it. We never pulled the trailer with it.

Last spring I was standing at the top of a tall ladder working to remove the cover from the trailer. The ladder collapsed and I fell, landing on my side. I’m sure I broke at least one rib, and was afraid I broke my wrist. My wife heard me yell and came running. She helped me up, and thankfully, within an hour or so I was moving around without too much difficulty. I told her, “That’s it! Tomorrow we’re going to look for a new car and we’re selling the trailer!” We did both.

We loved going to camper and RV shows. I think there are probably lots of people who buy campers thinking they will go every weekend. The reality is, life sets in and camping often gets pushed aside.

Even though we don’t have a camper anymore, we still intend to go camping. We’ll take our tent, cots, sleeping bags, screen tent, and we’ll stretch the tarp over everything. The original old-English word translated “camping” actually means “it’s going to rain more than it has in a month.”

Giving Thanks – Day 13

I’m thankful for hobbies. Anyone who follows “A Coffee State of Mind” knows my main hobby is model railroading. I’ve written about it many times. I started with HO trains when I was fifteen. For Christmas that year I received a small “HO train set” that included an engine that didn’t run right, five cars, and a circle of 18″ radius track. I was as excited as any kid getting a train set could be. I was determined to build a railroad empire, which I did, at least in my own mind. In the early days, my layout was on top of a ping-pong table. At a local hobby shop, I traded my ill-running Santa Fe F7 engine for a metal 2-6-0 switch engine. My first steam locomotive! It was small but I loved it. I bought more track until I finally had a large oval. I added a few turnouts and soon had a “layout” that included a twice-around to complete the circuit.

The next year, I purchased a Baldwin Class Berkshire 2-8-4 locomotive. This is the same type of locomotive depicted in “The Polar Express” movie. By the way, if you’ve never been to the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, you really owe it to yourself to go see the beautiful, operating Berkshire 1225. There is just no way to adequately describe the experience of watching this incredible locomotive thunder past with smoke and steam exploding into the sky! This amazing locomotive saw many years of operation throughout Michigan as part of the Pere Marquette Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad before diesel engines took the place of steam across the country.

A lucky break for the retired 1225 took place when it became part of the steam restoration project at Michigan State University. After many years of stop-and-start activity on the engine, it finally found a home at the institute in Owosso. For many years, the mighty engine has been pulling restored passenger cars full of steam railroading fans on The Polar Express Train, as well as steaming across the state on various excursions. We have ridden the Christmas train a couple of times, it’s a wonderful experience. Arguably, the biggest break for the 1225 came when Warner Brothers made audio recordings of the locomotive under full steam for the sound track of the movie, “The Polar Express.”

I’ve had other hobbies, a few didn’t last longer than a few weeks. For example, my grandmother taught me how to knit and crochet. I had my own knitting bag with yarn, needles, and a jar of crochet hooks. I never made anything but long ropes.

Baking could be described as a hobby, I guess. I’ve been baking since I was ten years old.

Is writing a hobby? I don’t think of it that way. I’ve been writing seriously for almost thirty years. I have actually made money writing. For two years, I had a weekly column in a newspaper with a circulation of 50,000. That was fun. For several years, I wrote curricula for church publications distributed throughout the country. I’ve written four books, “The Good, The Bad, and The Funny,” “Camp’s Over, Now What?” “One Plus One Equals Three,” and my first middle-grade novel, “Smivvy Stepward In Love and Other Misery.” Nope, none of them are available on Amazon…yet.

Another hobby I have, or had, was flying radio-controlled airplanes. I really enjoyed that! I have one plane that crashed three times (twice by me, once by someone else) and I rebuilt it each time. It looks a little rough but still flies great. The problem now is my hands. A condition called Essential Tremors has made it almost impossible for me to fly. RC airplanes don’t respond well to shaking hands. Bummer.

What are your hobbies? How often do you work on your hobby?

I’m sure there is lots of research about hobbies somewhere. I think we naturally drift toward things that work for us. I’ve always liked trains and planes.

I think maybe I’ll write a post about why those of us who write write. It’s probably the same kind of thing as building a model railroad layout. Why would anyone do that?

Whatever your hobby is, or hobbies are, whether painting, sewing, building, growing flowers, planting shrubs, feeding birds, watching animals, taking pictures, traveling, restoring old cars, driving new cars, quilting, clipping coupons, spending money, riding the rails, flying, playing video games, designing video games, watching others play video games, wondering how to play video games, playing solitaire, playing poker, watching soap operas, amateur radio, dressing up, antiquing, wondering why people like antiques, writing, drawing, doodling, wine tasting, exterior illumination, beer sampling, beer brewing, interior illumination, reading, listening to audio books because you don’t like reading, Legos, Lincoln Logs, watching cartoons, singing, writing music, playing instruments you don’t know how to play, imagining playing an instrument well, pretending, acting, walking, running, standing, sitting, watching TV, binge-watching Netflix, watching and re-watching every episode of Friends, shopping and returning what you bought, or playing trains, if you love it, do it with all your heart and let your hobby be to you what it’s meant to be.

Wiring the Maple Valley Short Line – Part 2

The Maple Valley Short Line RR is now operational. I can successfully run two trains simultaneously on two long lines. The outer loop rises to four inches at 2% starting at the Maple Valley River Bridge. The inner line completes a circuit by passing through two tunnels, crossing the Maple Valley River, and winding through the village.

As every model railroader knows, operational does not mean finished. The outer line has been running for several months. Last week I finished wiring the inner line and all the sidings. I decided to use Atlas Selector Switches rather than soldering DPDT toggle switches. I may yet change my mind about that. I plan to wire LED turnout and block signals on my control panel. The panel in the photo is temporary.

Last week family members came just to see the layout, so I had to finish the track wiring and make sure it all worked. I discovered my small furniture dolly with a piece of plywood works great as a cart allowing me to move around under the layout without kneeling and bumping my head. Wiring was a much simpler task as I avoided stops at the first-aid closet to bandage cuts on my head.

To you expert electricians, this is nothing new. But the slickest help I found on YouTube is using “heat-sinks” to keep my plastic ties and wiring insulation from melting. Two little alligator clips worked perfectly! This is the first time I used buss feeders on both rails, so I did a lot of soldering.

I staggered the feeders on the track. I used black wire for the common feed, red wire for the block feed. I put a number sticker on each block feed to correspond with the Atlas Selector Switch. (Now that the track is wired, it’s time to complete ballasting.)

I took a lot of time thinking about how best to run the wiring underneath the layout. I was not careful with the underside of previous layouts so I had different colors and wires running in every direction. It was a real mess when something stopped working and I had to figure out why.

I used 14 AWG solid wire for the buss feeds from the power supply. I used 20 AWG solid wire as the feed soldered to the rails. As you can see, my 14 gauge power feed is green, the 20 gauge feed to the rail is red. At this point, instead of soldering each feed connection, I used wire nuts. I plan to go back and solder later. (You’re right, unless I start having problems, that probably won’t happen.)

Assisting me in the project, not only so I can see, but also working the magic of battling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) I struggle with every year, is the sunlight lamp our daughter purchased for me. It works! Instead of feeling like crap when it’s twenty degrees, dark, and snowing, I feel like jumping, running around and laughing. Not really, but it does help.

All the while tough work is going on under the layout as I scoot around taking care not to cut my head, these guys paddle down Maple Valley River like they don’t have a care in the world. (Current ripples on the surface will be added some time down the road.)

It was an exciting moment when I was able to sit back against the wall on my little cart under the layout and admire the terminal strip complete with buss feeds in place. The black wires on the right are the common feed and I used jumpers between the three terminals. The rest of the terminals are numbered from left to right, with number tape on all the wires. Turned out nice. Troubleshooting will be much easier.

I still have the big but fun job of wiring all of the turnouts, signals, and buildings. I plan to find some street lights for Maple Valley.

The Maple Valley Short Line Railroad has been a long and satisfying project that is no where near completion. But that is the fun of model railroading. There is always something more to do. Whether it’s small weeds along the river and around buildings, kids playing in a back yard, townsfolk going about their business, neighbors arguing over lot lines, or a train load of tourists stepping off The Old General into the wonder of Maple Valley. Which is still stirring over the disappearance of Sylvia Meisner. It has been months since anyone has seen her. There are still no clues to her whereabouts…or are there?

Giving Thanks – Day 12

I’m thankful for hot chocolate. Does anyone not like hot chocolate? Does hot chocolate mean the same thing to everybody? If you enjoy hot chocolate, how do you like it? With whipped cream? Marshmallows? With a little bit of something else? Do you prefer real hot chocolate made with milk? If you prefer instant hot chocolate, what kind?

Hot chocolate is comfort. I have always loved hot chocolate. Growing up, my favorite hot chocolate was made with milk and Hershey’s Cocoa mixed with sugar. The secret is mixing the cocoa with sugar and a little bit of hot milk, then mixing it into the pan of hot milk. Ooooh, my, that is good!

I used to love hot chocolate out of a vending machine. It was always piping hot and frothy. Short but good. Nestle’s Quik was the go-to mix in the ’60s. In middle school I had a friend who had a paper-route and I helped him a few times. Early one morning he made instant hot chocolate with boiled water and chocolate mix from a box. I couldn’t believe it!

Hot chocolate was always a favorite after church on Sunday nights. If my parents went out with friends, which was the normal Sunday night after church activity, we went home, had hot chocolate with toast, and watched “Bonanza.” Years ago, in most churches, Sunday services were morning and evening. I actually think church used to be an all-day event. Folks came in the morning, brought food to share after morning worship, then finished the day with another time of worship. I think that’s where church potlucks came from. As years passed, worship times grew shorter, dinner time grew longer until folks started going home for lunch to return later. Now, most churches only have Sunday morning worship. Not sure, just a hunch.

What would ice skating be without hot chocolate? Or ice fishing? Or snowball fights? Or building a snowman?

What is your favorite memory of hot chocolate? How long has it been since you had some hot chocolate?

In recent years I’ve become addicted to hot chocolate mix that we make at home. You can make it too! The secret is Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Mix (make sure it’s the hot chocolate mix and not baking chocolate. The bags look the same.) Sometimes you can find it at a grocery store, but at times I’ve had to order it. Mix a 10.5 ounce pouch of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Mix with an 8-quart bag of powdered milk, plus about half of a 35 ounce container of CoffeeMate. Mix all three ingredients together thoroughly. I use a large jar with the lid on tight to shake up the mix. (Mixing it in a bowl creates a whole bunch of powder in the air.) Put three heaping scoops in your favorite Christmas mug, pour in boiling water, and you are in for a real treat!

Giving Thanks – Day 11

I’m thankful for hunting. Well, at least, memories of hunting. Monday is the first day of firearm deer season. When I was young I used to get almost physically ill with anticipation of going deer hunting. Until I was old enough to carry a real gun, my BB gun was my companion.

I don’t like the cold now, but when it was time to go hunting, I didn’t care about the temperature. I only cared about getting out into the woods and finding that big buck. The big buck I never got, by the way. I see photos in the paper of young hunters bagging 10 point bucks and even bigger. I never even saw a deer that big. My big buck was a spike horn I got when I was fourteen.

My big chance for a nice buck came when I was sixteen. My dad got sick in the woods so he left, but before he walked back to the car, he took the 12 gauge pump shotgun I was carrying and gave me his .30-06 Remington semi-automatic rifle with a scope. A gun I had never used before, and only fired once. Big mistake. It wasn’t long after he left that several shots were fired not far from me, and a 6 or 8 point buck charged through a thicket right at me. I unloaded the Remington at the buck and missed even though he came close enough for me to club him with the rifle.

My own boys were enthusiastic about hunting and we spent many hours stalking both pheasant and deer. Like their dad, the boys had Red Ryder BB guns before they were old enough to carry a real firearm. There was always something to shoot, even when it was a bottle of some kind of liquid that, when the bottle was broken, unleashed an nether-worldly stench that chased us through the woods.

The first time we went deer hunting while they were still carrying the Red Ryders, I discovered they had no gloves when we arrived at our hunting spot. They said they wouldn’t be able to pull the trigger if they had gloves on. We bought gloves when we went to get lunch.

When the boys were old enough to really hunt, it seemed the identical two of the three (triplets) were more interested in having fun than seriously hunting. I left them in a blind and their brother (who was more like Daniel Boone,) and I went to another part of the woods. We were just settled when a shot rang out, sounding like it came from the blind. We walked back to them and heard the explanation. They were going to take turns looking out the window, so one started a small fire in a coffee can. The other fired a shot after telling his brother he saw a deer, which he didn’t believe. Actually, there was a deer. He fired, missed, and the deer didn’t run. He stood there, staring at my son, mocking him. When he ejected the shell from his single-shot .410, the shell hit the top of the metal blind. Then the deer ran.

Truth be told, I never really liked venison. I think we had more venison than beef while growing up. Moose meat was gamey, tough and dry. Yuck.

Today my hunting instincts, if I ever had any, are completely gone. I would rather pet deer than hunt them. If there still are pheasants anywhere, I would rather feed than fry them.

It’s been more than twenty years since I was in the woods, but I still have that stirring of excitement when I see pickups parked near the woods and campers heading up north. The song says, “…the second week of deer camp is the greatest time of year.”