I was filling the Heep up with gas today at the local Cumberland Farms and noticed a help wanted sign “Starting pay $13 an hour”.
This made me think of Al Vermalia he was an old codger I worked with years ago. He used to tell me how easy I had it since when he started out at seventeen cents an hour back in the day.
When I started minimum wage was $2.65 and I got a raise a few weeks later when the state minimum went up. I’m starting to understand why that seemed so huge to Al and I think I might be the old codger now.

When I hit seventy how much will that dollar be worth then?

Bread and Butter Pickles

3 Quarts Bread and Butter Pickles

I added a little chili powder, lemon and pepper to give it a slight bite. I also ignored the onions as I’m no fan of onions and celery. I let these sit with the weight on them for about twenty four hours since I got busy, I think it just let the flavor sink in more.

  • 15 cups sliced cucumbers
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1cup coarse salt
  • 4 cups cracked ice
  • 1cups cider vinegar
  • 1cups sugar
  • 3teaspoon turmeric
  • 1teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds



  1. Combine cucumbers, onions, salt and ice in a large bowl.
  2. Mix well.
  3. Put a weight on and allow to stand 3 hours. (I used a plate with a jar of honey, anything will do).
  4. Rinse and drain thoroughly.
  5. Combine vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed and mustard seed in a large pot.
  6. Add drained cucumbers.
  7. Place pot on medium low heat.
  8. Bring almost to a boil, but DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL.
  9. Remove from heat.
  10. Seal in sterilized jars, 10 minutes in a hot water bath.


  1. Easy way to sterilize jars: Wash them well in hot soapy water.
  2. Dry them off.
  3. Put on a cookie sheet, right side up, at 225°F for 15 minutes.
  4. Turn off oven and leave them in there until you need them.


Unrealized Genius

So today I’m sitting at a stoplight in the 2016 F150 and the engine shuts off, as I take my foot from the brake it starts back up. A new gas saving feature in this pickup truck. Then it hits me, my father had this figured out years ago. Half the cars he had would shut down at a light and then you would have to restart them when the light went green.

Admittedly he didn’t have it all worked out as sometimes it wouldn’t restart when the time came and we’d have to get out and push it to the side of the road. I now realize this was just teething pains as he was nearly forty years ahead of Ford in getting this setup.

Bob and Rose Estes

My Aunt and Uncle.

Thursday night early Friday morning my Aunt Rose died. Leaving her son my cousin Tom behind. Allen Tom’s brother died a few years ago and Uncle Bob a few years before my Dad.


There is a house in Randall, NY that was bought by my Aunt and Uncle for $400 dollars (I talked with Tom today and he said this was actually $300). The house was full of Sears catalogs and old papers. A dumbwaiter that went from the basement to the second floor. An outhouse in the backyard. My Grandfather and my Uncle worked to make this a house to live in and Aunt Rose and Uncle Bob raised Allen and Tom there and made it into a home.

I saw my first remote controlled TV. Only two stations on an antennae but a remote control the size of a brick. I heard stories of bed springs in the concrete for the driveway, a cat called Fluffy and the NY Yankees. Celery that grew and then turned around and went back into the ground. A quilt made by the Amish for my Aunt. A GE Electrak mower that went to the end of the yard and then had to be towed back in when the batteries died. A basement that flooded when it rained hard. Clothing being washed and ironed, even the diapers. Vanity plates for the car ESTES1.


After my Dad died Aunt Rose came over and painted the shed with my Mom. She mowed the lawn and helped anyway she could.

When I stopped by Aunt Rose  would always ask if I was hungry and she would get something to eat out in the kitchen. A glass of water or anything I wanted. I felt comfortable there. I will miss my Aunt Rose.

Cousin Barbara and Aunt Rose summer 2015.


The Estes’s. Uncle Bob is second from the right back row and Aunt Rose is front row right.


Talking to Mom

I heard a story today from Mom. She told of going to the Pharmacy in 1970 and being told she couldn’t get a prescription. Chris and I had the mumps, Margaret was ten months old, and Dad was taking treatments for Hodgkin s disease.

Grandpa Smith had driven Mom over to the pharmacy and when she came out crying he said come on lets go back in and get that. Mom doesn’t recall why she had to wait but with Grandpa Smith at her side she was given the prescription and headed home in a better frame of mind.

She has told me a couple of stories of Grandpa Smith helping her out during those years. Always he stepped in when needed and lent a hand. Trips down to see Dad when he spent thirteen months in different hospitals after a motorcycle accident. Great Grandma and Grandpa Smith also gave Mom rides down to Albany to visit Dad but Great Grandpa had to stop and take a nap about half way down and then again the same thing on the return trip. Family helped a lot getting through those times.

The Origin of the Family Meeting

I have used the phrase family meeting many times over during my short life. Not everyone can grasp the importance of a well organized family meeting. So I will try to further explain the meaning of this here.

The family meeting for us originated during a time when Dad was influenced by one Bob Ianson. I’m not certain either of them grasped the meaning or use of a family meeting. At one point without a family meeting the TV was moved to the front porch. When I told an acquaintance of this later in life he wondered out loud if we then watched the TV through a window. I had to further explain that there were no electrical outlets on the porch and we were moving the TV to the porch to limit it’s influence in our lives.

The TV eventually came back inside and was watched by the family using both channels and sometimes when cloud cover was right channel two from Utica NY even came in with minimal fuzz. Dad was over ruled on this maybe by himself or by all the pressure we children put on him. I don’t think Mom cared if the TV stayed on the porch or never came back in.

Another time with no family meeting Dad was over ruled again when he decided we would not have a Christmas tree. I believe this time Mom was the one that reversed this family policy. I believe Dad had heard that bringing a tree inside was linked to a pagan ritual and had nothing to do with christian religious beliefs.

To limit these reversals Dad went to the family meeting format. We would all sit down at the table and he would lay out the plan with the reasons for why it would be done. The we would get a chance to voice any concerns and he would weigh them against the reasons. In this way things could be seen from a different angle if needed.

The first and only family meeting I remember was the one where it was announced that we were moving the following morning. Mom got up and went in the kitchen to clean, I believe she may have been somewhat upset. We children just sat there stunned into silence. I’m not sure which move this was, I think we moved eleven times by the time I was nineteen and this was just one of many. I thought this number was sixteen but I can’t name the other locations.

Mind you we lived in the trailer on Mineral Springs Rd for seven straight years of stability over two stays, so ten moves were made in twelve years. Some moves were made for work like the one to Valatie, others were to stay ahead of bill collectors or just because it was time. A rolling stone gathers no moss.

My sister claims we once moved while she was in college and never told her we had moved while she was away. She did find us eventually so I doubt she was completely truthful with us on this issue.

Places we lived.

Helmire Rd owned

Mineral Springs RD rented from grandparents

Richmondville rental, there was also a move to East Cobleskill in here that never happened as the land lord found out there was some unpaid rent in the recent past and refused to let us move in.

Paul Hunt’s rental

Silvernail Rd Valatie NY rented from the Sterrits

Esperance we owned this place for maybe two years.

Ed Sisson’s rental on Route Twenty

Mineral Springs Rd some sort of deal with my grandparents where Dad owned the trailer and maybe some of the land.

Shad Point trailer park

Randall trailer park

Hyndseville where the house burned while we were not home, we also lived in a trailer here for a short while before the land was sold to a farmer. We used to drive by and look at the vacant slab where the house once stood.

Mortise and Tenon joints

Years ago when I was just a small boy, living in that trailer on Mineral Springs Road across the driveway from my grandparents, my Grandfather Smith got a set of chisels and started making things. The only thing I know of that survived is a small coffee table with mortise and tenon joints and a rough chair that was made with a chainsaw. My brother has that table now, hopefully he is getting good use of it.
No metal nails or screws were used in this everything was glued together and held by the strength of the joints, similar to an old Dutch barn.

Was my grandfather experiencing something like what I am now way back then? I am probably about the age he was then and I feel like I should be doing things that I can see the results of the work.

Dick Proenneke videos of interest. I doubt I am going to turn 51 and move to Alaska to build my own cabin by hand, while living off the land but I think maybe I sort of understand.

That old chair is pictured below.

From December 25, 2013 Chair


Big Al

When I lived in Schenectady we had different neighbors over the twenty years there. The last one just before we left was Big Al. He was one serious piece of work. I’d come home and find him on the front steps silver paint on his face from the can he was huffing. He said he worked at a group home with kids but I don’t think he was ever away from the house that long.
In the evening his buddies would show up and hang with him on the porch. Music banging out from a red Nissan Four Runner and the windows in every house on the block shaking. Sunday morning after the party was over I’d come out and pick up the bottles and baggies from the front yard. I was miserable those months when Big Al lived next to me.
I’d come home every night and there is Big Al sitting on the porch steps stoned out of his mind. He’d say hello to me and I’d say hello back, neither of us very friendly. In the middle of the night I’d look out in my driveway  between the two houses and Big Al’s buddy with the BMW would be tucked up in there out of site and they’d be sitting in the car conducting their business.
Every now and then Big Al and his girlfriend would fight loudly with the windows open, the baby would cry and they’d shout at each other. We’d had worse neighbors for the fighting but these two really set the bar for the drug dealing.

One day a pair of sneakers showed up draped over the power lines going to the house. Pat from across the street took them down and two days later a new pair of sneakers was back up on the wires, this time pink high heeled sneakers. Young kids twelve or thirteen years old would stop by and get their “stuff” from Big Al. He always had a little something for his customers.
Big Al’s friends all wore red shirts and caps like a uniform. The one kid had a pit bull that he would bring just for company. The dog had a nice spike collar and the kid had a tough time keeping him on the leash, but I never saw the dog get loose.
Neighbors would call the cops on the noise and they’d say they couldn’t do anything unless it continued after eleven O’clock when the noise ordinance would kick in. Neighbors would call the cops on the drug dealing but unless someone filed an official complaint they weren’t interested in doing anything more than lending a sympathetic ear. This was around the corner from Steinmetz Middle School (renamed Cities in Schools or some such thing), within site of the signs that say drug free school zone. Those signs were real useful. The Schenectady Police Department was about as useless as tits on a bull.
One Sunday morning after a particularly boisterous Saturday night I came out to a huge pile of garbage in my front yard. It looked like a couple of trash bags had exploded right there. It turned out that Pat across the street had come out early and picked up all the garbage from the night before shoved it in a  couple of bags and thrown them in the open front door of Big Al’s apartment. Big Al’s girlfriend came down the stairs found this mess started crying and went to Big Al who made the assumption that I had gathered all the trash up and thrown it into his front hallway. In his rage he took all the trash and threw it in my yard. I couldn’t blame him for coming to this conclusion because he was aware I wasn’t pleased with him, but I swear it wasn’t me.
Pat from across the street saw what happened and came out told me not to worry he would get it cleaned up since he had caused the issue and told me to take the wife and go get breakfast. I don’t really blame pat for any of this as I was probably thinking of doing something similar to throwing it all in the front door, maybe setting it on fire once I got it in there. I got back from breakfast and Pat is sitting across the street smoking a joint that Big Al gave him after they worked something out. All I really know is my yard was clean again.
Things like this went on for a few more weeks but we saw an eviction notice on the front door of Big Al’s apartment. Then about a month later the final eviction notice was tacked to the front door by the Sheriffs department. I hate to say it but I did find some pleasure in his misfortune.
I had a camera setup that I could use to watch the house while I was at work and the day I saw Big Al, the girlfriend and the baby headed down the street with all their stuff in tow I celebrated. It had been six long months of Big Al holding the neighborhood hostage.
That night I came home and the kids across the street were out front playing basketball for the first time that summer, people were out on their porches and the whole neighborhood felt transformed.
Big Al couldn’t have gone far as they left on foot but it was far enough away I didn’t have to deal with him anymore. About a week later I was out front mowing the lawn and trimming the hedges a couple of young guys about fifteen years old came and sat on Big Al’s porch waiting for Big Al. I let them sit there and went about my business for about an hour. Finally as I finished up I asked what they were doing the one kid told me waiting for Al. I sadly told them Big Al had moved about a week ago. The older of the two griped “how come we are always the last to know”? I smiled and drug my bag of lawn clippings back up the driveway to the garage as they walked away.
Some time in the next couple of weeks the landlord came by with a couple of young guys and cleaned out the apartment. For two weeks they dragged stuff down to the curb and filled it. Six feet tall, two feet wide and thirty feet long two weeks for trash pick up and a couple of truck loads that they hauled away on their own. Every door in that apartment had holes punched in them and I don’t believe Big Al ever took the trash out once while he lived there.

Sourdough Bread starter

 I’m trying to make my own sourdough starter, I’ll try and document it here as I go along.
Day two with the starter on top of the fridge in a Rubbermaid bowl with the cover on loosely.

Day Three
Day Four

A little further along

The Finished Product

Day One

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour (4 ounces)
1/2 cup of filtered or spring water (4 ounces)
a large container (at least 2-3 quarts) with a lid (glass or plastic, avoid metal).
I used a rye flour that mom had picked up over in Jordanville, NY, from a small Amish operation that grinds their own flour and I also added a little yeast as this recipe seems way simpler than most of the ones I’ve seen.
Combine the flour and water in the container until all the flour has been absorbed and there are no more dry particles. It will look like a sticky, thick dough. Scrape down the sides and cover. Put the container somewhere with a consistent room temperature (like the top of the refrigerator) and let sit for 24 hours.

Day Two
1/2 cup of all-purpose flour (4 ounces)
1/2 cup of filtered or spring water (4 ounces)
Mix it in, I had bubbles going and a slight odor of fermentation by now.
Day three and four repeat adding in the flour and water.

Day Five
The starter should be ready for use in a recipe now.

King Arthur Flour recipe for starter.
Sourdough starter with pineapple juice.