Mice, fire, syrup and the past

The holidays are always a time to get together and tell stories about the past.


My oldest drove in from VT (bringing syrup for everyone) and that spurred stories about my mother making syrup from our trees – in our yard – in Illinois.  She would collect the sap from a few of the trees and then let it sit in a big cast iron pot on the cast iron stove in the kitchen for days.  I’m not positive if my brother tried it, but I never worked up the courage myself to give it a try.

Growing up my mother frequently was coming up with ideas to try to maker our own.  I’ll never forget the chicks being raised in the kitchen in a big pen with a heat lamp.  She’s done that one a few times, a few different ways.  Then there was deer jerky that she would cut the strips and let them sit on the wood burning stove in the closed top portion.  The strips also would lay across the bars for days.  That same deer meat used for the jerky was what we used to eat for most meals, and my parents would go out and hunt it each season then hang the deer in the shed.  My dad would go out and cut pieces off, bringing them in a little at a time, and the kitchen would become a production facility with my mother wrapping everything in freezer paper and wrapping what it was on the outside.  All the scrap pieces would be thrown to the dogs and be scattered throughout the yard for the next couple months.

At one point my mother decided to even try tanning the hide of one of the deer pelts.  She scraped as much as she could off the back of the hide and then set the hide in the basement covered in salt.  I’m fairly certain it was right after we visited a festival and my brother and I each got sheepskin pelts (died in funny colors).  They were so soft and warm, she wanted to try herself.


My aunt needed shells to use to help her control her snake problem, which led to the story of my grandfather and a mouse…  Growing up we also had a lot of mice.  It was so bad I got to recognize the smell of decaying mouse lost somewhere near my room and would try to burn a candle at night to mask the smell.  We had stories about my mother cleaning and throwing toys into a toy box in the dark, feeling something odd only to find it was a dead mouse the next day.  Picking up dresses to hang, shaking them and having the feel of little paws going up inside her pants leg – she came out of those pants really fast.

We also had stories about the time my brother put a mouse in an empty hamster cage in my room and just waited for me to find it.  He also came into my room and nailed one to the wall with a dart from a dart gun at one point.  Hitting a moving mouse was a tradition though!  The story of my grandfather sitting with a 22 waiting at the dining room table for a mouse that he knew usually cut through the room is well known.  He waited it out until the mouse came around the corner and he shot it.  We just had the discussion about whether the hole is probably still in the floor or not.

While up at my mother’s I still like to sleep with television on, not for the television itself, but to drawn out any noise of gnawing.  I really dislike seeing the evidence of where the mice have been all over.


While telling stories, the subject of the power going out for more than 2 weeks at a time had to come up.  I remember best the year that Headless Horsemen was to be The Wonderful World of Disney – a special every weekend.  My brother and I were so excited to see it, and there weren’t recorders, the internet, even DVDs back then (in the 70s).  The power went out, and stayed out.  In the country we had no water when we had no power.  At that point our house didn’t have a wood burning stove yet either, so just a fireplace.   After a few days, my dad worked out how to run a tractor and use it to power a couple things like the well.  – Not in time to see the show though.  I do remember us having a little orange record player that ran on batteries, so that was our amusement.  We also always had lots of kerosene lamps, still do.  So the kerosene lamps served as light..

The stories of the fireplace and all the times we used it, led to the story of smoldering the boards around the fireplace.  My father had always used green wood, but this one year he had dried dead wood.  It burned a LOT hotter.  My mother had a huge fire going, and we ended up with the steel plate in front of the fireplace red hot.  The steel plate charred the wood around the front of the fireplace and caused smoke to come out the cold air ducts. Not having a clue where the fire was, my dad was pouring water everywhere.  They did figure out the cause of the smoke and get everything cooled off and put out before the fire department showed up, but the firemen had to all come in and traipse through to see it themselves.  There had been a storm going on, so getting out to us, had also meant that fire trucks had all run off the road into the ditches, slid everywhere and the firemen were drenched.   The fireplace wood is probably still charred under the front of the fireplace.  My brother has now converted the fireplace itself to gas, so it isn’t likely to happen again.

The Past

Telling the stories is great, and getting together the whole family at the holidays allows up to tell a story that leads to another.  I love the idea of getting family together and recording the stories.  Besides having stories recorded I also like scanning all the pictures and trying to get my whole family to name everyone in the pictures.  The hard part is finding a way to record the names to go with each picture so that you can identify who each person is.

Family Pictures

One of the things I’ve done to try to prevent memories from being lost is to ask all my aunts and uncles (and anyone else I can) to let me scan the old picture albums.  Most old albums that were used were before people realized that the acid in paper would yellow and destroy photos – so the earlier you digitize pictures the better.  You can now get all sorts of acid free supplies, but I found that even trying to remove the photos from the albums might tear and destroy them.

Originally I used the HP Photosmart 7280 printer/scanner.  It has the ability to work as a flatbed scanner or you can sheetfeed through a stack of photos.  All our family photos that I had from when my kids were little are paper photos, so those I was able to just feed through in a stack.  I would start them scanning and come back later to find the pile finished. (This included the 12 rolls my husband took on our honeymoon that were all of the great scenery.)    I may send one of those off today to have a big poster made for our anniversary (19th).  Now I have the Magic Wand scanner in my pile of tools. It’s great for scanning things at relatives houses and even books that can’t be removed from the library.  It’s a small handheld scanner that uses batteries and scans to a microSD card.  These aren’t the highest resolution, but it’s a start.

Once in a while the copy I find is a copy printed from a copy, so resolution takes even more of a hit – but in some cases the originals may not be available, or have degraded so badly that the copy is the highest resolution. If you are going to preserve lots old old photos having good software is a must.  I’ve tried several, memory manager from Creative memories is good for a beginner, but isn’t heavy duty enough.  Photoshop Elements is pretty great for the Album feature, I have notes, albums, and sharing all set up.  But for heavy duty editing something like Photoshop is really ideal.  (Gimp is a free alternative with the same features).  I actually even have a book on restoration…. Some are below.  One is even available for the Kindle.

The toughest part of course is knowing who’s in the photo.  I actually stuck little post it notes next to what photos before scanning to identify the people (My grandmother at the time was with me).  After scanning I editing the tags out, but as I put them in photoshop album I added notes for who was in the photos.  I also could tag them with the people so that when doing a search I could identify every photo of that person.  I currently have over 10,000 pictures, so organization is essential. (Those include our family pics too).

I’ll post pics in my next post.  I also have to mention backups, since doing all this work would be pretty painful if a hard drive crash took it all out.  I have several backup methods that include using photoshop.com to backup and share photos.  Me.com for a few things, and Mozy for full backup of important files (not just pics and video).  I also have an external hard drive for a local backup.  Having more than one method of backup is important.  (And don’t forget you want a backup off site too, so if something happens to your house your still covered.)

I also have converted our old VHS tapes, slides, 8MM films and more to digital. The toughest being the old 8MM since it’s really tough to find a bulb for an 8MM projector now.  We have one more to go for that….  🙂  It actually was one that turned up a couple years after we finished, so we don’t have the projector anymore.  I have it waiting while I consider options. There are services that do this for about 12 cents a foot.  It might be worth it for one reel.  Projectors for these varied too, I might be able to find one on Ebay – but this might be so much easier.  The negatives are another story though.  We have a lot of these left, so having the equipment could make life a lot easier.  VHS to DVD is really the easiest conversion.