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If Poor Richard had a computer. October 26, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Once again, our virtual inbox here at Poor Richard’s Almanac is overflowing with wild and wacky blog searches. They just keep coming, folks, much to our delight. It’s time to clean out the archives and make room for the next arrivals. Here’s this batch for your viewing pleasure. As always, search phrase in bold, our comments following:

best crab cake recipe wonder bread: Talk about oxymoronic! Please keep your Wonder Bread to feed ducks, not eat with crabs. 

rich granny for friendship: Hey, if anybody knows a rich, heirless granny who’s looking for some impoverished bloggers to adopt, please send her our way!

our friend ben software: Say it ain’t so! Or, if it is so, please say that whoever developed it will soon be sending our friend Ben royalties for the use of my name… 

how can you tell if a jade plant is blooming: Try looking at it.

allergic reaction to a stinkbug photo: Even stinkbug-loathing Silence Dogood agrees that having an allergic reaction to a picture of a stinkbug is taking the whole stinkbug thing too far.

amount of squirrels in the u.s. in 2010: We can’t tell this inquisitive reader the, um, amount of squirrels in the U.S. at any time, but there are four fat squirrels in the yard here at Hawk’s Haven right now, and that’s four too many for us.

what are the possible consequences of: This is too delicious. Help us fill in the blank: “of attempting to feed a rhino an apple while tubing down the Nile;” “of tap-dancing in a gorilla costume at the Nobel Prize ceremonies while yodeling and juggling a tray of pies;” “of killing the Sadist who designed skintight bathing suits;” “of collecting a million Happy Meals trinkets.” Really, there are no bad answers.

top white trash desserts of all time: We love this one; it just begs for a blog post of its own. But the short form: There are the white trash desserts that sound totally disgusting but taste really, really good, and then there are the white trash desserts that taste as bad as they sound. We would tend to list chocolate icebox pie, those unbaked chocolate- and peanut butter-oatmeal whatzits, and GooGoo Cluster Supremes in the former category, and Ritz pie, anything involving marshmallows, sweetened condensed milk, and/or Jello, and Moonpies in the latter.

if poor richard had a computer: Now, see here: We here at Poor Richard’s Almanac do have, and love, our trusty laptops. As bloggers, writers, editors, and educators, we would be lost without them. Whether we can actually type, however, is quite another matter…

That’s it for this batch. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we did!

Eat your kudzu. October 25, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I get a free daily Utne Reader online installment, and one of last week’s featured headlines was “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em.”* Sure enough, the article was about an idea I’ve long espoused: eating invasive species before they eat our landscapes and gardens. In this case, it was about how Chicago chefs were attempting to turn the Asian carp, which is threatening to invade the Great Lakes, into a delicacy.

Being a gardener and a vegetarian, this of course brought to mind that other Asian invader: kudzu. Kudzu is native to Japan, where it did no harm to anybody until some American idiot decided that the stuff was fast-growing, indestructible, and no-maintenance, so it would be the perfect food for cows. Unfortunately, he failed to test kudzu for cow palatability before importing and unleashing the stuff.

Turns out, cows won’t touch it. But its other sterling qualities are true in spades: It’s indestructible, requires no irrigation or fertilizer, and spreads like wildfire. It’s been covering and killing huge swaths of native Southern trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals ever since. If you took a nap out of doors in kudzu country, it would cover you. Our friend Ben and I live in terror of global warming’s bringing kudzu up here to Pennsylvania. We already have our hands full with poison ivy, thank you.

Cows might not eat kudzu, but I had to wonder about the Japanese themselves. Like all island people, they’ve found uses for pretty much everything that grows on their land and in the seas that surrounded them. Surely there’s a Japanese dish or two that features kudzu?

Heading to my cookbook collection, I pulled down Japanese Foods That Heal by John and Jan Belleme (Tuttle Publishing, 2007). The chapters are organized by ingredient, so I figured if kudzu was there, I’d find it right away. Kudzu… kudzu… hmmm. No kudzu, but there was a chapter called “Kuzu: The Wonder Root.”

Sure enough: Kuzu in Japan is kudzu down in Dixie. And my hunch was correct. I quote: “In its native land, kuzu has always enjoyed an excellent reputation. Asians seem to have no problem using kuzu as fast as it grows. Since ancient times, the leaves and roots have been used for food. The strong fibrous stems have been used as thread to weave fabrics and baskets. But it is kuzu cuisine that has become a fine art in Japan. The purest white kuzu root powder is sought out by high-quality confection manufacturers and chefs of fine restaurants.”

Here in the States, according to the authors, kuzu root and root powder has gained a following among people who eat a macrobiotic diet. There’s even a whole book devoted to it, The Book of Kudzu: A Culinary and Healing Guide (William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, Avery, 1985).

What does kuzu/kudzu root heal, you ask? Damage from alcoholism, alcoholism itself, colds and flu, muscle stiffness. poor circulation, intestinal problems, stomach cramps, heart disease, osteoporosis, sudden deafness… the list appears to be endless. But don’t assume you can just head to the back forty and dig up a few kudzu roots for dinner. Here’s a hint as to why kudzu is unstoppable over here, now covering 7 million acres: Each root can weigh more than 200 pounds! And it takes three months for factories in Japan to convert them into edible starch through a complex process.

As a result, aficionados in the U.S. have to head for the local health-food store or Asian market to buy imported kuzu-root starch, and pay through the nose for it, to boot. But it’s worth it, and not just for the health benefits, according to the Bellemes: “Kuzu is unsurpassed as a thickening agent. It produces sparkling, translucent sauces, adds a shiny gloss to soups, and provides a smooth texture with no starchy or interfering taste. Vegetables and fish that have been dusted with kuzu powder and then deep-fried have a light, crisp coating… it is ideal in desserts like kantens and puddings, and it is the perfect ingredient in icings, shortcake toppings and pie fillings.”

So there you have it. Maybe somebody will take the hint and set up a kuzu factory down South. But meanwhile, I wondered, what about all those leaves? Could they be a palate-pleasing spinach substitute? That’s something anyone could harvest and prepare themselves, wildcrafting at its finest, since there’s certainly no danger of overharvesting! The Bellemes had no advice to offer, so I headed to my good friend Google, which was fortunately much more forthcoming.

Want to try a little kudzu tonight? Check out the recipes at Angela Gillaspie’s SouthernAngel.com (www.southernangel.com). She has recipes for Rolled Kudzu Leaves (rather like stuffed cabbage leaves), Kudzu Quiche, Deep-Fried Kudzu Leaves, Kudzu Tea, and even Kudzu Blossom Jelly. The quiche looked especially good. Angela says that only the young leaves (about 2 inches long) are edible—the older leaves are too tough and fibrous—and that they taste like green beans.

Kudzu Kabin Designs (www.nancybasket.com) of Walhalla, South Carolina has an even more delicious recipe for Kudzu Quiche, as well as recipes for Kudzu Candy, Kudzu Flower Jelly, and Fruit Juice Jelled Desserts, from a source cited as 101 Uses of Kudzu. You can also buy kudzu paper, kudzu art cards, kudzu-stem baskets, even kudzu soap on this site! As a bonus, Nancy notes, your kudzu purchases are “guaranteed never to grow again.” 

Then there’s the Blythewood Kudzu Festival site (www.kudzufest.net).** Their motto is “It’s here and it’s free—why not put it to good use?” My feeling exactly. In addition to jelly, candy, etc., this site provides recipes for Pork Tenderloin with Kudzu Salsa (the salsa uses the stems) and Kudzu-Rice Quiche, and tells you how to dry and store the leaves (use the dried leaves in breads and pasta sauces, as well as candy), and make and store “juice” from the blossoms for future jellymaking. It even provides nutritional info for the recipes!

The festival itself—now in its 35th year—includes a kudzu leaf-eating contest (one winner consumed 10 pounds, 6 ounces of what appeared to be raw kudzu leaves) and a Kudzu Sandwich Tent (selling kudzu salad, a kudzu sandwich, potatoe [sic]-flavored kudzu chips, and French-fried kudzu stems. The tent lists its hours of operation, but adds this word to the wise: “(or until kudzu is gone).” There’s even an alternative kudzu-themed food stand, the Kudzu Food VineLine, featuring a BBQ kudzu sandwich, kudzu burger, hot kudzu dog, kudzu salad (small), boiled kudzu stems, more potatoe-flavored kudzu chips, baked kudzu leaf tips, and iced kudzu tea. Sadly, no recipes were given for the kudzu salads or sandwiches, but there was a recipe provided for the boiled kudzu stems that has to be read to be believed. (In fact, the whole site has to be seen to be believed, or not believed, as the case might be. But it sure is fun!)

So, if you live down in kudzu country, make yourself a quiche, weave a few baskets, or try your hand at paper- or soap-making. If I had kudzu here, I’d try sauteeing the tender leaves with garlic and olive oil. If you can’t beat it, eat it!

         ‘Til next time,

                   Silence

* Utne Reader, October 20, 2010.

** No location for Blythewood was given on the website.

Pro-Pain. October 24, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were stunned to see this declaration of Sadism written on the label of a key hanging behind the counter of our local hardware store:

                             PRO-

                              PAIN

We were there trying to find wood polish and concealer, i.e., something that would cover up the scratches made on our cedar chests by our beloved but outrageously destructive black German shepherd, Shiloh. There are times when, frankly, we’d like to sell Shiloh to Mr. Moon’s Dog Stew Emporium for her Destructo-Dog behavior.  But no, never, would we be pro-pain.  We are seriously anti-pain. “Pain hurts” pretty much sums it all up for us. What the bleep?!!

Turns out, according to the guy who was helping us find scratch removers for our wood furniture, this key-script was in fact alluding to propane, a popular fuel in our isolated, Amish-populated area. Oh. Propane.

But what about “Pro-Pain”? After all, there on the wall adjoining the keys were a cutlass, scimitar, photo of a white shark a la “Jaws,” and charming portrait of Rasputin. When we inquired, the store clerk told us that, in fact, they belonged to the guy who wrote “Pro-Pain” on the key tag. Then he told us the guy would be in the following day if we wanted to come back and point out his spelling error.

Sadly, the guy is doomed to live in ignorance of his educational flaws, since neither Silence nor our friend Ben is about to go up to somebody with this guy’s idea of decor and point out anything. At least, not unless we’re adequately armed! As the store clerk said after looking at the wall of grisly trophies, then at the key tag, and thinking it over, “Hmmm. Maybe that’s not a misspelling after all.”

Questions… October 22, 2010

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Often, Silence Dogood and our friend Ben read, see, or hear things that bring up questions. And sadly, the answers to these questions never seem to be in whatever it is that prompted them, or anywhere else, as far as we can tell. So we’re turning to all of you with two that occurred to us today. Answers, please!

Our friend Ben was reading an article via Yahoo! News about TV shows that seemed likely to fail and be pulled (it’s from TV Guide and is called “10 Bubble Shows,” for reasons that are unclear to me). Mind you, we don’t even get TV reception here at Hawk’s Haven, so I have no clue whether these shows are good or bad. But a sentence in the slideshow presentation stopped me cold. It announced that a mere 9.5 million viewers per show were far from enough to keep the show on the air. 

Only 9.5 million viewers?!! Let’s just say that Silence, our friend Ben, and Richard Saunders would be extremely pleased if we had 9.5 million visits a day here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. So my question is, how could 9.5 million people not be enough to keep a show on the air? What on earth sort of numbers does it take for a show to be viable? Sheesh.

Silence Dogood here. My question is decidedly more practical than OFB’s. I was reading a book about bread-baking this morning, and it reminded readers to always use a serrated bread knife to cut freshly made loaves of bread, or you’d tear the crumb and make an unholy, ugly-looking mess out of your beautiful homemade loaf. 

So I thought, well, what about using one of those serrated plastic knives they sell for cutting lettuce? Isn’t that the whole point of those lettuce knives, that they’re super-gentle and don’t tear the leaves? Seems to me that they might work even better than a steel blade when cutting a warm-from-the-oven loaf. Anybody out there tried this?

So there you have it. And we’d be happy to answer your questions in return, though admittedly, our answers might be a bit off-base…

Crisps, crumbles, and cobblers. October 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every Saturday, our little local library has a book sale, offering an assortment of fiction and nonfiction books and videos for can’t-be-beat prices of free to $2.00. So if our friend Ben and I are running errands in town on a Saturday, as we often are, I’ll suggest that we stop by the library so I can run in and check out the cookbooks.This week, I came upon a great little find called Crumbles & Cobblers

Being Southern, I grew up with fruit crisps and cobblers instead of pies. Not that we didn’t have pies: pecan pie, chess pie, mince pie, chocolate icebox pie, rum pie, lemon meringue pie, banana cream pie. But with the exception of bananas, our fruit desserts were crisps and cobblers: apple crisp, peach crisp, peach cobbler, cherry cobbler, blackberry cobbler. When I moved to Pennsylvania, I was amazed at the assortment of fruit pies, and dismayed by the lack of cobblers and crisps.

Short of fresh fruit and baked apples, both of which are favorites here at Hawk’s Haven, crisps are about the easiest fruit dessert there is. You cut up your fruit and put it in an 8-inch buttered round or square glass pie or cake pan, adding just a teensy bit of water to the buttered pan before fitting in the fruit. Our favorite is peach-blueberry crisp, but we also love plain peach, peach-cherry, peach-raspberry, peach-cranberry, apple, apple-apricot, apple-cranberry, apple-apricot-cranberry, pear, and pear-cranberry. And no, I never peel the fruit before adding it to a crisp or cobbler. It’s so delicious peel and all!

Once the fruit is in the pan, dot butter over it and add a sprinkling of sugar or brown sugar and cinnamon, if you like. (Ground cardamom makes an interesting variation for a peach crisp.) But fruit isn’t what makes a crisp a crisp. You need the crumbled topping, which, I assume, is why those Brits call it a crumble instead of a crisp.

To make the topping, combine 2/3 cup unbleached flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 cup butter, working the butter in with your fingers to make panko-like crumbs. Then work in 1/2 to 2/3 cup rolled oats and spread the whole shebang over the fruit in your glass pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 1 hour, or until the fruit is cooked and bubbly and the topping is crisp. I usually put a piece of aluminum foil over the dish for the first half-hour, then remove it for the final half-hour to make sure the topping doesn’t get too brown.

Cobblers are pretty much identical, with two important exceptions: You use a deeper dish for them, and you top them with piecrust dough, either in a single sheet or cut into a lattice. Cobblers are traditionally baked in square or rectangular pans, never round, and are often berry-based, such as a blackberry or cherry cobbler, though peach and even apple cobbler are also popular. The fruit in a cobbler is typically dredged or tossed in a little flour and a lot of sugar before being dotted with butter and sprinkled with lemon juice, then topped with the crust.

So far, so good, right? Delicious fruit, perfectly cooked, covered with a crunchy, buttery topping or a pie crust, and served hot with whipped cream or ice cream. What’s not to love?

Plenty, according to Crumbles & Cobblers. The “crumbles” part looked pretty much okay, though they don’t include that all-important oatmeal in the topping. And they had some really yummy-sounding fruit combinations, such as Baked Banana Crumble with Rum & Lime, Sherried Nectarine Crumble, and Gooseberry & Pistachio Crumble.

But the cobblers! Blasphemy, that’s what it is. First, they top their cobblers with scones—basically sweet biscuits—rather than piecrust. This reminds me of Northerners serving up so-called “strawberry shortcake” on biscuits rather than sponge cake. Gack!!! What are they (the Australian authors of Crumbles & Cobblers) thinking?!! Worse still, they make savory cobblers, the equivalent of Northern pot pies: Golden Chicken Cobbler, Mixed Fish Cobbler with Dill, Winter Vegetable Cobbler, Beef Cobbler with Chile. Sure enough, the photos showed dishes we’d call casseroles topped with biscuits. Say it ain’t so!!!

Biscuits are biscuits, folks, delectable breakfast food made fresh and served hot with plenty of butter and maybe some jam or marmalade to counter the salt, pepper, butter, and/or cheese on grits, fried eggs, or omelettes, often with a side of home fries or hash browns and a heaping helping of bacon, sausage, or ham. Biscuits can sop up redeye gravy or be drowned under thick biscuit gravy if you’re a fan of heart-stopping diner cuisine. But biscuits are not, are never, some kind of topping for fruit or a baked vegetable or meat-based casserole. Please don’t make something like that and say it’s a cobbler! Otherwise, innocents like me might think you’re actually serving cobbler and take a bite before realizing our mistake. 

             ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Another shock to the system. October 18, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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BAM!!!

Silence Dogood here. And no, I wasn’t watching Emeril. I was sitting here at my computer, writing a blog post about cobbler, when something hit the window next to me with the force of a fastball.

AAAHHHHHH!!!! There went the sixth of my nine lives.

Whirling around, all I saw was a little snowdrift of feathers floating down from the screen. Stumbling to the window, I saw Hawk’s Haven’s resident Cooper’s hawk, who’d apparently just pursued a hapless songbird to its doom. The poor little bird must have flown into the window in its attempt to escape, or else the hawk caught it and was unable to slow its flight before crashing into the window itself. (Hawks strike claws-first from the air, so they need to work up a fair amount of speed to stun their target when they strike.)

The Cooper’s hawk stood on its prey for several minutes, occasionally shifting position slightly, looking down as if to check on it from time to time but making no attempt to start eating. I’m not sure if this is typical—if the hawks wait until they’re sure the prey is dead, and thus unable to escape at the last moment—or if our particular hawk was just stunned from its encounter with the window screen, or was even concerned that I might rush through the wall and deprive it of its lunch. In that case, however, hawks typically “mantle” their prey, covering it with spread wings to keep other predators away, and the Cooper’s hawk wasn’t doing that.

Eventually, the hawk seemed to decide that the little bird was dead, or at least comatose, and took to the air with the poor soul hanging limp in its claws, doubtless heading back to its nest or to a convenient branch where it could enjoy its meal unobserved in a leisurely fashion. I returned to my desk and decided to save cobblers for tomorrow and post about the drama I’d just witnessed instead.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love our songbirds. But we also love our hawks. I feel sad that there’s one less delightful little songbird to brighten my days. But I feel privileged that a hawk has chosen to make its home with us. Now, if I could just persuade it to do its hunting farther afield. After all, I’m down to just three lives.

              ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

Mini-Makeover: Cottage Edition October 17, 2010

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Silence Dogood here. If you’re like me, you love watching the show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” Each week, Ty Pennington and his merry band pretty much completely demolish a house, then build a new one with all-new furnishings and landscape features on the same site.

Here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, our makeover attempts are somewhat more modest. In fact, they’re usually limited to changing the summer bed quilt for the Pendleton wool blanket in winter and changing the summer towels, with their seagreen, sunny yellow, and cheerful mango colors for the winter towels with their deep reds and greens, then, of course, switching back again in spring.

However. Sometimes a makeover just happens, and one happened to us—or rather, to our living room—this week. Blame it on our black German shepherd, Shiloh, aka Destructo Dog, aka The Rug Doctor (or, in her case, Surgeon). Shiloh had taken a few good-sized bites out of the braided 7-by-9-foot wool rug in the living room over the course of growing up, and I for one was sick of looking at it. However, replacing a rug that size is not a trivial matter, and actual home and car repairs, plus little things like bills and taxes, kept getting in the way.

Then a birthday check arrived. Our friend Ben and I are big believers in using gift money for things we couldn’t otherwise afford, and a new rug had “birthday buy” written all over it. We loved our old rug, which I believe we’d gotten from Orvis back in the day. But sadly, neither Orvis nor L.L. Bean nor Plow & Hearth—the three companies I knew of that carried braided rugs—had a beautiful braided rug in hunter green with additional colors and a wide all-green border like our old rug. In fact, none of them carried braided rugs with solid borders at all. So, after reviewing the options, we went with a chestnut braided wool rug from L.L. Bean with shades of blue, brown, rust, gold, tan, cream, and a little white. It was a beautiful rug, and it arrived in an amazing two days after I received shipping confirmation and only four days after I ordered it. Talk about service!

OFB and I rolled it out right over our old rug, which we figured would make a nice, thick rug pad and would make it harder for Shiloh to knock the rug all over the place as she raced through the house. The new rug looked great! The only problem was that I’d decorated the rest of the room to go with the green rug. Now the green-and-pink patterned curtains and the green Indian coverlet that’s disguising our battered sofa clashed badly with the new rug. It was clearly time for a makeover!

Fortunately, before the green rug, I’d had two pairs of curtains made for the living room windows, and they were hanging, drycleaned and pressed, in the closet. I had a feeling they might work with the rug. Sure enough, the curtains’ pattern was in shades of blue, rust, gold, and brown on white. In just a few minutes, the curtain issue was solved. The round braided mat on one of the living room rockers had to go, too, with its red, black and grey colors. But again, the braided mat on the rocker in my office was blue, brown and gold, so a simple swap was all we needed.

That left the sofa. I had a couple of other Indian cotton coverlets in the linen closet, but none were the right colors. So OFB, Shiloh and I piled into the car and headed for Adam’N Eve, a great little jewelry, clothing and furnishings store in nearby Kutztown. It carries a wide selection of Indian coverlets, and behold, there was one with a pattern of blue with a little white on brown. Eureka! Not only did this pick up the colors of the new rug, it also picked up the identical blue and white on the Japanese print on the ottoman cushion across the room from the sofa.

We’re still not done. I need to replace or cover three cushions that now clash with everything else, and we need to replace the little half-circle rug in front of the fireplace that matched the green rug (sob). But my goal is to get that done this very day, at which point, just two days after the rug’s arrival, the living room’s transformation will be complete. Top that, Ty!

          ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

Knock-knock-knockin’… October 15, 2010

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There’s nothing like working at the computer and suddenly hearing someone pounding, not on your front door, not on your deck door, but on the outside wall of your bedroom. Rushing into the room, our friend Ben observed Linus, our big and beautiful but clueless cat, plastered against the window behind the bed, which is well above head height from the outside. Knowing Linus, who hides at the approach of any person other than yours truly and Silence Dogood, our friend Ben felt that familiar sinking feeling that comes when you know your beloved home is under attack.

Armed with a stout broom handle, I raced out the deck door and around the side of the house. Sure enough, there was a downy woodpecker, merrily hammering away on our clapboard wall. By the time I could identify the sound and get out there, it had already drilled three holes and was working on a fourth.

This had happened a couple of years ago, and after fruitlessly attempting to chase the determined woodpecker off, our friend Ben was finally able to deter it by pounding on the inside bedroom wall exactly opposite to where it was hammering on the outside wall. I suppose it figured that it really wasn’t worth trying to drill in to whatever was waiting inside there! Then I painted over the damaged wood, and that was that.

Until now. This time, our friend Ben attempted the “speak softly and carry a big stick” approach. Brandishing the broom handle, I informed the startled woodpecker that this was my house, not its all-you-can-eat buffet. I pointed out that there were lots and lots of lovely trees all over the property, and it was welcome to drill on any of them. I added that Silence and I kept the feeders filled with black oil sunflower seeds, its favorites, and even set out suet blocks for it and all its friends each winter. Then I suggested that it refrain from demolishing our home, since if we had to pay for expensive repairs, we could no longer afford to feed it.

At which point, the woodpecker, who’d removed to a nearby branch upon our friend Ben’s appearance and observed this lecture with considerable interest, flew away. I wish I could say that it left because it was convinced by the reasonableness of my arguments that house demolition wasn’t in its best interests, but I suspect that its reasoning was more along these lines: “Geez, isn’t that human ever going to shut up?!! I’m hungry, and I can’t sit around here waiting all day for lunch. Time to opt for Plan B.”

Unfortunately, Plan B turned out to be the second-storey wall of our studio, well out of our friend Ben’s reach, as I discovered upon taking our black German shepherd, Shiloh, outside a few minutes later. This time, the woodpecker continued its investigations undisturbed, doubtless saying “Nyah, nyah, you can’t get me!” between beakfuls of board.

Our friends were uniformly unsympathetic—to the woodpecker, that is—when our friend Ben related these events to them later. Comments ranged from “Stupid woodpeckers! They’re so destructive” to “Why don’t you just shoot it?” But we love our woodpeckers here at Hawk’s Haven. Seeing them (usually) brightens our day. So no, we won’t shoot them. We won’t even stop feeding them. But we have a call in to our handyman, who is unafraid of heights (in marked contrast to yours truly) and will cheerfully climb the ladder to the top of the studio, where he blocked off a squirrel hole only last year. Our friend Ben is eager to see how he plans to thwart the little woodpecker’s dinner plans.

Return from Rolley Hole. October 14, 2010

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Our friend Ben was relaxing with a mug of hard cider at a corner table in the back room of the local Colonial tavern, The Eagle Arms, trying to see his marble solitaire board in the flickering candle- and firelight. The goal of the game is to remove every marble but one from the board by hopscotching them over each other, then removing the jumped-over marbles. Sounds simple, but trust me, it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds.

Suddenly, the sound of rapidly approaching hoofbeats, followed by a thunderous outcry, broke our friend Ben’s concentration and brought all conversation in the tavern to an abrupt halt. It could only be the stentorian voice of Ben’s friend and marble buddy, Paul Revere,* newly returned from his adventures at the Rolley Hole marble festival and competition.

“Ben! BEN!!! Wait until I tell you what happened in Tennessee,” Paul shouted, even before dismounting from his noble but exhausted (and at least partially deafened) steed. “You have to come next year, Ben. I’m telling you, it’s the best time you will ever have! It is THE marble event of them all!”

“Have a seat and a tankard, Paul, and tell us all about it,” said our friend Ben, as a serving wench plunked a foaming pewter tankard of ale in front of the marble-loving silversmith, and a group of marble enthusiasts pulled their chairs closer (but not too close, everyone was familiar with Paul’s ringing tones) to hear more. “You’d been gone so long, we were starting to think you’d moved there!”

“Or at least snuck back to Boston without stopping by to say hello,” added Duffy, another marble friend of Paul’s, puffing on a long-stemmed clay pipe from his seat by the fire.

“Not me!” Paul bellowed, waking up Motley, the tavern dog, who’d fallen asleep while keeping vigil under our friend Ben’s chair, hoping for a few scraps of bread and cheese or at least some spilled cider.

“OwOOOO!!!” Motley protested, paws over ears.

“What’s that you say, Ben?” Paul paused, swilling the ale as fast as his throat would allow. “Got to get all that road dust out of my throat before I can tell the story. Say, is this that firebrand Sam Adams’s brew? I tell you, he’s the best brewer and worst businessman in Boston! Just can’t keep his mind on anything but stirring up revolt. Drives his cousin John Adams crazy! Now, what was I saying?”

“About what kept you down Tennessee way so long we all thought you weren’t coming back?”

“Right. Well, I wanted to stay, but I had to come back to tell everybody to reserve the time in September next year,” Paul said, draining his tankard, then examining it with a metalsmith’s practiced eye. “Hmpf,” he muttered. “A three-eyed cow could do better work than this. But at least it doesn’t leak,” he added, brightening.

“More ale, please, miss!” Paul hailed a passing tavern wench, who was immediately overwhelmed with cries of “More ale!” “More grog!” “More cider!” “More beer!” and “More whiskey!” from the multitude. Everyone knew that listening to one of Paul’s tales was thirsty work.

Once the rowdy group had their hands wrapped around fresh glasses, mugs, and tankards, Paul continued. “I’m telling you, Ben, I met so many great people who welcomed me with open arms. And as we all know, that’s not always the case when you’re not part of the group. You know how sometimes we get a yokel who wants to ride his horse in our race or throw his marbles in our ring? People can be pretty hard on newcomers sometimes, especially when they don’t know what they’re doing but think they know it all and have every right to play with the pros instead of taking the time to work their way up through the ranks and learn a little something along the way.”

“A little courtesy and humility is always appreciated, too,” our friend Ben added.

“How would you know, Ben?” several voices put in.

“Well, these folks weren’t like that,” Paul hastily continued before Ben could start a brawl. “They want to perpetuate their game, and so they welcome anyone who’s brave enough to try it. And you know me, I’m game for anything.”

Heads nodded; everyone knew Paul.

“The day after I got there, I rode over to the Super Dome Marble Yard in Tompkinsville, Kentucky,” Paul continued. “Took me almost a full day to get there on horseback, but it was worth the trip. I walked through the entrance and was greeted by the onlookers… Say, Ben,” Paul broke off, eyeing the heaping platter of warm, fragrant bread and cheese beside our friend Ben’s marble board. “I don’t suppose you’re done with that, are you? I’m famished after riding all the way up here. And how about another round of ale? I’m sure I’ll need at least a pitcher to wash down all of this food!”

Suppressing a groan, our friend Ben pushed the platter across to Paul, just managing to snatch a hot buttered corn pone and a hunk of Cheddar before the starving silversmith pulled the rest of his repast out of reach. “Oh, is that an apple I see?” Paul quickly added it to his plate as Ben looked on in dismay. “Where was I? Ummm… this cheese is excellent! Too bad you didn’t eat that piece you took before the dog got it.”

A horrified Ben looked down just in time to see that Motley had roused himself and snatched the piece of Cheddar while he was distracted, and was gulping the last of the corn pone even as our friend Ben watched. Motley’s tail beat the floor as he smiled ingratiatingly before subsiding with a contented snore.

“The silent hog gets the slops,” Duffy observed.

“Silent, you say?” our friend Ben stared meaningfully at Paul, who was purposefully working his way through the remains of the bread and cheese and had long since eaten the apple, core and all.

“Mmpf… but to get back to Kentucky,” Paul resumed, smacking his lips as he licked the last buttery crumbs from his fingers. “The players were already on the marble yard when I got there, so I sat down to watch. Man, could those boys shoot! Ben, I have never seen so many men over 40 get down on their hands and knees to shoot. I met Rondell Bigerstaff, and Chris King, who won the National Rolley Hole title last year with his partner. They invited me to play. Well, I just hopped right in there and was Chris’s partner. Even though we were soundly beaten, I had fun and learned a lot.”

“But Paul, how could you just get out there and play a game you’d never played before?”

“You’ve got a point, Ben, but those fellas taught me. Told me what to shoot next and how to shoot.” Paul grinned. “Boy, it was fun. The yard was made of a golden clay so the marbles don’t bounce. And I tell you, Ben, these men are in great shape. A 70-year-old-man was down on his knees, and he jumped to a standing position without using his hands.”

Curses, crashing chairs, and falling tankards interrupted Paul’s narrative as a number of men attempted to duplicate this feat, ending up groaning on the floor to general laughter. Ben, Paul, Duffy, and Motley, roused from his post-prandial stupor by the noise, exchanged glances. Duffy summed up the general consensus: “Waste of good liquor.”

“Looks like a considerable amount was wasted already,” our friend Ben added, noting the downed men still struggling to regain their feet as they slipped on spilled ale and tripped over tankards and assorted plates and cutlery. Motley, ever the opportunist, lost no time heading over to help with the cleanup efforts.

Paul waited for some vestige of order to be restored before continuing. “After the game, I rode back to Tennessee and Standing Stone State Park where I was staying, thanks to Shawn Hughes, who organizes the tournament. When I got there, I saw that there was a marble game in progress at the marble yard, so tired as I was, I joined in. Paul Davis, the renowned flint marble-maker, was playing, along with Russell Collins and Larry Denton. I’m telling you, boys, these guys welcome strangers like they were family. We could all learn some hospitality from these folks.”

A few of the locals at The Eagle Arms took exception to this apparent slur on their manners, but most just nodded their heads in agreement. “There was a fella there who introduced himself as Bud Garrett,” Paul laughed, “but I knew better, because I’d read Darren Shell’s book A Stone’s Throw. Turns out it was Jack Tinsley, one of the Sharpshooters who went to England in 1993 and won the World Championship. Boy, they showed everyone over there how marbles were really played.”

“Whupped those Redcoats again, eh, Paul?” A few mildly inebriated patriots launched into a wobbly rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” punctuated by Motley’s howls of protest.

“So why were you so long in coming back, Paul?” Ben shouted over the din.

“I tell you, Ben, those folks in Tennessee and Kentucky are so humorous and friendly, I had a hard time dragging myself away,” Paul said, smiling at the memory. “But the real piece de resistance was the way these guys shot. Man, from 20 feet away they would let loose and, without the marble ever touching the ground, it would knock their opponent’s marble clear across the yard. In fact, that’s where mine usually ended up. They shot with back spins, side spins, and top spins. They all made their marbles dance!”

“Huzzah!” Many tankards were raised to toast the skill of these outstanding American shootists.

“But I’ve saved the best for last,” Paul announced mysteriously, hauling his saddlebag onto the table as the group crowded closer. Even Duffy’s curiosity was roused, and he ambled over to see what Paul was up to.

“Just look at these marbles!” Paul extracted a bag of flint marbles from the saddlebag and tossed it onto the table. “Malcolm Strong, who they say runs the best marble yard, gave me this one.” Paul held it up so everyone could get a good look. “When he shoots, he usually has his pipe dangling from his mouth to help his concentration.” Duffy, pipe in teeth, nodded.

“I got these from Paul Moore,” Paul continued, holding up a big handful. “Aren’t they beauties? They’re big like that for playing Tennessee Square, or, in their lingo, Big Marbles. This one’s from Paul Davis. I named it “The Domer” because it glows gold in the light. This Bud Garrett marble is a gift from Jack Tinsley. And Junior B. Strong spent a whole day rounding this marble just so he could give it to me.”

Everyone who was still mobile inched closer to admire the flint marbles in the guttering candlelight. Murmurs of appreciation and incredulity filled the room at the ingenuity of the marble-makers of Tennessee and Kentucky.

A coughing noise brought Paul’s attention back to our friend Ben, who was eyeing the flint marbles the way a miser would look at the last gold coin ever minted. “Tell you what, Ben: If you actually win that solitaire game, I’ll give you one.”

Derisive snorts followed this comment, at least on the part of those patrons still standing. Our friend Ben’s best-ever game had still left three of the 36 marbles on the board, and usually he only managed to get down to five. “Motley would have a better chance of winning,” someone pointed out.

The outcome was never determined, however, because just as our friend Ben was about to return his attention to the solitaire board, horse’s hooves could be heard pounding up to the front door of The Eagle Arms. “Paul Revere! Paul Revere!” a voice shouted, “I have word for you!” As everyone rushed for the front room, the table Ben and Paul had been occupying was upended, sending the solitaire game crashing to the floor.

“Chris King and Michael Ledbetter won the First Annual Kent Atchley Rolley Hole Invitational, just after you pulled out and headed for home,” the breathless messenger announced, his accent revealing his Tennessee roots.

“Hurrah!” shouted Paul. A general chorus of cheers arose, and one overexcited patron fired off his pistol, causing a number of other customers to dive behind the bar for safety.

“Wait,” the stranger continued. “It gets better! Jim Storsberg is organizing the Tennessee Marble Club for shooters and collectors. He’s also starting a youngsters’ shooting league, and champions like Jeff Kimmel, Chris King, Molly Kimmel, and Melissa Bowman Pickett have agreed to coach. He wanted you to know that, thanks to all of your work, it looks like marble shooting is here to stay.”

“I must leave for Boston at once to spread the good news!” Paul bellowed, scattering patrons right and left as he rushed for the door. “To horse! To horse! There’s not a moment to lose!”

The last our friend Ben saw or heard of Paul Revere was a rapidly retreating cloud of dust, from which emerged a final shout: “See you all at the Rolley Hole Tournament next year!”

* In keeping with our blog’s Colonial theme, the marble expert otherwise known as Dr. JABO prefers to be known here only as his alter-ego, Paul Revere. You can read more of our friend Ben’s adventures with Paul by searching for “A Rolley Hole revival” and “The JABOs are coming!” in our search bar at upper right.

Time flies. October 13, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , ,
5 comments

Tempus fugit: Time flies.* We gardeners are more likely to have seen this phrase as an inscription on a sundial than in the writings of its originator, the great Roman poet Virgil. Our friend Ben found that it rewards a closer look, and would like to share my findings with you today.

Virgil (70-19 B.C.) was a contemporary of the Emperor Augustus. Appropriately for all us sundial-owning gardener types, he wrote tempus fugit in his epic poem The Georgics, which is about, of all things, farming. (One of its four books was devoted to beekeeping.) The complete phrase translates as “time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail.” Or, as John Lennon put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

Fortunately, Virgil’s meaning is the same, whether you take the whole phrase or just the sundial version: Time is fleeting, so don’t get distracted. Make the most of it before the hourglass runs out. But by “making the most” of the time we’re given, Virgil wasn’t exactly endorsing the more sensual, enthusiastic, and proactive approach implied by that other famous Latin phrase about time, carpe diem, seize the day. Carpe diem’s “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may”—get yours while the getting is good—is pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum from Virgil’s tempus fugit, focus on what matters, not irrelevant trivia.

What made our friend Ben think of all this was visiting a friend’s website this morning. My friend has put a “Quote of the Day” feature on his site, and today’s quote was from Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), author of The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne’s comment was also about time flying, but it added a nuance I found both true and thought-provoking: “Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.”

Now, given that Hawthorne was descended from Puritans and grew up in Salem, Massachusetts, and that his great-great-grandfather was actually a judge at the Salem Witch Trials, time probably left a few more shadows behind for him than it does for many of us moderns. But it’s undeniable that time leaves its mark on us all: on our bodies, our habits, our memories, our reactions, our thoughts, our actions. All are colored by what has “flown over us.”

As a bird lover and bird watcher, our friend Ben loves the imagery of the bird flying overhead, casting its shadow down on us, then continuing on its way but leaving its bird-shaped shadow with us. I’ll take that over the Grim Reaper any day!

So, two quotes, two truths, two lessons: Time flies from us, but changes us in its flight. Let us recognize ourselves for what we are, “creatures of a day,” in the words of Aristophanes. Let us give that day, give every day we have, our best, be aware of it, savor it, so that, at day’s end, we will know we lived, rather than letting time slip away while we occupied ourselves with details and distractions.

                       Tempus fugit: Spiritus in aeternum durabit.

* Technically, the correct translation of tempus fugit is “time flees,” not “time flies.” But then, technically, the correct translation of Vergilius is Vergil, not Virgil.

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