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Death and taxes. April 14, 2014

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“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

To think that this famous quote from our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, was said more than a hundred years before the Federal income tax was even instituted. Those of us who grew up with income tax, property tax, estate tax, school tax, and the like tend to associate old Ben’s quote with them, and especially income tax. Yet income taxes as we know them weren’t passed into law until 1913!

The taxes Dr. Franklin was referring to were those imposed by Britain on everyday goods, like stamps, tea, sugar, beer, spirits, tobacco, and salt. These ever-increasing sales taxes, intended to help Britain pay her debts for the French and Indian War, aka the Seven Years War, led to a cry of “Taxation without representation!” from the outraged Colonists and eventually to the American Revolution.

To think that taxes on something like tea could once fire a revolution, while today, though we may grumble, we hand over monstrous amounts of our hard-earned income to our own government like so many sheep. Taxation with (supposed) representation. Ben Franklin’s quote is more applicable than ever.

But to those who are frantically trying to file their income taxes today, our friend Ben has another quote for you, courtesy of the comedian and wordsmith Steven Wright: “If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple of payments.”

Our Founding Fathers speak. March 27, 2014

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to share some wisdom from our Founding Fathers. Normally we quote our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. But the other Founders had a lot to say for themselves, too. So today we’re featuring quotes from George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Note especially the last three quotes by Madison; maybe he had a crystal ball and could see into our times.

From George Washington:

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

“If freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, called conscience.”

“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

From Alexander Hamilton:

“Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.”

“A well adjusted person is one who makes the same mistake twice without getting nervous.”

“Nobody expects to trust his body overmuch after the age of fifty.”

“Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal.”

From James Madison:

“Philosophy is common sense with big words.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“I believe that there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

“It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

The cheapest form of hope. March 24, 2014

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“He that can have patience, can have what he will.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Our friend Ben isn’t sure that I agree with our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, on this one. The ugly old guy is unlikely to get the beautiful young girl unless he’s rich and powerful and she’s shallow and greedy, however patient he is. The person who can barely add 2+2 without a calculator is unlikely to become the next Einstein, however patient he is. A techno-idiot like me is unlikely to become the next Elon Musk or Larry Page or Mark Zuckerberg, however patient I am. Patience will not make an aspiring writer into a bestselling novelist or even get them published (not even talent can do that, it’s all about platform, but I digress).

Perhaps Dr. Franklin would have hit closer to the mark by saying “The person who truly knows himself can have what he will.” I know a 90-year-old widower who wanted to go out with a bang. He bought a Camaro, started throwing his money around, doubtless stocked up on Viagra, and let it be known that he had $2 million in assets. Then he went after a much younger woman in financial distress who liked to wear vulgar clothes that showed every inch of cleavage and was, in complete opposition to him, totally uneducated. He’s been happily married and getting exactly what he wants ever since. He knew himself, much to the surprise and distress of his family, who only thought they knew who he was.

The person who truly knows him- or herself has something the rest of us lack, which is focus, as well as patience. The person who lusts after a scientific breakthrough like that 90-year-old lusted after a young, hot wife will spend a lifetime looking, and will not feel that one second has been wasted. Instead, they will feel a continuous rush of hope. Every day, when they get up, they might find the Higgs boson or the gravitational waves that followed the Big Bang and established our universe and so many others, or a cure for cancer. What a great motivation to get out of bed and get going!

Our friend Ben is not big on getting out of bed, especially in the ongoing cold and dark. (Curse you, Daylight Saving Time.) But one thing helps, and that’s lottery tickets. Every day, I have one lottery ticket, and it could buy me and my family and friends financial freedom for the rest of our lives. I always buy the ticket for the biggest payoff of the day, and I always buy just one, which means I spend $11 a week on lottery tickets. Many of my friends ridicule me for this, since to their minds it’s a total waste of money.

But for me, it’s priceless, since what I’m buying is hope. Sure, I could spend $11 a week on soda or convenience-store hotdogs or candy or gum or some other trash. (I’m not sure if you can even buy a pack of cigarettes for $11.) I could spend it going to a movie if I didn’t buy anything additional from the concession stand. I could spend it on a drink at a restaurant. And then it would be gone.

To my mind, waking up each day with the possibility of financial freedom before me, for just $11 a week, is the cheapest form of hope. As Ben Franklin says, I’m happy to be patient, for each day offers the same promise as the last. It’s hope I’m paying for, not a financial windfall. It would of course be fantastic to win. If I won enough to support myself and Silence Dogood and those we love, that would be a dream come true. To win more than that and be able to support or found causes we believe in would be a lifetime goal achieved. But even if we never win more than $2 or $5 or $11, it’s still a great reason to get up in the morning, because every morning brings a new opportunity for all the world to open.

Coin collecting: Toning up. March 15, 2014

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about one of the fun things about coin collecting. If you’re a pocket-change collector like me, you know how much fun it is to collect pennies, nickels, and quarters that have different designs. (Where are new dimes, U.S. Mint?!)

And I’m sure you know that coins change color over time. If you have old nickels, you may be grossed out by the greasy dull grey color they’ve taken on in their many years rattling around in pockets and purses. If you’re lucky enough to have found some “wheat ears” pennies in your change, you’ll have seen how they turned from their original bright copper to flat brown over time. (“Wheat ears” pennies had two ears of wheat on the back, and the design was used from the debut of the Lincoln cent in 1909 until 1959, when the Lincoln Memorial replaced it.)

Nobody would call these changes for the better. But there is a color change that is cherished by coin collectors. It’s called “toning.” Basically, it’s when a coin takes on attractive colors as it ages, and it’s another great reason to check your pocket change. Toning is usually most pronounced on silver coins—especially silver dollars, half-dollars, and quarters. You can buy spectacular examples covered with an entire rainbow of colors or just a couple, such as blue and gold, or coins that are now a gorgeous gold tone but started life as silver. (But buyer beware: Because toned coins have a higher market value than regular coins, there are a lot of fakes out there.)

But here’s what’s exciting: Regular pocket change can also be toned, and it doesn’t have to be old, either. Just last week, I found a Lewis and Clark nickel from 2004 in my pocket that had started to turn gold. Mind you, not that this is real gold, and not that pocket change ever has much more than face value, unless you really do come upon a rare penny or an old silver dime, quarter, half-dollar, or dollar. (I never have; they were pretty much all grabbed up after the Mint stopped producing silver coins in 1965 and went to alloys.) But toning is a fun and different look to add to your collection, and some of these toned coins really are quite beautiful.

So don’t forget to check that pocket change! As our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, would say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

The rarest marble in the world? November 13, 2013

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Our friend Ben isn’t talking about the marble that is used to make kitchen countertops, palaces, and sculptures here, but about the round glass marbles, the so-called “toy” marbles, revered and collected by folks like me.

On my computer desk is a “Dr. Franklin” marble, named after our hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin. It was created in a marble run sponsored by Steve Sturtz, “Dr. JABO,” produced at the JABO plant in Marietta, Ohio, one of the last marble producers in the U.S. (with the iconic Marble King), and created by the preeminent machine marble-maker of all time, the legendary Dave McCullough. (Check out Sammy’s Mountain Marbles for his latest amazing creations.)

“Dr. Franklin” is a beautiful, complex creation, with brilliant opaque orange, opaque pink, and glittery black aventurine suspended in a clear matrix. It’s spectacular. But it’s also rare. There are probably fewer than 50 Dr. Franklin marbles in existence, certainly fewer than 100. They are one of the most beautiful marbles our friend Ben, a rabid marble collector, has ever seen. I love marbles, I have many jars and boxes of marbles, but the Dr. Franklin is the only marble I showcase.

Thank you Dr. Franklin, thank you Steve, thank you Dave, and thank you to the crew at JABO that made these marvelous marbles. As the Marines’ motto goes, the few, the proud. The rarest marble in the world?

Batting 2000. October 9, 2013

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It’s hard to believe, but today’s is the 2,000th post for our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. On behalf of all of us, and of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, our sincere thanks for your support and encouragement from Day 1 to today. We look forward to sharing many more thoughts, discoveries, observations and recipes with you in the days, weeks and years to come!

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
—Benjamin Franklin

Wretched Daylight Savings. September 25, 2013

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It’s almost 7 a.m. in our part of scenic PA, and it’s still pitch-black outside. Thank you, Daylight Savings. How is anybody supposed to get up and function in the dark (unless they’re an Orc or vampire)?! This is not good for our biorhythms and health, to say the least. Night: sleep. Light: wake up. How hard is that to understand evolutionally?

Our friend Ben is forced to admit that it was our own hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin, who first came up with the concept of Daylight Saving Time. But he did it as a joke, people, a joke! And now, unfortunately, the joke is on us, as our ever-more-intrusive government has made it our reality.

I’m sure old Ben would be mortified, or at least enjoying a chuckle at our expense and thinking of a witty remark to put in his Philadelphia newspaper or next almanac about people’s gullibility and government stupidity.

I’ve read many times about how harmful working second- or third-shift jobs is to people’s mental health and health in general, because they disrupt the body’s natural rhythms. And now the government is mandating the disruption of every single citizen’s natural rhythms by extending Daylight Saving Time way past the boundary between dark and light. What were they thinking?! And how dare they intrude on private life in this way?

Happy Constitution Day! September 17, 2013

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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to wish you all a happy Constitution Day! In honor of the occasion, I’ve whipped up a little quiz so you can test your knowledge of the Constitution. Try it and see how you fare! As always, I’ll reveal the answers at the end of the quiz. But no cheating, now!

1. The U.S. Constitution was signed on this day, September 17, in:

a) 1776

b) 1787

c) 1791

d) 1803

2. Who was President when the Constitution was signed?

a) James Madison

b) Thomas Jefferson

c) George Washington

d) Benjamin Franklin

3. Who is called The Father of the Constitution?

a) Thomas Jefferson

b) George Washington

c) James Madison

d) Gouverneur Morris

4. The Constitution was based on:

a) The Magna Carta

b) The Articles of Confederation

c) The Virginia Plan

d) The New Jersey Plan

5. Where is the Constitution housed?

a) The White House

b) The Library of Congress

c) The National Archives

d) The Smithsonian Museum

6. How many states were there when the Constitution was signed?

a) 13

b) 15

c) 17

d) 21

7. What document did the Constitution replace?

a) The Declaration of Independence

b) The Bill of Rights

c) The Articles of Confederation

d) The Colonial Charter

8. How does the Constitution begin?

a) “It is hereby declared…”

b) “We, the duly elected representatives of the various States of the Union…”

c) “It is a truth universally acknowledged…”

d) “We the People…”

9) Which state refused to send representatives to the Constitutional Convention?

a) New York

b) Rhode Island

c) Massachusetts

d) Virginia

10) Who gave the closing speech after the Constitution was signed?

a) George Washington

b) Benjamin Franklin

c) James Madison

d) Thomas Jefferson

Now it’s time for some answers. Ready? Here you go:

1. The answer is b), 1787. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791, and the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in 1803.

2. This is a trick question; the answer is “none of the above.” There was no office of the President when the Constitution was signed in 1787; the Constitution itself established the office. Our first President, George Washington, wasn’t elected until 1789.

3. The answer is c), James Madison, whose passionate support of the Constitution and Bill of Rights helped bring them into being. The Constitution is also partially based on the Virginia Plan that Madison drafted, and he coauthored The Federalist Papers to win public support for the Constitution. But the title could have also been bestowed on Gouverneur Morris, the most undervalued of the Founders, who actually wrote the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson is The Father of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington is, of course, The Father of Our Country.

4. Another trick question; the correct answer is “all of the above,” with quite a few other ingredients tossed into the stew for good measure.

5. The answer is c), the National Archives in Washington, D.C., which also houses the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Articles of Confederation, the Treaty of Paris, an early copy of the Magna Carta, and many other important documents. It’s well worth a visit next time you’re in D.C.

6. The answer is a). There were still just the original former Thirteen Colonies (now states) in 1787 when the Constitution was signed. The next state admitted to the Union was Vermont, in 1791.

7. The answer is c), the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, drafted in 1777 and ratified in 1781. The Articles of Confederation gave more power to the individual states at the expense of a strong central government. It lacked provisions for an executive or judiciary branch, a bicameral legislature (i.e., separate Senate and House of Representatives), or means of raising Federal taxes. The Constitution rectified these omissions, creating the strong central government we have today and paving the way for the Federal Income Tax. Thanks, guys!

8. The answer is d), “We the People.” If it were written today, it would probably be more along the lines of “In accordance with Provision 746-B of the…” Sigh.

9. The answer is b), Rhode Island. Like many States’ Rights advocates, Rhode Islanders opposed a strong central government, fearing that it would be dominated by larger, more powerful states and by urban rather than rural interests. This same states-versus-feds conflict fueled the Civil War, and you can still see it in action in today’s Libertarian Party and “tea parties.” The most famous patriot who championed States’ Rights was Virginia’s Patrick Henry, who refused to attend the Constitutional Convention, saying he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia [where the Convention was held], tending toward the monarchy.”

10. The answer is b), our very own hero and blog mentor here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, the great Benjamin Franklin. We find this entirely fitting, since there wouldn’t have been a Constitution—or an America, for that matter—if it hadn’t been for old Ben’s diplomatic skills in persuading King Louis XVI to act against his own interests (as subsequent events conclusively proved) and support the Revolutionaries against a fellow monarch. Ben Franklin was also the only Founder to sign all three of America’s seminal documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris (which established peace between Britain and America after the war), and the Constitution. Go Ben go!!!

Do you feel smarter now? For more Constitutional fun, head over to the National Constitution Center’s website (http://constitutioncenter.org/FoundersQuiz/) and take their “Which Founder Are You?” quiz! I’m James Madison. No big surprise, our friend Ben is Ben Franklin. And can you guess who Silence Dogood is? Turns out, she’s James Madison too, even though when we compared notes she answered a lot of the 11 questions differently than I did. (Silence was a bit—well, a lot—disgruntled by this. She says she wanted to be Alexander Hamilton or George Washington or Gouverneur Morris. Sorry, Silence.) Let us know who you are!

A nice way to wake up. August 4, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. If, like me, our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin’s maxim “Early to bed, early to rise” doesn’t exactly resonate with you, every little thing you can do to make getting out of bed in the morning a more pleasant experience is a good thing.

One of the most pleasant ways I’ve found is to hang crytals in the window. I don’t mean crystals like quartz, but rather, faceted glass like the crystals on a chandelier. You can use real chandelier crystals from antiques stores or flea markets, or, as I did, buy modern versions in gift shops or New Age shops. The advantage of buying them in gift or New Age shops is that they come in colors, they’re highly faceted (which is critical, as you’ll see), and they’re often pre-strung for hanging with smaller crystals on the string.

I have three crystal strands, one amber, one purple, and one pinkish-rainbow-colored, hung one on the other in an East-facing window. And when the morning light hits them, they cast dozens of beautiful rainbow droplets of light on the walls and ceilings of the room. This continues for several hours, and I can make the droplets spin and dance over the room if I gently push the lowest crystal once to set the strands moving. All three crystals are highly faceted, since the more facets, the more rainbows each crystal throws off.

This is a beautiful, entertaining, inexpensive light show. Since my goal is to motivate myself to get up and moving, my crystals are in a window in my home office rather than the bedroom. I need to get on the computer and start writing, after all, not have yet another excuse to dawdle in bed enjoying colorful patterns on the walls and ceiling. But think how magical it would be for a child to wake each (sunny) morning to rainbow splashes on his or her bedroom walls and ceiling! If your child’s bedroom has East-facing windows, I’d highly recommend it.

Meanwhile, back to working on the “healthy, wealthy and wise” part of old Ben’s maxim…

‘Til next time,

Silence

Road food done right. June 15, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. It’s finally summer, road trip time. And you know what that means: road food. You know what that means—the snacks and drinks you take in the car to keep yourself from starving and dehydrating between stops. It seems like an easy excuse to indulge in greasy and/or sugary treats and sodas, since hey, how many road trips do you take a year? You’re on vacation! Go for the Big Gulp, M&Ms, and BBQ potato chips!

Our friend Ben and I love our road trips, and we love our road food. But we don’t love grease and sugar hangovers, and we don’t love spoiling our appetites for “real” food.

So before we hit the road, I go grocery shopping. My secret weapons: A cooler and a recyclable grocery bag, plus a disposable trash bag. We load up the cooler with “cool-paks” (which we can refreeze in those little hotel fridges on the way). Of course, the goal is “finger food” that can be unwrapped and easily eaten in a moving car. So here’s what I get to keep us feeling spoiled (but not sick) on our trips:

* String cheese and mini Cheddar cubes or squares. There’s nothing like a couple of these neatly wrapped cheeses to fill you up and give you a protein boost on the road. We like our cheese with flavor, so super-sharp Cheddar and string cheese with jalapeno is the way to go for us. Of course, these live in the cooler between snacks.

* Pepitas (roasted pumpkinseeds), nuts, and/or trailmix. More protein and mineral powerhouses, assuming you don’t get “trailmix” that’s really candy in disguise. Stick to mixes of dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, and skip anything with chocolate or yogurt coating or, God forbid, candies (sorry to hit on you again, M&Ms; I really love your almond version, but sheesh, I just can’t). Sunflower seeds would be great, too, we just prefer the nutty flavor of pepitas. If you’re counting calories, a handful of any of this stuff is plenty: It will fill you up (especially combined with a cheese stick or two).

* Crackers. I like to have my handful of pepitas or nuts with my cheese and apple slices, but OFB likes to alternate with crackers. So I make sure we have healthy versions on hand, like Rye Crisps and the new Triscuits made from brown rice and red beans. Yes, they’re good! Assuming you have cheese with them. (Otherwise, like any cracker, they’re a bit dry.)

* Apple slices. Sounds crazy, but groceries now carry containers of pre-sliced apples. I assume they’ve been treated with lemon juice or vitamin C or citric acid so they don’t brown, but they don’t. I’d never buy these at home, but for a road trip, I go for them. Juicy apple slices are perfect with cheese, nuts, and/or crackers. Yum! Obviously, these live in the cooler, too.

* Popcorn. I used to get the Smartfood popcorn with white Cheddar, and yes, it is really, really good. But now there’s a patriotic brand with three versions, featuring George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and (er, I forget the third). This popcorn is low-cal, super-good, and hey, as passionate fans of Colonial and Federal history, how could we resist? We tend to favor the version featuring our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, but George’s popcorn is really good, too.

* Veggie chips. These dried veggie crisps can range from Terra Chips’ excellent assortment of potato-chip-like slices to whole crispy, dehydrated green beans and okra. The key here is to make sure they’re adequately salted. See below.

* Salt and pepper. Travel-sized salt and pepper can be a lifesaver when dealing with road food. At home, we use high-end stuff like fresh-cracked pepper, Himalayan salt, Real Salt, and Trocomare, but on the road, I carry the simple picnic salt and pepper set available for 99 cents at any grocery. It can make all the difference between blah and yum.

* Ready-to-eat veggies. Broccoli florets, baby carrots, red, yellow and orange bell pepper strips, celery sticks, even bagged Romaine: Fresh veggies are the antidote to road bloat. I pack plenty in the cooler, and tend to eat them plain, but OFB prefers…

* Hummus. That would be a carton of hummus, your favorite brand (we tend to favor ones with roasted garlic or kalamata olives). Full of protein and good-for-you ingredients, hummus is a nutritional powerhouse, and it makes you feel full while you’re snacking on crudites. Yes, you could buy whole-wheat pita and eat it with your hummus. But really, fresh veggies are so refreshing when you’ve been on the road.

* Tzatziki. If you’re not so big on hummus, this luscious Greek yogurt-garlic dip is irresistible, and mercifully is available in groceries everywhere; look for it where the hummus abides. Great probiotics, protein, great flavor: Who could ask for more?! When I’m dining in a Greek restaurant, I like my tzatziki served with hot, buttery Greek pita, but on the road, it’s very refreshing and nourishing with your choice of veggies or greens. (Try dipping Romaine leaves in tzatziki, yum!!!) Obviously, hummus and tzatziki need to live in your cooler between snacks.

Oops, I’m forgetting the drinks. And trust me, I’m always thirsty. OFB’s a good guy when it comes to drinks: bottled water works just fine for him. Not so for me, I hate water (it’s tasteless). So I have to run around looking for unsweetened black or green tea with lemon before every trip. Ever try to find unsweetened tea in convenient holder-sized bottles in a grocery or convenience store? Good luck with that. Fortunately, it is possible in some health-food stores. It’s certainly not fun to pay the price, but at least you’re not dealing with sugar or artificial sweetener poisoning.

Finally, there are the extras: napkins, straws, and Kleenex. We’d never leave on a road trip without them. Yes, they’re disposables, but that’s why we always carry those disposable trash bags.

So, what do YOU eat on road trips?

‘Til next time,

Silence

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