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Cats behaving badly. June 30, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Nothing looks more angelic—seraphic, even—than a sleeping cat. But once those big, luminous eyes open, watch out!

Now, I’m not talking about the usual cat-related disasters, like coughed-up hairballs. (All cat owners know that distinctive pre-hairball noise, which inevitably occurs in the vicinity of one’s oriental carpet or antique furniture or bedspread as opposed to, say, the kitchen or bathroom floor. At which point, the cat owner breaks into a peculiar lurching run-and-tackle worthy of a pro football player in an attempt to move the offending cat to a hard, impermeable surface before irreparable damage occurs.)

Other typical bad-cat horrors involve stepping in a pile of last night’s thrown-up dinner (or worse) or, God save us, on a fresh mouse liver while staggering towards the bathroom at, say, 3 a.m. (AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!), or worse still, stepping on a squeaky toy while on the same errand (GAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!!). Or break-dancing to avoid breaking your neck because a cat has insinuated itself behind you while you were busy at the kitchen sink and you started to step back before realizing that the cat was there. (And yes, this would make a screamingly funny video, assuming the intrepid cameraman survived the filming—something that definitely would not happen at my house. RIP, you know who.)

No, I’m talking about the ingenious, original ways cats have of just being plain old baaaaad. I’ll share some of our cats’ worst moments with you—well, more accurately, our worst moments, doubtless the cats’ finest hours—and hope you’ll share some of your own bad-cat stories with us. Deal? Let’s go!

Two of the all-time worst episodes involved my Maine coon cat, Jessie, whom I’d bought to console myself after losing my first-ever cat during an (otherwise fairly amicable) divorce. Despite the horrific conditions of her life to that point—Maine coons are big cats, and when I encountered her, she’d been stuffed into a small cage in a pet store with an even bigger Maine coon for nine months—Jessie was a loving cat, and was fiercely devoted to me. But she certainly had her moments.

The worst came when I was living in the post-divorce apartment and Jessie had somehow managed to break her front leg, which was encased in a plaster cast at the time of the Incident. Now, as you know if you know cats, for some reason they have a thing about accompanying you to the bathroom. (Maybe they were hall monitors in a previous life.) So there I was in the bathroom when someone knocked, loudly, on the bathroom door. I was living alone at the time, and no one was visiting at that moment. Mind you, when one is in the bathroom, one is, perhaps, a bit distracted, but when I heard the knocking, I was convinced that someone had broken into my apartment and was trying to kill me. Why I would have assumed that, after breaking into the apartment, the murderer would have politely knocked on the bathroom door is beyond even me, but as I say, I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. Talk about a test of my cardiac fitness! There went three of my nine lives, at least. And yes, you astute readers who weren’t living through the incident at the time have doubtless drawn the correct conclusion, that it was in fact Jessie hammering on the door with her plaster cast.

Jessie struck again many years later here at Hawk’s Haven, which is surrounded by farm fields and thus has its share of mice, both grey field mice and the adorable brown-and-white deer mice. At the time, we didn’t have an outdoor cat population to keep the mice from fleeing into the warm house in winter. Jessie was a good mouser, and she, our friend Ben, and I had developed a routine: She would catch a mouse, almost always at night, make the “look-at-me-the-mighty-huntress” cry, and our friend Ben or I would stagger out of bed, throw on the light, don one of the fireplace gloves, and go to the front door. Jessie caught the mice but didn’t hurt them, and putting on the glove and going to the door, while lavishly praising her, was the signal. She would trot to the door and drop the mouse, at which point we’d scoop it into the glove and toss it to freedom in the dark yard.

Unfortunately (well, maybe fortunately for him), Ben was MIA on the night this particular Incident occurred. I was deeply asleep, and failed to hear Jessie’s triumphant “look-at-me” cry. Distressed by my lack of recognition for her mighty deed, Jessie decided to bring the mouse up onto the bed so I could see it. But we have a very high antique four-poster. The effort of leaping up onto the bed and holding onto the mouse proved too much for the aging Jessie, so she dropped the mouse, which promptly ran over my bare arm in its bid for freedom. YAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!! I can say with absolutely no doubt that I have never, ever, experienced such a rude awakening. Another bunch of lives down the drain. I think I’ve gone over to the negative side of the ledger at this point.

Then there was Seamus. Diamondridge Seamus Beaumaine was the biggest, fluffiest, most lovable Maine coon you ever saw. But he was not the brightest. Like few cats of other breeds but like many Maine coons, Seamus was fond of water. He enjoyed padding around in the tub after I’d had my morning shower, getting his paws damp and having a good old time. Unfortunately, the tub in that post-divorce apartment, where Seamus had joined me, Jessie, Plutarch the Parrot, and ultimately Marcus Hookbill, as well as some fish and a parakeet, did not always drain well. This was the case when, one day, post-shower, I was sitting peacefully on the sofa when I heard a horrific ripping noise, followed by the sight of a sodden Seamus Beaumaine bolting past at 160 miles per hour. Heading back to investigate, I saw a completely shredded shower curtain that looked like a set piece from the shower scene in “Psycho.” Poor Seamus had obviously hopped into the tub as usual, not realizing that the water was still in it, then burst out with the force of a cannonball, leaving a trail of aqueous destruction in his wake.

Okay, maybe in retrospect that was kind of funny. But there was nothing funny about his other favorite stunt, which was breaking priceless, irreplaceable objects. Not that he meant to break them. But Maine coons grow slowly—it takes them two years to reach their mature size—and Seamus was the biggest Maine coon I’ve ever seen. He just kept growing and growing, which meant that for several years, he was unable to judge how much effort it took to leap anywhere, since it seemingly changed from week to week. As a result, he was constantly misjudging distances, then grabbing at any passing object to attempt to reverse course, almost always with disastrous consequences for the object involved. To this day, my beautiful antique furniture bears the marks of Seamus’s passage to adulthood. And many an art object has vanished, with tears and pain, into the trash heap of history.

Even now, I can’t bring myself to tell you about the worst of Seamus’s inadvertent depradations. Suffice it to say that Ben and I now house our collection of Pueblo pottery in a special Cat-Free Room as a result. But back in the day, we wanted to display our exquisite Pueblo pots in the living room where we and our guests could enjoy them. And here’s a little morality tale for you: I had bought one particular Casas Grandes pot to commemorate a series of novels I was writing about a potter who would have, I felt, made just such a pot. As it turned out, a good friend of ours was outraged that I bought this particular pot, since (he said), he had intended to buy it for himself. (He might have mentioned this before I bought it, IMHO, but what’s done is done.) A fight of sorts ensued, and we all felt very bad.

Then Seamus decided to take matters in hand, er, paw. In a once-in-a-lifetime maneuver, he leapt up onto the high bookshelf where I’d enshrined the iconic pot and sent it crashing to the floor. It shattered into a thousand shards, so there was no hope of restoring it. It was just… gone. Nor have I ever seen another pot like it from that day to this. I can still see that pot, its uniqueness, its beauty, the incredible talent of its creator, in my mind. I still grieve for it, and for everything that Seamus destroyed before he finally stopped growing and could gauge distances correctly. But at least our friend managed to overcome his anger with us, and we’re still good friends to this day. Not all was lost! But dammit, Seamus, did you have to choose that pot?!!

Our current cats are not perfect by any means. Our smartest cat, Layla, apparently has a foot fetish, attacking my toes with undisguised enthusiasm if I stick them over the side of the bed in an attempt to cool down, sinking her claws in while screaming ecstatically. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! Gack! Yet another rude awakening. And our dumbest cat, the huge, beautiful, lovable Linus, has an absolute penchant for investigating wineglasses and plates, often with disastrous results. But their misbehavior seems comparatively mild when I think back to the days of Jessie and Seamus. Such beautiful, wonderful, BAD cats!!!

                ‘Til next time,



Tell me why (nature) June 29, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, critters, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to start a new occasional series in the spirit of my hero and mentor, Dr. Franklin. Old Ben was never afraid to ask questions, and he wondered about all sorts of things. Well, so do I, and so—I’ll bet—do you. Here are some of the things I wonder about nature:

1. Why do mountains look blue from a distance? When you get closer, mountains become green (spring and summer), gold/red/orange (fall), brown (late fall), and grey-black  or white-and-black (winter). But whatever the season, whatever their actual color, from a distance, they’re all blue.  

2. Why don’t trees fall over? If you’ve ever seen a tree blown over by a storm, you know how comparatively small and shallow its root system is. It looks sturdy enough to support a big shrub, but a huge tree? No way.

3. Why are bumblebees able to fly? According to our young friend Sasha, who just studied this in school, it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly. But, of course, they do.

4. Why is true blue so rare in nature? The various shades of purple and lilac that gardening books and catalogs deceptively call blue are pretty abundant. But true blue—the color of forget-me-nots, meconopsis, blue lobelias, Virginia bluebells, blue delphiniums—is extremely rare. Why are no veggies or fruits actually blue? (Blueberries are blue-black, not true blue, so they don’t count, despite the name.)

5. Why didn’t other animals create cultures and civilizations? Whales, dolphins, apes, parrots, elephants: We know that many animals are plenty smart. But, unlike us, they’ve left nothing to show for it. I’ve read numerous hypotheses on why that should be so, from Creation accounts of how God set human beings apart from the rest of creation, to sci-fi novels where advanced alien civilizations inserted some of their superior genes into some of the more promising life-forms on Earth to create a servant class, to New Age theories that humans were somehow dropped onto Earth from the stars. The genetic record says otherwise—-that we’re more closely related to starfish than to inhabitants of the stars. But it doesn’t explain the discrepancy, the gap between us and everything else. We can see our emotions, our urges, or physiological needs echoed in life forms all around us, but our achievements echoed nowhere. Why is that?

6. Why did glowworms and lightning bugs develop phosphorescence? This is so cool, and the answer seems obvious: to help other glowworms and lightning bugs find them in the dark. But think about it. There are bazillion nocturnal species, so why aren’t they phosphorescent, too?

7. Why do oysters just make one pearl? Pearls are made of nacreous secretions that help protect the oyster’s sensitive flesh from sharp grains of sand or other detritus that inadvertently or deliberately gets into the oyster’s shell. The nacreous coatings smooth the edges of the sharp object, building up layer by layer over time to form a pearl. In the case of cultured pearls, people insert an irritating object into an oyster shell to force the oyster to create a pearl. But even in the case of natural pearls, there is almost always just one per oyster. It makes no sense to me that just a single grain of sand (or whatever) would make its way naturally into an oyster’s shell. (Just think how many pebbles, etc. manage to work their way into your sandals on a single walk!)

8. Why do grasses grow so fast? Plants in the grass family—bamboos, corn, lawn grass, and so on—seem to grow so fast you feel you can see them getting taller before your eyes. I can go somewhere for the day, then come home to see that both the corn in the fields around my little town and the grass in my lawn is way taller than it was when I left the house. Yet my other plants have not so much as put out a new leaf.

9. Why can you see the Northern Lights in the South? I confess, I’ve never seen the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis, except in photos. I’d always assumed you had to go to Alaska, the Yukon, Scandinavia, or northernmost Scotland to enjoy this amazing display of airborne pyrotechnics. But our friend Ben and Silence Dogood once saw them over Charlottesville, Virginia, while visiting their good friends Cole and Bruce on Hallowe’en. What’s up with that?

10. Why don’t people see, hear, smell, and taste the same things? You don’t have to be colorblind to perceive colors differently from everyone else. And the same is true of all sensory experience. What’s apple-green to you may be olive-green to your spouse; what tastes somewhat peachy to you may taste grapey to them. That’s one reason why taste is such an individual thing. And it’s why someone may not like a dish you love or the color of your walls or your favorite music—they really don’t experience it the way you do. But what makes up our sensory perception, anyway, that would make it so individualistic?

And the bonus:

11. Why does people’s hair lose pigment as they age, and why do some people retain their hair pigment? This seems really bizarre to me. How hard could it be for the body to retain hair pigment? What purpose, if any, is served by its disappearance? One good friend’s maternal great-grandfather’s hair turned snow-white at age 16, while his father’s hair remained jet-black into his 80s. What’s the deal?!!

If you know the answers (I’ll bet Doctor Franklin had a few answers up his sleeve), or have nature questions of your own, please let us hear all about ’em!          

Of quilts, ox roasts and hex signs: the PA Dutch Festival June 28, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. It’s time for the annual Kutztown Pennsylvania German Festival, which is conveniently located just down the road from us in scenic Kutztown, PA. You might be envisioning beer steins and Tyrolean attire from the “German” part of the festival’s name, but “Pennsylvania German” is a whole different critter. Better known as Pennsylvania Dutch (from Deitsch, “German” in their dialect), these folks did indeed come from Germany (sometimes via Switzerland), but settled in Pennsylvania so long ago, beginning in the 1600s, that they developed a colorful culture all their own. And it’s this culture that’s celebrated by the Kutztown festival, which they describe as “Pennsylvania Dutch Folklife and Fun.” The festival starts today, June 28, and runs through July 6. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The festival hours, with that early closing time, should give you a hint that it’s extremely family-friendly. Kids can ride horse-drawn haywagons, try their hand at Pennsylvania Dutch crafts, participate in all sorts of games and activities, and feast themselves silly on regional specialty foods and a wide range of local sodas courtesy of the Kutztown Bottling Works, as well as cider, lemonade, and other treats. And there’s a fantastic array of farm animals to meet and greet, including some cuddly ones to pet and feed (our friend Ben always has to be forcibly dragged away from this exhibit).

But we can assure you that adults will find plenty to interest, engage, and plain old fascinate them, too. One of the highlights for me is always the huge, barnlike quilt building, with over 2,500 locally-made quilts for sale, from traditional Amish patterns with their darkly glowing jewel colors to exquisite Pennsylvania Dutch applique, from Colonial classics to quilts that are alive with modern batiked and hand-dyed fabrics. The quilts range from wall hangings to king-bed-size, so there really is something for everyone. (Our friend Ben would like to point out that I always have to be dragged out of the quilt building kicking and screaming, while our own extensive quilt collection is repeatedly mentioned.)

The selection of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare is staggering, but we’ll let you read about that in a wonderful post from the Weed Whackin’ Wenches (http://www.weedwhackinwenches.blogspot.com). In their June 23rd post “Pennsylvania Dutch Traditions and Festivals,” Weed Whackin’ Wench Wing Nut tells you about growing up eating Pennsylvania Dutch food, and even shows a photo of the iconic whoopie pie, as well as listing foods found at the Kutztown festival and discussing many other great features of the festival. Not being Luddites, the Wenches have provided actual photos (gasp) from the festival, including some of the quilts from 2007. Check it out! And note that Wing Nut’s mom even has her own stand at the festival, Bib-A-Lot, selling (shock surprise) handmade bibs for everyone from infant up. (I’ve already told Ben he’s getting one this year, and wearing it, too, or else.)

The one food-related thing that I just have to mention is the ox roast. The festival recreates a huge brick-lined oven and, sure enough, roasts an entire ox on a monstrous iron spit. Folks, oxen are big. This is a spectacle that rivets our attention every year. Admittedly, we’ve never hung around long enough to see if you could actually buy a platter of roast oxen after it’s cooked, but I’ve always assumed that you could. Don’t miss this, uh, “taste” of yesteryear if you go.

Oops, I also have to talk about another favorite food-related booth, which has an incredible selection of herbs and herb blends (also some great flavored salts and pepper mixes). It also hand-makes soaps, and has a demonstration tent where you can watch soap being made and buy just-made soaps of all kinds. (I bought a bar of old-style laundry soap last year.)

Which brings me to the crafts. Not only can you buy handmade crafts of all kinds from 200 master craftsmen, you can watch most of them being made. It really is an education for all ages. From pewter dishes, mugs, and toy soldiers to an array of the colorful “hex signs” that decorate Pennsylvania Dutch barns to leather goods, blown-glass buttons and jewelry, garden accessories, smith-forged iron hooks, crooks, and implements of all kinds, beautiful wreaths and other dried-flower crafts, wheat weavings, and pysanky (elaborately decorated eggs done by the wax-resist method), everyone is sure to find at least one thing they absolutely love.

There are marvelous photographers specializing in local rural scenes—we love Paul Grecian, and have quite a few of his nature photographs; a pumpkin field outside nearby Kempton on a foggy morning, with ripe pumpkins backlit by brilliant autumn foliage, is a special favorite—as well as painters and practitioners of the arts of scherenschnitte (amazingly elaborate paper-cutting pictures; we’re still lusting after one gifted artist’s tree of life) and fraktur, a form of illuminated manuscript with a folk-art slant. There are handmade rugs and fantastic hand-crafted wooden furniture, art, and kitchen utensils. I can never resist the handmade brooms made from real broomcorn, sometimes with the seeds still attached. And last year, our friend Ben and I discovered an artisan who made real horn buttons, powder horns, combs, and other traditional objects just as his Colonial forebears had. (Ben bought me a couple of hair combs and buttons, which I treasure.)

Even if I’ve convinced you that women and children would love the festival, you may still be wondering what guys would do besides eat and check out the ox roast.  But there’s really plenty to see. Smiths at their forges, Colonial craftsmen pouring bullets or shaping pewter, a huge array of old-time farm tractors and other primitive engine-driven devices in action—you will not be bored, I promise. In fact, like our friend Ben, you may just find yourselves hooked on the festival and eager to come back every year.

If you’re within driving distance, we urge you to try to find time this week to attend the Kutztown festival. You can even download discount coupons at the festival’s website, www.kutztownfestival.com, as well as reading all about it. Our friend Ben and I, our friend Rudy, our friend Rob, and, of course, Richard Saunders are all planning to go, and I’m plotting to try to lure my friend Huma and her twins, Rashu and Sasha, down from the Poconos to experience the festival as well. No doubt I’ll have some entertaining experiences to share, and if so, you’ll be hearing about them!

             ‘Til next time,


Of falcons, parrots, and Plutarch. June 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Our good friend and expert birder Rudy Keller sent us an e-mail this morning with a Chicago Tribune article he thought we’d find of interest. And indeed we did. The article explained that ornithologists at Chicago’s prestigious Field Museum of Natural History, in conjunction with scientists at seven other institutions, had conducted genetic studies on birds to determine their relationships. And they came up with some startling results that are going to call for fast revisions of the field guides used religiously by America’s 80 million birders. (80 million?! Oh, my.)

The biggest shakeup came in the raptor group—the birds of prey—though frankly, our friend Ben isn’t even surprised. After geneticists determined that vultures were actually related to storks rather than hawks, eagles, and falcons, I’m ready for practically any revelation. So today’s disclosure that falcons are actually related to parrots, not hawks and eagles, seems almost mundane. Peregrine, parrot, whatever. (Our friend Ben can imagine the outrage among falconers, past and present, however, upon discovering that their noble birds aren’t that far removed from shouting “Polly wants a cracker!”)

There were a few other upsets, including the revelation that hummingbirds, with their needle-like beaks, are related to nightjars, with their Julia Roberts mouths. (Our friend Ben entirely agrees with Hugh Grant’s apparently disastrous comment about his “Notting Hill” costar. Really, one’s mouth should not cover one’s entire face.) I think it’s safe to say that we can expect a whole slew of revised field guides in the next year, not one of them the least bit useful to amateur birdwatchers who would be best served by a field guide that grouped birds by similar appearance rather than by family. Sigh…

In any event, our friend Rudy thought we’d enjoy the news flash about falcons because of our parrots Plutarch (see our earlier post, “Plutarch and Lola: A love story” for more on him) and, especially, Marcus, our tiny, fierce bronze-winged pionus. Marcus looks like a miniature golden eagle and has a personality to match. If I broke the news to him about falcons and parrots being related, he wouldn’t bat an eye. Instead, he’d puff up to his full 6-inch height and stare me in the eye while muttering the equivalent of “So, what’s your point? About time those stupid scientists caught on. Haven’t I been trying to clue you in all this time that I’m a ferocious, noble predator? Geez. Get used to it.”

Okay, okay, fine. But that doesn’t mean I’m trading in Marcus’s honey-seed treats, sugar snap peas and blueberries for dead mice and roadkill. But I might give him a fragment of cheese and a little hard-boiled egg more often from now on… 


The loveliest roadside weed. June 27, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening.
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Our friend Ben knows that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But one of the great joys of this time of year for me is that it’s once again time for viper’s bugloss to bloom on the roadsides here in scenic Pennsylvania. To me, no weed—not even my beloved Queen Anne’s lace and oxeye daisy—displays such beauty.

Native to Europe, viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare) was accidentally introduced to North America in the 1600s, and now grows along roads and in other dry, sunny, gravelly places throughout the U.S. and Canada. It’s a biennial, sending up multiple thick wands of astonishingly blue hooded flowers in its second year. It won’t surprise herb-growers to learn that viper’s bugloss is in the borage family—borage flowers are also that incredible shade of blue. But viper’s bugloss grows them in much greater profusion on their clustering foot-tall wands. Watching the show as the car goes by, our friend Ben gets the same thrill many gardeners get from seeing delphiniums. In fact, they make delphiniums look positively vulgar by comparison.

So how did such a beautiful plant come by the unlovely name of viper’s bugloss, or, even worse, devil’s weed? A quick chat with my good friend Google unearthed some “dirt” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) on my favorite weed. “Bugloss” turns out to have nothing to do with bugs; it’s derived from the Greek for “ox tongue,” which the plant’s slender, hairy leaves apparently reminded someone of. (That person must have eaten a few leaves before drawing such a far-fetched conclusion, but we’ll get back to that.) The “viper’s” part, one site maintains, comes from the seeds, which are shaped like snake’s heads (it claims); another site says that folklore has it that the plant could cure snakebite. Both derivations could be true, or the snakebite-cure part could be a legacy of the Doctrine of Signatures, which maintained that God had revealed the uses of plants by shaping them to resemble the part they were supposed to heal. (Thus, the white-mottled leaves of pulmonaria, aka lungwort, were supposed to resemble, and heal, diseased lungs.)

What about the name “devil’s weed”? Nothing about the poor plant resembles the devil! However, if you grab one of the stems, it apparently hurts like the devil. The most fun viper’s bugloss site I found was at http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/. Look for “A Close-Up View of the Strange Wildflower ‘Viper’s Bugloss’.” The author details his up-close-and-personal encounter with the excruciating spines of the plant—lurking beneath innocuous soft hairs on the stem—and backs up his encounter with microscope-enhanced views of the stems, which show vicious-looking spines emerging from what appear to be (but mercifully aren’t) drops of fresh blood on the stems. Yikes!!!!

There could be another reason viper’s bugloss is called devil’s weed, however. One site noted that animals tended to leave the plant alone because it contained a strong alkaloid. Alkaloids are hallucinogenic as well as quite poisonous; anyone who was brave or desperate enough to eat the leaves would probably think (assuming he survived) that he had seen the devil, been cured of snakebite, ended up touring Mars in the company of Elvis and Galileo, or mercy alone knows what. Our friend Ben will leave it at this: If you value your liver, your sanity, and/or your continued existence, do not try this at home. Talk about a bad trip!

Instead, confine your tripping to seeing if you can recognize this beautiful plant on the exposed, sunny banks as you’re driving along. It might become your favorite roadside weed as well!   

Painless pickles, potato salad, and pimiento cheese spread June 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, recipes.
Tags: , ,

Silence Dogood here. With the Fourth of July almost upon us, it’s time to get serious about some easy, yummy summertime fare you can take along on picnics or serve at barbecues and deck or patio parties. Today’s recipes are all great with sandwiches, too (or in the case of the pimiento cheese spread, on sandwiches). Yum—just thinking about them is making me hungry! Don’t forget to check out my earlier post, “Some eggcellent picnic fare,” for deviled eggs and more great hot-weather favorites.

Our friend Ben and I love pickles. We love big, garlicky Kosher pickles, tiny crunchy-sweet cornichons, bread-and-butter slices—you name it, we love it. After my father gave us a jar of hot-sweet pickles from a specialty food company in Nashville, we fell in love with them and I (of course) developed my own recipe for this fabulous treat. Hot-sweet pickles are still our favorites, but, thanks to my ingenious friend Delilah of Crock-Pot mac’n’cheese fame, I’ve developed a much easier way to make them.

Before we tasted Delilah’s refrigerator pickles, our experience with refrigerator pickles had been a total disappointment. Limp and flavorless, these so-called pickles tasted more like sliced salad cukes that had sat too long in the fridge. Yuck!!! But Delilah’s were crunchy and flavorful. I asked for her secret, then went home and worked out a sweet-hot recipe for refrigerator pickles that are bursting with flavor and crunch. Let me tell you, these sweet hotties are picklelicious!!! If you can keep any around long enough, the flavor just gets better over time, and they stay crunchy for months. And there’s no standing over a hot stove with canning jars. We keep several large containers in our fridge all summer so we can enjoy them ourselves with sandwiches and appetizers, and have plenty on hand when guests come over or to take to the Friday Night Supper Club. (See my post “The Friday Night Supper Club” for more on this great idea.) Even if we set out a whole vat, there are never any survivors! Needless to say, a container of these makes a great gift, too.

              Silence’s Hot-Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

5-6 slender cukes, sliced (any kind will taste fine, but please, no waxed skins) 

1 cup sugar

1 cup cider vinegar

2 tablespoons salt (any kind is fine, no need to get pickling salt)

1 tablespoon black mustardseed

1 tablespoon turmeric

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 large sweet onion (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or Candy type), or more to taste, diced

dash hot sauce, such as Tobasco Chipotle or Pickapeppa

Combine vinegar and sugar and heat until sugar dissolves; add salt, spices, and hot sauce. Layer sliced cukes and onions in alternate layers in a glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. When the brine (the vinegar mix) is lukewarm, pour it over the cukes and onions, then close the lid and refrigerate. Shake container gently every day to make sure brine is saturating top layers. You can begin eating the pickles after 3 to 5 days; the flavor gets stronger over time. The pickled onions can be eaten as is, and they’re great as a sandwich relish and in salads, too. You can add more fresh cukes and onions as you eat the first batch, but make sure you put them at the bottom of the container with the older pickles on top. Check the brine to make sure it’s still flavorful, adding more salt, turmeric, and other spices as needed. I’ve found that the brine can be reused about three times before you need to pour it out and start over. (Note: This brine is cloudy, not clear like a canned pickle brine, which is why we use opaque plastic storage containers for our refrigerator pickles rather than glass.) So easy and so incredibly good!!! People can’t keep their hands off them. 

We prefer hot potato salads, but we were won over by this one when visiting family in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the family patriarch—a great chef at age 89—had whipped up a batch for us. Despite the huge quantity, it was gone after lunch the next day. Nobody seemed able to resist seconds, and some people (ahem) disappeared into the kitchen and returned with thirds. We think it will become your family’s new favorite, too. Mr. Hays makes it with baking potatoes, and interestingly, it works! (I gave this recipe in a post back in March, “Potatoes for planting and eating,” but thought it would be easier to reprint it here than make you all head off to yet another previous post.) 

              Mr. Hays’s “Baked Potato” Salad

3 pounds russet potatoes

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste (plus 1 teaspoon for cooking)

1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper, or to taste

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

4 large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and diced

1 cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup thinly sliced celery (about 1 large stalk)

1 cup diced sweet onion (WallaWalla, Vidalia, or Candy type, about 1 medium onion)

1/4 cup each diced sweet and dill pickles (try my hot-sweet refrigerator pickles for the sweet pickles for a real taste sensation!)

3/4 cup mayonnaise

Fill a large saucepan with cold water. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 25-30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and gently rub off the skins, using a paper towel, while still warm. (If using a thin-skinned potato such as ‘Yukon Gold’, we leave the skins on.) Chop the potatoes into 1-inch pieces and toss with the cider vinegar, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir in the red bell pepper, celery, onion, and pickles. Fold in the eggs and mayonnaise. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Mr. Hays says this recipe serves 10, but given the quantities that were disappearing in front of our eyes, I’d be a little skeptical about that!

My father’s girlfriend Alice has perfected pimiento cheese spread. I’d always avoided this particular food, having had some really horrific encounters with various forms of it as a child (ooh, it was bad, nasty stuff). But Father loves Alice’s pimiento spread, and not being raised by wolves, when it was presented during one of our visits, we of course tried it—and could see his point. This stuff is easy, and yes, it is good. On crackers, as a stuffing for celery or dip for veggies, on a sandwich with toasted multigrain bread, crunchy Romaine lettuce, and red bell pepper rings or a slice of beefsteak tomato, it is positively addictive. Try it and see for yourself!  

              Alice’s Primo Pimiento Cheese Spread

Large piece of sharp yellow Cheddar, grated (or equivalent pre-shredded)

Smaller piece of medium-sharp white Cheddar, grated (or equivalent pre-shredded)

Small jar chopped pimiento, half-drained

Hellman’s mayonnaise

3 drops Tabasco, or to taste

Ground cayenne, paprika, or black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon sour cream

Mix all ingredients in a food processor, adding enough Hellman’s mayonnaise to make a thick but spreadable dip or spread.

We, of course, use our favorite hot sauce, Pickapeppa, with a liberal hand, skip the additional pepper, add salt, and whisk it all together instead of processing it (we’re Luddites, after all; food processors scare us). This means you’d get a more textured spread or dip; Alice’s is smoother. But I’ll guarantee that whichever way you make it, you’re going to love it. It keeps well, covered, in the fridge, too.

Happy eating!

              ‘Til next time,




Chickening out. June 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens.
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I hope Silence Dogood doesn’t kill me for potentially distracting readers from her wonderful recipe post (see “Bean cuisine” for some excellent eating), but when I see three great chicken-related posts in one day, I just have to do a few shout-outs. After all, the Pullet Palace and its residents are bigtime favorites here at Hawk’s Haven. So when I read Becca’s amazing story about rescuing a chicken from a median strip, it was enough to bring a tear to our friend Ben’s eye. (For more on the adventures of Becca’s chicken, Druscilla, go on over to her blog at BrightHaven Times, http://brighthaven.wordpress.com/, and check out her post “An ode to a chicken.”)

Then Kira over at Tomato Casual wrote a simply wonderful post on great reasons to keep chickens, “Chickens: Multi-Purpose Tomato Garden Assistants” (http://www.tomatocasual.com/). As we’ve mentioned many times, our own chickens are tomato gourmets. Not that they’ve ever met a tomato they didn’t like, mind (unlike, say, zucchini), but, like people, their enjoyment is enhanced by the best-tasting tomatoes, and just like human taste-test participants, their top choice is the heirloom favorite ‘Brandywine’ tomato. Mosey on over to Tomato Casual and let Kira persuade you to try a few chickens of your own. Our friend Ben can only say, you’ll be glad you did!

At another of our favorite blogs, Future House Farm, Kelly posted a photo of his homemade chicken tractor and discussed how he and Meg planned to send their chickens to summer camp by tossing them in the chicken tractor during the day and letting them clean up bugs and weeds in their garden beds. Good plan, guys! And a unique, lightweight (and thus mobile), ingenious design to boot. Check out “Chicken Tractor, or, Meat Sounds” (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/). (The “Meat Sounds” part is about the enthusiastic slurping sounds their chickens make while gulping down grubs and other pests, not, well, you know.)

What’s a chicken tractor, you ask? Simply a mobile chicken pen that you can position anywhere you want the chickens to eat weeds and weed seeds and bugs, loosen the soil, and add their own high-nitrogen fertilizer. I guess they reminded the folks who coined the phrase, Andy Lee and Pat Foreman, of the action of a tractor in terms of improving the soil. They even wrote a classic book on the subject, called—shock surprise!—Chicken Tractor.

Incidentally, Meg told us that she and Kelly named their chickens after heroines in Grateful Dead songs. Since we named one of ours Roxanne after the Police song, and one of our cats is named Layla for the Eric Clapton song and another is Marley after Bob Marley, we can’t help but approve! 



Bean cuisine. June 25, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday our friend Ben and I were visiting our good friend Huma and her delightful 17-year-old twins, Rashu and Sasha, up in the Poconos. Huma treated us to some delicious dal, and I want to share the recipe, along with a few others she sent home with me that feature beans or other legumes in a starring role. (Rashu, already an accomplished baker, made a yummy pear-pecan pie, including a lattice crust, from scratch. But sadly, I didn’t get the recipe for that!)

First, though, a few words about dal. Dal is basically a sort of spicy porridge or soup that uses various types of lentils or split peas as the chief ingredient. There are probably thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of variations, so you have lots of leeway to vary the ingredients and thickness. (I, for example, prefer a thick texture, like a thick, chewy oatmeal or mashed potatoes or grits when they’re cooked right. But if I order dal in an Indian restaurant, it’s almost invariably thinner and runny, which makes me suspect that that’s the traditional texture.) I’ve always thought of dal as an Inidan dish, but Huma is from Pakistan, so perhaps it’s popular across the whole subcontinent. (Stupid me! I should have asked her while I was there. For all I know, she might have first encountered it in an Indian restaurant, too.)

I of course have my own dal recipe, too, and (of course) it’s my favorite. But let’s start with the one Huma gave me, which is not only yummy, but is a gorgeous golden color, unlike mine, which is a lentil brown. Incidentally, dal is traditionally eaten with bread, such as Indian naan or roti. But I often make a simple but satisfying meal of dal (remember, I like it mashed-potato thick, not soupy), rice, and plain yogurt (the simplest possible palate-cooling raita), with a few chutneys and other condiments on the side.

Huma makes a raita that’s only slightly less simple by bruising a tablespoon or so of whole cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle and then roasting them in a hot, dry pan over a burner for a minute or two, shaking constantly, before adding them to the yogurt with some ground cayenne and salt. There are tons of raita variations as well, the best-known incorporating finely minced cucumbers (sometimes with minced onion), and many adding green chilies and a variety of spices sauteed in ghee (clarified butter), butter, or oil. One of my favorite raitas is from Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two, and features unsweetened coconut and bananas. But plain yogurt is just great as far as our friend Ben and I are concerned. It does its job well, which is cooling down the mouth in the wake of fiery Indian fare, and its simplicity is pleasing in the face of the complexity of so many Indian dishes. But of course, if I were cooking for company I’d dress it up a bit. 

Yikes, I can see that I’m getting carried away and drifting off point. So let’s get back to those recipes. You can find all the ingredients in Indian markets, and many in well-stocked supermarkets in the international aisle:

              Panchmel Dal

1 cup chana dal, washed

1/2 cup urad dal, washed 

1/4 cup moong dal, washed

1/2 cup masoor dal, washed

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp. turmeric

6 tsp. clarified butter (ghee; can substitute 1/2 stick regular butter)

2 onions, sliced

2 tsp. garlic paste (sold in tubes in produce aisle)

2 tsp. ginger paste (sold in tubes in produce aisle)

2 green chillies, finely chopped

3 tomatoes, sliced

1 1/2 tsp. whole cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 to 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

Cook all the types of dal (lentils) with the turmeric in water to cover over medium heat for abotu 30 minutes, adding more water as needed. Add salt to taste. Heat 2/3 of the the ghee or butter in a heavy saucepan and sautee the onion until light brown. Add the green chilli and the garlic and ginger pastes. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato and cook until soft. Pour this masala over the cooked dals and stir it in gently. In a separate pan, heat the remaining butter and saute the cumin seeds until they splutter. Add the cayenne and paprika and immediately add them to the dal, stirring well. Once the dal has thickened to the consistency you want, add most of the cilantro and stir well, reserving a bit to garnish each bowl. Serve with hot flat bread (such as naan) or steamed rice. Serves four. (Note from Silence: This reheats beautifully, and is better—in my opinion, anyway—the second day.) 

As you can see, dal isn’t the simplest dish to make. But it’s satisfying and delicious, and there’s almost always enough left for a second meal that just needs a quick reheating (and more bread or rice!). Here’s my own recipe:

              Silence’s Divine Dal

2 cups lentils (regular, French, tiny orange,or a mix)

1 or 2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla, or Candy type)

2/3 stick butter

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 heaping tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 heaping tablespoon whole cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon garam masala

1 heaping tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon ginger paste

1 tablespoon cilantro paste

1/2 to 1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins, preferably mixed

1 tablespoon marmalade or apricot jam

2 tablespoons chutney

hot sauce to taste (we like Pickapeppa)

salt to taste

Rinse lentils well in a sieve and cook them in enough water to cover, adding more as needed, until they are thoroughly soft and beginning to disintegrate. While they are cooking, melt butter in a heavy saucepan and add fresh ginger, black mustardseeds, and cumin. Add onion and cook until clarified. Add remaining spices, hot sauce, raisins, and ginger and cilantro pastes. When lentils are thoroughly cooked and water has evaporated, add the sauteed ingredients to the lentil pot, stirring to blend. Add marmalade/jam and chutney, stirring well. Add fresh cilantro. When dal is thoroughly hot, taste and add more salt, spice, hot sauce, etc. as needed. (It’s my experience that dal can take a lot of spice and salt.) When thick and luscious, serve as a side with other Indian dishes (like my vegetable curry—see my earlier post, Super Summer Squash Recipes, for that—and festive rice) or simply with rice and yogurt.

Yow! Ready for something easy now? If you use canned beans, the next dish will come together in a comparative flash. Of course, you can also soak your beans overnight and then rinse and simmer them in a pot of water until they’re completely cooked through. But I confess, we love the convenience of canned beans!

               “Baked” Beans Indian-Style

These beans aren’t baked or sweetened, so they won’t taste like American baked beans. But I called them that because they have the same consistency as baked beans and the finished dish looks a lot like ’em. Enjoy these beans as a side or as a main dish with rice or Indian flat bread (naan or roti).

2 cans red kidney beans, black-eyed peas, or pintos

3 onions, finely chopped

2 tomatoes, diced

2 tsp. each ginger and garlic pasts

2 tsp. each red chilli, coriander, turmeric and cumin powders

6 tsp. clarified butter (ghee) or 1/2 stick butter

Salt to taste

Heat butter in a Dutch oven or other heavy pan. Saute onion with garlic and ginger paste until golden brown. Add tomato, salt, and coriander, chilli, turmeric and cumin powders, stirring until tomato has softened and broken down. Add canned or cooked beans or black-eyed peas and cook until thoroughly hot and sauce is reduced.

I hope you enjoy all three recipes! And, as always, please feel free to share your own with us. We’d love to try them!

              ‘Til next time,


The naming of chickens (and a Regency rant). June 23, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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People sometimes look at me strangely when I tell them our chickens have names. And they always look at me strangely when I tell them what the chickens’ names are. But here at Hawk’s Haven, we think names matter. Real chickens aren’t stupid (as opposed to factory-farmed fowl who have had pretty much everything but their egglaying or meat-producing capacity bred out of them), and they know their own names as well as we know ours. We keep our chickens for life—which is up to twelve years—so we know them as well as any of our pets. And besides, choosing names is fun.

We like to give our hens theme names, which is pretty easy, since we only have six. Originally, Silence Dogood gave them all the names of Regency romance heroines—Venetia, Sophia, and the like. Silence swears to me that she hasn’t read a Regency romance since high school, when she was a Georgette Heyer addict, but I have my doubts. (Ack! Now I’ve done it. Silence just came in and, looking over my shoulder, announced that she’d like to put in a word at the end of this post.)

Our current flock is as follows: Stella, a Buff Orpington; Roxanne, a Spangled Sussex; Lucretia, a Barred Rock; Olivia, a Partridge Rock; Imelda, an Americana/Partridge Rock cross; and her half-sister Griselda, an Americana/Delaware cross. (To our friend Ben’s knowledge, there are no shoe closets in the Pullet Palace, and if Imelda has any Manolos hidden away, she only wears them after dark.) Needless to say, each hen has her own personality—some more pleasing than others—and because no two look alike, it’s easy for us to tell who’s who. I suppose if you had an entire flock of Rhode Island Reds, it might be easier to just call them all Lucy and get it over with.

But if you have a mixed flock like ours, our friend Ben encourages you to choose a theme and give your girls names you’ll enjoy, be they Jane Austen heroines, favorite Disney or Star Trek characters,  beloved cartoon characters like Blondie, Cathy, and Nancy, or the female stars of your favorite TV show, be it “Ugly Betty,” “Gray’s Anatomy,” or “House.” (Or, say, “American Idol” winners or female rock stars, or even women from famous rock songs like Layla, Lola, and Melissa.) You’ll enjoy your chickens more if they have names that also amuse you. And the more you talk to your chickens, calling each by her own name, the tamer and more affectionate they’ll be. And that’s a good thing.

Let us know if your chickens have especially wonderful names. And now (gulp), here’s Silence…

Silence Dogood here. I’d just like to go on a brief rant about the wretched state of today’s so-called Regency romances. The Regency romance—and the romance novel in general—was the love child of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen lived in the Regency period, that time in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s when England’s King George III was suffering his bouts of “madness” and his son, the Prince Regent, was acting king. Her delightful novels were set in her own time.

Georgette Heyer, writing in the first half of the Twentieth Century, emulated Jane Austen’s winning Pride and Prejudice formula (smart, entrancing girl meets wealthy, handsome boy, difficulties ensue, but ultimately girl gets boy) in her own novels. She recognized the allure of setting her novels in the past, in a more “romantic” era, so she also chose Jane Austen’s period (thus, Regency romances). And she upped the ante: her heroines, though invariably well bred, were usually reduced by circumstances to take humiliating positions such as governess or paid companion, making them ineligible as marriage partners in the rigid class structure of the day; her heroes were almost always of the nobility, and often dukes. Her plot twists brought the pair together in such a way that the hero overcame his class prejudices to ultimately perceive the lady’s charms, and love conquered all.

It’s tempting to say that, in America’s classless society, the appeal of these books would be incomprehensible. But the success of Harlequin and other romance-novel publishers gives this assumption the lie. Jane Austen is, if anything, more popular now than she ever was. But why? I think it’s because these novels touch on a core issue for women, who want to be loved for who we are, not how we look. Like everyone, women want to be loved. But we distrust surfaces. We have seen the most beautiful, the most famous, the most admired women in the world—Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Martha Stewart, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah, you name her—fail to find fidelity or marital happiness. If they can’t manage it, how can we ordinary women?

That’s where the Regency romance comes in. The wealthy, handsome, sophisticated man of the world has seen it all. And then he sees us. Wearied by superficiality, he perceives the timeless qualities that set us apart. He is ready to give up his life of idle dissipation in order to love and cherish us—and us alone—for the rest of our lives. It’s as if James Bond suddenly fell madly in love with, and proposed to, Miss Moneypenny.

Obviously, most of us are not out to marry a duke, or James Bond, or even Indiana Jones. But that captain-of-the-football-team-falls-in-love-with-the-brainy-science-major business is still pretty heady stuff for many women. (And I’m here to tell you that it really does happen.) So romance novels continue to sell.

But here’s the thing. In Jane Austen’s day, physical contact between the sexes—at least, until marriage—was a scandal. I’m not sure any of her heroes and heroines even so much as kissed, even after they pledged their troth. And all of Miss Austen’s books ended when the happy couple finally made it to the altar—no steamy night-of or morning-after scenes. Georgette Heyer pretty much stuck to that formula as well, though if memory serves, there were a few kisses in her novels, at least at the end. By contrast, today’s romance novels are filled with graphic sex and pre-marital pregnancies.

I understand the point of this—these novels are aimed at bored 30- and 40-something housewives, not (ahem) virginal teens, who were the heroines in both Miss Austen’s and Miss Heyer’s novels. I assume the authors and their publishers figure that these women are a) not virgins and b) would like to read about heroines who are closer to their own age and life experience. Thus, the age of the romance heroine has moved into the twenties, and more of them are widows or discarded fiancees (discarded, of course, after the cad who engaged their affections has ravished them, often with horrific consequences).

But oh, please. Reading about the couplings of the characters in graphic if eccentric detail (romance novels have their own language as far as describing body parts and sex acts is concerned) is ludicrous at best, screamingly (though unintentionally) funny at worst. Some things are best left to the imagination, as Georgette Heyer knew. That’s why I think that Bollywood’s “Bride and Prejudice,” where the Darcy-and-Elizabeth equivalents never so much as kiss, is truer to Jane Austen’s intent than most modern interpretations of her novels, and one reason why I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books. Though his heroines pursue romances, become engaged, and marry, you never read about so much as a kiss.

Anticipation. Hope. The realization of a seemingly impossible dream. This is romance (if not reality, but that’s the whole point, now, isn’t it?). Our friend Ben is right; I don’t read modern Regency romances. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy the delightful escapist romp every now and then, but because that obligatory graphic element spoils the romance of them for me. How about you? 

Um, Silence, if that’s a “brief” rant, what’s a long rant? And here you accuse me of never being at a loss for words! Uh, Silence? Silence?! Uh oh. Our friend Ben signing off…         


When Luddites play tag. June 22, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Zora at the delightful blog Gardenopolis (one of our faves; see the link on our blogroll at right) tagged Poor Richard’s Almanac yesterday, asking us to write six random things about ourselves and post them on our blog. Since our blog is a joint effort by three of us—our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders—this threw us into instant chaos.

Today being Sunday, Richard had come over to Hawk’s Haven, our rural retreat in the scenic middle of nowhere, PA, to have brunch and talk about the week’s upcoming posts. Picture our friend Ben and Richard seated on the deck, surrounded by plants and kittens, listening to the babble of the little creek, Hawk Run, just off the deck. Silence has gone into the kitchen for a coffee refill. Here’s how the scene played out:

Richard Saunders: We need to write a post to respond to Zora’s tag and tell people six random things about ourselves.

Our friend Ben: Uh… right.

RS: Right.

OfB: Right.

Silence returns to the deck with a fresh cup of coffee. Richard and our friend Ben turn towards her with one accord.

Silence: Why are you two staring at me?

OfB: Um, about the tag post…

Silence: What about it?

OfB, RS: We think you should write it.

Silence, glaring at them, then smiling sweetly: Ah. Well, I’m sure I could think of six fascinating things to say about each of you

OfB: Oh, come on, Silence! How hard can it be to come up with six things people might want to know about you?

Silence: Well, you could find out how hard it is by writing the post yourself. Seems like it’s high time one of you two took a turn, unless you want to rename the blog “Poor Silence’s Almanac.”

RS, OfB: Uh…

Silence: Look, why don’t we draw straws. Whoever pulls the short straw has to write six things about themselves.

RS, OfB: You’re kidding, right? You mean people actually draw straws?

Silence (slaps forehead, rolls eyes): Look. I’ll go get three grass stems and cut one in half. You can each draw one, and we’ll see who’s the lucky winner. (She returns with the “straws.”) Gentlemen, take your chances!

OfB: Urk.

Silence: Hah, you’re elected! You pick six or I’ll do it for you! And, please, don’t make one of them that you want to win a MacArthur award. Surely everyone who’s old enough to read has gotten the hint by now.

OfB, glowering: Thank God you’re not one of the nominators.

Silence (smugly): How do you know?

OfB groans, closes eyes. Saints preserve us…

RS, looking desperately at his watch: Er, Silence, Ben, perhaps we could get on with this so we could have a little brunch before suppertime?  

OfB: Okay, okay. (Thinking.) How about these?

1. Despite my huge and much-loved book collection, if I were trapped on a deserted island, I’d rather have a huge stack of blank notebooks and pens than any of them. And if I couldn’t have notebooks and pens, I’d take a stick and write my novels, poems, and essays in the sand, even if I had to start again each day.

2. I’ve never understood the compulsive need for novelty that seems to afflict so many of my friends and acquaintances. I can eat the same food, wear the same clothes, read the same books, see the same movies, listen to the same music, appreciate the same view, enjoy the same people and pets endlessly without craving something new. Where I love I love, be it food or art or companionship. Of course I enjoy new things, too, and adding new favorites to the classic repertoire. But I also remain faithful to the old. The shampoo I used in college is still in my shower; I still watch my favorite movies and read my favorite books every year, and listen to beloved CDs pretty much daily; I could eat pasta or pizza or a baked potato or good bread and cheese or rice every day with a salad and side and be perfectly happy. I never tire of the view from our back deck, or wish I could trade my friends, family, and nearest and dearest for newer models. (Shut up, Silence.) Life is rich, good, and rewarding just as it is, and therein lies the secret of happiness, say I.

RS: Uh, Ben, I think these are supposed to be short “random things,” not paragraphs. Some of Zora’s were, like, three words.

Silence (smirking): No one ever accused Ben of being at a loss for words.

OfB: Grrrrrr. Maybe one of you would like to take over?

Silence: Good idea. Maybe we each should take two. Richard, you’re up!

RS: Okay, short and sweet. Let’s see:  

3. If I won the lottery, I’d buy a horse farm in Lexington, a house on the Battery in Charleston, and a summer retreat in Nova Scotia, or maybe in the Smokies.

4. If I could come back as anyone, I think I’d like to be Daniel Boone. What a life!

RS, OfB: Your turn, Silence!

Silence: Oh, all right. How’s this for short?

5. My favorite dessert is fresh blueberry tart in a shortbread crust with tons of whipped cream.

6. If I won the lottery, I’d buy a big farm and raise endangered livestock breeds.

OfB: Okay, that’s short. I know you bought blueberries at the farmers’ market on Friday. I don’t suppose there’s any hope that a fresh blueberry tart is in the offing?

RS: Yum!!! What Ben said.

Silence: (Heavy sigh.) I suppose the spinach-mushroom crepes and strawberry-citrus salad I was planning just don’t measure up, eh? Maybe I’d better just send you two off for some Egg McMuffins…

RS, OfB, fervently: No, no!!! Crepes and strawberry salad sound wonderful!

Silence: Well, maybe while I’m making them you could finish writing this post. I’ll even throw some blueberries in the salad just for you.

OfB: Oops, that’s right. We’re supposed to list the tagging rules and then choose six other bloggers to tag. (Looks at Richard.) I have some ideas…

RS: Go for it!

OfB: First, here are the rules:

* Link to the person who tagged you.

* Post the rules on your blog.

* Write six random things about yourself.

* Tag six people at the end of your post, linking to their blog.

* Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

* Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

And now (heh, heh, heh) for the taggees:

Silence (reappearing on the deck): Wait, I have some nominees, too! 

RS, OfB: I’ll bet you do!

Silence, OfB: And the nominees are…

1. Meg and Kelly at Future House Farm (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/), ’cause we know you have lots of interesting things to say about yourselves.

2. Sean at Bamboo Geek (http://bamboogeek.blogspot.com/), ’cause between Bamboo Geek and your new blog, Trash Watch, we’re sure you’ll have plenty to share with the rest of us.

3. Michael at Tomato Casual (http://www.tomatocasual.com/), ’cause we know if you post a response on Tomato Casual, all six “random things” will have to be tomato-related, and we think that’s a wonderful challenge.

4. Barbee’ at Barbee’s Blog (http://barbeeslog.blogspot.com/), ’cause we’d like to know more about a passionate gardener from one of our favorite states, Kentucky.

5. Deb at Aunt Debbi’s Garden (http://auntdebbisgarden.blogspot.com/), ’cause we know you’ve been tagged zillions of times but want to challenge you to come up with six more things. C’mon, you can do it!!!

6. Joy at Garden Joy 4 Me (http://gardenjoy4.blogspot.com/), for the same reason as Aunt Debbi. If you’ve run out of things to say about yourself, you could always tell us six random things about Emma! 

Okay, hopefully we’ve fulfilled our tagging obligations, or at least, done our Luddite best. (What’s a Luddite, you ask? No, it’s not some obscure cult. See our post, “What is a Luddite, anyway?” to find out all about it.) Now it’s up to the rest of you guys to carry the torch forward…