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Frog finds home at Hawk’s Haven. September 20, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben is thrilled to announce that a leopard frog has taken up residence in the half-barrel water garden Silence Dogood and I maintain on our deck. As we sat out on the deck late yesterday afternoon, enjoying a fire in the firepit and some soothing alcoholic beverages, our friend Ben observed the frog perched on the edge of our water garden, coolly ignoring us and our rambunctious black German shepherd Shiloh. This was the second time I’d seen the frog, so I figured it was safe to say it had moved in.

We’ve had our water garden for at least five years, and though I love the resident goldfish and all the water plants, I confess I’d been hoping that a frog might find it from the start. (I doubt the goldfish share my enthusiasm.) Unfortunately, I fear the endless drought in our area is responsible for the frog’s arrival, since our poor little stream, Hawk Run, has been dry all summer and frogs must be scrambling to find sources of water. (Mercifully, our neighbor has a sizeable in-ground water garden that always hosts plenty of frogs, including bullfrogs, green frogs, and leopard frogs.)

Now that our Hawk’s Haven frog has decided to stick around, he needs a name. All suggestions will be considered, so please send us your ideas! But not Jeremiah, please. Remember, he was a bullfrog.

Talk like a pirate—or else. September 19, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Aaaarrrr!!!! Yaaarrrrr!!! Look sharp, mateys, today, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! So stir yer stumps and start talkin’, you savvy?!

We here at Poor Richard’s Almanac have a thing about pirates, so we look forward to Talk Like a Pirate Day all year. You can get in on the celebration by searching for some of our previous posts in the search bar at upper right, including “The best pirate movies,” “Ben Picks Ten: Pirates,” “Pirate myths: true and false,” “A piratical post,” “The ones who got away,” “Time to talk like a pirate,” “Food fit for a pirate” (with recipes), “Food fit for a Creole pirate” (ditto), “Giving pirates a bad name,” and “Blackbeard in the news.”

You can also check out two of the best pirate-themed websites, the Official Site for International Talk Like a Pirate Day (http://www.talklikeapirate.com/), run by those illustrious pirates, Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket, authors of the classic books Pirattitude and The Pirate Life: Unleashing Your Inner Buccaneer, and No Quarter Given (http://www.noquartergiven.net/), home of the No Quarter Given pirate magazine and a new book, The Book of Pirates: Plundering, Pillaging, and Other Pursuits

But if you’d rather walk the talk than read about it, here are a few suggestions for ways to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day:

* Begin every conversation and phone call by shouting “AAAARRRR!!!” (or “YAAARRR!!!”) Hopefully, at least one call will be from a telemarketer.

* Watch some piratical movie classics like “Captain Blood,” “The Black Swan,” “The Buccaneer,” or “Swashbuckler,” or indulge in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie fest.

* Quench your thirst while watching movies with some piratical rum-based beverages from Silence Dogood’s post “Food fit for a pirate.” Or just drink some English Harbour Antigua Rum or Gosling Black Label straight up. Shiver me timbers!

* Fly the Jolly Roger over your home and/or car. Give the neighbors something to talk about.

* Walk around all day attired as your favorite pirate. (Our friend Ben favors Stede Bonnet or Black Bart, the Great Pirate Roberts; Silence thinks Anne Bonny would be a good choice; and Richard Saunders would love to be Blackbeard, but is afraid of setting his faux beard on fire by lighting fuses in it as the actual Blackbeard did to terrify his enemies; the Michael Jackson look is not for him, so he’d probably be Calico Jack Rackham or Captain Morgan.) Remember that an eyepatch and/or huge hoop earring always adds panache, unless you’re in character as any of the above. Ditto a parrot, real or faux. A prominently displayed pistol and cutlass should probably be enough to cut off any derisive comments from killjoys who don’t understand that wearing a costume and getting into character is fun. Especially if the pistol is loaded.

* Lard your conversation with piratical phrases such as “Yo ho, me hearties!” “A pirate’s life for me!” “Dead men tell no tales!” “X marks the spot!” “Send that lubber to Davy Jones’s locker!” “You savvy?” “Bring out the swag!” “Take no prisoners!” and the like. Bonus points if you teach your parrot any of these phrases.

Best get started, mateys. You savvy? The day’s slippin’ away, and there’s rum to be drunk, battles to be fought, and treasure to be found. AAAARRRRR!!!!

Worth his salt. September 18, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Or her salt, in this case. Silence Dogood here, with good news for salt lovers everywhere. You can finally stop taking abuse from salt haters and back up your fondness for the salty stuff with science.

Growing up in the South, I and everyone I knew ate salt and plenty of it, and nobody gave it a second thought. You ate salt on watermelon and cantaloupe to bring out their sweetness—the same reason you salt the edge of a margarita glass. You ate salt on everything else to bring out its flavor. At our family table, each of us had a large salt shaker at our place, and one of my jobs as a child was to keep them filled.

It was only after I came North to work that I realized that everybody didn’t eat that way. I could stop all conversation in the employee cafeteria just by salting my lunch. I had concerned friends follow me down corridors asking about my blood pressure (naturally low, thank God). One health-nutty friend even informed me that he was sure I’d explode from water retention if I kept eating salt like that. (Gee, thanks.)

Worse still, these people apparently liked unsalted food. Pretentious restaurants seated guests at ostentatiously saltless tables. (Mercifully, that trend has begun to reverse itself now that artisanal salts have become the latest fad.) Salt-free friends would shrug apologetically when I requested the salt at their homes. I finally resorted to carrying those horrid little fast-food packets of salt with me wherever I went.

Worst of all was everyone’s holier-than-thou attitude about my preference for salted food. You’d think I was asking for crack cocaine. Mercy on us! It would be as if I offered visitors beverages, then self-righteously refused to give them sugar, ice or half-and-half just because I don’t use them myself.  I may not use them, but I keep them on hand at all times, and Splenda, too, for those who prefer no-cal sweeteners. And I certainly don’t consider it some kind of moral failing if people like them!

My only moments of relief were on trips back home, when we’d go out to eat and I’d see every diner salting their food enthusiastically just like me. This made me wonder if climate had something to do with a preference for salt, if in fact there was some sort of Mason-Dixon salt divide. Besides a seemingly inherent love of salt, Southerners are famous for their addiction to “sweet tea,” fresh-brewed iced tea with so much sugar added to the tea while it’s still hot that it might as well be a caffeinated sugar solution. Given the often-unbearable heat and humidity that prevail down South, perhaps this sugar-salt-fluid combination was a kind of intuitive Gatorade, creating an abundance of electrolytes to keep Southerners from passing out in pre-air-conditioning days.

This theory made sense to me, and it became my working theory until today, when I was catching up on some newspapers that were beginning to pile up rather alarmingly as I worked on inputting my latest novel. An outright revolt by our friend Ben seemed imminent, so I spent a good part of the day ploughing  through the piles. And in the process, I discovered two articles about salt.

The first, “‘Supertasters’: Please pass the salt,” by Julia Edwards, reported on new research from Penn State that discovered that salt-lovers had extremely sensitive palates, and used salt to moderate the otherwise overwhelming flavors of sourness, bitterness and the like, which typically are not as strong or unpleasant to what the researchers—not me, I swear!—call “non-tasters.” It’s thought that 25% of the population is “genetically geared to seek out that salty taste.” (If you found foods like broccoli too bitter to eat and cheeses too strong-flavored as a child, you’re probably a supertaster, too.)

The second article, “A little salt with your sweet?” by Lisa Futterman, celebrates the rise of salty-sweet treats like sea-salted caramels on dessert menus countrywide and says in black and white what all Southerners have always known: “salt brings out the sweetness of food.” (You can search for both articles, which originally appeared in the Allentown, PA Morning Call,  online at www.mcall.com).

Now, I’m not prepared to abandon my proto-Gatorade theory. But given the extreme texture and temperature sensitivity I have to all food, it wouldn’t surprise me if my taste sensitivity matched them. Not to mention the obvious: Salt tastes good. Salt brings out the inherent flavors in food rather than disguising them like spices (including pepper). Eating salt is not a sin. It’s a little taste of heaven on earth. Salt was valued above all spices, sometimes above gold, in all cultures until our own time, as expressions like “worth his salt” attest. It was and is necessary for life.

Tolerance, good manners, please, people. Those of us who enjoy salt most emphatically do not enjoy being lectured every time we reach for the shaker. I still have low blood pressure, and I haven’t exploded yet. And salt lovers everywhere, next time someone tsks at you for reaching for the salt, sit up straight, look them in the eye, and say, “I must have salt. I’m a supertaster!” “So there” is optional.

                ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

It’s Constitution Day! September 17, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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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!

Scary blog searches. September 16, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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We here at Poor Richard’s Almanac are back with the latest crop of wacky blog searches to have come over our virtual transom. This batch is scarier than most, as we think you’ll see. Too bad it’s not Hallowe’en! As always, query in bold, our comments following. Enjoy!

can you give your dog tin cat food:  No, and don’t try it on your cat, either. We know minerals are supposed to be good for you, but eating tin is an idea only an alchemist could love.

cure for garlic breath in your fridge: Please tell your fridge to brush its teeth and tongue daily, preferably with baking soda. If it doesn’t notice an improvement in five days, it should give up garlic and take up mint instead.

what is colege for: Um, we think you’ve answered that better than we ever could. But no worries, we hear Wal-Mart has openings for greeters.

ping pong grow “brain cell” 2010: Oh, dear. And here we love ping-pong. It’s going to be much harder to hit those ping-pong balls knowing that they’ve somehow managed to grow brains…

when do stink bugs go away: Try telling them you’ve heard there’s a Miss Stinkbug contest going on at some casino in Atlantic City and that every stinkbug gets free food and $250 in gambling money. That should do the trick.

history of scrotch tape: Thank God for that “s”!!!!

That’s it for this batch. See you next time!

Madcap moneymaking ideas. September 15, 2010

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were unexpectedly called out of town on family matters this past Sunday. We faced a long drive—ten hours each way—and though the scenery is gorgeous the whole way, and Silence and yours truly are seldom at a loss for words, a drive of that duration gives you plenty of opportunity for reflection, or, in our friend Ben’s case, invention.

Our friend Ben is always coming up with great moneymaking schemes and inventions. Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources to actually bring any of them about. And I’m so mechanically and technologically inept that I couldn’t even come up with a prototype to try to patent and sell to someone who could produce the latest and greatest whatsit. But it’s fun to think them up, anyway. Beats reading license plates. But I digress.

Anyway, I think I came up with 23 moneymaking ideas on this trip—a record, even for yours truly, since this worked out to more than one per hour of road time. Here are four of them, along with the stimuli that triggered the idea. What do you think?*

Beeper Balls

This idea was a result of synergy—passing lots of golf courses on our trip, plus having to stop at 300,000 rest areas, since Silence insists on stopping at each and every one. (Her moneymaking plan is to write the definitive guide to rest areas in America.) Arriving at yet another rest stop, our friend Ben heard the endless beeping of car doors as their owners locked them with their electronic keys.

Hearing all the beeping reminded me of our friend Rob, whose grey SUV looks like millions of other grey SUVs, and who is coincidentally the original absent-minded professor and is always misplacing everything from his glasses to his vehicle. If he’s lost his car in yet another strip mall parking lot, he hits the “lock” button on his e-key and the car beeps. Then he uses the beeping as a homing device to locate his vehicle.

Hmmm. What if you could program golf balls to beep in response to an e-key? You’re out on the course in the middle of a game. Your ball goes into the rough. You’re about to lose precious time trying to find it, or lose the ball altogether. You hit the button, and your ball beeps until you find it. Within seconds, you’re back in the game.

Great idea, right? But what if it takes off and everybody’s balls are beeping? To avoid confusion, a refinement was clearly called for. So how about including a program that allowed you to record your name or another code word or noise, like an answering machine (“Mark is not available. At the tone…”)? Then if you lost a golf ball and pressed the button on your handy-dandy e-finder, you’d hear it squeaking “Tom!” or “Help!” or whatever while everyone else’s balls were calling “Bill!” “Rats!” “Aaarrgghh!!!” or what have you.

Not only will this fabulous invention save golfers money, time, and aggravation, just think of the great marketing slogans it could generate. (Silence says I have to leave these to your imagination, since we try to keep our blog’s rating around PG-13.)

“Extreme Makeover: Water Tower Edition”

Our friend Ben’s next great idea is born of the love Silence and I have for the heartwarming and entertaining program “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” In each of these programs, a team led by show host Ty Pennington descends upon a hideous, falling-down, or otherwise problematic home and gives it a complete makeover. We also enjoy food and travel programs like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” where the food and culture of a given location are covered in each episode.

We pass a lot of water towers on this particular trip. And most of them are really, really boring: neutral colors, the name of the town painted on them, the end. But we also pass one water tower in Mount Jackson, Virginia that is just great: It’s painted to look like a bushel basket filled with ripe apples. Clearly, Mount Jackson is an apple-producing community and is proud of it.

The contrast between Mount Jackson’s water tower and pretty much every other water tower we pass inspired our friend Ben to imagine a TV series in which a team led (of course) by yours truly visited boring water towers across the U.S. and gave them makeovers that reflected their city’s history and personality. So the team would go through one town each episode, interviewing citizens, visiting local landmarks, eating in locally famous restaurants, and ultimately devising and executing a transformation of the local water tower so it would reflect local pride and culture.

Passing the beige water tower in Woodstock, Virginia, for example, our friend Ben was itching to tie-dye that tower in honor of the Woodstock festival. Peace signs, anyone? Or paint images of James Madison and the Constitution on the water tower in Harrisonburg, Virginia, home of James Madison University.

Silence Dogood drily suggested that each episode could end with our friend Ben being hauled off to the local jail for defacing public property, so there could be even more local color as well as a recurring sub-theme for the show. Shut up, Silence. I think there’s huge potantial for a fascinating program here packed with local color and a happy ending.  

Countering Kudzu

It’s always horribly distressing to our friend Ben and Silence to cross the “kudzu line” as we move from Virginia into North Carolina and see  kudzu vines swallowing and killing acre after acre of trees and other vegetation. We feel like crossing ourselves and thanking God that kudzu hasn’t made its way to our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, in Pennsylvania… yet.

Kudzu, like so many of the invasive weeds we’re currently battling, came into this country from Japan as an agricultural hopeful. Some idiot decided that its great nutritional content and rapid rate of growth would make it perfect food for cattle. Unfortunately, this moron apparently didn’t think to trial it on cows first. Yes, it grew rapidly. But no, cows wouldn’t touch it. And then it escaped, covering acres in a few days or weeks, killing the grasses and perennials and shrubs and, ultimately, trees it covered. The South—and, if the kudzu mutates to tolerate cold, the North—are threatened with death and destruction on a massive scale.

In its native Japan, kudzu is managed and is not invasive. Natural controls, like insects that evolved with it, consume kudzu. The Japanese themselves eat kudzu. They also use its stems for basket-work and have come up with many other uses for this indigenous plant.

Why don’t Americans manage the kudzu that’s taking over their land the way the Japanese manage theirs? Our friend Ben has no idea; it reminds me of people in my area who turn a blind eye as poison ivy takes over their property. Perhaps a little financial impetus is needed. OFB to the rescue!

Thinking about what sales scams—I mean, schemes—are pretty much foolproof, our friend Ben can come up with three no-brainers: weight loss, drugs, and aphrodisiacs. Desperate, credulous customers will line up for any and sometimes all of the above. Can’t you just see the marketing campaigns: “The Kudzu Diet: Eat Kudzu/Take Concentrated Kudzu Capsules and Lose 5-10 Pounds a Week!” “Kudzu: Legally High!” “Kudzu: The Natural Viagra!” Our friend Ben feels certain that any of these approaches would cause local “entrepreneurs” to do away with the kudzu problem once and for all, and amazingly quickly, too.

The IQ Scale

Our friend Ben was startled to learn from an outraged woman in Greensboro, North Carolina that weight-scale technology had taken a turn for the worse. “The scale not only shouts out how much you currently weigh,” she announced. “It tells you how much you’ve gained! And you can hear its horrid voice THREE ROOMS AWAY, so everybody knows!!!” To add even more insult to injury, it tells you how much weight you’ve gained since the last time you stepped on the scale.

This same woman had lamented earlier about how she wished she was smarter, which is apparently the foremost aspiration in America. Not “I wish I was rich/I wish I was retired/I wish I was beautiful/I wish I was young/I wish I was [a neurosurgeon, or place your dream profession here].” But “I wish I was smart.”

Okay, how about the talking IQ scale that’s personalized to every user. Will anybody use it? Probably. The idea is that you step on the scale and it shows you your real-time IQ as opposed to your lifetime IQ. The need is obviously there, in terms of lifetime IQ. But the truth is that it’s not necessary to accept the IQ hand that fate has given you. By stimulating your brain through learning, reading, doing, creating, thinking, travelling and exploring other cultures, you can raise up your heart and mind and soul and grow.

As with your weight, your IQ can grow or shrink every single day. And our friend Ben thinks there’s a huge market out there who’s desperate to know just how smart they are at any given moment. Surely a hand-held device that tells you as precisely as a weight scale would be a monster marketing hit. How would such a device measure IQ, you ask? Well, why do you think I’d know?! Let’s find a physicist and ask him or her.

Okay, there you have four of my brilliant ideas. Feel free to share your own here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. On the plus side, you could at least be sure we’re too techno-primitive to steal your ideas! But we’d sure love to hear them.

* We’d be thrilled to get input from anyone. But MacArthur Fellowship nominators, if you’re out there reading this, we just hope you appreciate OFB’s brilliance and consider giving him one of your “genius awards.” There are bazillion great ideas where these came from…

No regrets. September 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I was watching the first season of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” (Thanks, Netflix!) But the pun in the series title brought to mind a conversation I’d had recently with an old friend. We were talking about the things we wished we’d done in our lives. Both of us wished we had travelled more. Looking back at our lives, both of us wished we had made other choices at certain points.

But there was a huge difference between us, what I’d have called a defining difference: Yes, there are many things I’d like to have happened in my life that didn’t happen. There are plenty of things I’d do differently, given a chance to go back and revise (such as becoming a gerontologist instead of an editor). But I’m perfectly happy with my life right now: our friend Ben, our little cottage, our beloved pets, my work, my little car, our wonderful friends, all of it.

Maybe I’d have done things differently in hindsight. And maybe things would have turned out differently. But things have turned out wonderfully, miraculously well given the choices I actually made. I’m happy, content to greet every day exactly where I am. I enjoy the little things and the big things. The sight of a hummingbird visiting our rose-of-Sharon flowers or the sudden appearance of a writing assignment, seemingly falling from Heaven. A yummy curry or pasta I’ve just made or the inspiration for the next new novel.

My life is real, and my life is full, whatever its limitations. No, I’ve never owned a new car. I’ve never had a bestseller or a movie based on one of my books (yet, anway). I’ve never owned that fabulous old stone house and outbuildings that I dream of. I’ve never had disposable income. I’ve never gone to Morocco or Normandy. But I have had the joy and contentment of greeting each new and beautiful day, surrounded by people, pets, and things I love, doing what I love to do—writing.

And I have all the vast resources available to us moderns to virtually live the life of our dreams. Craving a trip to Morocco, but lacking the funds to make it happen? Buy old travel guides. Listen to “Marrakesh Express.” Check out DVDs. Get Moroccan Style. Buy Moroccan cookbooks, a tagine, Moroccan spices like ras al-hanout and harissa. See if, since you can’t go to Morocco, you can’t bring Morocco home to you, wherever home might be. 

My friend expressed a different, and to me, wildly distressing, viewpoint. I realized this when I belatedly gathered that she was misinterpreting my own comments on our present reality through the lens of her own misery.  She kept encouraging me, insisting, that it was not too  late to begin living the life of our dreams. That however pathetic our present circumstances, at any moment we could change them by following our ultimate goals. Our limitations would magically melt away, and we would become whatever we dreamed we would be.

Oh, no. True, maybe all of us might have had more sense in choosing a career if we’d given more thought to its consequences and benefits, or had a gazing ball (or at least a Magic Eight Ball) that let us see what the future held. Maybe we’d have chosen our various partners more wisely if we could have seen past looks and charisma to the values that mattered most to us, or ignored our parents’ disapproval and followed our hearts. Maybe we’d have decided to have kids or had more or fewer kids or not had kids; pursued a talent that most people (including our parents and teachers) strongly discouraged; lived where we wanted, not where our corporations sent us; opted for a more authentic lifestyle; understood who we were and been true to ourselves.

But, even in the face of my own oblivion and cluelessness, I somehow managed to end up doing a lot of the right things, even when family, friends and the world all said they were wrong. I can wake up each morning and face the day, my home, and my family with joy, not anxiety, frustration, or depression. OFB and I own our little cottage home and battered VW Golf outright; we live a very modest lifestyle, but it’s debt-free. Every day, we do what we love most: read, write, garden, cook, learn, play with our pets, connect with our friends and families. No, we haven’t won the lottery. Yes, I wish we’d win the lottery. But until that day arrives, we’re living, not waiting.

My own life tells me that “To thine own self be true” and “Know thyself; thou can’st not then be false to any man” are the two maxims that matter. Carpe diem: Seize the day. Live for today. Be kind, be generous, be wise, but most of all, be sure of who you are. Live each and every day so that, at the end of it, you may have no reservations, but you definitely have no regrets.

           ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

A Cordiall Water September 11, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Passionate as I am about food and cooking, and as many hundreds of cookbooks and food history books as I’ve collected, I’m woefully ignorant of the genre known as “food writing,” essays and memoirs related to food. I can count on one hand the books I’ve read on the topic, if we can lump all the Julia Child books (My Life in France, Passion for Life, Julie and Julia, etc.) on one finger. I’ve read Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful food adventure story, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; Ruth Reichl’s second biographical book, Comfort Me with Apples; Gary Paul Nabhan’s Coming Home to Eat; and Peter Mayle’s French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew.

But I had never read the most renowned of the modern food writers, MFK Fisher. Love her or hate her, she defined food writing in the Twentieth Century, and from everything I can see, continues to define it, it and a certain sensibility with regard to food. Food writers copy elements of her style, or her approach to food and life, or they very consciously don’t. She is the gilded Oscar on the food writer’s shelf, the taunting presence, the one to beat, the one you hope critics will compare you to: “A modern-day MFK Fisher!”

Unfortunately, I appear to be landing in the “hate her” camp. I recently stumbled on her book  A Cordiall Water: A Garland of Odd and Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man and Beast in a used book store. My fascination with herbs and herbal remedies and lore is equal to my love of cooking and cookbooks, so I bought the book without a second thought. A chance to finally read MFK Fisher and to see what she has to say about old-time remedies: Talk about win-win!

Talk about win-lose. I should have paid more attention to the photo of Fisher on the back of the book rather than the topic on the front. It was so elaborately, so consciously, so preciously styled as to resemble press-release shots of starlets in the Roaring Twenties, or perhaps famed stage beauties of the 1890s. And this tone infused every chapter of what might otherwise have been a fascinating read.

It might not have been Ms. Fisher’s fault; she was born in 1908, and came to womanhood during those same Roaring Twenties, the Flapper era, when laquered waves, bobs, and helmet hats were de rigeuer, a ruler-flat figure was the height of fashion, the Ziegfeld Follies were the most popular entertainment, Tallulah Bankhead was the reigning celebrity, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and his circle set the style. The Algonquin Hotel and its “Vicious Circle” of critics and biting wits, including Dorothy Parker, flourished from 1919 to 1929. It was an artificial era, and the 1929 crash that ushered in the Great Depression smashed the brittle, manic gaiety that had defined it. 

However, other women who were her contemporaries effortlessly rose above this artificiality and brittleness and created their own styles. Julia Child (born four years later), Helen Nearing (born four years earlier), and Tasha Tudor (born seven years later) certainly spring to mind.

Ms. Fisher drew on her very privileged globe-trotting life to bring herbal remedies from Provence, Mexico, and Switzerland into her book; she also researched remedies over time and quoted sources from Mediaeval and Elizabethan England to her hero, the great French gastronome Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste (Physiologie du gout), published in 1825, which Ms. Fisher ultimately published in her own translation. So far, so good.

But the constant name-dropping (or, in her case, name-inferring: “a certain beautiful actress/stage star/celebrity”), the preciousness of her unendingly self-conscious lifestyle and writing style, the shocking bigotry that was somehow allowed to get into print when she published A Cordiall Water in 1961 and that was retained verbatim in the 2004 edition I bought, destroyed my appreciation of the potentially useful and educational book I was reading. I could not help but conjure up the image of a smug, superior, reptilian personality, and the taint lingered. I felt that I needed to pour one of the healing baths she recommended and soak in it a good, long time to remove the taint, the miasma, of her polluted personality.

Yes, I know I’m slaying the sacred cow here, and that I should stay my hand until I’ve read more of her 26 books. But to me, there is something tragic about a person who’s privileged to live all over the world and enjoy experiences the rest of us can only dream of, but still feels she has to name-drop by implication (“a beautiful blonde stage star”) to make her place in the world, to give herself importance. MFK Fisher seems to me the forerunner of today’s celebrity sickness: “I saw Lady Gaga! Look, here’s the pic I took on my cell! She was really walking down the street in front of me. How awesome is that!!!”

Give me the forthright types who are true to themselves and couldn’t give less of a damn about preciousness or posturing. Give me Julia, Helen, and Tasha any day. Give me Flannery O’Connor or Margaret Mead or even Margaret Mitchell. I don’t have time for pretentiousness or bogus self-importance gained by who you know rather than who you are. I’m too busy cooking and writing.

           ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Burn a Qur’an for Satan. September 10, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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According to Charlie Daniels, the Devil went down to Georgia. But it looks like that old son has been on the move again. This time, he’s landed in Gainesville, Florida, and taken up residence in a place with the Orwellian name of the Dove World Outreach Center, and in the black, hate-filled heart of its publicity-grabbing pastor, the Reverend Terry Jones.

Now, you’d think from the name of this church that it would be a haven of peace (dove) and tolerance (world outreach). You’d think, because this church is Pentecostal—embracing the living presence of the Holy Spirit in our world—that its members, and especially its pastor, would strive to exemplify the healing and all-forgiving love that caused God to send down the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary and bring Our Lord Jesus into this world to save us from sin and death, and send the Spirit again after Our Lord’s rising to fire the faith of Christ’s discliples on Pentecost.

Unfortunately, you would find yourself sadly mistaken. The Dove World Outreach Center is, instead, a bastion of intolerance and hate. And where hate dwells, the Devil is fast to follow. He’s doing a victory waltz with the Reverend Terry Jones right now.

Today’s rant, in case you haven’t been keeping up, is brought to you courtesy of the Rev. Jones’s well-publicized intention to burn copies of the Qur’an at his church on Saturday, September 11, 2010, to mark the destruction in 2001 of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, the attack on the Pentagon, and the downing of a plane full of innocent people here in our own scenic PA. The Devil was very busy that day, too, fueling the hatred of a band of Islamic extremists and unleashing death and terror on thousands upon thousands who had committed no graver offence than simply existing.

Our friend Ben takes the 9/11 attacks very personally, and not just because that plane of martyrs crashed in my own state. But for the grace of God, my beloved brother would have been sitting—and subsequently dying—where the plane struck the Pentagon.

Silence Dogood and I have dear friends and relatives in Washington and in New York. Some of those friends are Muslim. And having seen the unjustified terror that they endured for years after the 9/11 attacks, the suspicion, the harassment of innocent women and children who had done precisely nothing to warrant it, our friend Ben can entirely sympathize with the foreboding, fear, and feelings of vulnerability that innocent Americans living and working in predominantly Muslim countries must be feeling right now in the face of the Rev. Jones’s threat to burn copies of the Qur’an.

The very public burning of objects that are sacred to any religion is an invitation to an upswell of rage and hatred on the part of those whose religion is being trashed. But to make matters worse, the good reverend plans to burn these copies of the Qur’an during Eid Al-Fitr, one of the great holy festivals of Islam. Picture burning copies of the New Testament on Good Friday (or Pentecost) or the Torah on Rosh Hashanah. Can you hear the Devil laughing?

Everyone from President Obama to Sarah Palin, from General Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Gates to Florida Governor Charlie Crist, from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the FBI to Glenn Beck, from the Vatican to Franklin Graham, has spoken up to ask or beg Reverend Jones to stay his hand. The State Department, Interpol, and U.S. embassies worldwide have called for increased security for Americans abroad. General Petraeus has said flat out that Jones’s outrageous performance will put U.S. troops in Afghanistan at increased risk. And what of those in Iraq and other Muslim nations?

Then there are the poor beleaguered Gainesville police, who’ll already have several hundred thousand football fans to contend with on Saturday. Not to mention the rest of us, the American taxpayers who’ll end up footing the monumental bill for increased security at home and abroad for the good reverend’s stunt. I don’t know about you, but I think my hard-earned tax dollars could go to a better cause.

But what does Jones care for the lives and safety of Americans at home and abroad? What does he care for the core values of freedom and tolerance on which our nation was built, and which we have worked so hard to reestablish and reemphasize in the aftermath of 9/11? What does he care how much his lust for power and the limelight will ultimately cost all Americans, all Christians worldwide? Clearly, there is only one thing he cares about, and that is the self-importance of one Terry Jones. In our publicity-hungry society, he is hardly alone in that. But fortunately for the rest of us, most wannabe celebrities don’t use hatred as a means to push themselves forward. Unlike, say, Al-Qaeda or the Reverend Jones.

The Holy Fire of Pentecost—that great gift to mankind of the Holy Ghost—and the fires of Hell are farther apart than all the stars in all the universes. What a disgrace that someone who claims to be a Christian, a so-called “man of God,” who claims to believe in the gifts of the Spirit, could step away from the first fire and into the second. Burn your Qur’ans for Satan if you must, Mr. Jones. There’s a more enduring fire waiting for you. I suspect the Devil will come in person to lead you to it, slapping you on the back with his flaming hand and saying, “Terry, my man! That was a job well done.” And there’s all the celebrity you truly deserve.

Vets for pets. September 9, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was checking out a post on Yahoo! of the best jobs for the future. It of course included nursing, technology, pharmaceuticals, and etc. But it also included becoming a veterinarian. Of the $48 billion Americans spent on their pets in 2008—the last year for which there are public records—$24 billion was spent on vet bills, I mean, pet health care. For any math-challenged readers out there, that means people spent half the total cost of pet ownership on health care.

Our friend Ben has not cross-checked statistics on how much Americans spent on human health care in 2008, but $24 billion on pet health care strikes me as a bit excessive. No wonder pet health insurance has become a thriving industry. As people come to regard their pets as more and more intrinsic parts of their family, they’ve become more and more willing to pay for their health care, whatever it costs. Surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? Steroids? Hey, whatever it takes.

It appears that our pets are suffering the same diseases we are. I’ve had two friends with diabetic cats, who gave them daily insulin injections. Silence Dogood and I have had two dogs who developed cancer, and have suffered the horrors of their treatment, and the thousands of dollars it cost in each case. Our friend Cole has spent at least that much treating his ailing parrots. And while Silence and I have never had the problem of obese pets, it appears to be as rampant a condition among animals as it is in our society as a whole.

I’m so thrilled that people are finally taking pets seriously, as part of our love continuum rather than some separate thing to throw in the backyard. But, as I think we over-diagnose and over-medicate ourselves, constantly bombarded as we are by commercials from pharmaceutical companies assuring us that we’re not well, but there’s a pill that will fix us, we’re now succumbing to the same syndrome with our pets, who can’t even claim the right to say no.

Yes, love your pets. Yes, give them the basic health care they deserve, the annual checkups and shots. Yes, read up on the latest ideas about good pet health, and make an effort to give your pet the food, supplements, and toys the experts recommend. Yes, above all, show each and every one of your pets that you love them and that they matter to you. But please, could we try to rise above our hypochondriac culture? Refrain from rushing out to the  doctor or CVS every time we don’t feel 100% and dose ourselves or demand the latest remedy we happened to see on TV? And please, please, could we not subject our pets to the same stupidity?

A good vet, like a good doctor, is a godsend, sometimes the difference between life—or at least quality of life—and death. But let’s use both as we should, when we truly need them, rather than when advertising tells us what to do.