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Love ’em or hate ’em on “Game of Thrones.” April 16, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Let’s ignore the awful return of winter and turn to more entertaining pastimes. As a fan of “Game of Thrones'” Hodor, our friend Ben was highly amused to see a poster of Hodor yesterday that said, over a photograph of Hodor, “King Hodor of House Hodor,” then, in much larger letters at the bottom of the poster, “First of His Hodor,” “Long May He Hodor.” (Hodor, actually named Walder, is a benign, simpleminded giant whose only comment throughout the series is “Hodor.” When an interviewer asked the various actors what their character’s wittiest comment was, Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, paused as if for thought, then replied deadpan, “I’d have to say, ‘Hodor’.”) Long may he Hodor!

This made me think about the death of Joffrey Lannister on last week’s “Purple Wedding” episode, for the simple reason that everyone online apparently reacted with joy, since they hated Joffrey more than any other character on “Game of Thrones.” While I wish Joffrey had choked to death on his way home from visiting Winterfell and removed his annoying self from the series early in Season 1, he always struck me as a spoiled, cowardly, sadistic brat who was allowed to grow into what he was by a rotten, corrupt, hate-filled mother (Cersei Lannister) and an indifferent “father” (King Robert Baratheon, who actually said “I was never meant to be a father”), while Joffrey’s true father, also his uncle, Ser Jaime Lannister, could do nothing to redeem him. To me, he was far from the most hateful character on the show.

Hmmm, I thought. Who are the most loved and hated characters on “Game of Thrones”? Turning to my good friend Google, I found answers that really surprised me, certainly not the answers I would have given in most cases. (Except one: series author George R.R. Martin, for killing off noble, beloved characters like Lord Eddard Stark and leaving the North defenseless without a second thought. You’d have thought that having the Mad King burn Eddard’s older brother Brandon and his father, and the Mad King’s son, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, imprison and repeatedly rape Eddard’s sister Lyanna, ultimately resulting in her death, might have been enough. But oh, no: There was no end to Martin’s torture of the only truly noble family in Westeros, the Starks. I was genuinely surprised and gratified at the fan response to this, placing the blame squarely where it belonged.)

If you’re a fan of the books and/or the series, you’ll have your own favorites to love and hate. But here are mine:

LOVE

Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, and reluctant Hand of the King: Like the man who raised him and his foster-brother Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, Ned values honor above common sense and fails to see that others value survival and power more than honor. Ned, Jon Arryn, and Robert Baratheon all die because of this basic failure of perception. But he remains my favorite character.

Tyrion Lannister, “The Imp:” Lord Tyrion has had to learn to use his brain and tongue as weapons, since he can’t compete with weapons of steel and hold his own. Despite his father’s and sister’s hatred and horrific acts against him, he manages to hold his place in Westeros and even prove himself a hero, as well as showing compassion whenever he can.

Stannis Baratheon: True heir to the Iron Throne, a brilliant general and honest man. Westeros under Lord Stannis’s rule would hardly be the cheerful, debauched place it was under his elder brother Robert, but Stannis would be a just ruler and a good, fair Winter king.

Mance Rayder: King North of the Wall, Mance has a great sense of perspective and a great sense of courage and daring. No man alive knows the threats this coming winter poses for all Westeros better than Mance, and no man knows how to truly rally extremely diverse peoples under his banner better than Mance (though Tyrion is underrated as usual in this regard).

CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE:

The Hound: Who wouldn’t love the Hound? Anyone who wouldn’t love the Hound is just a dog.

Lord Samwell Tarly (don’t forget he really is a lord and heir to a house)

Crown Prince Aemon Targaryen, Maester of the Wall; he’s seen it all.

Lord Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Wall; like Lord Eddard, an honorable man.

Hodor: Long may he Hodor!

Ramsay Snow: The single cheerful character in all of “Game of Thrones.” He truly loves what he does.

Maester Llewyn of Winterfell, the one wise man.

Lord Varys: Who would be too stupid to love Lord Varys?!

Littlefinger: Lord Petyr Baelish might be completely self-absorbed, but his rise to power is an object lesson.

Ros: As is the whore from the North, Ros, who leaves Winterfell to become both a spy for Lord Varys and a whoremaster for Lord Baelish. She is both the most beautiful actress on the series and the most impressive instance (in character) of a nobody rising through their own talents to a position of more prominence than they could ever have hoped to have achieved.

The Smartasses: Seasoned fighters who are always there with a quip when needed to remind the novices that life and death are only life and death, and it’s way better to meet them when they come than run off screaming. Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, Stannis Baratheon’s Hand. Bronn of the Blackwater, Tyrion Lannister’s sellsword and protector. Syrio Forel, First Sword of Braavos, Arya Stark’s “dancing master.” Jaqen H’gar, the face-changer who saves Arya Stark from Tywin Lannister. There are plenty of others, like the recruiter from the Night’s Watch who tries to protect Arya and Gendry and dies at the hands of the hated Gold Cloaks with the immortal line (while killed by a crossbow) “Always hated crossbows; take too long to reload.” Watch for them, they’re all great.

Lord Tywin Lannister, head of House Lannister: He’s so horrible but so wonderful. Thank you, Charles Dance, for a superb performance. You’ve always been amazing, and now you have Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder and Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon (and Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, for that matter), to make sure you stay good and sharp.

Vicerys Targaryen. He too was cheerful, now that I think of it. Too bad he died so early on. I always enjoyed his on-screen time, and still miss him. Don’t want to wake the dragon!

Khal Drogo. Too bad about him.

Shae. Brave, good, fierce, loyal, beautiful, true to her “lion,” Lord Tyrion: What’s not to love?

Lady Brienne of Tarth. She is as honorable as Eddard, just not the brightest bulb on the string. I’d love to have Brienne on my side as long as I was giving her her marching orders, not assuming she could figure them out on her own or choose her alliances wisely.

OKAY I HATE THEM

The bitter old men. Balon Greyjoy squatting like a toad on his rock while he mutters “I was a king, I was a king” as he sends his children off to die. Walder Frey, host of the Red Wedding. Grandmaester Pycelle, the lecherous coward. Craster, the monstrous wildling lord who marries his daughters and gives all his incest-born sons to the White Walkers.

Theon Greyjoy. That filthy, weak, ungrateful traitor.

Cersei Lannister. In case you didn’t get that the first time. Cersei was the spoiled only daughter of the super-rich House Lannister, considered the most beautiful woman in all Westeros, married to the then-handsome hero Robert Baratheon and so Queen of Westeros. She had more reasons than anyone in the series to be happy, but instead was filled with more poison than the Red Viper and always ready to spew it out on anyone and everyone from her brother Tyrion to Sansa Stark. Speaking of whom…

Sansa Stark. Filthy, lying, self-serving little turncoat, she turns against Arya and her father Eddard and dooms her poor direwolf Lady to death. Too bad she didn’t break her neck in the first episode!

Catelyn Stark. Even worse is her mother Catelyn, whose mindless hatred makes poor Jon Snow’s life a living hell and whose terrible judgment dooms her son Robb, her husband Eddard, and many another innocent to death. Of all the characters, I probably hate her most.

Lord Janos Slynt. The head of the Gold Cloaks who betrays Lord Eddard to his death. At least Lord Tyrion manages to send him to the Wall.

Melisandre. The “Red Woman,” High Priestess of the Lord of Light, has corrupted Stannis Baratheon, an honorable man, and turned him into a fanatic. Shame on her!

The madwomen: Lysa Arryn of the Eyrie and Lord Stannis’s wife. The sooner they’re offed, the better.

Joffrey Lannister. All right, all right, of course I hate Joffrey and his revolting retainers. But not as much as many another on this list.

So which characters do you love, hate, and love to hate?

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The white ribbon. November 25, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. When I went on Google this morning, I was surprised to find a white ribbon—like the pink breast cancer ribbon or the jigsaw autism ribbon—at the bottom of the screen. I’d never seen a white ribbon before, so I scrolled over it to see if its meaning would come up. Sure enough, the awkward name of the ribbon appeared: “The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.”

My first thought, of course, was “just ONE day?!!” And then, as an editor and writer, I thought that surely they could have come up with a more compelling name. But whatever the case, the point remains: Violence is unacceptable, be it directed towards women, children, men, or animals.

I have mercifully been spared first-hand witness of violence, with the exception of a cashier at one of my local groceries who often appeared at work with a black eye. And occasionally witnessing that other horrific violence against women, anorexia. Just two days ago I saw two anorexic women while out running errands, one young, one in her fifties. Our society’s unrealistic expectations of female appearance has created unspeakable suffering among the weak and vulnerable: Anorexia leads to death, just as being beaten and tortured can lead to death.

Today, if you’re a woman who, like me, has never suffered abuse, give thanks. Pray for those who have, like that poor, gorgeous Afghan girl on the cover of Time whose nose and ears had been cut off by the Taliban, and the women who’ve been kidnapped and held in slavery, or murdered for their dowries, or sold into prostitution. Or a cashier who gets whacked by her husband when she’s not fast enough with the next beer. Or high-profile celebrities like Madonna and Kelly McGillis who’ve been attacked and raped.

The lesson here is that no woman, and no child, and no man, and no animal, is ever completely safe. I’ve endured having a gun slammed against my head and being robbed, though that was just a crime, not a crime against me because I was a woman. Maybe you’ve had your identity stolen or your car “jacked” or your wallet lifted or your computer invaded. Abuse is rampant in a society as huge, as sophisticated, as diverse, and as superficial as our world is today.

In this week running up to Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks for our own safety, if we have it. And let’s pray for those who don’t. Let’s keep the white ribbon in our hearts and minds and pray for every single victim of violence, down to the last abused or abandoned pet, not just for one day, but for every day of the year.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Great cheese, great fudge, great cause. September 21, 2013

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Silence Dogood here. Now that our friend Ben and I have placed our order, OFB has agreed to let me post about Gethsemani Farms’ delicious cheeses. The Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani, just a few miles from my mother’s birthplace in rural Kentucky, support themselves and their mission by making cheese, fudge, and fruitcake. (You may have heard of one of their monks, Brother Louis, better known as the writer Thomas Merton.)

My parents loved the monks’ cheeses and ordered them every year; their favorite was the aged cheese, which resembles a fine Port du Salut, not suprising since the original group of monks came to Kentucky from France in 1848. Aged “monks’ cheese,” as we called it, was a bit strong for us kids, so our parents got to enjoy it all by themselves. But we loved the mild version and the fudge, and when the monks introduced pesto cheese a few years ago, our friend Ben and I became addicts.

OFB and I simply adore the monks’ bourbon fudge, both classic chocolate pecan and butter walnut. They’re the closest to homemade we’ve ever tasted. (And both our mamas made some mean fudge.) They’re so addictive, we only order them as a treat at Christmas, and of course order them, cheese, and fruitcake as Christmas gifts.

Fruitcake: love it or hate it. It’s either “When’s Christmas coming so I can have some fruitcake?” or “Get even, give fruitcake.” OFB and I fall in the latter category, so we can’t tell you how good the monks’ fruitcake is. But our fruitcake-loving friend Rob and my father both thought it was the best ever (after, of course, my mother’s), and The Wall Street Journal agrees. We order Rob a Gethsemani fruitcake for Christmas every year, and when he’s devoured the last crumb, we start hearing the lamentations (partly as a joke but mostly because he’d really like a second fruitcake). So if you’re a fruitcake fanatic, check it out!

To get back to why I’m just now telling you about the monks’ offerings, last year, for the first time, they offered four new cheeses: Ambrose, the young, buttery cheese that is the basis for their mild, aged, smoky and pesto cheeses, and three herbed varieties of Ambrose, Spicy Italian, Herbs de Provence and Garlic and Chives. We placed an order and were wowed, but when we tried to reorder, they were sold out. Gack!

Apparently, the monks have taken note of the huge success of Ambrose and its herbed varieties, and their latest catalog offers the four cheeses and various cheese, fudge and fruitcake combinations. I immediately ordered three each of the 6-ounce wedges of each cheese, since I didn’t want to run out this year! OFB is already drooling. We’ll order fudge for ourselves and fudge, cheese and fruitcake as Christmas presents when the season draws closer, but for now, our stash of Ambrose and herbed cheeses is secure. Hooray!

We feel great about buying cheese, fudge and gifts from the monks, since we’re not only supporting them, but they use the profits from their products to support the local community, especially the poor and less fortunate. And that of course brings me back to the beloved place of my childhood, spending time with my grandparents just miles from Gethsemani, the happiest time of my entire childhood. How wonderful to be able to eat delicious treats and also give back.

Check them out at http://www.gethsemanifarms.org, or just Google http://www.monks.org and you’ll get to their website. Order, eat, enjoy, and know that you’re supporting a great cause! And make sure you get some of that Ambrose and the herbed cheeses before they’re gone.

‘Til next time,

Silence

The murder of innocents. December 16, 2012

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Your faithful bloggers here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders, would like to join the chorus of horror over the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut. At the time of year when we should be celebrating the birth of the Holy Child, instead we are mourning the death of innocent 6- to 8-year-olds who apparently were each shot point-blank multiple times, and the adults who attempted to protect them.

We’d first read that the murderer’s mother, a strict disciplinarian who was apparently hated by her son, worked at the school, which was the ostensible reason for the rampage. But now we’ve read that the mother didn’t work for the school, and there was no connection between the murderer and the school at all. Certainly he didn’t know, much less hate, the children and adults he destroyed.

We simply don’t understand anything about random acts of violence. Why would anyone kill perfect strangers? It’s one thing if someone breaks into your house brandishing a gun in the dead of night and you inadvertently kill rather than simply disabling them; in the terror of the moment and the darkness, anyone’s aim could be off.

We can also understand—though certainly don’t approve of!—the idea of a vendetta, revenge killing targeting a specific person or persons who did you wrong. (We think this is the idiot’s solution; there are so many better ways to move on that don’t involve violence.)

But killing people you don’t even know, people who’ve done nothing to you, 6-year-old children? Why, why would anyone do such a thing? Yet again, we urge all Americans to move away from the culture of casual violence that has seemingly engulfed us: to stop reading murder mysteries for entertainment, to stop watching crime shows on television. There is nothing entertaining about murder, and to deaden ourselves to that reality is to promote the Black Knight and Columbine and Sandy Hook massacres. Please, people: Just say no to violence as entertainment. If we don’t, we’re vicariously condoning the very acts of real-life violence we condemn.

God bless the Sandy Hook victims; our prayers are with you and your families, and with everyone at your school who survived that dreadful day. May the children who survived grow up in a safer and better world. And may the Child born on Christmas Day bless each of you, the living and the dead, now and forevermore. Amen.

At the fringes of fandom. August 9, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. I was stunned to read this morning that Target is planning to sell replicas of the mockingjay pin worn by Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Mind you, there’s nothing stunning about Target or anyone else trying to cash in on the most popular series since Harry Potter. And I’m sure plenty of fans would love to show their loyalty to Katniss by wearing her mockingjay pin, so selling one would actually do them a service.

Here’s what’s stunning: The pin costs $999. Not $9.99 or even $99.99 (it’s 14-karat gold, so that would make sense). But $999.00. That’s more than $1,000 (once you add sales tax and/or shipping and handling) in these recessionary times, when many people don’t even have $1,000 in the bank and are living paycheck to paycheck. Assuming they’re even lucky enough to have jobs.

But Target’s apparently confident that the pins and other Hunger Games-related mechandise they’re offering will sell. You can also buy a replica of Katniss’s leather jacket, or a holographic poster signed by the cast of the movie (a steal at only $699!), on their website, www.target.com. Better rush on over before they sell out!

The sad thing is that I’m sure diehard fans will rush over and buy the stuff, whether they can afford to or not. One woman interviewed in the movie “Ringers,” about fans of The Lord of the Rings, said she’d sold her house so she could go to New Zealand for the premiere of “The Return of the King.” When asked if she regretted it, she replied that she’d do it again in a heartbeat. There are probably people out there who’d take out a home equity loan or take on a second (or third) job to buy that mockingjay pin or poster, and feel that it was money well spent. (Admittedly—but don’t tell our friend Ben!—I wouldn’t mind having a poster of Liam Hemsworth, who plays Gale Hawthorne in the films, myself. Lucky Miley Cyrus!)

But there must be a better—or at least, cheaper—way to express devotion to one’s fictional heroes than going bankrupt in their cause. There are plenty of affordable fan books, as well as serious works, out there on The Hunger Games already; search on Amazon and see for yourself. There’s a CD of the music, and the movie is due for release on DVD and Blu-Ray this month. There’s all sorts of more affordable paraphernalia, and there’s even a contest that fans can enter to win a visit to the set of the next movie in the series, “Catching Fire.” I don’t know if there are Hunger Games action figures like the ones that proved so popular after the Lord of the Rings movies were released, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

At any rate, I checked on Amazon to see if there were already mockingjay pins out there for eager fans who didn’t happen to have $1,000-plus in their pockets. And yes, there are lots of options, starting at $1.49. So please, don’t blow your budget on something you can’t afford. Leave those $999 pins to the 1% and live within your means. Perhaps you can turn your Hunger Games enthusiasm into creating something original and meaningful yourself.

            ‘Til next time,

                         Silence

Jerry Sandusky convicted. June 23, 2012

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Amen.

Top ten ways to stop wasting food. March 22, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I was shocked and appalled this morning by an article in The Wall Street Journal with the innocuous title of “Leftovers: Tasty or Trash?” (check it out at www.wsj.com). The article turned out not to be about food preferences, as I’d assumed (though there were plenty of comments from men who hate leftovers, including one who said he’d rather eat a spoonful of peanut butter than leftovers).

Instead, it was about the massive amount of wasted food that’s thrown out in America’s home kitchens. Take a look at these stats: vegetables comprise 25% of trash in a typical home; fruit and juices, 16%; grains (presumably including breads), 14%; and milk and yogurt, 13%. Do the math, and it looks like 68% of a typical home’s trashcan is filled with food! In a world where even one person goes hungry, this is a sin and a disgrace. And this doesn’t even touch the food waste produced by restaurants, groceries, and the like. Yikes! 

Mind you, as anyone who’s taken a statistics course knows, statistics often aren’t what they seem, and this proved true in this case: “Trash refers to avoidable waste” was printed in tiny type under the stats. And what they considered “unavoidable” waste wasn’t defined.

There’s not much I consider to be unavoidable waste. It just kills me to see perfectly good furniture at the curb, waiting for the trash as it’s ruined by a downpour. Would it have killed people to call Goodwill or even—gasp—find the nearest thrift store and drop it off themselves?!

People need your old clothes, shoes and accessories. Even clothes that are worn out can be made into rags for rugs, etc. (that’s what they do with the clothing donated to those big dumpster-like bins you see around town). And here’s a tip: Buy clothes, shoes and accessories you actually like, that are flattering, comfortable, and easy-care, not clothes that fashion designers and stores want to sell you so you’ll have to constantly replace them to stay on-trend. If you buy stuff you enjoy wearing, you’ll wear it ’til it wears out (and then just be sorry you didn’t buy two).

Appliances can be donated or recycled. Plastic bags can be recycled at any grocery, paper bags can be used to hold papers for recycling or shredded and composted, and you can always buy earth-friendly grocery bags for 99 cents at the checkout and use those. (Even liquor stores now sell special compartmentalized bags for 99 cents!) You can cut down on plastic waste by purchasing water, milk, detergent, etc. in reusable containers. (Some companies deliver and pick up, you return the containers to other farms and stores, and you buy refills in your original container at others.)

Admittedly, some things do fall into the “unavoidable waste” category. I’d put used bandages, kitty litter, past-wearing athletic shoes, and toothpaste tubes in that category, though used toothbrushes can enjoy a second life cleaning grout, jewelry, or your rock collection. Here at Hawk’s Haven, our friend Ben and I shred waste paper to put in our chicken nest boxes and mix with soaked coir for our earthworm composter. We burn boxes and cardboard in our fire pit, recycle everything we can, and wear our carefully-chosen and much-loved clothes ’til they’re literally unwearable, then part with these old friends with huge regret. We save bubble wrap for winterizing the house and mailing gifts; we return plastic flats and pots to the nurseries where we bought the plants.  

But I digress. Let me give you one more stat from the article before I move on to saving food. It notes that the average U.S. household spends between $500 and $2000 each year on food that ends up in the trash. I imagine that seeing 5 to 20 Benjamins in a trash can would turn most people into dumpster-divers. Just think what you could do with that money! You could put it toward painting the house, paying the mortgage, dental care, health insurance, car repair, college expenses, a family vacation. Think about this as you plan your family’s weekly meals. Did I say plan your family’s meals?! I guess it’s time to move on to those tips.

1. Look at what you have. Make some time this weekend to go through your kitchen cabinets, fridge, freezer, pantry, and anyplace else you store food, to see exactly what’s in there. Check out all the cans, boxes, packages, and bottles. This is a good time to think about whether you’ll really use everything you have, or whether you should donate some less-popular items to a food bank or soup kitchen. Our local bank (as in money, not food) has bags in their foyer for donated food, another reason we love them. It will also remind you that you have ten jars of jelly or mustard and don’t need to buy more until all of them are used. And of course, I hope it will inspire you to think about how you can plan meals that use the food you already have.

2. Make a weekly plan. Because OFB and I subscribe to our local paper, each week we get circulars from the local groceries and pharmacies with their discounted items for the week, as well as at least two circulars with discount coupons. Because I shop at local health food stores, I also pick up sales circulars for them. So every weekend, I compare the prices in the circulars, see if anything I want is on sale, see if there are coupons for anything I want, and then make my grocery list based on what I plan to cook that week and where I should look for ingredients. To avoid food waste, you must be absolutely realistic: How many meals will you make at home, and how many will you and yours eat at school, at restaurants, at the company cafeteria, order in, or grab at the fast-food line? This is probably a fairly set schedule, so thinking it through once will probably give you a good idea about how many meals you’ll really cook at home. Use that estimate to decide which meals you’ll need to plan for, and then what ingredients you’ll need to make those meals.

3. Rotate. This means two things, both of which are helpful: First, it means that you should plan for variety. Even if you’ve made big pots of delicious chili, spaghetti sauce, or soup, you should serve them on alternate nights or every third night, not every single night until you’ve used them up. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. And second, you should keep an eye on the use-by dates of your canned, frozen, bottled, packaged, and fresh food. This sounds like a pain, and is one for about 10 minutes, but every time you buy replacements for your go-to foods, you should move the oldest cans, boxes, packages, bottles, and etc. to the front and put the newest ones in the back. Tedious? Sure. But it will not only remind you of what’s available for this week’s meals, but make sure you use what you have with no waste.

4. Share. If you find you’ve cooked too much of any one dish, and you can’t think of a way to incorporate it into something else, consider sharing it. Perhaps your neighbor would enjoy a dish. (And please, perhaps they’d enjoy it even more if you invited them to share it with you!) Perhaps your friends might appreciate a care package. But don’t overlook your pets. Our dog, parrot and chickens love fresh veggie and fruit scraps, nuts, and grains.

5. Morph those meals. Today’s beans and rice can be tomorrow’s refried bean and rice burrito. Or they can be added to a soup or stew. Todays’ side-dish greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard can be added to tomorrow’s soup or quiche or omelette or spanakopita or lasagna. Leftover rice, veggies and greens can make a delicious fried rice. Curries use any quantity of mixed veggies. So do salads and stir-fries. I’ve found that homemade spaghetti sauce is endlessly forgiving, so you can toss in that last bit of fresh salsa or a few tomatoes or anything you need to clean out your fridge, and it will blend and taste great. (It also makes a great sauce for lasagna and pizza. Just ask OFB!)

6. Make good food. I have to wonder if the reason so many people apparently hate leftovers is because the food isn’t that great to begin with, and is even worse when it’s nuked as leftovers. (Of course, some folks may hate leftovers because their parents insisted that leftovers were only fit for pigs. Shame on them!) If your meals are luscious and flavorful, and you warm up made-from-scratch leftovers in the oven rather than nuking leftover convenience foods in the microwave, everyone will want more. Why? Because it tastes so good!   

7. Compost.* OFB and I have a simple 3-bin composter out back made from free pallets. We also have an earthworm composter. Anything that starts to go bad before we can eat it, or our chickens can eat it, goes in our kitchen compost bucket to make rich, luscious soil for our garden beds.

8. Learn the art of food preservation. It’s really not hard to learn how to freeze, can, pickle, dry, and otherwise preserve extra food. Yes, it sounds scary, but even I can do it. And if I can do it, you can do it, I promise! It’s incredibly satisfying to preserve your homegrown harvest, whether you’re drying herbs and hot peppers, making your own applesauce or marinara sauce, or making pickles.

9. Talk first, then eat.  That amazing three-for-one deal on collards isn’t going to save you money if your family refuses to eat cooked greens. You know it’s super-nutritious. It will provide essential nutrients for everyone in the family. But nobody wants to eat them. Even I wouldn’t eat a serving of plain steamed collards (or kale, Swiss chard, or even spinach). Tell everybody you’re making a super-delicious dish. Then stir-fry those greens in extra-virgin olive oil with diced sweet onion, sea salt, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar, with some raisins tossed in for added complexity, though, and your family won’t be able to get enough!

10. Be grateful. Slow down a minute, and think what you’re putting in your shopping basket or cart. Look at the beautiful fresh fruits, greens, and veggies. Take some time to savor the cheeses and cut flowers you’re adding to your cart. Take a minute to thank everyone and everything who made your choices possible: the earth, the plants, the people who grew and harvested them, the people who painstakingly bred the varieties you’re enjoying, the processors, truckers and grocers who put them into your hands. If you train yourself to be grateful for every stalk of celery you put in your grocery cart or slice for your family’s evening salad, you’ll be much less likely to waste food.

Be a hero—save the planet. We all want to, but it can often be so overwhelming. A good, manageable place to start is in your own kitchen. Just a look at your family’s food use can start a revolution!

              ‘Til next time,

                          Silence

Oatmeal cookies! February 15, 2012

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Did someone say “oatmeal cookies”? Why yes.

Silence Dogood here. I wrote a post about oatmeal last week (“Eat your oatmeal (this means you)”), and a reader mentioned that his favorite way to enjoy oatmeal was in oatmeal cookies. Our friend Ben and I also happen to love oatmeal cookies, so I thought I’d share my two favorite recipes for them today. They’re quite different, but both are yummy and easy to make (and, needless to say, eat). Try them and let me know what you think!

                Silence’s Chocolate Chip Toffee Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick butter, softened

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups unbleached flour

2 cups oats

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

10 ounces Skor English toffee bits

Cream butter with sugars, add eggs and vanilla. Put in dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to blend. Add oats, chocolate chips and toffee. Mix well. (Add a bit of milk if needed for thinning; the dough should be stiff but not unworkable.) Round out into tablespoon size and bake 15 minutes (or less) at 350 degrees F. Makes 4 dozen.

                      Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour [I use unbleached—Silence]

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 cup raisins [I think golden raisins are especially pretty in these cookies—Silence]

1 cup dried cranberries (craisins) or coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries [I use dried—Silence]

1 12-ounce package vanilla chips [I’ve only found white chocolate chips, which are just fine in this recipe—Silence]

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in oats, raisins and cranberries. Stir in vanilla chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks. Yield: 6 dozen.

The first recipe is obviously my own and is my go-to recipe for oatmeal cookies; the other came from a Christmas festival at historic Stahl’s Pottery in the nearby Powder Valley of scenic PA. Both are really, really good. Enjoy!

             ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

 

The name game. January 14, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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1 comment so far

Silence Dogood here. I hope I’m not boring everybody to death with all these crafts-business posts; I guess I’m a little obsessed. Coming from the publishing business, I’m super-aware of how important the right name can be. It needs to be memorable, catchy, and recognizable. It doesn’t necessarily need to be relevant (if you didn’t already know, could you guess what Etsy, Yahoo, Google, Target, Nike, Apple or Facebook were?).

You can’t own a book title, but if you’re starting a business, you need to own its name. And that means making sure nobody else already owns it. I’d already Googled the name of my potential crafts business (whew! not out there… yet), but realized when reading Kari Chapin’s Handmade Marketplace (Storey Publishing, 2010) this morning that I still had lots of work to do.  So I’ve been toiling away online this morning. Thank God, the news still looks good.

Hoping to start your own home-based business? Here are some of the places Kari suggested you look to see if your business’s name is taken, along with some I found along the way:

* Search engines. Google is always my starting point, but there are plenty of others.

* Shop collectives. Makes sense to search sites like Etsy and Bonanza to see if somebody’s got your shop name. Shopzilla is another resource, as are CafePress and info.com.

* Blogs. You’ll probably want to support your business with a blog, so it’s smart to check WordPress, Blogspot, Typepad, and etc. to make sure nobody’s already using your name on their blog.

* Social media. That holds true for Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and the like as well.

* Whois: This source registers and tracks domain names, whether your business is a .com, .biz, .us, .net or whatever. It will show you if any or all of them are still available, and will let you register any that are available for $9.98 a year.

* U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: I was able to search the overall site and the trademarks, but not the patents, on this government site. (Maybe the patents search site was down today.) I could see who held trademarks on related names (which helps if you’re planning to sell, say, neckties, and they’re selling exercise equipment) and if the trademarks had expired or were still valid.

This brings up an important point: It’s not enough to search for your own particular spelling, you need to look for every related spelling to see what’s actually out there.

Let’s take that season-extending gardening device, Wall O’ Water, as an example. (Bet you didn’t know that was how they spelled it!) They could have called it Wall of Water, WallofWater,  Wall O Water, WalloWater, Wall-o-Water (which is in fact their website name, www.wall-o-water.com). But once they’d come up with the basic name concept, they opted for Wall O’ Water (not, please note, Wall O’Water) for their water-filled plant protectors. No doubt after checking out every conceivable option, spelling, combination, etc., and registering them all just to be safe.

Mind you, the Wall O’ Water plant protection device is a unique invention, which few of us crafters can claim as a fact for our creations, even if as far as we know they’re unique to us. So not only is their name a registered trademark, they probably hold a patent on their device as well. Would that we could all be that lucky!

So okay, if you already have a name in mind, ask yourself: Is it memorable? Is it catchy? Does it stand out from the competition (in a good way)? Does it say anything about your product? And if not—say, you’re selling table runners, placemats and napkins with a chile-pepper theme, but have chosen to call your business Sofia—how do you plan to get potential customers to connect your name to your business? And last but by no means least, is the name already taken? If so, will you need to totally change the name, or just the spelling and punctuation (say, to Sophia)?

It’s easy to tell people not to get attached to a name until you’re sure it’s available, but it can be hard to put into practice, especially if the name and the idea for the business came into being together as a single unit. But don’t worry, all is not lost, even if your cherished name is taken. Let’s say I’d wanted to name a bracelet business Shiloh, after our beloved black German shepherd. But to my dismay, I found that the name Shiloh was already co-opted, sewn up, taken. Yikes. Must I give up the beloved name? No. It’s simply time to innovate: Shiloh’s Sparklers, Bracelets by Shiloh, Shiloh Stunners, Shiloh Select Stretch Bracelets, ARMour by Shiloh, [your favorite here]. If you can’t bear to part with the name, work it!

That’s what I’ve learned so far. If you have anything to add, based on your own experience, please, please, speak up!

             ‘Til next time,

                       Silence

Launching your Etsy shop. January 13, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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2 comments

Silence Dogood here. Recently I’ve been posting about selling original artisanal crafts here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, and some of our regulars have expressed an interest in knowing more. So here’s another step on the road to home-based income.

I love reading about knitting, beading, quilting, and all my other crafting ventures as much as I enjoy collecting the materials and creating the finished products. (Our friend Ben is just as bad about collecting books about all his collections.) So when I decided to launch a fashion accessories venture this year, it was unthinkable that I not start out by reading some expert advice on how to go about it. I had the name, I had the unique product, I had the marketing strategy. What I didn’t have was a way to get them out of my head and onto labels, cards, displays, brochures, and online.

I needed help, and plenty of it. So I went to Amazon and checked out their books on selling crafts on Etsy, the premier online crafts site, and elsewhere. Based on the content and reader reviews, I narrowed my choices to three books, which have just arrived here at Hawk’s Haven:

How to Sell Your Crafts Online: A Step-by-Step Guide to Successful Sales on Etsy and Beyond (Derrick Sutton, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2011).

The Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and Online (Kari Chapin, Storey Publishing, 2010).   

Starting an Etsy Business for Dummies (Allison Strine and Kate Shoup, Wiley, 2011).  

A quick look has convinced me that my choices were good. The For Dummies series is always good for an overview of any subject, a starting point for more personal and/or more in-depth books on the topic. The Handmade Marketplace is quirky but practical, with lots of real-life stories, successes and failures from the author and many other crafters. And How to Sell Your Crafts Online is a primer on successful selling, how to make your product stand out, how to get it noticed, how to create buzz, all of which are especially important for crafters, who tend to be rather shy when it comes to putting themselves and their products forward.

All three books are information-packed and easy to read. If, like me, you’re just getting started, I recommend them as an excellent place to start. And if you’re already up and running and have found other books or websites more useful, please share them with us!

              ‘Til next time,

                            Silence