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Batting 500,000. December 11, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Poor Richard’s Almanac has officially passed 500,000 views. We promised to shut up about views until we reached the 500,000 mark, and we think we managed it pretty well. Admittedly, 500,000 views is probably small change to many blogs, but it’s big stuff for an obscure blog about whatever strikes us written by ordinary folks. In other words, we’re excited!

Astute readers who check the site stats on our blog will see far fewer views than we’re boasting of here. But that’s because we’re such Luddites that we didn’t even think to ask our friend Nan, who helped us get started, to add Sitemeter until months after we’d begun blogging. Fortunately, our blog host, WordPress, has kept track of our stats from day one, and as we write, it shows 501,012 views. Hooray!

Thank you, WordPress, for making Poor Richard’s Almanac possible. And thank you, readers, for checking up on us and commenting on our posts when the spirit moves you. You’re what keeps us going!

As for us, it’s five o’clock somewhere (in the immortal words of Jimmy Buffett), and we’re kicking off a celebratory cocktail hour. As our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, memorably said, “Wine [also quoted as “Beer”] is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Amen. Hopefully we’ll still be awake and alert for Michael Buble’s Christmas special at 10 p.m. (gack, why so late?!), and we’ll post this tomorrow a.m. so you can celebrate with us. (Preferably not with a cocktail at that hour!)

             Thank you and bless you,

                     Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders

Who has time for this? June 6, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben read an article in last week’s Wall Street Journal about how anyone who wanted to be viable, to keep up, to even remain afloat in today’s social-media soup needed to maintain an active presence on Google+ as well as on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkdIn, and etc.etc.etc.

Even celebrities, whom you’d think would be exempt, are hiring the latest public-relations specialists, the social media experts, to set up and maintain vital sites for them on all these social media outlets. I guess it’s no longer talent or even looks but the number of followers you have on Facebook and Twitter that land you the plum roles.

Then there are the poor slobs who are trying to do their jobs to support themselves and their families. Instead of just doing what they’ve chosen and been trained to do, they now are forced by their bosses to have an active presence on all these sites as well. God help them if they’re the world’s best chef or auto mechanic but can’t manage to maintain a popular virtual presence in the social media world. The Dalai Lama does it, why shouldn’t you?

Our friend Ben, a former executive, understands better than most that there are only so many hours in a day. I also know how much time it takes me and Silence Dogood to write blog posts, answer any comments, and review and respond to our e-mail. It’s a lot of time, a lot of unpaid time, time we enjoy spending but that has no compensation for us of any kind. It’s as much time as Silence and I can bear to give to unpaid, seemingly unrewarded efforts. 

Yow. Just living our lives in the world takes up so much time, and in this case, it’s meaningful time. Working to feed, clothe, and house ourselves takes up any time that’s left. In the past, if we happened to stumble on a shred of free time or an extra dollar, we made the most of it, going out to eat, to a movie, to a B&B or our favorite store. Now, we’d damned well better put that “extra” time back into social media if we hope to keep our jobs. If even celebrities feel pressured to maintain a platform, what about the rest of us poor slobs?  

Who has time for this?

Organic Mechanics (plus). March 26, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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So far, today has been a banner day here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and Silence Dogood share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. First, our Buff Orpington hen, Stella, laid the first egg of the season. Our friend Ben heard the triumphant cackling from the greenhouse, and looking out, saw Stella doing the traditional victory lap around the henyard, announcing her triumph at top volume. Thanks, Stella! It’s a beautiful egg.

In case you’re wondering, after their first year—when they mature and start laying eggs in the late summer, then continue through the fall and winter—hens raised without artificial light and heat stop laying for the year when the days get short in fall, and don’t start again until the daylight lengthens in spring. During the cold months, they use every calorie to stay warm. And people say chickens are stupid! But I digress.

The second great thing was that we discovered a new-to-us potting soil, Organic Mechanics, that we’d purchased at James Weaver’s Meadowview Farm in nearby Bowers. We needed more potting soil (shock surprise), and couldn’t resist a bag that boasted great ingredients, no peat (a natural resource that’s rapidly being depleted), and “Mom Approved.” When we opened it, we were wowed by the rich, beautiful soil. We could almost hear the plants we were potting up breathing a huge collective sigh of relief as their roots sank into this gorgeous soil.

Returning indoors, our friend Ben checked out the Organic Mechanics website (www.organicmechanicsoil.com). Apparently Silence and I aren’t the only folks who were wowed by this potting soil: It’s used by three of the most prestigious gardens in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Longwood Gardens, Chanticleer, and the Scott Arboretum, not to mention the U.S. National Arboretum, the U.S. National Park Service, and the British Embassy. I don’t know what pleases me and Silence more, that we’re supporting an excellent local PA product, the anticipation as we wait to see what it does for our container plants, or the thought that all these important gardens and arboretums (and even the Park Service!) are using organic potting soil. Kudos to them, and to Mark Highland, Organic Mechanics’ founder.

Fortunately, you don’t have to live in the Mid-Atlantic region to find this outstanding organic potting soil. The Organic Mechanics website is excellent and informative, and you can order direct. Thier product line is short and sweet: Seed Starting Blend Potting Soil, Planting Mix (for raised beds), Premium Blend Potting Soil (for veggies and other food plants), Container Blend Potting Soil (for perennials and woodies), and Worm Castings.

We have our own earthworm composter, so we can attest to the incredible richness of earthworm castings as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. And of course, you can also use them to make earthworm “tea.” Here’s how Mark makes “tea” from castings: “Mix 1 pound of castings in 1 gallon of water. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds, let castings settle to bottom, then pour off a fraction of the liquid solution. Stop before pouring out castings particles, and repeat until tea turns light brown in color, then pour out any remaining castings and use as mulch.” Of course, when he says “pour out,” he doesn’t mean “throw out.” Use the liquid you’re draining off as a foliar spray or soil drench.

The third great thing about today happened when our friend Ben called up our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to post this, and saw that we now have over 400,000 total views. We promised when we hit 300,000 views that we wouldn’t go on about this again until we reached 500,000, so ’nuff said. But you can bet we’ll be inviting our friend and resident blog historian, Richard Saunders, and his girlfriend Bridget over for a celebratory supper!

Unfortunately, by tomorrow we may not be having so much to celebrate. After several weeks of daytime temperatures in the 70s (including several days that reached 78 degrees) and nighttime lows in the high 40s and low 50s, tonight the temperature is plunging down to 26. Brrrr!!! With apples, peaches, and pear trees in bud and our pluot in full flower—not to mention our bed of greens, just peeping up through the soil, our spinach, Swiss chard, and herb transplants, and our windowbox planters of violas—we are seriously concerned. Guess we’ll have to hope for the best and see what makes it through the night.

Meanwhile, happy gardening to you all. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you have things to celebrate today, too!

Crunching blog numbers. December 11, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Bloggers, have you ever felt like a voice crying in the wilderness? If so, there’s a good reason for that: The numbers are against you. Our friend Ben was reminded of this again today when I saw a news headline on our blog host, WordPress’s, home page announcing the launch of WordAds. Yeeikes!

Mind you, our friend Ben has no objection to using our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, as a springboard to generating some desperately needed income. If our content and style garnered us a grant, award, or book deal, or an offer to write a magazine or newspaper column or be a regular on a radio show, I’d be delighted.

But I’ve seen plenty of blogs with ads, and they’re not ads I’d want on my blog. I’m always horrified by the ads that pop up on my Yahoo e-mail page. And I’ve been shocked by the purple-faced woman cropping up regularly with the “she’s 80 but looks 20!” promo on, of all places, The New York Times online. If The New York Times can’t keep vulgar, trashy ads off their site, what hope do we bloggers have? Fortunately, checking out the post about WordAds, I saw that they were optional. But I digress.

Point being, that same post carried some pretty stupefying statistics. “There are more than 50,000 WordPress-powered blogs coming online every day,” for example. So far, 5,320,347 people have signed up to receive WordPress’s e-mail updates.

Heading to Google to try to unearth data about how many blogs currently exist, I found 2011 data for 450 million active blogs in English and over 1 billion worldwide, which translates to 1 in 6 people worldwide with their own blog. And these are just the active blogs, not the dead or defunct blogs that litter cyberspace, the sad husks of abandoned dreams. 

Does knowing this make you feel better or worse? Certainly, the chances of catapulting your blog into bestsellerdom and film fame were way higher in the early days of blogging. It’s much harder to be a Julie Powell of “Julie & Julia” fame today, or Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos, given the competition.

But it’s far from impossible. Look at Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. She has successfully leveraged her blog into bestselling books, a Food Network show, and a forthcoming movie based on her life. And, as Silence Dogood pointed out in our earlier post, “The pizza zombies are coming” (check it out in our search bar at upper right), a waiter at a diner just scored front-page coverage in The Wall Street Journal because of his pizza blog.  

So, is it even worth starting a blog or carrying on with your blog in the face of such massive competition, to continue to be a voice crying in the wilderness? Of course, that depends on why you started your blog to begin with. If you enjoy writing it, if you enjoy sharing things you’ve learned, if you feel you have something to say that others might want to hear, I’d say absolutely. Keep on keeping on. Eventually, people will hear you.

Take us, for example. Here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, with no promotion, no platform, no famous names, no visuals, and no advertising, we get an average of 500 views a day. And that’s 500-plus views a day for writing about whatever the heck we want to write about on any given day.

True, it’s not 5,000 or 50,000 or 500,000 views a day. Nobody’s beating down our door to offer us awards or book deals. Nobody’s begging us to put their ads on our site. But wow, when we started, we never thought we’d arrive here. We’re so grateful for the people who want to read what we have to say. Thank you, everyone! And thank you, WordPress, for making Poor Richard’s Almanac possible.

 

1500 posts, 7 wacky blog searches, 1 inspiring quote. September 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Today marks a milestone of sorts here at Poor Richard’s Almanac: This is our 1500th post. Blog contributors our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders apparently just can’t shut up.

To celebrate, we’re giving you the best of our recent batch of wacky blog search phrases (the search engine terms that somehow land folks on our blog), plus, of course, words of wisdom from our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. First the fun part! As always, search phrase in bold, our comments following:

peeling garlic cloves with hose pipe: We’d call that overkill. Silence prefers to just smash them with a wooden pestle. But no doubt a hammer or tire iron would also work in a pinch.

pressure canned tomatoes look bad: We recommend plastic surgery or, say, water-bath canning.

other names for buff orpington chicken: See if it answers to Jemima.

ben light green eyes/i want my mama: We’re really hoping these are song lyrics. And that we never have to hear the song they’re part of.

why did god create stink bugs: No doubt for the same reason He created rats, fleas, bedbugs, mildew, and bubonic plague. We don’t know what that reason is, but we’re going to have plenty to say to Him about it when the time comes.

what is college for: Clearly it’s the last chance to get the kids out of the house before they settle in and live off you for good. Go for it!

any amish recipes for funeral potatoes: We’ve certainly had our share of potato funerals around here—usually when we’ve left the potatoes for too long in our unairconditioned mudroom in high summer—but have never heard of funeral potatoes, Amish or otherwise. Silence promises to look into this in a future post. 

Moving on from the ridiculous to the sublime, would Ben Franklin have something to say to us, and to you, on this occasion? Well, Old Ben was certainly never at a loss for words! We three wordsmiths will give you one gem  from Ben, a fellow wordsmith as well as a man of action, to put our writing in its place:

“Well done is better than well said.”

So true! Yet well said may inspire future readers to do well, as Ben well knew. For all you past, present, and future readers of our Poor Richard’s Almanac blog, thank you for bringing us to post #1500. We love you!

Poor Barack’s Almanac. September 3, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Really, people, this is too much. Someone came to our blog, Poor Richard’s—that would be, ahem, Richard’s—Almanac yesterday searching for Poor Barack’s Almanac.

Now we understand that Obama supporters probably think “poor Barack” every time he’s attacked by one or both parties for his perceived failings, which apparently include everything from the recession to taking a family vacation to the rising cost of toilet paper.

Whatever the case, if someone’s chronicled all these misfortunes in Poor Barack’s Almanac, we aren’t aware of it. But we do think it would make a very witty book.

We seem to recall that “Be careful what you wish for” is a Chinese proverb, and both our current and previous Presidents are excellent exemplars of that. Ron Paul, be warned! Speak your mind, speak your truth, but pray to God you don’t get elected and end up pilloried like W and Obama.

Our friend Ben’s arch-conservative brother famously remarked toward the end of W’s tenure that, if an asteroid hit the Earth, it would be blamed on Bush. These days, if an asteroid hit the Earth, no doubt certain talk show hatemongers would try to pin the blame on Poor Barack.

We find none of this mindless, self-serving hatred helpful; it is ripping our country apart and making us vulnerable, not to mention international laughingstocks. We suggest instead returning to the vast wisdom of our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin, who strove all his life to reconcile differences and showcase commonalities, to build bridges, to stress the things we share rather than the things that divide us.

Old Ben said, “There are no small enemies.” Which means that not one of us can afford to make the seemingly most insignificant person an enemy, for who knows when that person might transform into a Genghis Khan, a Napoleon, and rend us? Or into, say, the head of a great corporation where we find ourselves needing a job.

Politics is a very dirty job indeed, where slinging mud seems to get candidates farther than building trust through speaking truth, being fair-minded, and creating realistic programs. Poor Barack. We feel for him.

Playing the odds. June 9, 2011

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Our friend Ben was standing in line at our local grocery’s lottery line yesterday when the man in front of me asked for $20 in tickets—20 tickets—for today’s Cash 5 lottery game. Cash 5 has a smaller prize than, say, Powerball or MegaMillions, so presumably the odds of winning are higher. And the prize had crept up from its $125,000 baseline to over a million dollars. Our friend Ben could see why the man was excited.

When my turn came, I asked for a single ticket ($1) for the same Cash 5 game. “Just one?” the cashier asked. “It only takes one,” I answered. “That’s what they say,” said a guy in the next line. “But my wife and I never win anything.”

Well, neither do Silence Dogood and I. At least, not in terms of money. The odds against winning are, after all, astronomical. As our good friend Rudy once pointed out, “You have as much chance of winning as of having Skylab fall on your head.” Our friend Ben was extremely humiliated when someone pointed out that Skylab had actually returned to Earth several decades earlier, highlighting both Rudy’s sarcasm and my own ignorance. Ouch!

So why do we put our (single) dollar down? We try to buy a $1 lottery ticket every day. It’s not hard to do the math: That’s a $365 investment every year for what seems to be no return on investment, a total net loss. But our calculation is somewhat different: We’re investing $365 a year in pure, unadulterated hope.

To put this in perspective, let’s say you buy a coffee or latte or whatever from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts on your way to work every morning, or grab a Coke or Pepsi from the vending machine or grocery cooler to enjoy with your lunch. More than $1? You betcha. What if you decide to go to the movies once a week with the kids? At $9-plus a ticket (let’s not even think about 3-D or iMAX), plus drinks, popcorn, and candy from the counter vendor, you’re talking about $80-plus for four. A week. Silence and I don’t spend our money on coffee, soda, or first-run movies (if we want to see them, we’ll catch them through Netflix later for $15/month for as many as we can watch). Instead, we spend our $365 a year buying hope. 

Our friend Ben thinks of the lottery as the cheapest form of hope. For only a dollar a day, you could win financial freedom for life! What other investment offers this sort of payback? Imagine spending a dollar a day for an elixir that would let you get up every morning thinking, “Today I might have won millions of dollars and never have to worry about anything ever again!” If you could bottle this, you’d make more money than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined.

Silence and our friend Ben are not what you’d call morning people, so it takes a lot to get us going in the morning. The promise of the lottery and financial independence really helps get us out of bed in a better frame of mind. And if, as usually happens, we don’t win? There’s always tomorrow. Another day, and hope renewed. It was just a dollar, after all, less than a single 16-ounce Coke. (And, as Silence points out, without the calories!) No disappointment, just eternal hope. We think that’s priceless.

Yes, you’re right if you think we failed to win today’s Cash 5 drawing. Our friend Ben hopes the guy who plumped down $20 on tickets won. But you can bet the prospect brightened our day, and we’re already looking forward to tomorrow.

Mother’s Day is for everyone. May 8, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Today, Sunday, May 8, is Mother’s Day. (For sock-haters like our friend Ben, it also happens to be National No Socks Day. Bare feet, rejoice!)

Mother’s Day seems like a straightforwardly joyous occasion. Everybody has a mother, right? Why not celebrate everything she means and has meant to you on this holiday? Give her a call, get her a card and a bouquet or a flowering plant, take her out to supper, send the kids to Grandma’s and give her the day off. Buy her a spa day or a gift certificate to one of her favorite stores. Bear in mind that moms love jewelry, too. Hire a maid service. Set up a romantic weekend getaway or a fun family outing to the zoo, a historic site, a scenic destination. But for pity’s sake, do something.

So far, so easy. The trouble comes when your most-beloved Mama has died, like our friend Ben’s or our friend Rob’s or our friends Rudy, Carolyn and Fritzie’s, so Mother’s Day becomes a painful reminder rather than an occasion for joy. Or if you’re childless, and not by your own choice, like yours truly. Or if you’ve lost a child through miscarriage, premature death, or (God forfend) abortion. Then how do you celebrate? Do you hole up in your house with the curtains drawn until this particular Sunday is over?

Our friend Ben and I emphatically say no. Every year, we celebrate and honor the memory of OFB’s Mama and our own beloved grandmothers by setting aside time to look at photos and recall precious family memories. Every year, we celebrate the motherhood of our siblings, relatives, and friends, calling, e-mailing, and writing to make sure they know we hold them in our hearts and celebrate along with them. And every year, our adored black German shepherd, Shiloh, “buys” me a special Mother’s Day present (with some help from OFB) as a precious reminder that all women are mothers in our hearts, if not in our bodies.

Happy Mother’s Day!

               ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

Please pass the salt. March 21, 2011

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood returned yesterday from a lovely long weekend in scenic Asheville, North Carolina. One of the things we enjoy when traveling is reading the local paper at the places we visit to help us transition to our new (if temporary) home.

But our friend Ben wasn’t prepared for the headline that confronted me in Thursday’s Asheville Citizen-Times: “WNC [Western North Carolina] residents make run on iodide pills.” Which is to say that the smart, liberal, avant-garde population of Asheville had depleted the city’s supply of potassium iodide (KI, in chemical shorthand) in a desperate attempt to save themselves from radiation fallout from Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors.

Now, Silence and I aren’t duct-tape-and-plastic, hide-under-your-desk types. In fact, our friends love to give us grief about what they refer to as our survivalist tendencies. And if a Krakatoa-scale volcanic eruption had damaged those nuclear plants and spewed radiation into the high atmosphere, we’d have been first in line for some iodide pills.

But we couldn’t quite understand why the good people of Asheville would think that tsunami-induced damage could send radiation past the Rockies, much less the Smokies. Even our government is only suggesting avoiding a 50-mile radius of the nuclear sites. Still, the panic rolled on. After the Ashevillians cleaned out the supplies of potassium iodide, they clamored for more. Health-food stores and natural pharmacies suggested that they buy seaweed products, since seaweed is naturally rich in iodine.

Let’s just say that Silence and I refrained from rushing to every sushi bar in Asheville to gulp down seaweed-wrapped sushi rolls in an attempt to protect ourselves from radiation. We thought the citizens of our favorite vacation spot were overreacting. Turns out, however, they were not alone.

When traveling, we also enjoy keeping up with news back home, so we subscribe to e-mail updates from our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call. You can imagine our chagrin when Friday’s “Valley Business Buzz” update featured a story, “A New Kind of Panic Buying,” on how Lehigh Valley residents were snapping up potassium iodide pills as if they were M&Ms. Sheesh, our friend Ben remarked to Silence, it’s a wonder grocery shelves aren’t being stripped of iodized salt.

Clearly I spoke too soon, as Silence pointed out on Sunday, when Yahoo’s “Trending Now” section featured “China Salt Returns” in its top ten search items. Apparently, frantic Chinese had started a run on iodized salt in groceries across the country, despite government assurances that they were in no danger and that iodized salt wouldn’t help them in any case.

The “returns” part of the news bite was about how the panicked citizens, finally grasping that they’d overreacted, attempted to return their bazillion cartons of salt, only to be informed that groceries were only obligated to give refunds if merchandise was defective. Our friend Ben predicts that salt will finally overtake MSG in Chinese cuisine, by necessity. Salt-lovers that we are, even Silence and yours truly wouldn’t know how to use up the typical 50 packages of salt-per-family purchased by a panicked populace.

Getting back to basics, what do potassium iodide, iodine-rich seaweed, iodized salt, and the like have to do with radiation to begin with? Turns out, not a hell of a lot. One effect of nuclear fallout is an increase in thyroid cancer, especially among growing children. Taking potassium iodide pills for two weeks immediately after a nuclear incident can help prevent the occurence of thyroid cancer in children. Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent any other form of radiation poisoning. And an overdose can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, vomiting and bleeding.

Our friend Ben hopes that the Japanese government is providing potassium iodide pills to families with young children in the 50-mile nuclear zone. Here in America, I hope that, rather than causing mindless panic, the threat of nuclear fallout finally makes families think about what they might do, and what they should do, in an emergency situation. Perhaps their emergency preparedness kit would include a two-week supply of potassium iodide pills for each family member, in addition to stores of long-keeping food and water, blankets, first-aid supplies, and the like.

But, having said that, our friend Ben is convinced that no stash of supplies on earth is as effective as good relations with your neighbors. It’s your fellow human beings who will help you, as you help them, survive a crisis, and who will help you rebuild afterwards. Whoever said “We’re all in this together” was a true far-seer. Know your neighbors, and stay in touch. And please, pass the salt.

Buy this blog. February 10, 2011

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Our friend Ben is sure I’m not the only person in the blogosphere whose ears perked up to read that AOL had bought The Huffington Post this week for $315 million. But I just might have been the only person who asked, “Is that all?” When multi-billion-dollar acquisitions fill the business columns daily, $315 million seemed, frankly, rather paltry for one of the most popular blogs of all time.

Naturally, this made me fantasize about selling our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, to the highest bidder. But Silence Dogood quickly brought me back down to earth. “Ben, only three of us write this blog. We write about whatever interests or amuses us, and though sometimes the subject is topical, more often it’s about my battles with stinkbugs or your visits with Ben Franklin or Richard’s coin collection. Who’s going to pay to buy that?!” Oh.

Silence followed with a one-two punch: “Would you really want to sell off our blog and stop writing it, anyway?” She reminded me of the “Red Green Show” episode we watched this past weekend where Red’s nerdy nephew Harold tries to interest a mainstream network in picking up the show for national distribution. As the parody goes on, not only are Red’s usual subject matter and language censored and changed to appeal to a wider audience, but a hot babe is brought in to replace his frumpy wife Bernice and a cool hunk replaces Harold himself. We were waiting for Red to be the next to go, but fortunately the real Harold returned and said that he hadn’t been able to get any networks interested in the show before that happened. 

Hmmm, good point. We do love writing our blog! And I still haven’t given up hope for a book deal or, say (hint, hint) a MacArthur Fellowship coming out of it. I guess we don’t want to sell it, after all. But if somebody’s out there with $315 million in chump change, do let us know. Our friend Ben would be very happy to talk to you!