Saturday, January 30, 2010

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama

I titled this with that old saw because I like palindromes, and because I just got a friend request on Facebook from Dillon L down in Panama.

What a wonderful world we live in. Linda and I saw Dillon for a couple of days a few years ago when we went down to Panama; but contact with him has been intermittent since then. Now that he's on Facebook he was able to find me and I'll easily be able to look in once in a while and see what he's up to. And, I noticed that he is a friend to a woman who may be Randy D's mother. I don't know Randy's mother so I'll hold off contacting her to ask until I see if Dillon makes contact directly with Randy over in Switzerland as he plays with Facebook. It must be ten years since I've been in contact with Randy, and the time before that was probably another ten years back.

But enough of Facebook. When I left off my post the other day about the trip Linda and I took down to The Villages I left off some interesting details.

For instance, on the way home we met a woman at a coffee shop in Savannah who told us that she loved Amoroso rolls when she formerly lived in Allentown or Lancaster or whatever. What are the chances we would meet someone who's first thought on learning we were from near Philly would be to remember Amoroso kaiser rolls? I refrained from telling her that Corropolese kaisers are far superior. Sometimes I'm a surprisingly sensitive person.

I was more impressed with Savannah than Linda was. We didn't, unfortunately, see it at it's best. In fact we saw it at what is probably near its worst. We got there at about nine in the morning when it was in the low 40's and overcast, so the riverwalk was deserted and bleak. Still, I thought it had a certain charm. Linda just thought it was cold and bleak. We were ready for the coffee shop when we finished the mile or so walk. An interesting town, although not as picturesque as I expected. Perhaps we missed the best parts.

The day before Savannah we spent some time in St. Augustine, which was also pretty cold and bleak. Again we saw it at far from it's best. We need to go back there in the late spring or early fall when it's better weather so we can tour the town again in comfort and then get in some beach time. The big highlight was that I got my $6 credit card type lifetime senior pass for the national parks when we went into the old fort. Linda is still much too young to qualify for that deal. . .

We interrupt this blog entry for dinner. . .

An excellent dinner. Linda made rice and stir fry chicken with vegetables. With it we had our daily old people pills washed down with water, and green tea made in the little pot Alex and Christina gave us. Very good.

Just after dinner we got a call from Samuel to report some breaking news: Sam and Deb will not be going to the dance tonight because they've decided to go down to the emergency room instead. It seems Sam was cutting bread with one of their new Cutco knives and there was a bit of a mishap. Samuel reported that no essential parts were detached from his Dad; but it must be a heck of a cut if deb doesn't feel capable of dealing with it.

So, anyway, after we saw Savannah we drove all the way to Petersburg and stayed at a motel that may have seen better days ten or fifteen years ago. The neighborhood also may have seen better days a while back. Not that people weren't sociable. A young lady we saw when we were leaving seemed like the sort of person who has a lot of acquaintances who see her regularly.

Petersburg, as you Civil War buffs know, is just south of Richmond; so we didn't have far to drive to get to Charlotte and Louie's house. Jonathan was home for the weekend so he joined us in going out to breakfast. Charlotte seems to be getting around pretty well on her new hip or knee, or whatever. I get her and Louie mixed up in the replaced joint department. At any rate both of them and Jonny are doing well. Besides the knee, I'm pretty sure it was the knee, Charlotte also recently hurt her back a bit and got laid off from her job. But she was still plenty feisty.

After leaving Richmond it was practically a hop, skip and jump to get home. Two hundred and forty miles goes by fast at 70 miles an hour, which Jas's car did with ease, eve after its transmission asked to be checked after we got north of Wilmington with only a ten or fifteen miles to go. We couldn't find anything alarming about the Check Transmission message in the owner's manual so we continued on.

Enough for now except to report that the ground is frozen solid here, so I was able to get another tractor bucket load of wood from the other side of the property. I think I now have enough to get through the winter, although I'll be getting more to pile for next year whenever the ground is frozen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Journey of a Thousand Miles. . .

A journey of a thousand miles. . . ends with a "Check Transmission" message.

Linda and I arrived back home yesterday after a magical week.

First we got on a big hunk of metal with a couple of hundred other people and the unlikely contraption flew us a thousand miles in less than three hours while we ate peanuts and cheese crackers and drank coke and orange juice.

Then we spent four days running around and playing with the other kids at The Villages, swimming in nice warm pools, riding bikes, driving a golf cart, seeing movies, walking all over the place in 70+ degree temperatures and meeting interesting new people. Just for instance, we met this English couple who've visited the U.S. twice, once for six months and this time for one month, without ever going anywhere except The Villages. We found them looking down into the water at Lake Sumter Landing, hoping to see an alligator.

We told the Limeys they could easily see all the alligators they could possibly want by driving a few hours down to the Everglades; but they seemed more interested in staying right where they were so they could play golf every day. Their main interest in The Villages was the warm sunny weather and the inexpensive golf. Evidently, England has a terrible climate and every place closer to England that has a good warm climate has much more expensive golf. They mentioned that golf in Spain and Portugal costs about $75 to $100 a round and that the courses aren't as nice as U.S. courses.

We didn't play any golf down there; but we did visit with Kathy and "The Other Brother" as Sam has dubbed our moved away sibling. By chance Jenny and Doug were there visiting Jas and Kathy the first two days, on their way to Fort Lauderdale; so we got to see their 23 foot sailboat. They described their plans for sailing among the Keys for about 45 days. It sounds heavenly, and makes me think of John Masefield. Well, actually it made me think of the line "all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by." I had no idea who wrote it until I looked up up with google.

Anyway, John Masefield's poem "Sea Fever" is too good not to quote in full. Out of respect I'm going to resist improving a couple of his lines.

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Lucky Jenny and Doug! Forty-five days loose on a sailboat in the Florida keys. The very thought makes me want to find my Sea Chanty CD, but I had best put that off until Linda is not around.

More about our trip tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The woodstove fire of the vanities

The other day I noted that geezers in England are buying up heavy unwanted old books and putting them to their best use in fireplaces because they're cheaper than coal by the pound.

That got me to thinking about the heavy unwanted old books out in the garage. . .

Suffice it to say that Shakespeare can be very warming indeed, as can the Art of the Western World. Dickens is positively a font of warmth, and Carl Sagan can generate thousands of BTUs if not billions and billions.

All told I figure there's about a quarter cord of books out there that will never be wanted for reading again. Books are about half as dense as hardwood, so my guess is those books will save me the tractor fuel to haul in about an eighth of a cord of wood. They will also save me from burning uncured wood at the end of the winter if this unusual cold keeps up. I've been burning up the cured wood much faster than in former years.

Rag paper, I've learned, makes excellent kindling; much better than newsprint. One finds it in what were once good quality books, like the fine print one volume edition of Shakespeare's works. Glossy paper, such as one finds in color illustrated books is not so good as kindling. It leaves too much ash because of the clay they put in it.

On one level burning books feels like sacrilege; but I remind myself that Amazon now sells a substantial percentage of new books as electronic files for reading on Kindles and that Google and others are busy digitizing books by the tens and hundreds of thousands so they will be available on line.

If you find yourself wanting to read anything by Shakespeare or Dickens or a host of other authors in certified accurate form for free you can always go to The Gutenberg Project to do so.

If you're not too concerned about accuracy and you simply want to find a Shakespeare sonnet or something that contains a particular quote you can always google the words you know of the quote. Doing that will take you directly to a dozen websites that have used that quote. Many of them will have the whole sonnet there for you to read free.

You do have to be a bit careful and alert when you simply google part of a famous quote. There are lots of folks like me out there who use famous quotes with a little twist. When I do that there is always at least a clue that all may not be totally normal on the page; but there are others who give no warning that Shakespeare or Dickens or Coleridge's meaning has been a bit modified.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Books cost less than coal by the pound in England

England is suffering from the coldest winter in years. And some smart geezers have learned that thrift shops sell heavy old books for less than the price of coal.

The interesting thing about this is that just today I was looking at a box of old hardbound books in the garage and thinking that I really should just burn them in the woodstove or start putting them in the trash a couple at a time so as not to make the trash bags too heavy.

hat tip to Greg Pollowitz of National Review who posted about the book burners on NROs Planet Gore blog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

This Just In from our Florida correspondent

Jas just called, first joking that he wanted to come over for coffee. He didn't have to joke; it's going to be a very long time before my thoughts don't turn to making coffee when I see his name on the little phone view screen.

He called to check on our plans to fly down to Florida. And to report that the state is having its coldest winter in something like forty years. Jas and Kathy are wearing winter coats around because of the 50 degree highs and sub-freezing lows. It's been going down to the low forties by 9:00 at night, which is when all The Villages geezers are usually speeding along in their open golf carts, running back home from the music and dancing in the square.

Hopefully it will warm up some before we get down there. Temperatures at this time of year are supposed to be going up to the high sixties during the day.

Stuffed olives, Rebecca, Pop, the OED and knives.

Don A, the other Don A who is now down in Florida for the winter, sent me a bunch of information about stuffed olives after seeing my little taunt about the very good appetizer Rebecca made for Christmas Eve.

Rebecca said her appetizer was "stuffed olives"; but actually it was little meatballs stuffed with pitted olives. Then she proceeded to argue that her little meatball recipe was the authentic one and that my memory of the olive being on the outside of the meat filling was faulty. This article sent me by Don is one more proof that she was wrong:

I suppose it's not surprising that Rebecca stubbornly maintained and defended her mistaken view despite the evidence, for Grandpop L used to periodically tell a joke that went like this:

Question - What's worse than having a dead body in the living room?

Answer - Having a stubborn Marche' knocking at the door.

The implication, of course, is that Marche's in general are a stubborn lot, impossible to get rid of. And Rebecca, of course, is three-eighths Marche' by the following calculation.

Grandmom and Grandpop L were both Marche's from Ascoli Piceno, as was Grandpop A. That makes Rebecca's dad three-fourths Marche. Grandmom A was not from Ascoli Piceno - she was born "a Muro Lucano" according to her birth certificate, which is in the L side electronic picture file I sent you a couple of years ago if you had a need for the family pictures.

"A Muro Lucano" means - well perhaps that will be your homework assignment. I figured out what it means many years ago before Al Gore invented this internet thingy, with the help of a librarian, much to Mom's irritation. Find and rattle your family own skeletons if you want to.

Speaking of family skeletons, there is evidence in the family picture album of at least two instances that prove Shakespeare was very right for all the ages when he wrote the best known line in Troilus and Cressida.

Now to other matters:

It's as cold as a brass bra on a witch's tit out there, as Pop and a friend of mine from Missouri named Randy often used to say at this time of year. A very useful quote which will stay useful for a lifetime.

Pop also used to say "another year shot to hell" each year on or after New Year's Day just as he would always say "another summer shot to hell" on or just after Labor Day each year. Not that he brooded on those things. Pop was a very optimistic person, perhaps the most naturally optimistic person I've ever met. Also just after New Year's Day, regarding the cold winter, which he most definitely did not like he always used to say "we're over the hump, it's all downhill from here." Pop managed to see the light at the end of every tunnel of life earlier than anybody else could see it. And he was optimistic about that light even after it became clear that the light might be an approaching train.

Don't go through life brooding about the approaching train that's gonna get you in the end no matter what you do. Most of the time the light is actually the other end of the tunnel, and even when the light is a train you may as well meet that train in a good mood, enjoying life until the moment it gets you.

I generally make my dentist appointments for 8:20 in the morning in part because the dentist usually has on the Philly radio station that has played the Monty Python song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life at about 8:30. Life is too short to go through as a brooding mope.

In other news: Samuel came by last evening Samuel to give me and Linda a presentation on the knives he's selling. A very interesting presentation, and we bought some of his knives to complement the very fine ones Alex and Christina gave us for Christmas. After his presentaion we spent some time over coffee and discussion of David Serdaris's books and of the Oxford English Dictionary, of all things because Samuel said he was interested in books that contain interesting historical information, so I pulled out The Profession and the Madman to give to him.

The madman in the book made the best of his unfortunate situation, being in an insane asylum for life due to an unfortunate crime or two, by making himself the most prolific contributor to the OED. The professor in the book, on the other hand, spent twenty years of his life being grateful for the many contributions being made by mail by a certain fellow and didn't learn that the fellow was in an insane asylum until he decided to visit the recluse and thank him in person.

Here's a piece of advice for you younger married folks. There are a lot of things one must tolerate in life because they're impossible to avoid. And then there are other things one tolerates because of sheer foolishness. We, for instance, have been using a drawer full of annoyingly dull knives all our life because we were too foolish to buy decent knives way back when. This doesn't mean you have to spend a ton of money all at once on good knives. But it does mean you should judiciously accumulate good quality stuff in those areas of life where you can purchase something that will truly last a lifetime.

If anybody is interested in books send me an email detailing the kinds of books you like along with your mailing address. If I have a book or two or a dozen that I think you will like I'll either put it aside for you or mail it to you - media mail is very cheap. My email address is sully(mylastname) at AOL dot com.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I got five gallons of diesel for the tractor yesterday, so I'm of a mind to wish for snow. This winter has started off well but we need more. We haven't had a really good winter for snow for a few years. Bring it on! I have plenty of wood stored up for the stove.

Now for the subject of Christmas Eve, which Rebecca reminded me of at Sam and Deb's house yesterday before she convinced me that I have to bit the bullet and yank my jammed toe back into proper alignment. . . which I may do once I get up the nerve when Linda isn't around to hear the scream. And then again, I may not. Who declared Rebecca a toe doctor to know whether I should torture myself intensively by yanking at that thing or whether I should simply leave it alone to torture me subtly and naggingly until it gives up?

Enough with the toe. It's mildly throbbing down there; but I have more important things to concern myself with, namely a rant on the general disrespect for tradition among the younger generation.

We deep fry battered vegetables and breaded fish on Christmas Eve because in the proper scheme of things, before the beginning of the decline of Western Civilization, no meat was allowed until midnight. This tradition has, of course, been corrupted for many a year by the introduction of red tomato gravy made with meat, which some barbarians insist on putting on my Spaghetti Aglio e' Olio, thus turning it into a fusion cuisine nightmare.

This practice is by no means new. It started in the 1990's, thankfully after Pop was no longer around to see it. Mom, however, was still around, and we had many a discussion about whether it should be permitted, the uneasy compromise being that we would not make the red gravy but would turn a more or less blind eye to its introduction into the house.

This year, however, Rebecca went further. She suggested that she would bring stuffed olives and I agreed to the suggestion in a moment of weakness. Thus did meat, actual meat, impossible to deny, enter the house on Christmas Eve. I agreed, of course, because stuffed olives are perhaps the finest achievement of Italian cuisine, at least in the appetizer category.

But then, when Rebecca brought what she said were stuffed olives they turned out to be olives in the middle surrounded by little meat balls. She made some claim that her dog had eaten the olives meant for stuffing, so she had to revert to pimento stuffed olives. Then she went further and claimed that putting the meat outside of the olives was actually the original Marche' recipe. Sam's Marche' cook book quickly proved that wrong; but it wasn't necessary.

My memory may have degenerated a bit over the years; but this is something impossible to get wrong. I distinctly remember Mom and Aunt Mary discussing the people who used pitted olives and the people who put the meat on the outside of the olive as they spiral cut the olives away from their pits, a fairly delicate task.

I just finished, by the way, a porchetta sandwich on a Corropolese medium kaiser roll. And I'm fairly confident you didn't. There was quite a bit of porchetta left over on New Year's Eve from that 9 pound roast I cooked; but I somehow neglected to give any of it away to the departing guests. I have five containers of it in the freezer, plus the bowl I've been finishing sandwich by sandwich since New Year's day.

Meanwhile, a large flock of starlings is flying and walking around the lawn out there even as a fifteen or so mile an our wind is whipping the 25 degree air around. It's hard to imagine just how those birds survive in this cold. Why don't they go south? They're clearly finding stuff to eat out there on the frozen ground; but wouldn't they find tastier and warmer stuff in Georgia or South Carolina where they would have warmer feet?

Sam and I talked to Al and Jas down in Florida yesterday and they were whining about the temperatures dipping into the fifties during the day. These starlings should be down in Florida annoying them.

There are, however, some small consolations for living up here in the cold. I have the woodstove roaring away in there. Sitting by it as those damned starlings freeze there little feet off because they're too stupid to fly south is one of those consolations.

In other news: Five scientists, no doubt working very hard down in Australia, where it is summer for those of you who are geographically challenged, have figured out how bees land. I was intrigued by this paragraph:

"First the scientists built a bee landing platform that could be inclined at any angle from horizontal to inverted (like a ceiling), then they trained bees to land on it and began filming."

One has to wonder whether it really took five scientists to do that; or whether a couple of those scientists were looking for an excuse to go to Austrialia and catch some rays.