Thursday, December 29, 2016

Resolutions

   Before the clock ticks down to the dropping of the ball, sounding of the siren, or ringing of church bells to herald 2017 many will take their trusty pen and jot down a goal or resolutions to follow in the new year. It may be a mental exercise without an specifics to bind our actions. We know the most common: lose weight, be a better person, read a particular book, or just plain get in better shape.
   Getting in shape and losing weight are near the top of everyone's list though I know a few who would appear healthier if they gained a few pounds. I suspect some new faces at the gym are those that got a membership for Christmas. Take it from an expert, both fitness and weight loss are hard work that must be maintained on a consistent basis. Sadly, one sees some of the new faces disappear after a few weeks as they lose interest and give up on themselves.
   A better personal goal is to give yourself one free hour a day, even if you must get up an hour earlier than anyone else in your household. Create a place or "bolt hole" that you can retreat to where you can shut out the world.
   Reading a book -- the Bible is a good choice and there are several guides that tell you how many chapters to read to finish in 365 days. For the second year, in a row, Kentucky is having round-the-clock oral readings of the Bible in all 120 counties. They begin at midnight on New Year's Eve and continue for three days. If you can stay awake for the readings the entire time you can accomplish the reading of that book in one lump. Take several thermos of coffee.
   To be a better person is the most difficult task one can ever accomplish and there is always the question of: according to whose standards of behavior.
   I remember a boyfriend giving me the devil for getting out of my car and going into a service station alone. Wonder what he'd say today as there are no service people to fill your tank, clean your windows, and check your oil. Full service at the filling station now means "do it yourself." Needless to say that relationship soon cooled much to the relief of my parents.
   Being a cautious soul I make a few throw away resolutions like won't eat chocolate, have long conversations of the phone, or watch the birds at the feeder when I should be working. These I know going-in I will break, then I won't feel so guilty when I break or hedge on the big ones. It's sort of like the old custom of making a wish on New Year's Eve, writing it down on a sheet of paper, and throwing it in the fire at midnight. It's your secret and the thing about secrets is if three people know it then it's best kept if two of them are dead.
   Yes, we're making plans for the new year and intend to do our best to keep them. What will happen in 2017? Who knows - let's wait and see.

Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Home for Christmas

 
 During the holiday season no matter what responsibilities you now have or where you are your thoughts turn to home. Not the one where you live now, but the one where you grew up to become the person your are today. 
   I know very few people who actually lived "early TV perfect lives" and memories tend to become colored with the passing years, both good and bad.
   The fact remains it was our home and holidays tend to make us want to return to our childhood with all the longing for glittering trees and wrapped packages. I don't think it mattered who the gift was for, it was the mystery of not knowing what was inside that was important.
   More than sixty years have passed since I left the home where I grew up in a four story pre-Victorian brick and even more since a fellow high school friend's grandmother was born it the same dwelling. It was built somewhere between 1860 and 1865 during the Civil War.

   Did it have ghosts of lives past? We thought so when my father put black walnuts out on the attic floor to cure and squirrels got in to replenish their winter food supply. We woke up to eerie thumps and bumps above our heads as the little creatures scurried with their bounty-rolling the nuts across the floor.
   That house has stood on its 22 inch thick limestone foundations through eight wars, numerous police actions, earth quakes, tornadoes, ice storms, and a collision with a runaway lumber truck. It is those foundations that I think of during the holiday season and the lessons I learned from people long gone. They were strong and enduring with beliefs that span centuries.
   Be thankful that we live in a country whose founders provided for beliefs and celebrate the season in your home as your forefathers did. In essence it is a privilege granted to few members of humanity that populates this planet Earth.
   Home for Christmas is a distant memory that floats through our minds. Would we return if we could? I don't think so, old memories are just those; of times past that will never come again. Today we live in a house that has become our home. We've lived here more than twice as long as we did in the house where we grew up, but still it is permissible to remember our other home for a few moments during our busy day.

   Have a wonderful Holiday Season this year and ever year.
Nash Black

    


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Coeur a la Creme

   
Several weeks ago I mentioned a classic French dessert I serve at Christmas that I make light to keep the calories down after a heavy meal. I gave it the wrong name, Creme Brulee.
   Coeur a la Creme is the correct name. It can be made in advance and improves with age. A number of readers have asked for the recipe, so here it is with my changes to light and fat-free ingredients.
   Coeur a la Creme is most frequently formed in heart shaped molds with drain holes in the bottom. I found a five-pointed shaped wicker basket at the Dollar Store. I scrubbed it and boiled it for ten minutes to remove any manufacturing residue so it would be safe to use in food preparation.
   Neufchatel cream cheese is used instead of the whipped or fat-free cream cheese because it gives a creamier texture to the finished product. It has 1/3 less fat than regular, but new research indicates we need a few fats in our diet. I think of them as lubrication for aging joints.
  It's like when cholesterol was first indicated as a problem in heart disease all foods containing it were considered it bad. More in-depth research has shown there is both good and bad, the same is proving true for fats, but the jury is still out on amounts, types, & kinds.

Coeur a la Creme
    Makes 6 small molds, 1 large or is easily cut in half for a small family

   2 8 oz. packages of Neufchatel cheese
   10 fluid ounces of fat-free half & half
   2 egg whites

   Set out ingredients and allow them to rise to room temperature. Line molds with cheesecloth and put aside until needed.
   Gently push cream cheese through a sieve or use a food processor. Add half & half, beat into cheese until it is thoroughly blended and the mixture is smooth.

  In a medium-sized bowl (copper or glass, never plastic) beat eggs whites until they form stiff peaks. With a metal spoon, gently fold stiff egg whites into the cheese mixture.
   Spoon the cheese mixture into the cheese cloth prepared molds. Place the mold or molds on a indented plate - soup bowls or berry bowls work well to allow the excess moisture to drain. Place in the refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight.
  To serve: Invert the mold onto a plate or platter. Gently remove the cheesecloth and decorate. Nash used Maraschino cherries with crushed strawberries for the sauce, but you can use any crushed fruit, nuts, ice cream toppings, or melted jams & jellies. They can be held in the refrigerator until time to put on the table and the decorating will keep children busy while finishing in the kitchen.
   PS: I deliberately left out 1/8th teaspoon of salt as there is enough salt in the ingredients. It isn't needed.
   Have a wonderful holiday with your friends and family from out home to yours.

   Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death
   

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

By the Side of the Road

Our mail box sits by the side of the road and meets almost all of the US Postal Services regulations as to distance from the pavement and accessibility. Since we live outside the metropolitan area our newspaper does not arrive until the next day so in terms of frog-hair-splitting we are reading history instead of the news, but we enjoy it just the same.
   During the holidays the mailbox takes on added significance when cards begin to arrive from far-flung family and friends. Many people don't write letters when an e-mail or post on Facebook will suffice, but they will include a note or printed sheet to catch you up on all their happenings during the past year with a holiday greeting.
   I'm not sure the current school age generation learns the fine art of letter writing in their world of texting. I can hear the groans across the miles when the young are confronted the chore of dropping a thank you note in the mail to a cranky old great-aunt who expects a response for a gift.
   It begins before Halloween when the mailbox is stuffed with a deluge of mail order catalogs. Many are from companies you've never heard of because once you did order something, even if it was 20 years ago. Your name and address go in computer files which are sold to other companies which are then sold ad infinitum. Catalogs are bread & butter to the postal service because someone out there is paying the postage to have them delivered to your box.
   Though I fuss & fume about the high cost of postage & handling every once-in-a-while I succumb to the lure of a catalog item. This time it was a much needed photographic accessory - a pair of mittens constructed with a flip cover that exposes partially covered fingers allowing me to operate the controls on my camera. I vow it is my last junk item order as the expenses of purchase were twice the cost of the gloves. I rationalized my purchase as being the only source I could find that offered the item I needed.
   Rural mail delivery is a time honored tradition. Going to the mailbox is a social occasion to meet your neighbors who are there for the same reason to discover what the mail person left for you. Driving through the country down rough back roads it is still possible to find rotting in the weeds the remains of a horse trough. Residents provided a source of water for the mailman's horse to take a drink before he plodded along the road to the next box.
   If someone was elderly and lived alone had not collected their mail for several day the postman was sure to go up to the house to check on them and notify their neighbors if they needed help. When my sister died the post office personnel already knew to stop her mail before I arrived to issue the request. The mail delivery person had passed on the road while the medical officials were still in the house.
  During the holidays people left small gifts or coins in their boxes as a token of their appreciation for the service. This was still true in the small town where I grew up. My mother always had a box of cookies and fudge for the mailman. Today I wonder what he did with all those offerings as everyone on the street was doing the same thing. He repaid her kindness one day when her puppy wandered away and got lost. He found the dog on another street, stuffed it in his mail bag, and brought him home.
   Going to the mailbox is a fascinating way in small towns and rural areas to learn the meaning of the holidays from family and friends when they remember you with cards & letters. So hang a wreath or tie a bow around your mailbox to salute the carrier who brings you gifts each day.
   The illustration is by Barbara Appleby, it looks as if she drove by and took a photograph of our box.

   Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Caroling

   
One of the delightful holiday traditions that is enjoyed by people around the world is caroling, which has an obscure history with frequent "it may have been" in the articles I've read. The one thing I do know is people enjoying singing and listening to music and that has a history which reaches back to the earliest days of human interaction.
   The word carol means a dance or a song and was associated with the breaking of the winter solstice when days become longer and darkness fades. Another word associated with the carols is noel. Noel is French and means Christmas song or hymn.
   The best I could discover is that singing stories of the Christian tradition may have begun in the 4th century, but the words or chants were in Latin, which was the language of the church. It wasn't until the 13th century when joyful music as opposed to the secular or more somber music because the spirit of the day, at least on the streets and in the homes of people where some of the songs we know today originated.
   The early street singers were called "waits" and strolled the streets on Christmas Eve. They were celebrating the shepherds who on "wait night or watch night" were the first to learn of the birth as they watched their sheep. In non-religious terms the singers may have been waiting to be invited in for a warm drink and little gifts from the householder in appreciation of their efforts.
   Strolling singers may have originated from an earlier custom of "wassailing." A troop of singers would travel from town to town singing songs in the regional languages which everyone could understand. They sang for their food, shelter, and a few coins before they moved on to the next village.
   Caroling from house to house during the holidays didn't become universally popular until the 19th century when the songs were collected and published so they could be enjoyed by everyone. New songs were written, some like the lovely "What Child is This?" was written in 1865 to be sung to the old folk tavern melody of "Greensleeves."
   My efforts at caroling was not singing, but with a small band of my classmates. We had a trumpet, two saxophones, a clarinet, and a drum. We visited homes (outside) and a residence for the elderly that treated us to hot chocolate and cookies. One night at the nursing home, unknown to us, there was a dog in the basement. When we started playing the dog began to howl. It continued through the entire concert, which we managed to complete despite time-outs for giggles.
   People ask us where we get the ideas for writing and sometimes I'm at a loss to give them a decent answer, but this article started from seeing a group of dolls in several sizes on the shelves of an antique shop. They were carolers with their mouths shaped in song, each dressed in 19th century clothing. I wrote the owner and asked him if he could take some pictures of some and send then to me because I wanted to do an article on caroling for the holidays. We thank him for sharing his collection and allowing us to use one of his photographs for this post about the traditions of the holidays.
   If you enjoyed the Byer's Choice dolls and would like to include some of them in your holiday decorations they are located at Jerry Sampson's Antiques and Books at 107 S. Main St., Harrodsburg, KY 40330. His phone number is 1-859-734-7829.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Granny's Tools

   
This past week we've been working on a selection of photographs for a showing: The Mechanics of Composition: a study of machinery. I suggested the theme, having in mind the working word "composition" and my friends threw me a spanner. They focused on the machines, which is hard work because it pushes one to use creativity and acrobatics to make a decent photograph.
   A tool is any item that is used to do a job of work. There are four basic simple machines: a wheel, gears, levers, and an inclined plane from which all other machines evolved as human beings advanced through eons of civilization. They range in complexity from a needle to huge earth moving bulldozers and beyond.
   Physics defines "work" as moving an object through space, which means a baseball bat moves a ball or a fishing rod casts bait to the fish. Both are examples of levers, which demand skill from the user to place the object where it will be of the highest value.
   I was giving Nash fits climbing around on construction machinery to manage a different angle or perspective for my photographs and was banished to the kitchen. A place filled with tools if you strip them down to their basic components; after all a woman invented the windshield wiper.
   I found I had an assortment of tools that belonged to my grandmothers stuck in a copper pot. Those tools would have seen heavy use in the coming weeks as preparations for the holidays shifted into high gear. See, tools sneak into our language with our being aware of their existence.
   An ice pick has many other uses besides chipping ice for making ice cream or sweet tea. At one time ice was delivered in blocks and you still hear people refer to the refrigerator as an icebox.
   A butter paddle (flat board with groves) used by granny for working the congealed fat from the churn into table ready ball of delicious spread. A rolling pin, an ingenious use of the wheel, that produced never fail biscuits and pie crusts.
   A wire whisk for whipping whole eggs to high stiff peaks for meringues and angel food cake batters.
   A fork and spoon made of iron to withstand heavy use. Have you ever seen a wooden spoon on a flea market table that had been used so much one side was flat where the wood had worn away?
   A dipper for ladling hot foods into a bowl for the table or filling canning jars for winter feasts.

   A potato masher - can you imagine the time it would take to produce the bowl of creamy perfection which granny always managed to do?
   A mallet for pounding tough meats, grains, seeds, roots, nuts, and even herbs like rosemary, which tends to be rather prickly when dried.
   A jar lifter for getting canning jars out of boiling water. I tried using this once to see how it worked and had a mess to clean up off the floor. My jar was a half-pint of jam. How they managed quarts and half-gallons with that thing I have no idea.
   The list of granny's tools goes on and on with scrapers, spatulas, rotary beaters, and knives.
   Since I get photos of grand and great-grand children from former students on Facebook maybe this article should have been titled Great-Great Granny's Tools.
  

Monday, October 31, 2016

Games of Death

Th's the season when graveyards speak and we've added our two-bits to the fray. Ghosts, spirits, and haunts are all the rage - our stories are aimed at a general audience of mixed ages and for the most part the stories are meant to be read aloud for entertainment.
  The stories come closer to being eerie more than scary as Lynnwood Montell mentioned about an earlier volume they are both "plausible and possible." 

   I'd like to say they were planned and constructed according to all the writing rules, but it isn't true. The stories evolved as we record the speech of the storyteller. The narrator tells the story and we follow them with our fingers on the computer keys, so that some are rather complex as the human mind and its experience.
   Ford Nashett's non-fiction piece from this collection, 'Ghosts of Baseball' was posted earlier this month when the World Series began.    
   Games of Death is a collection we had fun writing, because we took simple games and sports we enjoyed then twisted them into ghost stories.
   How many of you have played mumblety-peg in a vacant or behind a building where no adult can see and tell on you? We were warned not to play with knives, maybe that was why it was so much fun learning to put the right torque on the tip of the blade to bury it in the circle. I still have my 'Barlow Knife.' I carry it in my camera bag.
   'Snow on the Track' is built around snow mobile racing. A friend of Nash's was present about forty years ago when a driver was decapitated. Coincidence? Maybe, but just after he wrote the story a photo appeared on Piniterest of a driver with his helmet on a table beside him. In the helmet is a ghost's head - you explain it because I can't.
  I've read about haunted dolls being possessed. Our doll has waited for 100 years for someone to find her, and then free her from the roots of an ancient lilac bush. 'Swing in the Lilacs' is a ghost tale of a mother's grief at the loss of her child who found a new lease on life through the ghost of another little girl.

   Have a scary Halloween!
      

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Woven in Time

   Look around your place. Each of us can find baskets being used to store onions, gather flowers & vegetables from the garden, sewing accessories, trinkets, extra towels, garden tools, balls of yarn, clothes pins, and a shopping bag in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I have one shaped like a star (from $ store) that I use at Christmas to make a no-bake low-fat 'Creme Brulee' for dessert.
   A list can go on and on, but while they're handy to stick things in we are sharing a heritage with ancestors that goes back at least 29, 016 years. The oldest basket to survive has been carbon dated back to 27,000 BC, add our AD years gives the first figure. Baskets are fragile, they're made from plant materials - hence they rapidly perish when exposed to the elements or come in contact with the soil. They were a creation of necessity to gather and store food from materials that were readily available to the weaver.
   Early peoples were hunters and gatherers who moved in small bands from place to place when food supplies diminished or calamities threaten the group. Baskets were then used as baby carriers and backpacks to transport their possessions. This was true all over the world in every known culture - a well stocked hearth had a plentiful supply of baskets. They were also used as fish traps, to boil water, and as every early cooking pots for stew.
   If you ever tried boiling water in a reed basket it is a tricky business. First the basket must be tightly woven to prevent leakage. Fibers will shrink as they dry creating gaps. Then the container must be re-soaked to close the spaces before liquid is added. Stones are heated in a fire, and then dropped into the water. It takes constant work over a long period of time to fish out the stones and then reheat them to complete the cooking process. Specialize baskets with small holes like colanders were used to extract seeds from their pods.
   Great civilizations evolved around the globe. Farmers not only used baskets to gather their grains, but they made one side flat to rest against the donkey's side so they could transport their produce to market. Woman developed a technique of carrying a basket on their heads particularly in rural areas, which is a good trick in of itself.
   Available materials influenced weaving techniques. Some common materials were tree bark, stalks & stems of plants, palm fibers, raffia, and bamboo. Anthropologists, who are knowledgeable in this area can identify where a basket originated from the material used and its construction style.
   About twenty years ago there were some lovely unique little baskets displayed in a window of one of the stores on the square. They were constructed from polished pine needles and made here in Ono County. We used those little baskets filled with seed pods of the Black Adler (look like tiny pine cones) in a scene in our latest mystery, Legacy of Death.
   Enjoy your baskets as they're a treasure that reaches back through the ages to unite people with a common utilitarian household item, that had another use. Little baskets were used to throw pieces like dice when people gambled or played games of chance.
   We've all heard the phrase "going to hell in a hand basket" when someone is doing their level best to destroy themselves. It means just that, "to rapidly deteriorate," which is what happens to a basket when it rots.
   Nash Black's ghost story collections are Haints & Games of Death.  



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Scariest Stories Ever Told

 
Th's the season for Scariest Stories Ever Told by Roberta Simpson Brown. She delivers to her multitude of fans a humdinger collection of lip biting tales that will send you to peek out the window. You have no choice, but to look to see just what is out there milling in the dark.
   She uses her astute knowledge of place to set six stories in the most common everyday locations we know and visit. Trouble is in the making when we don't know what awaits us behind closed doors or after dark when sleep evades us.


      1. Something's Not Safe in School
      2. Shadows in the Woods and by the Water
      3. Welcome to Your New Home
      4. Things Aren't Always What They Seem
      5. Better Not Mess with What's Best Left Alone
Nowhere is off limits from her creative pen. It won't help you one iota to search  under the bed for what may be sulking there when you hide Scariest to savor by flashlight after 'light's out.' It will crawl in and cuddle up next to you because Roberta knows like the Shadow "what lurks in the hearts . . ."
   She gets requests for stories that are 'really scary" when she tells stories around the country. This volume is her answer to those requests. Roberta doesn't explain in minute detail all the gruesome aspects of disembodiment, or the blood and gore strewed across the floor. She hints and teases your mind to conjure up the fine details to your own tastes.
   We enjoy being scared when the lights are on and a favorite pet snoozes beside us. We know it would be up in an instant growling with hair standing on end if anything harmful was outside the window. I will admit ours do the same when a squirrel runs across the patio and they hide under my legs when firecrackers are exploded in the neighborhood.
  My favorite is 'The Dead of Winter.' Grace has a constant companion, 'Moosie." He is a stuffed moose she left at a friend's house. It was a difficult choice when there are 30 fascinating stories to send delicious shivers up the spine of anyone who loves to be scared. The mental image of tiny Roberta standing alone on a stage telling that story in her soft voice so you must strain to hear each word is strong in my mind. One knows she's earned her title, "Queen of the Cold-Blooded Tales."
   Roberta Simpson Brown is Ono County's national treasure of a storyteller and many are proud to call her a friend. Circumstances prevented her from appearing this year for a story telling session at the Star Theater, but she has given us a chest of some of her best stories yet for us to read and imagine every night during the witching season.
   You must read, Scariest Stories Ever Told or "the goblins will get you if you don't watch out."

Nash Black, author of Games of Death.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ghosts of Baseball

Home Team 1922
   Peoples we know as American Indians migrated across the Bering Sea. They moved down through Alaska and Canada to the lower reaches of the American continent. Strong winds pushing, swirling, lightning-marred clouds of black and gray followed the tribes on their journeys. Death clouds were their constant companions.
   Bodies of the fallen were buried where they fell and held sacred by the tribes. Burial ground are scattered across the North American continent. Thousands are lost or forgotten except by the spirits that lurk near their earthly remains.
   As time went by white settlers arrived and took possession of the land. Towns grew along the trails. Railroads forged their way across the frontier. Group games allowed players to take the field as teams. The game of baseball was born where a level field free from rocks and trees could be found.
   Nothing was known of what had gone before as all traces of those resting below the turf had vanished into time.  Clouds of death knew where the fallen resided. They watched as their concentrated soil became the playing fields of their conquerors to be trampled and pounded by alien feet. Spirits expressed their displeasure at the sacrilege of their sacred home.

   Observers reported seeing phantom figures moving the bases. Players were knocked to their knees while standing in position. Balls were deflected from the player's hand as if an unknown batter was in the game, whose presence they could feel yet couldn't see.
   Chalked numerals changed by unseen hands when no runs were scored. Teams waiting on the sidelines and locker rooms were harassed as equipment disappeared or was destroyed. Fans suffered as their chairs were pulled from under the, dumping their food and beverages.
   Eerie death chants echoed on the wind across the fields, through the bleachers, and in the dugouts wherever these facilities were built over the sacred Indian burial grounds.
   The game of baseball became so popular professional teams were organized that could travel long distances to play opposing teams. Huge stadiums were built to house these events. The early players who took to the fields were dying off, but they didn't abandon their chosen home.
   "Ghosts are believed to be actual entities, intelligent beings that are surviving death." /author unknown, but it is a quote.
   Charlie Babb played for the New York Giants in 1903. He moved to Brooklyn Suberbas playing short stop, first, second, and third base. His images still visits his old fields. He has been known to stand next to the players who currently hold his positions.


Ghost of Yankee Stadium

   Yankee Stadium hosts a legion of baseball greats who keept the faith after death.
   Harry Ables played for the Saint Louis Browns and the Naps early in his career, his home field from 1905-1911 was Yankee Stadium when the team was known as the Highlanders. Harry has been seen sitting in one of the windows of the score board keeping runs for his beloved team.
   Babe Ruth's faded contract when he was sold to the Yankees from the Boston Red Socks still hangs on the wall. His worn, tattered, and torn uniforms remain in the keeping room. On game day Babe can be seen walking along what remains of the Old Concord Road. He also visits watering holes in Sudbury.
   Joe DiMaggio was born on November 25, 1914 and died March 8, 1999. He played his entire career with the Yankees. His last game in uniform was in 1951 and four years later he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His spirit still lives the sport. In the locker room he likes to play pranks such as holding the bats so they cannot be moved to the practice field or switching gloves and shoes of the players.
   On the field during practice Joe has been seen helping young players develop a feel for the game.  He has been sighted sitting in the windows of the score board. Fans report him in the grandstands or on the roof of the dugout cheering for his team. When the team sustains a loss he walks the streets of New York.
   Fans like Yankee memorabilia collector Ben Blake have experienced strange happenings. Blake came into possessions of a ball from 1958. It was in a plexiglass case fastened to the wall with screws long enough to reach through the case into the wall studs. A few years later Blake added a ball to his collection that had been signed by twenty-seven Yankee players including Dandy Koufax and Micky Mantle. It was mounted in a separate case next to the "58" ball. During supper the same night the second ball was added to the collection a crash was heard from his study.
   When he got to the room both cases lay shattered on the floor and the two balls were gone. Later Blake found the signed ball, purchased a new case, and remounted it, but the "58" ball was never found. From that day on his study had a eerie feeling and was always cold with a breeze from an unknown source strong enough to move the curtains.


Wrigley Field home of the Chicago "Loveable Losers" Cubs.

   In 1998 the Cubs were winning! The owners' couldn't understand the strange turn of events. They called paranormal investigator, Ursula Bielski.  She and several aids were given permission to go anywhere in the stadium and encouraged to do so. They checked the entire field, the dugouts, both home and visiting team locker rooms and found nothing until they explored the bleachers.
   Fields of energy and cold spots where the temperature would drop as low as four degrees Celsius for a few seconds while the outside temperature remained 72 were recorded. Readings such as these on paranormal equipment are expected where tragic or traumatic evens have occurred, but not in the stands of a major league baseball stadium. The only connection the investigators could discover was that before the 1998 season began the longtime announcer, Harry Caray died.
   The songwriter, Steve Goodman, best known for composing the Arlo Guthrie hit City of New Orleans was a longtime Cubs fan. He practically lived at Wrigley Field. He died from leukemia several days before the Cubs made their first post-season game after forty years of losing. Claims have been made that Goodman can be seen sitting in the stands behind home-plate.
   Charlie Grimm played and managed the Cubs several times leading up to their winning pennants in 1932, 1935, and 1945. Rumor has it that Grimm's ashes are buried in a box in left centerfield. Grimm is believed to still be in the ballpark. Security guards who worked at Wrigley for more than seventeen years claim to hear the bullpen and dugout phones ring in the middle of the night.
   Grimm's presence is also felt in the front office. Guards have reported that on a walk through the lights are off, but when they returned the lights were on. The guards would hear their names called though they were the only ones in the park.
   Fans can be heard cheering from the upper decks when no one is present. Wrigley is a fan-friendly stadium  that is considered the most beautiful baseball park in the league.
   The winning didn't last. In October the singing bats turned to clumsy clubs. Was Billy Sianis' curse of P.K. Wrigley, for having him and his goat ejected from a game in 1945. still pervading the club? Were the spirits of "those gone before" exercising their displeasure at having the sacred burial grounds trampled and pounded to the strains of "Play Ball?" 


  When Ford Nashett was doing the research for his contributions to Games of Death he found the truth was stranger than fiction. He published his research as a non-fiction piece in the book because the facts he discovered made a fascinating story.
    



Sunday, October 2, 2016

Do You Remember?

1941 
   We write about memories and current of events of the rural kind. Many scientists say that our memories are memories of the last time we remembered an event and not the actual event itself.
   Who knows? We're of the opinion that some who profess to be experts need to have their heads examined.
   Childhood for most is a is a long forgotten era and for some that is the best place for it. We all know terrible things happen to children and that as adults all we can hope to do is help them muddle through it. We've never ignored this fact, but for those whose childhood was as close to average as possible we're posing a few questions for memories that are too small and insignificant to rate a full column.


Do You Remember:
  When stumping your toe or skinning you knees was considered normal?
   A rope swing over a creek?

   Standing in line at school to get the dreaded typhoid shot?
   Someone yelling, "Don't slam the screen door?"
   Catching lightening bugs and putting them in a jar?
   The joy of waking up and knowing you didn't have to go to school?
   Failing to catch the ball for the winning out?
   Your first two-wheeler?
   Walking through mud with it squishing up between your toes?
   Finding a prize in a box of Cracker Jacks?
   Licking the beaters when someone baked a cake or made cookies?
   Turning your head to see if Jesus was watching your every move and having that sharp little pain shoot up the back of your neck?
   Dimmer light switches on the floor boards of cars?
   Your first taste of coffee?

   Catching your first fish?
   What happened when you told your first fib?
   Cracking peanuts with your teeth?
   The death of a beloved pet?
   Trying to smoke Catalpa bean pods for cigarettes?
   Hiding and listening in on grownup conversations?
   A Valentine from someone you didn't like?
   The first real money you earned all on your own?
  Finding your way in the dark and wondering if spooks were following you?
   Watching it snow and praying for a snow day?
   The first time you got behind the steering wheel to drive?
   Taking a walk with someone special?


   If you can remember and answer yes to most of our questions, then we'd say you had a rich childhood despite individual circumstances.
   Can you add a few more to our list? It has to amount to a hill of beans or it doesn't count.

   Nash Black, author of Games of Death


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Season Turns

 
Sweet Gum 
 It's official summer has turned to fall though we've a way to go before we feel the crispness. The fall equinox reaches it's peak when one of the two opposite points at which the sun crosses the celestial equator are equal, meaning that days and nights are the same length of time. Past this point in the northern hemisphere days become shorter and nights longer as we move toward winter.
   The day on which this annual event occurs is September 21st. The boldest phenomena we associate with this time of year is the changing colors of deciduous tree leaves.
   Many environmental factors affect the leaves of trees such as climate zones, atmospheric conditions (cloudy skies), lack of sufficient rainfall, presence of toxic substances in the air, and soil fertility. But the overwhelming factor is darkness or its absence thereof. The steady, by about three minutes a day, increase of darkness giving longer nights and the dropping of night time temperatures institutes the change.
   The sap (much like the human blood stream) that carries the green chlorophyll becomes heavier and begins a slow retreat down into the roots for winter safety and no longer reaches the leaves. If you can spot a single leaf and study it over a period of several weeks you will notice that the outside edge of said leaf turns first. Then as each day passes it gradually acquires increasing color from the outside in to the stem. The higher the leaf is on the tree or the furthest it is from the trunk the sooner its color will change. Unless the wind and squirrels extend a helping hand the very topmost leaves on the limbs of a tree will be the first to fall.
   This makes photographing a tree in all its fall glory difficult because except for maybe one day of perfection there will be bare branches sticking out around the body to the tree.

   The first native trees to lose their leaves in our area (along the 38th parallel) are the black locust and black walnut. It is not unusual to see their leaves gone by the middle of August almost as if they evaporated. The dogwood begins its show of burgundy in the early/middle of September. Elms are the no shows as their leaves seem to shrivel to a drab brown and fall.
   Maples play the vibrant strings of fall color, each species sounds its own footnote. Sugar maples an orange-red, black maples - brilliant yellow, and the red maple produces a blazing scarlet. Yellow poplars play true to their name and sport a burnish yellow.
   Next in line are the hickories with golden bronze and sourwood with its deep crimson. Beech trees produce a golden yellow for a few days, then turn dusty tan with many of its leaves remaining through the winter until they are pushed off by fresh buds in the spring.
   The mighty oaks open the last stage with color of brilliant red or golden bronze depending on their family. There is a story told that during our early days the oaks took allegiance with either the settlers or the Indians. Those who sided with the settlers have round edges to their leaves like the bullets and the oaks that supported the Indians have sharp points on their leaves like arrowheads. Hence we have white oaks and red oaks.
   Two transplants close out the final chords. The Bradford Pear's leaves turn a sturdy burgundy and have a texture like leather which cling to the limbs well into winter.
   The final crescendo is the ginkgo, for a brief time it is a blazing
Ginkgo
shimmering yellow even on cloudy days. Then almost overnight it sheds its leaves in a final drum roll of glorious color to coat the grass at its base for one last interlude.
   The symphony of fall color has ended for the season, not in a puttering muting, but in a thundering climax.

Nash Black, author of Games of Death http://amzn.com/B011F3SCPK a collection of ghost stories. 
      

Friday, September 16, 2016

Covered Bridges

Unknown Ky Covered Bridge - 1930s
   I suspect the book and film Bridges of Madison County had a great deal to do with the renewed interest in preserving and restoring this famous icon of American travel. We recently saw one waiting to be restored and added to an excellent collection of early log structures in a field outside of Bardstown, KY.
  Covered bridges were not the first bridges to be built, settlers had been on our shores nearly 200 years when the first ones appeared, though Charles Wilson Peale (known for his paintings of George Washington) commented in an essay about wooden bridges in 1797, "it has been advised that a covering be added for protection of the structure."
   Credit is given to Timothy Palmer for the first documented covered bridge in Pennsylvania because he signed his name and dated the structure as 1805. Others copied his idea and most wooden bridges after that time were covered.
   The barn like structure over a bridge served a practical purpose. It protected the wood and allowed it to season, very important as green fresh cut planks and poles were often used in the construction. Visit a lumber yard today and you'll see twisted and bucked planks, even in treated lumber, that did not season properly. The protection also strengthen the structure and made it more durable so it would last longer.
   An old story goes that two drunks drove onto a covered bridge and thought they were in their own barn. They climbed down, unhitched the horses, gave them a smack on the rear expecting them to go into their stalls. The horses took off to find their way home and the men were left to pull their wagon for the rest of the journey.

   The first outdoor advertising appeared on the sides of covered bridges, a famous one is the Coca-Cola bridge at Portland, PA.
   We refer to some of our interstate highways as turnpikes or toll roads. Toll booths are found along many major highway systems. The travelers pay a fee for using the road. All over the country some back roads are called pikes. Meaning that sometime during the history of the road a pole (pike) was placed across it and the owner collected a toll (fee) from travelers using their road.
   In the very early days livestock went to market on the hoof, even turkeys were herded on foot. The farmer paid a token per animal and often they were sent a bill when the gatekeeper was too busy to calculate the fare on the spot.
  Many covered bridges were built at the entrance to toll roads as a comfortable place to stop while payment was rendered. Builders designed their wares (bridges) so they could be sold and moved, much like the Amish built small buildings we see today. This was another excellent reason to have them spruced up and looking good. Prior to sale building is not a new technique by any means - savvy 'Yankee' craftsmen have been using it for centuries.
  Sadly many covered bridges when they were by-passed by concrete structures were left to rot. Some remained in use until recently. The bridge at Switzer, KY over Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County was in daily use until a flash flood swept it from its pilings and nearly destroyed it. It was moved from its original location, restored, and closed to traffic.
   We found a beautiful bridge in Ohio near Yellow Springs. Someone had hand-carved wild roses up many of the inside trusses. We took pictures, but the film jumped the sprocket in my camera so I didn't get any slides. We planned to go back to the location to take new photographs, but vandals burned the bridge and the roses were lost forever. Later we used those roses in a ghost story.
   We are indebted to the late Vernon White who wrote the first book on covered bridges of Kentucky and Eric Sloane for his fascinating sketch books of early Americana.
   The photography is from the collection of Whipple Townsend Black. Mr. White could not identify the bridge, but the photo was taken in KY sometime during the late 1920s & 30s as he did most of his work before film became unavailable due to WWII.  


       

Friday, September 2, 2016

Working Shift

   The first Monday of September has been designated Labor Day. The last big holiday weekend of summer to pay homage to people who work at various jobs. It's a time of pure fun and relaxation.
   I looked around my house to find what was the hardest working item I owned. To my surprise after considering a typewriter (computer) I walked in the kitchen and discovered an ancient chicken feed sack, that at one time I'd used to crush and squeeze the pulp of blackberries, hanging from the tea towel rack. This lowly item won hands down in any race for multiple household jobber.
   As mentioned above once the sack was emptied it was washed in strong bleach and used as a strainer for milk or juices of tomatoes, berries, apples, etc.
   A large one made a scary ghost costume for Halloween that was easy to wear as it just popped over your head.
   The coarse ones served as ticking for making pillows from goose down. While very fine flour ones were used for pillowcases, many were embroidered with tiny stitches in patterns of flowers and butterflies and became treasured items in a hope chest. Two made excellent kitchen curtains that were decorated with scraps of printed cloth.
   Aprons were made from the sacks to protect clothes from kitchen and garden stains. It was tied around the waist in a bag fashion, then filled with seeds that were sown across pastures in early spring before a rain. This same apron was used to wave people in from the fields for a meal.
   Our friend has a long and useful life - worn soft by countless washing, which when weather permitted were boiled in a huge iron kettle and beaten with a paddle or scrubbed up and down on a washboard before washing machines and electricity.
   A clean one covered dough while it rose. Sponge sheet cake was carefully upended from the pan to a sturdy special sack, then it was used to help keep the fragile cake from breaking to make a jelly roll.

   Kitchen uses were endless from passing hot pans to dish towels embroidered for show and plain for everyday use. Many a pot, pan, and dish was dried straight from the rinsing pan.
   The feed sack served as a carrier and temperature regulator for both hot and cold dishes for a friend in need when trouble struck or to a church-supper.
   Their work never ended. They made an excellent sling for a sprained wrist or broken arm. Strips were used as tourniquets for major cuts before one could get to a doctor. Smaller strips bound up a cut thumb or finger before Band-Aids.
   Reduced to rags from heavy use they cleaned and polished the stove and table. Scoured and scrubbed from cellar to gable and dusted furniture through out the house.

   The best remembered use for a scrap of a flour sack was as a parachute for a cat named Jack, though he may have had other ideas as he hid for days after his four-point landing.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Up Town Saturday

 
Ice Cream Shop, Jamestown, KY, original Post Office
After the chores are finished the most important day of the week is Saturday, be it country or town. Breakfast is a hurried affair as each person in a household has special plans for the day. It is a day of socializing with family and friends.
  When people had to travel long distances by horse and wagon some families kept a tiny one-room house in town for sleeping over. In Texas, where some of these cottages still exist they have been restored as small homes for one or two persons. Others slept in & under their wagons or bunked in with family members who lived in town.
   The advent of automobiles didn't change the custom of going to town on Saturday for supplies, business affairs, recreation, and visiting. Even today though the meeting places have changed from Main Streets and school or church buildings people flock to large indoor malls with vast parking lots especially when cooler weather arrives. Saturday is the true vacation day of the week for the communities.
   Going to town meant visiting with friends while one used a laundromat to the the entire family wash at one time in a few hours instead of stringing it out over an entire day one load at a time. Even thought a family had a washer and dryer at home the men of the family never understood the desire of their women folk to use those big machines in town.
   Stocking up on a week or month's supplies was important for there were few country groceries near their homes where one could obtain all the goods necessary to sustain the family. The women generally shopped in chain groceries devoted to food. For clothes, sewing materials, and shoes they frequented a dry goods store. Children were delighted to view the bones of their feet in an x-ray machine, it didn't matter that there was a warning sign indicating harm from too frequent usage.
   Men left their corn to be ground for feed at a mill or picked up sacks at the feed store, and tended to congregate in the courthouse, hardware store, or pool room. A haberdashery provided clothes for men and boys. Drug stores had a fountain for ice cream delights and sodas, sandwiches, magazines & newspapers, cosmetics, and coffee besides medicines.
   The star of the town was the movie theater.
Art Deco Star Theater, Russell Springs, KY
Saturday was double-feature day of westerns, cartoons, and news reels. If children under twelve could manage to get to the show before one o'clock the cost was a dime, with fifteen cents left from a treasured quarter for treats. No one complained if you sat through the showing twice except your parents if you were late for supper.
   One of the most unique small town movie houses was in Dixon, KY long before drive-in theaters. Each spring a man would paint the outside wall of his service station a fresh white. During the spring, summer, and fall on good weather Saturday nights he would use the wall as a movie screen. Patrons would bring their own treats, chairs, and cushions to watch a motion picture show.
   When friends from my home town get together to travel memory lane this story always comes up. The stores stayed open until eight o'clock. For a short period of time the only television in town sat in the window of the furniture store. It had a screen about eight inches square. On Saturday night people would gather on the sidewalk outside and watch a show on this strange new luxury. I don't remember what it cost, if I ever knew, but everyone was sure it was beyond their price range. After the program people would go next door to the drug store for a soda or a hand-dipped ice cream cone before going home.

   I've talked about the delights of going to town on Saturday, but there is a hidden picture behind the story. Each community had the stores I've mentioned and they provided jobs, substance for the owner, and taxes to the government. Those shops and businesses made the town. When they began to die and disappear from the scene a way of life for many Americans also vanished. Some communities are making an effort to bring back these institutions to attract tourists, but I expect it's mostly for their own benefit.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Barbara Appleby - Author - home

Barbara Appleby - Author - home does the cartoons for our ads, newspaper column, and blogs. She designed our perfect logo for If Publishing, our publishing company.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Sunshades

 
 Two head coverings that protected our parents and grandparents from the sun were sunbonnets for the ladies and a broad brimmed straw hat for the men. I can't say much for the sunbonnet as they were hot whatever material (cotton mostly) they were made of and I hate to tie something under my chin. It chokes me.
   Men went through several stages of head gear during the 20th century, old felt hats, straw hats, then for many years most men worked outside wearing some form of a baseball cap. Their faces were heavily tanned below the cap and their forehead was much lighter. Few may realize it, but Blacks also tan though nature has given them some natural protection from the sun. Now I noticed that it's a brimmed hat with mesh sides in a kind of Indian Jones style or a British Driving cap much like the newsboy cap.
   The lighter a hat is in color the more comfortable they are to wear because the sun is reflected off light colors and absorbed by dark colors. A simple experiment proves this: take a white sheet of construction paper and a black sheet putting a small thermometer under each and place them in the sun. Examine them about ten minutes later and you will find the thermometer under the black sheet is about ten degrees higher than the one under the white sheet.
   One style that remains the same over the years is the "fisherman's hat" with a wide band for hooking flies and other small implements within easy reach. No spouse will even think of washing or getting rid of that sweat stained smelly item of fishing equipment.
   Fashions come and go, woman got smart and adopted men's head gear. It's nice to imagine a woman grabbing her mate's straw hat and going out to hoe the garden and discovering how much cooler wearing the hat was than her close fitting sun bonnet. If it had a few holes in the sides, so much the better because they allowed air to circulate over her head,

   I have several straw hats hanging around to pick up and wear when I'm going to be out in the sun. I keep one on the backseat of the Jeep for wearing when I take my morning walk around the gym to keep the glare out of my eyes and off my neck.   One has  a droopy brim where I've sprayed it with Off to keep mosquitoes at bay. It's the first thing I do when I step off the back porch. When I'm working outside I fold one of Nash's colored handkerchiefs and tie it around my head to keep the sweat from running down into my eyes. For me this works better than a sweat band, which gives me a headache.
   A sunny day on the lake and everyone is packing to go home after a great weekend taking with them a bright rosy skin. I can see little indication that anyone was wearing a hat. All the chemical protection ever produced will not completely protect someone from the sun itself or the reflection of the sun off the water. One needs a bit of shade protection. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Grinding Away

Bread is the staff of life or at least an important element of meals be it crackers, biscuits, cornbread, johnny cake, fritters, flatbread, dumplings, shells or sliced - take your pick. We have both leavened and unleavened depending on the availability of an agent or according to fashion, custom, or ethnic cooking. The major ingredient of our daily bread is some type of meal or flour.
   An old way of referring to a person who was a heavy eater was to call him a "trencher." This term originated in the Middle Ages when few bowls existed - hard crusted bread was hollowed out and filled with stew. These then served as bowls or trenchers. The stew was speared with a knife, juices soaked into the bread and was eaten last to finish the meal. Everyone carried their own knife to capture chunks of meat and vegetables; forks and spoons did not come into existence until the time of Elizabeth I of England.
   Available seeds, nuts, and grains were ground into coarse meal by early peoples by hand, then mixed with water until a ball formed that could be shaped. It was then baked in or near an open fire, on a water soaked slab of bark, or on a heated flat stone.
   Grinding was done by hand. I have a palm size stone I picked up in a museum gift shop. It was in with some rocks, but when I lifted it from from the box it fit my hand perfectly with a small place for my thumb. Worn smooth by time and use I was holding a very crude, but efficient grinding stone whose owner was right handed.
   How it came to be unidentified and pitched into a box for sale I don't know, but I purchased it. It sits on a shelf above my desk, the single Clovis people's artifact I own. From time to time I pick it up and wonder about the life of someone who spent hours grinding dried seeds, nut meats, or acorns into meal for making bread.
   Milling may have been the first step our ancestors took toward industrialization when people move from a gathering to an agrarian society. Early mills were two heavy disk shaped stones. The harvested grains were placed between them. They were powered by animals or humans who walked in a circle (round & round) to grind seeds into rough powder. The entrance drive into Levi Jackson State Park in Kentucky is lined with early mill stones.
   Much later people learned to use the force of falling water to turn waterwheels which moved wooden gears to lift and lower the stones. Every hamlet had a milling establishment as "shanks mare" (walking) was the major mode of travel. When a stream wasn't deep enough or have a constant flow of water to turn the wheel small dams were built across the stream. Today across the country you can find remnants of these early dams along the banks or across a stream though the mill house is long gone: a victim of the ravages of time and weather.
   Some have been restored as a working mills and are tourist attractions. A few never went out of business when flour and corn meal for human consumption became readily available in grocery stores and presently enjoy a thriving sales to a new generation who search for natural foods.
   Many survived as feed mills for a while, where farmers who grew their own corn for winter feed took their produce to be ground for their chickens and other livestock. We took our corn to Southern States to be milled for this purpose so by the 1970s and 80s even the feed mills were disappearing to the larger more efficient concerns powered by electricity.
   The photo above is of a mill house in Tennessee off Highway 127 near the home of Sgt. York. The dark across the bottom is the dam to operate the pump under the structure. Winter light gives the photo the aspect of a painting, but it was taken with an early digital Sony that uses a hard floppy disk.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bridge Over Greasy Creek

   
Curved Bridge
Bridges allow people and vehicles to cross rivers, creeks, gullies, etc. and have existed since early man didn't want to get his feet wet.
   Greasy Creek flows into Lake Cumberland and is one of the many stream that contributes to this huge artificial water resource created as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Greasy is located outside of Jamestown, the county seat of Russell County, KY central home to Nash Black's fictional Ono County.
   There have been four bridges over Greasy Creek, all in near the same general location. Foundations of the first bridge are still visible on the banks, but the second bridge is the unique structure.
   Down a short lane, abandoned to general usage is a curved bridge. The only other structure like it, in Kentucky, that I know of is still in use. It was built to span a creek by the Kiwanis Club on the road from Corbin, KY to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, home to the only moonbow in the United States. Both structures are sturdy concrete spans similar in style and construction. My guess is they may have been designed by the same engineer.
   If you get out of your car and climb down beside the bridge you will see that its foundations, super structure, and pilings are still sound despite being subjected to occasional floods when lake levels push water up into Greasy Creek. I've seen the water so high it covered the bed of the bridge. Bank fishermen love to cast a line from the old bridge when the water is high and clear.
  When you turn away from the curved bridge you are facing the bridge that leads to Jamestown from the 127 By-pass. Looking up you will see where lower grade concrete was used in its construction. The pillars that support the bridge are crumbling away exposing the steel cabling. The damage extends down from the bed for an estimated 10 to 12 feet. High water marks are below the damage, but barely visible in the above photograph. The decomposition is the result of  weathering of the inferior materials. This bridge is in use everyday by cars and large trucks as the highway is old 127 to and from Jamestown.
   A sleek new span crosses Greasy Creek on the Bypass and is a lovely site reflected in the waters below the span of the modern superhighway. It takes a four-wheel drive to get to, but it is a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon if you like bridges, history, and change.
   Greasy Creek was named from ancestors who used the waters to clean the hides of bears and other fur-bearing animals they hunted in the woods of early Kentucky. They were the original polluters who left the carcasses of their kills to rot in the creek, taking only a few cuts for eating and the hides. Another common name given to streams where hunters left their prey was Stinking Creek. It doesn't take imagination to know the source of that name.
   Russell County may not have a covered bridge, but it does have a curved bridge which deserves consideration of preserving though it seems to be doing very well on its own.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fans

   
 Oh, those summer days and nights before air conditioning or when the unit goes on the blink, which you can count on when you need it the most. Out comes the old electric fans, both standing and window type to substitute for heat pumps. We sit directly in front of them to catch a flow of cool air.
   How many of you have an old hand fan stuck around somewhere in case of need? I keep one on the table beside my chair for when an unexpected hot flash hits even during the winter.
   Hot weather means fans. They have existed for centuries - the frescoes of the ancient Egyptians show slaves waving palm fronds to cool their masters. Homes had ceiling fans that operated on pulleys to send a small breeze down to the floor. Women carried folding fans by a strap on their wrists to provide themselves with a little refreshment and during the late seventeenth century it was fashionable for men to carry fans.
   Southern ladies "glow," they don't sweat. I don't know how often I heard that comment, especially when there were drops of water dripping off my nose. I've never been considered a 'lady.' Perspire is a polite term to describe my summer condition, especially when I'm standing outside with the sun beaming down on my head - my hair gets soaked and then it works down until my clothes are drippy wet.
   "Before air conditioning" all public place had hand fans for their patrons use: churches, funeral homes, libraries, courthouses, and other buildings. At church they were placed within easy reach with the hymnals. Fans provided for public use were an excellent means of advertising and were well utilized by local firms. Today those advertising fans still in good shape are rare collectors items.
   The Internet and Pinterest are excellent sources for a collector of rare antique fans. Mine as the photo illustrates are the utilitarian variety, but I do have several fragile old ones that I've inherited.
   Schools were murder, especially on the west side of the building on the top floor. The library (a later edition) was the only place besides the principal's office that was air conditioned. I had more class traffic when school began and near the end when most of the term papers were written and the teachers could cool off for a while. Many of you can remember when school didn't start until after Labor Day then hopefully the weather had cool a bit.
   A friend had a marvelous photo on her Facebook page when their air conditioner went out. A woman's eyes over the edge of her fan was a fantastic way to flirt and not get really serious about making contact with an individual. Fans also hid a smile when one was not practical for the occasion.
   Poets have written 'odes' on many memorable subjects, but I can't recall ever seeing one on the essential fan for summer evenings on the porch.   

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Watermelon Pickles

Watermelon Pickles
High summer and nothing invokes memories like a cold slice of watermelon.
   Remember sitting on the steps spitting seeds out into the yard or braving forks to get the heart first. You were not allowed in the house while eating the sticky mess that crunched in your mouth. Girls were warned that if they swallowed a watermelon seed they would get pregnant though I'm not sure we knew what the word meant at so early age.
  Then came food designers whose talented knives and scoops produced lovely baskets filled with melon balls. Okay, they took hours to create and looked pretty on a table, but somehow they didn't taste as good as a slice or quarter sprinkled with salt that you sunk your teeth into and smeared all over your face while the juice ran down your chin.
   Today I wouldn't be surprised to see "blue" melons in the grocery as so many changes have evolved in the production of a favorite fruit since it was long with green strips or round with a dark green skin. Today's kids don't experience the joy of having the first one of the season from the garden and that's a shame.
   A southern treat are watermelon rind pickles served with pork chops or fried chicken in the dead of winter. Their spicy taste brings back memories of hot summer afternoons. My dad loved them and my mother could think of numerous reasons not to make them. I discovered when I made them why she avoided the project. The rind is hard to peel and it takes skill not to slice your hand.
   This is my grandmother Black's recipe and has been in our family for over 100 years. Gran grew up in Mississippi and moved to Dawson Springs, KY as a young bride with small children in 1909.


Watermelon Rind Pickles
1/2 large watermelon
1/2 cup of salt
4 cups cold water
5 cups sugar
3 cups vinegar
2 thin lemon slices
2 then lime slices
5 pieces stick cinnamon
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole all-spice
   Collect rinds. Peel off the skin and discard. Cut rind into cubes. Combine with salt and four cups cold water. Cover bowl and soak overnight.
Drain melon rind & cover with fresh water in a large stainless steel kettle or enamel ware with no chips. Heat to boiling.
Simmer until tender (15 minutes), drain and set aside.
Combine sugar, vinegar, lemon, & lime in same kettle. Tie spices in a piece of cheese cloth. Add to the kettle.
Heat to boiling over medium heat (20 minutes) or until thickened and syrupy.
Add rind, a cup at a time. Slowly simmer until rind is clear and glossy (20 minutes).
Remove spice bag. Ladle into hot sterilized jars, cover with syrup, and seal. I use a hot water bath for 20 minutes or until the lids pop. Makes 7 to 8 1/2 pints. 


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Declaration of Independence

 
 Our national birthday is Monday, July 4, 2016. We are 240 years old. Celebrate with all the exuberance of exploding Roman candles. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.
   John Hancock, president of the congress signed his name in big bold letters so King George III of England could read it without his glasses so the story goes. Only two signers eventually became president of the United States. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Interestingly, they both died on July 4, 1826 the year the fledgling country they virtually created celebrated its 50th birthday.
   John Adams was the major force behind the writing of the constitution and it basically follows the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which Adams wrote. The Massachusetts' constitution is the oldest living constitution in existence.
   The Declaration of Independence was created almost wholly by Thomas Jefferson. A strange and interesting fact is that on the same day (July 4, 1776) in Scotland a book was published: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.
   Mr. Smith's book has the phrase, "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the ownership of property . . ." This same phrase is in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence with a small change, yet the two men never met or corresponded in life.
   When I visited Monticello, in the basement was a case containing an original working copy of the declaration with cross-outs, insertions, and marginal notes. Jefferson had first written "the ownership of property" crossed it out and inserted "the pursuit of happiness." Today the Declaration is held to be a major world document of freedom and herald the birth of a new nation. The Wealth of Nations is recognized as the bible of capitalism, the foundation of the economic system of that new nation.
   Jefferson was a redhead with a temper to match, who could blow a fuse in an instant  and in the next breath extinguish the personal explosion. A careful reading of The Declaration of Independence brilliantly illustrates this facet of his famous personality.
   The first two paragraphs pour forth with smooth eloquent tone, style, and phraseology. His sentences become shorter and more precise ranging to blunt in the middle dispensing with the formal word "he" as if this passionate fiery young man is shaking his fist in the face of the king. Then he reverts back to the "he" for cooler, calmer statements and ends the document with two paragraphs in the same formal style as the beginning.
   Read it for yourself. Would you risk all you possess to sign it? A librarian friend of mine typed out a copy and took it to a park in Philadelphia where the original was signed. After asking over 300 people he managed to obtain 21 signatures, which didn't equal the 36 who did.
  Celebrate - celebrate. Wave the red, white, and blue, light the firecrackers, picnic with friends and family, watch the parades, and remember the men who granted you the privilege of celebrating the anniversary of the birth of a nation - 240 years of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Keep it safe for the next generation.


   "I gave you a Republic. It is up to you to keep it." Benjamin Franklin was in France laying the foundation for what was to come and didn't sign the Declaration.  
   

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Strays

Poker and Ace found a home on our sofa.
    The politically correct term is rescued animals though I'm not sure where that business originated. I suppose it must have come from shelters that help to provide homes for pets others no longer want or who can not provide for their care.
   As our population ages pet owners with health issues face difficult choices. A friend who has spent the last few months in and out of hospitals found a new home for her aging Australian Shepard. The dog bonded with her new caretakers. It hurt to see her seek pets from someone else, but being a wise pet owner she decided not to move her dog again. Now she visits her dog and they're both happy.
   Over a lifetime of sharing our home with animals we've owned both kinds. The carefully purchased pure breeds and those that wandered in and took up residence in our hearts.
   Brandy was an Irish Setter whose heart was pure country. He seldom left the yard when we lived on the farm, but get him in the city and he would keep running. The only way to catch him was drive up beside him in the truck and open the door. Then he'd hop right in. One below zero night Nash had to use this method to bring him home. We had to make a painful decision to put him down because he developed a bad heart. It wasn't fair to let a gallant companion exist on pills and constant visits to the vet for a few more months to ease our sorrow.
   Brandy met Pounce when the tiny kitten came out fighting as the big dog backed him into a corner. We'd gotten the kitten from the pound to help keep down the mice in the barn. The only time that cat spent in the barn was when Nash was feeding the cattle or housing hay. The rest of the time he was near the house or in Nash's lap.
   One afternoon Nash called me to look out the front door. In a hay field near the house were several deer and stalking through the high grass was Pounce intent on catching some large prey. One of his favorite resting places was across the entrance to the calf feeder where he prevented the calves from getting to their food. The barn swallows that nested in the rafters of the barn were his arch enemies. Pounce came to Ono County with us as a house cat and lived to the rip old age of 18.
   The pets we've had since moving to Ono County have been the garden variety ones others have dumped in our neighborhood. Today we have two "found" dogs that are ten years old. It's questionable as to who found who so when someone inquires about their breed we say "followed us home," which is the truth.
   They are chipped, have been neutered, and get their shots on a yearly bases. They will not endure cats or another dog near our house. We hope they will be with us for many years to come.

   

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Chiggers

by Dac Crossley
   
Dac Crossley
June - when those pesky little chigger mites are in full season. We have itchy welts and the urge to scratch places that are not consider polite in company. Chiggers or redbugs, are the larval stage of big red mites that live in the soil, where they chase down and eat other little critters. The larval babies are parasites and are prone to find you and me. There are 60 different kinds in the southeast, though fortunately most of them don't bite us.
   Pest chiggers will attack almost any vertebrate animal they can find, but their preferred hosts are reptiles. Find a log or brush pile with scaly lizards around it and you'll probably find chiggers. Look closely at that log, wave your hand over it to cast a shadow, watch carefully and you can see a swarm of little red dots begin to move.
      DON'T SIT DOWN ON THAT LOG!
   A myth about chiggers is that they burrow into your skin. Remember the bottles of clear nail polish you used to cut off the air to the little critters so they'd die?
   Truth is they do not burrow into your skin. They crawl up to the base of a hair, or find a tight place in your clothing, settle down, and begin to feed on your skin. They do this by injecting saliva which dissolves your skin. They suck up the juices; they don't take solid food. Chiggers repeat the process, and each injection of saliva forms a feeding tube that goes deeper and deeper into the skin. Your skin reacts, swells, and begins to itch.

   That's when you scratch. And scrape off the chigger. Dead end for the mites, and you're stuck with several days of a severe itch. A little red spot is visible at the center of the bite, but it isn't the chigger. It's the remnants of the feeding tube.
   What to do. The best strategy is to avoid being bitten in the first place. The methods you use to avoid ticks work for chiggers also: stay away from bushy, woodsy places. Tuck your pants legs into your boots. Take a hot, soapy shower as soon as you get home. And dash a little powered sulfur around your ankles; that will repel the chiggers. Fill an old sock with flowers of sulfur (see your druggist), and just beat your ankles with it before you head into the garden. Sulfur is a good inorganic miticide.
   Once you get a few bites there aren't many remedies. A southern folk remedy uses a mixture of salt and butter. Generally, any salve with benzocaine or other topical analgesics will help. Try not to scratch (yeah, right).
   Nash Black's Granny remedy is Absorbine Jr. It relieves the itch so you don't scratch.
   The good news is that the population of chiggers seems to reach a peak in mid-July and then starts to decline. There is a little, smaller peak of abundance in late August. But by hunting season the chigger mites are gone.
   Dac Crossley is the foremost authority on mites in the United States and retired from the University of Georgia. He grew up near the King Ranch in Texas and now writes award winning westerns. Follow him at http://daccrossley.typepad.com.