Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trading Stamps

   Today we have rewards on our credit cards, clip coupons, or go online and click a discount symbol, before we go shopping at the supermarket, to save a little money. We don't always use the weekly offerings as we can frequently find similar items in the store that are cheaper than the item with the coupon.
   The money saving ways in earlier days were trading stamps. Little stamps you pasted in a book and saved until you had enough to go shopping in special stamp premium redemption stores.
   Interestingly enough, trading stamps caught on first with chain gasoline stations, about 1910 in Canada, then spread to the US, with their new chain supermarkets, during the 1920s.
   The stamps were only issued to cash customers. Customers who ran credit accounts and paid once a month mounted a loud vocal complaints as to unfair marketing practices. In the 1930s, the stamp companies began giving the stamps to all, no matter what method of payment was used.
   The little stamps were a big hit with customers and by 1957 there were over 200 different trading stamp companies operating in the United States. They supported 250,000 firms that were using a stamp program to attract consumers.
   The monetary value of the little stamp was about a hundredth of a mill, or 1 stamp for every ten cents of purchase. The books held 1200 stamps, which equaled $120 in premium value.
   Sperry & Hutchinson's Trading Company issued their first stamps in 1896. Those became the largest and most famous, S&H Green Stamps. The company with its little green stamp continued in operation until 1986.
   Other well know trading stamps were Top Value (used by Kroger), Blue Chip, and Gold Bond. Eagle Stamps was the last company to issue stamps. They closed their doors in 2008, which gives us over a century of saving trading stamps for premiums.
   The only stamp redemption store I was ever in was located in Lexington, KY. I remember you had to show your filled books to a doorman to be admitted. Then inside there were aisles and walls loaded with all kinds of merchandise, much like a modern Wal Mart or in combination with Lowe's because there were large and small appliances, carpeting, clothing, nick-knacks, garden tools, etc.
  I still have and use the electric hand-held Sunbeam mixer I got with my little book. The interesting not is in a regular store it was priced at $10.99, by using trading stamps, which were free, people thought they were saving money. On the other hand, maybe I did save money, because it has given good service for over forty years.
   Not long ago I noticed the Internet listed books of the little stamps for sale at Southey's (auction house in New York City) for more than their original value and full sheets of the unused little stamps commanded a premium price.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tomato Season

Corn Gazpacho
Garden tomatoes are ripping, especially when one got a jump on the season and bought established plants for transplanting to home ground.

   July is tomato month, the farmer's market is packed with home grown specimens, groceries advertise locally grown, while everyone who has a big pot or a little space has plenty of their own.
   Elroy Harris maintains you're a savvy gardener if you know a tomato is a fruit and have the wisdom to not put it in fruit salad.
   How we consume this fragile bounty is a matter of choice. Our favorites are tomato sandwiches - a thick slice of a large tomato on white bread slathered with mayo to which you can add a healthy slice of garlic baloney.
   Add spice to the supper table by gently drizzling slices of
Tomatoes with Basil
tomatoes with olive oil, and threads of fresh basil leaves. Layer these in a glass bowl and refrigerate until time to serve. We keep a pot of basil by our kitchen porch for summer consumption. Harvest it early in the morning for the strongest flavor and keep in a glass of water to use later.
   Preserving for winter gives us canned tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, or if you have an entire day to spend in the kitchen to cook it down and stir to prevent scorching there are tomato puree, paste and ketchup.
   Tomato Jam is a rare treat on hot biscuits. This is a family recipe:

2 to 3 pounds, firm, ripe tomatoes, 2 cups of sugar, 2 or 3 grinds of black pepper and a teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice.
   If you prefer a spicy jam you can add these ingredients 1 tablespoon of fresh grated or minced ginger, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon & cloves, and red pepper flakes to taste. This is best served with meats as a relish or as a substitute for salsa.
   Skin and gently squeeze out seeds and juice. Cut tomato meat into 1/2 inch pieces. Using a heavy bottomed sauce pan add sugar and pepper.
   Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to insure even cooking and the liquid has cooked down. If foam comes to the top, skim and discard.
  Jam should register 220 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. Ladle into hot jars & seal.
   At this point the jam can be kept in the refrigerator for at least six months. Ours is small so we use a hot water bath to seal the jars. My aunt would turn the jars up side down and place them in a 250 to 300 degree oven for thirty minutes to seal. I don't recommend her method.
   Gazpacho is a classic Mexican tomato soup served cold, which is perfect for a hot summer's day. Serve it with corn fritters (pancakes) for dippers. We can't help experimenting with recipes so here is our take on this popular summer meal.
   Corn Gazpacho combines two fresh summer treats.
   Cook two ears of corn, cool and remove kernels from cob with a sharp knife and set aside.
   3 large tomatoes, 1 cucumber, 1 cup chopped yellow onion, 2 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar, and hot peppers (seeded & minced) to your taste.
   Skin, seed, and chop tomatoes, cucumber, & onion. In a blender or food processor process these ingredients with limited amounts of the water in small batches, transfer the puree to a bowl and continue until finished.

   Whisk in olive oil and vinegar. Stir in the corn as a last step and chill for at least one hour. Serve with a dollop of sour cream topped with either green onions or water cress. Makes 4 servings.
  Fried green tomatoes and green tomato relish were fall menu items for us when we rushed to cull the vines before a coming frost, but many use them as a sneak preview of the bounty to come.

   Last week we had lunch at the Blue Willow Inn located in Social Circle, Georgia where fried green tomatoes are a standard item on the buffet. If you are in the area (fifteen miles east of Atlanta) it is an off-the-beaten-track gem of gastronomic delights of southern cooking.
   A relish made of garden leftovers of onions, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, pickling spices, and vinegar goes great on hot dogs, in dressed eggs, and on hamburgers.

Nash Black, author of the forthcoming Forged Blade, a detective novel.  

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Freedom's Document

July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was approved by the First Continental 
Congress. This bold document severed the political ties of the thirteen original colonies with the government of England.
   It was written almost solely by Thomas Jefferson. The last time I visited his home his working copies were housed in glass cases in the basement. A visitor could see his edits were he worked to polish the final copy.
   Reading the Declaration of Independence one can visualize the young fiery redheaded Jefferson standing in front of King George III delivering an eloquent formal speech of smooth words flowing from his mind, but as it progresses he raises his hand and shakes a finger of indignation under the King's nose with shorter, caustic, and blunter statements of grievances. He then regains control of his temper and returns to articulate phrasing of the beginning.
   At one time every student in America learned the preamble to repeat to their classmates. The stirring words: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights . . ." could be instantly brought to mind. To honor this document and the purpose for which it was written is the reason for the fourth of July holiday and not to be forgotten amidst the fireworks, picnics, parades, and family celebrations.
  This brief document is one of the major hallmarks of freedom in the history of governments and affairs of people. Today the original copy of the document is housed in a special climate controlled vault in the National Archives. That wasn't the case in August, 1814 when it and other documents pertaining to the government were kept in the office of the Secretary of State.
   When word arrived that the British warships were in Chesapeake Bay James Monroe (Secretary of State) sent a note to John Graham, his chief clerk and Stephen Pleasonton, an aide to "take care" of the valuable documents housed in his department.
  Pleasonton followed orders, though General John Armstrong (Secretary of War) advised them there was no cause for alarm. He cut the Declaration of Independence from its frame, stuffed it along with other books, treaties, and deliberations of Congress into protective linen bags they had had made for the removal. Then they were loaded into carts and moved to a mill outside of Washington, D.C.
   Pleasonton still did not consider them safe. He procured wagons and took them to Leesburg, Virginia where he housed them in a vacant farmhouse. Later when Monroe became president he rewarded Pleasonton for his diligence and appointed him custodian of the nation's lighthouses.
  Jefferson became the third president of the United States. John Adams, who devised the Constitution and became the second president both died on July 4, 1826 as the new county they largely created celebrated its fiftieth birthday.




Thursday, June 22, 2017


Our Front Porch with companions
   Hot weather is the time to sit on the porch with a fan in one hand and a glass of sweet tea in the other to think deep thoughts. It will drive your neighbors to distraction wondering why you have a contented smile on your face.
   We've culled our notes, files, and the Internet to offer a few suggestions that demand excessive hot air for serious consideration.
   Ever wonder if all the world is a stage where is the audience sitting?
  Have you asked yourself why glue doesn't stick to in inside of a bottle before it is opened?
   Why is it the folks on the evening news begin with "Good Evening" then spend fifteen to thirty minutes telling us why it isn't?
   Search the house for a lost item. You find it. Then a smart chimes, "It's always in the last place you look." Why would anyone go on looking after it's found?
   Can you cry underwater?
   Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
   How often have you heard someone say, "It's out-of-whack?" What in the heck is whack?
   Has a scientist ever calculated the speed of dark?
  Why do folks believe you when you point out there are over four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?
  If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?
   How is it that we were able to put a man on the moon before someone thought to put wheels on luggage?
   Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs.
   Is there a day in the United States when mattresses are not on sale?
  Why do toasters have settings that burn bread beyond recognition?

  What happened when "I have no idea" became a statement of fact?
   Why do we try to keep the house as warm in the winter as it is in the summer when we complain about the heat?
   Why is it when talking you must "put in your two cents" yet you only get "a penny for your thoughts?"
   Our glasses are hitting rock bottom. We've collected a crowd at the bottom of the drive wondering why we're laughing on such a hot afternoon.
   We wave and go inside for a refill to watch the evening news.

Nash Black, author of the forth coming detective novel, Forged Blade.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Old Glory

June 14th is a small and often neglected official observance, Flag Day. This day has been designated as the special day when Americans honor their flag. Beginning in 2016 the entire week in which this date falls has been set aside for waving out flag.
   A proclamation from the President of the United States urges all citizens to fly the flag during this week.
   Flag Day, June 14, 1777 was the day our flag was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. The resolution was actually published on September 2, 1777. Our flag was adopted before the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 and ten years before the ratification of the Constitution, which established us as a nation in 1787.
   It coincides with the adoption of the "American Continental Army" on June 14, 1775. Was the date chosen on purpose or by accident? History doesn't tell us.

   The story of Betsy Ross's work on the flag is familiar to all, but an interesting footnote to the story are the number of points on the stars. George Washington's sketch shows six-pointed stars, which is the British style. Our flag carries five-pointed stars, which is the French fashion. Was the change made to pay tribute to France for their aid during the Revolution.
   This date is also the anniversary of the "Bear Flag Revolt" in 1846, when thirty-three Americans and Mountain Men arrested the Mexician general in Sonoma and declared the Bear Flag Republic. This territory later became the state of California.
   All the stories of our flag's beginnings make interesting reading and there are set formal procedures for flying out flag. They do not include using it as a logo or pattern on lunch boxes, purses, beach towels, jackets, or other items as it has been in recent years.
   The flag flies high, free, and clear of all obstacles. It is never dipped, except as a time honored custom of greeting when ships meet at sea, then it becomes a salute.
   Ole Glory, is our most visible symbol of who we are and what we stand for as Americans. Our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, is a salute to our flag written by Francis Scott Keyes as he stood on the deck of a ship waiting through the night to see if she still flew. The actual flag that Keyes witnessed hangs in the Smithsonian.

                           Long May She Wave.
Nash Black


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Garden of Dreams

Gardening is one of our favorite outdoor sports. When we were growing up everyone we knew had a garden, large or small for fresh vegetables in the summer. They were called Victory gardens during WWII and their purpose was both to feed the immediate family and to aid the war effort by diverting commercially grown food stuffs to feed our troops overseas.
    Corn, beans, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and potatoes were the major family garden crops. Vegetables that could either be canned or stored for winter consumption. Today it's hard to imagine a time when one couldn't go to the supermarket or produce market to purchase selections from countless rows of perishables regardless of the time of year.
   At that time flowers with the exception of marigolds, which deterred bugs were an extravagant personal indulgence except for a few daylilies, peonies, and roses left over from days before the war that became treasured spots of color around the house.
   The photo above is one of those flowers. People have seen the wild orange daylily growing in terrible soil, it is one of our most durable native wild flowers. As their name implies each bloom is only for one day.  My mother grew the one pictured above, which is not a single petal bloom, but a quadruple with four sets of petals in the same bloom. Her start was given to her by a relative when my parents bought their home. It is a 'sport', an accident of nature from the common wild daylily, that reproduces profusely and has traveled many miles among family and friends.
   Now for many, a couple of tomato plants still retain a place in our tiny gardens that are devoted to flowers to have something blooming all summer. The urge to garden is still with us, but space and time are limited so we indulge in beauty. Catalogs tempt us right after the first of year as we dream, turn down pages, and envision all of those marvelous plants blooming in our garden.
   Spring brings hundreds of offerings to the gardening centers and we walk for miles admiring the lovely flowers.  These have been forced and we're careful to purchase only those that have limited bloom because we want the flowering to be in our garden not in the greenhouse. Instant color is soon gone.

   This past winter was unusual, we lost plants we've had for years, but had Dusty Miller, which is an annual survive. Only a few of our azaleas and rhododendrons bloomed, but the bushes have sent out strong spurts of new growth so we can look forward to next year.
   We haven't noticed any change in the weed production. They continue to grow faster than we can remove them so they don't bloom to produce more seed to lie in wait for years to plague the gardener.
   We're two people, our days of cooking for a crowd are long gone as is our time of a large truck garden. Old habits die hard, but when we shop the produce stalls we try to be careful to buy small quantities so it can be used before it spoils. Sometimes this is difficult as a package of brussel spouts goes a long way, thank heavens they keep better than most fresh vegetables.
   I've often wondered what happens to all the left over truck that isn't sold when it passes the 'to be sold by date.' It's no secret that everyday enough food to feed a small size city is thrown away in the United States. It isn't even ground up to make compost to replenish the soil of organic farms or used to feed the chickens or slop the hogs as was the practice of our parents and thrifty farmers who collect town over production.
Nash Black, author of Forged Blade. Coming soon.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

No Circus to Join

"I'm off the join the circus" was a favorite saying when someone wanted to run to get away from it all.
   P.T. Barnum created the beginnings of Ringling Brothers, Barnum, & Bailey Circus in 1821. After 146 years of bringing joy, astonishment, thrills, and laughter to audiences all over the world the merry month of May 2017 has turned cheerless because the Big Top has folded.
   The huge canvas tent faded into the past many years ago when the circus moved into big arenas. Lot lice, townspeople who hung around in hopes of pulling the ropes for a free ticket to the show disappeared. The manual labor involved in raising the big tent was enormous and a sight in of itself.
   The circus from the moment it rolled into town either by horse drawn caravans or the long train was a prelude to the excitement. I was privileged to see the entire thing when the big show steamed into Frankfort, KY to inaugurate the new downtown hotel-arena complex by the river. 
  The long train reach from the Capitol Avenue Bridge through the station to the river. First the equipment was unloaded onto big trucks and taken to the arena in the early morning hours. You heard the roustabouts yelling 'John Orderly', circus talk for get a move on. Workers were old hands and knew their jobs, which gave the entire procedure the precision of a ballet.
  Then came the colorful wagons of animals, performers, and clowns dressed up in their finery to parade up Ann Street to Main Street, and then down to the arena. When the lions roared we shivered in anticipation of the great show to come.
   The arena in Frankfort is very small, but somehow they managed to cram three rings into the limited space. The lines and trapezes were rigged across the ceiling with engineering precision. The big show played for one performance, if I remember correctly, and the bleachers seats were packed to the rafters. The roasted-in-the-shell peanuts were salty and the cotton candy sticky.
   I've talked with friends who remember the Big Top with it's tarnished glamour before other forms of entertainment pushed it aside. Who cared if it was hot & dusty the sense of wonder was there as they suspended breathing when the aerialists swung high above their heads to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

   There were no bailouts for the circus and many reasons have been given for its demise, but the one that bothers me most of all is the shorter attention spans of today's children.
   What kind of future do they have if they are unable to focus long enough to observe something that is constantly changing in the three rings? Has their sense of awe and amazement been reduce to a two-by-two screen?
   "I'm off the see the elephant" is a famous western saying when someone traveled to see something exotic and wonderful. It appears in many western novels. What pleasures with readers have when the only elephants they've seen are housed in special enclosures. Remember the elephant is a working animal in several cultures like our horse. 
   What are your memories of a real circus, large or small, dusty lots, dancing elephants, elegant ladies on prancing horses, and clowns? Clowns - send in the clowns.
   Barbara Appleby created our clown with its grotesque smile painted around his mouth who can't hide the tear on his face when the Big Top came down for the last time.
   If you can find a copy of the old movie, The Greatest Show on Earth then that is as real as it will get from now on because the show is no more. The end of a venerable and beloved institution.

Nash Black, author of Games of Death.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

How 's Your Luck

"With a little bit of Luck"
   Part of a line from one of my favorite songs from the musical, My Fair Lady. How many of us sophisticated, non-superstitious folks put our hands behind our backs and cross our fingers when hoping to score a prize?
  How many of you checked to see if you could still cross your fingers?
   Luck is the joker in most endeavors. You work, you learn, and you persist then one day the world spins, your 'luck' changes and you win. Did you unconsciously follow the rules?
   Let's see how many we can remember?
   We wish people good luck, especially actors & musicians before a performance by saying, "Break a leg."
   Find a penny head-side up, pick it up, it will bring good luck.
   Find a pin, pick it up and you'll have good luck all day long.
   Luck of the draw is an old gambler's adage or we can stretch it a bit to include the survivor of a western shootout. 
   Carrying a rabbit's left-hind foot or a buckeye in your pocket will bring good luck.
   Finding a four-leaf clover will bring food luck.
   Your chances are 1 in 10,000 based on the material I read in Wiki. One man in Japan found a clover stem with 56 leaves. How much luck did that bring?
   Four leaves on a clover stem is according to the scientists a sport (one time change in a plant) or a rare recessive gene which produces the famous symbol of good luck. As a kid I spent many hours on my hands and knees searching for one. I still look down to see if today is the lucky day when I find it.
   Celtic symbolism gives each leaf an attribute: faith, hope, love, and luck.
   The other side of the coin is bad luck. We all know the famous line from Hee Haw, "If it wasn't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all."
   When things go bad, then you're down on your luck.
   If you break a mirror you'll have seven years bad luck.
   Walking under a ladder will bring you bad luck or a crack on the head or both.
   A black cat walks across your path is a sure sign of bad luck in the future.
   Friday the 13th means bad luck all day long. Got a good thing going for us in 2017, we won't have an unlucky Friday the 13th until October. So enjoy your summer.
   Step on a crack, break your back is another symbol of bad luck. That little rhyme popped through my head as I edited our new novel, Tempered Blade, which is coming soon. Unconscious writing where we have a character being careful not to step on a crack.
   It provided the inspiration to find and remember things lucky and unlucky to share with you. Today is your lucky day.
Nash Black, author of Legacy of Death  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Hatchery Creek

James Osborn, Russell Springs, KY
 Hatchery Creek is a man made trout stream located below the National Fish Hatchery at Wolf Creek Dam in Russell County, Kentucky.

   It's development was a joint effort of the National Fish Hatchery, a division of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. The funds for the project were by Kentucky Wetland and Stream Mitigation Fund Trust. No tax monies, revenue from fishing licenses or state general funds were used by the departments.
   Wolf Creek Dam is one of the series of flood control and electrical power producing dams of the 1930s, 40s, & 50s. It forms Lake Cumberland which has more miles of shore line than the state of Florida. The huge lake is a mecca for water enthusiasts and fishermen located in South Central Kentucky near the Tennessee border.  

   One angler described it as the most peaceful spot in Russell County and assured me that he headed out to cast a line every chance he got.
   The 'old creek' was a bare banked run-off ditch carved in the terrain by drainage following an elevation drop from Wolf Creek Dam to the Cumberland River. Over the years silt, debris, and alien species of vegetation chocked the little gully dumping fine soil into the river.
   Astute planning backed up with extensive knowledge of trout habitat allowed the personal and their volunteers to construct man-made glides, still pools, eddies, runs, bank overhangs, and environmentally safe plant species to recreate a 'natural' home to stimulate fish behavior and to foster spawning cycles of wild trout. 18 million gallons of water moves daily through this sylvan area duplicating the rush and rambling spill of nature's aqua purifier required by rainbow and brown trout for survival.
   Walking along the waterway or down the nature trail it's difficult to conceive a fall of 47 feet in elevation. Calves would be screaming and breath would be short if the pitch only covered the length of the Upper Reach of Hatchery Creek instead of a distance of 'give or take' a mile of the Lower Reach.
   At the Upper Reach of Hatchery Creek there is a creel limit of five fish per/day. Watching from above it reminded me of TV shots of hopeful fishermen casting their lines from bridges and causeways.
   The Lower Reach of the creek is 'catch and release' using artificial flies. Both areas of the creek require a KY trout permit. Fishing the Lower Reach is a day of testing one's skill with a fly rod & reel and untangling a line caught on a bush. As a river rat says to a novice to the ancient sport of fly fishing in our forthcoming novel, "Fishing ain't for catching fish. It's for con . . . tem . . . plating."
   The location of a National Fish Hatchery in Russell County, Kentucky has survived being tossed around for closure as a political football on numerous occasions due to the hard work of many citizens. I remember collecting signatures and even a few marks on petitions for the notice of 'powers that be' to voice opposition to political maneuvering.
   Hats off to the foresight, ingenuity, educational efforts for both children and adults, and dedication of the employees of the National Fish Hatchery for maintaining a heaven on earth for trout fishing. It will take a few years to grown and develop into a truth wetlands habitat, but even now all the practitioners we met on our walk were avid fans.
   The photo is of James Osborn, manager of Woodies Restorations in Russell Springs, KY who continues to enjoy fly casting as he was taught by his grandfather. 



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Has Sprung

  The clock has moved forward an hour and I expect to catch up next month.  The moon has reached its lowest point on the meridian. St. Patrick's day when all is painted green has been celebrated with enthusiasm and passed away.
   The season after a very mild winter with little snow in our part of the world surprised us with a cold snap burning many early blooming trees making us wonder how much damage the summer fruit crop sustained. Today it's bright and sunny with spots of bright yellow dotting the landscape from hardy daffodils and yellow forsythia that bear tinges of scald in their blooms.
   The first day of spring officially arrived in the Central Time Zone  on March 20th at 5:36 am when night and day were of equal length. Both scientists and soothsayers proclaim to be knowledgeable as to what the future portends. I find looking out the window works most of the time.
   We live in an ever changing cycle of seasons that have more relation to the sun, jet stream, and prevailing winds than they do to artificial calendars devised by human beings. Year after year it's a hit and miss, but though we complain we choose not to live where there are few seasons.
   Our ancestors didn't need a billboard reminding them to eat their vegetables especially the green leafy kind. One of the first signs of spring was when the woman of the family  began to haunt fields, ditches, and hollows bearing a sharp paring knife to harvest the emerging spring greens.
   I'm not sure what food value, if any, remained after being simmered with a piece of side meat all day on the back of the range. What emerged was a shinny dark soggy glob that was carefully parceled out so each family member would have a small taste of spring. The best part was the pot liqueur that was served in a small pitcher to be poured over a slab of hot buttered cornbread like syrup.
   This was not my mother's style of cooking, but my father's mother who was born in 1883. I learned to cook from both of them. There are many foods they created with ease that I've tried to duplicate my entire adult life and have yet to managed a reasonable facsimile. With Nash it's the same thing - his father made mush that was sliced and fried crisp. I can't count the times he has tried to recreate the procedure and failed.
   Once my sister tried to prepare Gran's green. She went out in the yard and pulled handfuls of what she could find. Plopped her bounty in a skillet to char and fill the house with smoke. Mother rescued her egg skillet and banished her from the kitchen until she could see above the burners without standing on a chair.
   My own search in our early spring woods, at the farm, was for fiddle head ferns. I'd take a small basket lined with a damp towel and the trusty paring knife. Very carefully, I'd harvest a few shoots no bigger than the my little finger from each clump so as not to destroy the plant.
   I'd leave the basket outside until time to prepare this early spring delicacy. They don't last in the refrigerator and one picking per year was all I could manage before they became too well developed.
   A fast dunking in cool water to dislodge any insects that had found a home in the furry stems. Gently pat them dry. Coat a skillet with butter and give them a fast saute. Just get them hot and serve immediately. The taste is light, fresh, and similar to very young asparagus.
   For several years I've transplanted clumps of ferns to shady spots around our yard. Hoping someday to harvest a crop of the spring treat I first learned about when reading a mystery novel set in New England.
   I make no claim to being a woods woman and do my infrequent hunting for fresh greens in the grocery sticking to kale and spinach which have a decent shelf life. We most certainly do not cook vegetables as our grand-mothers or mothers did. At times their methods could be described as 'cooking them to death', but certain foods like spring greens bring memories of a past that wasn't that long ago.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Gusty Winds of March

   March blew in with tornado warnings all over the map. We got our share of high winds through not as bad as other areas and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when this one missed us.
   Like everyone else we stayed tuned to the Weather Channel as it tracked the storms and kept our ears glued to the radio for local warnings plus got prepared to head for the basement  or any other point of safety.
   Violent storms are a part of March weather as seasonal patterns change. Tornadoes form when cold air from the north fueled by strong winds from the west meets a layer of warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. We've grown to expect to tornadoes in March.
   Surprisingly according to the National Weather Service November holds the record for the month of the most frequent tornadoes. The weather conditions at that time are about the same as they are in March.
   A Tornado Outbreak is a designation given when a group of confirmed tornadoes are formed from the same system. The number varies from 6 to 10 plus. The record outbreak occurred in late April of 2011, which covered a three day period.
  There were tornadoes in 21 states for a total spawn of 358 confirmed. This one period accounted for over 20% of the total tornadoes in the United States for that given year. 300 lives were lost and there was over eleven billion dollars in damages.
  The year of the Super Tornadoes were 1974, which many of us remember. Friends lost loved ones as the storms cut through the county. Nation wide tornadoes developed that night from Louisiana to Michigan as the storms roared east.
   Many years ago we stood in our garden and watched a miniature tornado (called dust devils out west) come up our driveway. The sound of a freight train where there was no train alerted us. The whirling wind came up from the gorge, jumped from one side of the drive to the other laying our hay fields flat in swirled patterns. It finally died out when it struck a pile of sticks and brush we'd cleared from a fence row throwing debris high into the air.
  The photo is from Google (NWS origin) is a clear illustration of a tornado. They are a part of our national weather patterns and there is nothing we can do to prevent them.
   For safety heed the warnings, know the best places in your home and workplace to take shelter, stock some food and water there, and stay tuned to you local station for up-to-date reports on approaching storms. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fishing From the Bank

 March is the month in Kentucky you must have a new fishing license tucked in your wallet or else on your person to legally cast a line in the water. High hopes ride when the fever strikes to go fishin'. We dream all winter of catching that really big one. The one you have your picture taken with holding it high. The one you show off to all your friends and strangers too, if they'll listen. The one that will make the record book, where others will grind their teeth in envy of your skill, luck, and ability to tell a good yarn.
   People have been writing about the joys of fishing since the 1600s, when the early Bible for fishermen, The Complete Angler by Izaak Walton was written in 1653. This classic is available on Amazon in book form or as an e-book on Kindle. Its wisdom and lore has never gone out of style in nearly 400 years.
   Since Izaak's time thousands of books, entire monthly magazines, bodies of folklore saying have multiplied to tempt and entice fishermen to try their theory, style, products, or methods of catching fish.
   I'm not going to get into gender related issues and will continue through out this article to refer to the persons who cast their line upon the waters as fishermen. There have been and are many ladies who know the ways of fish. I take my hat off to them.
   Sad to say my wife isn't one of them. I have her permission to continue to use the term fisherman since she can read a book and ignore the sinking bober on her on her line. I can say with pride that I taught her to bait her own hook and remove little sunfish that get attracted to her offerings. She draws the line at cleaning, filleting, and cooking fish. Her favorite way to eat fish is on a sandwich from Frisch's and sees this as the proper way to consume a time honored menu item.

   We have a boat and enjoy fishing from it during the week when many weekenders are not out churning the lake waters and disturbing the fish. I'll admit fishing from a boat does not hold for me the pleasure of sitting or standing on a bank with the wind in my face casting a line.
   There's method in my madness as I consider myself a scientific fisherman. When the wind is coming toward you all kinds of insects fall in the water and fish rise to feed on this new source of food, I have every hope they'll mistake my lure for a free meal.
  If you find me on the Internet, read my contribution to the lore of fishing and know any old saying about fishing. Slip me a note and I'll collect them for next year. If you put your handle to the note I'll give you credit for expanding my knowledge of fishing quips.

   Here's an example of what I mean:
Before a rain the fishes rise and nimbly catch incautious flies.
People complain about aching corns, old scars that throb, and other affictions before a rain. My wife gets headaches across the bridge of her nose when a storm is approaching and our dogs head for spots as close to us as they can get. Weather people tell us these odd pains and weird behaviors are triggered by falling barometric pressure. Fish respond to the same weather conditions with greater activity thus eating more to provide fuel for the increased movement.
   Grab a rod and head for your favorite spot when the signs and the weather person call for rain. It's a profitable time to catch a fish though any time is a good time to 'go fishing'.'

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Best Foot Forward

   There are many phrases in our language that refer to our feet like: step into the light, dance to a different tune, and put your best foot forward.
   You are issued two per life time. Medical science has made marvelous advances with other parts of the human body replacements, but those for feet have yet to reach the level of the originals.
   Each day we live we move, exercise, walk, run, or dance our feet take a pounding. They respond to our instant commands. Serving us faithfully day after day.
   Many must live and work on concrete floors which have no give or cushioning when we stand for long periods of time or walk on them. Our feet get little rest as they hold up the weight we ask them to bear.
   When I was teaching I needed a new pair of shoes. I asked the clerk for something that didn't look like a pair of combat boots. He asked me what I did for a living and I told him. He looked down at my shoes and said, "Go buy another pair of combat boots." It was the best advice I've ever gotten from a sales person.
   The structure of our feet is extremely complex. We have 26 bones linked by 33 joints (20 of which are active articulated), means they are connected by flexible joints. These bones are bound together by over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. So when we walk or just wiggle our toes after a long day they work in a fantastic syncopation much like a well scored piece of music.
   Like most people I didn't think much about my feet until several years ago when I was watching Dancing With the Stars on TV. It was a brief clip. One of the dancers was having problems with her feet. They showed them - they were covered with large lumps of dead skin cells or calluses. It was painful to see and I can only imagine how it felt dancing for hours each day as they prepared a routine.
   Many little girls dream of wearing a beautiful white dress and floating across a stage as a ballet dancer. The professionals who follow a lifetime career suffer in the later years from deformed feet that met the demands of toe shoes.
   When we have problems with out feet many times the cause is rooted in ill fitting shoes. This is true for both men and women. Women especially like me who want to be stylish follow the dictates of current fashions.
   Remember as you age your feet grown. It is a good idea to check your shoe size. We don't see bunions as often as we once did, but studies indicate they have a direct relation to wearing shoes that are too short.
   We neglect our feet, not intentionally but it's much easier to scrub them when taking a bath than it is to bend over in a shower. There we simply forget.
   Two home treatments for tired feet are: 1.) Soak them in a solution of warm water and Epson Salts then give them a good buffing with a rough towel and 2). Take a bottle or small balls and roll your feet back and forth as you watch TV.
  For runners to help prevent blisters a roll of paper like surgical tape is a cheap solution to an age old problem.
   Any person who has ever been in the military will tell you care of your feet and frequent changes for clean socks is one of the first things they learn to endure long marches bearing heavy packs.
Nash Black, author of Sandprints of Death, the beginning of the Jim Young series.

Friday, February 17, 2017

No Sign of Winter

  As sure as I write this, the weather will change and cold will come. But for today, it's pushing toward the end of February with a balmy 65 degrees, The sun is breaking through the clouds. I noticed our neighbors having lunch on their protected east & south facing screened in porch.
   Spring tulips and daffodils are up about six inches and putting out buds getting ready to dance across the garden. A few up the hill at a higher elevation are providing spots of color to a dreary landscape. Some years ago I picked daffodils from a neighbor's yard for the table on Valentine's Day, but I can't remember the year.
   The white forsythia in its southern exposure, by the office window, is in full bloom. It does bloom much earlier than the yellow variety and its blooms are smaller. The yellow forsythia is budding out and here & there a few bright yellow blooms.
   The Farmers' Almanac for 2017 predicted for this day "Frigidly cold temperatures" and I wonder where winter is. I know we sit in an area where two major climate regions meet (according to the maps) and at times I believe they collide directly over our house. So that whichever wind is blowing the hardest will bring with it the weather we least expect.
   Surprisingly the Farmers' Almanac is seldom wrong and has a better track record than the National Weather Service, which is a mere infant in the weather forecasting department. The Farmers' Almanac has weather data going back 200 years. They publish their predictions sixteen months in advance. That is taking a long shot in a chancy business.

   We join a grateful nation in saying congratulations to a publication that has existed for 200 years. We will forgive you when you miss it and continue to heed your predictions in the future.
   One hibernating animal I've not seen running across the patio is a chipmunk. Maybe they read the almanac and decided to stay in their burrows, knowing no matter how nice it feels today Old Man Winter isn't finished with us.|
   We had decided not to put this piece up on the blog as it is a local occurrence. We know others parts of the country are not enjoying an extended spring. 

   A stranger stopped by our table this morning while we were eating breakfast in town to tell us how much he enjoyed the piece when it appeared it the paper. This is to say thank you to him for making our day.
Nash Black, author of Sandprints of Death Volume 1 of the Jim Young series.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Lake Cumberland in the snow
How long has it been since someone sent you a postcard other than the water bill? The little note on a colorful card from a far away placc saying the writer wished you were there and informing you they were enjoying their vacation 
   Maybe you found a cigar box of cards tucked away on a closet shelf when cleaning out the home of a deceased family member.
   The thick paper cards were an answer to a faster and cheaper way to communicate for the citizens of the 19th & 20th century. There was a distinction between cards - postcards required a two-cent stamp and postal cards used a pre-printed stamp of one-cent.
   The penny cards were printed by the United States Postal Service until Congress in 1898 passed the Private Mailing Act that permitted private publishers to manufacture cards. The private cards carried a label and had a space for a message below the illustration, with the reverse side reserved for the address and stamp. The earliest cards did not have an image. 'Lipman Postal Cards' appeared when Hymen Lipman purchased John P. Charlton's patent for the little cards around 1878. 

   "It was not until 1907 that private citizens were given permission to write on the address side of the card." This opened the Golden Age of Postcards and millions traveled through the US mail much like the flyers we are all familiar with.
   Today those cards are highly sought after collectibles; postcard collecting ranks third behind coins and stamps in popularity.
   Souvenir cards in America appeared in 1893 with the World's Fair in Chicago and still appear on a limited basis near resort check-ins and tourist centers. The souvenir cards were followed rapidly by advertising and comic cards too numerous to name.
   Early colored cards were hand painted on an assembly line system by women. Each worked with a separate color of paint passing them on to the next artist. This process didn't last long due to a familiar habit of water colorists of putting the tip of the brush in their mouth when it became too dry. The lead content of the paint made the workers sick and unable to continue working. New developments in printing technology also made the labor intensive process of hand printing an obsolete practice.
   Instant communication by cell phone has replaced the fun of opening the mailbox and reading a personal note, which everyone was sure has been read by the mailman. My traveling friends specialized in finding cards with a photograph of a library. I have cards from Sidney, Vancouver, New York,  and Kansas City proudly displaying their public library.
   A beloved card is of the Eiffel Tower sent by my grandmother. She had no way of knowing it was the initial souvenir postcard. It was postmarked Paris, France and had my name and address in her distinctive handwriting. It contained no message. We didn't know she'd left home. She forgot to write a message on my card before she mailed them and left her hotel for a tour of the famous landmark.

   The illustration is a current colored photo of Lake Cumberland after a snow. The card has that bluish cast we all get when photographing on a cloudy day with poor light. I played with it and discovered that when I converted it to black & white I have a stronger illustration.
   We wish to thank Russ Hatter and Gene Burch for their 2015 publication, Postcards of Historic Frankfort Kentucky from which much of our information on the historical development of postcards was obtained.
Nash Black, author of Games of Death.   

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Baking Soda

   There are few people who don't have a box of baking soda stuck in a kitchen cabinet. It lasts forever and doesn't spoil or lose its strength. It has hundreds of uses besides being the leavening agent for buttermilk biscuits or adding an extra puff to banana bread.
   To keep your refrigerator smelling fresh and clean puncture the lid of a small jar, fill the jar with soda and place it in the back of the fridge. After a few months refresh and pour the used soda down the drain. It will collect grease and help prevent clogs. This give you two uses from the same cup of soda.

   While we're on plumbing if you're home is on a septic tank a cup of soda down the drain once a week will neutralize ph and encourage the growth of helpful bacteria to reduce waste.
   Wash down your shower with a solution of baking soda to remove dulling soap scum.
   Baking soda makes an excellent substance to clean and whiten your teeth. It doesn't taste as good as the flavored paste, but it works.
   Grease fire while cooking. Throw a fist full of baking soda on it. The soda when heated gives off carbon dioxide which smothers the fire and stops further combustion. Never throw water on a grease fire.
   Is your face red from long exposure to the sun? Rise with a soothing solution of baking soda. Adding 1/2 cup to warm bath water will give a soft refreshing bath.
   When doing your laundry use a little less detergent and make up the difference with baking soda. You will have cleaner and softer clothes plus be helping the environment.
   Not kidding, nearly forty years after manufacturers began removing heavy phosphates from laundry detergents the residue still shows up. I have some recent photographs taken in a state park of a sylvan stream until it reached the dam of a grist mill. The water was sudsy as it flowed over the dam. The contamination was coming from somewhere up stream.
   Baking soda is an excellent cleaning agent. It removes the stains from coffee & tea cups, glass percolators, the grout between tiles, and counter tops including fiberglass without scratching.
   Who hasn't been called away while cooking and had something burn on the bottom of the pan?  Coat the burn stuff with a paste of baking soda and let it sit overnight. It will be easier to clean.
   Greenish acid corrosion collecting on the terminals of a car battery. Make a past of soda and water, apply to the terminals, let it stand for about five minutes, and wipe them off with a clean cloth. This helps the battery last longer and supply stronger starting power.
   Does your stomach give you fits after eating greasy foods? Mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a small glass of water and drink. Those who suffer from high blood pressure should not make a habit of this because baking soda does contain a high amount of sodium. A better solution is to avoid greasy foods.
   So far I know of no study that has indicated baking soda is harmful to consume or use. It's just old fashioned, Arm & Hammer has used the same yellow box and logo for my life time. Wal Mart advertises a four pound box for two bucks on Google. This is where I obtained the illustration.
   Our great-grand parents and grandparents used it. They knew something we'd be better off remembering.

Nash Black, author of Games of Death.

Monday, January 23, 2017

What Do We Say?

  Many years ago I have a 6th grade student in my reading class from Germany. The story in the reader was by James Kjelggad who wrote the beloved dog story, Big Red. She couldn't understand what the phrase "kicked the bucket" meant.
   I explain to her it meant someone had died. This to her was weird and confusing, but an excellent illustration of the puzzlement others have of common American phrases that say one thing, but mean another. Editors call them cliches and warn writers against their usage, but to us they convey how we speak besides being just plain fun.
   Here are a few examples to wrap your tongue around and savor.
"The whole nine yards" It means you've given a project or a job everything you have. During WWII the machine guns on fighter planes were fed by belts of cartridges 27 feet long. When ammo was exhausted in a dog fight the gunner had given it his whole nine yards.
"Through thick or thin" This phrase means you are loyal to someone during both bad and good times. Originally it may have meant a person traveled through thick brush and thin woods to reach a destination.
"Cool your heals" Who hasn't been kept waiting in a doctor's office? Looks as if this comes from the age when a horse was the mode for distance travel and referred to allowing the horse to rest.

"Kick up your heals" is a close relative with a completely different meaning of either dancing or having a good time doing something that doesn't quite meet with common approval. Horses play and stretch their muscles by kicking up their back feet.
"Plain as a pikestaff" doesn't mean a person is ugly per say, but it does indicate a degree of unattractiveness. A pike or a pole polished smooth from constant use had three uses. One as an aid to walking long distances and two as a barrier placed across a private road where the owner collected a fee before allowing someone to cross his property on his road. This usage gave rise to the names of many country roads where the practice was common. The third use is a stylized method of self-defense.
"Best Bib and Tucker" Your Sunday go to meeting attire or your best clothes. Of course, a bib is much like those babies wear, but it was also an article of dress for women and men that extended from the neck to the waist. The "tucker" was a band or string that held it in place.
"Over a barrel" means you are in deep trouble. An early method of CPR was to place a drowning victim over a barrel and roll it back and forth to force the water out of their lungs. People have been known to have survived the treatment.
   We want to thank the brothers Funk of Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia Company for their delightful little volume Hog on Ice and other curious expressions, pub. 1948. If you want to learn more about how we got many of our common expressions ask for it at your public library or it is still available on Amazon. Our copy is rather worn and torn, because it's fun to read and explore.
  Leave a comment and add to our collection of phrases that say one thing, but mean another.
Nash Black, author of Games of Death

Friday, January 13, 2017

Harbingers of Winter

   An old country adage is: "When the snowbirds come early it's best to lay in an extra cord of wood" as they were considered the harbingers of cold weather. The earlier they arrived from the far north to their winter homes the longer the winter.
   Juncos (snowbirds) are kin to the sparrow family and one of the most abundant of the North American song birds. Many are year round residents to a specific area like the Appalachians where they winter in the valley and coves to ascend the mountains during the summer breeding season. These individuals have shorter wings as opposed to the long distance flyers whose wing span is an aid to their flight. Of course, it is difficult to tell which is which unless you have two specimens to compare side-by-side.
   A ground feeding bird we don't notice until they flock beneath feeder pecking away at the small seeds the larger birds rake out in search of more delicious morsels like sunflower seeds. The snow last week was just enough to cover the leaves and makes the dark little birds highly visible.
   The males (above) are dark slate grey with a lighter grey under body and bright white side feathers in their tails that flash like a sail when they fly or hop around on the ground. Their dainty pinkish or ivory white bill was designed to strip the seeds from the sheaths of grasses.
   The females have a brownish tint to the grey as camouflage when nesting their young. Of course, there are many variations some of which even the experts are at a loss to explain.
   Part of the fun of watching snowbirds (juncos) is when they "snow bathe" in the late evening at dusk. They wallow in the snow, flicking it with their wings, and rake it with their feet through their breast feathers. This is done to keep their feathers smooth and sleek on cold windy nights. They will spend as much as ten minutes with this careful grooming ritual to provide themselves with an effective wind breaker.
   They are social birds. Wintering in flocks of 6 to 30. The adult males are top dog in the pecking order, followed by juvenile males, then adult females, and at the bottom are the juvenile females. When roosting for the night the strongest and oldest bird has a special place at the center of the flock in the warmest spot sheltered from the wind while the most fragile of each sex group is pushed to the outside fringes to survive as best they can.
   When roosting each has a separate place, but close enough to gain some warmth from the others. Their internal time clock works with light and when the first point of darkness descends all activity stops and they go to sleep. Occasionally, during the night, one will fly up and flutter its wings often hitting its companions who aim a hit in return. This is to keep their blood circulating in deep cold.
   One junco was discovered to be eleven years old when caught in a banding operation to trace their flight patterns. The male wore a band from an earlier study. He was released, but this is advanced age is rare for any species living in the wild.
   For ground feeders food supplies are low when it snows so it is important to keep feeders filled. It is well worth the effort for the pleasure they give you. By April they will all be gone to their summer home in the far north.

   The image is from Google as our Photoshop computer is down. Old age does take its tole.



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Just for Today

      One of our resolves for 2017 is to clear the cave of all the random files, papers, and notes that have accumulated over the years despite our best efforts to the contrary.
   Tucked in a book was a note I knew at first glance was from my grandmother, Erin Elizabeth Harrison Black, because the "w" and "h" key on her Royal Upright were clogged with ink from heavy use. Her voice reached out across the years to touch on something I wrote last week about "being a better person."

   Just for today I will live through the next 12 hours and not tackle my whole life's problems at once.
   Just for today I will improve my mind. I will read something that will require effort, thought, and concentration.
   Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look my best, speak in a well modulated voice, be courteous, and considerate.
   Just for today I will not find fault with friends, relatives, or colleagues. I will not try to change or improve anyone, but myself.
   Just for today I will have a program. I might not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two enemies - hurry and indecision.
   Just for today I will exercise my character in three ways. I will do a good turn and keep it a secret. If anyone finds out, it won't count.
   Just for today I will do two things I don't want to do, just for the exercise.
   Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially will I be unafraid to enjoy what is beautiful and believe that as I give to the world, the world will give to me.

   At this late date I don't know if she wrote it for the Methodist Church Bulletin, but it reads and sounds like her. She may have found it somewhere and sent it on to me. I have no idea, but I remember an occasion when I was doing something that did not meet her standard of public behavior.
   She placed her hand on my shoulder, smiled at someone while she whispered to me, "Remember who you are and mind your manners." Today when I do or say something I know would not meet her approval I can still feel her thumb digging into my back just daring me to do anything, but smile.
   Her homily is an excellent guide for living. Now all I have to so is find the courage and strength to attempt to take life one day at a time.