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.