Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Monster Concert Christmas Singalong Reprise

I keep forgetting to mention that 4 pianists on 4 pianos are reprising the monster concert holiday singalong we held last year. If you haven't heard 4 pianos played at once, come and discover why it's called a "monster concert." If you have heard them, well then, you've probably already made reservations. With that much sound, you'll feel free, as the crowd did last year, to belt out favorites such as "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas," "Blue Christmas," "Joy to the World," "Frosty the Snow Man," "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," and many more. Tim Gaylard, Bill McCorkle, Betty Bond Nichols, and this blogger will be at the pianos. We'll be joined by singers, trumpeters and maybe a tuba player, on numbers like "The Christmas Shoes" (cry, cry, cry), "Pie Jesu" (Andrew Lloyd Webber), and "Santa Baby."

For reservations (they're necessary because space is limited), email The event, on Wed., Dec. 14, at 7:30 p.m., benefits the Rockbridge Symphony, so $20 admission contributions are suggested. Children are welcome and often gather in the basement of the Krantz home (Possum Hollow Road, Lexington, Virginia) to play ping pong, shake old-fashioned pinball machines, and watch movies on a huge TV screen.

Member FDIC. Equal housing lender. [Just kidding].

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Karen and I sat on the back porch of our cabin yesterday, listening to Opossum Run. We thought about people elsewhere who walk miles each day to collect a little water to meet their needs. The time to pan for gold, if that time ever existed, has passed. Water has become golden.

As I mentioned in this year's Thanksgiving Day blog posting (immediately preceding this one, entitled "Thank You"), we're fortunate to be able to "make" Thanksgiving dinner. This is a result of a choice we made 17 years ago, after asking ourselves, "Is this really what we want to do until we retire?" We didn't realize then where we were heading, and I suspect that 17 years from now we'll look back at today and say we didn't realize in 2011 where we were headed.

Traveling always does this to me. Stepping outside our box forces me to look at our choices from a different perspective. As we walked around Manhattan, we didn't see many gardens or wellheads. We visited a small community garden in the Upper West End. Each participant had a few square feet, where growing potatoes or raising turkeys would be very hard. The only way they could "grow" a significant amount of food was to pay someone else to grow it for them. Enter, grocery stores and farmers' markets.

That's okay, I suppose, assuming the buying doesn't accompany an attitude that looks down on the labor and the places that make their food possible. Something is out of whack if we call farmers and other laborers names like "rednecks," sort of like the names given the slaves brought here to do the work white people thought was beneath them. These are the people who feed us.

We spent an afternoon art gallery-hopping in Chelsea. At first, I didn't know quite what to think of an exhibit of works by Robert Kinmont at Alexander and Bonin. A wooden box sat on the floor next to what presumably had been its contents, a small pile of soil, entitled "A Cubic Foot of California." Another work, entitled "Evidence," consisted of 127 willow forks, that is, forked willow tree branches. Near the entrance stood half of a hollowed-out log, clean and smooth. These and other pieces seemed like a tractor driving down Wall Street. Then I thought, yes, that's exactly what we need to see. We cannot, must not, live such specialized, compartmentalized lives.

"So are you going to drive a tractor down Wall Street?" asks Virginia.

I hope I don't have to.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank You

Today, our huge family of three celebrated Thanksgiving together with old friends. Well, they were not so old. All were very good friends.

Every holiday, especially Thanksgiving, amazes me by the effort put into making food and the speed with it is dispatched. Even more now. I'll tell you why.

Turkey and Gravy. A year ago last April, our local postmaster telephoned us to announce the arrival of a box of turkey poults, including this year's Thanksgiving turkey and 19 adoptive siblings. We got to know the tiny fellows pretty well over the next 5 1/2 months, as they grew into irritating adults who demanded our help putting them to bed each night while they pecked at anything shiny. Then came a day I've already blogged about and a deep sleep in the freezer. See Today, a few hours in the oven provided our main course and gravy.

Mashed Potatoes. St. Patrick's Day is the prime day for planting potatoes around here. As I recall, a nice rain postponed this year's planting to March 21. Now, growing potatoes isn't just a waiting game. They require weeding now and then, hoeing into hills, and several weeks handpicking Colorado potato beetle larvae during my early morning rounds. Digging them isn't easy, but it's sort of like panning for gold.

Corn. This year our first planting of corn went into the field garden at the end of April. The promise of 130 dozen sprouts proved illusory, dwindled to 5 dozen ears by summer drought. Series of smaller plantings in the garden beds, where I could keep them watered, saved the season. Then came picking, husking, cutting off the kernels, freezing or canning.

Stuffing. Karen used home-made bread for our stuffing this year. Some of the wheat berries and flour came from winter wheat planted either last fall or the year before.

Pumpkin pie. Not really pumpkin, this year's pie came from frozen Georgia Candy Roaster squash we grew last summer. The squash were monsters, relatively easy to put away because we could slice them in half, remove the seeds and pulp, cook them cut side down on cookie sheets, whirl them up in a food processor, and stuff them in freezer bags.

Whipping cream for the pie. Not really whipping cream, goat milk and free-range eggs served as the base for home-made ice cream churned on the patio this afternoon.

"I guess you're saying it took almost two years to prepare this dinner?" says Virginia.

And fifteen minutes to eat it.

Friday, November 18, 2011


My shoes are packed, I'm ready to go. From 90th and Broadway, where to run first? Maybe down to Wall Street, to see if any demonstrators remain after the cleanup. Maybe north to a cross-country 5K. Or over to Central Park. And then walking. When we visit cities we walk like crazy. It's in the genes, I suppose. My octogenarian mother visited Chicago a few years ago and walked five miles, ending up in a hospital.

Taxis, buses and subways have their place, but nothing beats feet on the ground, body controlling movement, stopping on a dime to check something out, eyes watching people, places and potholes.

It'll be a little bit different from this afternoon's chore of planting wheat in the dirt piled above the new water pipes in our field. We're hoping the wheat takes, despite being planted so late. It will hold the soil in place, as well as offer a treat for grazing goats and donkeys.

I broadcasted the wheat first with my right hand, then with my left. My right hand continued to shake as the left did its job. I had to concentrate to shut it off.

"Why didn't you use a spreader?" Virginia asks.

A spreader, right, like I'm going to rush out to buy a spreader for a rare occurrence. This reminds me, someone said not to buy a tractor unless we planned to use it at least 2,000 hours per year. We already have more than one vehicle per person in this household, ten pairs of shoes, twenty towels and six pairs of sheets. Maybe we should get rid of a hundred items by Christmas, or two hundred.

Side-tracked again. I was going to write about the importance of uselessness. Some people I know would say planting wheat by hand indicates I have time to waste, like moving mulch without a front-end loader, shelling peas, canning pickles. (I could be writing a book, an article, a newsletter.) Yes, it'd be a lot easier to hire people to do these things, as we do, in effect, when we pluck stuff off the Kroger shelf (or pay Ms. Handywipe to do the shopping).

That wouldn't feel right, too much distance between the soil and table. I like doing useless things, including running on cobblestones in a city I barely know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Negativity Quotient

An informal survey conducted at Elk Cliff Farm recently found:

1. Negative people like to subtract, not add.
2. Negative people like to divide, not multiply.
3. The only power negative people have is to repel positives as well as negatives.
4. Negative people don't know what they're missing.
5. Negative people cut themselves from other people's lives.

"That's sad," says Virginia.

Don't be so negative.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Suffering Paradigm

“We should consider that the boosters of the prevailing economic paradigm have the most to gain from its continuation, and that this economy is predicated on training us to be dissatisfied and ungrateful consumers.” Wendell Berry

We often hear that greed caused the ongoing financial crisis. Critics point at the greed of a broad cross-section of our citizenry – homebuyers who had eyes bigger than their wallets, mortgage originators and real estate agents who helped those eyes bulge, lenders and securitizers anxious to book ‘em and sell ‘em, investment banks ready and willing to bet for and against them, and others, too.

How do we recover from the effects of this greed? Most economists say the resumption of consumer spending is the key to financial recovery. Some of them recognize that if the rest of the world consumed like Americans do, our Earth would cry for help even louder than it already does. So, greed got us into this mess and perhaps now we need greed to get us out.

Or maybe we need a new paradigm, one in which we develop a disciplined approach to spending, not so influenced by the boosters of the status quo who want us to be dissatisfied with what we have, an approach that forces those boosters to offer us true value instead of snazzier cars, shoes, clothes and prepackaged foods our grandparents would not have recognized.

"You're getting carried away," says Virginia.

Carry me back to old Virginny. I understand our Commonwealth retired that State song. Maybe we could retire some other habits.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Lucky Fiasco

I understand Thomas Edison said something similar to "luck is 99% perspiration and 1% being in the right place at the right time." Well, today luck was luck, not perspiration and certainly not smarts.

A tree died along our fence line. For several months, or maybe a year or two, we've watched that tree, wondering if a storm might tip it onto the road. This morning, chainsaw in hand, I decided it was time to beat the storm. A few weeks ago I attended a seminar entitled "Law and Literature." Nothing's relevant to today's experience except for the keynote speaker's joke that "lawyers think they can do anything." I've mentioned that to my students and warned them that maybe certain lawyers can do anything if they adequately prepare.

I set out to prove that joke. I gnawed a nice notch on the fall-in side, carved exactly the way I'd read it should be done, and the way I'd done it a fair number of times before. Then I got nervous. Maybe the funeral procession that passed by had something to do with it. What if the tree fell the wrong way? I almost called a friend or two, for last rites perhaps, but heck, give it a go, I decided. I hadn't read, or at least hadn't remembered, that it might be a good idea to hammer in a wedge or two as I made the final opposite-side cut.

As the tree began to move, I noticed a little twist and thought one of those words I wish young people wouldn't say so readily, like the day my father remembered the hammer he'd hung on a tree branch as he swung down from that very same branch, except his words were "darn it!," the nastiest language I ever heard him utter.

Now came luck. The neighboring tree reached out and caught its long-time companion, as if to say "don't leave me yet." And more luck. When I called Dudley's Tree Service, he'd just finished a job and was on his way over. Karen and I pretended to be traffic cops for an hour or so, then the job was done.

"You had me worried," says Virginia.

You worried? Think how we'd have felt tonight if Mr. Dudley hadn't been so handy, if strong winds blew or rain turned to ice, and we feared some poor soul might drive under that leaning tree at exactly the wrong time. Phew!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Apple Cider, Worms and All

This afternoon, after several hours of making cider (see Karen's blog at, the man in charge looked at Karen and me and said something like, "All this has been given to us. Aren't we fortunate?"

When we finished and were getting ready to leave, Karen handed him a check.  Holding his hands back, as if we were playing "hot potato," he said, "No, after all that work, you certainly don't have to pay." "That wasn't work," we said, "and yes, we must pay." After all, although the apples had been given to us (speaking in a generic, world-wide sense), he had paid for them. Besides, in truth, it wasn't work. All I did was cut apples into quarters, listen and say something once in a while. Ten gallons in, I thought, what a great way to relax after yesterday's mulching of a garden bed and digging up potatoes.

The day had begun with a covering of white, our first hard frost, but the sun soon warmed everything to comfort, an afternoon so perfect for being outdoors that a few yellow-jackets joined our celebration. A month earlier we would have joined the yellow-jackets and the result might not have been so delightful.

The people who gathered to press apples probably wouldn't have met anywhere else. We didn't ask what each other "did." For today, all that mattered was that we shared the same boat, doing something our ancestors have done for centuries rather than taking a bottle off a shelf and placing it in our grocery cart.

Next weekend we'll be making apple butter and a couple months from now, instead of cutting apples, we'll be cutting pork. That's what we do.

"Together we eat the land that someday will eat us," said Virginia, summing it up. "Everything is connected."

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Don't Stop!

So Fall frosts have killed the summer garden, don't stop. Spring will be here before we know it.  Let's prepare.

So another year is nearly over and we've met many goals and objectives, don't stop. Fun lies ahead.

So the big banks dropped plans to impose monthly debit card fees, don't stop. Move the money where the mouth is. LocalMore!

So the exam is done, the paper written, the project complete, stop for a moment. Enjoy the feeling. Relax sore muscles, tired brain, worried forehead. Notice things we've been "too busy" to notice.

Virginia says, "Remember when the schedule may have seemed almost too much to bear? It wasn't, almost, maybe, never, is."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Freezing New Zealand Spinach

1. Pick a big bowl of spinach.
"Big bowl, maybe," says Virginia, "but not a big bowl of spinach."

She can be so critical. It was a big bowl of spinach until I emptied half of it.

2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan and toss in the spinach.
3. Cook and stir constantly.
4. Cook down to dark green, then cool in a colander.
5. Stuff in a plastic bag or box and freeze.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

More LocalMore

I understand the giant banks have nixed their plans to impose $5 monthly fees on debit cards.

"Why?" says Virginia. "Because so many customers complained?"

Maybe, but I don't think it was just the talk. More likely, it was because so many customers put their money where their mouths were, and moved their accounts to smaller, more local banks. See my blog posting for October 5, "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is -- LocalMore" at I wish I could say that my posting made a difference, but I can't. Hardly anyone reads this blog.

Now what? LocalMore. My brother-in-law, the former editor of a small town newspaper and now the creator of a successful on-line small town newspaper (The Bluffton Icon), many years ago made a point of encouraging readers to buy local. This was long before the "Buy Local" food movement. He thought it made sense for people to support their own townsfolk, especially the ones who offered products and services in downtown stores, rather than tripping off to Lima or Findlay or even farther to Toledo or Columbus. (And it probably helped sell ads for the newspaper.)

That's what I mean by LocalMore. It makes sense to buy things made near us, by people we know. Among other things, those items then don't need to be shipped hundreds or thousands of miles, back and forth, to fill our orders.

"But we don't know what's made nearby," says Virginia.

That's probably true, in large part. So we should find out. It's taken a lot of work for folks to coordinate the sale of food grown nearby (LocalVore). After all, it's often inefficient to drive here for a gallon of milk, there for a cabbage, and yon for a basket of strawberries. So someone has to accept the challenge of setting up a farmers' market or local food store. The same cooperation is necessary to pull together other products made locally.

"So are you going to do it?" says Virginia.

Well, um, I'm so busy as it is.

"Yea, right," she says. "That's what they all say. So the banks get bigger and bigger until they're too big to fail."