Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter Pizza -- The Pompeii Brick Oven

It's been a while since we fired up the brick pizza oven, almost two months. Yesterday a friend called, saying he wants to build one, could he come and check it out. I suppose I should say "acquaintance" since he's never been to Elk Cliff Farm, but he seems like a friend. He's one of those guys who sends out good vibes whenever I run into him, two or three times a year. He retired from the Federal Reserve, which I don't hold against him since I have my own banking skeletons in the closet.

Anyway, Karen said if you wait until tomorrow (which now is today), we'll share some pizza with you. She didn't have to twist his arm. My job is warming up the big mass in our backyard kitchen. I couldn't wait, so first thing this morning I started a small fire and have kept it going. About two hours before dinner I'll stoke it up and we'll watch the firebricks get hotter and hotter, from char-black to white and then to clear, which should be about 850 or 900 degrees.

Actually, last I checked they were already turning white. You can see this in the photo, below. The lower bricks inside the oven are black, but the higher and hotter bricks are turning white. (You may have to click on the photo to make it larger.)

Here's a picture taken two hours later, 20 minutes before dinnertime. Note how all the bricks are clear, back to their original yellowish color.
"No scale," says Virginia. "Your pictures give no idea of the mass of this oven."

All right. Here are a few more.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Home School Dad

I confess. I'm a homeschooler, super-nerd from way back. I had a couple good teachers. One was my pa, whom we called Dad. Circulating on Facebook is a picture of him holding our baby more than 20 years ago. They're both laughing. I think he liked to laugh. He certainly liked to tell jokes, sneakily, with a straight face. I took one course from him, Genetics, and I remember other students mentioning that they'd be listening and taking notes and suddenly, whack, a funny had almost slipped by unnoticed.

When Dad was struggling with cancer, carrying things from one room to another presented a challenge. During a visit, I noticed an open Scientific American on a lamp table, a novel near his bed, and other magazines and books waiting almost everywhere. At the time, I thought it said something about his health. Looking back, I'm not sure. It might have been the way things always were.

I'd bet the decor of each of my siblings reflects his bookworm gene. Whether their brains also store starts and wait for finishes, I don't know. Let me take back "finishes." Homeschooling never ends.

"Sounds like multi-tasking to me," says Virginia.

Not really. It's more like Dumbledore's Pensieve, storing the memory and letting it rest while taking up another page, one topic at a time.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Token Solution

I've had it with our pervasive socialism, haven't you? It's so bad even the City of Lexington's having budget problems. I feel guilty every time I drive into town. No toll at the city gate. No parking fees. No charge to visit Traveller's grave. I feel like a Marxist freeloader.

Here's a token solution. To use any social service in Lexington requires a token. You earn one for every dollar you pay in city taxes. You can buy them for a dollar apiece, or you can earn them by working: sweep streets and sidewalks, be a judge for a day, lay asphalt on Nelson Street, sign up to collect tolls at points of sale.

Look. Isn't it time we pay for everything we use? One could even rent a flagpole for a day, with enough tokens. And once Lexington is established as a model city, who knows where this could spread?

"You're getting pretty local here," says Virginia.

Nah. It's globally translatable.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nighty Night, Sleep Tight

A little later than hoped, our garden beds are now tucked in and waiting for Spring.
"It looks as if Olga's ready, too," says Virginia.
Er, um, Keri couldn't resist her. I guess I can't blame her, can you? Maybe we should rustle up some new clothes before a prude complains.

The grape arbor needs some reconstruction, too, and I'd better put up a trellis for the tomatoes when I find a lull. 
Lots of lulls (LOL).

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Elk Cliff Bank

Some of you know I played law professor this Fall, teaching a "practicum" course at Washington & Lee University School of Law. Under a new program, students in their final year at this school take only clinical and practicum courses intended to acclimate them to next year's "real life." (Occasionally a student might take a "doctrinal" course if he or she has a prospective employer who requires a particular course not yet taken.)

Actually I didn't play law professor; I stepped back in time and re-played "General Counsel." I was the boss of the Office of General Counsel, Elk Cliff Bank. The students were attorneys in the Office of General Counsel and employees of the bank.

"What's Elk Cliff Bank?" asks Virginia.

Colonel Francis Anderson founded Elk Cliff Bank in 1832. The bank was a state-chartered “wildcat” bank. A wildcat bank issued its own money. That money was only recognized and honored by Elk Cliff Bank, so you might imagine how much or little comfort the bank's customers felt back then.

The bank was headquartered in the plantation house of Elk Cliff Farm, which had a safe room in its basement. Folks would stop by to make appointments, then return to meet with the Colonel. So the bank has a long history of personalized service.

Beginning in 1863 and 1864, when the National Bank Acts were enacted and national currency arrived, the bank made a point of looking forward. Unlike many family banks, Elk Cliff was not afraid to hire qualified, experienced “outsiders” who favored innovation. That tradition continues today.

Our big job was to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Our second class began in the Fall of 2008, then we gradually stepped into 2011.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Afternoon Break

This afternoon, as i loaded mulch onto the bed of our pickup, the three mammoth donkeys, who steer clear of running pickup engines, gradually grazed their way closer and closer. I'd said hi on my way in, and then kept up a steady monologue.

"Thanks for cleaning up this pile. I really don't like transplanting wiregrass with my mulch, so you've done me a big favor. Sorry about the bottles and cans. The Asplundh guys toss them in with the chipped branches. I'll get them out of your way soon. Don't come too close, you don't want to get stabbed by a pitchfork...."

All of a sudden Jaz blew her horn so loud i almost fell off the mulch pile. So much for the monologue. "Let me finish this job, then I'll groom you before I head back." She seemed happy with that answer. I kept my promise.

Meanwhile, Thorpe had called, suggesting a run while the rest of his family visited Karen, the donkeys, and Fiona, their Nubian we've been kid-sitting since they went to Italy.  My timing was perfect, so they and my load of mulch shared our driveway, saving a couple stops to open and close the gate. "Let's run to our house," he greeted me, "I figure it's about 14 miles."

I'm pleased to say this blog posting will end soon with no fantastic story about what happened as we crossed the mountain. The sky did not blacken until we walked up his driveway. Neither of us sprained an ankle when our trail crossed a creek countless times. No hunter mistook us for bears. Losing the trail was not an option because yellow triangles and a well-trod path told us where to go. Rhododendron groves invited us back for blooming in a few months, and time flew with continuous conversation.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Fool's Gold

Water froze in buckets in the greenhouse last night, so obviously the compost heap isn't heating things up very well. The lettuce sprouts don't seem to mind, so it's not a bother. I suppose the folks who asked me to keep their plants in the greenhouse over the winter might not be too happy, although they were warned.

Is a warning enough? Adam, our son, probably would have recommended a waiver because assumption of risk seems to have become a thing of the past since the suit against McDonald's over a coffee spill.

On the other hand, we probably wouldn't get very far if we sued our investment advisors for losing money over the past 10 years. By now, most of us feel lucky to see a 2% gain instead of a downtick. Maybe that's why we let the executives who presided over the subprime lending fiasco walk away scot-free. It's the Golden Rule and a giant waiver.

Someone's looking out for us. Judge Rakoff, a federal judge in New York, recently refused to approve a consent judgment filed in his court by the SEC and Citigroup. He thought the proposed $285 million settlement was not reasonable, fair, adequate, or in the public interest. The complaint filed by the SEC had alleged fraud -- that Citigroup Global Markets had realized in early 2007 that the market for mortgage-backed securities was beginning to collapse, so it created a billion-dollar fund that allowed it to dump lousy assets on misinformed investors. According to the SEC, Citigroup said the assets in the fund were attractive investments that had been carefully selected by an independent investment advisor, although in fact Citigroup had arranged to include in the portfolio a bad bundle and had then taken a short position in those very assets. Citigroup netted profits of around $160 million, while the investors lost more than $700 million. The proposed consent judgment wanted to treat it more like negligence than fraud, so the judge sent the parties back to the drawing board and scheduled their case for trial. The Rolling Stone offered this summary of the case: "Just imagine a mugger who steals $70 from some lady’s wallet being sentenced to walk free after paying back twelve bucks.”

"It's the golden rule," says Virginia.

Right, the folks with the gold make the rules.