Honon Steak Revisited Again

In April 2017, I wrote about the mystery of “Honon Steak” (“An Iowa Treat“). Several weeks later, in “Honon Steak Revisited,” I reported what my researches (and helpful sources) had revealed about this strange specialty, which seemed to have surfaced in Iowa in the second decade of the twentieth century. The name is still a bit of a mystery, but the recipe is simple enough: round steak, pounded thin, dredged in flour, browned on both sides, and then oven-braised for three hours.

The other night, for some reason, I thought about honon (or Honon) steak and wanted to refer to these blog posts. I knew from experience that a Google search would turn up the two posts as the top two search results, so I was surprised when, instead, I got the usual “Did you mean…?” and “Including results for hunan steak.” When I refined the search, I got much the same, the first result being “Fiery Honan Beef.”

Giving up on Google, I decided to search my WalkThoughts site, but that search generated no results. Surprised and frustrated, I found the original posts on my hard drive; with the post titles, I found the posts easily, and as soon as I started reading, I realized my mistake: the mystery dish is “honon steak,” and I had been searching for “honan steak.”

My mistake was serendipitous, however, because one of the hits I found that wasn’t related to Hunan cuisine was an article in the August 1919 issue of Woman’s Home Companion titled “Quick and Easy Meals.” The subtitle promised that “They can be prepared in half an hour or so.” The meals included menus for four “Refreshing Breakfasts for Hot Mornings,” five “Appetizing Luncheons or Suppers,” and “Four Delicious Summer Dinners.” As can be seen from the image below, one of the Delicious Summer Dinners included “Honan Steak with Onions.”

From the instructions provided (see below) I suspect that this version of the steak, cooked only a few minutes, would not be as tender as the version cooked for three hours, but I haven’t tried either version.

Fashions in recipes certainly change. I was intrigued by one of the breakfast dishes: “Toasted Hamburg Sandwich.” You might expect this to involve ground beef, and in fact it calls for “chopped beef” (perhaps already cooked), but the result seems to be a sort of French toast containing hamburger!

We can also conclude from this recipe that sliced bread was not available, and in fact, according to Wikipedia, the Chillicothe Baking Company of Chillicothe, Missouri, was the first bakery to sell sliced loaves, using the bread-slicing machine invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa. This was in 1928. If you ever wondered “What was the greatest thing before sliced bread,” you may be amused to learn that the sliced bread was advertised as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.”

The interest aroused by the breakfast recipes doesn’t stop there, however. Note that Recipe IV includes “Corn Meal and Hominy Cooked in Fireless Cooker.” What? Google obliges with an exhaustive USDA article as well as a more accessible blog post that explains that “It was a simple concept. Food was put into a specially designed kettle with a minimum amount of liquid and brought to a boil, and the kettle was then put away in a well-insulated container where the heat of the liquid finished cooking the food.” The post adds that “Fireless cookery emerged in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century, and judging from the number of makers and the frequency of advertisements that followed, it seems to have caught on for a while.” So this would have been the latest rage in 1919, the crockpot of its time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Economy of “Shrinkflation”

The other day I read an article that originally aired on NPR, “What tracking one Walmart store’s prices for years taught us about the economy.” It looked back at a “market basket” survey done in mid-2019 (originally to assess the impact of “tariffs the White House imposed in 2018 on imports from China, Mexico and Canada — as well as China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S.-made products”). Staffers attempted to match the 2019 market basket with current (2022) purchases. In some cases, they were unable to exactly match the items: often, Walmart had substituted a cheaper brand, and the original was not available. But the article called out two price increases as examples of “shrinkflation,” where a manufacturer attempts to disguise a price increase by reducing the size or quantity of an item.

One that especially caught my eye was Dove soap. In 2019, a package of ten 4-oz. bars cost $10.88. The equivalent package in 2022 was eight 3.75-oz bars for $10.97. The unit price of a bar thus increased from $1.09 to $1.37, but the price per ounce increased from $0.27 to $0.37. Interestingly, after being unable to find my Lever 2000 soap at Walmart, I finally gave up and ordered it from Amazon—two packages of eight 4-oz. bars for $19.43—a unit price of $1.21 per bar and $0.30 per ounce. I won’t attempt to compare the quality or desirability of Lever 2000 vs. Dove, but as far as I know, I have been buying the same size and quantity of Lever 2000 for many years. Perhaps the recent absence from Walmart portends a price increase, and perhaps I am fortunate to have stocked up.

But what really struck me about the Dove price increase was this: How does this make sense economically? When you consider all the factors that go into making and selling a bar of soap, the cost of the ingredients must be infinitesimal compared to advertising and promotion, package design, production and packaging equipment, and staff to do all of these things. When the size of the bar is changed, not to mention the number of bars in a package, I assume that many pieces of production and packaging equipment must be retooled. A new package must be designed and produced. All of this must be very expensive.

Perhaps I’m unusual, but I don’t think I’ve ever paid that much attention to the price of soap (aside from a general feeling that everything I buy nowadays is overpriced compared to the days when a loaf of bread was 25¢), and I don’t think I would have noticed even a large price increase on the original package of ten 4-oz. bars, nor would I be likely to buy some other brand. Indeed, if you had asked me, I would have said there was not likely a cheaper equivalent; unlike many other bath and body products, I would not have thought that there was a store-brand bar soap option at Walmart. A search, however, reveals that there actually is an Equate Beauty Bar that “compares to Dove White.” It is priced at $6.56 for eight 4-oz. bars or (elsewhere) $6.74 for six four-ounce bars. In either case, I don’t think Dove can compete with that price no matter what changes it makes. Incidentally, Walmart also advertises twelve 4-oz. bars of Lever 2000 for $6.94 (“price when purchased online”). That’s $0.57 per bar/$0.14 per ounce, so maybe I didn’t get such a great bargain from Amazon after all!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Early-Covid Artifact

To give it its due, our health insurance company (United Healthcare) makes valiant efforts to encourage wellness. They’re constantly calling to make sure we’re doing okay, offering home visits and phone consultations that we decline because we are quite healthy. And from time to time we are surprised by care packages from UHC. During cold and flu season they’ve sent thermometers and lip balm and packets of Emergen-C. Fairly early during the pandemic, they sent a kit that contained a fairly well-fitting cloth mask and a plastic widget for opening doors, pressing buttons, etc.

But the most amusing gift, certainly well-intentioned but now rather risible, was an at-home Covid test. We’re practically drowning in Covid tests. Although we have been fortunate to have had almost no occasion to use them, I keep graciously accepting those offered by the federal government, so the linen closet where we also stockpile medications, bandages, and the like is overflowing. The other day I decided to get them all out and check expiration dates, expecting to be able to discard those that had expired. After checking the FDA site where you can check extended expiration dates, I found that they’re actually all still good, so I returned six iHealth and two BinaxNOW boxes (16 tests in all) to the closet.

At the same time, I got out the much bulkier box we’d received from UHC’s Well At Home. This EverlyWell test retails for $109, and it is a PCR test, so I shouldn’t be making fun of it, but the comparison to the convenient home antigen tests is striking. To begin with, you have to get permission to use it:

The instructions are very thorough, beginning with the contents:

Here are those actual contents.

These are the collection instructions, beginning with watching a video and planning your shipment in advance:

In case you have neglected to follow these instructions, there’s an Important Reminder:

Next come the detailed return instructions:

The instruction to disinfect the mailer (even though you’ve washed your hands) reflects the then-current assumption that the Covid virus might remain on surfaces.

Finally, there is information on what happens after you submit the sample:

The outside packaging (in very, very tiny print) warns: “Must be 18+ to complete a test. We work with a physician network to ensure that your test is reviewed and approved by an independent board-certified physician in your state and that your results are reviewed by a physician before you review them. Check everlywell.com/states to check which states this test is valid in.” This is what you can find at that link:

Everlywell tests are currently available to residents in 49 U.S. states. With the exception of the COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC and COVID-19 rapid antigen tests, we currently do not offer tests to residents of New York state. This is due to the state’s regulations around testing. Samples must be collected and returned from eligible states. We hope to eventually offer all of our tests in all 50 states.

So we could have used this even if we were in New York. Whew! If we’d needed to use this test, I’m sure we would have been grateful to have it, even if there was only one test between the two of us. [I recall now that I was offered the opportunity to get this package (which also includes a dose of Tamiflu); by the time my husband applied, it was too late.] Still, by comparison to the simplicity of the home antigen tests, this seems very complicated!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Mystery of Curtis Sittenfeld

Various characters populate my dreams. Sometimes they have names—just last night a “Mrs. Faghetti” was attempting to make off with the luscious pastries given to me by an admirer—but more often they are friends and family—my husband, my son and daughter (usually at a younger age), my long-dead parents—recognizable only because I know that’s who they are.

Sometimes they are recognizable personalities. The other day, one of the cast was the spit and image of actor Noah Emmerich; I don’t recall what part he played, however. Other times they have the recognizable names of celebrities.

For the most part, all these identifications vanish upon waking. A week or so ago, I had a dream in which several of the characters were well-known personalities, and I marveled at this, but of course when I woke up, I’d lost them all. Except one. For some reason, I remembered the name “Curtis Sittenfeld” and wrote it down on the pad on my nightstand so I’d remember it in the morning.

I had no idea who Curtis Sittenfeld might be—perhaps a character in a novel or TV show, I speculated. But when I googled the name the next morning, I learned that she (she! That was a surprise!) is a writer, author of six novels, none of which I have read. Most are not recent, so I would not have read a review, and I have not seen a review of the new one, Romantic Comedy, to be published in April.

So where did this name come from? I mentioned this mystery to a friend, who pointed out that everything we see and hear is stored in the brain somewhere (I’m not sure this is factually true), but since I can’t imagine any way I would have run across this name, I’m still at a complete loss.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Missing the Helraisers

I freely admit that I am lazy, but the pandemic has definitely made me lazier. In March 2020, when COVID-19 closed down all my weekly activities—ballet classes, Rotary meetings, library book review, and working out at “the gym” (the exercise room of a local church), I wasn’t too dismayed. It was the first real vacation I’d had in years. As my arthritic knees and hips had increasingly constrained my movements and my balance had become precarious, ballet classes had become discouraging; as executive secretary and bulletin editor of my Rotary club, I had to attend every meeting and take notes and then produce the bulletin, in addition to keeping track of attendance and numerous other chores; as program chairman of the book review program, I had to attend and introduce the speakers, all of whom I had previously recruited. Now, suddenly, I had no “formations”—no activities at any set time. I had no responsibilities outside the home and could spend all the time I wanted reading and online. I had already been walking two miles a day on the days I didn’t have ballet or the gym was closed; now I was walking every day—but on my own schedule, earlier on hot days, later on cold ones. It was heaven!

Over the past two years, some of those activities have crept back in. Rotary gradually progressed from Zoom meetings to in-person ones, and all my usual duties resumed (albeit without the usual compensation, as our club is still teetering on the brink of bankruptcy). The book review program was finally able to resume last fall, though recruiting speakers has been even harder than usual because of COVID concerns. I have been to “the gym” a few times but am now more reluctant with the surge of Omicron.

I have always had a certain “morning routine” that I used to be able to get through in time to make it to a 9:00 ballet class. Now it has grown to consume a disproportionate portion of the morning. It starts with recording the events of the previous day in my Day-Timer (the closest thing I have to a diary or journal), then proceeds to 20 minutes or so of trawling through the Microsoft Word forums at the Microsoft Community website, looking for questions to answer. These are fewer and fewer these days as my Word skills become increasingly out-of-date, but, as a forum moderator, I read almost every post in order to mark “Helpful” replies and occasionally to mark one as an answer.

When I feel I have done justice to the forums, I turn to the New York Times Spelling Bee. This is a new activity—something I learned about a year or so ago—and it sometimes take me all day, off and on, to reach the ultimate Queen Bee status. In the past week I have also, along with all the rest of the country, apparently, discovered Wordle, but fortunately that doesn’t take much time!

When I have run out of gas on the Spelling Bee, I have breakfast. I then bring my coffee upstairs and turn to my comic strips. I subscribe to both Comics Kingdom and GoComics and also read “Dilbert” and “The Far Side” on their own sites, along with the “Strip Fix” page at the “For Better or Worse” site, in hopes that Lynn Johnston will have added a comment.

After the comics, I read advice columns in The Washington Post:
Miss Manners, Ask Amy, and Carolyn Hax. I read this primarily for emotional uplift, to make me feel grateful that, whatever problems I may have (mostly medical and technological), they pale in comparison to the issues reported to these “agony aunts.” I am so fortunate to have had a happy home life, congenial in-laws, amazing children and grandchildren, etc. What I feel is too mild to be described as schadenfreude, but it is certainly relief! When I have finished reading the columns, I turn to an online jigsaw puzzle.

Out of all the columns I read, the one I most looked forward to used to be “Hints from Heloise,” from which I got my daily dose of snark. Not from the column itself, I hasten to add, which was depressingly earnest, but from the comments of other WaPo readers. We were a judgmental bunch altogether, with the result that one of the commenters dubbed us “Helraisers,” and the term stuck. Here are just a few of the features we routinely decried:

  • Bizarre and unappealing recipes such as “Chinese Beets” (what makes them Chinese?). We derided the readers (fictional, we came to believe) who wrote in asking that a given recipe be repeated because the writer had lost her copy. Since all the recipes could easily be found with a Google search (many of them published just weeks earlier), we had to assume these were readers who still relied on print newspapers and snail mail.
  • Constant recommendation of microfiber cloths despite the environmental hazard posed by microplastics.
  • Frequent hints relying on baking soda or vinegar—and shilling for pamphlets providing more of the same.
  • Lists of possible uses for bits and bobs that one might otherwise throw away, such as toilet paper cores. This often involved improbable efforts at decoration.
  • Irrelevant questions: We could never understand why anyone would write to a household hints columnist for financial or medical or legal advice, but people did, and Heloise cheerfully provided it—often outdated or just plain wrong.
  • Advice that seemed to assume people were still living in the ’50s (this included the recipes and a general tendency to ignore the Internet).
  • Humorous typos. After a number of comments about poor editing and wrong answers, we began to see editorial comments inserted in the columns occasionally, as it seems WaPo began to take note of our complaints and feel some responsibility for the column.

Newcomers to the column/comments were often baffled by both the mean-spiritedness of the comments and the insider jargon. Examples of the latter were the abbreviations ILA and ESD, along with frequent reference to pool noodles. I think pool noodles were just intrinsically funny, especially when we kept learning so many possible uses for them. “ILA” stood for “I live alone.” I’m not quite sure why that became hilarious, but it originated with some reader question that began, “I live alone, and I need to know…” I have no idea what the original question was, but the phrase “I live alone” started to crop up in the comments, later abbreviated to ILA. ESD was a relatively recent addition that originated with this post:

DEAR READERS: Need a soap dish on the spur of the moment? Here are a few ideas:

  • A small saucer.
  • A seashell.
  • A plastic lid.
  • A flat rock.

That somehow struck us as hilarious, and the “emergency soap dish,” later abbreviated ESD, entered the Helraiser vocabulary.

But now all this, aside from the archives, has mysteriously disappeared. The last Heloise column listed on the WaPo site is the one for December 31, 2021. For the next several days, Helraisers assumed the column was just late. The column never ran on Sunday, and one Helraiser speculated that perhaps Heloise had taken New Year’s Day off as well, adding, “What shall we snark about?” Helraiser rybyteme replied:

How about what the hell am I to do with all these pool noodles when it’s 20°F out and winter storming? Or how I lost my cookbook and have nothing to make an ESD with.

Ask Why2 replied:

It seems like with a surplus of pool noodles and a shortage of ESD’S the answer would be apparent. I think you need a sharp knife.

Well, here we are 20 days later with no new columns and no explanation; worse still, the comments are closed, preventing further speculation. The WaPo landing page remains the same, there is no change at Heloise’s website (the last Pet of the Week—a Saturday feature—was posted on October 30), and Google doesn’t find any news to suggest that the column has been discontinued, and in fact apparently current columns are running elsewhere. I no longer have access to the print or e-edition of our local paper or any other, but the columns seem to be available at https://www.nwitimes.com/.

Even if I could read the columns elsewhere, that would not be a substitute for the comments section in The Washington Post. So here’s my tribute and fond farewell to these Helraisers and many others: chemteacher, Maharinchess of Franistan, Ask Why2, FiveOClockSomewhere, StuckInLodiAgain, MPLS Mama, NewBlueTexan, Mrs Mangelwurzel, NoFunAtParties, Tuba lady, MiamiReader, LittleIggy, PR San Francisco, and SuFuSoDak (I was essentially the only poster who didn’t use a funky screen name). I will miss your daily conviviality and snark!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Murphy’s Law of Yard Work

I suppose everyone is familiar with Murphy’s Law, commonly stated as “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Numerous corollaries and similar “laws” have been proposed—so many that for several years Price/Stern/Sloan published page-a-day “Murphy’s Law” calendars with content from Arthur Bloch. I seem to have had those calendars in several years, judging from the dusty laminated pages tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk. But one of my favorites is one that has been retyped onto an index card, the entry from April 12, 1997:

Westheimer’s Rule

To estimate the time it takes to do a task, estimate the time you think it should take, multiply by two, and change the unit of measure to the next highest unit. Thus we allocate two days for a one-hour task.

This rule was proven on a couple of days in early August. I’d been working for some time at the back of the Old Library property, but I had noticed that a lot of tall weeds had grown up between the stones in the dry-stone retaining wall in front. So I thought I’d spend a few minutes—maybe half an hour—pulling them up. If I’d known I’d end up spending over six hours weeding, raking, and sweeping the wall and sidewalk, I might have saved the project for another day. And in fact another day was required to finish the job, as I had finished the long part of the wall south of the library entrance but hadn’t touched the shorter portion north of it. I had figured on 1–2 hours for that, and it took 3½. So in the last analysis the original half-hour job took two days!

After the passage of several weeks, the weeds were back—not as many or as tall, but still needing attention. As mentioned in my previous post, I’d tried spraying them with vinegar. This had no noticeable effect. Now, however, armed with a new weapon—the edger, I figured I could do at least part of the job without manual labor. This is where Murphy’s Law comes in, I guess, as I wasted a lot of time trying to get the edger to do what it was supposed to do. I finally realized that it had run out of string. I had a backup spool, but I was a little leery of replacing it without reference to the book of instructions (calling it a “book of instructions” is generous, since it’s just one big folded sheet with a lot of line drawings accompanied by cryptic explanations in several languages). As it turns out, the job is dead simple and almost impossible to mess up, but I managed to do so, so that slowed me down for a while longer.

And then the wheels kept falling off. The wheels can be attached in any of three ways, one for edging and two for using the trimmer as a “mini mower.” My husband and I struggled with the “instructions” to finally figure out all three variants and concluded that it would never be worth the trouble to move them from the edger position. (In fact, only once have I attempted the task of converting the edger to a trimmer and back, and that was challenge enough.) Even though I knew, in principle, how the wheels were supposed to go on, it took me forever to actually do it properly—and then they fell off again. Apparently a loose screw in the bracket they slide onto (now fixed).

As previously documented, I have a historical difficulty in “Getting to Job 1,” and yesterday was no exception. By the time I’d amused myself by edging most of the street side of the sidewalk and raking leaves down from the retaining wall and the grass above it, then sweeping and gathering up all this debris. I had little time left to attack the actual planned weeding. But I had accomplished the satisfying task of edging along the top of the wall, where for some distance there is actually a concrete “curb.” So the wall already looks a lot neater even without weeding, which I’ll get to on my next visit, when I hope it will be cooler. I’d gotten used to working in the shade, and a lot of my work had been on hands and knees (pulling up camphor and smilax roots). Yesterday, working much of the time in full sun, standing up, I remembered why my earlier workdays had left me so totally exhausted!

The one small stretch of wall that I actually weeded

The sidewalk edged on both sides

Part of the “curb” at the top of the wall

A parting shot of the library entrance, where I’d swept all the leaves off the steps

Posted in Yard Work | Leave a comment

Return to Yard Work

On Monday, October 11, I returned to work at the Old Library for the first time since September 13. The reason for my absence was simple: on September 16 and again on September 30, I had cataract surgery, first on my left eye, then the right. After the surgery, I was not supposed to bend from the waist or lift heavy objects, which pretty much precluded any of the work I’d been doing. This prohibition was in effect for only two days after each surgery, but I was also having to put drops in my eyes three times a day, and my husband was trying to treat me like an invalid, and it seemed like all I wanted to do was nap, so I resigned myself to taking a break.

I won’t pretend that this enforced leisure wasn’t welcome. I’d gotten kind of burnt out on the work I was doing in the back, having concluded that camphor and smilax are just entirely ineradicable (at least with hand tools), and I rather enjoyed just lying around reading, though that in itself was a new adventure since I now have to put on reading glasses to read instead of taking off my distance glasses!

So it took a bit of heavy persuasion to psych myself up for going back, but I had an extra inducement: in September, for my birthday, my husband had given me (at my request, I hasten to note) a battery-powered string trimmer/edger. I had noticed on my daily walks that while I had been concentrating on the back of the property, the ground cover next to the sidewalks had taken advantage of my absence and inattention to stretch out to cover the walks, as shown in the Before photos below.

Front walk before

Side walk before (I think this was after the first edging pass but before raking)

I am far from becoming an expert at using the edger, but, having already butchered all the edges in our yard, I thought I’d take the device up to the library, where any change is an improvement! What a joy that proved to be! It is incredible how much easier it is to rake a walk when it has been edged first because the vines do not grab the rake. I did have to go back over some stretches several times to completely sever the vines, but it was still much more efficient than trying to use shears or rip them out by hand.

Raking was also much more efficient. Raking pine straw is always satisfying because it clumps together and is easy to pick up in a bundle. But that couldn’t hold a candle to the satisfaction of stretching out the rake to grab some pine straw and have a yard-long mat of tangled vines and pine straw come all at once! Picking it up to put in the tub was just the same: the hard part was not picking up an entire pile in one bunch. The photo below shows some of the piles of debris before they were picked up.

I had intended to make a short day of it, but of course one thing kept leading to another, and I ended up edging parts of the sidewalk along Summit and Magnolia as well. I also took time to scrape a large quantity of moss off the steps down to the curb. And I raked and swept part of the handicapped-access ramp up to the front entrance (not pictured).

Front walk after

Side walk after

Front sidewalk after

Final debris pile ready for pickup (it was collected Wednesday)

I had intended to get back to work on the stone retaining walls as well, but that will be a task for another day (tomorrow). I did experiment with spraying some of the weeds with vinegar to kill them, and I will be interested to learn whether this “helpful household hint” actually has any validity. Even if the weeds are dead, I’ll still have to pull them out, but perhaps they’ll come more easily.

Posted in Yard Work | Leave a comment

Working with Critters

When you start digging in dirt, it’s no surprise to encounter subterranean creatures. When I started work on the north side of the Old Library property, I encountered quite a few animalcules that I assumed were centipedes or millipedes, but I didn’t know which. Googling “centipede vs. millipede” turned up several sites happy to enlighten me. This page explains it succinctly:

While centipedes have one pair of legs on every body segment, millipedes have two pairs of legs per segment, Live Science reports. The position of their legs is probably the easiest way to visually distinguish them from one another. Centipedes have legs that point away from their bodies, while millipede legs point down at the ground. Centipede legs are also typically longer than those of a millipede.

Beyond their appearance, you can also tell a centipede from a millipede by their behavior. If you uncover an unidentified many-legged creature under a log or pile of leaves and it scatters away, that would be a centipede, according to Live Science. If it rolls up into a ball and remains still, it’s a millipede.

When the animal is in motion (which they seem always to be), it’s impossible to tell how the legs are paired, so I look at what direction they point. If further in doubt, I put a finger in the animal’s path to see whether it will curl up. (I am careful to do this only when wearing gloves: a centipede bite can reportedly be as bad as a bee sting.)

In addition to these arthropods, when I was working around smilax roots I usually found dozens of tiny snails, all dead as far as I could tell (or if not dead, at least doing a very convincing job of playing possum). At least I thought they were snails; later I wondered if they might have been rolled-up millipedes, so when I encountered them again, I looked more closely: definitely snails!

On the south side of the property, I still see centipedes and millipedes but also many more earthworms. I’ve found out a little about earthworms as well but still have a lot more to learn. I haven’t paid close enough attention to them to try to identify specific species, but this would be interesting. According to the USDA, earthworms “provide channels for root growth,” so I suppose it’s no surprise to find them around the camphor roots I am pulling up. And I suppose I’m seeing just the tip of the iceberg, as the USDA site says that a square yard of temperate woodlands (a good description of the Old Library site) will have 100–500 earthworms.

I try to be considerate and inconvenience the worms as little as possible, and for the most part they just phlegmatically glide away, though perhaps with a justifiable air of reproach (“What? Not this again!). Some, however, leap frantically into elaborate contortions; there is something called a “jumping worm,” so perhaps they are this type. One day I kept turning up so many worms at once that I just started picking them up and dropping them in an already-cleared area where they would presumably be safe. I don’t suppose the worm’s tiny brain is capable of much thought, but if it were, I wonder what it would have thought about being abducted by aliens and then dropped into an arena full of other earthworms!

Earthworms pose even less threat than centipedes, but the other day I got into an ant bed, and I learned the hard way that the ant’s fight-or-flight reflex is rather different from an earthworm’s. At least I assume it was an ant that bit me on the top of my thigh. It was quite a shock, and I was surprised to feel the sting and then chills running all the way up to my eyebrows! No permanent harm was done—I can’t even see where the bite was—but I was a bit more cautious afterward to avoid the areas where I had disturbed ants.

Nothing underground, however, is anywhere near as bothersome as the insects above it. Although the only exposed parts of my body are my face, ears, and neck, and those are liberally coated with insect repellent, I am still plagued by gnats and mosquitoes buzzing around. My father used to claim that a hat would discourage gnats. That may be true of a broad-brimmed hat, but a ball cap just doesn’t get it, and I am constantly waving around my head and saying, “Go away!” As if that would do any good!

Posted in Yard Work | 1 Comment

Unveiling the Author

If you’ve read the “About” page at this site, you know a little about me, and my profile picture (somewhat out of date) is all over the Internet, but my new friend artist Rachael Ellzey, who lives next door to the Old Library and has taken an interest in my work, thought I should include a photo of myself, preferably in my yardwork uniform, somewhere on the blog. So I invited her to snap some shots, and here’s one of the results.

The photos were taken in the back (southeast) corner of the property, where camphor and especially sparkleberry have been allowed to run wild, creating a rather byzantine background! (It was actually a lot more tangled before I cut out some of the thick vines that were in my way.)

Rachael had been intrigued by my posts about “buried treasure” on the property and brought out a strange object she had found in her yard. She thought it might be some kind of bone, but in retrospect we decided it was too light to be bone, and the exposed cell structure must surely be vegetative rather than animal. She plans to incorporate it into a planting, and it should make a unique centerpiece.

We welcome guesses as to its origin!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

More Buried Treasure

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the odder things I’ve discovered while working on the site of the Old Library. Needless to say, I have not stopped finding such things. In addition to the usual glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans, candy and gum wrappers, plastic cups and flowerpots, I’ve found a two-foot length of pipe embedded in concrete (apparently at one time some sort of boundary marker or fencepost), two baseballs without covers (the covers, each in two separate pieces, were found nearby), a small wire rack of indeterminate purpose, and other odd bits of metal (and that’s not even counting the large pieces of hogwire fencing, overgrown with vines, standing up in one copse).

Two of the more intriguing finds, however, are shown below. Working in the area south of the library building, I kept finding fragments of some white material that I took to be ceramic tile of some sort. I kept collecting the pieces and eventually brought them home, thinking it might be interesting to try to reassemble them, like an archaeologist reconstructing a broken pot. The jigsaw below shows what I managed to construct after I’d washed the pieces and laid them out. On closer inspection, they proved to be part of a piece of asbestos siding, grooved to look like woodgrain. It is still a bit of a mystery where they came from, however, as the exterior of the library is stucco.

The second item is even more mysterious, as it’s not even clear what it’s made of. It has a sort of grain and is presumably wooden or at least vegetative (a section of thick vine, for example), but it must surely have been intentionally shaped. The entire thing is about 5¼″ long, and the first 4″ or so are shiny, as if coated with some kind of lacquer. The pointed part is rough, as if it might have been sanded into shape. It is not perfectly cylindrical or straight, again arguing for a natural origin, and the bottom, though apparently cut with a saw, is also not straight or smooth. I can’t imagine where the object might have come from or what it is meant to be.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment