This is an account of news, discoveries and opinions of our family

and friends.

Where an outfit on Ocean Isle Beach, N.C. gets trout I don't know, but they do and they sell caviar from the roe that is incredible!


Purists may say it's not as good as this Beluga on the right

But I say they're nuts. These golden red nuggets of flavor zing and crunch

bursts of joy in your mouth. They're as American as the clear cold streams

where they grew and, at $65 a pound, they're guilt-free feasting compared

to $1575 a pound for roe poached from the Caspian by a Russian mafioso

or a Kazakh from Kazakhstan.


At the prices, order extra and use  what you don't spoon up to bribe a zoning commissioner or somebody. They'll think it cost way more than it did, so it's a cheap way to buy a favor.



Bear's a little grainy because he was photographed in very dim light and I had to paintshop him. (Poor man's version of photoshop.

Friendly looking and cute, but don't fool with Ursus Americanus. They're big, armed with fierce claws and have maimed and even killed people. The only damage they've done locally so far is to wreck bird feeders and get in garbage cans. We have other dangerous critters here:


Timber rattler. He and copperheads are the only poisonous snakes around this part of North Western Virginia. The rattlers don't just look mean, they look downright mad!

We do have some cheerful fauna:


Agaveted Assault!                                                  




The temp hit 80 degrees F. today here in the woods of Northern Virginia and we broke out the first bottle of Tequila of the year. It was a chilling reality that it had cost us, last week about $25 for a liter and a half. Almost twice as much as a decent Bourbon.

It supposedly is a supply and demand thing: tequila got so trendy, so fast, in the USA that the plantations of agave cactus, from which Tequila is made, were overwhelmed by the demand.

Here's a tip:

Soften limes in microwave before juicing. One minute on max for four. Thirty seconds on max for two. If they're too hot to handle, dip 'em in cold water for a little. The way we drink tequila: fill 8 0z. glass with packed shaved ice (a Cuisinart gives instant snow from ice cubes) two oz. lime juice, two oz. tequila and a couple of shakes of Angostura, swizzle, and down the hatch!


Tubesteak Roxy

This fox came here with an appetite

And into the hotdog she did bite,

Thinking "tubesteak is my delight,

"That's why I reach this place-oh, place oh ..."


Vanity kick

This is a vanity in progress. That's the kick space for a new bathroom vanity. I make my cabinets as separate boxes. They get nailed and screwed together and get a face frame that is really a subframe that acts as a stop for the doors. The final frame is nailed up last. The middle of the kick will get a box that holds an undermount stainless steel sink. It's unusual in that it has an overflow. I think a bathroom sink without an overflow is nuts.


Here's the sink:

And here's the kickspace as built:

We'll screw this down temporarily and tile up to it. I keep the thinset mixed and cut the tile and Mary lays in and grouts it. When the tile is firmly set we'll take the kick back to the shop and built the boxes that make the rest of the vanity.

Then the kick goes in permanently, the boxes get assembled, the sink box with doors and two slender side boxes with drawers on full-extension-plus-an-inch slides. should take about a month. We're poky and do lots of other stuff. The first top will be a formica temporary top. The permanent top will be poured concrete. We've never done concrete tops before so we have to practice. The practice pieces will be little 24" X 24" slabs that will wind up as ste4eping stones in the yard.

The final top will weigh a little over a ton so we'll need some neighbors to help install it.

This probably isn't your idea of what to do in retirement but making furniture and related projects is to us what golf and sailing are to other old geezers and geezettes.

Groin and Bare It

Full Frontal Male Groin Nudity

Ten years ago, in 1996, one Doctor Hammack removed the lower half of my aorta and the tops of the femoral arteries that provide the blood for my leg muscles, and replaced them with an upside-down "y" of spun Dacron.. A throbbing protrusion remained, and not the sort you're thinking of, either. It was a "pseudo-aneurysm," a leakage of blood into a pocket that looked sort of like what you see above, but bigger, and as I say, throbbing; throbbing to the beat of my heart because blood pulsed through it.

A local doctor declined to operate on me. Fatalities -- or "negative patient outcomes -- screw up your resume, and, potentially, your revenue if, as a doctor, you lose your patience (sp?)

But Dr. John Kern, a brilliant young vascular surgeon at the University of Virginia medical center, told me "I can fix that." And he did.

A residue was the lump above, just to the side of my Ididn'tsaythat. A year ago, Dr. Kern's, Intern-resident-whatever, talked with some enthusiasm about removing the lump knifely. Kern said, as I remember it, let's see if it gets bigger. It didn't. I think it got a little smaller. Here's the graph and the new tests.


What it means, the docs say, is that I'm OK. They think something else will kill me. and something else will, more'n likely, kill YOU!

On that cheerful note, good evening.

April 9, 2006

I found this in some old family papers. Nicholas Cobbs became Episcopal Bishop of Alabama in 1844. He appears to have been from Bedford, Virginia, where my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Breckenridge Bolling, came from.

The American Colonization Society was founded in 1816 with the goal of removing African-Americans from America to what became LIberia.

I'd like to know if I am kin to Cobbs.

This membership cost somebody $30, with was a considerable amount in 1840; more than $500 by some calculations -- and much more than that by my reckoning. A professor at the University of North Carolina made about $1,250 in 1840 (see:,) and, since teachers at UNC today make about $75,000 (see: a multiplier of 60 seems appropriate, so $30 in 1840 would be worth close to $2,000 today.

Racial prejudice certainly existed in America in 1840 -- as indeed it does today and will for centuries or millennia or indeed forever -- but not many people who wanted the black folks out of here put their money where their mouths were. The Colonization society was a failure.

Washington DC's 14th and T Streets are like a day at the beach compared to the best of days in Monrovia.




Spring: when Winter and Summer

Fight to see who goes next

Here are some of the first open bluebells of April, 2006 on Calmes Neck in Clarke County, Virginia

Spring in Ireland is when young folks' fancy turns to:

What Irishmen (and women)

wish Irishmen had


This stone was  erected in Ireland in the megalithic era.

Some erection, eh?

It was discovered by Sean and Mac in what would come to be known as BC 1,503.

A startlingly clever man who had learned to write recorded their discovery and decision.

Sean: 'Ere naow! What's is?"

Mac: "It's a rock."

Sean: "Aye, but it's of a shape ...?"

Mac: "Aye. Shape of that."


Stones like this are hardly unusual in Celtic areas




We got this tree in 1972. It was seven feet tall then so it's probably about eighty years old. It lived in the kitchen under a skylight but went out on the deck behind the kitchen in the tropical heat of the Alexandria summers. It must be four times as big now as it was back in 2000.

Here it is in the kitchen at 1114 Prince Street in Old Town in the year 2000. This year the kids didn't come and we decided that rather than going to the effort of getting a tree from the nice tree farm out here we sometimes go to we figured we'd just string some lights around Ficcy, the Ficus Benjamina, and make him the Christmas tree, as he has been several times before


Our Christmas Card for 2005

P. 1

It's kind of blurry because it's a bunch of screenshots, but it conveys our meaning.


Oh, Shenandoah, you're so deceivin'...


Far away, you rollin' river!

Oh, Shenandoah, you floods cause grievin'.


Away .. we're bound AWAY, cross the wide Missouri..

A day and a half of rain. Would God we'd a had it midsummer, stead of drought. This is just a pretty flood.

The big ones terrify you even if you've built as high as we have, a hundred feet or more above the hundred-year-flood plain.

The river is a pleasant neighbor, a good companion, a lover when you enter her, and a killer when storms engorge her girth.



Thanksgiving in a power loss, Thursday, November 24, 2005

We gave thanks on this windy day for something old in our cottage:

Because a windstorm cut our power. High winds do, out here, and we had gusts of about 40 MPH. So we were thankful, too, for something new:

That's a 15KW, 100 AMP generator that kicked on when the grid went down. Don't know if we'll eat boiled potroast or fried cornedbeef hash and eggs, but we'll eat and stay warm and get up crack of dawn, that's amoré.

November 20, 2005


Blowin' in the wind


How many leaves must our Mary blow

Before she can call her yard clear?

Yes, ‘n how many hours must her blower roar

Before it can go from from her hand?

Yes, ‘n how many leaves have to just disappear

Before she has done what she’s planned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ cross the ground.

The answer is blowin’ all around.



Soon, she'll have more leaves to blow


Sunday, Nov. 13, 2005

The golden days of Autumn, saddest of the year.



A little too warm for whiskey,


A Little too cold for beer.



More pretty leaves in our woods


Below, the musings of Roxy, whom we feed on the deck most days.

Roxy lives!


For several years we have been buying Alpo and saving bones for pet foxes. Our current fox is "Roxy." Sometimes "Foxy Roxy." We think she's a she, though it's hard for anybody but foxes to tell.

The other morning when we set out on our "constitutional" walk we saw a pretty fox not far from the culvert where "our" foxes tend to make their dens. It was breathing raggedly and its eyes were blinking but we were only a few feet from it and it should have run away. Mary ran back to the house and called the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center and left an urgent message on their answering machine. We wiped tears away and continued walking on the dirt road. When we got back home we called the center again, this time getting its director on the phone.

BRWC takes in wounded wildlife, heals it when possible, and releases it back into the wild. It's in a nearby house on a  conservation trust property. It has wing-damaged ducks in the bathtub, backyard cages with hawks, coons, possums and a flying squirrel in various stages of disrepair and several damaged hawks and owls in the bedroom of director Peggy Coontz. (She's sleeping in the living room.)

Peggy came over when we called and by the time she got here, the pretty fox had died. She hauled the creature away from its deathbed and inspected it and found that it died of a head wound, probably from a car hit. She found, too, that it was male. It had three black feet and a white left rear foot.


No fox came for dinner that evening, but the next day this fine fox appeared on our deck:

Her left back foot is black as earlier pictures show that Roxy's was.

We think our friend has never left and not been hurt. We're sorry for the slain fox. Maybe we shouldn't form friendships for wild animals, but the need for humans to do so goes back to when people all lived in caves and made friendships and partnerships with wolves.

August 22, 2005

Holey Matrimony!


In the picture above, woodworker extraordinary Mary demonstrates why you should NEVER nail the  back of a bookcase to one of its sides BEFORE  you drill the holes for the shelf supports.

Her husband, all excited because he had cut the pieces for one of three sections of a bookcase, stupidly decided to assemble. Luckily Mary stopped Pye after he nailed and woodscrewed one side to the back. Unchecked, he would have attached the other side and the top 


July 5,

I call this picture "Burquette and Hatguy." Son Ed sent us the finery so he wouldn't miss Afghanistan so much when he comes home from the wars this summer.

He also sent us the neat Afghan rug shown below.

The rug is from Qhunduz, in Northern Afghanistan, up near Uzbekistan, as you can see in the map below. Qhunduz or Kunduz is the blue province in the upper middle of the map.

The area where the rug was hand-woven is deathly poor, ravaged by twenty years of recent war. It has been the object of conquest since Alexander the great fought there. It was there that America gave gold and guns to the Taliban and Al Qaeda to fight the Russian invaders. It was there that America killed Taliban warriors and produced "collateral damage" of dead civilians to prosecute a "war against terrorism."

The villagers who wove that rug would have been lucky to get ten percent of what the ultimate consumer, our son, paid.

If I had my way, I'd dispatch experts on farm collectives in, say, Minnesota and Wisconsin to teach the Afghan weavers to form collectives to control the marketing of these glorious rugs. That could undercut the ugly, machine-woven Chinese, Indian, Turkish and Iranian rugs that dominate the trade today. It would bring wealth, medical care and education to a region poor in most resources but rich in people. People could make more weaving even than growing poppies. Peasant farmers don't make much on poppies. The people they sell to do. Maybe the poppy growers need a collective. What else are cartels for?

That really WOULD fight terrorism. Idle hands are Quaeda's workshop. If money began to flow to the villages, enterprises would spring up. Jobs would be created. Rugs would provide the seed money for a capitalist way of life. We'd export Springsteen and P. Diddy concerts. You'll never convince me that Osama can outdraw P. Diddy.

Afghan Rap

I want those girls 'fore I get to heaven.

Jay Z's better than AK-47

Don't tell ME Quaeda knows best

Don't stick me in no dynamite vest.

Wham, bam, gimme Uncle Sam!

Just loves my fav-oh-rit Uncle Sam.

I ain't dissin' dat old Islam

But I wants to eat some chitlins and ham.

I'm fed up to here with kebab lamb.

Sick of bein' bossed by a crazy Swami

Gonna feed my girl some hard salami!

Come on girl, make me a happy fella

Grab a hold of the mortadella!

July 1, 2005

Cola straight from the can is OK on a thirsty Virginia summer day, but it's better with ice in a dimple glass like this. It's better yet if the ice is frozen lime juice as this is.

Limes are cheap now. You can get five pounds of them in plastic mesh bags for three dollars. In the off-season they're thirty-five cents apiece. They add zing to just about any soft drink, and to Tom Collinses and other not-so-soft drinks. Mary doesn't have wrist arthritis and she squeezed two ice cube trays full of lime juice manually.

I want an electric citrus juicer. Froogle shows a bunch of them. I haven't yet found a video that shows how they work. You'd think juicer makers would have videos.




April 23, 2005


Redbuds near us in April 2005 remind me to make Chili

It takes a tough man to make a tender chili

My fellow workers at the late, lamented United Press International or UPI often committed chili .. and often with ground beef!

That is no way to cook chili! (Except for Cincinnati three-way chili, which is a sweet, cinnamon-flavored chili that actually SHOULD be made with ground beef and is a worthy rival to the dish I'm about to describe.)

A good chili should start with beef shanks. Since I'm not Jewish, I use about a one to three ratio of pork shoulder with all the pork fat still attached. That fat offsets the leanness of the shanks, although the gelatinous quality of the meat makes it very tender when it is long-cooked.

The meat should be cut into large bite-sized chunks and seared in bacon fat. before you put any liquid in, throw chili powder and some jalapeños in the (very BIG) pot, add lots of chopped (not squeezed) garlic, cumin, dried oregano and dried basil. Onion will disappear but if you don't use any you'll have to put in sugar or molasses. I usually put in a little of all of the above.

You can get a similar result using all beef and olive or other vegetable oils, but I'd intensify the garlic and spices a little

Add enough masa harina to make a rough roux (Louisianans would shudder!) with the bacon fat and some rendered pork shoulder fat. If you haven't already got the beef shank bones in, now's when you should put them in. The bones will help to give the chili a shiny, gelatinous sheen.

When the roux starts to color, put in a handful of loosely crushed bay leaves. Put 'em in a little cheesecloth sack so people don't have to pick them out of their mouth or spit them out. Start adding liquid. I like to use home-brewed very dark, thick, high-alcohol, heavy-on-the-hops beer. I put in very strong coffee and usually use instant. People argue about tomatoes-vs.-no-tomatoes. I like drained canned Roma tomatoes.

Then let the chili barely simmer, covered, for at least eight hours. Turn off the heat when it's bourbon time. Put in some bourbon. If you use scotch and there's a genuwine chili head around, you're at risk of sudden death from gunshot wounds.

Let the chili stand all night. Start it back up before breakfast and it'll be good by supper time. An hour or so before serving take out the shank bones, extract the marrow and chop it up fine and stir it vigorously in the pot.

DO NOT PUT BEANS IN THE CHILI!!! A side of beans is good -- and try to make them interesting beans, Pintos or heirlooms. They all taste pretty much the same but fancy beans are pretty. They help the presentation, as the good chili cooks say in Arkansas, where the pork should be from a razorback. The salad should be coleslaw. Provide sour sourdough bread for dipping. Or La Brea baguettes.

For garnish, chopped onions brined for three or four hours in salt and vinegar (no water) and rinsed lightly, and grated very sharp cheddar. I prefer Vermont cheddar but there's some fine New York cheddar and I have had Wisconsin cheddar that was edible. There is probably some wonderful California cheddar, California is the premier milk state, you know, but I know nothing about California cheese.

The best chili I have ever had was suspended from a tripod over a very smoky hickory fire in a three-legged fat round cast-iron pot big enough for a small missionary. One of these days I'd like to get such a pot.

(A colorful use of such a pot is to fill it from the fat rendered from cooking a whole pig in a ten-foot long wood-fired barbecue so that kids can cook hush puppies in them. I think people lose their taste for hush puppies when they reach puberty, but it sure is fun to watch kids feed the fire under the pot and cook the balls of cornmeal dough, stirring the bubbling oil and greasing up their hands and face and clothes while they sting their fingers on the hot hush-puppies and dip them into the barbecue sauce on the slabs of pork.)

To drink with the chili: cold and preferably home-made beer to wash down straight shots of Tennessee whiskey or good bourbon on the rocks. Do not drink bourbon from Illinois. In fact, do not drink anything from Illinois unless you're a scotch drinker, in which case drink all the Illinois Scotch you can hold. Illinois Scotch is just as good as Scotch from Loch Ness or wherever they make the stuff in Scotland. Lord knows, it couldn't be any worse.

The longer you keep chili around, within limits, the better it gets. It makes a wonderful breakfast. It freezes well, too. A frozen tub of chili and a microwave oven and you got yourself some fancy fast food.





April 22, 2005

Passover bread mustn't rise but on this holiday season other things will: Viagra is kosher for Passover. Yummy Seders are great, but after the seder comes the sack and former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordecai Eliahu has provided for special treats there too in this season. Viagra had been denied Kosher for Passover status on grounds that its coating had been in contact with hametz or leavening ingredients, but The Jerusalem Post says:


>(Eliahu said that) men who need Viagra can (take
>it) if they purchase before the holiday special
>empty capsules made from kosher gelatin,
>insert the blue pill into the capsule and
>swallow it. (Pfizer) explained that since
>the capsule is not in direct contact with the
>body, it is permissible to swallow it on


This interpretation is pretty hard to swallow since the pill is absorbed by the stomach lining -- part of the body, no? -- and the walls of the intestines -- body parts last I heard -- and enters the bloodstream, without which you're nobody.

Here's how I would rise to the occasion about this penetrating issue. I would rule that:

Viagra is kosher for Passover because sex is necessary for procreation and procreation is necessary for the preservation of life. I mean, look what happened to the Shakers: the only way to create new Shakers is by conversion, and I can tell you from personal experience that sex is more fun than proselytization (although sometimes, oddly, the two can go together:

(I will bet that I am one of the few people ever expelled from a religious school for proselytizing. I went to Notre Dame International School for Boys in Rome, Italy, not far from the Vatican, in this imposing building:                                                                                                                                                       


(It was run by Holy Cross Brothers, the same Monastic order that runs Notre Dame  University in Indiana.  It was boys only. It had a tradition of religious tolerance and, as an Episcopalian, I was allowed to attend the non-denominational protestant church for Americans in Rome. After Church I attended Young People's Fellowship League, which involved fellowship with girls. When I got back to schools I bragged about the pretty girls I seen and especially one who'd become my sweetie. Soon some of the Catholic boys decided they needed the broadening religious experience of a non-denomination church for Americans and they started going with me on Sundays.


After about a month of that, the Headmaster called me in and said I was being a bad influence and was being expelled. I heard later that there were no further trips to the church where Notre Dame boys could meet girls.)


And now I offer a little song for the Passover holiday, which begins this weekend. This is to the tune of  "A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down."

(In the following, the phrase Vyag'ra pill is a triplet, sung with a rat-ta-tat rhythm.)

I'd like to dedicate this song to Rabbi Mordecai Eliahu.

A Kosher Bit of Gelatin Helps the Viagra Pill Go Down

For ev'ry child you would create
There's something that you must get straight.
There's something that just has to rise.
So that when you want a child
You'll get a little wild ...
You'll shriek! With glee!
And you'll sing happilee ...

That a ...

Kosher bit of gelatin makes the Vyag'ra-pill go down
The Vyag'ra-pill go dow-wown
The Vyag'ra-pill go down.
Just a kosher bit of gelatin makes the Vyag'ra-pill go down
And makes Mr. Johnson rise!

When little birdie's in your yard
I fear it will be very hard
For him to find a happy nest.
But since birdie is so cute
He'll get right to the root
And down, he'll go
Into a nest, ho ho!

Because the ..

Kosher bit of gelatin made his Vyag'ra-pill go down
His Vyag'ra-pill go dow-wown
His Vyag'ra-pill go down.
Just a kosher bit of gelatin made his Vyag'ra-pill go down
And made happy Harry rise!






February, 2005

Our son arrives in Afghanistan

A view from his new home:

It is a measure of the condition of the world that we heard of Maj. Ed's posting to Afghanistan with relief. Afghanistan's not exactly a comfortable assignment but it's better than having him sent back to Iraq.


His first letter to us from the shadow of the Hindu Kush:


Ma & Da,

I have finally arrived in Bagram, Afghanistan.  I took a flight out of Ramstein in Germany last night and landed 8 hours later in Bagram.  Our plane, C-17, was refueled enroute.  Although I couldn't see anything (not very many windows in the cargo compartment), it was strange.  I could feel the plane slowing and speeding up trying catch up to the fuel tanker.  I wish I could have seen it but it was in the middle of the night over god knows what country!

I landed this morning at about 7am local time (we are 3.5 hours ahead of Germany time).  Mountains completely surround the base and are covered with snow.  I'm not sure of the temperature at the moment but it isn't bad - maybe upper 30's but it is VERY windy.  I think the weather will get better in March.

I'm working in an office container and have a staff of about 13 people.  They don't really work for me - I'm really just the new guy.  My official title will be Resident Engineer - I hope I can learn soon what that means! I am the only military guy and it is strange.  I am just going to try to help out and do my best for the next 120 days.  The task is to manage several LARGE construction projects on the base and ensure that the contractors don't get away with bloody murder.  Most of the military units are getting ready to rotate out and there is a lot of confusion about who does what.

I have a wooden hut that I share with two other guys.  It is better living conditions than I had in Iraq so I can't complain.

I just need to get some sleep tonight.  I didn't get any on the plane last night.





January 17, 2005


The deck was dusted with snow this morning.


I woke this morning and saw snow.

The world was dusted with new snow.

The birds had marked it with their feet

But it was still a joyful snow.


The snow was soft and cold and neat.

It crunched and crinkled ‘neath my feet.

I skimmed a handful off to eat,

Then off to work I had to go.


(I wonder if linguists will discover that cuneiform writing was invented by birds and merely copied by Sumerians. If I had to translate the above I would say that it represents a conversation between a titmouse and a goldfinch: Titmouse: I am so sick of black oil sunflower seed! Goldfinch: Quit eating it then. TM: Nobody likes a smartmouth finch!)



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