Mr. Birmingham poses a question…

Here I go, off onto another wild goose chase occasioned by a simple question posed on another website, John Birmingham’s cheeseburger

He was doing a mini-review of a Netflix series called “The Liberator.”

Here was his question:

He was “exploring why men would fight for a country that wouldn’t extend them the basic courtesies, let alone the same legal rights as their white officers and squad mates.”

It occurred to me that I might have some extra insight into this question, having grown up somewhat mixed, and definitely military.

The photo above is all that remains of my uncle Dick, who was killed in Korea a few weeks before his eighteenth birthday.

The woman below was his Grandma.

She was born on a reservation in the 1870’s in Minnesota, shortly after the greatest one-day execution in US history, when 38 men from her tribe were hung for rebellion.

Surely she heard something about this growing up. How could you not? You would think that she would never have a single thing to do with the US Army or government; but this was not so.

At the tail-end of the Indian Wars, along came a blue-coated soldier. The details are vague, but he and Great-Grandma got along fairly well and when he finally got out of the Army they had a son.

The Indian Census of 1910 was coming, and Oatszela, Matilda, didn’t want her son to be officially marked down as a “native.”

So they moved. Back to Ohio where her ex-soldier man came from, to a place where no-one would recognize them.

Of course, you can tell all of the stories you want, but there are some things you just can’t hide. Such as an imperfectly white shade of skin. “Matilda” could squawk all she wanted to about being “French,” but did anyone believe her?

No. Her kids tried the same game, but it didn’t matter. My Grandpa got in trouble with the law (his first offense? He stabbed a fellow with a pitchfork while attempting to steal raccoon skins.) and stayed that way for a while. Eventually he ended up in a Wild West show as a horse handler.

Up until the Second World War, it would be fair to say that my Grandpa had a pretty tough time- yeah, it would be easy to blame all of it bigots and jerks but part of it was some pretty poor decision making on his part, too.

But the Army didn’t care that he was a jail-bird. Not during the war. He and his brother answered the call. His brother Russell was an infantry NCO and a hard-bitten man; his war ended at the doorstep to Japan. Luzon, 1945.

My Grandpa? He started as a private and finished that way. The A-bomb saved him from Operation Downfall, 1945.

What I’d like to point out is that both men were willing despite their backgrounds. Neither cared about the decidedly unfavorable aspects that the US Army had played in their ancestor’s lives.

When the time came, my Grandpa allowed the false enlistment of his oldest son, Dick, who left for service with the 3rd Infantry at the age of 15 (!).

Grandpa isn’t around to ask, but I have the idea that allowing his son to follow the warrior’s path was an acceptable solution for a difficult relationship.

Dick’s luck ran out in Korea. He never came home.

The years went by, the stories were told and re-told. Some left for Vietnam, the Gulf, Africa, Europe, Asia, to all corners of the globe. Where America stood, we went. Where America fought, we fought.

Hearing my elders talk as a kid I had the idea that yeah, we had some hard times; prosperity didn’t truly come until around when I was born, the 1970’s.

No silver spoons here; just dozens of flat, brass, complimentary VA markers.

So let me return to the original question- why? Why would you do it? Why would you risk your life in someone else’s war?

First, let me say that none of us ever deserved the title “sucker.” I don’t think a damn one of us was fooled into service. I think it is a real thing, from time out of mind, that when the tribe said “you must fight,” that we fought. There’s not really more to it than that.

Second, my family always had a strong oral tradition, a real sense of family and an unbroken line of ancestors, many of whom were soldiers. Long-time readers may have noticed that I speak of Uncle Dick quite a lot. There’s a reason for that! His death went off like an A-Bomb in the family; he was mentioned quite a lot when I was a boy.

A secret, and this will come off a bit odd. As I fought through those windy, craggy valleys I always had a feeling I was watched. That my actions were judged. By whom? A long line of ancestors, starting with Dick.

Crazy? Illogical? A construct of a mind under extreme stress? Yes.

But pretty damn real, nonetheless.

Finally, I guess the racism, the bigotry, just didn’t mean all that much to my family in the end. That it was there was plain to all. That the US isn’t a perfect country would be <zero> surprise to any of us.

Maybe the reason we picked up the sword, tomahawk, assault rifle, etc. was as old as time: our (place relevant name here) tribe was threatened by outsiders; we offered our lives in our children’s defense.

Not because we were suckers, and not because we were saints, either.

Why? Because it was the right thing to do.

Dog DNA Test, a review.

OK, Maybe you all remember my write-up about Amazon Prime Day. It may have escaped you, but somewhere in the list of things important and frivolous that I bought that day was a dog DNA testing kit.

If you are interested, you can buy one too.

I would definitely list this as a frivolous purchase. However, all of life can’t simply be necessity; this would make for a pretty dull existence.

So let’s get down to the brass tacks. Why am I writing today. Pretty easy. I’ve gone through the entire dog DNA testing process, and I am ready to display the results. This was particularly interesting as I could compare it to 23andMe, the human DNA testing service.

The first thing you do after receiving your kit is to collect the sample.

See the swab above? This is after the sample has been taken. To get the sample, you take the swab and jam it into the saliva pouches in your dog’s cheeks. Some dogs react better to this than others!

Dixie wasn’t pleased.

She got over it, though. After the sample has been taken, you stick it into the provided tube and mix it with the preservative fluid in there. This differs with the 23andMe sample process a tad- probably because it would be difficult to get a dog to neatly spit into a tube.

BTW- same as with 23andMe no eating for an hour or so before sampling.

After that’s done, put the sample in the postage-paid envelope. Somewhere around this time be sure to register the sample on the Embark website, then put the sample in the mail and wait.

In my case it took about two weeks. Not long at all.

Here is what I found out.

It turns out that Dixie really is 100% Aussie Cattle Dog- of course, by definition that breed is super mixed, anyway. So purebred Australian mutt? Guess so. It was a surprise that she was purebred- I always had the idea that where we got her from was pretty dodgy.

Guess they were legit, though.

Nice that they gave percentages- although Dixie’s was pure and mine was not. Pretty fascinating stuff.

There was more, though.

There was a family tree.

Then there was a chart showing worldwide where her genes came from. This was accompanied by a description of where her genetic markers were often found, which I thought was interesting in its own right.

23andMe has something similar; for example, my maternal haplogroup was passed down by the Saxons. Dixie got something like that, but for dogs. Pretty cool.

And then another feature similar to 23andMe, but a LOT less fraught.

Dixie’s relatives!

Pretty cool, and as I said a lot less controversial than the human version. Mine ended up snagging me in a minor family dispute, even though that too was a learning experience.

This was a window into who Dixie’s “family” was, and other dogs that shared her traits.

So that was about it. Was it essential? Did it need to be done?


Was it cool and fun?


So the choice is really yours, readers, as to whether you want to throw some money away. Personally I would recommend to wait until Black Friday, Prime Day, etc., so you get some money kicked off. But then hit the “buy now” button and give it a whirl.

Geeky fun, right up my alley!

1865 vs. WW2 Pumpkin Pie, Part Three.

Today I’ll be baking another pumpkin pie, this time using the 1940ish recipe listed above, in my Grandma’s own hand.

See below. This is Alice, around the time the recipe was written.

I won’t go into the particulars associated with making this pie as my methodology will be unchanged from the last pie, see part two of this series.

There are four constants:

  1. The fresh pumpkin filling, baked and prepared yesterday.
  2. Land O’ Lakes cream.
  3. Straight from the coop eggs.
  4. The Walmart pie crust.

Here’s what is going to be different. Grandma’s recipe uses an additional egg, as well as less milk/cream. Also, she made the brown sugar/white sugar proportions identical, and she used different spices.

And that’s going to be a big difference in this pie. She wrote a note on her recipe about substituting cloves and ginger for nutmeg, I am going to do as she suggests for the following reason; Dad says she never used nutmeg in her pies as long as he knew her, since 1972 or so. (when I did the substitution for nutmeg I used 1/4 tsp each for ginger and cloves. It worked fine!)

So I’m going to try to play this straight. I’m curious if the pie turns out similar to the pies I remember throughout my life; she baked past her ninetieth birthday.

I do not doubt that this pie will taste and cook differently from the Civil War pie.

Let’s see, shall we?

Using the same method as described in Part Two, I stuck this in the oven.

It could be my imagination, but this pie mix seems to have a more orangish cast. Probably because there’s a hair more pumpkin in the recipe, 2 cups (16oz) as opposed to 1 3/4. BTW- that eight inch pumpkin had exactly enough puree for two pies! Be sure to conserve puree- I barely had enough.

I’m curious about a lot of things with this recipe, not the least of which is taste. How will the cooking time be affected? How rich will it be? Will the heavy dose of cinnamon stand out?

All there is to be done now is to wait.

A surprise- if anything, this pie took longer to bake! Here’s what my cycle looked like as I did it- I checked the pie with the knife method after 45 minutes. Shouldn’t have bothered- it wasn’t close until about an hour and ten minutes on 350F. 15 @ 400, 30 @ 350, 15 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 5 @ 350, 2 @ 350. So in total 77 minutes at 350, as opposed to half an hour.

An observation- don’t bother to poke it while the center is still cratered.

Finally, the pie was done (hopefully).

Here’s how it looked after it cooled a few minutes.

This pie looked a little different from the 1865 pie; perhaps a darker shade of brown-orange and a more porous look. I think that might have to do with its higher egg content. Maybe.

Proof’s in the pudding, though. After this cools, I’ll sample it and write it up.

So I had two pieces.

That really says enough, but I’d like to go a bit in depth. The WW2 pie is definitely sweeter, less exotic tasting than the 19th century pie. Its taste is more in line with a conventional product, although I must say that if you use your own pumpkin, fresh eggs and cream you will get a superior pie. Both recipes make that clear.

My two cents? Both of these pies are excellent. I give a slight edge to the 1865 pie, though, because of its originality and the way it makes its ingredients really shine. Grandma’s pie, while awesome, is just a tad too sweet. However, if I would not have had both pies readily available, I would have never noticed.

And my family? They prefer Grandma’s pie because of the sweetness.

So it’s kind of a toss-up as to which pie is better.

Clear take-aways-

  1. Fresh pumpkin kicks the crap out of canned.
  2. Go with cream over evaporated milk. I get why they used it years ago, but cream is better.
  3. Nutmeg, while not overpowering, makes a real difference.
  4. Walmart ready-made crusts rock!
  5. If you have access to them, get quality free-range eggs. Better yolks, happier chickens.
  6. Less is more with sugar.

Final reflection- I am really glad I tracked down these recipes and did this. Also, now that I’ve set them on the internet, they will live forever.

In some small way, this is a tribute to my Grandma, a kind lady who lived a long and meaningful life.

If you get a chance, try these recipes this Thanksgiving. For my friends in Australia, try to source a genuine North American pumpkin and put something unusual on the table this summer.

Cheers! J.

1865 vs. WW2 Pumpkin Pie, Part Two

Alright, so above you can see the ingredients for the pie prep, as you may have noticed I wimped out and bought a pre-made Walmart pie crust. Way easier. I used a Pyrex pie plate, lightly buttered. Then I got all the ingredients ready. I put the eggs in the mixing bowl first and I whipped them with the hand mixer. Then I added the puree, followed by the sugar and spices. Last, I added in the cream as the mixer ran. This pointer came from my dad, who said Grandma did it that way.

So I followed his guidance faithfully.

The end product fit almost perfectly in the pie form, with maybe a quarter-inch of wastage. Not bad for a 150 year old recipe! One thing that struck me immediately was the honey color of the batter. I am curious how this will translate to the color of the finished product (turned out fine).

Into the oven it went, preheated to 400F. I ran it for fifteen minutes at the higher temperature, then I reduced it to 350F for thirty minutes. At thirty minutes I gave the pie the “knife test” i.e. if you stick a knife in it and the knife comes back dirty, then go another five minutes.

Well, the pie was definitely not done yet, it still sloshed. So I set the timer for another fifteen minutes and decided to check it every five minutes. Lesson learned? This old recipe has some serious weird mojo, my dad was shocked when I told him it took a full 25 extra minutes to bake; maybe the old recipe was optimized for wood stoves. It wouldn’t surprise me.

This is what I saw at the end of the process.

It seemed to look and smell OK… I allowed it to reach room temperature.

It was time for the dreaded taste test as the evening’s dessert.

How did the Civil War pie fare?

Well, as soon as the pie cooled I decided to try a piece before the fam. Just in case it was dreadful, you know. Well… here’s my report.

I’ve eaten a lot of pumpkin pie over the years, and this one was a different breed. Different in a good way. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but maybe it was because it was all fresh ingredients, with the eggs and the pumpkin sourced right here on this little patch.

There is no better way of describing the pie than to say it had a distinct nutty flavor, underlain with a rich creamy texture. It really does seem as if fresh cream is a shining star in this recipe, along with the just-picked-and-baked pumpkin itself.

Nothing was particularly overpowering, but I think it could have done with a bit less nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit less. Surprisingly, the Walmart crust was excellent, it was just right and blended well with the pie. Crispy, but not too much and definitely not mushy.

As I stated above, it surprised both me and my dad how long this sucker stayed in the oven, but in my opinion it was really worth it.

The recipe stands as written, the “excessive” two cups of cream and all.

Whoever came up with this recipe really knew what the hell she was doing. I can’t take any credit at all; all I did was followed the departed woman’s measurements and proportions. Also, I didn’t freak when the pie took much longer than we had figured, and don’t sweat it when it rises like a soufflĂ©.

Very, very good. Actually, one of the best I’ve ever had. Seriously.

This was a good experience.

Next up is Grandma’s gem from World War Two.

I plan to use fresh pumpkin again, and cream, just so that this is an apples-to-apples comparison.

Stay tuned. More soon.

1865 vs WW2 Pumpkin Pie, Part One.

Hey, all. It’s a dark, cold and rainy day over here, so the time has finally come to try out my Great-Great-Great Grandma’s Civil War Era pumpkin pie recipe.

See the recipe below.

As I looked this recipe over, I did not doubt its provenance. It is old. Why would my Grandma say the recipe came from her mother’s Great-Grandma when it did not? She wouldn’t have. However, I was struck by the use of evaporated milk; I wondered when that ingredient came into widespread use. A simple Google search gave me my answer; evaporated milk became widely available in 1885. So my guess is that the recipe was modified for evaporated milk around 1890 or so.

Not such a big deal. Further research indicated that people used cream in pie-making before evaporated milk, so in the pie I am attempting today I substituted cream for evaporated milk. This is how it would have been made around the Civil War or earlier.

For those who had no milk cow, or did not have a subscription with the milkman, I can see why evaporated milk made sense. Shelf-stable and cheap. We really do take things like fresh milk for granted; this was not a given around the turn of the twentieth century.

But I’ll bet cream tastes better. We’ll see. If this pie tastes like I remember from twenty years ago, it’ll be different. Different in a good way.

OK, so let’s get down to brass tacks. How do you make a traditional pumpkin pie?

First, the pumpkin must be selected and prepared. We can skip the selection process because this came out of my garden. It is a Sugar Pie Variety small pumpkin, an heirloom seed type. I don’t mess with hybrids.

Split the pumpkin in two as shown. Pumpkins are tough, use a sharp knife and don’t cut yourself. Grab a stiff spoon and scoop out the seeds and strings. If you want, save the seeds for roasting or next year’s planting.

Once the pumpkin is cleaned out, grab a cookie sheet and put a piece of parchment paper on it. Place the two halves of the pumpkin on the sheet as shown. See why you must use a smaller pumpkin?

Preheat the oven to 400F (205C). When it is hot, place the pumpkin in there for about forty-five minutes.

You’ll know it when the pumpkin is done. A fork will stick right in. This would have been difficult in a raw pumpkin. Take the baked pumpkin out of the oven and let it cool down.

Note how the skin easily pulls away from the cooked pulp. This is desirable. See below.

The pumpkin at this point smells pretty good. If you’d like, grab a chunk and eat it; it should be slightly sweet with a hint of caramel. One eight inch pumpkin will give you a plate full of pulp.

Now you need to process the pulp into a puree. You can do this the old-fashioned way, or be like me.

Jam that sucker into a food processor and hit “fast.” A minute or two later, and your fresh pumpkin is as fine of a puree as that gunk from a can. But yours is fresh. In my case, I remember planting the seed. There’s a certain satisfaction in that. See below.

There you go. This is what you were after when you picked up that little sweet baking pumpkin from the farmer’s market. Bright orange, fresh as heck, caramel-smelling pumpkin guts.

This. This is what the baker wants. This is what leads to delicious pies. Hopefully; I am a real novice. In any case, the eight-inch pumpkin yielded five cups of usable puree. According to the recipe, this is enough for a little less than three pies.

I want to do two pies, so this is good.

One pie will use the 19th century recipe; the other one will use Grandma’s WW2 era recipe.

The recipes are different; to lower the number of variables I’ll use the fresh puree and cream in both and I’ll see which my family prefers in a taste test.

All I’m waiting on now is for the chickens to lay some eggs.

Waiting on eggs? Yeah, seriously. With the approaching winter the chickens have gone into their fall molt and egg production is down.

But that’s OK. I’ll stick the puree in the fridge.

All good things come to those who wait.

Stay tuned…

The Whitetail

The North American White-tailed deer is an old friend of mine. They are a common sight around these parts, they are frequently harvested for meat. Unfortunately, many of them die in traffic accidents as well. Over the years I have hit five.

There’s a reason I’m talking about this today.

The mix of Whitetail and advanced technology.

Guess I have to start at the beginning.

We all know that 2020 is a really bad year. Everyone has taken a hit, whether from health concerns or the collateral economic or social damage. Well, an industry that has been beaten up is sales of all types.

The car industry is no exception to this rule. They want people to buy cars, so at the moment many manufacturers are offering some amazing financing deals- Subaru is one of them.

Depending on a few factors, it is possible right now to get a new car for 0% financing over sixty months. In layman’s terms, this represents thousands of dollars. Also, the 2020 models are hanging around like a beached fail-whale, the dealers are desperate to ditch them.

If you can do it, this makes for a buyer’s market.

But I digress. What does this have to do with technology or for Pete’s sake the whitetail deer.

OK, our old car was due for a little expensive TLC. Nothing major, but still. I was at the Subaru garage, and I found out about these deals. I did some thinking. Hmm, dump a ton of cabbage on a high-mile vehicle that was out of warranty, or maybe trade it in.

Grabbed up a sales lady after checking Kelley Blue Book on my phone. I knew what my vehicle was worth, bottom line. A casual conversation followed; she made me an offer and we crunched the numbers.

My mouth dropped a little. They gave me excellent trade-in, and the interest rate and finance terms made it so that we got a better, brand-new vehicle for LESS per month.

It was a no-brainer.

This is how we got a new Subaru Outback.

I say what kind of vehicle it was for a reason.

The mind-blowing technology.

The car is not mine, so I didn’t drive it home. The next morning at about 0545 I decided to take it for a test drive. I knew this would be a different experience, but I wasn’t really prepared for how different.

Holy cow. When I opened the door my eyes fell upon an enormous center console that looked like a giant iPhone, and acted accordingly.

Menu this, setting that, precise temp controls. Every last bit of the driving experience could be customized, from the volume of the traffic warnings to the temperature of the flipping’ seats, for heaven’s sake.

Whoa. After convincing myself I hadn’t hit a self-destruct button somewhere, I turned the old-fashioned key (a feature I like). The Boxer engine growled to a start, I put the beast into reverse and looked at the night-vision backup cam.

Seriously? Yeah.

I backed onto our quiet rural road, put it into drive and headed on my test drive.

More technology- this must be mentioned. The Subaru lets you know when you cross the yellow line; there is a function that pulls your vehicle back onto the road. It isn’t gentle. Even when expecting it, it startled me. Also, there is an intelligent cruise control that maintains a precise three vehicle separation with the car in front of you; this function is enormously helpful when driving on a two-lane highway and you are stuck behind a drunk who keeps accelerating and slowing.

This is borderline auto-pilot stuff.

So into the inky darkness I drove; I went through a local twisty hollow to judge how the vehicle cornered, etc.

I ended up testing a feature I knew of, but didn’t appreciate.

Not fully.

My odometer read 114, the wonderful smell of new car tickled my nose. What a luxury, to drive in a factory fresh-vehicle. The white-blue headlights did a fine job of illuminating the darkness.

They lit a blur from the right.

Everything that happened next was like the taffy-speed of combat. Time stretched and everything went s-l-o-w.

In one second, probably less, I heard a strange machine hum. I noticed the Subaru rapidly decelerating. Like a photo strobe a large, beautiful Whitetail buck, probably an eight-pointer, leapt in front of the car and ran off into the woods to the left.

My foot hit the brake at the same moment that the car came to a complete stop. It didn’t even skid.

Holy. Shit.

I nearly wiped out our brand-new wagon on a deer.

There is no doubt that the auto-brake function prevented the collision. It saved the deer and left the Outback unscathed.

Things happened faster than human reaction times; I was wide awake and alert. There was no way I could have reacted faster than what I did.

The deer was long gone. I let out a breath and accelerated away.

Saved by technology.


Putting back the pieces

I’m having an odd day in an odd year. Not really sure what direction this discussion will take, but what the hell. Hold onto my beer and watch this…

It all started with a beautiful cover of a Hendrix song.

Since I came home, music has been tough for me. Not sure why, it just makes me a bit sensitive (for lack of a better word). So I ration my listening fairly carefully and I turn it off if it gets to be too much.

Today was one of those days. I could barely stand to hear the soulfully played song.

No idea why this is, I’ve never brought it up with the VA people. I have only noticed this lack of control since Afghanistan, though.

I could go on at boring length about some of the stuff that plays in my head, but I won’t. Anyone can wikipedia some of the results of combat exposure and blast trauma, so if you feel like making yourself smart about this stuff, go right ahead. I won’t stop you.

I dunno, a lot of this thinking was brought about by the weather and the re-discovery of some old images hidden deep within the files of my old computer; I backed up the old MacBook when I busted out the new machine (Thanks, Prime Day!). Lo and behold I came across a couple of Power Points my old boss had me write.

I thought they were corrupted beyond any use, gone forever.

It turns out they were just outdated and inaccessible with the junky old software.

With some degree of trepidation, I opened the file called “Explosive Hazards of “x” Province, Afghanistan, October 2011.”

Good God, it was riddled with images I took and catalogued some nine years ago. Stuff I thought I had forgotten, like the blast crater below.

Just a dumb hole in the ground, you say. Yeah, it is that.

But there’s a story there. You see, I watched that hole being made. I watched as an Afghan Police truck passed over that exact spot. The IED with my name on it, but not that day, exploded violently.

The bomb was planted along a road I travelled daily, either on foot or riding as shown below.

Riding as the gunner on an 1151 Humvee.

Good God I shook like a leaf as we rode through that crater shortly thereafter. I nearly pissed myself as I felt the truck lurch while passing through the hole. That bomb. That Improvised Explosive Device. It sought to tear the life from me, to blast me and my friends to rags and red filth.

So yeah, maybe I should have never opened that file.

But that’s the hell of it. These days nothing electronic ever truly dies. Long after I have passed someone cruising the web or whatever will be able to search for images of the Afghan War, and there I will be, in living color. Maybe even rendered in a 3D hologram or something.

So the war will never truly die with us, its combatants.

It will be preserved, like a fly in amber.

I have my doubts as to whether this is a good thing. No, you know what? It’s not. But it doesn’t matter, the cat is out of the bag for good. Digital immortality is upon us, for better or worse.

For an eternity I will ride on top of my machine in my gunner’s harness, my right hand on my trusty PK. For uncountable years I will wait on the explosion.

This. As I sit behind this computer typing, my teeth chatter. I remember.

There is no forgetting. Likewise forgiveness. Understanding, the same.

All that is left is to endure.

A Prime Day

I’m not sure if I’ve ever specifically expressed this, but we live in an amazing world during exceptional times. A lot of stuff is good. Some of it is bad.

Today I’d like to mostly discuss good stuff. You can go somewhere else for politics, etc.

OK, so it’s kind of odd here in my house. Many large ticket items can be dated from various deployments.

Well, almost all of our electronics dated from the final Afghan trip, 2011. Do the math, that stuff was getting long in the tooth. For example, the laptop I’m typing on. The bluetooth has given out, several of the keys are illegible and some of the software is glitchy.

If I haven’t written five hundred thousand words on this MacBook, I haven’t written one. It is an amazing machine.

A big reason I didn’t replace it sooner was because of Apple’s dumb butterfly keys. They were notoriously unreliable. Hey, Apple! I buy Apples because they are reliable, not because they are cutting edge or cool. So for years I held off until they fixed the problem with the “new” Magic Keyboard. Ha. All this is is a refinement on the tried and true scissor keys.

But I digress.

Lemme get to the core of this post.

Amazon Prime Day.

They blew my doors off with the deals. Seriously. A lot of people don’t care for Jeff Bezos or the Beast. My response is that he saw an opportunity and took it. If he wouldn’t have, someone else would have and people would be cussing whomever instead.

In regard to the mom-and-pop stores, they are gone. In my little village the main street used to by filled with small shops. Empty storefronts or gap-toothed holes remain where lives used to be.

There’s no going back; the changes are coming hard and fast.

In fact, there is a noticeable acceleration. Within my lifetime we have gone from rotary dial phones to cheap crappy Walmart phones that could literally build an atom bomb.

Which brings me full circle to where I want to go with this today.

For the full price of one laptop I got the laptop as well as a pile of other stuff to replace the obsolete/malfunctioning 2011 purchases.

So in practical terms I got electronics that are far more capable than the old ones for HALF the 2011 price.

For example. We bought a replacement sitting room TV for a ridiculous price. I won’t say how much, but it was stupid.

The TV is a full foot (30.4cm) larger than the old one, was much easier to set up, is far more capable, and the colors are intense, cinematic.

And it cost 60% less than the old TV in 2011 dollars.

I’m still shaking my head. See the remote above. If I want to watch (name the app), I push a button. Or (and I wasn’t aware of this when I bought the TV) I can push a button and have Alexa find me whatever.

I’ll bet a first grader could set up this TV. Ten or twenty years ago this would have been a mighty struggle for 1/100th the capability; I remember well.

My old TV is outclassed in every respect by this unit. It is simply amazing.

And that is but one item.

But look, this brings me back to the point of this post. We live in a world filled with amazing stuff; many of us exist at a level of comfort which would have been foreign to our grandparents. The world has so much potential. Seriously; the TV is an infinitesimal speck of the whole.

So why do many of us want to screw it up? Are people so bored or stupid that they want to tear down what our ancestors have built?

Stop it.

Leave your guns at home.

When the time comes, exercise your right as a citizen to vote.

This is a democracy. Compromise and imperfect solutions are part of the experience.

This is a peaceful and beautiful land; the vast majority of the residents have never known war or hardship.

Let’s keep it that way; let “Call of Duty” be the closest that many come to the sound of the guns; or a rainy camping trip be the worst misery that the vast majority see.

Look at your humble TV remote; you are holding the product of a thousand generation’s knowledge and wealth.

Me, personally? I am floored by this.

So if you feel like it, let today be the day that you take some joy out of simple things.

Let life be long. Live and let live.

And now I have a Netflix button and Alexa.

Life is good.

The Maternal Line

My mother, pictured above. The final link in the maternal line.

I have a bit of a different story for you all today. You see, I stand in awe of the knowledge that is transmitted through families, if only we keep an open ear.

Today I’ll tell you of my quest to chase down an ancient family recipe, and the odd chances and turns it took to be preserved.

I’ll cut to the chase. The recipe was transmitted by the woman pictured below, Imo. But it was her great-grandmother’s, name unknown.

She gave it to her daughter, Alice.

Alice is who I turned to for help in 1999, when my mother-in-law needed a recipe for pumpkin pie from scratch. I remember calling her. I said, “Grandma, how do you make a pumpkin pie from fresh pumpkins?”

She said “I don’t know. I always used canned pumpkin.” A pause. Then she said “I think I have a recipe from my mother, who got it from her grandmother.”

My Great-Great-Great Grandmother! Civil War era, at least. She read it to either me or my wife, not sure who. My wife translated the recipe into Dutch, then she gave it to my mother-in-law. It looked like this:

My mother-in-law baked the pies, we ate them. They were good, but they were really unlike any other pumpkin pie I have had before or since. Something about the proportions, maybe? But they were not as sweet as the modern pumpkin pies by far.

The years went by, I forgot about this incident, although I never quite forgot those lovely pies. Alice, my Grandma, died in 2016 after a full and very long life.

Fast forward to this, the year of the plague. I put in a big garden, and I ended up with ten pumpkins.

What, what to do with fresh pumpkins?

And then I remembered. My maternal line’s pumpkin pie recipe. I asked my parents if they could find it. Well, they found a recipe in my Grandma’s handwriting, but I didn’t think it was “it.”

See below.

In my Grandma’s careful hand, and undoubtedly old, but not the very old recipe she read over the phone to my wife.

Was it lost?

Then I thought to call my mother-in-law. Did she still have the recipe?

It didn’t take long for her to find it; she sent me an image of the recipe in Dutch. Fortunately my wife had transcribed the proportions in the old English measurements back then. All I had to do was convert the recipe back to the original language.

Via a very irregular method, it was saved. This one tiny chunk of knowledge from deep time, back a long way on the maternal line.

Today, readers, I am very glad to be able to share this recipe with you!

It makes a pumpkin pie that is different from the modern, store bought ones.

Here goes, from my family to yours!

What else has been lost? So much. But this little jewel was saved.


The Compass

Another folksy, woodsy article. Why? Because I felt like passing along some arcane knowledge.

Alright, it’s been my experience that people are afraid of the common woodsman’s tool, the compass. I don’t know why. So today I want to do a quick and dirty bit about common sense compass use.

Look, it’s kind of a big deal to be able to figure out where you are and how to get to where you want to go. I know, cell phones have an app for this, right? And what about GPS?

Too much technology, and always have a backup. I enjoy “Bitchin’ Betty” on an iPhone just as much as anyone, and it’s nice to have a precise ten-digit grid when you are utterly lost. But who says you’ll always have that stuff? No one, really. So learn a little about a compass.

First, a few basics. I’ll point them out.

You should always be able to find the cardinal directions by simply observing the sun. The sun rises in the east, and sets in the west. In the northern hemisphere, it tracks across the southern sky. South of the equator, the opposite.

What does this mean. Here is an example.

In Virginia, you face the rising, morning sun. You are facing east. Your left arm points approximately north, your right arm points south. Your back is to the west.

Just like that, you know your cardinal directions.

At night, in the northern hemisphere, find Orion. South. Look the opposite direction for the Big Dipper. Roughly north. Polaris, or the north star, is close by.

How useful is this stuff? It can be a life saver. For example, generations of runaway slaves navigated from the Deep South to the North using nothing but the above: a journey of a thousand miles. Talk about courage and resourcefulness, along with a pinch of fieldcraft.

Alright, now let’s up our game a little.

We have a compass and a map. See image below.

Above is a cheap, crude compass and a common road map. You can see the scale bar and the “north seeking arrow.” Note that the north arrow is roughly aligned with the compass. This is important.

Why. Because now you and the map are pointed in the same direction. Your body faces north, left is west, east is right, and behind you is south.

The pictured compass is crude and cheap. It is also surprisingly accurate, and is probably better than what the Spaniards used to navigate the globe. You can get from one town to another with such a device, look at the map. If you need to walk southwest to get there, turn your body until the compass, held flat, is pointing southwest. Look up. Find something in that direction. Walk towards it. When you get there, take another “sighting,” and continue walking. Repeat over and over until you get where you’re going.

This is where I must mention that I’m leaving a lot out.

For example, there is a thing called “magnetic declination” that throws off a compasses’ accuracy.

Here’s my take on that. If it’s less than ten degrees, and you are traveling short “legs,” don’t worry about it.

If it’s over ten degrees where you are (Google it), then read up on how to compensate for it. Not really hard. For example, here in Ohio it is 8 west. This means that for a true reading you need to add 8 degrees to what your compass says for accuracy. For east declinations, you subtract.

Also, it is helpful to know how far you must travel and approximately how far you have covered.

How do you know how far to go?

See image above. All maps have a “scale bar” that allows you to plot approximately the distance on a map. Mind you, this is “as the crow flies” distance, and not what you will actually travel because of terrain and obstacles.

Maybe go down to a football pitch and measure off your “pace count.” This is easy to do. Start at one end, step off taking normal steps. Count every time your left foot hits the ground. My walking pace count is 62/100M.

And like everything else, this has a caveat, too. Your pace count changes if you run, go uphill, etc. So just do like I do and keep it simple; use the walking count on average.

An example. Using the scale bar on the map, you know you have to walk southwest about five miles. Convert to kilometers right away, or you are in hell. So 1 mile= 1.5km. 5 mile=7.5 km. 620 paces per km. Start walking. After an hour and a half, you should be pretty close unless you had to swim a river or something else stupid (been there, done that).

A practical example with the cheap compass.

Alright, you have oriented your map to the north, you and your map are pointed in the cardinal directions. You want to move from Summitville to Augusta. Using your handy scale bar and guesstimating, you see it’s about eight miles away cross-country. Looking at the compass, you can tell you need to go almost due west. Close your map, turn until your compass and your body are facing west, and start to move.

Make sure that you periodically check that you are in fact moving west. When you hit a road about 12km later, look for signs. If it is Route 9, good. You will be fairly close to Augusta.

If you spend just a few dollars more, you are capable of much more precision. The compass above has a ton of good features, but not so many that it overwhelms. Also, note that it is partially luminescent. Handy if you need to move at night.

Once again, we want to move from Summitville to Augusta. Using the scale bar and the ruler, we can do a better estimate of our traveling distance. Also, instead of an approximate heading, we can nail this one down to degrees. See how the compass is centered over Summitville? Look right and you will see Augusta. 268 degrees, map heading.

You could go ahead and add your 8 degrees here for the declination, which would give you an adjusted true heading of 276. This would be accurate and would potentially land you in the center of Augusta.

But I said don’t bother with that. So move out at 270ish degrees, you’ll be close enough for rough work.

After all, we aren’t calling in artillery.

And buddy, I sure am glad!

There you go, rough and dirty. This is how to use a compass. Just make sure it’s roughly flat when you take a sighting and check your heading early and often.

Piece of cake.

Now go spend your five bucks and put the compass away somewhere. Forget about it. And when your car is broke down by the road, cell reception is lousy, and you need to get to the next town, you’ll remember.

There’s a compass in my glovebox, and I know how to use it.