Wednesday, February 20, 2019


 Jan and I were having dinner with my friends, Mark Smith and his fiance' Sarah Quiggly a few weeks ago.They spend a good bit of time figuring out new and exciting dishes to try out and they like to share what they've discovered. Because they experiment with new recipes, our conversations often revolve around food. During the course of our discussion,the subject of Cream of Wheat came up. I'm not sure why, but it did. Well, one thing led to another, and I think I commented on the old fellow on the box. We discovered that his name was Frank L. White. He was a chef who was originally from Barbados. He has a very pleasant appearance and I guess whoever was in charge of marketing at the company thought he would be a good representative. I did a little research and discovered that he lived in Michigan and passed on in I believe, 1938. For a number of years he didn't have a proper grave marker, but a few years back his story was told on one of the major news networks and he was given a granite stone with his name and I believe his affiliation with Cream of Wheat. Then the conversation turned to Uncle Ben's rice. The guy on that box looks like a friendly sort as well. As it turns out, his name was Frank also. Frank Brown. He was a Maitre d' at a Chicago restaurant. I asked about Aunt Jemima also, but she was just a figment of someones imagination apparently. While we were on the subject of food and drink, I happened to mention one of my favorite soft drinks, Vernor's Ginger Ale.  I guess it's called ginger soda now. In any event, we can't seem to get it up here. For awhile the Northern Sales Company in Juneau distributed it, but I haven't seen it for years. However, that didn't hamper Mark. He discovered that he could get a case sent up from Target, with free shipping, and ordered a case before the end of dinner. Well, it arrived the other day, and Mark and Sarah made a special trip to the house to deliver me a few cans. I know that Sarah had never had it, and I don't believe Mark had either, so to celebrate, we took out some frosted wine glasses from the freezer and poured ourselves a few drafts. It's really bubbly, and both Mark and Sarah, as well as Jan  all started coughing when they first brought the glasses up to drink. I knew what to expect and was spared. It was funny to watch though. Vernor's is described as  deliciously different, and the taste is declared both bold and bracing. When I was a kid I was attracted to the bottle originally because it had a green and gold label that was eye- catching. However, once I tasted it, I was sold on the flavor. It was very hard to get, even in my home town in Ohio, though it was manufactured in Michigan. However, whenever I could find it, I made sure to stock up. Vernor's  was created by James Vernor, a pharmacist in Detroit. He sold it in his soda fountain. If I recall correctly, he was called up during World War I and stored the ingredients in oak barrels for four years. When he returned, he tried some and found the aging in the barrels enhanced the flavor. For a number of years it was advertised as being aged in oak barrels, now I believe is may say it's aged in wood, but there isn't a specific time mentioned as I recall. Apparently the drink was so popular that he sold the pharmacy and just opened a soda fountain. He eventually sold the formula to other soda fountains with strict orders that the formula had to be followed carefully. In time it was sold to a bottling company and now I think it's owned by the folks at Dr. Pepper.  It's said that it can be used for cooking, and according to an article I read, the late, great Aretha Franklin used to make a glaze for her Christmas ham with it. So there you have it. Personally, I highly recommend you give it a try. It's caffine free, and as they say, it's deliciously different. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mechanical Hell

 Have you ever noticed that some guys are just naturally gifted handymen.  I'm not one of those guys. I rely on the integrity of the gifted ones to help me out.You take your car in because it's not running right and they can look at it and know right away what the problem is. "Well Mr. Botts, it's obvious that the bungflogger here has become disengaged with the hornwiller, so the flipstopper isn't going around." That's all very entertaining, but I haven't got a clue what they're talking about.  I can only hope I don't have to take out a second mortgage on the house to pay to fix it. A few weeks ago our Samsung TV crapped the bed. It started off with not wanting to turn on with the remote control. I'd always heard that you do the simplest thing first, so I replaced the batteries with a fresh pair. It didn't help.I was standing in front of the TV pushing the on button like my life depended on it, but to no avail. I felt like I was a contestant on Jeopardy trying desparitely to answer the question, but the button doesn't work.So then I got online and read that sometimes if you unplug the TV from the back, it will fix it. So I tried that and, miracle of miracles, it did work. At least for a few days. After that was no longer effective,  I tried unplugging the TV from the wall outlet, and that worked for a few days as well, but eventually that also failed, so we sat like a couple of  monkeys staring at the blank screen willing it to come on until we finally acknowledged that it was dead.  I spoke to a friend who said it was probably the mother board, and to contact a place called Shop Jimmy. They claim to have hundreds of thousands of parts for televisions in stock. I looked them up and It certainly appeared that they had tons of parts- just not the one I needed. Not only did they not have it, but there isn't even a remote chance that they'll get it. Go figure. They did have a little black chip with metal tabs on the ends that they emphasize MAY fix the problem, so for twenty bucks I bought it. On line it looked like the size of a bread box, but when I received it in the mail, I thought the package was empty. The part was so small I needed a magnifying glass to see the little metal tips. I ended up taking the back off the TV but I couldn't even find a part that looked anything like the one they sent me, and if I'd had, soldering it would have required the skills of a robot in a factory. Of course because it's electrical, there's no sending it back for a refund, which is just as well, because by the time you've paid for shipping both ways, even though it weighs less than a gnat, it ends up costing more than the part itself. Lovely. I procrastinated for awhile and finally decided to order a TV from Best Buy up in Anchorage. I thought they would send it to me from there, but nooooooooo... its coming from Oklahoma somewhere. It flew UPS and made every stop from Oklahoma City to Pacific Washington where they finally pawned it off to the U.S. Postal Service in Federal Way Washington, where I can only assume it's on it's way on the barge. I'm not a big fan of the Federal Way distribution center. We've had more than a few problems with getting stuff that comes through there.The local postmaster assures me that it should be here in another nine days. By the time I get it, assuming it's in working condition after being manhandled like a hooker at a longshoreman convention, it will probably be a relic. But that's not all! Oh no, no, no, there's more. I was making a CD on my  computer for a friend the other day when the machine started making a squirelly noise and all of a sudden there was loud POP. I managed to kind of get the CD drawer open and I could see dozens of pieces of CD hanging out inside. Thinking it was a minor fix I grabbed my little shop vac and tried to vacuum them all out.  Well, that worked about as well as anything else I attempt, so I ended up turning the computer upside down trying to shake out the little shards. There was quite a pile of them on the desk, but the drawer still won't close. All the shaking apparently shook something loose and I ended up having to go to the hardware store and buy a new ether cable. That didn't fix the CD, that just made the Internet work again.  My son-in-law, up in Wasilla said I probably need to get a new CD drive. Right now I'm waiting on another person to come and take apart the drive so I can see what I need to get to replace it. I wish I could say that that's all the mechanical issues I'm having, but it's not. Last spring I had a local mechanic rebuild the parts in my 1992 Chevy Silvarado truck transmission. It ran fine until he left for Missouri, now it's giving me problems again. The reverse doesn't want to engage and it revs up in low gear before finally finding second. Of course he won't be back until April, so I have to keep babying it, pouring five dollar a quart tranny fluid into it, hoping I don't get stuck somewhere. I know that in the grand scale of life, these problems are pretty minor, but there are times when I wish I had been born handy instead of so darn handsome.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Happy Birthday to Me!

  I was rummaging around in one of my dresser drawers the other day looking for a small screwdriver or some such thing for the crew who was working on the bathroom. I don't usually keep tools in my dresser, but this screwdriver was made for eyeglasses, and I didn't want to lose it in the mess that I call my tool room. Anyway, I came across a card that I got for my birthday last year. When I opened it, there was money inside! Woo Hoo! I'd forgotten all about it, which was fine, because otherwise it would have been spent already. Well, it just so happens that my favorite store, Tideland Tackle, started carrying a line of Ray Troll t-shirts. For those of you who may not know Ray Troll, he's a famous Alaskan artist who made fish art really cool. He does some other things too. I've seen t-shirts with dinosaurs on them and I can't recall what else. My interest is mainly in fish, so I don't pay attention to anything else. He came up with a design for the under appreciated and often times cursed pink salmon or humpy. It's the smallest of the salmon and unless you're fishing for them specifically, they're a nuisance, They aren't worth much, and they are voracious feeders, so you can load up your fishing lines with them and the money fish can't bite because all the hooks are full. Anyway, Ray came up with a design with a bunch of angry looking humpies with huge teeth and the slogan, Humpies From Hell. It was pretty popular. There was also a shirt that mentioned Creek Street down in Ketchikan where he has his studio. Apparently Creek Street was the red light district some time back. The slogan on the shirt was-Creek Street, where both men and salmon go to spawn. I haven't seen that one in awhile either. I can't begin to remember what all he carries. There are a number of really interesting slogans with corresponding drawings. If you get on the Ray Troll web site, you can see for yourself what's available. I happened to love the one I'm wearing. The colors are so vibrant and the message is spot on. Commercial fishermen, especially Alaska fishermen, are feeding the world.  Now a note about my picture. Jan has a habit of cutting my head off when she takes my pictures, although in her defense, I guess if the whole t-shirt was going to be shown, something had to go, why not the top of my head? I always look like I'm angry in all my photos.I'm not sure why that is. I think it's those blasted bushy eyebrows. I trim them almost daily, and overnight they grow like dandelions. I don't understand it. It looks like I'm getting a mug shot taken. Actually, that wouldn't be so bad if I could wear my Ray Troll. That gives me an idea. States could get sponsors from various companies, you know, Coca Cola, Frito Lay, Budweiser. Then when a person gets a mug shot, the corrections officers could give them a shirt for the photo shoot thus advertising for the company.Of course the down side would be if people looked at the sponsors shirts and equated them with criminals. The upside would be that It would give the tax payers a break, and maybe provide some money for the prison recreational fund. A new ping-pong table or Foos ball might be appreciated. I suspect that a dart board wouldn't be considered, unless it was covered in felt and the darts were those flat faced Velcro things. Anyway, something to think about. So, if you're at a loss for what to buy a friend or family member, consider a Ray Troll t-shirt. They're colorful, fun and neat to look at; or just give them some money and they can go buy their own.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Turn and Burn

    For years Jan has been after me to replace the last four original windows in the house. They were standard issue back in 1945 when the house was built. They were good windows, wood and glass, but they weren't insulated and were really showing their age, kind of like me.  A quick side note. Did you realize that glass is liquid? A science teacher told me that years ago. The molecules move at a snails pace, but apparently over a period of hundreds of years, it would be noticeable I guess. At least that's what he said. Anyway, back to the story. We finally decided to replace the last four windows, two in the dining room and two in the living room. We also decided to have the bathroom remodeled. A fellow I'd used before for several previous projects showed up on Wednesday with three Mexicans and a stepson. Sounds like a title for a sitcom on TV. "Tune in tonight on ABC for Three Mexicans and a Stepson on channel 8 at 9:00 PM." Anyway, they didn't waste any time. On  Wednesday afternoon, as soon as they got here, they started staging the materials on the front porch. The next day they started right at 8:00 AM and worked until almost 6:30. That first day they got all four windows installed and started taking apart the bathroom. By Thursday afternoon, they had the vanity out of the bathroom and  sitting in my living room, they had taken the toilet out (which fortunately wasn't sitting in my living room) as well as the old tub surround and put a rubber sheet on the walls around the tub. They also put up cement board and sealed it with another water proofing material. On Friday the new medicine cabinet was up, as well as the mirror and lights and  the tile in the shower. Also the new ceiling fan and the flooring. The new "comfort toilet" was installed also, but we couldn't use it yet because the goop sealing the valve needed a night to set. That was a bit of a pain, having to go upstairs to use the potty in the middle  of the night. I like the "comfort toilet" though. It's three inches higher than a regular one. It's much easier on the the knees because you don't have so far to go before being seated. I guess if you had little kids it wouldn't be ideal because their feet might dangle up off the floor, but as long as I don't shrink too much more, I'll keep enjoying it. Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the toilet would be proud I'm sure. By Saturday the tile was all grouted, the towel bar was mounted and the new doors for the shower were installed. I was wondering why they cost so much when I bought them at Home Depot, but when I went to pick one up the other day, I understood. Those doors must weigh seventy five pounds apiece. Holy Toledo! I better keep a phone in the shower in case I get too weak to slide the doors open and have to call 911. Unfortunately, there was an oversight and somehow the handles for the doors weren't sent, and neither was the sealer for the tile, so I still have to go upstairs to get a shower.  Hopefully that will be solved soon. However, it's snowing right now,which means no planes, so it might be a few days before freight comes in. One of the disadvantages of living in a remote place. You can't just go down to the local Home Depot and get what you forgot. There's always a lot of planning that goes into a remodel like this. Anyway, by Saturday afternoon the crew was packed up and on their way back to Juneau. It was a whirlwind experience, but when it comes to having your life turned upside down and your house turned inside out, it sure beats dragging it on for weeks.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Beauty from Ashes

    Those of you who know me, know that I'm not a big fan of cold weather. Can't say I really like it too hot either, but when it's warm you don't have to shovel snow, or let your vehicle warm up or turn on the heat in your home. Cold weather brings with it a variety of extra problems, frozen pipes, condensation in your fuel tanks, hypothermia, snow covered roads, the list goes on and on. Right now Alaska is in the middle of a pretty good deep freeze. Especially further north. One of my grandsons is living in Fairbanks and according to the local news channel, they can expect from minus thirty to minus fifty degrees over the next few days. No thanks. It's been in the teens here, and that's plenty cold enough for me. With all the troubles that winter can bring, there is also an uncommon amount of beauty, as seen in the above pictures. What is fascinating to me is that all the snow that is depicted here, is made up of individual snow crystals, all of which have six sides, and from what I can gather, no two of which are alike. How can that be? When I think about it, it seems like a miracle.It's quite mind boggling. Look at the design on these snow flakes- they're stunningly beautiful, like works of art, but when the weather warms up, they'll melt away. The same snow flakes that pile up and delay flights and cause highway accidents also water the earth; they keep rivers running and lakes full.They water the land and give life to all of creation. On the one hand they can bring death and destruction and on the other life and beauty. It makes no sense to me. Yesterday I got an email from a lady we met in Idaho, a real estate broker. A nice gal in her seventies, she was still working because she needed to support her invalid son at home. She wrote to apologize because she wouldn't be able to help us anymore in our search for a house, she was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. She would soon be confined to a wheelchair, and it's all downhill from there. Again, it makes no sense.About six months ago I spoke to the gal who does my taxes. She mentioned her husband was in the hospital. A few months later I called and was told that her husband had passed away. He was only in his fifties. They had just built a house, had recently been married and were planning their lives together.She's devastated and trying to make sense of it all, taking each day as it comes.I offered my condolences and mentioned that I would keep her in my prayers. There's not much more I can do, although it seems inadequate, perhaps because I don't fully understand the power that prayer is. Down through time mankind has struggled with loss. Loss of health, loss of wealth, loss of loved ones and loss of life itself. Who hasn't sat at the sick bed of someone we love or attended the funeral of a close relative or friend? We wonder why did this happen? If God is love, and claims to love us, why all the trouble and sorrow in the world?Great men in the bible asked the same questions. David, a man after God's own heart, was pursued by King Saul who sought his life. Job, a man who God held up as an example to all of heaven, suffered with the loss of his family, all his possessions, and his health, and Joseph, one of the twelve patriarchs of Israel was sold into slavery by his own brothers and thrown into an Egyptian prison for years. Do you think they didn't spend a lot of time asking God why? I bet they did.What none of these men knew at the time was that God was at work for them, using the circumstances for good. David became the second king of Israel. After all his trials, Job was blessed with ten children and twice as much  belongings as he had before. Joseph became second in power in Egypt, saving not only his family from famine, but all of Egypt as well. Jesus said, "in this world you will have trouble, but fear not, I have overcome the world." There are a whole lot of things I have questions about, a lot of things I would change if I could, but fortunately I can't. I don't have the wisdom or foresight to see that what I might view as a disaster is a blessing in disguise. Today's blizzard is providing tomorrow's drinking water. I can't begin to know what will happen in the future, either for these two ladies nor for myself and my family. I can offer my friendship though, and my prayers, which I hope will provide some comfort as we all wait to see how God will move in our behalf.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Night at The Beach

Digging on the mud flats for crabs

Success- five Dungenss Crabs ready to cook

Star fish

A Sun Star

Star fish on the beach
Sea Cucumber

A Horse Clam
 When most people talk of going to the beach, there are visions of warm water, bikini clad beauties, sand, surf, wading in the water and swimming. I decided to join my family members the other night and we didn't experience any of the above. Instead we faced snow, wet boots, mud flats and exercise with clam rakes. On December 23 and 24 of this year, we were blessed with unusually high tides. As I've mentioned on this blog before, really high tides create really low tides about six hours later. It seems that the lowest tides are usually in the evening, as was the case the other day. Both nights experienced a minus 4 foot tide. When that happens, all the areas that would usually be covered by water are exposed, and it's the prime time for going beach combing, looking for clams, cockles, or Dungeness crabs. I have never picked up crabs off the beach before, so it was a new experience for me. On the 23rd, several members of my family and myself donned some head lamps and grabbed a flashlight and braved the elements in search of the elusive Dungeness crab. Most people just use crab pots to catch them, and there are an abundance of them on the flats behind Pitt Island. However,since I don't have a crab pot, and I didn't want to borrow one, and I had heard that you could pull them from the shallow mud on the flats behind the breakwater, and I like to scavenge anyway, we decided to give it a try. A wet, miserable, slushy snow was blowing sideways as we waded our way across a shallow but very swift running creek, trying to see where to place our next step so as to not let the water top our boots. Fortunately, once we crossed the creek, the mud flats were semi- solid so we didn't sink down too far with each step. There were several other folks out on the flats wearing head lamps or using Coleman lanterns to shed some light in the area where they were digging cockles. Personally I don't care for either cockles or clams, although I do like digging for them. I love to find things.  Anyway, a friend of ours showed us how to spot the areas where the crabs were hiding just under the surface of the mud. We searched a lot, and did a fair amount of digging, but we finally managed to find five legal crabs- just enough for Christmas Eve crab melts at my daughter Jen's annual Shoe Box Dinner. We took our catch home and cleaned it, then my daughters Jen and Autumn shucked it and put it in the fridge until Christmas Eve. On the 24th, after a delightful dinner, we headed down to the cannery to look for lead. Years ago there was a storage building for the seine nets down on the beach that burned down, so all the lead weights ended up on the beach. Over the years, the wind and waves buried some of it, where it's easy to find with a metal detector. It's lots of fun, and you never know what else you might dig up. That particular night, I guess because the tide was out so far, there were a number of sea cucumbers down at the water's edge, as well as countless star fish and sea stars. My son-in-law also managed to dig up several horse clams. They're pretty impressive. I suppose one or two could feed a family. Of course you wouldn't want to eat them off of that particular beach. After an hour or so, the headlamps started dimming and the tide turned and started to flood back in. We picked up about 1/2 a coffee can full of lead, as well as finding a brass ring, and what looks like a brass handle for a small shovel. All in all, it was a fun, productive two nights that set the tone for a delightful Christmas day. I hope that all of you enjoyed time with your family and friends and that you'll stay safe during the upcoming New Years Eve. God bless!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Blang

    Years ago, after I had grown up and gone, my parents moved to Florida. Dad loved the warmer weather, and unlike Ohio at the time, there was a building boom going on. In addition, my brother and his family lived there. It was a win-win situation. For reasons I'm not sure of, my folks ended up taking over the care of my brother's dachshund. Perhaps my brother felt that they needed a dog in their lives, so he gave up ownership of his dog Oscar. Oscar Meyer, which was a fitting name since he was a wiener dog. Like many animals, dogs like a routine. At a given time every night, Oscar wanted to go to bed. I"m not sure why, but my folks kept his bed in a coat closet. What was even more bizarre was the Oscar insisted on being wrapped up tight in his blanket. When it was time to go to bed, my Mom would say "OK Oscar- go get your "blang". So he dutifully grabbed his blanket, and they wrapped him up tight and laid  him in his bed and there he would stay until morning, when he would fight his way out of his "blang." It was quite entertaining to watch. Frankly, I would have had a panic attack if I had been wrapped up like that. I can't even stand to have my sheets tucked in under the mattress.  A few weeks back, I did a post on my Luster Loft blanket, from the American Blanket Company. It's by far the softest,  most comfortable blanket I've ever had the pleasure of sleeping under. I had told my friend Mark Smith, the postmaster,about it and as I had mentioned in the previous post, when my "blang" arrived, we opened up the box and both of us had our arms shoved in between the folds of the blanket up to our elbows. He talked about buying one, but never did, at least not until he acquired a girlfriend. We had spoken to her about my blanket in glowing terms, so when they came to Thanksgiving dinner, I let them come in and fondle my Luster Loft . Actually I had some reservations about letting Mark in to run his hands over my blanket again. I didn't want him developing an unhealthy attachment to it. However, after he'd experienced the luxury of that fleece delight, he decided he had to have one of his own. He ordered the evergreen and for an extra ten bucks had -The Blang, hash tag-Be Somebody-embroidered on it. He waited with baited breath for it come and when it did, he called me so that I could witness the revealing of his own blanket. As the pictures above depict, there was great anticipation and excitement when it was finally released from the box. As I've mentioned before, it's so soft and luxurious, it's almost sensual. Mark initially was going to use it as a throw blanket on the back of his love seat, but upon further consideration decided that the couch wasn't worthy of such a fine blanket and ended up ordering a new love seat so as not to taint his wonderful new cover. While he's waiting for the couch to arrive, he's using the "blang" as a throw blanket to ward off the cold while he and his girlfriend sit outside on the porch sipping hot chocolate and watch the sun setting over the mountains. Like myself, he's delighted with his purchase and I know that he's purchased several other items. His girlfriend, Sarah was also impressed with the quality and ordered a throw blanket for her mom from American Blanket Company. They both had an opportunity to speak to the Blanket Lady - Ari, and like me were delighted with her. The bottom line is, if you want to give a great gift, or if you just want to spoil yourself a little, give the Blanket Lady a call. You'll be glad you did.