Beary Nice

Photo credit: basinsradio.com

Does a bear poop in the woods?  Well, of course he does. The surprising thing is that he also poops in my driveway.  It’s in the woods and it’s very long.

At first I didn’t realize what I was seeing.  Gee, what a big pile of berries, I thought. I knew it was scat, and I knew it wasn’t from a deer, but it sorta slipped my mind.  Just not the sort of thing I fixate on.

So,  a couple of days later I read the local online newspaper and saw that someone who lived nearby had seen what I’d seen and claimed it was from a black bear.  Since I knew a bear had been in the general area, it didn’t take long to put two and two together.

Needless to say I didn’t walk down to the mailbox after that.  I drove. Hey, it is a third of a mile.

Then, I read about the bear visiting a yard one street over from mine. That made me a bit more vigilant when I was out in my yard. After all, I do live in the woods.

So, one night after I had washed my hair, I was standing on my side porch combing it out  when I heard what sounded like a vibrating washboard behind a nearby shed at the edge of the woods.

My first instinct was to wonder what sort of creature had gotten trapped under what metal thing.  Then I realized there wasn’t any such thing near where the sound was coming from.

The night before my husband had mentioned that there was some sort of animal out in the woods making a crazy sound, like a sheep with a sore throat.

Right about then the light bulb over my head went off.

That was a bear.  Making noises.  At me!!!

And, like a flash, I was off to the internet to see if I could find out for sure exactly what sound bears make.  Sure, I found angry growls and the sounds they make in trap and mama bear being protective.  But no curious juvenile sounds.

Then, I watched this video on Youtube (and a great big Thanks! to leeandrobyn) and I felt much better about the whole situation.

You see, bears don’t see very well but they have super-sensitive noses. Plus, they aren’t cold-blooded killers bent on eating anything and everything that crosses their paths. And, they’re actually capable of being curious and playful, even if they do scare us half to death.  They aren’t really trying to do that.  At least I don’t think so, anyway. . .

Stay tuned. If I manage to snag some video, I’ll be sure to share!

(Of course, my sis-in-law said that’s what they made the Discovery Channel for.  I told her it’s more fun to live in Wild America than to watch it on TV 😉

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Posted in The Rural Life | 2 Comments

The .001 Percent

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“Let me tell you about the very rich.  They are different from you and me.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “Rich Boy,” in All the Sad Young Men.

As a writer, I read just about anything I get my hands on.  Not just Fitzgerald, although his prose does make me swoon.  I’ve read trade pubs, out-of-town newspapers and even the phonebook. That was a demographic thing; I wasn’t really all that bored.

A few days ago I started thumbing through a copy of Show Boats International.  As the name would imply, it’s a magazine all about yachts and super yachts and mega yachts. Er, show boats.

And then I slowed down and started actually reading it.  Not that the pictures alone weren’t worth my time.  But, I started thinking about the fact that somewhere, someone owns each and every single one of these boats.  Oh, sorry, yachts.

In one picture of one marina, there were more yachts than I could count.  Granted, it was an advertisement for a super yacht rendezvous in Monaco, which took place a little before and after the Show Boat Design Awards.

Wondering what the folks with an embarrassingly large amount of disposable income look like, I went to the website to gawk at them during the gala awards ceremony, which took place at the Monaco Opera House.

The first thing I noticed is that they tend to be quite tan.  And, well dressed.  It was a gala, after all.  But, other than the fact that they are even interested in the awards, and judging from the clips of the presentation, I’d say it was about as boring as an awards ceremony could get, unless of course you were personally hoping to win an award, these folks really didn’t look all that different from the people you’d see at your local Target store.

I’m sure they’re really just a bunch of down-to-earth bazillionaires who just happen to enjoy tooling around the globe on their own private, 250-foot yachts.  To be fair, some of these 30,000 Euro toys are actually chartered out.  Guess that helps with expenses and upkeep of the yacht for the wealthy who are merely zillionaires.

If you’re but a lowly millionaire with no yacht to call your own, you can charter one of these floating palaces.  And, it’ll only set you back about 325,000 Euro a week, plus expenses, of course.

Who am I kidding?  The people who own these show boats don’t even breathe the same air as you and I.  And they sure as heck don’t shop at Target.  No, I more imagine them sending the help to shop for them at only the most exclusive (read “over-priced”) establishments.

The wealthy can flip open the Nieman Marcus catalog and decide they just can’t live through the day unless they order a pair of lamps for $350 each. Or, maybe it’s a $595 suitcase they need to pack their designer duds to take to the yacht for that week in Monaco.

The ostentatious sums of money which are thrown around in one issue of Show Boats International is enough to make you wonder if the Great Recession was a hoax.

How can there be such financial trouble in the world when there are thousands of yachts floating around?  I’m not just talking about your regular old, run-of-the-mill yachts either, but super- and mega-yachts. And as near as I can tell, they aren’t in foreclosure.

In fact, in just one issue of the magazine, there are roughly 200 sail and motor yachts for sale.  All of these potential purchases cannot be for investment or write-off purposes alone.  No, there are some seriously loaded people out there.  And, all of them aren’t buying boats.

If it only takes $350,000 a year income to be part of the 1%, then I don’t think it’s too far of a leap to say these people are living in an even more rarefied status of being the financial crème de la crème as the .001% if they can throw around multiple millions for what amounts to a floating RV, albeit a sumptuous one.

As an advertisement for the brokerage boatinternational.com asks, “Is your yacht being seen in all the right places?”

Oh, Lovey, I do hope so.  Gotta unload this pig so we can keep the jet.   Flying commercial is just too déclassé to be endured.  If worse comes to worst, there’s always a charter jet for the not-quite-fabulously wealthy.

Join me in a future post when I take a look at some of the yacht owners who have been profiled in the magazine.

Image from superyachts.com, via Google images.

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I Have a Crab to Pick

Mmmm, crabs!

 

First of all, let me just say that I am from Maryland.  As in, I’ve been eating crabs since before I had teeth.

And, I have to hand it to you non-natives who come to crab-eating later in life.  Crabs ain’t pretty.  They look like big, red spiders with dangly legs and bug eyes.  And, they have things called dead man’s fingers and some yellow stuff called mustard.  What’s not to love?

The scientific name pretty much sums it up: Callinectes sapidus  The first word is from the Greek for beautiful swimmer, and the second is from the Latin for savory.  They are indeed beautiful, tasty swimmers.

It’s when they hit the steam pot that the trouble begins.  I’ve read recipes that call for using water and/or vinegar. Heresy!

Here’s the secret recipe:  crabs, beer and a very liberal dose of Old Bay brand seasoning. Period.

I do not give a crab’s claw what any so-called celebrity chef, or anyone else for that matter, says to the contrary.  The only other thing permitted in the crab pot is corn on the cob, preferably of the Silver Queen variety.

Now that we’ve gotten that straight, I have to address the flagrant and wanton misuse of the crab mallet.

Just because you’re holding something which looks like a hammer, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to pound the living daylights out of the crab. Unless, of course, you happen to enjoy eating crab shells.

The mallet is used to crack the claws, by placing the blade of the knife on the claw and then tapping the back of the knife, such that the shell cracks open and then the meat is removed, often with the help of the same knife.

Just take a look around and do what the locals are doing.  No big, dramatic production going on at their table, is there?

Never, ever have I been to a crab house without some Yahoo (in the Jonathan Swift sense of the word) pounding away on the crab as if trying to make pebbles from a boulder.

You are not funny and no one is laughing.  Plus, you’re wasting delicious crab.

So, please stop all that pounding and learn how to dig out the guts and tear apart a crustacean and eat it with your bare hands like a civilized person.

PS-Don’t forget to lick your fingers from time to time!

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Message in a Bottle

Evil spirit trap, or just plain cool?

Just in case you’ve never heard of a bottle tree, I’m about to remedy that.  It isn’t your fault if you aren’t from the South.  That’s just an accident of birth.

First of all, yes, a bottle tree is a dead tree with empty wine bottles stuck onto its branches.   Preferably blue bottles.  But, you can use any color you like.  Even clear, if you must. It’s up to you.  There are no rules.

So, what are they all about? Bottle trees are said to trap evil spirits in the night, which are then vaporized by the light of day.

Bottle trees have been called, “the poor man’s stained glass,” and every yard or garden ought to have one just because they’re so whimsical that you’ll smile to yourself whenever you look at it.  Plus, when someone asks (and believe me, they will), “What is that?” you will get a chuckle.  Of course, they’ll probably just look at you like you’ve got a screw loose.

However, you’ll be perpetuating a tradition which has its roots in antiquity.

Bottle trees used to be essentially Southern in nature, but you’re likely to see one anywhere, especially considering that now you can order one online, solar-lit colored bottles and all. But that’s just cheating, in my humble opinion.  It just isn’t the same as creating your very own, one-of-a-kind, multi-hued masterpiece, one bottle at a time.

Traditionally, a crape myrtle or cedar tree is gussied up, but any tree or a 4”x4” with dowels in holes drilled at an angle will work.  Anything remotely tree-shaped is fair game.  Even a re-purposed metal coat rack.

Okay, so here’s where it gets really interesting.  Who on Earth thought this up, and why are people still making these?

The first part is fairly easy to explain. Sort of.  The short version is that Central Africans believed that the bottles would trap evil spirits and the blue bottles were particularly powerful.   Thus, when people from this region came to America, most notably the southern states, the tradition took root.

But, actually, using bottles to trap evil spirits, or djinns, came from Arabian folklore, as in Aladdin and the magic lamp.

And, considering that glass bottles date from 1600 B.C., odds are that some sort of superstition surrounding bottles began around the same time.  It isn’t tough to imagine the wind blowing across the mouth of one, and the intellect of the time could’ve thought there was some unseen entity the bottle, crying to get out.

However this tradition began, it’s a creative way to add some year-round color to your landscape, even if all you have is a balcony.  Aside from confounding passersby, what’s not to like?

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The Frankenberry

Would you eat this berry?

Supposedly it tastes and smells like a pineapple. It’s called a pineberry, and yes, it really does exist. According to a website about berries, it’s a cross between the white South American strawberry and the red North American strawberry, and that it, “was saved from extinction when we found the original source material in France and decided to grow it on a commercial basis.”

This crazy-looking berry was introduced to the public in 2009 in Germany and its name translated into “pineapple strawberry,” according to Wikipedia.

When taste testers were asked what they thought, Rachel Dixon is quoted in The Guardian blog, Word of Mouth as saying, “So it’s some kind of freakish strawberry that doesn’t taste very nice.”

Since the berry is grown on a very small scale, with an obviously limited appeal, don’t expect to see it on your grocery store shelves any time soon. The primary market seems to be the UK, where, two years ago, the Waitrose grocery store advertised them for a limited time only.

The berries’ season appeared to be a two-week affair. From April 1-13, 2010, they sold for L2.99 ($4.50) for 4.5 oz,, and after that the price shot up to L3.99 ($6.00) as reported by ABC News.

Of course the pineberry is a novelty item. But, considering The Guardian blog was posted by Susan Smillie on 1 April 2010, that may have helped fuel suspicion that it was really just an April Fool’s joke. Well, that and the fact that Waitrose had pulled a stunt like this before with its bogus Pinanas campaign in April 2009.

Based on comments from readers on the Word of Mouth blog, there was about a 50/50 split on whether the berries even existed. Maybe if someone had actually found one of the elusive, not to mention exclusive, berries at their local store and tasted one, and liked it, the marketing campaign might have been more than a culinary footnote.

Two years after the fact, they remain as little more than a conversation piece for hardcore foodies and fops. However, they are now available in the States, in the New York area, where they were going for $5.99 for a half-pint until May 20, and then the price went to $7.99, according to an article in The New York Times.

I’m not expecting to see the albino berries make a debut at my local market any time soon.

Happy eating!

Credit: funkydowntown.com

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The Snake in the Washer

As promised, here’s the story of how a snake got into my washing machine.

Around nine o’clock or so one night, I heard an odd sound in the laundry room. Like something scraping over cardboard, followed by a hollow, metallic thump. It sort of sounded like a small bag of sand being dropped onto the top of the dryer.

I flipped on the light just in time to see the tail of a black snake disappear between the tub and the body of the washer. Yes, I’m quite sure it wasn’t a shadow. After I closed my mouth, I slammed down the washer lid.

Okay, so I had the snake trapped in my washing machine. Now what? I went into the living room and told my husband there was a snake in the washing machine. Yeah, and I got that look. But, he’s a sport and went and looked in the machine. He got the flashlight and really did look.

Then came the question, how on Earth did a snake even get into the house, let alone into the washing machine?

Oh, but then there was the question, could the snake get out of the washing machine? Then what?!? That’s when I considered where I would be staying until it was found.

But then I had another thought. Hey, the snake is in the washer. Turn on the water. So, I ran the washer through a cycle, hoping to see Mr. Snake floating in the tub. But, noooo!

Well, the last I saw of it, it was between the tub and the body of the washer. So, maybe it was trapped in the boxy part. But, maybe there was a hole in the boxy part and maybe it could get out after all.

Crimony! How was I supposed to sleep? There was no door to the laundry room to close. I had a brainstorm. I sprinkled baking soda on the floor all around the washer, and made sure there was extra on the threshold which led to the hallway and my bedroom.

At least this way, if the snake did escape the washer, I would know and at least have a clue as to where to look for it.

The next day, my husband pulled out the washer and we looked inside, expecting that the creature had either curled up for a nap or was lying in wait, plotting its escape. But, no snake.

Geez, I think that might’ve been even worse than actually finding it. My husband was now positive that I had seen nothing more than a shadow. But, I know what I saw, and I do know what a snake tail looks like, thank you very much.

So, where did it go? We never did find out. Either it managed to get out of a very small (now-patched) hole by the drain pipe, or it left via the drain pipe itself when the washer drained.

Of course, my husband just had to go and mention that if it was in the water pipes that it could get into the toilet, in the next room. Oh, great.
I decided that he was making a very bad joke, but you know I looked twice before I sat on the throne.

It took a few weeks before I would reach into the washer without looking very carefully at what I was actually grabbing in the laundry.

But, it didn’t take that long for me to figure out how it had gotten into the house in the first place. I had cleaned off a shelf which had a bunch of caps and hats on it, and I had put them in a cardboard box and had them setting outside, as I dusted off and sorted them into a keep pile and a trash pile. They were on my deck under a tree. And, they were out there all day as I was doing other things.

My best guess is that the snake plopped down, out of the tree, and into the box. I took the box in the house and set it on the dryer. The house became dark and quiet. Maybe the snake got thirsty and went in search of water. And, voila, I see the tail disappear.

Just another day on Sassafrass Hill.

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All A-Twitter About John Waters

A couple of days ago, I sent my first Tweet. Until the Wheel of Fortune had a Tweetstakes, I hadn’t had a reason to do it. Frankly, I was amused that I had three whole followers and I hadn’t yet uttered so much a as a single Tweet.

Who were these people? Well, they weren’t people; they were companies, actually. One was beIN.com, which bills itself as a, “working playground,” (whatever in blazes that might be) and they have jobs listings. Another follower is Gigsmesh, where people post what they will do in exchange for $5. Someone is actually willing to write 700 words, in English, for $5. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that $5 USD goes a lot further in their country than it does in the US.

At least I knew one of my followers, The Dagger Press, an online news site. My only question there is, how on Earth did they find me? I noticed that they follow more people than follow them. But, since I do follow them, maybe they returned the favor.

But, today, I discovered why Twitter exists.

John Waters was picked up hitchhiking in Ohio, by an indie band who Tweeted it. To me, that’s the purpose of Twitter in a nutshell, to shout something to the world. So, @herewegomagic got to utter the magic Tweet.

You know, it would’ve been an interesting turn of events had Waters been picked up by a band of indie filmmakers. Then, they could’ve had a captive audience. Sorry, that’s just how my mind works, and maybe that’s why I’m a Waters fan. I’m certain we’d hit it off, should we ever meet. Hey, Hon, it could happen.

I wish the Pope of Trash happy trails.

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Stinkbugged

Last year, I wrote an article about stinkbugs.  Brown marmorated stinkbugs, to be exact.  This invasive species has ruined crops and driven people crazy.  Myself included.

I have found them in my hair, in my microwave, in a box of wrapping paper, and even in clean, folded laundry.  I even found one, alive, in my plastic onion keeper in the vegetable drawer of my fridge.  Go figure.

Last summer, the stinkers poked holes in my tomatoes, which caused them to bruise and rot. I understand they do the same to peaches, squash and whatever else they like.  Farmers are not amused.  The bugs swarmed by the dozens on warm walls outdoors, and they snuck indoors by whatever means necessary to have a cozy place to over-winter.

To say that I dispatch a dozen of the shield-shaped bugs every single day is a very low estimate.  I can probably do away with that many before lunch.

According to the local agricultural extension office, people are advised to kill them by drowning in a bucket of soapy water.  I created a kill jar with a couple of cotton balls soaked in fingernail polish remover. Using the jar, I can just scoop them off of the window or wall and get rid of them before they can breed again and re-populate my house.

But, things have taken a turn towards the bizarre.

Recently, I bought a new clothes washing machine.  It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done in record time.  So, when I realized I wasn’t hearing the load rinse and spin out, I went to investigate.

It was the craziest thing: the cold water had suddenly stopped filling the tub. I fiddled with the selector knob and no matter which cycle I activated, I could not get cold water to flow.  So, I rinsed the load in hot water and pulled out the manual.

Then, I did the obvious and checked the water hose at the cold water feed.  I expected to see silt in the hose filter.  But, never in my wildest thoughts did it occur to me that a stinkbug was the culprit.  Because, that’s exactly what I found.  Well, the remains thereof.

After, “The Snake Incident,” with the washer, I really shouldn’t be surprised by much when it comes to creatures and water.  Yes, I had a snake in my washing machine.  But, that’s another story for another day.

It’s all just a part of life here on Sassafrass Hill.

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This is Positively Nowhere

Considering how close I reside to the hub of the universe, it’s pretty amazing that I live on the edge of nowhere.  Ironically, I can drive to D.C. in two hours, and yet I’m a 20-minute drive from everything. By, “everything,” I mean places like a grocery store which has more than three aisles, a dine-in restaurant, or any place that sells printer ink.

Yes, I do check my list twice.

I’m lucky that I even have a DSL internet connection. Another mile or two down the road, and I’d be out of luck.  Fios? Not in this lifetime.

In the course of a day, I’m far and away more likely to see deer than I am my (distant) neighbors. I can watch bald eagles from my yard.  I’ve seen everything from raccoons to foxes to coyotes roaming around, including what I call a foxoyote.  Not sure what that creature really was.

If I even hear a car, it means I have a visitor.  And, my mailbox is 1/3 of mile from my house.

My hometown makes Mayberry look like a bustling metropolis.  There isn’t even a single stoplight in all of what counts as downtown.  We have a post office, a fire department, a library, a garage, a pharmacy and a general store/garage.  The sidewalks are rolled up promptly at 5 pm.  The town is closed on Sunday.

And, I love it.

While this might sound like a bucolic gulag to someone accustomed to having Thai food delivered, I can’t imagine living shoulder-to-shoulder in a suburban sprawl. Life in a city would be far more activity than I could stand for very long.

Sure, there are trade-offs.  We don’t have any museums. But, we do have a river nearby and I love to go fishing. I also enjoy geocaching, and that’s practically everywhere.

Entertainment is what you make of it.  I don’t even have cable, but then again, I don’t want it. And I sure don’t want the monthly bill, either.

But, don’t take away my internet.

After all, I’m not Amish.

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Welcome to Sassafrass Hill

Welcome to the world’s newest blog.

Everyone and their grandmother has a blog. I’ll bet there’s even one about paperweights, or black licorice, or hedgehogs. Not that I have anything against any of those things. Well, except for the licorice. . .

What I’m trying to say is, that they’re a dime a dozen.  Actually, they’re free.  So, why does the world need another one?  It probably doesn’t.

But, I’m a writer and I have the compulsion to write.  Whether I write out loud or on paper, I’m gonna do it. This way, instead of my words being on a page in a journal tucked neatly into a drawer, I can share what I’m thinking, and, hopefully, my unseen readers, you will do the same.

I really do want to know what you have to say.

So, let the conversation begin!

PS-At least 417 new blogs were probably created while I was writing this.  And I’ll just bet one of them is for fans of black licorice.

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