If you were to google the word, “jowl”, you would likely find the first page or 20 to be filled with information on reducing the saggy skin that hangs down on the side of some folks jaws. You’d also see a definition or two, a reference to dog jowls, and maybe some recipes involving hog jowl, a/k/a “jowl bacon”. What?! They make bacon out of pig faces? Why haven’t I heard of this before?

Having grown up outside of Philly, I only know one food made from pig faces: scrapple. Unfortunately, some scrapple includes liver, which makes it taste way to much like, well, liver. And I mean that in the most not-a-good-thing way. Additionally, it is often eaten by Eagles fans with ketchup, which is not my preference. Scrapple is pork scraps (face meat, at least in part), cooked with cornmeal and spices, then cooled in a loaf shape, then sliced and fried like bacon. The surface is crispy, and the inside is still soft. I eat it with a little maple syrup, while most everybody else at the table is reaching for the ketchup.

My wife and I visiting Sonny’s, my favorite BBQ restaurant chain (headquarters in FL).

Having lived in Georgia for about 14 years, and another 14 in Virginia, I don’t think I’ve ever had jowl bacon. Apparently, it’s an ingredient in a popular New Year’s Day special dish in the South, called Hoppin’ John. Primarily made with jowl bacon or ham hocks, black-eyed peas, and collard greens, served on/with/in rice. Eating pork on New Year’s Day represents hope of an abundant year ahead, while the peas are to bring good luck and the greens bring the money. Unfortunately for me, black-eyed peas and greens also bring distinctive flavors I usually try to avoid.

When we first moved to Georgia, there were several culinary differences that were pretty noticeable.

  1. Sweet tea/unsweet tea, and plenty of it: this is not as big a deal anymore, as many chain restaurants serve sweet tea. But in most of the world back then, if you asked for sweet tea, you might get a genius answer like, “we have tea, and we have sugar, so….”.
  2. BBQ: there was barbecue everywhere. And it’s not just sliced meat with Arby’s sauce or burgers on the grill, for you uncultured swines. It would be smoked pork (or beef brisket, if you’re from Texas), with a secret recipe sauce (ie. not Kraft). The pork would most likely be pulled, chopped, or ribs. And everybody else does it wrong.
  3. Mexican: almost as many Mexican restaurants as BBQ restaurants, and they all had dedicated servers that only went around refilling tea glasses (“Sweet or Unsweet?”) and chips and salsa bowls.
  4. Southern: Cracker Barrel didn’t go further north than Virginia, back then, and I still haven’t seen a restaurant in the North serving “one meat, two vegetables” in cafeteria style. When my sister came to visit, she thought she was supposed to get one of everything. The cashier had to call over the manager to work that out.
  5. Hot sauce: any kind, every kind, no such thing as too much.
Here I am in front of Virgil’s in NYC. Don’t be fooled by the entrance: it’s huge and wonderful.

Back then, it was harder to get good cheese steaks or even pizza in Georgia. Not so much anymore. People like good food, and they like the food they grew up with. So good, regional food tends to find its way into new places. One of my favorite BBQ restaurants is actually Virgil’s, in New York City. And guess what you can buy in Georgia, now: scrapple. But the locals wouldn’t eat it with ketchup, so just pass the jug of hot sauce.


Today I took a few minutes to increase my laptop performance by a little exercise we’ll call “reducing open browser tabs from 90 to 50”. A reboot was also involved, but between the two, it seems that the “Not Responding” message has gone away, if only temporarily. Before the cleanup, it was happening every few minutes. Seriously that bad.

But to be honest, I have at least 5 books that I’m actively reading, plus a couple or more that I’m listening to, and all the work issues that have to be fresh in my mind at every moment. Maybe my mental performance would be improved by some brain cleanup, but I’m not comfortable with the reboot part… It’s really to the point where it’s impossible for me to pay attention through an entire article on the benefit of focus.

On the positive side, I’m not a surgeon. Or a pilot. Or running a large country or an international health organization. A little lack of focus is not so harmful or even noticed, most days. Plus, do you really get more out of a book you finish than if you only read the first two-thirds? That’s not rhetorical–I really don’t know.

Seedlings I’ve started: the tall ones in the center are tomatoes, peppers are on the far right (just planted the seeds today), and on the left is stevia, which I thought would be fun to grow.

Now that it’s spring (or so the calendars indicate), I’ve started getting ready for the garden. In fact, I’m much more motivated to start the seeds than I am to weed and care for the plants once they are all the way out back in the garden. Lazy much? Plus there are the bugs, including the ants and stag beetles, with pincers in the front, or earwigs, with pincers in the back. But those guys are only armed to protect themselves. The real villains are the ticks. They are literally blood-sucking parasites. Even when they don’t give you diseases.

But we have deer ticks around here, and they can carry Lyme disease, and that is really bad news. Not only does it cause aches and pains and various other body issues, but it also causes “difficulty concentrating”. That’s just what I need. Or, maybe I’ve already got it.


Something I read the other day really struck me. “Thoughts are things”. At least part of the point being made is that thoughts are not meaningless, but that every achievement begins with a thought, an idea, a dream. And that once we truly accept this, then we can use our thoughts to drive achievements, rather than negativity, complaints, excuses, etc. The quote is found in Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

The book is often quoted, if not recommended, by business and self-improvement authors and speakers. There is certainly a very useful truth in focusing our thoughts on achieving value rather than whining and complaining. Interestingly enough, Hill’s book was published in 1937, during the Great Depression. The concept of turning thoughts away from dwelling on problems and in the direction of fixing them must have been timely encouragement. The secret to success revealed in this book was originally revealed to Hill by none other than Dale Carnegie. Thomas Edison had also confirmed the secret and its truth. In fact, Hill studied over 500 millionaires to corroborate the central ideas he shares.

Several books influenced by Napoleon Hill and/or his ideas.

Well, that’s what he says. Apparently all the evidence that he knew, spoke to, and received wisdom from these folks was lost in a fire. He claimed to be a lawyer, but was not. He was accused of and/or arrested for fraud a number of times. Even much of the money he earned from Think and Grow Rich was lost to his second wife in their divorce, as it turns out that she had quite a hand in the manuscript. Actually, she was really his third wife if you count his marriage when he was 15, which ended in annulment. As we say in the South, now ain’t that special.

So, why am I bringing up such negative thoughts about a guy who wrote about positive thinking? In fact, Norman Vincent Peale (pastor, author of The Power of Positive Thinking) highly recommended Think and Grow Rich, as does John Maxwell (pastor, author, leadership guru) and many others. My point is that even a rogue can speak truth and wisdom. Or, someone with great wisdom can still make lots of mistakes. It is no more possible to be wrong 100% of the time than it is to be right 100% of the time. And maybe the person you disagree with the most only differs from your views a small percentage of the time, or to a small degree. This may be worth considering before pouncing on a “friend” on Facebook.

As it turns out, although Hill claimed to have interviewed/studied over 500 millionaires in order to write his book, it may be more true that well over 500 millionaires have studied Hill and his book. That’s another thing to think about.


Arthur Nash found himself in possession of a sweatshop in Cincinnati right after World War I. As a strong believer in the Golden Rule, he could not see himself running such a business, but couldn’t simply walk away, either. There were about 30 workers, and it was hard to know whether it was worse to keep them working for pennies or jobless. He determined that he would bring their pay up to a fair wage, and went off to manage other affairs, expecting the business to die within months, then just sell off the equipment.

But after a couple months, it turned out that the grateful workers had increased productivity much beyond the expense of the wage increases, and the factory was producing three times it’s previous business. Within just a few years, the 30 workers had grown to thousands, and the business was worth millions. Nash continued to operate with the Golden Rule as his guide, and it only continued his success. But his health was degrading, and he turned the business over to the board in 1926, and he died only days later. The business was only about 7 years old.

Block print (left: wood and Gorilla tape, right: random paint and printer paper)

Two items related to businesses such as A. Nash Company are money and stock. These are both printed via engraving. Metal plates are engraved, then using special ink and a somewhat involved process, paper is left with the ink from the indentions in the engravings (not the raised part). Other methods of printing usually transfer the ink from the raised portion, such as the block print example I’ve included with this post. Many of us learned to create a printing block in Art class with a linoleum block. My quick-and-dirty effort was similar to that, but it was Gorilla Tape on a scrap piece of plywood, cut with an Exacto knife. Instead of ink, I used some paint we had close at hand.

The cutting and “weeding” (pulling out the scraps) took way longer than I had planned for, and my design was a bit detailed for the size I made it, but otherwise I’m not disappointed. I had chosen an Art Deco style because it seemed like a good choice for a block print. As it turned out, Art Deco would have been developing about the time Arthur Nash was building his business, so that works.

In an interesting twist, in late 1929, W.E. Fox & Co. bought over 2 million dollars worth of A. Nash Company stock from Nash’s family members to take over complete control of the company. Altogether, Fox & Co held about 4 million dollars in Nash stock at the time of the stock market crash on October 29 of that year. I see nothing indicating that the Nash company survived the depression that followed.


Way back in 1927, Jesse Bell founded Bonne Bell cosmetics, which was named after Bell’s 4 year old daughter, who was named after a character (“Bonnie”) in a book (and silent movie) by Emerson Hough called “The Man Next Door.” In the story, Bonnie’s western ranch family relocates to the sophisticated east coast, and you can imagine the drama and humor that arises. But 1916 drama and humor (or 1923 for the movie). It sounds a bit like it may have influenced “The Beverly Hillbillies”.

Getting back to the Bonne Bell company, whose first big product was the “Ten O Six” skin care formula, introduced in 1933, and you could actually buy it in a gallon glass jug. Now the product line is called “Formula 10.0.6”. Another popular product came much later when they introduced their first of over 800 flavors of Lip Smackers in 1973 (it was strawberry). I remember my sister having a flavored lip gloss that was Bonne Bell, and I remember there were soda flavors like Dr. Pepper. The Lip Smackers and Bonne Bell brands were sold in 2015, but the lip products are still being sold, and the new owners are probably still coming up with new flavors.

Some “logos” mentioned in the text.

But as a first name, Bonnibelle is unusual, if non-existent in the US. I’m not sure it’s even all that common in Scotland, where it originates. It means pretty, or fine. We used to sing an old Scottish song with the line “the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond”. We were taught that it meant the banks of the lake were beautiful. And I don’t know if there is a French connection, but “belle” is French for pretty. So if your name is Bonnibelle, whatever you do, you’d better look good doing it. For your parents’ sake, at least, since they chose the name.

Of course, here in the US, we don’t pay much attention to the meaning of names. We named our daughters names that mean “lives in an ash tree grove” (though we never did that), “a place of linden trees” (wait, is there a theme? ), and “unheeded prophetess” (scratch the tree theme). But trust me, we chose each of the names because at least one of us liked the way it sounded. Nothing deeper than that. For our sons, we chose a family name for one, and a movie character for the other. Still not very deep…

So, is it true that, as Shakespeare’s Romeo said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”? That is, names don’t mean very much, if anything? And yet, we are so attached to our names, and companies are obsessed with names. The original Coke formula may be valuable, but the Coca Cola name is absolutely the company’s most valuable asset. In 2005, the SBC company bought AT&T, largely to replace their own name. We can “make a name for ourselves”, or we can “ruin our name”.

Many countries actually have lists of disallowed names. Like “Harriet” in Iceland, or “Spinach” in Australia. Here in the US, there are no such restrictions, except maybe for trademarks, which would explain why there aren’t a bunch of Coca Colas and AT&Ts running around on the playground.


On September 4, 1987, Roop Kanwar was burned alive on her husband’s funeral pyre. He had died the day before, at the age of 24. Roop was only 18. They had been married less than a year.

The funeral was attended by thousands of mourners/spectators. Dozens of people were charged with various crimes, including murder and “glorification of sati”. However most charges were dropped, and the rest ended in acquittal. Roop was India’s last known sati, or suttee. Either word is used to mean both the act of a widow sacrificing herself on the funeral pyre of her husband, and the widow who does so.

The practice had been outlawed a number of times through the centuries in India and other Hindu countries, but the “Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act” enacted in 1987 in response to Roop’s death seems to be the most successful. But this is a religious/cultural tradition, and sometimes laws are inadequate. As recently as 2009, Indian police had to stop 60-year-old widow Sharbati Bai from committing sati on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Fire table on my patio. Not for funeral use.

How did this tradition start? And what is its appeal to women, both young and old? It could be that it was started as a way to prevent unhappy wives from poisoning their husbands. Really, that’s one of the theories. Or, maybe it was more honorable for the widow than the possibility of becoming destitute. It could even be a way to keep the gender balance, since women have been outliving men everywhere in the world throughout history.

Even outside the Hindu culture, we sometimes hear of a surviving spouse committing suicide, which seems pretty similar. Of course, it hasn’t always been clear that the sati was completely voluntary. Restraints, drugs, and even violence are known to have played roles in some cases and suspected in many others. And although it may seem that Roop was a young widow at 18, the age of consent for brides in India had been 10 until 1891, when it was raised all the way up to 12. Even then, the law was not strongly enforced.

There used to be a cigarette ad aimed at women, saying, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” In this case, that might be a little too accurate use of the word.


The house where I grew up had back yard that ended with some woods. Like any boy living on the edge of the woods, I spent a lot of time there. It wasn’t a forest; they ended up making it into three lots and built houses on them, leaving only a few trees to mark the property line.

Most of the trees at the edge were sumac, as I recall, which are not great trees to have in your front yard, but have intense red leaves in the fall. They grow in any and all directions, and don’t seem to understand the concept of a trunk, and they produce seed pods that are a little like pine cones. But let’s call them hand grenades, since that’s what they were to us boys. Between the sticks that became guns and the hand grenades in season, those trees were like little weapon factories.

Photo of me in my home town. Likely not far from some pokeweed. Unlikely that I caught any fish.

Another plant that I remember seeing a lot of is something called pokeberry, or pokeweed. It was as tall as a bush, but not woody at all. The stems were reddish or even purple, and the berries got almost black when they were ripe. And if you smashed them against your clothes as you ran by, or against your friend as he ran by, they left vibrant purple evidence of the encounter.

But they are poisonous to humans, and most other mammals. Birds love them (also leaving purple evidence) and are not harmed by them. But it’s not just the berries that are poison, it’s the whole plant, and the root is the worst. And although the leaves are poisonous, they are actually eaten in the rural South after boiling and rinsing three times, and frying in bacon fat (of course). It’s supposed to taste something like spinach. And the plant is called poke salad, or polk salad, and you have probably heard Elvis sing “Polk Salad Annie”, by Tony Joe White, about a poor Louisiana girl who picked “a mess” of polk salad every day to feed her family.

All of which leads me to the question of whether the word pokeloken (poke-loke-n), which refers to marshy or stagnant water that has branched off from a stream or lake, is related to pokeweed, or related to pocket. Or maybe they have some common heritage. But if you have the Polk Salad Annie song going in your head, and you think about pokeloken, there’s a rhythm to it that makes it seem like it fits. Do you think there could be some marshy or stagnant water down in Louisiana where poor folks find things to eat?


A number of years ago, my son and I went to the Grand Canyon for a bit of an adventure. We had arrived at the campground at the south rim of the canyon at about midnight, and it was chilly. It was the first week of June, and the rim is about 7000 feet above sea level. That’s actually higher than the highest point in all but 15 states, and we don’t even call it a mountain.

The next day, we hiked down into the canyon about 3000 feet, to Plateau Point. As it turns out, between the mid-day sun and the 3000 foot loss of elevation, there was a drastic difference in temperature. I’m not sure how hot it was at the rim when we got to the plateau, but at the plateau it was almost 120 degrees. A normal person would probably try to find shade, rather than walk another 3 miles (round trip) to the point, completely exposed to the sun. But it was only the two of us; no normal people on the team.

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Sharp Top, elevation 3862 feet.

When we finally got back to the first shade, we sat down and fell very asleep for 45 minutes. Then we had to walk back up. Thus we arrive at the biggest challenge of hiking a canyon instead of a mountain: with a mountain, the return trip is literally “down hill”, but a canyon does that first, saving the uphill part for the end. Our 12 mile round trip didn’t end until almost 10 pm. Again, arriving at the cooler elevation at a cooler time of day.

The nation of Bhutan (just south of Tibet) is located in the subtropics, but includes part of the Himalayas, with peaks over 23,000 feet with permanent glaciers. So, the temperature differences we’d experienced at the Grand Canyon might be more like a trip to the grocery store in Bhutan. In fact, the nation moved its capital from Punakha to Thimphu in 1955, and although it’s only about 45 miles away, there is about a 7000 foot difference in elevation.

Punakha is hot in the winter and really hot in the summer, while Thimphu is cool in the winter and warm in the summer. Maybe that’s why they moved the capital. They even get a little snow in the winter. And monsoons in the summer (the monsoons hit Punakha, as well). Monsoon rains and high, steep mountains don’t mix well, but the people seem fine with it. In fact, they have something called “Gross National Happiness” that they try to measure and maintain as more important than Gross National Product.

I’m not sure that could take root here in the US, as we have mostly abandoned any attempts at decency and propriety in the press and social media. Many of us would have to live by the Golden Rule that we say we believe. The folks with the “Coexist” bumper stickers would have to actually mean it for themselves. Or the ones with the “War is not an option” stickers would have to decide that maybe arguing isn’t, either. What is best for the nation would have to come before what is best for the political parties. Truth would be embraced rather than whatever agrees with what we already think…. Oops. As we say in the South, now I’m meddlin’.


Well, the groundhog promised an early spring. The trees and flowers seem to agree. Unfortunately, so do the dandelions and wild onions. It’s not sunny, but it’s not cold and icy, either. Maybe tomorrow will bring some sunshine, like Annie promised. Like the hotel concierge in Cancun kept saying, “Rain today, but sunny mañana” when we visited many winters ago. Good thing he didn’t go into meteorology.

But rainy days are good. It’s a great time to catch up on reading and movies. Or even some extra work, since most of us are working from home anyway. And the grass and garden get a big boost early on. At least it hasn’t been heavy rains for us, so the buds and blossoms don’t get knocked off the trees just when they should be looking their best.

Weeping cherry tree in bloom in a light rain
Weeping cherry in blossom, in a light rain.

I’m looking forward to some cool, sunny days, though. Those are great for hiking in the mountains or working in the yard. Or reading on the porch or yard, for the folks that didn’t get enough rainy days to get through their book list. Plus, the vitamin D is always welcome. And the feeling of the hot sun on cool skin, or on closed eyelids facing just right.

As I write this, whether it is sunny or rainy or cold or whatever, just about anywhere in the world, we’re almost all in at least partial quarantine. It’s a different experience for most of us, and hopefully not to be repeated. Some folks are enjoying extra time at home, but for some it is too much, as home doesn’t pay the bills… And some have to avoid home and family to keep them safe, as they care for the ones already infected. And those who are either infected or most at risk may be experiencing the loneliest of times.

Opinions differ, as well, as some folks think the restrictions don’t go far enough, or didn’t start soon enough, and others are pretty sure these extreme measures are baseless and maybe even part of a nefarious plan. There’s also the guy who got to use the word of the week and “nefarious” in the same sentence. But enough about me; what about you? What would make your day? How are you taking advantage of the shift in lifestyle? Share in the comments, below.


On August 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Virginia in the early afternoon. Even though the epicenter was over 100 miles away from me, I still felt it. I remember it felt like a truck was driving by, but too close and for too long. You may have felt it, too, if you were on the East Coast, as it was felt as far north as Quebec and south as Atlanta. In fact, it was felt by more people than any other quake in US history, and may be most memorable for damaging the Washington monument, which was then closed to visitors for several years.

Much of what we know of the structure of the Earth, and just about everything we know (we think we know) about its inner layers are calculated from measurements made during earthquakes. The Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne is just Science Fiction; in real life, nobody’s actually been there. The deepest we’ve ever drilled was about 7.6 miles, and there were a number of surprises (read: things we knew that turned out to be wrong), including how hot it would be at that depth, making it unsafe to continue. The center of the Earth would only be about another 3,950 miles.

Tangled Christmas lights, taken while (intentionally) shaking the camera.

In discussions of earthquakes, we often hear about tremors. When we talk about measuring earthquakes, we talk about seismometers. Although they can also register tremors, the device specifically designed to measure tremors is a tromometer, and that branch of study is tromometry. Since I can feel some trucks going by on the main road not that close to my house, and you don’t have to be very close to the tracks to feel a train go by, and even kids jumping in the house can cause a pretty good shake, how can a tromometer possibly measure Earth’s tremors with accuracy and precision? How is “vibration pollution” filtered out?

Tremors are often mentioned as precursors to full-blown earthquakes. There were almost continuous tremors, as well as a series of earthquakes before the massive eruption on May 18, 1980 which blew the top 1/3 off of Mt. Saint Helens in Washington State. In spite of the earthquakes and tremors and the growing bulge on the north side of the mountain, and the heat from magma melting the ice and boiling away the water in some places, some people just didn’t think much of the risk.

Most famously, 83 year old Harry R. Truman refused to evacuate, saying, “…the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.” In fact, he became a bit of a folk hero, living life on his own terms. But when the mountain blew, it headed his direction at nearly the speed of sound, and buried him (presumably) under 150 feet of volcanic debris. It puts an ironic edge to his statement, “That mountain’s part of Truman and Truman’s part of that mountain.”

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