Saturday, April 30, 2016

Waiting for "blackberry winter"

The other day I was at the hardware store and an old boy I've known for years asked me, "When's it going to be blackberry winter? I want to plant my garden, but i ain't going to do it until after blackberry winter."

I told him I expected "blackberry winter" any day, but that its non-arrival had not stopped me from gardening.

"We've already harvested one crop and eaten fresh pickin's this spring," I said.

"What have you got out now?" he said.

"Oh, turnip greens, chard, kale and peas that we planted in the middle of February. Taters that we planted in the middle of March," I said.

"Oh, salad," he said, rather disparagingly. "I want to plant tomatoes."

"Well, you'll have to wait until after Mother's Day for that," I said.

"As soon as we get a blackberry winter, I'm planting," he said.

Blackberry winter, or blackberry squall as my Mama has called it for as long as I can remember, is a cold snap in spring after some nice weather. We had great weather last weekend for gardening and it was pretty nice at the first of the week. We then got some rain and by Friday it was cold enough that I needed to put on a sweater.

This morning, it was cold enough that when I got up to put the dogs out at 7 and start my weekend, it was cold, or felot cold. It was about 60 degrees outside, so wasn't real cold, Nevertheless, it was cold enough to kick the furnace on and keep it running awhile.

So is this blackberry winter? I don't know. I doubt it. There wasn't a frost, and I think it likely there will be one more of those before Mother's Day. I hope I'm wrong. I hope this is Blackberry Winter weekend, and the rest of the season will be warm and sunny for my garden, because I'm putting out tomato plants next Saturday.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Mixing politics and poetry

In honor of this being the next to last day of National
Poetry Month, I have written a poem about the current campaigns for
the political parties' nominations for president. Usually I like to
write humorous poems, but this one is deadly serious.


The other day while talking,
a fellow said to me,
“You're a Trump man, aren't you?
You'll back him over Hillary.”

And I said in reply to him, “Let me tell you
what goes into the way I have to think
when I go into the booth to pick someone:
I pick the one that has the less stink.

Whenever it comes time to mark my ballot,
I find some candidates come up short.
I'm talking about one issue: Do they cherish
life in the womb or is it OK to abort?

Now, I'm not sure I trust the Donald,
though he claims to be pro-life.
But I know for sure Clinton's unbothered
about severing fetus limbs with a knife.

So, with your assessment of me
as a Trump man, I can't really concur.
It's not that I'm so much pro-him
as I am just anti-her.”—RDH

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tasty broccoli raab

Curious about that broccoli raab we picked out of the garden yesterday and fixed for Sunday dinner today, I looked it up on the internet.

It is an unfamiliar plant to me. I have never heard of any other Ozarks gardener raising a crop of it. Even my wife, a professional horticulturist, had not grown it or heard of anyone here or back at her home in Texas growing it. She had heard about it, though, on cooking shows. All the big-deal chefs are in love with the stuff apparently.

Turns out, according to my research, that it is also known as rapini. It is green cruciferous vegetable, meaning it s a cole crop. Cole crop is the colloquial name for cruciferous, which means they are in the brassica family along with cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, bok choy, horseradish, mustard, kale, collard, broccoli and turnips.

Raab or rapini is associated with Italian and Portuguese cuisines. Since few Ozarkers come from those backgrounds, that explains why rapini is not in most gardens. My resarch indicates that it descended frm a wild herb related to the turnip that grew in China. (It seems like everything is made in China nowadays.) It is similar to a Chinese cultivar called kai-lan.

Rapini grows throughout the world now.

It is a little bitter but tasty. The leaves, stems and buds are edible, and the buds are similar to broccoli. The leaves are said to be equivalent to turnip greens. Rapini is a great source of vitamins A, C and K, potassium, calcim and iron.

In Italy, it is said to be a side dish for pork. That is what Delaine did today for Sunday dinner. She chopped it up and mixed it in with orecchiette pasta and a sauce she made up. Orecchiette is italian for "little ear," describing the pasta shape. She served that pasta and rapini side dish with pork chops.

It was fine, mighty fine, and I will likely be eating it again this week for my lunch at work. Maybe a couple of lunches.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

First crop pulled from our 2016 spring garden

We planted our spring garden back on Saturday, Feb. 20, and only the two varieties of lettuce we sowed failed to make a crop. Everything else came up and thrived, and today we picked all the broccoli raab.

I pulled the little plants out by the roots, and Delaine cut off the roots, washed the remaing leafed stems and then blanched them. Blanching means dipping the plants into boiled, salted water for about a minute and then putting the plants on ice. She then bagged and froze them, saving out some for Sunday dinner.

There's other stuff just about ready for picking, and the pea plants look great. I need to get up a tresslis between the rows. The potatoes in the bags are doing well. The spinach in the pots looks great.

So far, so good with our 2016 garden. It's early, though.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lyrid meteor show blocked from view

Tonight is supposed to be the main night of the Lyrid meteor shower. The sources I've read say that the best show will be in the pre-dawn hours.
Those sources also noted that this year the show will be less visible thanks to the full moon.
Well, not only that, but here in south central Missouri we also have some cloud cover.
It is not overcast, but there are clouds moving across the sky. Or there were when I took the dogs out for their evening romp in the backyard.
Between the clouds and that blow-torch of a moon, it's going to be impossible to see any meteors, I think.
I'll be back up at 4 a.m., and I'll be checking again.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Indigo Buntings only look blue

Back in May 2010, I saw a couple of Indigo Buntings playing around by the back deck.
Well, the next day, my wife spotted the same birds and got a couple of photographs.
According to
  • Indigo Buntings are actually black; the diffraction of light through their feathers makes them look blue. This explains why males can appear many shades from turquoise to black.
  • They are more common now than when the pilgrims first landed. This is due to an increase in their favorite habitat of woodland edges, such as power line clearings and along roads.
  • They migrate at night, using the pattern of stars nearest the North Star to guide them. In captivity, these birds will become disoriented if they can’t see the stars in April/May and September/October.
  • A group of buntings are collectively known as a "decoration", "mural", and "sacrifice" of buntings.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

If ..... you may live in Missouri

This essay is all over the internet, and it is said to be from Jeff Foxworthy. I don't know if that is true or not, but these are funny and they fit Missouri.
Missouri according to Jeff Foxworthy:
If someone in a Home Depot store offers you assistance and they don't even work there, you may live in Missouri.

If you've worn shorts and a jacket at the same time, you may live in Missouri.

If you've had a lengthy telephone conversation with someone who dialed a wrong number, you may live in Missouri.

If you know several people who have hit a deer more than once, you may live in Missouri.

If you have switched from 'heat' to 'A/C' and back again in the same day, you may live in Missouri.

If you can drive 75 mph through 2 feet of snow during a raging blizzard without flinching, you may live in Missouri.

If driving is better in the winter because the potholes are filled with snow, you may live in Missouri.

If you install security lights on your house and garage, but leave both doors unlocked, you may live in Missouri.

If you carry jumpers in your car and your wife knows how to use them, you may live in Missouri.

If everyone in your family has been on a "float trip." you may live in Missouri.

If the phrase I'm going to the Lake this weekend has only one meaning, and everyone knows what you're talking about, you may live in Missouri.

If "Down South" means Arkansas and you know where Idiots Out Wandering Around are located, you might be from Missouri.

If "Vacation" means driving to Silver Dollar City, Worlds of Fun or Six Flags, you might be from Missouri.

If you ever rode a school bus over an hour each way, you might be from Missouri.

If you failed World Geography in school because you thought Cuba, Versailles, California, Nevada, Houston, Cabool, Louisiana, Springfield, and Mexico were cities in Missouri (And they are mind you!), you might be from Missouri.

If you had school classes canceled because of cold, You're probably from Missouri. If you had school classes canceled because of heat, You're probably from Missouri.

If you can recognize whether another Missourian is from the Boot Heel, Ozarks, Eastern, Middle or Western Missouri soon as they open their mouth, You're probably from Missouri.

If you know that Harry S. Truman, Walt Disney, George Washington Carver and Mark Twain are all from Missouri, Well... you guessed it.

If you know what "Home of the Throwed Roll" means! You're probably from Missouri. If you pronounce Missouri with an ah at the end. You're probably from Missouri.

If you think of deer season is a national holiday. You're probably from Missouri.

If you've ever said (or heard) its not the heat, its the humidity. You're probably from Missouri.

If you've seen people wear bib overalls to funerals. You're probably from Missouri.

If your idea of a traffic jam is ten cars waiting to pass a tractor. You're probably from Missouri.

If you've seen farmers stop work and remove their hat as a funeral passes by. You're probably from Missouri.

If you actually understand these jokes, send this so all of your Missouri friends and others can see. You definitely do live - or have lived - in Missouri God Bless Ya'll!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Website tells how to find, care for birds

The other evening my wife and  I were eating supper at a local eatery when another couple walked past our table, and the man stopped and greeted me.

For the life of me, I did not recognize him and couldn't place him.

"I'm sorry. I can't place how I know you," I said. "If I see people out of context, I sometimes have trouble."

He shook his head, incredulous. "Mike Doyen," he said.

"Oh, for crying out loud," I said; "I can't believe myself."

"I can't believe it either," he said, laughing.

Mike Doyen is the leading birder around these parts. I've know him for years, and I've written stories about him for the Rolla Daily News and The Ozarks Chronicle. To give you and idea how important he is to birding, take a look at this press release from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) encourages beginner and seasoned birders to discover nature by exploring the best of the best places to birdwatch around Missouri. Finding them is as easy as going online to the new website, Great Missouri Birding Trail, at

The website includes maps of the best birding sites around the Show-Me State, along with information on various aspects of bird conservation. Pages include birding tips, beginner basics, landscaping for birds, and how to get involved with local bird organizations.

The best-birding locations include mostly public land, such as conservation areas and state parks, and cover various types of bird habitats, such grasslands, woodlands, forests, glades, and savannas. Each type of natural community hosts a different suite of bird species to identify.

The Great Missouri Birding Trail project was started by Mike Doyen of Rolla, president of the Missouri Bird Conservation Foundation. The Trail is now a partnership between the Foundation and MDC, with support from other state and federal agencies and birding organizations.

Nothing is more critical to birds than habitat, Doyen said. If the habitat is right, the birds will be there. Visit some of the more than two hundred sites along the Trail and become familiar with the diversity of habitat that birds call home. Then ask yourself, what can I do in my backyard to improve habitat for birds?

The St. Louis and Kansas City sections of the Great Missouri Birding Trail website are complete. Work continues on four remaining sections, including: northeast, central, southwest, and southeast, which will be completed in the next year.

In the restaurant, we all talked a bit about feeding, watering and providing habitat for birds.  I asked him if he had a problem with grackels, big and aggressive birds that swoop in and eat all the feed and seed .

"Yes," he said. "They're like Republicans. They're everywhere." Then he laughed. See, Mike and I are polar opposites politically, but we get along fine because we both recognize friendship transcends politics.

"What do you do about them?" I asked.

"I feed them. They'll leave eventually,," he said.

We told what all we have done out our place to make it bird-friendly, and I hope you will sing onto the new website to find out what you can do, too.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Space ship battle in Germany on this date?

The Old Farmer's Almanac (the one with the yellow cover and the hole in the corner so you can hang it on a nail on the outhouse wall so you always have something to read) reports that on this date in 1541 in Nuremburg, Germany, the "sky (was) full of unknown moving objects."
That piqued my interest enough to "google" the date and place. What I got back was a list of websites about a UFO battle in the sky on April 14, 1561, not 1541. Maybe it  happened twice. I don't know. But one sensible website debunked the theory of a UFO battle, pointing out that the event was likely a "sun dog."
Also called a "parhelion," the phenomenon occurs when there is ice in the upper atmosphere that refacts sunlight. Those lights turned into spaceships in people's minds.
It's more fun to think that there was a Star Wars battle, but, sorry, there wasn't.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Beautiful signs of Ozarks spring

Eastern redbud.
Flowering dogwood.
 In April, the Ozarks hills turn white, not with snow (usually, but sometimes), but with the white blossoms of the flowering dogwood.
It's been our state tree since June of 1955.
The botanical name is Cornus florida, and it is native to Missouri. The four white petals are actually bracts. The true flowers are the little green doodads that are grouped in clusters.
These trees are beautiful signs of spring.
Another sign of spring, one with overlapping blooming period with the flowering dogwood, is the Eastern redbud.
It also is a natural Missouri tree, and it has its own beauty. A drive through an Ozarks forest with hillsides full of the dogwood and redbud blooming before the full leafing of the oak and hickory trees is a great way to pass a Sunday afternoon.
Cercis canadensis is the botanical name. Magenta flowers appear in clusters on the branches before the leaves.
It's a beauty, too, and it grows easily. We have two volunteers in our yard.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Andy Griffith and the creation of the universe

A couple years ago, we had a new pastor who started a Sunday night Bible study of the Old Testament, an overview from Genesis 1:1 to Malachi 4:6.

He made a Sunday morning announcement that the overview would include looking at what was going on throughout the world at the same time. The overview would be like taking a plane ride all over the world, and we could "land and take a look" for as long as we wanted.

This sounded interesting to me. I like ancient world history, so I attended that night. It was the second session, so I'd missed a little, but the pastor did a review at the beginning of the class. He handed out a course outline, and right near the top of the outline it said "Creation, about 4004 BC."

I knew immediately that I was not going to fit in with this discussion.

The pastor began the class and quickly got to the date-setting of creation. He said that figure was arrived at by Bishop Ussher and no reputable scholars have disputed or refuted it. It is generally accepted, he said.
I raised my hand.

"Well, you don't mind if I don't accept it, do you?" I said. "Because I don't."

The congregation laughed, and one lady said, "We've missed you, R.D." (I have not attended on Sunday nights for several weeks.) I'm not sure what she meant by that.

I should have just shut my mouth, but I'm a sinner, so I kept talking.

"The earth is millions of years old and the universe is billions of years old," I said. "By 4004 BC, there were Stone Age people living here in Missouri. They walked across the land bridge between Asia and Alaska around 10,000 BC."

I could have shut up then, too, but not me. Oh, no. I plowed ahead.

"Agriculture is dated back to around 10,000 BC. Archaeologists have found ruins of a granary in Turkey dating back to about that time. And I think I read that they found the remains of a dairy in Iraq dating to somewhere around the same time."

"Where did you come up with that?" the pastor said.

"Well, where did you and Ussher come up with this?" I said, pointing to the outline.

"God's word," he said. "God's word says it, so it's true."

"I believe the Bible is God's word, too, and I believe it is truth, but sometimes it is not factual," I said.

He did not seem to understand what I was trying to say. I don't think anybody else in the church did, either.
It was pretty clear to me that I was only going to be a distraction and a controversy-builder if I particiapted in the overview, so I stood up, picked up my Bible and said, "I think I'd better go. I don't want to cause problems, and if I stay I'm going to feel compelled to challenge every point."

"Thank you," said the pastor as I left the Bible study of my church.

I went back to Bible study once, and the lady who said "We've missed you, R.D." told me in all earnestness and seriousness that I might be called to stay behind after the Rapture to teach the Word. I don't know how that works, because it's my impression that people "left behind" are not Christians. If she figures I'm not saved, I'm not sure how I'm going to lead anyone to Christ after the Rapture.

I think  I'd better stay way from Bible study. It is not the place for me, even though I love to study the Bible, read the Bible, read about the Bible, talk about the Bible. It is the written revelation of God. Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God.

I'll worship on Sunday morning with the folks I love and admire, even though they think I'm way out there and not going up with them in the Rapture. They can believe what they want.
Our church has had too much division in the past, and I don't want to contribute to a new round of that. As I said, I don't want to be adversarial, and I don't want to be argumentative. On the other hand, I can't sit by without questioning the pastor's assumptions, just as he could not sit by and not question mine.

I think we'll just have to "agree to disagree" as they say. I've got more questions about creation and history than I do ideas about it, but I can in no way accept Bishop Ussher's timeline. I studied that and rejected it long ago. I've spent a lot of time off and on since high school trying to mesh Bible history and world history.
Since the beginning of civilization, the two do mesh pretty well, though not completely, and archaeology from time to time finds more evidence that Old Testament stories are true for ancient civilizations.

It's the pre-history that bothers me.

The book of Genesis up until the calling of Abraham seems to me to be literary rather than factual. I accept it as as the word of God, but I think the purpose is to lay the groundwork quickly for the history of Israel. It compresses everything from creation (and I do believe God created the universe through the Second Person of the Trinity, just like John 1:1-2 says) through the beginning of civilization into just a few chapters to get quickly to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel.

Consequently, it ignores the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages. There was a long time from creation to civilization. I think there was a long time from creation of the universe and the earth until the appearance of man on the earth. Archaeology bears this out.

God chose to tell that story quickly in the early chapters of Genesis, so those chapters are more mythos than reportage. I'm not saying they ARE myths; they are literary constructs to tell truth quickly. I can't believe that archaeologists are completely wrong when they date their artifacts. It's clear that agriculture began about 10,000-12,000 years ago in Turkey. That's where Mount Ararat is, so there's a tie-in with Noah. I've read sources that put the time of the flood about 10,000-12,000 BC. That intrigues me.

Archaeologists also agree that North America had humans wandering around it in the hunter-gatherer stage starting about that same time after they walked across the land mass that is now the Bering Strait. Something happened to raise the water levels so the strait is now impassable. The glaciers receded and meltied, raising the ocean levels, flooding land masses. This occurred about the same time as agriculture began in Mount Ararat, which is where Noah supposedly docked and started growing grapes. I find that intriguing.

The day after that Bible study that I left, I had a vacation day from work. At noon, I watched an old Andy Griffith episode, which I believe the Lord sat before me, for it illustrates what I believe about the opening chapters of Genesis.

It's the episode where Opie and his buddies don't want to study history. Andy tells them they don't need to study history, but then he goes on to tell a story. Here it is:

Now none of us would say Andy is not telling Opie the truth. He's the boy's Daddy; he isn't going to tell him a lie. But the American history that Sheriff Taylor relates is not factual. Certainly there was not a literal gun that fired a literal shot literally heard round the world.

Andy's story is not factual, but it is true. It is a story a Daddy tells a child that the youngster can understand and it encourages him to learn more. As the boy grows studies and grows, he'll understand more of the intricacies and facts.

I think that's what God did in the opening chapters of Genesis. He used figurative language and compressed the time so people could understand that he made it. Now, we have scientists who understand more of the workings of creation. For some of them, that knowledge makes them atheists. For others, it fills them with awe at the greatness of God.

I'm not a scientist. I work in a lumberyard/hardware store/home center. I'm not real intelligent, but I can accept that God literally created the world but he told us the creation story in the way Andy told the story of the American Revolution to Opie.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Say good-bye to English

A young man I recently met had some words tattooed on his arms.
“What’s that say on your arms?” I asked him.
He held up one arm and I saw one big word, “Poetic,” which I read aloud.
He held up the other arm and in big words, I read aloud, “Hustla.”
“Poetic Hustla,” he said.
“What in the sam hill is a hustla?” I said, “and what makes it poetic?”
“Hustler,” he said, repeating it more clearly, “It’s hustler.”
“Hustler?” I said. “Well, they misspelled it; you ought to get that fixed or get a refund from the tattoo parlor.”
“It’s slang,” he said.
“Well,” I said, “in my book, it’s misspelled. You won’t find ‘hustla’ in the dictionary. You really ought to get that fixed. It’s embarrassing.”
“It’s in The Urban Dictionary,” he said.
“That isn’t a real dictionary,” I said, being familiar with that particular website. “A real dictionary will have the word ‘Webster’ in the title, or ‘Oxford English.’”
He glared at me and walked away.
I have that effect on people. I didn’t mean to make him mad. I was just trying to help him, for I know how embarrassing a misspelling or typo can be. I’ve been writing for over 30 years. I have no doubt that I have read more words than most of you, and I’m certain I have written more words than all but a handful of you. I’ve made a few mistakes along the way, because mistakes happen, no matter how hard we try to avoid them.
Heck, I find mistakes in library books all the time. I used to make corrections to the library books, like marking up a galley proof, but I found out the librarians frown on that practice so I quit.
It seems to me I find more errors in newspapers, magazines and books nowadays, and I think it is because we rely on computers. Also, I suspect English is not taught as thoroughly and as deeply as it was in the previous century.
I got into a discussion one day at lunch with a woman who said schools do not teach English nowadays; instead, they teach language arts. I hope she just misunderstood what her children were telling her. At Rolla Board of Education meetings, the administrators usually say “English language arts.” If they formally drop the word “English,” from that title, I will raise some hell.
Let me make a prediction. Fifty years from now, the English language, at least in its written form, will be unrecognizable to people like me who were born in the previous century. Of course, we will be dead, so we won’t recognize it; I know that. What I mean is, if we could somehow live another 50 years and maintain some sense about us, we would not recognize written English.
Here’s my logic: Even though modern Americans use the English alphabet to communicate, they don’t write, they haven’t learned to write and they can’t write. Many young people I have run across can barely speak a coherent sentence, so I know they can’t write one. They use abbreviations and slang only; that practice has become so commonplace that these shortcuts are found in all forms of writing.
I am not opposed to slang or colorful language. If you’ve read my column over the years, you’ll know that I will often use slang or colloquialisms. I’ve started many columns off with “Boy, howdy” and slipped in references to “some ole boy.”
I don’t mind some use of offbeat expressions to enrich a piece of writing, but I’m sick of seeing “ur” for “your” and “r” for either “are” or “our.”
I’m also sick of seeing signs in foreign languages in the United States, but that’s a topic for another day.
Say good-bye to English. In 50 years, you or your grandchildren will be writing in a mish-mash of what used to be English churned with the language of immigrants, whipped up with urban slang and frosted with digital expressions and shorthand. If I live to be 110, I won’t be able to read it. I’ll have to ask for ancient texts from the 1950s and ‘60s to do any real reading.
Good grief, I sound like my parents and grandparents!
I really am an old goat.
Maybe I’ll have “Ole Gote” tattooed on one arm and “True Dat” inked on the other.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Beware the Mayapple plant, fruit, root and maybe seeds

Mayapple plants grow in colonies in open woods.
My wife and I made a nature hike in the Mark Twain National Forest this afternoon, and we ran across a plant that I had never seen before.
Fortunately, I am married to a retired, professional horticulturist, and she identified the odd-looking plant as a Mayapple.
"It's poisonous, so don't eat it," she said, and I assured her that I was there to take pictures of, not graze on, the flora of Mark Twain National Forest.
Actually, she said, the leaves, roots and stem are toxic, but the fruit is edible in small quantities. Eat too much fruit, and you're going to get sick, she said. She didn't mention anything about the seeds.
The fruit won't be ready to collect until late summer, early fall. Most of the plants haven't started to form the single bloom yet; we found only one with a tiny blossom in formation.
Although my wife is a compendium of information about plants, I like to find out things for myself, so I checked out the Missouri Department of Conservation's website and learned the single flower only forms on plants with two or more leaves. The plants usually have two leaves, although there may be a plant or two with a single leaf. The white flower that forms will be up to 3 inches across.  The blooms appear in March, April or May, depending on the weather, I guess.
These umbrella plants will grow to 18 inches tall.
The Missouri native wildflower grows in colonies in moist areas, like the spot next to a creek where we found the colony pictures here.
MDC warns the leaves, roots and stems are poisonous, but they are used in medicine production, even as a cancer treatment.
The fruit can be eaten raw, according to MDC, or made into jelly. Nothing was mentioned about the seeds.
I checked another favorite source, the website of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.
The scientific name is podophyllum peltatum. It is colonized by rhizomes, meaning it spreads roots underground, sending shoots up. My wife says ginger, bearded irises and calla lilies, canna lilies and bamboo do the same. That leads to a dense mat in damp, open woods.
The Lady Bird Johnson center is more emphatic about the poisonous quality of the Mayapple. Unripe fruit, leaves and roots are highly toxic and "may be fatal," the center's website notes. Nothing was said about the seeds.
A bloom is forming on this Mayapple plant.
American indians back in the day used the Mayapple plant for a cathartic cleansing, so it was kind of like a medicine for them. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also notes that the indians used the plant to make an insecticide.
My wife also said the Mayapple is called a wild mandrake.
"Mandrake!" I said. "I can't tell you how many mystery stories I have read over the years in which mandrake was used as a poison to kill someone.
"That makes a fellow want to eat them," I added in a sarcastic tone. "Don't worry about me grazing on these things. Or picking them either."
And I am definitely not going to chew the seeds.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sunny and cool weather

The sun is bright, and the temperature is 41 degrees, so I guess I am going to have to get up and do something outside.  The temperature when I got up this morning was in the low 30s, and I used the cold as an excuse to stay out of the yard and garden, where I am sorely needed.
I've enjoyed sitting here all morning, writing, drinking coffee and listening to country music on Hank FM out of Fort Worth, Texas, which I can listen to here in South central Missouri thanks to today's telephone technology.
The Old Farmer's Almanac predicts the weather for April 6-13 for this part of the country will be "scattered t-storms, cool, then very warm."
I likely will have to get out next Saturday and hit it hard with no excuses.

Friday, April 8, 2016

There's no state like Texas

That may be an unusual title for a post in a blog devoted to the Ozarks and to Missouri, but I intend to make a point about all three: Texas, the Ozarks and Missouri.
Look to the right and you'll see an opened case of Ozarka bottled water. My wife drinks that stuff because she doesn't like the tap water here. She didn't like the well water she drank in Texas either, so she bought Ozarka water there. When the doctor here told her that she wasn't drinking enough water, she went out and found Ozarka for sale here at the CVS drugstore. After a few days, I noticed the packaging. As you can see in the open case pictured, the top of the case has emblazoned in huge type "Made in Texas."  I looked at each bottle and there it is, too, "Made in Texas."
I asked my wife, "Are you sure you bought this here? Or did you bring this back from Texas?" She assured me that she bought it at CVS. She knew why I was asking.
"You'll never see anything that says it's 'Made in Missouri' like that," she said, meaning in huge letters on the case label.
I shook my head. "No," I said. "You are absolutely right. Not in Missouri. Not anywhere but Texas. There's no state like Texas."
That's a state that is proud of its histroy, proud of its culture, proud of everything that makes it distinctive.  Proud of everything it produces. And Texans are proud to declare they are proud of their state. I think that's a reason it has such a sound economy.
Why can't Missouri be like that? Although Ozarks businesses in the tourist trade have managed to use the name distinctively, in too many cases, they have branded it to mean backwoods and ignorant, rather than hard-working, reliant and quality workmanship.
Maybe a new governor and new state leadership can do something to make "Made in Missouri" or "Made in the Ozarks" mean something great.
Maybe businesses will promote "Made in Missouri"  and "Made in the Ozarks" as imprints to be proud of.
I won't hold my breath, though.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What would Mark Twain think about today's politicians?

Mark Twain wrote an essay in the spring of 1874 titled “The Temperance Insurrection” about women who did not have the right to vote but had the right to express themselves, so they publicly protested the ready supply of alcohol. He poked fun at them, of course, for that was what he did for a living. Nevertheless, about halfway through it, he turned serious and wrote the following:
“Would you consider the conduct of these crusaders justifiable? I do—thoroughly justifiable. They find themselves voiceless in the making of laws and the election of officers to execute them. Born with brains, born in the country, educated, having large interests at stake, they find their tongues tied and their hands fettered, while every ignorant whiskey-drinking foreign-born savage in the land may hold office, help to make the laws, degrade the dignity of the former and break the latter at his own sweet will. They see their fathers, husbands, and brothers sit inanely at home and allow the scum of the country to assemble at the ‘primaries,’ name the candidates for office from their own vile ranks, and, unrebuked, elect them. They live in the midst of a country where there is no end to the laws and no beginning to the execution of them.”
Twain’s description of government office-holders in 1874 fits in 2016, in my opinion. So, too, does his description of the electorate. And, he hits the nail on the head regarding the number of laws.
I wonder what Mark Twain would think about our country in the last few years?
What would Twain say about a president (running for office and trying to portray a safer world thanks to his work) and secretary of state who allowed terrorists to kill our ambassador to Libya and other Americans, then sent an official out to the television talk shows with a contrived story that it wasn’t terrorism but a spontaneous uprising in response to an anti-Islam video that led to the killings.
What would Twain say about an administration that allows the Internal Revenue Service to seek out conservatives, active in their opposition to the president’s administration, for special audits?
What would Twain say about the administration fishing around in the private e-mails and phone records of journalists?
What would Twain say about the administration’s selling of guns to Mexican drug cartels to be used against out nation’s own Border Patrol agents?
What would Twain about the health and human services secretary going around to the healthcare businesses her department regulates to collect money (extort?) to help promote Obamacare.
What would Twain say about the bugging of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office by Democratic party operatives to listen in on strategy sessions who then released transcripts of those sessions calling the senator insensitive to his opponent?
And what would Twain say about conservative voters who sat inanely at home and allowed the liberals of the country to elect their own into office again because the tea partiers and ultra-conservative independents stayed at home because they didn’t like Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion, didn’t think he was conservative enough and accepted the mainstream media’s contention that he was out of touch.
I presume Twain would have something witty and biting to say.
I’m not witty, so I’ll just call on you to stay informed about what the Obama administration has done and continues to do and tell your friends and relatives so that when the election rolls around in November 2016, maybe the conservatives will get up and do something about it.
Finally, I’ll leave with this quote from President Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years tell

ing our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Remembering the good ole days

Back when I was, oh, about seven or eight years old, I was playing on the front porch of the house in the small town where my grandmother lived. There was a swing hanging from the ceiling of the porch. I would lie on the cushion of that swing and try to make the swing move, but it’s impossible if your legs aren’t hanging down so you can pump the air. That’s what moves the swing. I studied the chain holding the swing and looked at the eye bolts holding the chains and the swing. At the time I did not know what an eye bolt was, nor how it worked, so I wondered how long the swing would hold me up. Moreover, my parents  or my grandmother would sometimes sit in that swing, and I knew they were heavier than me, for they were bigger.
The swing has nothing to do with what I am about to tell you. I was just thinking about that porch and the swing the other day, and recalled that late afternoon when I sat up, got off the swing and sat on the edge of the porch. Looking down the street, I saw a boy in my classroom, Robert Jones, crossing the street about half a block away.
“Hey, Robert, where you going?” I shouted.
“I’m going to get a comic book. My mom gave me a dime,” he shouted back.
“Well, wait a minute. I’ll go ask Grandma if I can go with you,” I said.
I ran in the house and asked grandma if I could walk uptown to the dime store with Robert. I also asked if I could have a dime. She gave me a nickel.
I ran out and joined with Robert to walk down the alley, across another street, up the alley to the sidewalk on the main street and then just a few steps to the left to the dime store.
Inside, we took our time looking over the comics. Robert quickly picked out a Superman comic. A dime was sufficient to buy that. I had only a nickel, so I had to buy an offbrand comic, something not nearly as good as Superman. Robert left so he could go home and read the adventures of Superman.
I stuck around and kept looking for something I would like. It was difficult to find something.
“Who are you?” the old woman clerking the store grumbled.
“Huh?” I said.
“What’s your name?”
“Ozarks Boy,” I said.
“That’s what I thought,” the old bat said. “You better just go on home. Your grandma does not want her grandson reading comic books.”
“Uh-huh,” I said. “She gave me a nickel to buy one.”
“Well, go on, get out of here,” the old battle-axe said. “I am not going to let you buy a comic book. I go to church with your grandma; she must not know what kind of trash is in these books. You just go on, now.”
I left the store, slamming the door, of course. I walked down the alley, crossed the street, cut down between some houses and walked through the unfenced yards to come up to the backyard of the house where Grandma lived.
I went inside and gave the nickel back to Grandma.
“The lady in the store wouldn’t sell me a comic book,” I said. “She said she knew you.”
Grandma took the nickel from me and put it back in her coin purse.
“Well, find a book to look at,” she said.
And I did.
Hillary Clinton once quoted an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Because she is a liberal Democrat, she made the case that the government needs to step in and take the role of the village and help parents raise children.
Conservative Republicans chastised her and called her some bad names. They said that parents, not villages and certainly not governments, should raise children.
That’s what happens when you start getting political about things as simple as raising children. Issues arise, truth gets lost.
The Africans were right about the role of an entire village to help raise kids. Ozarks villagers and small-towners knew and practiced that without the help of government back in the middle of the decades of the previous century when I was a young Ozarks Boy.
Over the following years, though, as the government was called on to take the role of the villagers and those who fought against government intrusion in private life over-reacted, the family and the village reached the point to where this is what happens now:
Store clerks today will sell any kind of trashy reading to a kid as long as the kid has the money because the clerks don’t know the kid, don’t know the parents or the grandparents.
And, besides, if the clerk refused to sell what the kid wanted, the modern parent or grandparent would rush to the store and give the clerk a good cussing.
If I’m making it sound like people were better and life was grander in the old days, it’s only because that is the truth.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

It is time to put out hummingbird feeders

Hummingbirds are making their great migration north, and they have arrived in Missouri.
If you want to attract the little ruby throats to your home, get your feeders out now. They won't show up if there's no food source.
For a graphic view of where the birds have been seen, go to this migration map that a St. Louis fan of the birds works hard to keep track of the little ones.
Here at the World Headquarters of The Ozarks Almanac, we feed birds year-round. We have half a dozen suet feeders out, along with three seed feeders, a couple of nugget feeders and two thistle seed feeders for the finches. Those are kept filled all year. We also keep the birdbath filled with clean water. In winter, we put in a heater.
We love watching the birds, and we look forward to the spring arrival of the hummers. They are fesity little fighters.
You can easily make your own nectar, or you can buy it at most home improvement or farm and home stores. You can also buy inexpensive, or expensive, feeders.
Change the nectar frequently, once a week is good, because the nectar can sour.
Rinse the feeders with water thoroughly, but never use soap. That's the word from our local Audubon Society chapter birding coordinator, who also hosts a monthly birding program on our local public radio station. He says a feeder washed with soap will forever be shunnted by hummers.
Get out the feeders soon. To parody that line from "Field of Dreams," a great baseball movie:  If you put out the feeders, they will come.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why do non-Muslims want to wear the hijab?

Back during Christmas week, my wife and I visited her family near Austin, Texas, so I read a lot of Lone Star state news. One column I read was in the Dallas Morning News, and it was a Dallas writer's story about her day wearing a hijab, which is the head scarf worn by Muslim women. You see women wearing the hijab all the time in multi-cultural Rolla. They mean something to the women who wear them, according to Texas writer Jacquielynn Floyd. They also mean something to non-Muslims who see the hijab on women's heads.
Floyd described the reactions she received while she wore the hijab, mostly glares. She also talked to three Muslim women and told about the lunch they had. The women described the fear they sometimes feel when people react to their presence in the United States, especially since 9-11.
Floyd questioned them a little about the hijab as a symbol of oppression, of submission to their husbands. One of the Muslim women told the writer that the head covering is liberating because by wearing it, they don't have to live up to modern American ideals of attractiveness.
Mostly, though, the reason for wearing the hijab is this, in the words of one of the Muslim women: "It says, ‘I am a Muslim woman. This is me.’”
And Floyd liked that answer.
Then a few weeks later, I read about the Wheaton College professor who had decided to start wearing a hijab. Wheaton College is a Christian college, traditionally a conservative Christian college, so Dr. Larycia Hawkins's decision to identify with Islam was a bit awkward. Moreover, she started speaking about the similarities between Islam and Christianity and declared the two religions worship and serve the same God and thus are brothers and sisters. That was pretty much the same as what the Roman Catholic pope had said.
But Wheaton College likes to teach about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate and the savior of the world, so diminishing his role and making him on the level with Prophet Mohammed didn't go over well. Dr. Hawkins had to find work elsewhere.
And now recently I read about Martha DeVries, a Baptist pastor's wife in Kansas City who has taken to wearing a hijab every Monday on her job as a high school counselor to show solidarity with Muslims, especially Muslim women. She said that she feels kinship with the Muslim women and as a follower of Christ, "My job is to love them."
Three non-Muslim women wearing the head scarves represent a number of other non-Muslim do-gooders doing the same. They're trying to be helpful, but I read another report, this one in the Washington Post, from Muslim women who would just as soon that they didn't. In an opinion piece posted back in December, two writers who described themselves as "mainstream Muslim women," said they'd rather such interfaith solidarity efforts stop.
The writers, Asra Q. Norman and Hala Arafa, went into great detail about the meaning of the word hijab and the historical use of the scarf. They said the hijab has always been optional, but in recent times, powerful Muslim organizations have started a campaign to brand it as the most important symbol of Muslim womanhood. The hijab promotes sexual harassment and abuse of Muslim women by the men, the women claimed.
Well, I don't know about that, but let me tell you what I think: I think non-Muslims wearing the hijab don't do a bit of good. The practice is probably harmless, certainly silly, but go ahead and wear one if you are inclined to do so. But it's America, so don't wear one if you don't want to.
It's obviously a religious symbol, though, so Christian women wearing it makes no sense. There's nothing wrong with wearing a head scarf. I was a child in the 1950s, and I remember Mama and Grandma and lots of other women wearing headscarves. I also remembrer seeing nuns with big scarves on their heads. Yes, it is OK for women to wear headscarves.
In the case of the hijab, though, it is a symbol of Muslim women and their religious beliefs, so a Christian woman wearing what she clearly identifies as a hijab seems a little odd to me. It makes as much sense as wearing a pentagram to show solidarity with their Wiccan sisters.
Maybe that's all right, too, so go ahead and do it.
I wear head gear myself. I rarely go out without a cap or hat. You might see me in a Mizzou Tigers cap, a Cardinals cap, an NRA cap or a Confederate flag cap. I won't bug you about your hijab or your pentagram if you won't bug me about my Rebel flag.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

How NOT to help a retail customer

By day, I work at a retail job in another city, in another county. I like the job a lot for many reasons. The associates I work with are, for the most part, kind to me. The company is a good one that offers good benefits, although Obamacare requirements kind of messed up some of that, it seems. The customers are wonderful people, and I like to help them find the products they need to complete the projects or make the repairs necessary in their homes.

I’d tell you the name of the store, but the company’s social media policy is quite strict, and since this column will be posted in the social media, I am prohibited from naming it. It is a store that sells products related to the home is all I can ethically reveal.

(DISCLAIMER:  I must here and now tell you that I do not represent myself as any kind of expert related to home improvement or repairs. I do not speak as an agent of the company that owns the store in which I work, and any opinions I offer today or any day here or anywhere, including church, are strictly my own, not those of the company for which I work.)

Who among us doesn’t like to be helpful to other people and to be appreciated? That’s why I like to help customers. They’re grateful when I help them find what they want or need, and they express appreciation. As a daily newspaper reporter by night, generally I get griped at and about, so I appreciate my daytime retail job immensely.

Here’s a poem I wrote about recently helping one of my customers:


It was right after lunch at the big-box store where I work,
and because helping customers is something I never shirk,
I walked up to the woman who looked like a lost little lamb,
and I said to her, politely. “What can I help you find today, ma’am?”

She was in the lighting department and she held broken bulbs in a bag,
She appeared confused, her tired shoulders seemed to sag,
I didn’t know if she was from the North or from Dixie,
but  her hair was cut in a style you could call pixie.

I spoke to her quietly, gently, because she was older than me,
while she replied in a voice that was soft and lilting as could be,
“I need some ceiling fan lightbulbs, to be exact, two,
“One that is a teardrop shape, and another that is blue.”

“Well, let’s go see if we can find what you need,” I encouragingly said,
and she pushed her cart behind me, as to the bulb aisle I led,
where I quickly found the bulbs with the shape of a tear.
“But, ma’am,” I said. “Bulbs that are blue, we don’t have, I fear.”

Then I saw Charles, the associate in lighting and electrical sales,
who knows a whole lot; with information and help he never fails.
“Charles,” I said, “this lady needs these two broken bulbs to replace.”
Then I said thanks and good-bye to her and left with a smile on my face.

While disposing of trash in the back of the store, later in the day,
I saw Charles walk past, “Hey, ole buddy, what do you say?”
“Were you able to help that woman who I referred to you?
“Did you find her a ceiling fan bulb that was the color blue?”

“No, R.D.,” said Charles. “We don’t have blue bulbs for lights on a ceiling fan.
“By the way, that customer you kept calling a woman was really a man.”
I was dumb-founded, slack-jawed and could not think of what to say.
“Are you sure, Charles,” I said. “Absolutely,” he said, and then walked away.

So, men, whenever to a home improvement store you go,
I want you to know I mean to help you as you spend your hard-earned dough.
But, please, roughen up your voice and don’t cut your hair like a dame.
So I won’t call you ma’am. That will save me from much shame.

I really feel badly about confusing that gentleman for a lady. I’ll be honest with you: With the number of people we see in that store every day and with the way styles of clothing and hair are today, I have seen a number of people who I wasn’t quite sure what gender they represented. In those cases, I was careful not to call them either “Sir” or “Ma’am.” I just acted respectfully and used generic terms.

But in this case, I was fooled. And I feel right foolish.

I am sorry, sir.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Why we need to be in church tomorrow

Well, here it is, Saturday already. That means tonight is bath night for tomorrow morning is church time.

I sure hope you will be in church tomorrow morning.

People who don't go to church (and some who do) don't get the reason for church. It is this: Worship, pure and simple, of the Great God Almighty.

Some years back, I ran the Westminster Shorter Catechism over the course of many days on the editorial page of the daily newspaper I edited.

The first question of that catechism was “What is the chief end of man?” That is another way of saying, “What is the main reason we are here?”

And the answer was “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”
There were scripture references to prove that truth.

Last year, I read a book by Dr. N.T. Wright, some high-up theologian in The Anglican Church over in Great Britain, who said the Great God Almighty expects to be worshipped.

Now, although I am not worth a hoot or a holler as a follower of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and am usually out yee-hawing on Saturday night (or, wait, maybe all that yee-hawing is just in my mind as I sit and watch the cowboys shooting and fighting in the black-and-white saloon on my TV screen), I generally am in a church someplace on Sunday morning, for I believe the catechism and Dr. Wright are right and that the Great God Almighty wants me to worship Him.

I have heard many people say they can worship Him in a boat or on a stream bank or sitting in their backyard just as well as they can in church.

Well, I doubt it. In fact, I don’t believe a word of it. When you tell me that, I think you are full of something, I shall not say what. Seriously, I think the only place you can worship the Great God Almighty is in a gathering. Seriously, again, I don’t think you have the willpower to sit sing or chant praises to the Great God Almighty and to meditate on scripture and to think about what God has done in your life, all while you are sitting in a boat throwing out a line early on the Lord's Day, or sitting in the back of your pickup on a Saturday night or Sunday night listening to your coon dogs or while you’re walking amongst the beautiful flowers in your backyard, drinking a cup of coffee on Sunday morning.

I think you have to be in the middle of a community of believers, focused on worshipping You Know Who, because He is worth your undivided attention.

Now, there are a lot of churches in town and the surrounding area, so you are sure to find one where you are comfortable attending. Even I, who fit in no where with no one, have found one where I fit in enough that they haven’t kicked me out. (I don’t attend Bible study with them, but that is a whole other story that has been told elsewhere.) If I can find a church to worship the Great God Almighty, you certainly can.

Speaking of Him, I believe the reporter in The Bible who wrote that “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke throughout history through prophets has lately spoken unto us by his Son .. who (is) the very image of (him).” In other words, I believe Jesus Christ was the Great God Almighty in the flesh. I believe He lived a perfect life, died on a cross and somehow that was to take the punishment for my sins, not His because He didn’t have any, and then rose up alive. It’s that rising up that we are fixing to celebrate tomorrow morning, just like we do every Sunday morning.

I am a sinner, a terrible sinner. If you knew the thoughts in my head, you would be shocked. Of course, I’d probably be shocked if I knew the thoughts in you head. Nevertheless, I like to read about Jesus in the four Gospels, because He has some interesting and mysterious things to say. For instance, there’s a story about Jesus going over to eat at the house of a high-and-mighty preacher. The reporter who tells the story says that Jesus turned to his host and said, “When you put on a dinner, don’t invite friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors! For they will return the invitation.  Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the godly, God will reward you for inviting those who can’t repay you.”

The reporter goes on to say that the man sitting at the table with Jesus said, “Boy, howdy, What a privilege it would be to get into the Kingdom of God!”

And then Jesus replied with a story that went something like this: “A rich ole boy from Rolla prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations to the fine and important people of the community.  When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to arrive.  But they all began making excuses. One big businessman said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it to get it ready to build a big commercial building, and asked to be excused. Another, an engineering professor up at the university, said he had just bought a powerful new car and wanted to take it out for a drive on the interstate, maybe run up to St. Louis for the weekend to see a ball game and eat on the Hill. Another fellow said he had had just been married and, well, (wink, wink) you know, he couldn’t attend a dinner on a special night like that.

“So, the servant came back and told his master what everybody said. The rich man was angry and told him to go up and down the streets and alleys of Rolla and find all the beggars, crippled, lame, and blind. But even then, there was still room.

“ ‘Well, then,’ said the master to the servant, ‘go around to the parks and behind the shopping centers and over in the woods by the interstate and find the homeless people and invite them to the big banquet. Go out into the country lanes and out behind the hedges, go around to all the bars in Rolla, Newburg and St. James and invite those drunks; find all the meth-heads and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.  For none of those big-wigs I invited first will get even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.’”

That is in Luke 14:12-24 of The Living Bible (Ozarks Boy Paraphrase). You can look it up and read it for yourself. But isn’t that something? What do you make of that story Jesus told? Does Jesus really mean that? What the heck DOES he mean, anyway?

I kind of get the idea he means that when God calls you to come spend time with Him, then you better come and spend time with Him. Don’t think you’ve got something better to do like look over your property or run up to St. Louis or tickle your new wife or go to some egg-drop or ball-game or rat-killing. Get together at the Lord’s table with the other folks and focus on Him. Otherwise, he’ll just forget you and find some other sinners to lavish his gifts on.

That’s what I think on this day before Easter, but I could be wrong, for I am only a Shade-Tree Theologian, just a big, fat, old, profane, loud-mouthed sinner who is going to be in church Sunday morning thanking and praising (and trying to hear from) the Great God Almighty.

Friday, April 1, 2016

It is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, a special month for poets and poetry readers. I consider myself both a poet and a poetry-lover. Here is a poem I just wrote and I love it:


Our economy is bad, jobs are scarce. We don't know what to do,
so we turn to China and beg to borrow another billion or two.

The commies are glad to "lend" it to us, asking only one small favor:
All we must do is import their goods made by children and other slave labor.

So our stores are filled with cheap Chinese crap made over in the Far East,
and our nation continues to descend from being the best to one of the least.

I'll tell yuh. I fear there will come a day (and I ain't lyin') yuh
might have to start standing to honor the national anthem of China.

OK, maybe it isn't the best poem you've ever read or written, so let's see what you've got in honor of National Poetry Month.