Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lookin' Good, Feelin' Good

I try to save trips to my local big-box grocery store for Thursdays since that's "Seniors Day": five percent savings for those over 60. Today being Thursday, I made a quick trip to pick up a few items. And I came out feelin' good -- and not just because I saved five percent on my tab.

As I was watching the cashier ring up my items, a young female store employee -- a teenager, by my reckoning, with an "alternative" look to her -- came walking by and said cheerfully, "Nice hat!" I thanked her energetically, duly impressed with her outgoing and complimentary spirit. I found this wool hat (from Woolrich) this winter and have worn it appreciatively -- it won the approval of my son David who has long worn models similar to this (and whose breadth of sartorial approval runs the gamut from light gray to black). I think my young admirer's approval at the store, and my son's, are linked by their mutual alternative perspective. (Has my cap gained me entrance?)

The cap:


David (and buddy Bruiser), who gave his approval -- sporting a toboggan rather than his version of my cap this Christmas:


Feelin' good, and lookin' good (remember the closing scene from Trading Places?), I received the total of my bill from the cashier, a likewise friendly teenager.

"Did you include my Senior Discount?" I inquired.

His sheepish look communicated "No," and he adjusted the total. Then he said, "Sorry -- are you really over 60?"

His polite tone revealed that he wasn't challenging my qualification for the discount.

"Yep," I said. "Be 63 next month!"

"Wow -- you don't look that old." That's exactly what he said.

Gathering my bags, I told him Harris Teeter ought to train all their cashiers to do what he did -- compliment the customers on the fact that they don't look old enough to qualify for the Senior Discount.

Now -- I don't think for a minute that I look sub-60 in years. I was talking to a young teenager who hasn't lived long enough to judge peoples' ages by how they look. But I left pretending he knew exactly what he was saying. At my age, I'll take compliments where and when I can get them. "Nice hat!" and "You don't look that old!" -- especially from teenagers -- made Senior Day at the grocery store the highlight of my week (so far).

(I'm obligated to say, for those who don't know me, that the "lookin' good" part of this post is in pure fun. True story, but told in fun. The hat is nice; the old grey head, not so much.)

The News in BIG Pictures

Two news sites with amazing, beautiful, LARGE format pictures from the day's news. I don't know how they do it, but these pictures don't take any longer to load than the typical small pics on most sites:

The Big Picture from The Boston Globe

In Focus from The Atlantic

Eat Some Kale Every Day

A great blog by a multi-time cancer survivor, and registered dietician, on ways to eat kale every day of the year. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I learned a new word recently: pomology -- the scientific study and cultivation of fruit.

I came across this word while perusing the pages of Old Southern Apples: A Comprehensive History and Description of Varieties for Collectors, Growers, and Fruit Enthusiasts (rev. and expanded edition). This second edition of apple hero Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr.'s classic book has become a go-to source for information on historic, heirloom Southern apples. (Calhoun is a legend in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina where he makes his home.)

While the book is a treasure itself, it pointed me to another treasure that resides deep in the belly of the USDA beast in Washington, D.C. -- the National Agricultural Library (NAL). This library is a huge repository -- way too much to explain briefly -- of American agricultural history. Lee Calhoun mentions the NAL because of the efforts that began in the late 19th century to identify and catalog thousands of varieties of American fruit. Here's a quote from Calhoun's book:
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established a Division of Pomology in 1886 to collect and disseminate information to fruit growers. Almost instantly it was overwhelmed with boxes of fruit from the public with cover letters asking "what kind of apple (or pear or peach or cherry) is this?" By 1888, the Division of Pomology had received over 10,000 fruit specimens for identification!

Accurate depiction of American fruit became necessary to aid in the task of identification. With color photography a distant invention, the division hired a series of accomplished watercolor artists, beginning in 1887, to paint pictures of American fruit. But the time this effort ended around 1940, over 7,700 paintings had been made of fruits and nuts. Some of these paintings were reproduced in USDA publications such as the annual Yearbook of Agriculture, but most were filed away and faded from public view. . . .

The recent burgeoning interest in heirloom fruits has renewed the public's desire to see the pomological watercolors. A monetary grant from a private source in 2009 allowed the USDA's National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland to convert the watercolors to digital format and make the files available to the public.
In Calhoun's book is a section of gorgeous color plates of 120 selected heirloom apple paintings from the NAL collection. Each painting contains, in the lower left and right-hand corners, in handwritten script, the artist's name, the date, the apple variety, the apple's location, etc.

This amazing art was created not just for apples, but for a variety of American fruits. Making my way to the NAL website I found a treasure trove of these digitized original paintings of apples and other fruits. And some prints have been nicely reproduced on 8" x 10" matte stock, suitable for framing and available for purchase.

Here, for instance, are the four apple prints currently available for sale via the NAL web site. (I borrowed these images from the NAL site without permission.):


The NAL web site is VERY large and not a little complex. But there is so much to see that it is worth the effort. Here are some links:

•The NAL home page is here.
•The NAL collections page is here. (Overview of the archives including the pomological watercolor collection.)
•Overview of Items currently available for purchase is here, including the four apple prints above which are the only apple/fruit prints kept in inventory for sale. Any of the pomological prints can be purchased, but the ones not kept in inventory are more expensive as they require one-off printing.
•The pomological watercolor collection is here. (Scroll down to link to watercolors of various fruits.)
•The apple watercolors begin here.

When I spoke with a nice woman at the NAL she said their goal was to get all the scanned watercolors printed and into inventory for purchase at the lower price. Right now, the only four apples available for purchase as 8" x 10" color prints ($25 each) are the four above. On the Collections page you can see a number of other products they have for sale in the spirit of agricultural history: note cards, posters, etc.

For North Carolina apple growers, one of the best sources of heirloom apples suitable for our climate is Ron and Suzanne Joyner's Big Horse Creek Farm ("specializing in antique and heirloom apple trees") in Lansing (Ashe County), NC.

I am gradually coming to understand more about antique apple varieties. Estimates range from 5,000 - 7,000 for the number of apple varieties once available in America. Today, consumers find the same 6-8 varieties in their grocery store. Thus, the effort being made by many to find and preserve "antique" apple varieties.

I've never understood the "Johnny Appleseed" idea of spreading apple seeds all around the NE United States in the early 19th century, resulting in the aggressive spread of apple trees -- when all apple trees today are grown by root stocks, not seed. Here's what happened as I understand it: Apple seeds can be sprouted and trees grown, but the vast majority of the time the resulting apple will be undesirable in one or more ways. "Pippin" apples, those sprouted from fallen apples that sprout their seeds and produce a new apple, are usually not keepers and are not reproduced. (Many of these were used to produce alcoholic hard cider more than a hundred years ago.) When a "pippin" apple tree arose and was found by chance to produce a desirable fruit, its branches (a scion) would be grafted onto an existing root stock and a tree grown to reproduce the desirable fruit.

So -- apple seeds will produce apple trees and apples, but these random efforts only occasionally produce "keepers" -- which are then reproduced via grafting to preserve the variety. (Please correct me if this is not accurate.)

I am more than willing to criticize our government for spending money we don't have, and for collecting taxes to pay for things that federal governments should leave to citizens and free enterprise. But I now find myself conflicted. The NAL archives are a store of history and pleasure for people like me, and while the digitizing of the fruit paintings was funded by a private donation, the library itself is obviously federally funded. If push comes to shove -- and it has definitely come to that with our bankrupt government -- I would have to conclude that things like the NAL would have to go if we can't pay for it. But for the moment, I'm glad it's there.

This short video is about Tom Brown, an antique apple hunter in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC/VA:

See No Evil

I recently finished watching the multi-part mini series Band of Brothers that originally aired on HBO -- the true account of Easy Company, perhaps the most storied military unit in the European theater of World War II. One of the most moving segments showed Easy Company moving into a German town that had been held by German forces who fled upon the Americans' arrival. In doing reconnaissance outside the town a squad of Easy Company soldiers came upon the shocking site of a concentration camp filled with dead and near-dead Jews, gypsies, and others. The American soldiers were shocked beyond speaking at the level of cruelty and barbarity they encountered. They had heard rumors of Germans rounding up "undesirables," but had not witnessed it first hand. And the German citizens in the town had turned a blind eye and done nothing (though they likely could have done nothing in the face of Nazi force). Easy company commanders forced every citizen in the town, 14 years of age and older, to go to the camp to bury the mounds of dead, help the survivors, and witness what their nation's government had sanctioned -- while the American troops began providing what food and medical attention they could. The segment was a grisly reminder of how it is possible for evil to be taking place in the midst of seemingly civilized and caring people -- or at least far enough away for most to be able to turn a blind eye.

In the modern animal rights movement, animals are often compared to those the Nazis deemed undesirable in the Holocaust. Ten billion animals are killed each year (in the U.S.; 60 billion worldwide, according to Kathy Freston, author of Veganist) at the whim of human beings who are stronger than the animals and who have the sanction of government and the majority of the population. Many in the population turn a blind eye and participate in the commercial raising and killing of animals because they like the taste of meat. That is their choice, of course. But I still believe many continue to support the commercial meat industry without knowing "what's going on just outside of town." Just as the Nazis put their concentration camps in out-of-the-way settings so as to hide what they were doing, so commercial meat farmers raise and slaughter animals behind close doors -- literally. The public is not invited and you will be turned away if your local organization wants to tour a commercial animal factory farm. That fact alone suggests the owners are not altogether proud of what they do.

Many courageous souls in Europe during the early days of Nazi rule -- Christians primarily, but others as well -- took an active role in fighting the atrocity of genocide. People like German pastor-scholar Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood publicly against Adolf Hitler, and the ten Boom family in Holland hid Jews in their home when the Nazis began their purges. Bonhoeffer was hanged and the ten Boom family was found out and shipped to concentration camps where all but Corrie ten Boom died. They knew the cost before acting but did so anyway.

So today, activists of various kinds are doing what they can to expose the brutalization of animals raised for human consumption. And that includes some who go into the factories to film undercover videos and make them available to the public. Others, like Mercy for Animals, compile those videos and make them available to a broad audience; to all who are willing to look truth in the face and ask what part, if any, they are playing in supporting such a system.

Mercy for Animals has just released a new 12-minute video, Farm to Fridge, revealing what goes on behind the closed doors of some factory farms. The production values are excellent -- this is not just a collection of random, gruesome videos. But it is gruesome. Why? Because this isn't CGI footage compiled out of the imagination of an animator in Hollywood. This is video of what is happening today in factory farms in America. I encourage you to watch it -- and then do what you can not to support such a system. This will stop as soon as people stop voting with their dollars at the grocery store. And it will continue as long as people choose to see no evil.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Food for Thought

From the pen of Elisabeth Elliot in Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (as cited in David Platt's Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream):
Is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for Him, after all, so great? Is not the second the logical conclusion of the first?