Wednesday Like No Other

It’s hard to imagine a world without fork-split English muffins, isn’t it?  The toasted tasty flat pieces of bread with “nooks and crannies” full of butter and jam are a staple of modern morning life.  Samuel Bath Thomas made them popular in 1880 and the Thomas brand has existed ever since.  These days, Thomas sits amidst store and other baked brands, although only Thomas declares itself to be “breakfast like no other.”

Interestingly enough, back in December, 1948 a local newspaper printed a ham spread recipe for English muffins.  The article said “if these are not sold in your community, then use cold biscuits.”

Apparently, there was once a world without enough English muffins to go around.  Imagine that.

A few weeks ago, I fell for the enticement of Thomas’ corn English muffins.  I was intrigued by the bright green, orange, and yellow packaging.  I imagined a basic bread muffin with a corny as Kansas bite, smothered with butter.

I was sadly disappointed.  The muffin was overly sweet and the corn taste?  Non-existent.  Nothing could make that muffin better than a “cold biscuit.”  At least Thomas labeled honestly, as I noticed while examining the packaging.  They are “partially produced with genetic engineering.”

I should have known better than to read the label too closely.  Thomas’ muffins are now owned by Bimbo Bakeries which is a subsidiary of Mexican company Grupo Bimbo, allegedly one of the worldwide leaders in the baking industry.  A hedge fund is baking your English muffins.  And there’s probably nothing wrong with that; it’s the way of the world.  Nothing is as it seems to be, not even English muffins.

Meanwhile, I had yesterday’s good fortune of lunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She made her delicious spinach-raspberry-pistachio salad with a balsamic glaze and a scoop of curried chicken salad on the side.  Mugs of hot coffee and conversation.

I wish that every Wednesday could afford such pleasant hours.  It lifted my sagging spirit, which had been brought to a new low by the English muffin revelation.

Not a MuffinBlue skies, warm and gentle summer breezes, and a good friend.  Thank goodness for such simple things.

It was a Wednesday like no other.

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How About Wednesday?

Dear Friend,

This will be the first week I have not hand-written my weekly letter to you.  I fell asleep with the twelfth Mitfod book on my chest and too many pillows under my neck.  Around midnight, the rain tapped on the garage roof and I shut the light.

A look at the calendar and I realize I’m behind in the week’s writing already, including your letter.  The good news is my week’s lunches are prepared and I have dinner inspiration for tonight; I only need a can of creamed corned.

Thank you for your encouraging e-mail and the invitation to visit any time after Tuesday.  How about Wednesday, maybe in the afternoon?

San Marzano TomatoesDo you need any tomatoes?  These are the “paste” variety with very few seeds and nice firm flesh.  They’re wonderful for cooking.

Tentatively until Wednesday,


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The Beehive of Truth

I’ve cast a disdainful eye on television in the years I’ve been blogging.  I’ve referred to it as “Tee Vee” and taken a position that it’s like a termite chewing through the gray matter of the nation’s collective brain.  Regardless of what I think about the current state of “Tee Vee,” with its preening weather puppets and veneer-toothed news readers, once upon a time I watched it.  Once in a while, even now, I watch it at Handy’s house.

But I only watch it in controlled doses and with no particular pattern.  Like my occasional viewing of the 1960’s television western series The Big Valley

I don’t remember watching the series as a small child; it ran for four seasons beginning in 1965.  Barbara Stanwyck stars as Victoria Barkley, the widowed matriarch of a wealthy California ranching family.  Her children, Nick, Jarrod, Heath, and Audra live at the ranch with her and manage the family’s land and business holdings.  Given their prestige in the big California valley, someone is always showing up at their doorstep, trying to cast a shadow on the Barkley name.  Like most Tee Vee shows prior to the post-modern era, such dilemmas were generally resolved in the 60 minute time slot allotted and if not, there would be a two-part episode.

All you really need to know about the Barkleys is that they were as pure as the driven snow and always looking out for their many friends and neighbors.

Last week, I watched an episode called “Target” which originally aired on October 31, 1966.  Josh Hawks, a politician running for governor of California, rides into Stockton and says the Barkleys are thieves and their land holdings were stolen from the people of the valley.  His statement, entirely false, grabs headlines in the local papers; his strategy is to ride out of town on the wave of publicity and move on to another town to run a similar scheme.

The old “shake a beehive and run.”

Bee HiveHawks’ campaign manager is pleased with the popularity surge which results from the lie, but urges his candidate to quickly move on to another town and another libelous scheme.  Fortunately, for the Barkleys and the state of California, Josh Hawks has a problem with booze.  A series of drunken missteps leaves him dead in a courthouse explosion and truth prevails like a bee sting.  The Barkley name is restored as the dust from the explosion clears and peace returns to the big valley.

Aristotelian theory holds that art imitates life; I’m not saying The Big Valley is art, but the second season’s Halloween episode had a spooky and prescient resemblance to our current political maelstrom.

As the daily thump on the front porch provides my thin packet of “news” I’m going to close today’s blog post with some thoughts from my Aristotelian philosopher friend, “At Your Service.”  We were talking about the past, and how quickly we stuff it in the drawer for the promise of the present and future.

“What is more interesting still is the constancy of man’s attitude to the present; it is always pushing the envelope of human existence, the now, the best, the most engaging, the important, the significant, that to which all must pay moral and political homage –lest we perish!

Whatever it was then, it’s of little interest now, relegated to microfiche, stored in the dusty bins of history, no longer the object of amazement and fear.  Maybe we do learn something from the past; it’s just like the present will be.”

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The Window on Wiscasset

Before my brother left for the Iowa State Fair, he kept talking about “the butter cow.”  Silly me, I thought “the butter cow” would be some gentle bovine creature with big brown eyes and a set of abundantly generous udders.  I looked forward to my brother’s selfie with said creature.

Had I just done a search of the internet, I would have known that “butter sculpting” is a century-long tradition in the Midwest.  There would be no selfie of my brother and a living, breathing bovine.

I was devastated.

The Window on Wiscasset
Perhaps one day, the Nickels-Sortwell House will be carved in butter.  Until then, I’ll remain adverse to all butter carvings larger than one inch in diameter.

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Mining our Material

My brother, Jim Baumer, gave a talk at the Lisbon Historical Society last night.  The subject of his 40 minute “chat” was John Gould’s career as a newspaper writer and editor.  Gould, the author of more than twenty books, also wrote a weekly column for the Christian Science Monitor from 1942 until his death in 2003, making him the longest running newspaper columnist in history.

If you’re not from New England, you may never have heard of John Gould.  His books are only in limited publication now and he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.  My brother’s talk touched briefly on Gould’s limited legacy, but primarily, he talked about Gould as a newspaper reporter and publisher.

The archives were jammed; there wasn’t a spare seat in the place.  My brother is a very good public speaker; he’s studied other public speakers and he’s practiced his craft over time.  I thought I knew more than the average Mainer about John Gould, but I learned quite a few new things.

I was tired from my afternoon research at the Portland Public Library’s “Special Collections.”  My goal was to review two years of microfiche newspapers, but I got stuck in 1949 and had a hard time pulling myself out.

1949 Buick

A lot was happening in 1949.  Carl Sandburg spoke at the University of Maine’s Orono campus on February 23, a nationally syndicated food writer named Charlotte Adams sampled fried clams and broiled lobster at Boone’s Restaurant while on a national restaurant tour, and Portland Press Herald readers were devouring the murder mystery Dinner at Antoine’s by Frances Parkinson Keyes.  Food prices were high and a number of food writers featured by the paper hinted that although butter gave the best flavor in baking, vegetable shortening was a lot less expensive and produced similar results.

There was a tremendous amount of “society news” in the daily paper.  It must have been like getting a stylized static Facebook feed every day dished up on your front steps.  Women went to candlelight teas, silver teas, and afternoon coffee meetings.  I found familiar family matriarchs who served as “pourers” and “servers” at these functions.

I found the daily radio listing for the 250 watt AM local radio station, WGUY.  Guy Lombardo was on every Monday through Friday at 1:00 p.m.  Maybe it was what a lady of leisure would listen to during the post-lunch power nap before pouring at the Pilgrim Daughters Society “Coffee and Cornucopias.”

(I made that last event up.)

I also met Abraham A. Schechter, the Special Collections Librarian and Archivist.  He helped me figure out the best way to navigate the microfiche and didn’t seem to mind that I needed him to show me how to load the film twice.

I studied and researched for almost three focused hours, getting familiar with the equipment and the layout of the material.  Mostly, I wanted to get an idea of how much material I could cover in an hour to plan out the length of time my “book” research might take.  I’ve got 24 more years to cover in the archival material.  At this rate, between working for pay and attending “teas” and “society events,” it looks like it might take a few years.

I’d better buy a Buick.

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Righting the Ship

Have I written a blog post about overcommitments, projects spinning like plates in the air, and borrowed time?

Yes?  Then there is no reason to do that today.

This is a sidewalk strip garden on Maple Street.  A woman named Tanya planted it.  Planting sunflowers in that area is risky business there are deer lurking in the woods nearby.  Tanya took a risk and we’ve all been rewarded.

Sunflower beauty makes all other news items fade into nothingness.

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Situational Honesty

It’s hard not to be cynical, isn’t it?  According to an article I read this week, 30 percent of Americans are dishonest, 40 percent are situationally honest, and only about 30 percent are honest all of the time.

The article was passed along to me in a digital format from a “members only” fraud magazine to which I do not subscribe.  I can’t find a link to it on the web nor can I find the sources the author used to confirm that statistic.  For purposes of discussion, we can only assume this statistic is true.

Nevertheless, if about 70 percent of Americans are dishonest much of the time, that number includes politicians, journalists, and a vast swathe of other “authorities.”  Maybe even dentists.

According to an AP article in my local “news” paper, dental floss might be yet another lie shuffled off onto an unknowing public.  See for yourself.  What with dental floss selling for as little as one buck a box, it’s possible that the American Dental Association has something more lucrative it would like to sell us.  But I’m only speculating; as I said earlier, it’s hard not to be cynical when only 30 percent of Americans are honest all of the time.

And speaking of shice, this past weekend there was a “feature” in the “b section” of the local newspaper about the disposal of dog waste.  Included with the local “staff” writer’s article was an AP piece titled “Need someone to scoop poop?  There’s an app for that.”

Yes, supposedly there’s an app for that.

The article’s headline was a little misleading, though.  The app, according to the July 31, 2016 article, “began being marketed this week despite not being up and running yet.”  It’s “supposed to work pretty much like Uber” the article said.

Except that it was all just a big artful and ironic joke, according to this article.

Elliott Glass, the “Pooper app’s” co-creator, said “The fact that people were so willing to embrace that this could be something that could make their lives easier was a little bit terrifying.”

Now there’s some truth.

Of course, if you’re part of the 70 percent of the American population that isn’t honest, does it really matter?

We’ve got some truly beautiful August weather here in New England, no lie.

Morning Glories Never Lie

Morning glories never lie.

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