An Insider’s Guide to America’s Best National Parks

June 24, 2018

From Parade Magazine June 24, 2018

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If you want to feel really good about America, pack your bags and take a trip to one of its parks. “The National Park System is one of the first great American inventions,” says QT Luong, who has spent 25 years photographing all 60 parks. “We had a unique opportunity to preserve pristine land before it saw any development.” Luong and others who know the parks well—writers, rangers, photographers, scientists and conservationists—gave us the inside info on what author Wallace Stegnercalled “the best idea we ever had.” They helped us pick the park that delivers what you’re looking for, whether it’s wildflowers, wildlife, waterfalls or a big dose of peace and quiet.

Quietest

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Washington state’s Olympic National Park is home to the Hoh Rain Forest. “If you hike up the Hoh River trail, you come to one of the quietest places in America,” says Rob Smith, regional director with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “The vegetation, the moss covering everything—there’s a stillness that’s really profound that you can’t find anywhere else.”

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QT Luong/Terra Galleria

On the opposite end of the dampness spectrum, many desert parks offer a different kind of intense quiet. QT Luong cites Utah’s Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks as some of the quietest he’s visited. “I find the silence in the desert striking. There are fewer animals and birds, and the silence can be really eerie.”

Birding

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Texas’ Big Bend National Park is home to more than 360 different bird species, the most of any national park. Its mountains, deserts and rivers—and its location next to a protected natural area in Mexico—provide a range of ecosystems for birds like the Colima warbler that aren’t found anywhere else in the U.S. “And you can see elf owls there,” says biologist David Lamfrom, who directs wildlife programs for the NPCA (and photographs birds, animals and reptiles). The owls, the smallest in the world, are the size of sparrows. “They’re so cute it’s almost painful.”

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Elf owl in Big Bend National Park.  (Art Wolfe Stock/Image Source/MediaBakery)

Best Stargazing

Manish Mamtani

Acadia National Park (Manish Mamtani)

Manish Mamtani grew up in central India, where in summer he and his family often slept under the stars. When he moved to the U.S., he was astonished to learn that 80 percent of Americans can’t see the Milky Way. Now he photographs the national parks at night and posts photos for his 1 million–plus followers on Facebook, such as his pic of the Milky Way rising over Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park (Maine), one of his favorite parks for nighttime viewing. “It’s so beautiful and peaceful if you go to a national park at night,” Mamtani says. “It gives me an idea of how our ancestors saw the night sky. It feels untouched.”

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Great Basin in Nevada.

Desert parks offer the best stargazing, says Lamfrom, because the dry air and altitude provide a unique clarity. He loves Great Basin (Nevada), where the brilliance and intensity of the stars and Milky Way make for a night-sky experience unlike any other, he says. Great Basin is one of eight U.S. national parks certified as International Dark Sky Parks by the International Dark-Sky Association. The others are Big Bend (Texas), Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado), Canyonlands (Utah), Capitol Reef (Utah), Death Valley (California and Nevada), Grand Canyon (Arizona) and Joshua Tree (California).

Best For Wildlife

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Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone (Wyoming, Idaho and Montana) is most definitely where the bison roam and the deer and the antelope play. With the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states, Yellowstone’s 67 species include mountain lions, wolverines, wolves, grizzly bears, mule deer, elk, moose, badgers, river otters, snowshoe hares and pika.
Florida’s Everglades National Park includes such a wide range of ecosystems (freshwater, saltwater, barrier island, pine forest, cypress domes) that it’s “truly remarkable in terms of profound diversity of wildlife,” says the NPCA’s Lamfrom. You can see barred owls, alligators, crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, whales, six species of sea turtles, wood storks, egrets and a host of migratory birds. “Speaking as a wildlife photographer, it’s an outstanding park.”For fewer crowds, bring your binoculars to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park. “I knew it had badlands, I knew it had wildlife, but it has lots of wildlife,” says Becky Lomax, author of Moon USA National Parks (coming October 2018). “I saw wild horses, coyote and prairie dog towns everywhere, and bison, hawks, golden eagles and even longhorn steers,” a reminder of 1880s cattle drives from Texas to the green pastures of Dakota Territory.

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Lowest, Driest, Hottest

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Death Valley (California and Nevada) is the park where the mercury once registered the hottest temp (134 degrees F) ever recorded on Earth. It’s also the lowest (282 feet below sea level) and driest (an average 1.9 inches of rain per year) park. Yet Death Valley encompasses an incredible diversity of flora, fauna and geology, from arid salt flats, sand dunes and 11,000-foot mountains to more than 1,000 plant species (including a “superbloom” of wildflowers every 10 to 15 years) to 400-plus wildlife species, including mountain lions and bighorn sheep. “I feel incredibly light-hearted and free when I’m in Death Valley,” says Abby Wines, park management assistant, who has lived and worked there for 13 years.

Most Scenic Drives

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Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado) climbs 4,000 feet, from mountain meadows through forests of aspen and ponderosa pine and then fir and spruce and up into tundra, where 200 species of tiny alpine plants cover the ground. “It’s one of the most spectacular drives in the country,” says Luong.

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Glacier National Park 

Some 900 miles north in Montana, Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road offers one of the most iconic views in any park, says Lomax. On Logan Pass, the road’s highest point (6,646 feet), you find yourself  “in gorgeous wildflower meadows surrounded by jagged peaks right on top of the Continental Divide.”

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Back east in Virginia, the 105 miles of Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive offer nearly 70 scenic overlooks. The drive runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the 480-million-year-old Appalachian chain. It’s a great destination for roadside photographers, says Luong. (You can see his photos in his book Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, Cameron Books, 2016.)

Best Fossils

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Badlands

Death Valley (California and Nevada) offers ranger-led tours out to see footprints from the Pliocene epoch of 5 million years ago. “You can take a hike and see this assemblage of footprints made by ice age creatures” including mastodons, camels, horses and cats the size of leopards, says Lamfrom.

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South Dakota’s Badlands National Park houses mammalian fossils from the Eocene (56 million years ago) and Oligocene (34 million years ago) epochs, as well as fossils of large extinct marine lizards found in the Pierre Shale.

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Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park has one of the world’s largest collections of petrified wood, as well as plant and animal fossils that date back over 200 million years (and a few dinosaur fossils too).

Best for Big Adventure

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Gates of the Arctic is so incredibly remote you have to fly in and get dropped off,” she says, “and a week later you’re picked up by your pilot.” Hiking, river rafting, backpacking, wildlife viewing—you can do it all, including watch glaciers calve [when large pieces of ice fall off] from a boat in Glacier Bay or climb the highest peak in North America (20,310-foot Denali) in Denali National Park (for experts only).

Best Swimming Holes

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Home to the tallest dunes in North American, Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park also has one of the USA’s best swimming holes. Snow from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains melts and pours down into the dunes, creating Medano Creek, with underwater sand ridges that produce actual waves. Because it’s shallow it’s best for wading or gentle tubing. “It’s what I’d imagine it feels like to stumble upon an oasis,” says author Michael Joseph Oswald (Your Guide to the National Parks, Stone Road Press, 2017), who traveled more than 55,000 miles while visiting 51 national parks. (Get info on current creek conditions here)

For a more traditional “swimming hole” feel, try the south fork of the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, which offers sandy beaches, shallow waters and views of El Capitan.

Back east, the forests of Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks hide some A+ swimming holes, such as Virginia’s Whiteoak Canyon (which includes six waterfalls ranging from 35 to 86 feet) and North Carolina’s Midnight Hole.

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If your idea of “swimming hole” includes the cry of seagulls, salty air, sun, sand and waves, head to Sand Beach, nestled onto a curve of Mount Desert Island in Maine’s Acadia National Park. Its pink-white sand (made up of millions of finely crushed shells) and turquoise waters look like the Caribbean; but the chilly (55 degree) water temps will remind you you’re in Maine.

Virgin Islands National Park

Trunk Bay Beach in Virgin Islands National Park is “one of the most beautiful beaches in the world,” according to the National Park Service, with white sands, aqua blue waters and an underwater snorkeling trail.

With any swimming hole or beach, don’t overlook safety, says Oswald. Never swim alone, watch kids closely and check with park rangers about water conditions. Even calms waters can hide swift currents.

The Most Surprising Parks

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“I’ve had a lot of surprises in the parks but nothing like Congaree,” says Lamfrom. Twenty-five champion trees (the largest of their species in the country) live in the South Carolina park, part of a deep, old-growth bottomland forest that vividly conveys how “beautiful and haunting” the American South was 500 years ago. “The rich smell of soil and all these flowers blooming, those dark water rivers running through the swamps and forests—I wasn’t prepared for what a visceral experience it was going to be.”

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QT Luong, who has visited all 60 parks more than once, says Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains National Park astonished him. “It’s located in the desert and I didn’t expect to find that much vegetation and fall foliage color—it’s as colorful as in the East.” The steep walls of Guadalupe’s McKittrick Canyon protect an oasis filled with chinkapin oak, velvet ash and bigtooth maple trees.

Parks Every American Should See

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There’s nothing like seeing the biggest trees in the world in Sequoia National Park, Lamfrom says. “It’s humbling and profound.”

Yosemite and Glacier are kind of on a level of their own,” says Oswa. “In terms of pure beauty, those stand out.” NPCA’s Mark Wenzler agrees: “Yosemite is stunning. You almost want to cry, it’s so beautiful.”

Great Smoky Mountains National Park runs a close second, Wenzler says: “The biodiversity there exceeds that found almost anywhere else in the world. There are more species of trees than in all of Europe. And you get important cultural stories about the people who lived there before the park was established and the Native Americans who lived there before that. It’s an amazing experience.”

Download a full-size version of our National Parks map here.

US Map Parks 2018 AR_letter

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PDF Ideas from On Computers

February 17, 2018

CONVERTING TO PDF

A reader wondered how to convert a PDF to a Word document without buying a conversion program.

PDFs are files with photos and text that are locked in place. But you can edit them using free websites such as PDFtoWord.comor PDFtoExcel.com .

When you get to PDFto-Word.com , ignore the words “free trial.” That’s a free trial of the premium version from NitroPDF. Just click “select your file” and choose the PDF you want to edit. An email with the converted document will be sent in under a minute. It worked perfectly in all but one of our tests.

We also like the free PDF editor at FormSwift.com. Joy used their eraser tool to erase parts of a poster for her Woman’s Club, leaving in the border and logo, and substituting a new event. It was easy to use and free.

Four Exercises To Do Every Day

December 27, 2017

Exercise #1: Sit-to-Stand
“Standing up from a chair or other surface without using your hands is a good exercise for older adults to perform to maintain good health, fitness, and mobility,” Phelps says. After all, being able to sit down and stand up from a couch, chair, or toilet is often the determining factor in whether someone can live independently or needs full-time care.
How to do it: Stand in front of a sturdy chair with your feet between hip- and shoulder-width apart. Your heels should be about six inches in front of the chair, arms held straight out in front of your shoulders. Brace your core.

From here, slowly bend your knees and push your hips back to lower your body onto the chair. Pause, then press through the back two-thirds of your feet to stand up again. That’s one rep. Aim for two or three sets of 10 reps total per day. Try not to swing your torso for momentum or use your hands to push back up.

Make it harder: Once you’re able to perform two to three sets of 10 reps with good form, try lowering your body to a shorter chair or piece of furniture. Eventually, work up to removing the chair altogether to perform full bodyweight squats. With each rep, lower your body as far as you can comfortably go while keeping your chest up and heels on the floor. Click here to learn why squats are the single most important exercise we do—and the best way to do them for your body.

Exercise #2: Tandem Stance
Commonly used as a test for assessing balance, the tandem stance is also a great exercise to perform every day. “It can significantly improve balance and stability to increase function and decrease the risk of falls,” Phelps says.4

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet together, and brace your core. From here—holding onto a wall, counter, or sturdy chair for balance, if necessary—step one foot in front of you so that your front foot’s heel is against your back foot’s toe. Your feet should be in a straight line. Imagine you’re standing on a tightrope or balance beam. Hold this position for 30 seconds or as long as you can, then switch the position of your feet and repeat.

Make it harder: First, step into the tandem stance without using a wall for balance. Once you’ve mastered that, perform the exercise while holding a light weight in each hand. Don’t have dumbbells at home? Use water bottles or cans of food.

Another option: To really train your balance and strengthen your core, hold a weight in only one hand. Imagine a string through the crown of your head is pulling your spine straight toward the ceiling, and engage your core to avoid leaning to one side.

Exercise #3: Farmer’s Walk
In all its forms, walking is a must-do daily activity, Phelps says. This variation, which requires holding a light weight in each hand, pulls double duty by training your upper body and core strength. It looks much simpler than it feels, and mastering it can improve your ability to perform almost any other exercise and activity that life throws at you.

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and a weight in each hand down by your sides, palms facing your body. Brace your core. From here, slowly walk forward. Imagine a string through the crown of your head is pulling your spine straight toward the ceiling. Walk for 30 seconds or as long as you can, then repeat in the opposite direction.

Make it harder: Try introducing more weight. Doing so will not only increase the load placed on your core, back, and glutes, but also on your hands. When using challenging weights, the farmer’s walk becomes a great way to improve grip strength. Plus, check out these other exercises for your grip.

Exercise #4: Single-Leg Stand
This exercise has a tremendous impact on your ability to perform everyday activities that require supporting yourself on one leg at a time, such as walking and climbing stairs, Phelps says. It will also help you discover and resolve any muscular imbalances between your left and right sides.

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet together, and brace your core. From here—holding onto a wall, counter, or sturdy chair for balance, if necessary—lift your right foot just off of the floor so that you’re standing on your left foot. Imagine a string through the crown of your head is pulling your spine straight toward the ceiling, and engage your core to avoid leaning to one side. Hold this position for 30 seconds or as long as you can, then repeat on the opposite side.

Make it harder: While holding the position, slowly point your lifted foot out in front of you, to the side, and then straight behind you. Repeat for the duration of the exercise.

Music from 2017 – Arkansas Democrat Gazette 12-24-17

December 24, 2017

What’s going on

Music from 2017 taps all the emotions — and you can dance to it (well, some of it)

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette photo illustration/KIRK MONTGOMERY

Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN.

Three notable singers — Mandy McBryde (from left), Bonnie Montgomery and Amy Garland Angel — teamed up as the Wildflower Revue.

Dazz & Brie’s latest album

Democrat-Gazette file photo

Blues and rock musician Gregg Allman was one of the music business’ notable deaths this year.

The musicians of 2017 — hip-hop kings Kendrick Lamar and Jay-Z, brilliant songwriter Jason Isbell, country’s Margo Price, folk/Americana singer-songwriter Rhiannon Giddens and others — spoke from the heart and mind about, as Marvin Gaye sang decades ago, what’s going on.

That’s not to say that matters of the heart and hot dance beats didn’t matter. They always do.

For the music industry, what matters is sales and 2017 has taken a turn for the better. Revenue streams were on the rise, due mostly to the growth of streaming services. Album sales weren’t thrilling, but Taylor Swift’s Reputation moved 1.2 million its first week and held No. 1 a couple of weeks before it was released to streaming services.

But 2017 also had its losses: rocker Tom Petty, legendary country singer-songwriter Mel Tillis, rapper Lil Peep, rock pioneers Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy, blues/rocker Gregg Allman, Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, jazz greats Jon Hendricks and Keely Smith and others.

Here’s a look at the music of 2017 by Arkansas Democrat-Gazettereviewers:

PHILIP MARTIN

As far as I’m concerned, the highest and best use of year-end lists is to introduce avid listeners to new music they might otherwise have overlooked. So it’s kind of a waste of time to lean heavily on bigly hyped (though in some ways worthy) products from the likes of Taylor Swift, Drake or even a band as relatively obscure as The War on Drugs. Most people who are going to read a piece like this one know about those artists and have their own opinions.

On the other hand, even though most of what I listen to these days is at least somewhat local — Isaac Alexander released an album last year that, if I get a Pazz & Jop ballot this year (and who knows what’s going on with The Village Voice now) it will certainly be high on it. Kevin Kerby’s just-released Your Loyal Desertermight be there too. I liked the Wildflower Revue record a lot; I liked Brian Nahlen’s Cicada Moon a lot. Now I’m going to stop mentioning names, because I can’t mention them all.

So what I decided to do was just list the new, nonlocal albums that I feel like (I’m not using any iTunes or Spotify metrics) I’ve listened to the most in the past calendar year. I’ve stayed away from re-releases and tried hard to be honest. So hear my year y’all — I’ve made a Spotify playlist: open.spotify.com/user/borkdog44/playlist/3bG2hrxhnNnpFEvKvDmhmm.

Shinyribs, I Got Your Medicine (Mustard Lid). Kevin Russell’s big band tour through a New Orleans-Memphis-Austin sonic gumbo (produced by Jimbo Mathus) is the party record of the year.

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet (Silver Cross Records). A covers album that showcases the interpretative gifts of a couple of sisters who are marvelous singer-songwriters.

Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (Aftermath/Interscope). OK, now I’m a believer.

Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm (Merge). Alabama-born singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield delivers her most introspective and soulful album yet. In places it blazes.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern). I was a late adopter on Isbell; it wasn’t until 2013’s Southeasternwhen I began to catch on that he was about the best songwriter we’ve got going these days. His wife, Amanda Shires’, record, My Piece of Land, is pretty good too.

Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Navigator (ATO). Bronx Americana from Alynda Lee Segarra and her bandmates.

The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch). I meant to write about Stephin Merritt’s high concept musical autobiography — the album is comprised of one song for every year of Merritt’s life — but you’d be better off listening to it than reading about it anyway.

The Weather Station, The Weather Station (Paradise of Bachelors). Another female singer-songwriter — Tamara Lindeman — masquerading as a band. I’m too predictable.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman (Daptone). Never intended to be a posthumous release, Soul of a Womannevertheless stands as a fitting capstone to Jones’ remarkable career. (She died of pancreatic cancer in November 2016, shortly after completing sessions for this record.) The album’s first side is made up of ferocious live performances while the second, slower side is a blue torch burning with pure, unalloyed emotion.

Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights (Matador). Memphis-based singer songwriter delivers on the promise of her emotionally naked debut, 2015’s Sprained Ankle, with a somewhat more muscular but no less intimate indie rock that channels her confessional tendencies into something tender, beautiful and, if you squint, maybe even a little hopeful.

Also recommended: Ray Davies, Americana (Legacy); Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up (Nonesuch); David Rawlings Machine, Poor David’s Almanack (Acony); St. Vincent, MASSEDUCATION (Loma Vista); Tift Merritt, Stitch of the World (Yep Roc); John Moreland, Big Bad Luv(4AD); Margo Price, All American Made (Third Man); LCD Soundsystem, American Dream (Excelsior Equity); Japanese Breakfast, Soft Sounds From Another Planet (Dead Ocean); Kevin Morby, City Music (Dead Oceans).

SEAN CLANCY

There was no shortage of quality jams from central Arkansas-based musicians this year.

Pallbearer, Heartless (Profound Lore). The Little Rock prog, doom metal foursome continued its winning streak with this well-received third album that melds heavily layered arrangements with singer Brett Campbell’s emotive, clean vocals.

Beth Ditto, Fake Sugar (Virgin). The ex-Gossip singer and Judsonia native, who now splits her time between Portland, Ore., and London, nailed a sassy mix of dancey pop on her solo debut. Lead single “Fire” was my favorite video of the year, while “We Could Run” still gives me chills. Someone needs to use that song in a movie.

The Wildflower Revue, The Wildflower Revue (This Machine, Inc.). Excellent originals (“Don’t Call It Country,” “Ain’t No Grave,”) and quirky covers (“Heart of Glass,” “Psycho Killer”) made for a strong debut from this honky tonk supergroup of Amy Garland Angel, Mandy McBryde and Bonnie Montgomery.

Dazz & Brie, Can’t Chase Girls & Your Money Too (self-released). The dynamic duo avoided the sophomore slump and cranked out a thundering collection of hip-shaking rock, soul and pop.

Isaac Alexander, Like a Sinking Stone (Max Recordings). Singer-songwriter Alexander stared down the workaday, middle-age blues and came out ahead with the kind of grown-up rock reminiscent of Randy Newman and Wilco.

Big Piph, Celebrate (self-released). The veteran Little Rock rapper tackled social and political ills with wit, fury and wicked hooks.

Knox Hamilton, The Heights (Prospect Park). Driving, transcendent, indie power pop from this super tight Little Rock outfit.

Kevin Kerby, Your Loyal Deserter (Max Recordings). An essential folk-rock collection from the wry pen of the Mulehead singer-songwriter.

Recognizer, Recognizer (self-released). Singer-guitarist Mike Mullins returned to the alt-rock groove of his earlier band, Underclaire, and added a little prog rock texture for good effect.

Mark Currey, Tarrant County (self-released). Currey’s assured writing and strong voice propelled these country ruminations on place and identity.

From outside Arkansas’ borders, I kept these albums in heavy rotation this year.

Valerie June, The Order of Time (Concord); Bash and Pop, Anything Could Happen (Fat Possum); Craig Finn, We All Want the Same Things (Partisan); John Moreland, Big Bad Luv (4AD); Run the Jewels, Run The Jewels 3, (Run the Jewels, Inc.); Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory (Def Jam); Tinariwen, Elwan (Wedge); Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern); Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights (Matador); Micah Schnabel, Your New Norman Rockwell (Last Chance).

ELLIS WIDNER

Music that continues to haunt and inspire:

Valerie June, The Order of Time (Concord). Her expressive voice and rich music taps blues, country, old-timey folk and gospel; each note is sung with yearning and passion. My favorite of 2017.

Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway (Nonesuch). Giddens’ performance of Richard Farina’s “Birmingham Sunday,” popularized by Joan Baez, is breathtaking. Giddens’ originals, which draw on 200 years of black history and song, are remarkable, impassioned testaments by a daughter of the South.

Fred Hersch, Open Book (Palmetto). The great jazz pianist’s latest solo work is emotional and deeply moving.

Jessi Colter, The Psalms (Legacy). Inspired by the book of Psalms in The Bible, Colter created spontaneous melodies as Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith) produced this raw, quietly moving meditation.

Lee Ann Womack, The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone (ATO). Country’s best traditional female vocalist.

Margo Price, All American Made (Third Man). Price celebrates country traditions and challenges the status quo. Real life experiences as raw truth.

Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti-). “We don’t want to rock the boat? Who told you that?” Staples sings with force on “Who Told You That,” one of the songs on her latest collaboration with Jeff Tweedy.

Jazzmeia Horn, A Social Call (RCA). Best new jazz singer since Cassandra Wilson’s debut.

Trio Mediaeval with Arve Henriksen, Rimur (ECM). The Trio’s exquisite vocals, Henriksen’s atmospheric trumpet makes an album filled with beauty that chills.

Thomas Demenga, Bach, J.S.: The Six Cello Suites (ECM). Beautiful and gritty. You won’t forget Pierre Fournier’s versions, but don’t pass this one up either.

Also engaging: Jason Is-bell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound(Southeastern); Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman(Daptone); Kevin Kerby, Your Loyal Deserter (Max Recordings); Shinyribs, I Got Your Medicine (Mustard Lid); Bill Carter, Bill Carter(40 Below).

Trees for Fall Color

November 26, 2017

Craving more fall color? These 10 trees guarantee a good show
 

An ancient maple lights up the autumn scene on a farm near Aldie, Va.

Red maple

Gingko

Scarlet oak

Sassafras

Flowering dogwood

Japanese maple

Baldcypress

Persian parrotia

Japanese stewartia

The lack of rain and lingering summer warmth can diminish the fall color show. But even with a reduced display, the pageantry of this finale forms one of the sweetest garden moments of the year.

Some of your garden plants are going to present magical progressions of color whether you planned for them or not. But if you actively choose and cultivate autumn beauties, you can forgo that trip to New England and have your own show at home. All right, that might be a bit of a stretch, but the point is, there are many shade trees, ornamental trees and shrubs with above-par displays.

In selecting 10 of my favorite fall-color trees, I realized that all of them are simply great garden plants of year-round beauty and interest. This is not a planting kit that every garden should have, but suggestions for individual plants that will enhance your landscape. Even if you had an acre or two for the entire lot, chances are your soil and shade conditions wouldn’t work for them all, nor would your overall planting design.

My list is far from comprehensive. It doesn’t include shrubs, for example, such as sumacs, or crape myrtles or aronias or blueberry bushes, all of which can have spectacular coloration. One tries to curb one’s enthusiasm.

SHADE TREES

Shade trees cast shade, but they tend to like their heads in the sun. When choosing a site to plant one, worry more about the eventual width than the height.

Red maple (Acer rubrum): The sugar maple is the poster tree for fall color, but it is likely to be stressed by the heat and humidity of the Mid-Atlantic unless you’re in the mountains. There is a Southern version (A. saccharum subspecies floridanum), but its fall color is not as strong. Enter the red maple, a native tree valued for its fast growth, symmetrical form, smooth gray bark and gorgeous fall color. It is tolerant of poor and wet soils (conditions that lead to more surface roots). Somerset is one of three seedless introductions from the National Arboretum developed for long-lasting, bright red fall coloration and for resistance to a pest called the leafhopper.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba): Putting aside its curiosity value as a prehistoric species, the ginkgo is also a handsome and durable tree. It is versatile, too, and can be used as a street tree, a garden specimen and a high screen. Ginkgos have lofty, open branches full of those distinctive fan-shaped leaves. The big issue with the ginkgo is its fruit — it’s messy, it smells, and it drops over several weeks in early fall. The fruit’s nuts are prized in some East Asian cultures, but if you or your heirs don’t want them, the answer is a male clone such as Autumn Gold.

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum): This is a fine-textured conifer with the unusual trait of dropping all its needles before winter. But before they are shed, the leaves shift from bright green to a burnished orange. The effect can be stunning when backlit by the low afternoon sun. The cypress is native to Southern bottomlands and looks best grouped in groves of at least three, if you have the space. In wet areas, the red-brown trunks form handsome buttresses and “knees,” but it is happy in average soil once established and watered during dry spells.

Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica): Few hardwoods have as reliably stunning fall color as the black gum, also known as the sour gum or black tupelo. The foliage is especially bright and progresses from yellow, orange and scarlet yo, finally, red-purple. It is a slow grower and matures to a medium-size tree. It likes moist soil and will take periods of inundation but not continuously wet soils. It is taproot-ed, and I’d prefer to plant a young container-grown plant rather than a field-dug balled-and-burlap tree. Given its finicky roots, some horticulturists believe it is better to plant in the spring, when the tree is in growth mode. A number of improved varieties have been developed for prolonged leaf color and leaf-spot resistance. In addition to Wildfire, look for Red Rage and Afterburner.

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea): Oaks tend to be subdued in their fall coloration, but the scarlet oak is striking for its glowing, deeply lobed red foliage. It does well in average soil and optimally in moist but not wet soils, growing as much as two feet a year. It is hard to find in garden centers because its taproot makes it difficult to transplant.

ORNAMENTAL TREES

Ornamental trees are essential focal points and prized specimens in any garden, and their reduced scale makes them ideal for placement in city gardens, next to a patio, along a path or at points of transition in the landscape. All of them benefit from deft and careful pruning when young to develop a pleasing branch structure.

Persian parrotia (Parrotia persica): As with other large woody plants, the parrotia grows as either a big, multi-stemmed shrub or as a small tree, with a single stem and low branches. Picking a tree form comes down to selecting individual plants in the nursery. Related to the witch hazel and with similar large oval leaves, the parrotia is a standout at this time of year, when the foliage turns yellow, orange and maroon. With age, the exfoliating bark of the parrotia becomes its other extraordinary asset, mottled in gray, green, brown and cream.

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida): The native dogwood is beloved for its large white blossoms of spring, but its fall show isn’t too shabby, either. The leaves turn wine-red in early autumn as a reassuring harbinger of fall and winter. Variety selection, location and care are vital in keeping a tree happy and healthy. Appalachian Spring is a superior variety selected for its resistance to anthracnose disease. Other named varieties in the Appalachian series offer protection against powdery mildew disease.

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum): Japanese maples have beautiful and unexpected combinations of autumn leaf colors. The green-leafed varieties are among the most

Black gum

striking in their autumn coloration. Osakazuki is a classic variety, low-branched and spreading. The fall color is an intense crimson red.

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum): Valued initially for its bark tea, sassafras is a handsome small tree that forms suckering thickets with time, making it useful for outlying naturalistic parts of a landscape. The suckers can be removed to keep a single specimen, however. The distinctive lobed leaf is a dark glossy green in summer, turning golden and then a rich scarlet in the fall. This is another taprooted native that is best planted as a young container-grown plant. It grows quickly once established.

Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia): Related to camellias, the Japanese stewartia is valued for its fall color, elegant form and, with age, beautiful bark patterns. Individual branch structure varies, so this is one you should pick out at the nursery. Some horticulturists prefer to plant stewartias in the spring. The Korean stewartia is a closely related species and will do the job just as well, perhaps better in sometimes brutal Arkansas summers.

We still have his music; we mourn loss of Petty the man

November 5, 2017

“Everybody loves Tom Petty and burritos.”

— Marc Maron

An ancient emperor with an odd sense of humor gathered his wisest sages and asked them to come up with the saddest sentence ever written. The sages conferred and went off to think upon the subject. Weeks later they approached the emperor and humbly handed him a slip of paper on which were written the words:

“Someday Bill Murray is going to die.”

OK, I made that up. The part about the ancient emperor at least; I don’t remember where I got the “Bill Murray” part from, but I saw that somewhere, probably on social media. I stole it because it felt true to me.

If you’re of my generation, or a little bit younger, maybe it feels true to you too. Because most of us like Murray, probably more for the light way he lives on the earth than for any of the movies he has made or his time on Saturday Night Live, although Murray’s performances certainly inform the warm feelings you (probably) hold about him.

And the joke — if you can call it a joke — doesn’t have to invoke Murray. It might have worked just as well if I’d used the name “Tom Hanks.” (I’m sorry but I can’t think of a current female performer so universally loved and admired that her name would work in the joke, which might say something about how our society regards women who court public attention, though “Carol Burnett” or “Mary Tyler Moore” would have worked in the past.)

For me, the joke worked even better if the name used was “Tom Petty.”

But then Oct. 2 the saddest thing happened. There was a horrible massacre in Las Vegas. And Tom Petty died.

Guess which affected me more.

Maybe I should feel some shame about that, because every human life matters. But our world is a killing field, and random madness and malign neglect kill thousands every day. Bombs go off in parts of the world we never consider; we inure ourselves to violence inflicted on other people’s children in other parts of town. Intellectually we can feel bad about the murder of strangers, but we have to remind ourselves to think about their suffering. We shake our heads and move on, fire up the second season of Stranger Things and forget that there are sad things in the world.

So why, more than a month later, are so many of us still sad about Tom Petty?

Well, sociologists will tell you it’s because we do have a relationship with the public people to whom we pay attention. In 1956, social scientists Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl coined the term “parasocial interactions” to describe the “intimacy at a distance” fans feel with performers and artists. We don’t know them, but they aren’t strangers — it’s their job to connect with us, and the best and truest of them connect most deeply.

We don’t know them, but we do know a part of them. We know their work and the persona that presents the work (which can be as, or even more important, than the work itself). As best as I can remember, I never met Tom Petty and never spoke with him on the phone. But I connected with that grinning gaunt scarecrow with the lank corn-silk hair raking big open crystalline chords from a Rickenbacker 625-12. (That’s the model he’s holding on cover of Damn the Torpedoes. It was actually his Heartbreakers band mate Mike Campbell’s instrument — and I’ve always wanted one.)

We were born at opposite ends of the same decade, in the same part of the country. At first, Petty’s Southernness didn’t seem to matter. We perceived his first album — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which came out just as I was starting to review records and to occasionally play my own songs in bars — as almost punk, a sort of sneer-y, skinny-tied New Wave blast with just a bit of that Byrds-ian jangle breaking through. Looking back, you could say that outside of “Breakdown” and “American Girl,” the songwriting is fairly ordinary, but the energy and swagger — the immersion in the noisy possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll — felt redemptive.

Petty wasn’t a deep songwriter, he mostly mined the rich if whiny adenoidal vein of post-adolescent romance. He mostly employed a playful snarl. He mostly sang about girls.

Maybe at the time I noticed the vocal resemblance to Roger McGuinn, but the sonic reference I picked out was Elvis Costello, whose Attractions, at the time, seemed as important to the overall effect as Petty’s Heartbreakers.

Man, I loved those first three records; and even today, when I recognize Petty was one artist who was best served by greatest hits compilations, I can’t help but be swept up in nostalgia for those backward-looking albums. In a way he was my Elvis Presley, and now I know why grown-ups cried on Aug. 16, 1977; why Don McLean wrote “American Pie” about Buddy Holly.

You can’t frame Petty’s dying as a tragedy; he wasn’t young and he wasn’t thwarted — he even acquired a little gravitas to go with his fortune. He probably had himself a pretty good time.

But yeah, it’s hard to think about not hearing a new record (although there probably will be a new record, there always seems to be plenty of material to release posthumously). Harder to think about never going to another Tom Petty show.

That feels weird, because I don’t go to a lot of shows anymore, and I probably wouldn’t have made any special effort to see Petty and the Heartbreakers anyway. But most of us don’t think about the things we’re never going to do again.

And that’s the thing that stings, isn’t it? The real crux of the thing: when we grieve for people we’ve never met, what we’re really doing is contemplating our own certain mortality — the impossible idea that there will be a last time for everything. A last time to kiss your mother, to look your father in the eye. A last time to walk to the grocery store.

All grief is frivolous and vain; but the deaths of artists and celebrities are like mile markers on our own road to nowhere. David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed — it feels like something ending. Because it is.

“It is the blight that man was born for,” poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote in “Spring and Fall.”

It is ourselves we mourn for.

Email:

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

blooddirtangels.com

Fall maintenance can prevent crises

November 4, 2017

Cleaning your gutters is one of several maintenance tasks you ought to do before winter.

Although November can sometimes still be flip-flops-and-shorts weather, there are a number of fall maintenance tasks to undertake, no matter what the temperature gauge says.

We asked Lucinda Hoe, field services director of the West region for Associa On-Call, for some tips to keep a house as functional as possible. The company offers maintenance services, as well as management, for homeowner and community associations.

“These are things that should be done on an annual basis,” Hoe said. “Fall is a good time because there is more chance for wind and rain.”

Here are some tasks that will keep your house in tiptop shape:

Inspect windows and doors, inside and outside. Hot, dry weather can crack and crumble the seals around windows and doors. Caulk cracks and install weather stripping where the seal has failed. Replace any broken window glass, too.

Clean or replace filters in your heating system. If you have a gas heater, be sure to inspect the pilot light to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Inspect, clean and repair fireplace elements, including the chimney and flue, especially for wood-burning fireplaces. Dirty chimneys — those with a build-up of creosote — can cause fires.

Change the batteries in your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

Drain and flush particulates and sediment from water heaters. Sediment builds up and reduces heating efficiency, and in gas water heaters it can cause hot spots that will lead to premature failure.

Trim trees away from the house. Branches that scrape the roof can cause damage to shingles or tiles. Even the leaves can cause damage because they can trap moisture and cause mold. Be sure to remove all dead and broken branches.

Check vents to ensure that screens are intact. Rodents and other pests can easily make their way into warm, cozy attics or crawl spaces through these access points if not properly secured.

Clean and remove debris from rain gutters and downspouts to ensure proper flow and drainage. Overflow from blocked gutters can eventually damage a house’s foundation. Gutter guards can help keep gutters debris-free.

Inspect painted exterior areas. Any chipped or bare areas should be painted as soon as possible. Paint or other surface coverings such as stains protect wood and stucco from damaging water intrusion and other harmful elements such as pests.

Inspect your roof or hire a professional to conduct an inspection. Be sure that tiles and shingles are in good shape and areas surrounding protrusions are properly sealed and flashing is sitting properly.

“Many of these items will probably take you five to 30 minutes and can avoid costly repairs,” Hoe said. And keeping everything functional will help protect your investment.

PAT SETTER
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE (TNS)

 

 

Raised Middle Finger Often in Middle of Controversy

October 29, 2017

A football player from the University of Tennessee raised a pair of middle fingers to the University of Alabama student section a week ago Saturday. A Michigan player offered the same twin salute to the Penn State crowd on the same night.

Their double-digit discourtesies were sophomoric in tone but historic in nature: The middle finger predates the Middle Ages. Diogenes raised his to Demosthenes in ancient Greece. The Romans had a name for the obscene insult: digitus impudicus — impudent finger.

So the finger form for F-you goes back two millennia and more. Ah, but the first known photograph of someone flipping the bird comes from American sports. That means Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden and Michigan’s Lavert Hill are the latest exemplars of an uncivil sporting tradition begun at least as far back as 1886 by workhorse pitcher Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn.

On opening day at New York’s Polo Grounds that year, Radbourn’s Boston Beaneaters met their National League rival New York Giants. Take a careful look at the joint team photo taken that day. There’s Radbourn in the back row, far left, with his middle finger slyly extended. It’s hard to notice at first — and then there it is. Once seen, it can’t be unseen: Old Hoss giving the ol’ middle finger to the Giants, or maybe the world, a timeless insult frozen in time.

“If Old Hoss can appear in a photograph from the 19th century,” Robert Thompson tells USA TODAY Sports, “that’s enough tradition for me to say that the middle finger is a part of the great American pastime.”

Thompson is founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University — and one of the great moments of sports TV history intersects with one of the great moments of middle finger history.

The Oakland Raiders were pummeling the Houston Oilers 34-0 at the Astrodome on Monday Night Football in 1972 when cameras panning the crowd found an unhappy Oilers fan who offered a middle-fingered hello. Color analyst Don Meredith delivered a colorful riposte: He thinks his team “is No. 1.”

“That belongs in the middle finger Hall of Fame,” Thompson says. “And we know what the trophy will look like.”

Old Hoss is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He won a record 59 games for the Providence Grays in 1884, a couple of seasons before his hide-in-plain-sight middle finger photo. Lest you think the placement of his digit could have been some sort of benign accident, Radbourn went rogue again in 1887, when he appeared on a baseball card with hand on hip, middle finger extended.

Radbourn biographer Edward Achorn chose that image for the cover of his book Fifty-Nine in ’84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had. “He’s got this innocent expression on his face, and then he’s doing that on the side,” he says. “They airbrushed out the finger from some of the cards that were released, but the image survived.”

Achorn, editorial page editor of The Providence Journal, says Radbourn was known for a sense of humor and a taste for drink: “One of his relatives claimed he drank up to a quart of whiskey a day at the height of his career.” Now Old Hoss is sometimes better known for a single finger on his left hand than for winning 59 games in a single season with his right.

NIGHT OF SO MANY FINGERS On the same night that the Tennessee and Michigan players delivered double-barreled salutes, Kevin Durant flashed a single finger at the Memphis crowd in the closing seconds of Golden State’s loss to the Grizzlies. At first, observers saw it as a middle finger but — upon further review — it turned out he’d actually extended his ring finger, apparently as a way of saying he and his Warriors have NBA championship rings and the Grizzlies don’t.

“It’s not the middle finger,” Thompson says, “but it’s middle-finger adjacent.”

Also on the same Saturday — the night of so many fingers — Josh Jackson of the Phoenix Suns got into trouble by responding to a Los Angeles Clippers fan who’d been heckling him. Jackson appeared to aim an imaginary weapon — not a handgun, but a hand gun — at the heckler. His explanation is a classic. He hadn’t meant to simulate a gun at all.

“I kind of wanted to put up the middle finger to him,” he said, “but I didn’t do that because I felt like I was really being watched so I kind of halfway did it.”

Jackson got fined $35,000 for making “a menacing gesture” and for “inappropriate language,” since he’d also mouthed a profanity, the one so often associated with the middle finger.

The gesture, like the profanity, is obscene. Still, these days the gesture is common enough to have lost much of its original meaning. Thompson says when a middle schooler sneaks a middle finger into a photo (shades of Old Hoss) it’s meant as trickster stunt — naughtier than G-rated bunny ears but not necessarily X-rated in intent.

MIDDLE FINGER TODAY,

APOLOGY TOMORROW

Old Hoss Radbourn, top left, flips the bird in a pregame photo from 1886. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, CORBIS/VCG, VIA GETTY IMAGES

Diogenes is the Greek philosopher — and middle finger flipper — who, according to legend, carried a lamp in daylight as he searched in vain for an honest man. He wouldn’t need his lamp to find fellow flippers in the world of sports. The Internet is awash with them.

Award extra points to those who flip off their own fans. New Orleans Saints coach Mike Ditka did it at a game in 1999. New York Yankees pitcher Jack McDowell did it at a game in 1995 — and the tabloids dubbed him “The Yankee Flipper.”

Rex Ryan gave a one-finger salute to Miami Dolphins fans at a mixed martial arts event in South Florida in 2010. The New York Post gleefully ran the photo on its front page under the headline: REX-RATED.

Dolphins running backs Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in August 1972. Csonka is seated on his helmet under a goal post with a middle finger extended on his sock above the ankle. (Old Hoss would have approved.) Bad karma did not follow: That year the Dolphins went on to the only undefeated season in NFL history.

Players are by no means the only transgressors. Fans have been known to flip off opposing players, and each other. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Raiders fans.)

Double birds bedevil the Buffalo Bills. Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox unleashed a pair before a 1993 game in Buffalo; he got fined $10,000, apparently establishing a price of $5,000 per finger. The late Bud Adams, then owner of the Tennessee Titans, aimed a pair at the Bills sideline during a 2009 game in Nashville; he got fined $250,000, or $125,000 per digit, which is a fair amount of inflation.

You might think Adams should have known better. He owned the Oilers when Dandy Dan got off his “No. 1” one-liner on Monday Night Football. Adams apologized, said he’d gotten carried away. That’s often the arc of these things: Middle finger today, apology tomorrow.

Sure enough, last week the Tennessee and Michigan college football players offered apologies for flipping off opposing crowds in anger. That raises a question: Which emotion — anger or apology — is the honest one?

We’ll leave that to Diogenes.

Succotash

October 19, 2017

Being a child of the North, I never ate succotash. My introduction to the word came via the exasperated utterances of Sylvester the Cat, who would sputter “Suffering succotash!” when things were not going his way.

A staple of the South, succotash fed people through hardship and depression, as it did the Native Americans who invented it. The indigenous root of the name relates variously to cracked corn, boiled corn or other preparations of corn. As Native American cultures are known to have understood, when beans are added to corn, complete protein happens. “Seaboard Algonquin” specifically, says food historian Michael Twitty, author of “The Cooking Gene,” fielding my succotash questions via Twitter. Twitty also admitted to not liking succotash very much, at least the traditional version made with lima beans. I have to admit, I haven’t found a way to really like it myself when it’s made with lima beans, or black beans , or kidney beans, or any number of other shelling beans. Combined with the corn kernels, the dish becomes too seedy, and I much prefer making it with string beans. The protein isn’t as high, but that deficit can be erased with bacon and mayonnaise (one of my favorite healthy cooking tricks).

Twitty steered me toward a southern Louisiana version of succotash, macque choux, that does not contain shelled beans but does allow the likes of tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, garlic and celery. And bacon, of course. And shrimp, unsurprisingly. It’s a model roughly in keeping with my own protocols, minus the shrimp. Without the shell beans, a pan of succotash becomes like a pan of fried rice. Along with string beans and the above ingredients, one can use other veggies like collard greens, zucchini and hot, sweet and roasted peppers.

Allen Broach, who comes from an old Southern family and has fond memories of his grandma’s succotash, has given me some of my best recipes. He’s fine with people using string beans in succotash, although the closest they ever came growing up was to use “shellies,” the beans inside overgrown string beans. Here is his family recipe, which is lima bean-based.

Grannie Smith’s succotash

• Equal amounts of baby lima beans and corn cut from the cob. You should also “milk” the cob once the corn is cut off by scraping the cob with a knife to get all the juice from it.

• Use bacon drippings and saute the limas for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper then add water to cover and cook until they are nearly done.

• Add a small onion, diced, and the corn. Cook until the corn is done. Most of the liquid should be cooked out. Just a few minutes.

That was it. Broach confessed to having modified grandma’s recipe by adding any number of the following to the average batch of succotash.

• 4 tablespoons butter

• Garlic (minced)

• 1 cup whole grain hominy

• 1 pound cooked beef brisket or country ham, chopped

• 2 oz. salt pork in one piece

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

• 1 boiling potato (about 112 pound) such as Yukon gold, boiled and diced

• 1 small turnip, boiled and diced

• 1/4 cup or so chopped red or green bell pepper (or a combination)

Among other parts of this recipe, I was intrigued by his country ham idea , so I picked one up at the farmers market, brought it home and diced it up. Into the pan it went, and as the greasy cubes sizzled pleasantl y, I proceeded to prep the veggies, adding them in layers, in the order of how much cooking they need. After the meat, which sometimes includes deer meat as well as the ham/bacon, I will add the onions, then the beans, then peppers, diced zucchini, butter and olive oil as necessary, and finally the corn on top. I let it cook like this undisturbed for a while, allowing the meat at the bottom to cook in the accumulating juices. When it’s finally time to stir, somewhere between when the veggies give up all of their moisture and when the bottom starts to burn, I add minced or grated garlic and dried thyme, and stir it up. I’ll stir again once or twice until it’s ready, and serve with cheese, parsley, salsa, roasted peppers and whatever else. Succotash, like the kitchen sink, can absorb practically anything you can throw at it.

Time for a little döstädning

October 15, 2017

It’s time for me to get rid of some stuff!!

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From an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette 10/15/17 by Philip Martin

Last night the wife said,

“Oh boy, when you’re dead

You don’t take nothing with you

but your soul.”

Think!

— John Lennon,

“The Ballad of John & Yoko”

Some things only seem hard.

I am divesting myself of stuff—donating and selling and giving to friends the great bulk of my music collection and my books. Almost all of the CDs are gone now; several thousand of them went to a fine academic institution. Others went to or are earmarked for friends. I’m down to a couple of file boxes worth of material now, and I expect that to dwindle further over the next few weeks.

It’s not like I’ve really given anything away. I still have the music—nearly 15,000 albums archived on a hard drive about the size of a brick and (mostly) backed up in the proverbial cloud. The overwhelming majority of these files are in Apple Lossless, AIFF or WAV formats, which vinyl purists and high-resolution audio fans may sniff at but sound pretty good to me.

Besides, like most people I know, we mostly stream music these days. (I know how bad a deal that is for artists—you can stream my music on most of the services. Digitalization is a bad genie who won’t be restoppered.)

My music was organized alphabetically, by artist and chronologically by release date, with soundtracks and various artists’ compilations sorted separately. Our classical collection—only a couple of hundred of CDs—was arranged alphabetically by composer. A few oversize box sets were stored in my office, but most of them were stripped of their packaging and slipped into thinline jewel cases or sleeves and filed with the others. The attendant booklets and the boxes were packed away in the attic.

I might have some hoarding tendencies, but at least I’m a very organized hoarder. I could find a given CD within seconds.

But in an era when almost every sound ever recorded is findable with a few computer keystrokes, maybe I’m lucky I found a place that would take the media.

Now I’m working on the books. Central Arkansas Library System will end up with most of them—I’ve already dropped a couple hundred off for its River Market Books and Gifts shop—but I need to decide exactly what I want to keep.

I had two copies of Jack Butler’s Jujitsu For Christ, an inscribed first edition and one published by the University of Missippi Press a couple of years ago that features a contexturizing foreword by Butler and an insightful afterword by LSU literature professor Brannon Costello. Obviously I’m keeping the book Jack signed to me and suspect that at some point in the future I’ll miss the newer edition. But—too bad.

Similarly I’d love to keep all the Updike, all the Philip Roth, but it feels unlikely that I’ll dive back into those novels, and if I need to they’re all easily obtainable. (I’m keeping the Library of America editions of Roth’s works, so I’ll still have all that.) I’ll keep the first edition of In Cold Blood because it’s one of a couple of books my uncle handed down to me. I guess that’s the criterion—keeping books for which I can identify a clear reason to keep.

So long Willa Cather. Adios Cormac McCarthy. I’m bequeathing Dan Jenkins to my lawyer.

Next come the clothes. And then the golf clubs; I’ve got four or five extra bags’ worth of clubs I need to take down to the First Tee. (Maybe I can find a home for the 100 or so Scotty Cameron head-covers I’ve collected.) There’s camera equipment I don’t use anymore. I’ll probably keep all the guitars.

For now.

We have pragmatic reasons for clearing out this stuff, but mostly it’s an act of self-liberation. A week or so after our project started (Karen is getting rid of stuff too, more ruthlessly than I am though she has a lot less to part with) I became aware that one of the new lifestyle trends out of Scandinavia—the part of the world that gave us hygge and lagom—is something called döstädning, which cheerily translates to “death cleaning.”

It’s been popularized by Swedish author and artist Margareta Magnusson, whose book The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is making the book club rounds. The idea is that people over 50 ought to consider that their relatives are going to have to sort through all their junk after they die and streamline their lives by holding on to only those possessions that directly contribute to happiness.

I don’t care about how my death might inconvenience my relatives. (Some of them have never seemed too concerned about how the conduct of their lives has inconvenienced me.) But there has long been a tiny bit of tension in our house between my materialistic acquisitiveness and Karen’s zen aesthetic.

Her instinct is to get rid of things. She’s always been the type to give a book away after she’s read it, while walls of bookshelves tight with books have always given me comfort.

We’ve done it my way for nearly 25 years. I suppose it’s about time to give her a turn.

pmartin@arkansasonline.com

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