Politics? or Life?

April 3, 2023

I think it’s time to dive in to examining the rhetoric in the application of the adjective “political” to what you don’t think is moral or just. Most of us know that in the world of Politics, it’s all about sound bites and coming up with a way to make something sound horrible about your political enemies. Words are all we have to communicate with each other, but I often wish the Vulcan Mind Meld was real and that we could use it to be honest in our conversations.

Politics! If you don’t want to be involved or have an opinion about politics, you are saying you don’t want to have a say in how laws are made and enforced in our country. The laws affect us all in some way or another and if we don’t care to get involved, we might find ourselves under the power of some folks that run things a lot more like China or Russia.

I admit to being more liberal than conservative, but I try not to feel like I belong to either political party. It is a fact that there are good things to be found in both philosophies so my vote goes to the person who I believe will do the least amount of damage to our country.

so… I have heard a lot about the indictment of Trump being politically motivated. There are a number of reasons why you can’t lay the blame for the indictment on Alvin Bragg! A grand jury’s vote means that people think laws were broken. I don’t believe that anyone is above the law. I will admit that I hold a very low opinion of the former president. I think that he has lowered the bar for what is acceptable for us in our president. He deserves a trial and is innocent until proven guilty, but I think even his supporters know he is guilty as charged.

All this reminds me of an article I read a few months ago in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Religious Section from a syndicated writer named Paul Prather (pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky), I do try to read his articles. I find I agree with him on a lot of things. This particular column was titled “Winning at All Costs: Bad religion, bad politics, bad results” If you care at all about politics or religion, it would be worth your time to read it. I’m copying it to this post and hope you can all take it to heart.

Winning at all costs: Bad religion, bad politics, bad results



In a recent essay, the conservative Christian writer David French lays out three premises about the political predicament of American Christians. See: tinyurl.com/2x9zppscFrench, a former staff writer for the National Review, is now an editor at The Dispatch and a contributor to The Atlantic.

First, he says, despite declining rates of religious belief and church attendance, the United States remains statistically the most Christian of all advanced democracies. Our country not only ranks near the top in religious adherence but also in religious intensity.

“There is not one other true peer nation that is both mostly Christian and where most people say their faith is ‘very important,’” he writes.

Second, the Republican and Democratic parties alike depend on devout members for their success.

Nonwhite Democrats, especially Black Democrats, “are among the most God-fearing, churchgoing members of American society,” French says. And the Republican Party would be “irrelevant” without its white evangelical base.

Third, despite items one and two, our political culture remains toxic, polarized and increasingly violent.

“Given the first two factors mentioned above, this should not be,” French says. “After all, Jesus could not have been more clear. In John 13, he declared, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’” But Christian voters are as strident as others.

“The mutual loathing you see comes from people who could recite every syllable of the Apostles’ Creed side-by-side and believe wholeheartedly in the divine inspiration of Scripture,” French observes.

All of which leads him to a noteworthy conclusion: “I am [convinced] that our Christian political ethic is upside down. On a bipartisan basis, the church has formed its members to be adamant about policies that are difficult and contingent and flexible about virtues that are clear and mandatory.” I would disagree with French on many political issues, but I absolutely agree with him on this. He says what I’ve been trying to say for years.

He offers for discussion one of his favorite Scriptural passages, Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” The passage is deceptively simple. Each of the three virtues named in the passage from Micah lies in tension with the others.

Humility forces us to recognize our personal limitations and the limitations of the political arena. How do you close the racial achievement gap in education? How do you decrease crime? Who can say for sure?

“When I encounter the most partisan preachers and public Christian personalities, I’m often gobsmacked at the inverse relationship between their political certainty and their political knowledge,” French says. “The less they know about an issue, the more confident they’re obviously right.” The challenge is that, while we must always recognize we could be wrong about any political matter, we can’t be paralyzed.

“We might be wrong, but we have to try to do what’s right, as best as we can discern it,” French says.

But as soon as we decide to grit our teeth and “do justice,” we run into the third virtue: “love kindness.” “How many times have we heard the claim that the ‘old rules’ of civility and decency are simply inadequate for the times?” French asks. “That’s a core argument of the new right, for example. We tried decency, they say, and it didn’t work. Now is the time to punch back.” That mindset is absolutely opposed to biblical ethics. You don’t just act kindly until kindness doesn’t work.

“You’re to be kind even through the most brutal acts of repression and in the face of complete political defeat,” he says.

Balance is necessary. But instead of balancing these virtues, what U.S. Christians have done is create a hierarchy of them. Christians don’t outright reject loving kindness or humility. They just assign them secondary status.

“When push comes to shove, it’s our vision of justice that matters,” he says.

This imbalance has produced much of the self-righteousness, anger and moral relativism evident in contemporary Christian politics.

“Here’s the paradox — forsake one virtue for another, and you increase the chances that [you] gain nothing at all,” French writes. “To put it another way, when we transgress moral laws, we’re fools if we think we can control the consequences.” Decide winning is all that counts, no matter the means, and you end up with bad religion, bad politics and bad outcomes.

Notably, the Scriptures are far more specific about biblical virtues than about biblical justice.

The doing of justice — French calls it the “what” of politics or the specific policies Christians support — can evolve differently in different countries at different times.

But the “how” of politics doesn’t evolve at all. The how requires genuine kindness and humility in all places at all times.

“And so, in our arrogance, we think we know better than God,” French concludes. “We can’t let kindness or humility stand in the way of justice. Yet we’re sowing the wind, and now we reap the whirlwind. The world’s most-Christian advanced nation is tearing itself apart, and its millions of believers bear much of the blame.”

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling, Ky. You can email him at


So… I hope all this might give you pause when someone attempts to label something as politically motivated, you might question exactly what that means.


Brisket for Beginners (from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette – published on 6/26/19

June 27, 2019

Brisket for BEGINNERS

Home cooks need not shy away from this type and size of beef.

Never in the annals of American barbecue has brisket — great brisket — been so widely available.

Once the province of Texas and Kansas City, Mo., world-class brisket now turns up at Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn, New York; at Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, S.C.; and at Smoque BBQ and Green Street Smoked Meats in Chicago. Once deemed a low-value cut (Tootsie Tomanetz, the 84-year-old pitmaster at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas, remembers grinding it to make hamburgers), brisket now commands top dollar at meat markets and barbecue restaurants.

And, once sold only as USDA Choice or Select, it now comes in premium categories like Prime and Wagyu. Its status was affirmed in 2015, when Aaron Franklin, of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, won a James Beard award for best chef in the Southwest.

Yet brisket remains oddly off-limits for one large segment of the population: home cooks.

The cut intimidates the uninitiated for many reasons. First, its sheer size: A whole packer brisket (so called because that’s how it’s shipped from the packing house) weighs 12-18 pounds, making it the largest cut of meat most people will ever attempt to cook at home.

Then there is brisket’s singular anatomy: two different muscles, one stacked atop the other, slightly askew and connected by a seam of fat. One muscle is fatty (the pectoralis superficialis, better known as the point), the other lean (the pectoralis profundus, aka the flat). Both are loaded with tough, collagen-rich connective tissue that gives the meat its structure, but requires low-temperature cooking for most of a day to achieve the proper tenderness.

There’s also the matter of gear. Brisket pros like Franklin and John Lewis of Lewis Barbecue cook in enormous pits fashioned from 1,000-gallon propane tanks that they designed and welded themselves. The cooking times are equally imposing, requiring a commitment of 8-12 hours or even longer.

It’s enough to make you simply order your brisket through Uber Eats.

Well, take comfort, because barbecuing a brisket in your backyard is less daunting than you think. It requires only four ingredients: beef, salt, pepper and wood smoke. There’s no need for a competition-grade smoker; you can make excellent brisket in a common kettle grill or Weber Smokey Mountain, or a ceramic cooker like a Big Green Egg.

True, it takes time and practice, and you may find yourself tending the fire when you’d rather be sleeping. But the results — crisp, salty, peppery bark (the crust) encasing moist, smoky, luscious, tender meat — make the effort worthwhile.

I’ve been researching brisket and cooking a lot of it at home for my new book, The Brisket Chronicles (Workman Publishing). With input from some of the nation’s top brisket masters, I’ve distilled the process to nine simple steps.


Choose a full packer brisket if you’re feeling ambitious. Special-order it from your butcher, and plan to spend a full day preparing it. For a more manageable cut, buy a 4- to 5-pound brisket flat, available at most supermarkets; you can smoke it in six to eight hours. (Sometimes you’ll find portions of packer briskets containing point and flat; they cook in eight to 10 hours.)


Most brisket pros use a simple seasoning of salt and pepper (often referred to as a Dalmatian rub, due to its speckled appearance). Billy Durney of Brooklyn’s Hometown Bar-B-Que favors a 4-to-1 mixture of 16-mesh (coarsely ground) black pepper and kosher salt, which he applies a few hours ahead to give them time to penetrate the meat. Lewis slathers his meat with a mixture of mustard and pickle juice before applying the seasonings, to help them adhere to the meat and add an extra layer of flavor. My preference is equal parts coarse salt and cracked black peppercorns, with a spoonful of red-pepper flakes to increase the heat.


Durney cooked his first brisket on a Weber Smokey Mountain. Burt Bakman of Slab in Los Angeles started on a Big Green Egg. Franklin cooked his first brisket in an inexpensive New Braunfels, while Lewis began his career with a smoker he rigged from a trash can. This is to say that you can make great brisket in a common backyard charcoal burner.

Other popular options these days are a pellet grill or an electric smoker, both of which do a fine job of maintaining a steady stream of smoke and consistent temperature, but sometimes deliver a tad less flavor than a charcoal burner. I’ve never had much luck barbecuing a brisket on a gas grill. (It’s hard to run one at 250 degrees, and it’s even harder to generate enough wood smoke.)


Cooking a brisket is a two-phase process. In the first, you set the bark and flavor the meat with wood smoke. This produces the smoke ring, a much-admired reddish band just below the surface — the result of a chemical reaction between the nitrogen dioxide in the smoke and the myoglobin in the meat. The second phase of cooking finishes rendering the fat and converting the tough collagen into tender gelatin.

Wood smoke is the soul of barbecued brisket. Pit-masters speak reverentially of “blue smoke,” a thin, wispy smoke filled with flavor-rich phenols. When using a kettle grill, water smoker or kamado-style cooker, fuel it with natural lump charcoal, adding hardwood chunks or chips to generate wood smoke. Texans favor oak (and sometimes mesquite), while Kansas Citians like to burn apple or hickory. Any seasoned hardwood will do. Buy it in chunks or chips; if using chips, soak them in water for 30 minutes, then drain, to slow combustion. Add the wood gradually, a couple of chunks or handfuls of chips every hour: You want to kiss the meat with smoke, not smother it.


The pros use complicated formulas for heat management. Lewis starts cooking his brisket at 125 degrees, gradually increasing the heat to finish at 325; Franklin runs his pits at temperatures ranging from 255 degrees to more than 300. For home cooking, I recommend staying around 250 degrees. Maintain this temperature by adjusting the vents on your smoker (start with the bottom or intake vent). More airflow gives you a hotter fire; less air reduces the heat.


The second phase of cooking begins when the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 165-170 degrees. This is the point at which most brisket masters wrap the meat in butcher paper or aluminum foil. Franklin and Lewis wrap in “pink” or “peach” paper, unlined butcher paper that seals in the meat juices while allowing the excess steam to escape. Other pitmasters, like Tomanetz, wrap in aluminum foil, a process known as the Texas Crutch. This guarantees a tender brisket, but sometimes results in a steamed texture reminiscent of pot roast.

Home cooks can order unlined butcher paper online, or use parchment paper; just don’t use plastic-lined butcher paper.


When it comes to determining whether a brisket is done, the pros wax rhapsodic, even mystical. Durney uses the jiggle test: Grab the meat by one end and shake it. A properly cooked brisket will quiver like bovine Jell-O. Or use the bend test: Wearing insulated food gloves, grab the brisket at both ends and lift. It should bend or sag easily in the middle.

Bakman monitors the internal temperature with a thermometer, but also uses an old-fashioned test: “When you can push your finger into the side of the flat, the brisket is ready.” Franklin judges chiefly by feeling “the floppiness and softness.”

I use an instant-read meat thermometer, with a target temperature of 200-205 degrees.


After an hour spent trimming and seasoning the brisket and building the fire, and the better part of a day spent cooking, you’ll probably want to eat your brisket right away. But resting it in an insulated cooler for an hour or two improves its texture and tenderness immeasurably. Franklin keeps it wrapped in the butcher paper. Durney recommends swaddling the whole shebang, meat and paper, in a beach towel before resting it in the cooler until the internal temperature falls to about 142 degrees.

Resting relaxes the meat, allowing the juices to redistribute. Practically speaking, it also allows you to control when you serve the brisket, which is useful given the broad range of cooking times.


Carving a brisket flat is easy: Simply slice it across the grain to the thickness of a No. 2 pencil. Carving a packer brisket is more challenging because the meat fibers of the point run almost perpendicular to those of the flat. Franklin takes a divide-and-conquer approach: He cuts the packer brisket roughly in half across its width, slicing the flat across the grain on the diagonal from one corner to the other, and slicing the point section from the front edge to the back. Before you start, trim off and discard any large visible pockets of fat.

Texas Hill Country-Style

Smoked Brisket

1 full packer brisket (12 to 14


Coarse sea salt

Cracked or freshly ground


Red-pepper flakes (optional) Sliced factory-style white

bread and barbecue sauce,

for serving (optional)

Using a sharp knife, trim

the brisket: Set the brisket

flat side down, so the leaner

side is underneath and the

rounded, fatty point side is on top. Wherever you find a thick sheath of fat on the top surface, trim it to within ¼ inch of the meat. Now look at the side of the brisket: There’s a large pocket of fat between the point and the flat. Using the point of the knife, cut some of it out, but avoid cutting directly into the meat. Turn the brisket so the flat faces up. There’s a lump of fat on one side: Again, trim it to within ¼ inch of the meat. Be careful not to overtrim. It’s better to err on the side of too much fat than too little. While you’re at it, trim off any thin, sharp corners of the flat part of the meat, so the brisket is slightly rounded.

Place the trimmed brisket on a rimmed sheet pan and generously season the top, bottom and sides with salt, pepper and, if you like your brisket spicy, red-pepper flakes.

Create a platform for cooking the brisket by cutting a flat piece of cardboard the size and shape of the brisket. (There’s no need to make it any larger; the brisket will shrink considerably during cooking.) Wrap the cardboard template in 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Using an ice pick or a metal skewer, poke holes in the foil-covered cardboard at 1-inch intervals. The idea is to create a perforated platform for the brisket. Set the brisket flat on the foil-covered cardboard, lean side down.

Light your grill, smoker

or cooker and heat it to 250 degrees. If using a kettle grill, start with less charcoal than you would for grilling a steak: A third to a half chimney starter will do it. If using a smoker, place a large heatproof bowl of water in the smoke chamber. (This is optional, but it creates a humid environment that will keep your brisket moist and help the smoke adhere to the meat.) Add wood as specified by the manufacturer to generate smoke. If using a kamado-style cooker, set up a top-down burn: Load the fire box with lump charcoal, interspersing it with wood chunks or chips. Light 3 or 4 coals on top in the center; gradually, they’ll burn down, igniting the coals and wood beneath them.)

Transfer the brisket on

the foil-lined cardboard to

the smoker. If using an offset smoker, position the thicker end toward the firebox. Cook the brisket until the outside is dark and the internal temperature registers about 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This normally takes 6 to 8 hours. Refuel your cooker as needed, adding wood to obtain a steady stream of smoke. If the outside of the brisket darkens too much, loosely lay a sheet of foil on top. (Don’t bunch it, or the meat will steam rather than smoke, resulting in a pot roast-like consistency.)

Wrap the brisket: Lay 2 overlapping sheets of pink (unlined) butcher paper or parchment paper on your work surface. Each piece should be about 3 feet long. You want to create a square about 3 feet on each side. Wearing heatproof rubber or silicone gloves (or carefully using tongs), transfer the brisket to the center of this paper square. Fold the bottom section over the brisket. Fold in the sides and roll the brisket over so it’s completely swaddled in paper. (It’s a little like making a burrito.) Note the orientation: You want the fatty point of the brisket to remain on top. Carefully set the wrapped brisket back on the foil-lined cardboard and return it to the cooker.

Continue cooking the brisket to an internal temperature of 200-205 degrees (it will be deeply browned and very tender), another 2 to 4 hours, bringing your total cooking time to 8 to 12 hours, depending on your cooker and the size of your brisket. (Start monitoring the internal temperature at the 8-hour mark.)

You can eat the brisket now. But there’s one more optional step that will take your brisket from excellent to sublime: Let it rest. Place the wrapped brisket in an insulated cooler to rest for 1 to 2 hours, allowing the meat to relax and the juices to redistribute.

To serve the brisket, unwrap it over a sheet pan to catch any juices trapped in the paper. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board (ideally, one with a well), lean flat section down. Cut the brisket in half crosswise, separating the flat section from the point section. The corner of the flat farthest from the sliced side can be tough and dry. Make a diagonal cut to remove it. Dice it and serve as burnt ends to thank onlookers for their patience. Look for the grain of the meat. Using a serrated knife or sharp carving knife, slice this section as thickly or as thinly as desired. (Texas tradition calls for slices that are the thickness of a pencil.) If your brisket has somehow come out tough, slice it paper-thin, which will make it seem more tender.

Now slice the point section: Again, trim off and discard any obvious large lumps of fat. Slice the meat across the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices (or as desired). Arrange the slices on a platter or plates and spoon the reserved meat drippings over them. It’s nice to serve the meat by itself so you can appreciate the complex interplay of salt, spice, smoke, meat and fat. Texas tradition calls for sliced factory-style white bread. If you opt for barbecue sauce, serve it on the side.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Fred Petrucelli

September 9, 2018

It’s been a week since our beloved dear friend left us. Today in our local newspaper, The Log Cabin Democrat, a very nice article appeared celebrating his life among us. I posted the story to our personal website and will include the link to the story here for postertity. Thank you Cindy Beckman for a well written tribute!

RIP Fred!

Click to access Fred-Petrucelli.pdf

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

June 24, 2018

From Parade Magazine June 24, 2018


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.



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.”


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.”



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.”


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.”


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


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.


Lowest, Driest, Hottest


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


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.


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.”


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



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.


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.


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


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


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.

<img src="https://static.parade.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/AcadiaNatPark-FTR-1.jpg&quot; alt="iStock"

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


“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.”


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


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

PDF Ideas from On Computers

February 17, 2018


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:


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).


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).


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


Scarlet oak


Flowering dogwood

Japanese maple


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 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 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.




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.