Saunders Peony Update

Last fall I wrote about a Saunders peony I’d been sent, from upstate New York by way of Madison, Connecticut. It was a small bit of peony, but it had red eyes on it, and I planted it and hoped for the best.

Of course, it got knocked around, uprooted at least once, mistaken for a weed–till I laid down the law and put a large and forbidding stake next to it!

And now, it’s putting up foliage. It is still small, and I don’t expect flowers this spring, but next year we’ll see.

Meanwhile, the rhubarb from the kindly neighbors is recovering from its transplantation. I love rhubarb!

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A Maxim

A maxim, drawn from the previous post on double spacing.


A bureaucrat is someone who pretends to a big picture and prefers policy to practice.



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Two Spaces After a Period

Use two spaces after a period.  Period.  That’s what I learned since I was taught typing at St. Mary’s (thanks, Bro. Lawrence!).  I have always felt that a double space after a period lightens the text a bit, making it easier to read and comprehend.

This article seems to agree with me, and furthermore links double spacing to faster reading rates.

I realize that I’ve fallen into single spacing.  As time permits, I will revise my previous posts here to bring them into line with best practice.

The arguments against the old practice (“it’s old”) hold their usual zero water.

The advocates, I suspect, don’t much like the printed word in the first place, and just want to “get on with it” on the road to their 140-character Newspeak.  Yes, they point to monospace fonts versus proportional, but the above-linked article addresses that point.

At best, that’s a “gentleman’s quibble,” rather like the faux “key-color” argument against equal temperament…or how much vermouth should go into a martini…or whatever.

Let me advise you:  literary talent is shown in the affection for small technicalities more surely than in the acquisition of sesquipedalia, or the formulation of policies. Rather than pretend to a big picture, understand the small one.

Let me go a step further, because (as always) an essential detail has been sacrified to the haste of la vie en internet.  Namely:  use two spaces after a colon as well. Not a semicolon, mind you; just a colon.

To be more precise still:  precede a new sentence with two spaces, whether the previous sentence ends with a period, quotation marks, parenthesis, exclamation point or question mark. Also, double space after a colon.

Got it?  Bitte schön.


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Update on the Previous

Still just dipping one happy toe into summer…

I’m outside by the Weber, enthroned in my Coleman chair; and applewood smoke is still gently rising along with the Schlieren (those heat-shimmers whose English name I don’t know).  The ribs are looking lovely.  At this point they are loosely wrapped in foil…some smoke still penetrating but moisture loss is slowed.

Thinking of running in to whip up a mop–vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes–we’ll see. Might just put that at the dinner table.  Cornbread is in the future, too.

I’ve been diligently adding charcoal and wood for four hours now:  two more to go.  The time is flying.  I think I will eventually get used to this!

Have enjoyed the company of woodpeckers, hummingbirds, bluejays, bluebirds, and bumblebees.  Enjoying the shade of maple and ash.

After a chilly and damp morning, the sun came out and the sky has been blue almost without interruption.

Tonight I’m going to watch online for 2010 WC9, a 120-yard-long asteroid that will pass between the earth and moon–really, a terrifyingly close encounter.  At magnitude 11, it will be completely invisible except with a good telescope.

The harpsichord is calling to me–as are my recorders, after a hiatus of a few years.  I have the Handel C major on the music stand.

One joy at a time.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation, part 1

copyright 2016-2018 Jonathan B. HallOne week ago today I was on campus administering final exams.  Grading must always be done carefully and attentively, especially when a final exam and final grade for a course are involved.

There were also final papers to read.

Last evening, I made the final mouse clicks and closed the laptop.

This morning begins my “really-truly” summer vacation, though as you will see I will be very busy.

First thing this morning was to deal with the small avalanche of papers and books that had taken shape in the living room.  That’s done.

A bag of dried beans was emptied into a pot of water and vinegar, and I am into a baked-beans-and-barley project for dinner.  The main course, weather permitting (it seems to be early March again), is a rack of ribs smoked on the Weber.

I grilled some skinless and boneless chicken breasts last week, and on a whim tossed one chunk of wood on the coals.  Well, the smoky flavor was delicious and quite sufficient.  There seems to be a myth that BBQ has to be “falling apart.”  Not absolutely and always true.  (Martinis don’t have to be dry either.)

Mind you: the ribs will be falling apart!

Last evening, maugre the drizzle and chill, I grilled a London broil. Lifetime favorite–full of flavor and also of sweet memories of Dad grilling at various locations over the years.  Dad loved to grill, and did it quite well overall (when allowed to do his job without heckling–this, I regret, became continuous after a point).

Last summer, I posted my recipe for Bruen Burgers–so dubbed for Dad’s middle name and usual nickname. I n common with Bruen’s technique, the meat is well mixed to a uniform texture, and I add some favorite seasonings and a lot of parsley.  Dad would also have used Worcestershire sauce and/or capers.

What Dad never did was make a southern-style smoked BBQ.  This, despite two years of his life spent in western North Carolina with his grandma.  (I don’t know if he tasted Cheerwine.)

School may be done, but the fall semester will start in due time.  I have some planning and thinking to do.

Another big job this summer will be to file a season of choral music at church, and do some early planning for the future.

The Guild is a big priority, too.  I have several projects hanging fire, and there is the national convention coming up.

The weather continues to disappoint, and except for a few rare nights the telescope has remained indoors and the mount covered in plastic on the patio.

Garden is doing well–a wonderful neighbor passed along some rhubarb which, after lying prostrate for a day or two, is perking up nicely.  Flowers are late but coming. The clematis promises quite a show this year.

That’s it for now. Have a good day!

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Not bad at all!

The pork shoulder came out very well. It had a nice smoke flavor and was thoroughly done.  Next time, I will keep it wrapped for a longer part of the cooking time, as it was verging towards dryness.  It still pulled apart very easily and tasted good, but I think a *smidge* more moisture would be nice.  Then again, that’s what the mop is for…!

Once again, the simple Weber kettle proved more than equal to the task of smoking a delicious dinner.  I’m happy to be able to dismiss ideas of purchasing a dedicated smoker–more money spent, and more space taken up.

As to the Cheerwine™, it lived up to its reputation.  It made a sweet, light complement to the meat and pickles.  Highly recommended.

Next project: a whole chicken.  I’m debating the smoke angle.  Might just roast it on charcoal.

At school today, wrapping up the semester.  My students are wonderful, and I have nothing but good wishes for them all.  Still, after the rigors of the past winter, I am happy to have a long break from the commute.

Barbecues, here we come.

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Smoking a Pork Shoulder

Last week’s adventure in BBQ smoking–two fat chicken breasts and a brisket–went fabulously well.  I was thrilled to learn how a small, basic Weber kettle can do the same smoking job as a dedicated device, be it horizontal, vertical, charcoal, propane, or whatnot.

The point is to cook slowly and to add woodsmoke.  Not rocket science, though a thousand websites make it out to be so.

The grill was a drugstore special, vintage 2016.  I was disappointed with it at first, till I remembered how much depends on skill and how a simple tool may serve as well as a more complicated one.

Some people we were friendly with at the time tried to steer us to a vertical propane smoker with all the gadgets.  I’m happy with my little kettle.  It should carry a sign:  Fabulous Dinner–Just Add Patience.

I marinated a large pork shoulder this morning in an improvised marinade:

–Cheerwine™ soda, straight from North Carolina
–cider and balsamic vinegars
–red pepper flakes
–dried rosemary

I’ve already got a can of that wonderful old cherry soda from the Tarheel State in me, and I think I’ll have another one presently.  (There’s no wine in Cheerwine™; it’s just a light and fruity cherry pop–not black cherry, nor cherry cola.  Supposed to be the perfect complement to BBQ.)

I’ve also made up a standard eastern NC mop:

–cider vinegar
–brown sugar
–red pepper flakes

I wrapped up the meat, after sprinkling liberally with Badía Sazón Completa, which (true to its name) is all you need.

The fire has been lit.

Soon the coals will be parted, half to each side of the grill, and a pie tin put in the center and filled with water.  Then the first wood chunks, and finally the top grill and the meat.

I plan to smoke the meat loosely wrapped for a few hours, then finish it unwrapped.

I may add the Italian sausage that never got made for dinner last night. We’ll see.

Already prepped are quick pickle slices, cucumber peeled and sliced and sealed in a bag with cider vinegar, white sugar, and some lemon rind.  Should go well with the pork.

Feeling good and optimistic today.  Summer is nearly here, and the horrors of the winter commute are finally behind me.  Old Glory is flying on the patio and I’m in the shade of the shed writing this and grading papers.  The new pussy willow, next to me, is putting out buds.  So is the new privet hedge I put in, reminding me of “the Safari”–that overhang at our old house on Long Island from a huge and untamed hedge of Ligustrum ibolium.

I wish you just as fine a day.

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A Time of Stress

It’s a stressful time.

The end of semester looms and much work is needed, urgently, for my professional organization.  On top of it, there have been very difficult funerals (both young men who had no business dying), a delightful wedding, a concert and audition to prepare for, and so on.

It’s all valuable work and I am deeply grateful for the career I have.  My audition recording is playing in the background as I write this.  I am getting the work done.  It will be done, and on time, and be of good quality.

This time, it’s come at a cost: perhaps a reminder that I’m no longer twenty-six years old and full of reckless physical energy.  In those days, a quick, cheap, delicious lunch at Ribs and Bibs or the University Gardens in Hyde Park was enough for me till nightfall.  I walked around the neighborhood for miles, trekking to my church, to campus, to another church, to another church, back to home, hardly breaking a sweat.

Now, I break a sweat–and a damn cold one–just remembering how much energy I put out in those days.

(No other university community I’ve lived in or visited can beat Hyde Park for ethnic restaurants.  I hope that hasn’t changed.  For all of the shittiness of which that university was capable, it was situated at the culinary crossroads of the planet.  At least my inner 26-year-old says so…and I tend to trust him.)

My stress is abating now, though I was too sick to work on Sunday morning–an extreme rarity in my church-centered life.  I’ll stay home from a volunteer activity if I feel ill, but it takes a near-disaster to keep me in bed on the Lord’s day.

I guess it felt like a near disaster.

Anyway, I am feeling much better.  What’s aiding my recovery is a beautiful spring day in the country.  The side yard has been torn up by the delivery of 50 yards of dirt, but I am parked in a Coleman camp chair in front of a Weber kettle, monitoring the progress of my first barbecue smoking project.

I’m smoking a brisket and two large chicken breasts.  I’m using my dad’s old standby, Kingsford charcoal briquets, along with a newer product, Kingsford wood chunks.  I’m smoking the meats on applewood.  Every so often I am adding charcoal and another wood chunk. The meat is looking lovely.  Dinner will feature brisket and chicken, cucumber salad, and cornbread–all homemade.

There’s really nothing to smoking meats.  All you need is patience and an eye for keeping the grill just hot enough.  It’s nice to sit outdoors, even if work won’t wait and you have a computer on your lap.

No need to invest in a propane smoker, a special ceramic dish for the water, a certain design (horizontal versus vertical, a true Little-Endian/Big-Endian debate).  An old Weber kettle will work absolutely fine.  Get a pan of the right size for water, a stick to poke the briquets, and you’re in business.

As to a rub, start with salt and pepper and see how that goes.  Don’t worry if the store was out of coriander.

This post was drafted April 24 and was finished and published on May 16, back-dated to 4/24.

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Bluebirds, Robert Frost, and a Keen Eye

In “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Robert Frost observes the moment when

A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume…

Another edition has “…turns to the wind…” instead.  No matter.

I am struck again with Frost’s accuracy, with his unfailing eye for detail.

The bluebirds who have come to live with us do exactly this. Several times in the last few days, one of them–generally the male–has stood still, turned a certain way, and unruffled a plume or two in the chilly April breeze.

A small unruffling gesture. Small, yet deeply characteristic. This is what a poet notices.

A caricaturist also notices the small defining gesture or mark: presidential cartoons have exploited these from McKinley’s formidable eyebrows to the recent jug ears and the current hairstyle.

But where a caricaturist emphasizes a detail for easy recognition and humor, a poet mentions it in its proper place and lets it go, happy to have recorded it rightly; allowing it to work its own meaning.  In this poem, the bluebird is a harbinger of a tentative spring in New Hampshire, not blue “except in color,” but not quite ready to sing the flowers into bloom. But he does turn to the wind and gently “unruffle” his tiny azure plumage.

Perhaps–to allude to another Frost poem–the more one is “versed in country things”  the more one notices these small accuracies.

Perhaps–to allude to the end of “Two Tramps in Mud Time”–Frost’s two eyes really did make one in sight, and he managed “to unite [his] avocation and [his] vocation” in a simple and habitual act of contemplation.

So great to have the bluebirds back among us. So great to have had Robert Frost, too.

This post was drafted in April 2018 and was published on May 16, back-dated.

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Classic Choral Society

I’m involved in the spring concert for the Classic Choral Society, an old, established choir in the Blooming Grove area.

I’ll be playing music by Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian residing in New York since 2001.  He’s quite interesting–contemporary and jazzy, but with a distinct voice; not as “easy” listening as it might seem.

Saxophonist Bill Powers is also featured, as are several musicians well known in this area.

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