Around here, we seem to forge ahead with spring earlier and earlier each spring. Some of that concerns our gradually warming climate and the rest to devices extending our growing season earlier in the spring. But while it is technically spring here in New England, you wouldn’t know it. Friends in more salubrious climates laugh when I say it’s spring. More like late winter, with a few warm days thrown in. OK, but you have to work with what nature gives you. This is why many of us resort to artifice to get a lead on the growing season.
I use fine spun fabrics like remay, low hoops covered with greenhouse plastic, classic cold frames, and the device you see in the photo. It’s a large plastic tub with a plastic greenhouse tub top. My wife bought it at one of the job lot discount stores. It did not work out for the purpose she had in mind, but I used to grow lettuce all spring and again all fall.
I’ve already started my early spring lettuce crop indoors, but yesterday I decided to push a bit and planted some seedlings into the plastic tub cold frame. After all, as usual, I had planted too many, and they’d only need thinning anyhow.

The lettuce is not the only thing out in the spring rain this morning; garlic is too. Specifically, this was the garlic that I had seeded two years ago. This year it should result in harvestable bulbs. The garlic planted from bulb sets last fall is just barely popping up. My wife will have much more garlic this fall than we can use. If things go as expected.
But as you know, let’s not count our garlic bulbs before we pull them. Anything could happen between now and August to wallop our expectations. Last spring started with poignant beauty, but a series of late frosts hit just as the fruit trees were flowering.

Every spring, I have at least one experiment. I don’t think the early lettuce is going to be it. I’ll have to come up with something really fringe for New England – sugar cane?


What is one word that describes you?

Limiting yourself to a one-word descriptor is so out of one of those sad personality tests. Based on your response, all sorts of shallowness are revealed. So clearly, Portzibee Communications couldn’t use you as a class three interoculator for intra-corporate affairs ( 32 K per year).

Much better that you smile and walk away from their idiocy. The hamburger place is offering 42K.

But if you must simplify life in that particular manner, why not develop a plan in which you identify, over the course of the day, which word most epitomizes you at that moment? 

  • You just made your wife upset over some dumb thing? Penitent.
  • Complete the most fantastic game with a great score? Super.
  • Missed feeding time for the cat and dog, and the cat threatens a visit with Catzilla? Idiot,

So there you have it. Don’t be staid. Be creative! And now I must be off to open cans of food for the cat and dog lest I go from idiot to cretin.


When the kids were little, the Simpsons were big in our house. The occasional use of the term embiggen was tolerated with a bit of judicious commonsense, ” Well, dear, there are worse things they could pick up from the TV.” Recognizing that the television would not do a fast fade from the house, we restricted watching to things we didn’t disapprove of. There were many public television shows, tapes, and later DVDs of series we found less objectionable than others. But we controlled the channel selection and refused to get a cable subscription.
No cable subscription; think about it. We were on tight budgets in those days and had other things to spend the money on with four kids. We did not save the receipts on what we spent for the alternate media but felt that it was a better deal than 365 channels of trash.

Then there was me. I worked in video. After a day of watching the screen, analyzing cuts, transitions, and writing scripts and storyboards, I couldn’t turn off at home. I’d find myself critiquing every shot held too long, every poor choice of a transition or dropped storyline. Needless to say, the kids picked it up from me. My wife could “drain the brain” in front of the tube, but not my kids. They were terrible critics.
Maybe it’s unsurprising that we like animation so much; scripting, budgets, and storylines are better supervised. There are fewer inane superstar personalities to follow along with, and they are made for entertaining in briefer bursts. Unfortunately, so much of what’s on cable is made as mere content filler for channels but has little value.

Well, that’s my piece for today. Or as Pinky, from Pinky and the Brain would say, “Naaarf!”


A few weeks ago, I started the kale, lettuce, and some tomatoes on a window sill in a burst of pre-spring enthusiasm. OK, it was desperation; I couldn’t take winter anymore. So now I have some young kale plants that will need to be clipped for mini-greens because there ain’t no way that the darn plants are going into a cold frame yet.
The problem is, of course, that now is when lots of other things need to be planted, and I am running out of room. There are windows downstairs, but they are already crammed with plants that overwinter indoors. Also, the greenhouse/carving shop has all the over-wintering plants in the way of carving projects, so that’s out.
I’ve cast covetous glances at the windows in my wife’s newly renovated office, but she has already nixed that. It’s hers! All that golden sunshine and no seedlings.
In desperation, I waded into what remained of last week’s snow to see how soon I might resurrect the cold frames. Unfortunately, one is a wreck, the other needs work, and the last one I can save with parts salvaged from the ruined one. On the other hand, these frames are about ten years old, and I am amazed that they’ve lasted this long, so having two still functional is fantastic. Looking back on the last six years, I estimate I should be able to get the frost-hardy kale into them by April one; if I add a remay blanket on top of the frame. For the non-gardener, remay is a lightly spun fabric that acts as an insulation layer on top of the plants. Here in New England, the combination of cold frames, remay, and low hoop tunnels of wire and greenhouse plastic can extend my spring and fall gardening seasons by as much as a month ( with a bit of care and luck).

But here I am on March 20th with too much time left on the clock for getting outside, but needing to start more seeds. If you are a gardener, you know the frustration that develops when your plants are subpar because you began them too late, and they are puny rather than lush and fruitful. In discussions with friends whose plants are vastly more productive, you feel wounded and frustrated and vow to plan carefully for next spring.
Well, here it is, spring, and you’re again behind the eightball.


How would you rate your confidence level?

Confidence is a tricky thing for a lot of us. For one thing, it can be situational. I can cook and bake but in a narrow range. So I feel confident within my comfort zone. My bad dream would be finding myself on the Great British Baking show. I’d run for the exit before the hosts could assign their first challenge.
Confidence can be dependent on how practiced the skills are. I could hand reef and steer quite well at one point. Add to that some coastal piloting skills and basic knowledge of celestial navigation. I was not an expert, but no slouch either.

Then we can enter the realm of things that never seem stale. Bullshit; I mean the ability to sling it, not the real stuff. My skills may be limited only by my sense of ambition, your gullibility, and my general knowledge of the topic area.
I have trained with some of the best: con artists, creative confabulists, professors of anthropology, master mariners, folk singers, journalists, and politicians. I have found that the more diverse your foundation, the better off you are.

So it’s no mystery that BS artists with significant confidence levels must study widely. I strongly recommend in-person tuition over watching movies, TV, or reading books. So much of the gestural and verbal nuance of laying it on with just the correct level of thickness only comes from personal, up close observance.

Good luck. And remember to practice lots!


What makes you most anxious?

Even if you don’t want to admit it, we all wish magical spells would make the ugly disappear – a sort of thaumaturgy for complaints. Paul offends me, make him go poof, and cease to bother me. It’s not that what Paul does injures me. His lifestyle, political beliefs, religion, gender identity, and rabid enthusiasm for Star Trek offend my sense of correctness in the universe. Therefore, he must be controlled, eradicated, or neutralized.

So we all want to live in our personal “Pleasantville” where nothing offends. OK, you say, that may be true for those awful right-wingers, Hmmmphhh. But wishing the unpleasant would disappear is not exclusive to one group, class, or persuasion. Living with actual diversity is hard.

In the sixties, Folkies, and hippies wished ” straights” ( meaning non-hip people) would go away; they were so square. Notice that I capitalized Folkie but left hippie lowercase? Yup, lots of us Folkies thought hippies were not hip. We thought they were middle-class suburban wannabes with no credibility. But, of course, many Folkies had the same roots; the hippies just came along a few years after us.

Actual diversity means living with people who you may not see eye to eye with, may not wish to interact with, and may not expect your child to have sex with. But, regardless, you can’t edit them out of the community. But we try. We’d love to put them in a ghetto, box them up, and send them “back to where you came from.” But, in the long run, no good comes from events like that. Unfortunately, recent, medieval, and ancient history is full of the cost paid for this vanity.

It’s a sort of skewed Libertarianism. We reserve the right to worship, love, consume, and live unimpeded by rules. But, of course, this does not apply to you because we find you morally objectionable. 

So for you, special regulation is needed because we can’t stomach the perversion we see in your continued existence. This sort of thought process makes me most anxious. Intact human societies have room for diversity. Fragmenting cultures demonize differences. This can become a snowballing process that isn’t easily stopped. What will you demonize next?

As cartoonist Don Marquis put it: “The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race.” 

What Rita Taught Me

I was a grad student when I met Rita. She was a nurse, and one of the things that allowed us to hit it off from the beginning was that we “spoke” the same language, that specialty dialect of people in healthcare. So many things didn’t need repeating with lengthy explanations. I came by my knowledge because of the time spent in the operating room and on hospital orthopedic floors.

For several weeks it seemed that we were both winners. We communicated easily, had common interests, and in other ways, seemed compatible. So with the relationship gaining a bit in longevity, it seemed natural that we should begin introducing each other to our friends.

I invited Rita to a couple of parties my friends were having. At first, everything seemed to be going alright. Then the fights started. My friends talked in senseless jargon, couldn’t say a single sentence in plain English, and were stuck up. I didn’t even try to defend my friends from the charge of being stuck up; a few were overly impressed with themselves. But the jargon comment hurt. It was true. Put a bunch of anthropologists in a room having a conversation about our areas of research, and you’ll be lost in a few minutes. The number of common English words declines in direct proportion to the depth of the debated issues.
I tried explaining, apologizing, and then compared it to a similar type of discussion healthcare professionals might have. Maybe that last was what blew the lid off the pot. Over three days, we went from being lovers to being angry with each other to breaking off the relationship.
Much good came from the breakup, although I didn’t see it that way for a long time. As I transitioned from grad school to “civilian” life as a practicing anthropologist, I learned to listen to my trade talk or jargon and filter it out. You might know I was an anthropologist, but it wouldn’t interfere with our conversation.

As far as Rita is concerned, I never heard from her again, and that’s not bad. But from her, I did learn a valuable lesson: too much jargon complicates communication.

Snow Day

An imprecation is a curse. Plain and simple, and today I imprecate snow. Those innocent white flakes are so lovely to watch drifting down in the garden. And then I step onto the deck, and the avalanche starts as the pile on the roof lets go because the vibrations from the door set it off. Therefore I do lustily and loudly imprecate. Gotta love New England weather.

I feel more than a bit hapless as I try to remove the five pounds or so that have gone down the back of my shirt. Of course, I should have suspected that our wonderful New England climate would pull the stops out this close to the end of winter/beginning of spring. I guess 18 inches is an excellent way to say, “gotcha!”

Despite being a New York City boy, I’ve lived in New England for over fifty years. So I should now have some insight into how tricky things can be. I guess that old saying is true: hope for the best, expect the worst…now if the damned snow blower will only work…


I received an early indoctrination from my father on volunteering and management. He had a sort of pragmatic wisdom from having served in the Maine Corp and the Merchant Marine. He’d say that ” the conventional wisdom says don’t ever volunteer. However, sergeants and bosuns Mates know this and will “volunteer” you for the duty. Protesting too much can get you extra duty later on. Volunteer smart. Keep the bosun happy, get your buddy off hard duty occasionally, and gain credit from your shipmates.” My father’s take was this was a wheel; you had to keep it spinning.

The spinning wheel only works when everyone pitches in once in a while. In other words, you don’t wait for an appointment to do your part. And in a pinch, everyone gets together to keep things working. The time to argue about the duty roster was not while the ship was in danger of sinking in the storm.

As my father used to say, all this was in a perfect world; but the world is not perfect. He maintained that you needed sergeants, bosun mates, and officers because some people are lazy and won’t contribute their energy, effort, or money to keep things working. So you have to have people who manage things, and that’s where the real skill comes in; just the right amount of encouragement, the correct amount of discipline, and a knowledge of the personalities involved.

When we had the final conversations about this, my father was a maintenance supervisor for a large real estate company in New York City. He had to oversee several crews, contracts, and sites. His attitude had not changed. After a while, he stated you knew from a historical view how things might not work. He understood that the one person in the crew who shirked his share torpedoed the team’s efforts. So he managed lightly, but diligently and kept an out for who was slacking.

Without thinking much about it, I’ve adopted my father’s methods and thoughts on management. However, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to view others. The worst is a system sometimes called ” management by ambush.” In this system, you ambush unsuspecting workers even if they’ve done nothing. The thought behind this is that they’ll never know when you are watching and will always be working hard. But, of course, what happens is that they game your system, resent you, and try to derail things in revenge.

In discussions I’ve had with adherents of the management by ambush method, they maintain that my lazy system allows smart slackers to control the system. I respond that spending your energy where needed leaves most of the crew alone to finish the job. They understand that you are watching, but know that if they do their part, you will leave them alone- in other words, treat them as adults.

Well, not everyone can be left alone and treated as an adult. But if you want to be a manager, you should invest in learning enough about the people you supervise to know who needs mentoring, who you leave alone, and who you manage closely.


Where would you go on a shopping spree?

I call it tool porn. Yes, I love books. And I could indeed dress happily from the Orvis and LL Bean catalogs. But without a doubt, if I was given one of those surprise opportunities, “here are five thousand dollars; go spend it!” I’d head across the border to the nearest Lee Valley store and luxuriate in tool porn for as long as it took me to spend the money.

I have a few drawers in the carving shop filled with items I’m not likely to use often. I pull that small plow plane out, rub it and whisper, “my precious! It just seemed to be calling to me from the catalog pages.

I am actually afraid of what might happen if I went on a shopping spree with a loose wad of cash. I might have trouble finding places for all the goodies in the jammed shop.

But, hey! I’ve never let that stop me before. So let us go forthrightly where no tool shopper has ever gone before!

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