Monday, December 17, 2018

Someone asked: What are the benefits of reading encyclopedia books?

I’m assuming that by “Encyclopedia Books” you mean simply hardcover encyclopedias, so my answer is framed with those in mind, but it might apply to the current crop of single-subject "coffee table" books as well.
Encyclopedias as collections of knowledge are not the same today as they were when I was a kid.  I’m 77 now, and as is the case with other things I knew and enjoyed then, technology has changed them. “Assembled knowledge” is no longer as much a static thing as it used to be; collections of assembled knowledge are more dynamic nowadays.
But way back then I had a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica Jr. and a two volume Webster’s Dictionary, that I used for homework assignments. Perhaps some would say that I was too easily distracted, but whenever I looked up a word in the dictionary, I would also read every other word on both facing pages, and when I looked up an entry in the encyclopedia, I would read the items on both sides of that as well. Homework took longer back then, and it often didn’t get done at all. The fact that I was learning other things was lost on my teachers …
Anyway, I got to enjoy those side ventures so much that I decided to start at the beginning of both the dictionary and the encyclopedia and read them from cover to cover. And I did just that, when I was 13. No, I didn't really understand all of what I was reading, but it was an interesting exposure just the same, and many times those items came back to me later – sort of like sorting through jigsaw puzzle pieces, and remembering later that a certain needed piece was "over there in that pile."
Oh, I still explored our 67 acres like any kid my age, and I ran through the woods with Hawkeye and his friends, but now I knew that the willow twig that Chingachgook gave me to chew on to relieve my headache was effective because the willow is a member of the salicaceae family, and that’s where aspirin comes from – that certain needed piece just fell into the right spot. I was interested in that information/knowledge, although I’m sure I didn’t think of it as simply that.
Was that a benefit? I think so, because even though that information was in a fixed format (which never occurred to me back then), I learned things. In those static views I could also see, and actually formulate, what I have come to call the “What Happens Next” effect. I could trace the development of an idea or invention and see where and why it had spawned some other new thing. I could see where someone invented a travois, for example, then later someone decided to put a wheel on it, making it easier to pull. That was easy to see then, but now our grandkids tend to simply jump to the Lamborghini.
Now, given almost instant encyclopedia updates, I think that too many of us today also simply discard those intermediate things, along with the ideas that helped generate them. We grab for the shiny new object, and forget the old. An analogy might be the digital vs analog watch. Those new digital things are spiffy, to be sure, with all their rockin’ new features. But I think that when we grab for the Breitling or Casio, we lose the time between the clicks that the old Bulova analog faithfully displayed for us. I think that “what happens next” happens mostly in the inbetweentime, but digital time clicks on without it.
Probably the most important item on my list of benefits is the fact that I acquired a lifelong habit of reading and learning things. I still enjoy reading encyclopedia entries. And I still use the dictionary, and still look at all the entries on both facing pages. Actually it just occurred to me that I could call them entrèes, because of all the side dishes available to accompany them, and sometimes those side dishes are ever so much tastier!
I know this is probably an overlong answer, and perhaps this was not the type of encyclopedia you had in mind, but life just is not that simple any more, and we miss so much by going the simple route, that I just refuse to do that any longer.
Now, eat your broccoli!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

My wife is brilliant!
We were driving up Rt 11, a two lane highway in NY, and we were dodging potholes. That's not an uncommon sport around these parts, but I was grumping because they just recently re-paved this road.
Then I wondered aloud if this new process, where they grind up the old pavement and mix it with oils and tars to make recycled blacktop, could be at fault.
She thought for a minute, and said, "Sure! Think about it! When they grind up the old stuff, they grind up all those old pot holes with it!"
Like I said, Brilliant!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Is it secret? Is it safe?

A couple of weeks ago I lost my wallet. Misplaced it, I guess, and whoever picked it up in the store thought he or she needed it more than I did, so I had to cancel my credit cards, request duplicates of them and all my other stuff, and rethink my budget for the month.

Then last week, my laptop gave up the ghost, and I had to take it to my son-in-law (who does that sort of thing) to breath new life into it.

Soooo -- easy, right?

Well, yeah, and no.

Couple of tips I knew, but didn't follow, and are now firmly fixed in my conscious thought.

1) COPY everything in your wallet! Take your credit cards, your medical, insurance, SS, licenses, and put them on a sheet of paper in your copier. Copy both sides of them! Then keep the copies in a safe place. Review them occasionally, updating them as necessary. Then you'll KNOW what was in there, especially when it comes to your credit and debit cards.

2) KEEP a list of passwords, IDs, program keys, etcetera, so that you can get back up and running with fewer calls to "the help desk" !!

List ended for now, I gotta get back to resetting passwords and recovering my access to some of the stuff that's still missing.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

At Wal-mart this afternoon, I walked by the sporting goods dept. Noted that they had lots of .22 ammo in stock, both mag and regular long rifle.
So I went to the counter and told the clerk I wanted a box of "CCI, .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, please."
He struck a pose, and asked "Mini mags, or regular Winchesters?"
I reiterated my request, and emphasized the "Magnum"
Now he's sure I don't know a damn thing about what I'm asking for, and he's gonna be visibly patient while schooling the old guy, and explaining the difference. He opened the case and pointed, ""These are Winchester LR's, and those are CCI rimfires. You said Winchester, which one do you want?"
I pointed at the CCI WMR's and said, "I asked for those. The WMR stands for Winchester Magnum Rimfire."
He still didn't get it, just humored me, said, "Just wanted to make sure you understood."
I didn't say anything else right then.
Got up to the counter and started the checkout process. Looked at the long gun display next to the register, and asked him, "Do you ever get any Stoeger Coach Guns in?"
He said, "No, the only side-by-sides we stock are the Tri-Star Over-Unders."
I bit my tongue, and didn't dare look at him again.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


We're praying for family and friends in the path of the storm. Be safe!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

No - I don't have a weird fetish for fruit, but I do love a peach, now and then.

Mostly now. Here's a recent essay - didn't know where else to put it.

Pickin’ Peaches
A few weeks ago we looked for a place where we could get some fresh, tree-ripened peaches. Couldn’t find one. The orchards where we used to get them are gone, replaced by vineyards. The old barns and houses along those country roads now bear signs inviting the weary traveler to “Come in for a taste of our fine wines.”

Fine wine is very nice, sometimes an essential. But right now I want a peach.

I couldn’t help thinking back to a time not so many years ago, when I’d stand in an orchard, under the trees, boots wet from walking through dew-soaked grass. The morning sunshine felt good as it went about its task of waking things up. It’d get much warmer, even hot, as the day progressed, so it was good to start early.

I’d walk until I found just the right tree. Then I’d reach up and feel the fruit hanging there on the sunny side, where things had already mostly dried off.

Do you know that a peach tree will talk to you if you listen? Not so much in words, but in feelings. They do. Empathy, I think they call it. Yeah, empathy. You reach out to cup a peach in your hand, and it either hangs on to the tree, and you have to pull it loose, or it likes you, and surrenders itself for your pleasure. Falls easily into your hand. Almost seems like it knows you’ll appreciate the sweetness of its gift. It says, “Here.” And it’s good.

You can find peaches that are sweeter than that, though they’re not up in the tree. You gotta look down. There, under the tree, yes, on the ground in that patch of sunshine. That one that’s lying there soaking up the warmth of the sun, while waiting for the ants to harvest its sugars, that’s one. It would have fallen into your hand yesterday, but it waited all day, and you didn’t come.

But it’s not too late; the tree doesn’t hold a grudge.

Pick it up, wipe the dirt from the bottom side, and brush off any ants that may be prospecting there. No, you don’t want to take a bite out of that cold side, but the side facing up, with the beautiful red blush against the dark yellow-orange color of the fully ripe fruit, highlighted by that bead or two of remaining dew, that’s the best part.

Take a bite. Go ahead. Yeah, I know, Mom always said never to eat anything you pick up off the ground. “That’s dirty! Got germs! Yuck!” But this time it’s okay. And you take a bite, just to taste it. Then another, and a third, and the juice starts to run down along your little finger, down the side of your hand, and if you don’t watch out, it’ll run clear to your elbow!

And now your hand and wrist are all sticky, and you’ve run out of sunny side, so you toss the remains over there by that clump of grass. It’s okay, the tree won’t mind. Now look around for another one. Ahhh! Right there! But there’s also a bee, obviously anticipating a feast, and you hesitate. There are more, lying all around, but that one looks particularly delectable, and the bee seems to verify that as it hovers over the surface, looking for just the right place to land.

The promised reward wins out over the threat of a little pain, so you softly brush the bee away, and pick up the fallen prize. This one feels a little softer as you raise it to your mouth. Why bother even brushing off the critters on the back side? You take a bite and you savor! You feel more juice running down your fingers, and your chin, and you open your eyes after taking another bite, and you see that the bee has landed on the side of your hand, and is enjoying that nectar, oblivious to the source. You decide to share, so you carefully take another bite, then watch as he crawls right into the opening you’ve just made, and begins to gorge on the remaining sweetness. You put that one down gently, because now the bee is an ally. You’ve shared sustenance together. So you find another. And another. And life is good.

You can only eat so many, though, and you look back up to see the others are filling their baskets, so you begin filling yours with the lesser, but still promising, fruit that the tree releases to you. It seems you both know which ones will best survive the trip back home, where you’ll put them into jars, make them into pies and jam, into shortcakes and dried fruit. 

Maybe ice cream!

You can’t resist one more, that big one there, so there’s fresh juice on your chin, and your shirt is has both wet and dry spots on it as you get back to the car. And then you sneak one final peach out of the basket, “just to eat on the way home.”

Later, when the house is closed up tightly against the cold and snow of the new year, and the smell of wood smoke lingers, you walk into the pantry and see all those bright jars lined up on the shelves. But the light they reflect is not winter’s cold, artificial, fluorescent glare.

It’s the soft sunshine of late summer mornings.

Under peach trees.

Where you shared a blessing.

hjt – September, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

Old friends

Most folks peel the fuzzy skin off a peach before eating it. I don’t, because that’s the way I like them. Had one this morning. It was soft, juicy; I did have to lean over the sink to eat it. Sweet, yes, a little, and, well, peachy-tasting. Polite comes to mind. Nice enough, I guess, for a total stranger.

I know some old peaches. I’m acquainted with J.H. Hale. Good friends with Elberta. Spent many a fine afternoon with Hale Haven. On a first name basis with Reliance, Red Haven, and a few others; trust ‘em with my taste buds.

But this one was a stranger.

I was a little leery when we purchased it. From another state, the sign said. It and its siblings were big, round, hard, fuzzy things. Looked ripe, but the guy said to let them sit on the counter for a week or so, and they’d “soften right up.”


Apparently, “soften right up” is the new ripe. Who knew? Anyway, we were out of peach jam, and this was all we could get.

So I asked for an introduction. “What’s its name?”

He looked at me kind of funny, but humored me. Looked it up. Rattled off a string of numbers.  “X323B, or F25R, or something like that.” I didn’t respond. “Freestone,” he said. “Midseason.” I waited. “Good market peach.” I nodded.

That’s nice. “Good market peach.” Growers like that. So do shippers. Commercial canners. Grocers. Farm stand owners. “Good market peach” means profit. Convenience. 401k. College loan payments.

Whatever. I understand. Really I do.

But “Good market peach” is not a benchmark for flavor.

And friends don’t have numbers.

Howard Tuckey                                                                                                     9/2016