Friday, December 21, 2012


Every once in a while, especially around Christmastime, I think about a funny little elf named Juniperperper. The thought of him brings back memories of one childhood Christmas when the Daily New-Record published a serial story about him during the weeks leading up to Christmas. My memory is foggy, but I guess Mom probably read the story to Danny and me each day. Even though I have forgotten the details of the story, I remember Juniperperper fondly to this day.

This year, as you can probably guess, I found Juniperperper on the internet! He happened to pop into my mind while I was sitting at my desk, and of course, I Googled him. There's not much to find, but with a little work, I was able to piece together The Elf Who Couldn't Do Anything Right, by Bob Boyle, in its entirety.

If you would like to read Juniperperper's story, you can find it piece-by-piece in the following links. Most of the links will take you directly to the article, but for a few you will need to navigate to the story yourself.

Thank you, Bob Boyle, for this story. Thank you, newspapers, for publishing it. Thank you, Mom, for reading it to us kids. And thank you to whoever put all those old newspapers on the internet. I enjoyed reading Juniperperper's story, as well as bumping into other childhood memories in the process: Roses, Ralph Sampson, Ronald Reagan, and the 1984 Redskins (who won their division the year this story was published). Merry Christmas, y'all!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Eldon's Folly . . . Three Years Later

Since I was a kid, my family has dreamed of buying a cabin in the woods. We all had our own ideas. Mom’s version of a cabin in the woods was a house at the beach. Danny liked the idea of something on a river or lake. I wanted something with trees and mountains. But about three years ago, Dad fell in love with this monstrosity:

It barely met one criterion on which we all could agree: indoor plumbing. Needless to say, the rest of the family was not impressed. It looked like an awful lot of work, and we thought it would be smarter to buy some land and build from scratch. Despite our misgivings, Dad’s mind was made up, and we bought the place. I nicknamed it Eldon’s Folly in honor of Dad’s dubious undertaking: the renovation of this unpleasant, falling-apart farmhouse.

But Dad must have seen something in this old house that the rest of us missed. Where we saw lots and lots of work, he saw a diamond in the rough. Fast-forward three years, and he has won us all over. We now have this beautiful getaway:

The major renovations took much less than three years, but we continue to work on smaller projects all the time. The work is never done in an old house, right? Thanks to new windows, wiring, siding, insulation, heating, air conditioning, and much more, the house is now a pleasant place to be. (Mom likes to “rough it” in comfort.)

The one bathroom that did not work was replaced with two working full baths. The tiny, dilapidated kitchen is now a reasonably sized, modern kitchen, complete with dishwasher and glass-top range:

Before renovations, the house lacked any reasonable common area, so we added a great room:

Did you notice the woodstove? That fireplace was built with rocks found on our property. How awesome is that? Here is an outside view of the chimney:

I am glad Dad had a vision. It is hard to imagine any new construction having the character of this place. Despite the modern comforts, we made an effort to preserve some of the rustic features. The bare wood floors, walls, and ceilings in the bedrooms are charming. We kept the old hand pump (and it still works):

While we have torn down some of the outbuildings, we are keeping a few, like the barn:

And how cool is it that the house has lightning rods?

The land isn’t too shabby either. We are on the river, surrounded by mountains, and there are plenty of trees. I was also pleased that the land came with numerous edibles: black walnuts, grapes, and mint.

I have put a few of my own touches on the place. Of course there must be roses:

And those flowers (not blooming) in the background? Those are irises that were growing beside the old house. Our contractor dug them up, put them in a cardboard box, and left them in one of the outbuildings. They were there at least two years before Mom and I replanted them this summer. That is definitely not how you are supposed to care for irises, but I am convinced that we are going to have beautiful flowers next year.

I also contributed my old couch:

It is much more suited to a cabin than my house, don’t you think? And then there is my quilt puzzle:

And an obligatory gnome to watch over the place:

That’s Duke Rollo Carlisle Everette Thornton. Isn’t he cute?

Three years later, Eldon’s Folly has turned out to be not so foolish. My whole family—which has grown by two members during that time (Welcome, Meg and Kateri!)—loves the place. OK, so Kateri hasn’t been there yet, but I am very excited for my baby niece’s first visit (even if she wakes me up in the middle of the night).

I am looking forward to many more years of family visits to the cabin. There is still much to explore, including the possible arrival of alien life, as evidenced by this un-Photoshopped image:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stop and Smell the Roses

It's rose time again! This year has been especially good for my roses. 'Louise Odier' has been blooming profusely for over a week, filling the air with her scent. And 'Roseraie de L'Haÿ,' though not so profuse, has been absolutely gorgeous. I should have taken pictures when they were at their peak, but I believe that  time is now past.

Anyway, 'Frau Karl Druschki' was looking perfect this morning, and I had to stop and take a picture:

Frau Karl Druschki
Frau Karl Druschki
I love each of my roses for different reasons. What 'Frau Karl Druschki' lacks in scent (she has practically none), she makes up with her magnificent blooms. I have never seen a more a more perfect white rose from any other variety. I also love that the buds come out pink but open to purest white.

Quite a few of my other roses are about ready to burst: 'Veilchenblau,' 'Basye's Purple Rose,' Rosa gallica 'Apothecary,' and a few others. I can't wait. I also need to find a time to go out to Fulks Run and check on my roses there: 'La Reine,' 'Rose de Rescht,' and 'Suma.' Why is it so easy to take time to stop and smell the roses, but so hard to make time to mow the grass?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ginger, Ginger, Ginger!

Do you ever get annoyed by people in the grocery store who linger in a particular spot, oblivious to passers-by? That’s me. The annoyer, not the annoyee. I am the one blocking the shelf with my cart while I peruse ingredient lists and compare prices. Well, to be honest, the price comparisons are just a pretense; what I really care about is quality. I feign comparing prices because I know that’s what a good Mennonite should do. However, as long as a price is not unreasonable, I am generally willing to pay more for a better product. The only thing that causes me to tarry is not knowing which product is best.

I have performed this very ritual in the soda aisle revolving around ginger ale. It is strange that I should not know which ginger ale is best considering it is the only soda I keep around the house. It is useful to have on hand for mixed drinks, upset stomachs, or just a cool, refreshing beverage that is not water, juice, or milk. Most of the time I end up buying whichever of the “Big Three” ginger ales—Canada Dry, Schweppes, or Seagram’s—is on sale.

So when my brother, Danny, mentioned the idea of a ginger ale tasting, I was immediately on board. That was a few months ago, but the idea finally came to fruition on Sunday when I hosted a Ginger Ale Tasting and Football Party.

We may have gone a little overboard with the ginger theme; my sister-in-law, Meg, led us in a ginger trivia game with gingery prizes, I made Indonesian Ginger Chicken for supper, and we even had a bonus ginger snap tasting. However, the main event of the night was the blind ginger ale tasting, led by Danny. (The NFL playoff game, Ravens v. Patriots, pretty much faded into the background.)

Our tasting was divided into five categories: the “Big Three” Dry Ginger Ales, Other Dry Ginger Ales, Golden Ginger Ales, Ginger Beers, and Homemade. Danny made a tasting worksheet for us, complete with some notes on ginger ale history. You can check out Wikipedia’s ginger ale article if you want learn about its history and the different categories.

Before I get to the results, let me just say that I only have my notes, Cris’s notes, and my memory to go on. I will do my best to represent the consensus of all eight tasters, but my memory is fallible, and Cris used the word “grabby” in his notes more than once. Any dissent can be expressed via comments.

The “Big Three” Dry Ginger Ales

Until I tasted these ginger ales side-by-side, I never knew what a difference there was between the three major brands.

Our Favorite: Schweppes

Light, crisp, and just a little tart. A good all-around ginger ale. This was the clear winner in the category.

2nd: Seagram’s

Mild and not too sweet. Nothing to complain about here.

3rd: Canada Dry

Mild and sweet. Maybe a little too mild, and maybe a little too sweet. Still, overall a very passable ginger ale.

Other Dry Ginger Ales

Our Favorite: Northern Neck

Could it be that the Virginia palates of the tasters favor the local brew? Northern Neck Ginger Ale has been produced in Montross, Virginia since 1926. It might be hard to find outside Virginia’s Northern Neck, but do yourself a favor and take a trip there, not just for the ginger ale, but for the other attractions as well. This was my favorite of all the ginger ales we tasted. It was nice and crisp, not too sweet, and it had a stronger ginger kick than most of the other drys. Fantastic!

2nd: Chill

Chill is a cheap store brand available at Red Front Supermarket. Cris’s notes simply said “good.” I liked the ginger flavor, but there were some other flavor notes that were so-so. I was slightly more reserved and rated it “pretty good.”

3rd: Dominion

This Virginia brew did not fare as well as its compatriot. It was sweet and gingery, but unremarkable.


“More Ginger, Less Sugar” is the tagline for this Worcester, Massachusetts ginger ale. Alas, we found it lacking in flavor other than an undesirable aftertaste.

Golden Ginger Ales

Our Favorite: Reed’s Original Ginger Brew

Reed’s Inc. touts the natural ingredients in their ginger brews. The honey and pineapple sweeteners seem to work because Reed’s took the top two honors in the golden category. Our favorite was the Original. The unusual ingredients lend it a unique flavor. Gingery. Peppery. Tasty.

2nd: Reed’s Premium Ginger Brew

Similar to the Original brew. Premium is mildly sweet with a good ginger flavor. Refreshing.

3rd: Ale-8-One

The only caffeinated ginger ale of the whole tasting, Ale-8-One is a regional drink from Winchester, Kentucky. While I enjoyed the mild ginger flavor, I found this one overly sweet.


A-Treat is a ginger ale from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Cris’s notes indicate that it is “plain old good.” I found it lacking in flavor and just kinda blah.


According to Wikipedia, Vernors is “America’s oldest surviving soft drink.” It was created in Detroit, Michigan in 1866. The first thing we noticed about Vernors was the aroma. Some said it smelled like vomit, perhaps due to the barrel aging. Despite the odor, the flavor was OK. However, many of us thought it tasted more like cream soda than ginger ale. It was sweet and lacking in ginger flavor.

Ginger Beers

Our Favorite: Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew

It was difficult to choose a favorite ginger beer, but I think we all liked Reed’s Extra. It was more gingery (gingerier?) than the ginger ales we sampled, though not terribly pungent. Like the other Reed’s varieties, it had a good flavor.

Goya Jamaican Style

By far, Goya ginger beer had the most kick. Memorable quotations include “hot sauce ginger ale” and “it burns us!” (in a bad Gollum impression). Cris’s notes suggest using it in short bursts or possibly as an industrial solvent. My review was slightly more favorable. If you can handle the burn, it has a nice sweet, gingery flavor, not unlike the ginger beer I had when in Jamaica.


Gosling’s was visibly discernible from the other varieties due to its cloudy appearance. The flavor was sweet and moderately gingery. The only problem was that it was rather flat.


Meg made two varieties of homemade ginger ale. They were so different that there was nothing blind about this portion of the tasting. Because they were both so good, I declare a tie in this category!


Meg used Alton Brown’s Ginger Ale recipe, and it was wonderful. The ginger ale was slightly cloudy with a mild ginger flavor and a hint of yeast. Not too sweet. Very enjoyable.

Syrup plus Club Soda

Meg used a recipe from Epicurious for this one. It had a fresh, clean flavor that could easily be adjusted, in both amount of ginger and sweetness, to suit your taste. So refreshing!

Ginger Snaps

I am a big fan of ginger snaps, so this category (with two sub-categories) is entirely my doing. And much to my surprise, I discovered I have been buying the wrong brand of ginger snaps for years. Sorry, Murray, you have been replaced!


Our Favorite: Stauffer’s

Sweet sassy molassy ... and ginger ... and spices! Just what you want in a ginger snap. Well, all that plus snap ... which Stauffer’s ginger snaps have. Oh ... and there’s red pepper in there too. What!? Perfection!

2nd: Murray

While I must concede that Stauffer’s is the best, my long-time favorite, Murray, is a close second. Good flavor. Good snap. Just not as good as Stauffer’s.

3rd: Nabisco

Not too shabby. Good flavor. Good snap. Just not as good as Murray. Furthermore, all the cookies are stamped with the same fake crinkly texture. What’s the point? I would prefer a more natural look.

Kroger (store brand)

Good snap, but lacking in flavor. The leftovers of these cookies are destined to be a crumb crust.


Our Favorite: Pamela’s Products Simplebites Ginger Mini Snapz

These cookies are right up there with Stauffer’s and Murray. Excellent flavor and snap. You don’t even miss the gluten (until you eat them side by side with a regular ginger snap). The best snap in its category by far!

MI-DEL Gluten-Free Ginger Snaps

Of all the ginger snaps we sampled, this is the only one that lacked snap, an essential quality. Danny, however, really seemed to like the soft texture. (He was the only one.) The flavor was OK, but not nearly good enough to overcome its lack of snappiness.


What a blast! A big thank you to Danny and Meg for doing most of the work, and to all the other tasters for providing their opinions and making the evening so much fun. My shopping habits are forever changed. From now on, Schweppes will be my everyday ginger ale, though I will always opt for Northern Neck when I can get it. And Stauffer’s has replaced Murray as my must-have ginger snap, except when Andrea visits and I go gluten-free with Pamela’s Snapz. Happy Ginger Ale-ing and Snapping to you all!

Monday, January 23, 2012

2011 Cloud

Were you expecting a post about ginger ale, Danny? That one's coming, but due to time constraints, I could only manage a short post today. So here's a word cloud of my 2011 Facebook posts. Because I know how much you love them—both word clouds AND my Facebook posts. :)

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Cat in a Bustier and Clown Pants

I was cleaning my office last night, and I found a bunch of stuff from high school and college. There were plenty of commonplace things, like class notes and papers, but it was the unexpected stuff that really brought back memories: a list of Highland Retreat quotes,1 my sophomore- and junior-year track meet schedules with all my events and times,2 poetry written by me3 and by others,4 a draft of the top ten reasons to be a math major,5 a game of MASH,6 and numerous doodles and drawings.

Several of the drawings were the kind you make by folding a paper into thirds and getting different people to draw the head, torso, and bottom of a person. Andrea and I used to sit in the back of Calculus class and goof off. Here's one of our masterpieces:

1My favorite is when Jeremy yelled, "Don't get me in trouble! Don't get me in trouble!" while spraying LaVonne with a hose in the pool house.
2My best time in the 1600M? 5:54.
3Mostly silly.
4Mostly serious.
5Including such gems as "Life without Geometry would be pointless."
6The MASH-ee ends up getting married in an orange dress to a guy named Fred, driving a station wagon, and living in a shack in Australia with 15 kids and a pet rat.

Monday, May 09, 2011

First Rose of the Season

Yesterday Danny was giving me a hard time because I haven't updated my blog recently and he's tired of seeing the same word cloud over and over again. Today, it just so happens that there's something new in my life: a rose blooming in my garden! 'Roseraie de L'Haÿ' and 'Louise Odier' have both been dangerously close to blooming for a few days, but 'Roseraie de L'Haÿ' surprised me this morning with several wonderful, spicy-smelling blooms. I stopped to smell the roses (of course) on my way to work and snapped this shot with my iPhone.