Archive for June, 2009

I feast on biographies so I know rare prime rib not seen at Sunday brunch.  Blake Bailey’s Cheever: A Life is the exceptional prime rib, succulent and complex, excellent from beginning to end.  He gives the full measure of a man no one understood during his life time, Cheever the writer, Cheever the alcoholic, the junk yard dog, perpetual child, raconteur, recovering alcoholic, abusive husband and father, family provider, mystifying friend, bitter queen, complainer, literary mentor, victum, braggart, and Cheever.  There are enough other characterizations to make a parlor game of John Cheever.

A lesson here is to be careful of what you say about a writer who has the kahunas to move you because the writing, the writer, and the person are always going to be at odds one with the other, and there is no better case than Cheever.  That is not to say that he did not draw from his life because everything was grist, but what he lived and what he wrote were never the same.  To have been a victum of his life would be awful, but we are all the richer as beneficiaries of his writing.

Usually when I finish a writer biography I have no interest in reading anything by the writer.  Enough already.  To Bailey’s credit I intend to pick up a copy of Falconer to add to my stack of books to be read in the order they arrive in the house giving me time to relax about the man and enjoy the writing without a drag.

We all make dirty laundry and if a Sharp-Shinned Hawk like Bailey goes through it, we are not going to come out looking good, so it is no surprise that everyone’s parenting and spouse relationship can look bad.  Given that commonality I still don’t know how any of those who lived with Cheever came out alive, let alone healthy and happy.  So this wonderful biography tells you a lot but not everything.  Some things you will have to determine on your own.  Charles Marlin


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There is now only a little over two weeks left in this quarter so the opportunity to contribute to the Unrestricted Grants Endowment Fund of the Clarion County Community Foundation will soon be gone.  Each quarter Clarion Friends features a different field-of-interest endowment fund on our Donations Page with easy payment through PayPal.  It will be a half year if not longer before the Unrestricted Grants Endowment Fund will be featured again.

Your gift, whatever its size, will enrich and support the people of Clarion County for generations.  It will last longer than anything you can find shopping in town or online.  You will remember it far longer than other purchases or charitable gifts you make.  This is more than a random act of kindness because you have chosen to help those among whom you live and love.  The fund remains only a good idea until someone endorses it with a donation.  Give now and plan to give again when it returns in several months.

To date two donations have been made through PayPal so you know you will be noticed if you do and missed if you don’t.  Make a donation and a thank you note will be in the mail in a flash.  Clock my response time.

The process is easy.  Click on the Donations Page you see at the top and right of this page.  Once on the Donations Page, click on the PayPal icon and record amount and update total.  Then select either credit card or bank account, or use your PayPal account and Log In.

If you prefer sending a check, make the check to CCCF and write Clarion Friends on the memo line, send to CCCF, P O Box 374, Oil City PA 16301.  Whatever method you choose, we will credit your donation in the Unrestricted Grants Endowment Fund.  Charles Marlin

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I read two newspapers online, washingtonpost.com and nytimes.com.  I would feel undressed if I went out for the day without getting such outstanding news coverage, opinion, and review; but my best dressed mornings begin with the cartoon animation of Ann Telnaes in the Today’s Opinions of the washingtonpost.com.  She is a hoot.  If you have not been catching her you can go to the Cartoon Archive for a major injection of AT energy.

She has not gone unnoticed and has more awards than is healthy for a person to keep.  If that were not the case I would say she should be given the Presidental Medal of Freedom, but since over 20,000 have been awarded and there is no definitive list of honorees, she may already have one.  If any of my readers know her well enough to ask, find out if she has any memory of getting one then let me know.  Charles Marlin

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The Derrick for June 11th carrried a story about new jubilee Benedictine Sisters of Erie, one of whom has ties to Clarion County, Sister Kathryn Disbrow.  Declining to comment on how much I enjoy retirement, I thought it proper to congratulate her and say continue the good work.

Here is what The Derrick had to say, “Disbrow graduated in 1957  from Saint Benedict Academy, and she made her final profession of vows on Aug. 16, 1962.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Mercyhurst College and a master’s degree in elementary mathematics from Clarion State University.  She also holds a master’s degree in administration from the University of Dayton and is certified in early childhood development.

Her local assignments included serving as an elementary teacher at Immaculate Conception school in Clarion and as both a teacher and principal at St. Joseph and St. Stephen schools in Oil City.  She also taught in CCD programs at Clarion.

Disbrow returned to Erie in 1981, first to administer the newly established East Coast Migrant Head Start program and then to assist in the Benedictine community’s business office.  She was later the community treasurer.

She is now the lead teacher in the infants’ room at St. Benedict Child Development Center; in that role she is serving as the children’s first teacher.”

Through the generosity of the Immaculate Conception Parish and Father Monty Sayers, the Clarion County Community Foundation holds Board meetings in the IC Parish Meeting Room, a place the good sister knows well.  Charles Marlin

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I am finally writing to you about PAWS (Pet Adoption And Welfare Society) and my volunteer efforts with them.  As you know our organization is working to end cat overpopulation in Clarion, Forest, and Jefferson Counties through a Spay/Neuter program of both pet and feral cats.  I have heard an estimate that there are 5,000 feral cats in our three county area.  If these operations are performed at normal veterinarian offices in the numbers that are needed the program would be very expensive.  Our costs are about $50 which is quite a bit less than the plus$100 usually charged.  But in view of the numbers involved the total will still be considerable.

Animal Friends of Pittsburgh has a mobile S/N laboratory which, for us, they position at the Clarion Mall.  They will be there on June 25th and 26th.  They normally can operate on about 40  cats in one day there.  If there are any pet owners that would like to have their pet S/N’d at this or any future clinic please call (814) 229-1231 for an appointment.

Our job is to have the owners bring in their pet cats and (where I help) go to feral cat colonies in the area ahead of time and trap the undomesticated cats and bring them in.  They are not wild but not pets.  They too are operated on and returned to their home area.  None are killed.

I am continually amazed at the size of these cat colonies.  It is not at all unusual to find people feeding 30 feral cats.  These are usually cats that just show in small numbers hungry and are fed by the sympathetic home owner.  Unfortunately, then they can multiply which is the problem.  So far we have handled over 400 cats.

The other part of our program consists of raising money.  We can’t expect someone feeding a colony of feral cats to pay for their operations.  At $50 an operation the total cost mounts up.  In addition to us on the “field” side there is a larger group working on raising the money and helping staff the clinics.  Without them there would be no program.  They have a range of volunteer activities.  Not an easy task.

As I mentioned earlier, Animal Friends is having a clinic at the Clarion Mall this month.  They have told us that they are planning a documentary and will have a videographer there to film it.  We are pleased that they think so highly of us to include us.  Kind regards, Jim Simpson.

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There are promoters, publishers, authors, zealots, entrepreneurs, politicians, goofballs, and I think of them as so many mixed tubers in a basket except for Bernarr Macfadden. Buffed, battled, and banished he was exceptional.  I bet a martini and lunch you can not name three living American weird ones who collectively match him.  Because I thought Mark Adams, Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed The Nation Through Sex, Salad, And The Ultimate Starvation Diet was going to be a piece of silliness I almost didn’t buy it.  Well, I am glad I did.  “It’s fun and educational,” may be a fatal kiss when you say it to kids and spouse, but trust me on this one.  After all, I have never lied or misled you.

At the end of the book Adams give a more than kind final defense summary of Macfadden’s better ideas writing about the author’s efforts to eat, exercise, and walk in the man’s shoes or bare feet as the case may be.

A final question remains.  What would your career and life be if you looked as good as Macfadden at twenty-five?  Perhaps worthy of appearing in a stellar Macfadden publication.  Charles Marlin

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Trying to corn my own beef brisket has been an adventure.  I’ll give what I think are mistakes, what I got to work, and what I plan to try different next time.  I am sure there is no single way to do this, so vary the following in whatever way you want.

The commercially prepared briskets come with bright red glutinous preservatives and shrink wrapped in heavy plastic.  That mystery stuff is what gives your brisket the scalded flesh color and texture that even makes the fat sliceable.  Your from scratch brisket is not going to be bright and stand at attention, but will taste good and you will know what went into it.

In my first effort at scratch I used 1 1/4 cups salt and 1 cup sugar to 8 cups of boiling water for the pickling phase which I ran a fortnight.  I used pickling spices but no saltpeter.  It was a disaster, tough, ugly, excessively salty, and terrible tasting.  You must add saltpeter which is food grade Potassium Nitrate.  You can buy this from www.pennherb.com in 1, 4, and 16 oz. packages.

Another ingredient called for is Chile Saltpeter which is Sodium Nitrate, but I was not successful in finding a source for food grade quality.

For my second effort I went to an earlier brine recipe of 1/2 cup plain salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 oz. saltpeter, pickling spices, and 8 cups of boiling water for a fortnight turning the brisket over in the brine everyday.  Let the brine and spices cool before you bag or store it in the refrigerator.  Cold rinse after the pickling is finished.

The spices used for the pickling can be the same used for the boiling, or you can add or take out what suits you.  For the pickling I used 1/2 tablespoons of Coriander, Dill seed, Yellow mustard, Allspice, Cloves, and Mace, 6 medium Bay leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon of Red pepper.  For the boiling I used the above, plus 1/2 tablespoons of Celery seed, Anise, Caradamon seed, Juniper berries, Black pepper, and Garlic.  I pickled for a fortnight turning the meat over each day.

Changes I will try next time will be uping the amount of saltpeter to 1 1/4 oz., cutting the pickling spices by half, pickling for either 7 or 10 days, cutting the boiling spices in half and dropping the Juniper berries.  I thought my beef was over corned.  It was a spicy piece of meat.  It had a pleasing dark red color and was so tender it fell apart.  In the future if I am missing some of the spices listed I will not worry about it.

In researching this project I found Vitamin C crystals which is Ascorbic Acid recommended as a substitute for saltpeter to retain the red color in the meat.  I bought 4 oz. from www.pennherb.com but have decided not to try it.  I think the saltpeter is critical, however give C a try if you like.  Charles Marlin

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