Monday, October 24, 2011

2012, A Leap of Faith?

Kevin Coolidge

Where did the summer go? Already skeletal limbs scratch at the sky, proclaiming that Halloween is lurking in the shadows, and that means somewhere a fat, jolly dwarf is planning a felony, and will once again attempt to violate my chimney. Then it’s time for too much champagne, too many regrets, and too many of those damn little sausages on a toothpick, and then I get to wake up with a hangover, a bad taste in my mouth, and a fresh start in a New Year. My very last year. Don’t laugh. It’s your last year too…

Yep, in case you didn’t know, 2012 is it, the end, fini, kaputz, the final curtain call. The fat lady isn’t just singing. She’s whistling Dixie, and she’s got a mouthful of crackers. It’s all over folks. It’s an election year, but I’m not talking politics here. The universe is completely bipartisan, or maybe not. Doesn’t matter. It’s the end of the Mayan calendar, and according to the doomsayers, we all have first class tickets off this mortal coil. I’m packing light, because I hate trying to cram my baggage into those overhead bins, but I will be sure to bring along some good books, and my favorite almanac.

Take a deep breath and relax, because according to Baer’s 2012 Almanac, on December 21st, there will be light snow from Pennsylvania and New York to Maine, then fair and very cold. I think I can live with that. After all, it will be December. So, just what is an almanac?

An almanac is an annual publication that includes a calendar with long-range weather forecasts, astronomical information, home and garden advice, trivia, and articles on topics ranging from home remedies to history. You may already be familiar The Farmer’s Almanac.

These useful agricultural almanacs started publishing about two hundred years ago. At that time, printed material was scarce. Most farms possessed only two books—a Bible and a farmer’s almanac. A farmer’s almanac would tell him the best time to plant, when to expect the first frost, and if he planned to take a day off from farming, he could find out the best day to drown worms, and throw a hook in the water. Why, there would even be some great recipes for his wife.

I prefer Baer’s Almanac, because it’s calculated for the Meridian of Pennsylvania and the adjoining states, and it’s published right here in Pennsylvania – published in Lancaster by John Baer’s Sons. It contains the standard charts, weather predictions, anecdotes, and “things worth knowing”, as well as at least one feature article and small informational tidbits scattered through the pages.

John Baer founded the company in 1817. He was an early publisher of Mennonite writings, and printed his first almanac in 1825. In 1831, he added an edition printed in German called Neuer Gemeinnutziger Pennsylvanischer Calender. His almanac is among America’s oldest, but that distinction belongs to The Old Farmer’s Almanac founded in 1792.

Baer’s Almanac has not only survived, but thrives in our modern age thanks to its purchase in 1948 by Gerard Lestz, a Lancaster newspaperman and lover of all things Lancaster. He saved it when it was near extinction and today has a circulation of close to 10,000 copies annually, and is sold as far away as California. Its loyal readers love the lack of advertising as well as the abundance of good reading material.

Today, his daughter Linda continues the publication and she fills the pages with information both interesting and useful. So if want to know how to make a rhubarb sorbet, or you don’t know the origin of the “Ides of March”, you will want pick yourself up a copy. Still worried about the end of days? The great news is that 2012 is a leap year. So, you’ll have an extra day to get caught up on your reading…

End of days? Or days without end? Drop me an email at and let me know. Miss a past column? You can check the chart on our blog at http// Our cat Hobo was a farm cat, but he left the farm and the scratchy hay. You can read all about his adventures in “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who wanted more…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fireside Tales

Kevin Coolidge

It’s been a long day, and now it’s a dreary night. Icy pellets rattle against the window, and the damp cold seeps into my body. A good warm fire and a snort of brandy is just the thing I need to ease into my evening and soothe my wearied bones, and nothing goes better with a crackling fire than a good smoke, and a yarn. Just let me get this pipe lit, and I’ll tell you about that night in Panther Hollow…

Pennsylvania Fireside Tales by Jeffrey R. Frazier is filled with legends and folktales of the good old days. The mountains of Pennsylvania have always called to him, or maybe it’s the stories that come out of the dark hollows and remote valleys, and their connection to the past. Regardless, he has found the work of collecting the tales a “labor of love” from the very beginning.

There have been attempts to preserve these stories before, but many of these attempts were limited to specific regions of the state. A fine example of this is Flatlanders and Ridgerunners by James York Glimm, which contains folklore and traditions from Northern Pennsylvania, especially Tioga County. Many tales were saved from extinction through these various efforts, but many others have gone unrecorded and have been lost.

Jeffrey’s endeavors have taken him from Tioga County’s “Grand Canyon” and the Black Forest in Potter County in the north, to the battlefields of Gettysburg and the mountains of Adams County in the south. To the coal regions of Carbon and Schuylkill Counties, and the farms of Pennsylvania Dutch country, as well as the mighty Allegheny Mountains of Blair, Huntingdon, and Indiana.

That’s a lot of territory to cover and a lot of people to talk to--coal miners, lumbermen, hunters, trappers, farmers, railroad men, Native Americans, dowsers, herbalists and even few reputed witches. All have been asked to share their stories.

As you can imagine this has lead to a wide variety of tales. You’ll read of the Indian wars and the Indians in Pennsylvania – including a deadly summer in 1778 when clashes between American Indians and frontiersmen were common, and escaping the scalping knife wasn’t. There are stories of the supernatural with haunted houses, ghosts, and witches, as well as early hunters’ narratives of encounters with wolves, mountain lions, elk, and other “big game” animals. There are also accounts of lost treasure, moonshiners, and huge snakes.

Some of these stories found in Pennsylvania Fireside Tales sound “far-fetched”, but that’s only because they have been embellished and romanticized as they've been told and retold over the years. None have been concocted by Frazier, as was the case with Henry W. Shoemaker, an early collector and writer know for fabrications which he presented as authentic folk stories. The tales are recorded in the same basic outlines in which they were presented to him.

Frazier does, however, go the additional step of trying to uncover any historical truths behind the tales, and this can make it more interesting for those of us who like to solve a good mystery. He’s also added historical footnotes to specific stories. So, you can decide for yourself if these stories are a part of our history, or just a good yarn to pass a cold winter’s night.

It’s time to throw another log on the fire, and enjoy one more tale before I retire for the evening. Stories are a part of our tradition here in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and Jeffrey has been helping preserve them for over forty years. The mountains are calling. Are you ready to listen???

A good yarn, a good snort, or both? Email me at and let me know. Miss a past column? You can catch yourself up at Looking for a tale fit for a child? “Hobo Finds A Home” is about a cat, right here in Tioga County, who wanted more than a life on the farm. A portion of the royalties goes to Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries, in our neck of the woods.

Friday, October 7, 2011

…And the Home of the Brave…

Kevin Coolidge

“Minutes drag on like months; seconds are slivers of forever. I’ve waited so long for this book. Why do new books release on Tuesday? Why not Saturday? Or better yet Friday? I’d have the whole weekend to walk through the familiar stone halls of Mahanagh. I can’t wait any longer. I just knew there would be another exciting tale of Apathea Ravenchilde. I’ve had my name on the waiting list since number seven came out…”

It’s not easy being a bookworm. It’s harder when your best friend gets sent to military school, and now you have to face freshman year of high school alone. Neal Barton wants to be left alone so he can enjoy the latest book in his favorite fantasy series, but local activists are trying to get the town library to ban his favorite series: “The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde”.

In Americus, written by MK Reed and illustrated by Jonathan Hill, we find Neal struggling to establish his identity and sense of self. He’s learning to interact with girls, stand up for himself, and to do the right thing. He doesn’t want to fight for his favorite book, but sometimes it’s more important to express yourself. Sometimes it’s more than just a book….

Libraries do battle over controversial books. Sometimes, people want to ban a book based on their personal and religious beliefs. Sometimes a book simply offends them. A public library strives to provide equal access to all people of the community, and those needs are both public and private. Banned Book Week is an annual awareness campaign that celebrates the freedom to read and draws attention to banned and challenged books.

Banned Books Week was started in 1982, and is held every year during the last week of September. The freedom to access information and express ideas, even those considered unorthodox or unpopular, is the foundation for Banned Books Week. This campaign stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of viewpoints so individuals can develop their own opinions and conclusions.

Books featured during Banned Books Week have either been targets, or have actually been banned or restricted, but thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community, most of these books have been retained in library collections. Some may argue that these books were never completely censored, and would still be available for purchase in bookstores if removed from the library.

It is, however, a core belief of librarians to provide the public access to materials, to defend a person’s right to read as they choose. Imagine how many more books might be challenged if we did not practice our First Amendment rights, and the power of words by observing and participating in Banned Books Week, which draws attention to the dangers that exist when restraints are imposed on information in a free society. This September 24 to October 1st, visit your local library, choose a good book, and remember just how important a book and a library can be to the overall community.

Ban, burn, or borrow? Drop me an email at Miss a past column. Did your Mom stop you? You can sneak a peek at We won’t tell…promise. Read the book that would be banned by those crazy canines. Well, if they could read. Grab “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s story about a cat who found a friend, a home, and his very own bookshelf…