We Learn Wednesdays

Feb 24

Too much of what we like

You start off with the best of intentions. You’re going to settle in and get all the grading done. Finished, finito and kaput. From there, you can take a deep breath, rub your eyes and do other things until it is time to get geared up for the next lecture and class notes.

That’s what you want to do, with the 51 things you have to grade, but when it comes down to it, you’ve come into 51 things to read and think about and give some useful feedback and, ultimately, grade.

It’s the grading part, you see. These are good assignments, but ultimately subjective. So, each time, with each assignment, you have to make sure you’re comfortable with the rubric and that you can deliver it equitably. All of this takes a little time and then there’s just the regular daily stuff and should that really be an 80? Or was it a 70? Should I call it 75? Was that a typo in the feedback?

It goes on and on. The mind goes round and round. And when I grade in bulk I am mindful of two things. First, I have to stay consistent throughout the process. Rubrics help with that, but you keep it at the forefront. The other thing is that I have to stop before I get blurry eyed. The grading must come in stages.

So much for the plan of knocking all of this out in one sitting. And that’s a big part of how Tuesday turns into Wednesday and Wednesday will turn into Thursday.

Time, once again, for We Learn Wednesdays. This is the 26th installment, so you are familiar with the idea. These are the local historical markers, as found by bike rides across the county. This is the 47th marker in the effort, which presently consists of photos I grabbed last fall.

Last week, we saw this building, and several of the colonial-era names we’ve learned in the last several months start to fit together. The courthouse is going on 400 years old, and sits near the center of downtown, even today.

Around the left side of the building, you find this small plaque.

John Fenwick fought, as a cavalry officer, for Oliver Cromwell in the Second English Civil War. (This one was about the Scots, King Charles and a parliament, including Cromwell, that didn’t like him killing his subjects, among other things.) Sometime around that same year he got married. In 1665 he left the Church of England and became a Quaker.

When he came to the new world in 1675 he created the first Quaker colony in North America, seven years before Philadelphia, even. The Salem Tenth was 1/10th of this region of the state. Basically the resolution of a convoluted and contentious series of business dealings, it was a 350-square mile county, making up most of two modern counties. Native Americans lived here, as did the children of earlier Swedish, English and Finnish settlers, people of modest means, merchants, farmers and craftsmen among the forests, meadows, bogs and waterways. The farms ranged from 50 to 300 acres.

It was Fenwick that recorded a land deed with the local Lenape Indian tribe. It was a deed and treaty with indigenous residents that was actually honored. You might remember reading about this in a history class somewhere along the way. The deal was made, the story goes, under the Salem Oak, which died in 2019, at almost 600 years old. Saplings were shipped to every town in the state.

Just a few of the modern allusions I’ve found to Fenwick refer to him as hapless, troublesome and eccentric.

The bottom of the plaque says “That my said colony and all the planters within the same may be settled in the Love of God – and in that peace which becomes all our great professions of being Christians.” Presumably that’s Fenwick, which doesn’t sound so bad a dream.

The Quaker still had some fight in him. It seems the colonial governor of New York, a man named Edmund Andros, wanted Fenwick to stop running his little area. These guys were political rivals. The governor obviously had power. Fenwick felt the same way.

Fenwick regarded himself the political equal of Governor Andros that he was the head of a small, but rapidly increasing colony that he was Patroon by purchase; was Governor by choice of the people. He had pledged his allegiance to the King and taken an oath to discharge the duties of his office faithfully, and to the interests of the people without fear or affection, and hence could not recognize any power greater that his own, save when the prerogative of the King should be exercised.

Andros, obviously, didn’t see it that way. Couldn’t see it that way. He had Fenwick tossed in jail a few times. Once, the governor’s men came down and Fenwick

bolted himself in his house and refused to go “without he was carried away either dead or alive, and if anyone dare to come to take him it was at their peril, and he would do their business” (New Jersey Archives, I, 190).

He had two homes in the area, was looked upon as a possessor of valuable belongings by his peers. Having been a cavalry officer, he maintained good horses. He was a successful enough farmer for his time. He made furniture, and then became a barber and a phlebotomist. When he was about 65, his health failing, he moved in with his daughter, and died that same year.

He’s buried in an old family cemetery, but we don’t know precisely where his grave is. In the 1920s a marker was put nearby, but there’s not a specific marker for his grave. I’ll have to go by there sometime.

Next week, we’ll visit a 19th century fire house. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Here I am on the descent of Box Hill, in the Surrey Hills, in the Zwift cycling video game, exercise program and winter base mileage accumulator. Yesterday I did the PRL Half, which features Box Hill, a 1.9 mile climb with an average gradient of 4.4 percent, though in places it sneaks quite a bit higher. Right after the primary climb, each time, is a maddening extra climb, a short leg breaker that isn’t happy until you’re going uphill at 9 and 11 percent. But all of that is behind me right here, on my last descent of the day.

Box Hill is said to be a GPS-accurate climb of the real Box Hill that figures into the actual Prudential RideLondon-Surrey route and was featured prominently in the 2012 Olympics. It isn’t the hardest hill, in the real world or on Zwift, but there enough to it to make for an interesting mental obstacle. In yesterday’s route, I had to go over it four times.

This route is the PRL Half which copies the distanced of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey. I don’t know if I’ll do the PRL Full. I tried the half a few days ago, completed two circuits and decided I’d rather go eat. I’ve never decided anything that quickly, in one heartbeat I was going under the banner, ready to start lap three and in the next I said, “Nah,” and pressed the exit button.

That was the right decision, but sometimes even the right decisions can ring in your ears. So, yesterday, it was back to the half. Four laps, each anchored with that Box Hill climb. I had a plan. Go out slow the first time, slow-ish for the second lap, do whatever felt right on lap three and drag myself over the climb on the final loop. It seemed a wise plan.

This is what happened. On Zwift there are ghost riders, representations of your effort the last time you were on that particular route. Sometimes they fall behind you because you’re stronger, today, than you were the last time. Sometimes they dance just ahead of you for reasons unknown to man and science. Some days they disappear ahead of you because you’re tired. On my first lap I kept pace with the ghost rider, even as I was telling myself to go slow. This particular route gives you two ghost riders. One for the whole lap, and the segment for the Box Hill climb. So, at one point on that first lap, I had two ghost riders ahead of me. And then I was ahead of them, and so on. At the top of the 1.9-mile climb, I was in between them. I had to chase the first ghost down the hill.

When we got back to the starting banner I was able to follow my go slow-ish strategy for lap two. First the initial ghost rider and then the second would dangle just ahead of me, until nearing the top of the hill. The full lap ghost rider finished just ahead of me, and that was fine, because I was in this for the duration, not the time. At these speeds, duration was a thing.

Now I had to get over the climb on the third lap and let my legs rest on the descent. The ghost riders, again, only riding at my previous pace, but they easily dispatched me. That’s good for the morale on lap four.

On lap four, I found a nice little burst. I dropped the first ghost rider right away and when I linked up with the second ghost rider on the climb, he too fell behind. I hit the peak of Box Hill some 42 seconds ahead of both of them, and had about three minutes on the full-lap ghost by the time I finished the loop.

Which meant I had to continue on for nine more miles. And then sprint! Anyway, that’s 42 miles in the basement. The effort helped turn this February into the fourth most prolific month I’ve ever had on the bike. Before the week is out this should become my most productive month. There will be several spreadsheets to update.

I cut 100 words from the Box Hill story so I could include the most salient details of tonight’s late night ride. It was a flat course, but it featured five sprints. The Zwift timer shows two data points. One is your performances over the last 90 days in that particular sprint segment. The other is your time, relative to everyone else in that Zwift world at the moment. So you can see your times historically, but also your results compared to the 2,500 peers currently pedaling away around the world.

In those five sprints, I finished 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 5th and 1st.

My avatar wearing the coveted green sprinter’s jersey means simply this: all of the real fast people were already fast asleep.

Something you’ll like even more: a few more photos from last month’s SCUBA diving trip. The most important element, of course, being my dive buddy, and the best fish in all of the world’s seas.

Here’s another decent photo of a giant tortuga. She was big, and very patient with us.

And here’s a random photo I managed to take at the end of the dive. It seems I was juuuuust about to break the surface.

But who wants to do that?

Feb 24

Some of these marker features are starting to come together

I only showed you a few of the flowers from the fresh cut collection currently adorning the house. In addition to the pretty purples, we have these delicate pink and white petals ready to spread their grandeur.

I’m choosing to see this as a sign, and a welcome one, that the pastels are on their way.

Meanwhile, in the basement arboretum, there are now three pink roses in bloom. Another plant also has two flowers on display. They seem to be sticking around for a good long while. It could be my imagination, or it could be the long grow light and light watering.

I’m going to have to carry those plants back up and outside eventually. There’s only eight of them, so it’ll be little trouble. But I’ll also have to clean up that part of the basement, too. That might be the one thing about the eventual run up to spring I’m dreading. It’ll take probably 10 minutes. But that’s still some ways off. Snow is in the forecast for the weekend.

It is time for another installment of We Learn Wednesdays. This is the 25th installment, so you know the premise by now. I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. Right now, we’re working our way through a handful I stockpiled in late fall. These are the 45th and 46th markers we’ve seen in the series.

And this building has some proper history to it.

This side was altered in the last expansion, including the brick work, the Palladian windows and the porch. The cupola, hip roof and box cornice are original.

In 1774, the courthouse was the site of a county petition to King George III. In it, the locals discussed their colonial grievances. From here, they also sent county relief to Boston.

Judge William Hancock presided in the King’s Court of Common Pleas. As we learned last October, Hancock’s property, about five miles away, was at the center of a skirmish during the harsh winter of 1778. The British were foraging on this side of a creek, and the colonials on the other side. The redcoats crossed the water and fixed bayonets. When they came upon Hancock’s house, the British entered through the front and the back, and killed the small detachment of militia men there that night, 20 or so, according to the British commander. But also killed was Judge Hancock.

That same year, the courthouse held the treason trials. Four locals were tried and convicted and sentenced to death for helping the British soldiers in that raid. They were pardoned by the governor and exiled. The governor would eventually sign the U.S. Constitution.

The oldest courthouse, by the way, is in Virginia, and it is only a decade older. But the first courthouse here was even older. A building that they believe was made of logs, was the local legal center dating back to 1692. And they paper records from hearings that are dated 1706. But if it’s the still-standing buildings, the Virginia courthouse has the honors, but that pile of bricks in Virginia doesn’t have this bit of trivia.

The Salem courthouse is the site of the legend of Robert Gibbon Johnson. Here he stood before an amazed crowd eating tomatoes, proving they are edible.

Col. Johnson announced that he would eat a tomato, also called the wolf peach, Jerusalem apple or love apple, on the steps of the county courthouse at noon. … That morning, in 1820, about 2000 people were jammed into the town square. … The spectators began to hoot and jeer. Then, 15 minutes later, Col. Johnson emerged from his mansion and headed up Market Street towards the Courthouse. The crowd cheered. The fireman’s band struck up a lively tune. He was a very impressive-looking man as he walked along the street. He was dressed in his usual black suit with white ruffles, black shoes and gloves, tricorn hat, and cane. At the Court House steps he spoke to the crowd about the history of the tomato. … He picked a choice one from a basket on the steps and held it up so that it glistened in the sun. … “To help dispel the tall tales, the fantastic fables that you have been hearing … And to prove to you that it is not poisonous I am going to eat one right now”… There was not a sound as the Col. dramatically brought the tomato to his lips and took a bite. A woman in the crowd screamed and fainted but no one paid her any attention; they were all watching Col. Johnson as he took one bite after another. … He raised both his arms, and again bit into one and then the other. The crowd cheered and the firemen’s band blared a song. … “He’s done it”, they shouted. “He’s still alive!”

Great story. Pure fiction. It was written in the 1940s, punched up twice more in that decade for books and radio. And so on. In the 1980s, the locals did a reenactment. In 1988, Good Morning America took it to heart and reported this apocryphal first.

Everybody knew about tomatoes.

Where that crowd would have supposedly stood there are some pavers on the ground. And here is another marker, and an absent piece of history. This marker says “Il Sannito. Forged in Naples, Italy in 1763.” There’s a list of the groups who’s donations made a restoration possible. And notes that it was re-dedicated on October 30, 2013, to commemorate the cannon’s “250th birthday.”

And that cannon could really blow out some candles, let me tell you. Il Sannito isn’t in place, but one of its sister cannons is, and we met it in September. There were three cannons, originally. The Italians made them, but Napoleon collected them in one of his battles. The French fought with them, until they lost them to the British and then the British lost them to the Americans in the War of 1812. The state militia got them sometime after that. These two have been on display in local towns, the third one is just … gone.

And where is Il Sannito? There are not, and this will come as a surprise to you as it did to me, not a lot of mentions of 18th century Italian metalworks in the middle of a 21st century town not too far removed from being a news desert. From a photo on the Historical Marker Database and Google Maps’ street view, I can tell you it was removed again between July of 2020 and April of 2023. But that’s all I know as of this writing. This is what it looks like, so if you see any cannons behaving suspiciously … drop me a line.

Next week, we’ll walk around the side of the old courthouse. I bet we’ll find a marker there. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Let’s wrap up this day with a trip back under the water. Look! A mermaid!

Seriously, she does not breathe. I don’t know how she manages that. I started looking for gills on this dive trip.

I started looking, but then I got distracted by this tortuga.

That’s a photo taken through the video recording on my underwater camera. Distressingly, the secondary function of my video camera which shoots underwater is not of a terribly high quality.

Here’s an actual photo. Same tortuga.

A version of that photo is going on the site’s front page eventually. The first updates on that are coming tomorrow. Be sure to swing back by and check that out. And if you come back to the blog tomorrow, you’ll see more of that turtle, and a few other neat things as well.

Feb 24

An old friend, a much older building, and modern fish

I spent part of my free time today emailing with an old friend. We worked together for a few years, used to be geographically close enough to have the occasional family dinner with them when they were all in town. We chat about once a year or so now. It’s a pretty regular clockwork.

And I think, on my part, it is because I don’t always have new amazing things to tell my most discerning friends and colleagues about. Oh sure, there’s always the new thing in the yard, or a clever solution to a problem chore or something funny one of us said to the other, and don’t forget the latest cat antic. But the really cosmopolitan types … you need a special story for them.

So I did the big swipes. These are the concerts and shows we’ve seen. This is a museum I’m hoping to visit soon, and so on. All three of his adult children now live in the same town in Florida, and my friend and his wife are both from Florida and so it sounds like they may be looking to move back down there sooner than later. Also, they’re going to Iceland this fall.

I should go to Iceland. But maybe not in October.

Also, today, I came up with a clever solution to a problem chore. And let me tell you about this joke we shared last night …

This afternoon, on the bike, I rode the volcano circuit on Zwift. It’s a short loop, and a central point of fixation for some people on Zwift. Some people are there to chase the badges, and there’s one badge that you earn when you’ve completed 25 loops around the volcano in one ride. Until very recently, I thought this was a route involving going both around and up the volcano. This would be a 355-mile ride with more than 15,000 feet of climbing that destroyed more than your most romantic metaphors of suffering. But, no, the volcano circuit is a different route. A flatter route, and shorter. Completing 25 laps would be only 63.5 miles. This would take about three hours, which is a long time to be on a stationary bike.

I earned the 10-lap badge today. I don’t care at all about the badges. I’m interested in three things on the bike. Going as fast as I can — which is never that fast. I also want to ride as long and as much as I can — which is also relative, of course. And, to have fun.

You can’t spreadsheet fun. And trying to document the much more quantifiable speed would be demoralizing. So I concert a lot on the miles.

I’m not really sure why, but I do.

The other thing I’m concentrating on, at the moment, is consecutive days in the saddle. I wonder how long I can keep this current streak alive.

Speaking of the bike, it is time for another installment of We Learn Wednesdays. I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. This is the 24th installment! And, lately, we’ve been checking out many of the markers I banked late in the fall. This is the 44th marker we’ve seen in this series. And it has to do with this 19th century building that looks not at all out of place in this downtown area.

Surrogate has the traditional “one who takes the place of another” definition in this instance. It’s been an office around here since 1710, when the Archbishop of London granted the colonial governor authority to act as the Archbishop’s Ordinary, or Surrogate General. The governor then localized that to the county level, and the surrogates looked after things like probate wills, marriage licenses, and other things that, today, we think of as county records.

Which is why this building looks out of place as it does. As the sign notes.

Today, the state has an elected surrogate in each county. That person is elected to a five-year term. A man named Smith Dorman, or another man, Benjamin N. Smith (of the Whig party) was the first to staff this building. Fifteen others have filled the role since then, including the woman currently in office, who has been there since 2006.

The surrogate court has moved down the street, and the clerk’s office is elsewhere these days, too. Maybe there are some wonderful renovations taking place inside those special fire-proof walls.

Next time, we’ll see the ancient courthouse. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Let us return to the water! Why can’t we be in the water today? We should definitely be in clear blue water today …

My dive buddy agrees.

Sometimes you get lucky with the sponges and the coral in one shot. A version of this one is definitely going on the front page rotation when I finally get around to updating it. (Next week.)

At other times, you just can’t decide which fish to fixate on, so you stay wide, try to keep them all in the viewfinder and hope it all works out.

This is where, in the selection and editing today, I’d used the next shot because it looks like a world class photo-bombing by a wide-eyed reef fish. Alas, the exposure was lacking.

Instead, I offer you this much better photo, which will also make the front page of the site. It has the added bonus of making you wonder if I was just diving in an aquarium. (I was not.)

And this isn’t the best composition, but it is the best shot this Atlantic blue tang gave me. Look at those incredible colors!

OK, that’s enough for now. I’ll have more diving photos and something from ground-level, as well. (Which is to say it is sunny and mild, and you should go wander around outside for a few minutes when that happens.)

Jan 24

And so long to January

This is today’s granola selection. Humorously titled, or scandalously titled, depending on the mood you are in when walking down aisle number four one of the local grocery store. This was the third variety I’ve tried since this little experiment began last week. My skin is positively glowing from all of this healthy eating.

The label promises a triple berry crunch. “Take that, Mostly Naked granola! We’ve got THREE berries!”

It’s not my favorite. It tastes like an imitation of the Captain Crunch berry flavor, or perhaps the opposite is true. It’s a bit of a sickly sweet flavor. It might have been one berry too far. The back of the package tells you that “sweet strawberries” and “bold blueberries” and “cranberries” are inside.

First of all, the cranberry lobby has to work on this. They’re falling behind on the branding. Also, there are toasted pumpkin seeds, I’m sure that’s meant to counter the berries which, again, the label promises to be “UNAPOLOGETICALLY AMAZING.”

What if my taste buds are changing? What if the too sweet thing is now too sweet for me? This is quite existential.

Tomorrow, I’ll add raisins to that variety. When three dried fruits are too many, four may be just right.

This is the 23rd installment of We Learn Wednesdays, where I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. This is the 42nd and 43rd marker we’ve seen in this series. Both have to do where this modern county office building resides.

Prior to being a place where important government bureaucracy takes place, it was a jail. This very building. And before that, an older building was the town’s slammer.

And prior to all of that, the first jail was just down the street. The first jail was established in 1692. Tough on crime since the 17th century. But that was just down the road, which was, I’m sure, a sandy, dusty path.

Before it was the jail, this lot was the old market. Indeed, this is where the stret name comes from. And it might be hard, from this distance, to determine which precipitated the other. The old store, or the now historic building that sprung up around it. It’s a weary little area, weary but proud.

Between that, the late night of this search, the centuries-ago timeline, and the incredible ubiquity of the term “Market House” I’ve come up empty here.

That’s no way to end the month, but if you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Let’s wrap up January this way. Here’s my dive buddy in Cozumel, and some great shots of some yellow grunts, an angelfish if you look in the right spot, a terrific flounder specimen and much more.


Don’t worry, at this rate I’ve still got days and days of underwater material to share. February is going to be colorful around here, too.

Jan 24

I am trying a new thing, a shocking new thing

I’m trying a new thing. That’s unusual. But let me back up. I don’t know anything about this. But let me back up further. Maybe two Christmases ago, I got a gift package from the Butterfly Bakery of Vermont. It was the Guster tie-in, you see. I had received the Gustard the year before, and it was good. I didn’t think I would like it, but it’s great on burgers. The complete gift package includes a hot chocolate, the Gustard, the Fa Fa Fire hot sauce (maple rum chipotle) which I’m working up to trying and Gusternola.

Let’s learn about Gusternola.

We made this warm hug of a granola in collaboration with Ryan Miller, Guster’s lead singer and fellow high functioning weirdo. A portion of all proceeds benefit Zeno Mountain Farm, one of the greatest places on Earth.

Organic gluten free oats*, pure Vermont maple syrup, organic coconut, organic coconut oil, organic pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, organic quinoa, vanilla, organic brown rice flour, sea salt, organic cinnamon, organic ginger, organic cloves, organic cardamom, organic fennel, organic fenugreek, organic nutmeg. Contains nuts.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to trying it. First off, it’s a 9.6 ounce bag, and the service size is ridiculously small. I got a couple of breakfasts and an odd late dinner out of it.

But the granola was quite tasty.

I was about to order some more from the bakery in Vermont — and I will — but I decided to try some other granola varieties, because Gusternola was my first ever granola.

So, yesterday, I went to the grocery store and stood in the breakfast cereal aisle and studied the offerings. There was a whole section. I got several different kinds. Today, I tried one, which is the first one I picked up.

I tried it first because I picked it up first, and firsties mean something. Also, I figured, it would be most like the Gusternola. And it’s pretty close.

It’s not as good, but pretty close. It’s mass produced, and cheaper. And the ingredients list is close, but there are a few things missing that is in the now high water mark of Gusternola. Plus, it is made somewhere in Oregon. I’m sure Oregon has great granola, but what if Vermont’s granola is just better?

If anything, the syrup here might be a bit too sweet. (This is a big note coming from me.) It is almost acrid. But I have an experiment to try to counteract that for tomorrow.

Anyway, I picked up four different types of granola. This should give us something to dissect for a week or two.

Unrelated, we sure do get some strange looking icicles around here.

We heard one of those fall, during a particularly intense part of a television show — the new and overwrought True Detective — and that didn’t set every human sense to “hyperalert” or anything.

But wait’ll you seem them melt!

This is the 22nd installment of We Learn Wednesdays, where I ride my bike across the county to find the local historical markers. This is the 41st one we’ve seen in this series.

And this place is named after John Fenwick who opened the first English settlement established in this region. He came from money, got married, had three kids, lost his wife, got remarried. He landed here in late 1675. Three days later, on October 8, 1675 Fenwick, a Quaker, recorded a land deed with the local Lenape Indian tribe. He gave his new home the name of New Salem, meaning peace.

It wasn’t always named after him. This place was built as Ford’s Hotel in 1891. In 1919, it was converted to Salem County Memorial Hospital to memorialize WWI soldiers and sailors. The hospital was opened with 30 beds and 12 physicians and surgeons worked there. They treated 1,093 patients in their first year. The hospital was moved in 1951.

In 1989 the building was renovated as the “Fenwick Building.” It’s used now as county government offices. Thirty-five years is a long time after a renovation for local government office space. But it has the all important plaque.

In the next installment of We Learn Wednesday’s, we’ll visit the location of an old jail and market house. If you’ve missed any markers so far, you can find them all right here.

Before that, though, let’s go back underwater. Here, you’ll find a ray, a puffer, a butterfly fish, a black triggerfish, a beautiful scrawled filefish and much more!

If that isn’t enough, we’ll have more photos from the waters off Cozumel tomorrow.

I haven’t mentioned it, but I have been able to spend a fair amount of time on the bike recently. On the bike, which is on the trainer. Anyway, 80 easy miles in the last three days, which isn’t that much.

Twenty of them were in London yesterday, 43 of them were in a fake world, today, but I did a very real 20 mph pace over the route which, for me, is substantial. Tomorrow, then, is a rest day. After which, I’ll try to achieve another long streak of consecutive days in a row — a humble number I set last November. You will, no doubt, be riveted.