Archive for the “News and Reviews” Category

The hogs have returned home in the form of pork – lots and lots of pork.

Chareva drove down to the processing facility today to pick up the meat, which included roughly:

  • 100 pounds of sausage
  • 25 pounds of ribs
  • 5 pounds of picnic roast
  • 5 pounds of tenderloin
  • 50 pounds of pork loin
  • 35 pounds of pork shoulder
  • 40 pounds of ham steak
  • 25 pounds of back fat (from which we’ll render lard)
  • 30 pounds of Boston Butt

I’m pretty sure those hogs were never anywhere near Boston, so I don’t know how we got all that Boston Butt out of them.  I also don’t know what Boston Butt is.  I guess I’ll find out. In the meantime, it’s safe to say we’ll be eating rather a lot of pork this year.

We celebrated with a meal that almost qualified as farm-to-forks. Chareva made meatloaf that included ground beef, sausage, eggs and sage. Only the ground beef came from a store. (We ran out of ground beef from the grass-fed cow we split with The Older Brother.)

She also cooked up some Swiss Chard from her garden. Man, that’s good stuff.

As I’ve said before in interviews, a lot of us remember our grandmothers as fantastic cooks. Grandma probably was a good cook, but I think food quality had a lot to do with it. When Chareva plucks some vegetables from her garden and cooks them up for dinner, the flavor is amazing. A little oil, a little salt, and suddenly Swiss Chard is the most delicious thing ever. I suspect our bodies sense the nutrient density and interpret it as deliciousness.

Given the way her garden looks so far, we’ll enjoy quite a few delicious meals this summer.

On a less cheery note, we lost an egg-laying chicken. For more than week, some critter was getting into the hoop house where we keep chicken feed and enjoying a free meal. I suspected it was a raccoon, since we keep the feed inside a garbage can with a lid that requires a good pull to remove.

I’m okay with losing some chicken feed, but I figured given enough time, a raccoon would probably find a way into one of the chicken yards. So I set the spring-door trap that’s snagged two other raccoons.

The danged critter wouldn’t go into the trap for the can of cat food. Instead, he reached through the side and pulled out the food — three times, on three different nights. I tried creating a protective mesh around the trap with wire and nylon twine to force him to go inside, but he outsmarted me. He managed to tug and chew his way through the mesh to get to the food. Apparently he knew walking into the trap was a bad idea.

Two days ago, he found a low spot on the ground and tunneled his way into a chicken yard for a chicken dinner. Chareva spotted the mauled chicken while we were doing some work out there.  It’s always annoying to lose a chicken to a predator, but doubly annoying when a raccoon kills the bird, eats a few ounces of meat, then leaves a bloody carcass behind.  We tossed the carcass in one of our front pastures.  It was gone the next day.  Yup, there’s some nightlife in these parts.

We have some heavy branches sitting around that I cut into sections after a storm knocked them down, so I placed one of those against the bottom of the fence to discourage more tunneling. Since the trap wasn’t working, we picked up a spring-loaded contraption that closes on the critter’s hand if he reaches into it for food. We baited it with a sardine and attached it to a fence near the chicken yards.

Sure enough, as I was watching TV late last night, I heard the dogs run out and bark like crazy at the back of their fenced-in area. Well, we caught something, I thought.

The something was indeed a raccoon. I didn’t enjoy sending him to raccoon heaven, but it was him or the chickens.

That’s life in the country.

p.s. — I received an email from someone at a Japanese TV network who wants to do an interview for a news segment about Chareva the Snake Handler.  I’m starting wonder if Chareva is the only woman in the world who ever picked up a snake.


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Hi Fat Heads,

Well, looks like snakes are kind of a big deal, no?

I figured I’d come back and finish up the history of the Naughton men and snakes.

So, when I left off, Tom was rocketing towards the horizon in max flail mode, and Grandpa, Dad, and I were having a good laugh at Tom’s expense. I was especially looking forward to years of ribbing Tom as the owner of the lifetime title of “Naughton Family Snake Slayer.”

Or so I thought.

It turns out that “lifetime” is longer than you might imagine. I did have some years of fun with it. If anyone spotted a snake, or was worried about one, I’d volunteer “don’t worry, Tom will take care of it. Snakes are terrified of him, right, Tom!” This would generally result in some dark muttering on Tom’s part as I would cheerfully relate the story. Again.

[One point I generally left out was that, when Grandpa called “SNAKE!” and set Tom in motion, I was actually startled, too. My startle reflex, though, tends to break one of three ways:

1) Freeze. The brain just kind of overloads, and I just don’t do anything until it catches back up with the action. That happened to be my reaction on Tom’s Day of Infamy. I just looked unfazed.

2) Turn towards whatever caused my alarm. The Younger Sister found this out one night as a teenager when she thought it would be funny to hide in the bushes when I got home, then jump out and yell. I was startled, but she was the one with the big eyes as I whipped around facing her with my hands up. She decided maybe she’d save that treatment for Tom.

3) That’s a number 2 with an added shot at whatever the perceived threat is. The Middle Son caught that one as a pre-teen. He hadn’t discussed with his aunt the prudence of jumping out at me as I passed his room in the hallway on my way to bed. Without thinking or looking, my (open, fortunately) hand whipped out and caught him upside the head. I just kept walking. “Good night, Son.” “Uh, good night, Dad.”

Now, if you think of this from an evolutionary standpoint, none of those are what you would consider optimal compared to Tom’s more straightforward startle reflex. I mean, if that’s a sabre-tooth beast, Tom’s making tracks. I’m either frozen looking, or I pop it one on the nose. Probably related to why there’s not as many of us left-handers!

Anyway, time went on, we moved a few times, grew up, left home, started careers. Life stuff.

So, some thirty years after the Naughton Family Snake Slayer incident, I was working with Dad, and Tom was in the midst of his stand-up vocation, traveling all over the country.

The Wife and I decided to rent a small cabin in Merramec State Park in southern Missouri for a long weekend anniversary getaway. We’d been there a few times before with some of the in-laws and the growing broods of kids we were all generating; in campers and tents a couple of times, renting a big duplex cabin another. It was only a few hours’ drive, beautiful scenery, the Merramec River ran through it (from which we caught quite a few smallmouth bass the first time, but not so much on subsequent visits).

Everything was as perfect as we’d hoped. Some alone time together, did a little cooking, drank coffee and watched the sun come up, took some walks in the woods, went to a local winery for wine and sparkling mead.

Then about the third day, we decided to try our luck fishing again. Our luck turned out the same as it had the last few times — as in, none — so after a couple of hours, we were headed back along the path on the steep banks along the river. I turned to reply to something The Wife was saying, then glanced down to check my footing as I turned back. And my footing was about to include a nice-sized snake that was rapidly trying to vacate the piece of the path my foot was about to land on.

Those three normal startle reflexes?

Complete fail.

In my defense, number 1) wouldn’t have helped anyway — if I froze my momentum was still going to carry my foot squarely onto the snake. And I was already facing the damned thing, so 2) was out, and as for 3), well, I was highly startled, but no way was I going to punch a snake.

So my brain kind of overloaded and I made… a sound.

You couldn’t really classify it as a scream, because it was a lot more guttural. At the same time, my whole body jerked around as I made a last ditch (successful) effort to land my foot anywhere in the county other than on the snake. The fact that I was carrying three or four fishing rods in one hand and our tackle in the other added to the whole effect, whipping around as my arms wildly counter-rotated for balance.

The moment finally passed with the snake nowhere to be seen and me waiting for my heart rate to dip back under 400, when I heard another long, loud noise. This time I did turn towards it — it was The Wife, laughing hysterically. “Hey, it wasn’t that funny,” I explained, “That thing might’ve been poisonous!”

We continued on our way and enjoyed the rest of our little anniversary getaway, the incident in woods fading from memory.

Or so I thought.

Some time later, I came home one day at lunchtime. This was our normal routine — the office was only a few minutes away, and The Wife was staying home with the kids. So coming home for lunch was a nice break for me, good for the budget, and gave The Wife a chance to talk to another grownup. Except this day, The Wife isn’t anywhere on the first floor.


“Lunch is on the table,” I hear from upstairs.

Thinking nothing of it, I start looking through the day’s mail, and I see an over-sized envelope postmarked from South Dakota. Tom and I would talk by phone every once in awhile, and from time to time, he would send letters while he was out doing his standup. They were always interesting, sometimes hilarious (the Professor Woodbury Economics Treatise — which I talked Tom into putting on his other blog, is one of my all-time favorites), and The Wife and I would usually read them together.

“Hey! Tom sent me a letter from out West. He must be doing his standup out there. Cool. Wonder what he sent!”


I thought it was odd that The Wife wouldn’t be wanting to hear what Tom was up to, but shrugging it off, I opened the envelope — and out fell THIS:

I was shocked into stunned silence as the sheer enormity of the apparent betrayal sunk in.

“WHAT THE…?!?!,” I blurted, then “CINDY — YOU TOLD TOM?!?!? CINDY!?”

Then came a small reply from the top of the stairs…

“Um, Cindy’s not here.”

(“hee! hee! hee!”)

I was in a state of shock, as years of teasing Tom played across my memory. I couldn’t let this stand. It would be years of payback.

So, on returning to the office, lunch all but forgotten, I began thinking and scheming on how to mitigate the damage. The following is what I ca– ahem, excuse me, I mean what my counsel came up with and promptly posted back to Tom. I submit it for your review:


A Professional Corporation
%306 S. Grand Ave. West
Springfield, IL 62704

July 20. 1992

Mr. Thomas D. Naughton
Chicago, IL

Dear Thomas;

It has come to my attention that certain misinterpretations (possibly malicious in origin) have been attached to actions taken by my client, a Mr. G.E. Naughton, on or about the late afternoon of Thursday, July 2, 1992. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight so as to avoid any further (perhaps litigable) dissemination of erroneous information, via recapping Mr. Naughton’s story as related to me, with exact quotes where appropriate. Mr. Naughton has sworn under oath that this accounting, despite any information you may have already received, is “pretty much almost exactly what happened, I don’t care WHAT my wife said.” To wit…

On the day in question, Mr. Naughton and his spouse set out with approximately $40 worth of newly purchased fishing lures, licenses, bail, and sundry tackle in order to prove conclusively that there are in fact NO fish over 3 inches in length in the Meramec River. The experiment was a complete success, which Mr. Naughton claims was in no small part due to his foresight in leaving all the old tackle – which could have skewed the results – safely stored in Springfield, IL.

Despite this extra initiative on his part, Mr. Naughton still gives his wife full credit in the study, even though she “mostly just sat there when she wasn’t shooting down a steep bank on her butt, which she somehow must think is the correct way to get to the water, since that’s what she does every time we go there, but which I’d NEVER, EVER go blabbing about to everyone I’ve ever met – even though it looked hilarious – because after all, it was our 9th anniversary and I wouldn’t want to embarrass her.”

Having spent a considerable amount of time drowning a collection of invertebrates to ensure that no Missouri Dept. of Conservation employees had surreptitiously sneaked any fishlike creatures into this otherwise “unspoiled” stretch of water, my client and his betrothed began making their way back through the woods.

Mr. Naughton was gallantly leading the way on the trail, carrying most of the equipment, when he was “momentarily distracted for about 20 minutes by the wife’s chattering about how much her feet hurt” (Mrs. Naughton was conducting an inquiry of her own into how fast you can get nasty blisters on the back of your heels from traipsing up and down rocky, hilly terrain in sneakers without any socks on).

After turning his head to convey his heartfelt sympathy for his wife’s plight while continuing down the path, he returned his gaze to the trail in front of him. Specifically to his right foot, which he was about to replace not onto terra firma, but onto the rather long, black tail of a snake which was in the process of somewhat furiously getting the hell out of the way.

Mentally calculating his options at lightning speed and thinking only of the safely of others, Mr. Naughton quickly considered and discarded “Oh, by the way, dear, try not to step on the snake I’M about to step on,” and “perhaps we should notify the park officials that there is a reptile in the forest,” and instead settled on an authoritative “BOOOOOOOOOO-AAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! – aaacckkk!,” simultaneously moving to a better vantage point approximately 10 feet straight up in order to more accurately assess the situation. Despite his cat-like reflexes, Mr. Naughton didn’t get a good view of the rest of the rapidly retreating reptile, although he has estimated, based on the last six inches he saw, that the serpent was probably in the neighborhood of 30 feet long.

Of course, no serious scholar of history would be surprised at the quick disappearance of the snake, as they would instantly recognize his outburst not as the outright terror his uninformed bride mistook it to be, but as the ancient Irish battle-cry which (Mr. Naughton assures me) “the great patron Saint What’s-His-Name used when he ran all the snakes out of Ireland.” His proud Gaelic heritage notwithstanding, Mr. Naughton was able, again owing to his highly trained reflexes, to control the volume enough to narrowly avert disaster – any louder and he “probably would’ve cleared the entire park of reptiles, and completely destroyed the delicate ecological balance.” My client, as you are no doubt aware, is intensely concerned about maintaining the Earth’s precious ecosystems just exactly as they are without ever letting anything change even a “teensy, weensy bit” – with the possible exception of the sneaky, slithering coward (being the snake, of course) which was streaking toward the Arkansas state line.

My client’s wife was apparently joined in her misperception by several other creatures in the immediate vicinity, particularly a pair of deer who were startled into flight moments later by my client and his wife. This too, was easily explained by Mr. Naughton’s natural stealth in the woods, and also partly owing to the fact that the deer in question were “apparently doubled over laughing their rear ends off over some completely unrelated matter’ when Mr. Naughton and his wife happened upon them.

The rest of their trek passed without incident, probably due to the fact that Mr. Naughton allowed his wife to carry most of the equipment after that, keeping his hands free for instant counterattack. Also, anticipating the next sneak attack to come from the rear, he gallantly allowed his wife to walk in front.

…This concludes my client’s version of events, which you will no doubt agree is a much more plausible explanation than what you’ve apparently been told. Having set the record straight, I wish to make certain demands on my client’s behalf:

Mr. Naughton has some concern that you may use this incident as an excuse to pass the title of “Naughton Family Snake Slayer,” which title you have retained for nearly three decades, earned as a boy of six in a completely dissimilar incident. Evidence of this intent is given by your delivery to him of an allegedly authentic “Snake Snare,” which, despite its Dakota postmark, appears to be simply a rawhide shoestring with a noose tied in it.

This has already caused my client severe mental anguish and stress after it was seen by his spouse and children, prompting particular derision from the person-like teenager (a.k.a., “The Keed”) inhabiting his residence. Further mental anguish resulted when he showed it to the Service Representative and receptionist at work, the bookkeeper, his parents, several in-laws, and assorted passers-by.

My client has also expressed considerable anxiety that you may make slanderous reference to this incident as part of your vocation as a standup comedian, causing further (reimbursable) harm.

In return for your discretionary silence, Mr. Naughton states he is willing to remain publicly quiet about your own reptilian adventure, also a certain humorous anecdote concerning yourself and an alleged ”witch,” and several other stories which he assures me he will make up in the absence of your cooperation.

We patiently await your reply.

Warmest Regards,

Ebeneezer Tattooehm
Attorney at Law

cc: Mr. G.E. Naughton
Ms. Cynthia “Snitch” Naughton


So now, as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of the story.


The Older Brother


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Here’s the interview segment about Chareva the Snake Handler from today’s Inside Edition:

I didn’t actually call it the funniest thing ever … but it was funny.



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Before The Older Brother tells more family snake stories, I thought I’d step in to mention that the most recent family snake story has gone national.  I got a phone call yesterday morning from someone at Inside Edition, asking if they could use part of Chareva The Snake Handler on the air.

Chareva’s out of town at a 4-H camp with the girls, so I asked myself, Would Chareva want to be shown screaming and picking up a snake on national TV?  Well, of course she would.

So I granted permission, which led to this video being aired on Inside Edition yesterday.

Then the same someone at Inside Edition called and asked if Chareva would mind doing a quick interview for today’s show.  So I asked myself, Would Chareva want me to agree to an interview on her behalf so she can talk about screaming and picking up a snake on national TV?  Well, of course she would. 

So I set up the interview time.

I’m not a total idiot, of course.  I managed to reach Chareva at the 4-H camp and inform her of the interview.  The connection was bad, but I’m pretty sure she and the kids at camp were involved with some kind of hole-digging project, because I caught the words “big clod” a couple of times.  There’s a lot of clay in the Tennessee soil.

Anyway, the interview is set for today after Chareva and the girls return from camp.  It should air on today’s episode of Inside Edition.  Set your DVRs.


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Hi again, Fat Heads!

Well, it happens just about every time. Tom goes on vacation, lets me sit in the Big Chair, then forgets to reset the password!

I was actually pretty content with my last chance to fill in, and was looking forward to the cruise report, when instead we got “Chareva the Snake Handler,” with Chareva bossing a reptile around while Tom was enjoying the show from behind the camera. One commenter – Sky King – asked the obvious:

“I think what everyone REALLY wants to know is… why was SHE getting the snake and you had the camera..?! :0”

To which Tom nonchalantly replied:

“She was all geared up and ready to grab the snake before I even knew what was happening.”

Uh, huh.

I’m pretty sure that if it took Chareva forty-seven minutes to get “geared up and ready to grab the snake,” it would’ve taken Tom about forty-seven minutes and fifteen seconds to get ready himself. “Dang, dear – I’m just about there. Why don’t you go ahead and I’ll be right along.” Like that.

It kind of took me back. Waaaaay back to our idyllic childhood in Bettendorf, Iowa. I was about six or seven, so Tom would’ve been around five or six. A couple of years earlier, in 1962, Dad had a killer year as a salesman for NCR. He had two big deals close right at the end of the year, and made twice what his salary would’ve been for the year. Yep, he brought in ten thouuuuuusand dollars!

Dad and Mom took that extra 5K and used it for a 20% down payment on their first home. It was a split level, 4 bedroom, 2 bath new construction in a subdivision that was just being built. Probably about half the lots had houses when we moved in, and the rest sprouted new houses with new young families over the next three or four years. We were walking distance to school (back when children still did such things), the pool, a creek (“crik” if you’re from around here), new parks and…. The Lagoon.

The Lagoon was really a pond of a few acres just a couple of blocks over from our house, at the south end of a park area that ran along the east side of the neighborhood, in turn bordered to the east by said crik. It was where the neighborhood boys would hang out, fish, attempt to float in various homemade craft, and generally get into mischief.

One weekend, Grandma and Grandpa Tohill came for a visit. We loved Grandma Tohill (Mom’s mom), but Grandpa was simply the best grandpa in the history of the galaxy. Kind, gentle, soft-spoken, blue-collar through and through. He’d take us fishing, let us tag along hunting, fix things – you know, grandpa stuff. [Grandpa was also one of The Great Generation. We knew he’d been in WWII, but he never told us anything about his experiences until he was dying of Mesothelioma some forty years later.]

Well, Tom and I knew Grandpa would be quite impressed with The Lagoon, and Grandpa agreed, based on our glowing description, that it would be a good thing to take a walk to see. Dad even agreed to come along, and so it was us four men set out for a hike.

As we approached the edge of the neighborhood, we entered the knee-high grass meadow that surrounded The Lagoon and continued. About halfway in, Grandpa said, “Well, you boys should keep an eye out in case there’s any snakes – they like tall grass like this.” At that, Tom picked up a thin three or four foot branch – about as tall as he was at the time – that was lying on our path, and, giving it a couple of authoritative swings, started boldly proclaiming the fate that would befall any snake that made the mistake of crossing our path with his trusty new shillelagh in hand.

He was giving sample whacks to the surrounding flora as he continued elaborating on his blood oath against the local reptile population, getting a bit more forceful with each stride. Phrases like “destroy,” “break in half,” and “beat its brains out” emanated as he worked himself into a minor lather. His steely tirade just appeared to be coming to a crescendo, war club held high, when Grandpa pointed at the ground in front of Tom and blurted:

“Look, Tommy, a SNAKE!”



The stick shot straight up into the air, forgotten. I looked up, concerned as to where it might land, but it was moot as it appeared to have been whipped skyward with enough force that it would be coming down in another time zone, if at all. I then looked back down to Earth, only to catch Tom rocketing back in the direction from whence we’d come at a velocity I’d never seen a human being achieve before or since. The grass was nearly waist high to us, but I swear I could see his feet the whole time. They just tickled at the tips of the stems, throwing off wispy vapor trails as you see when a jet flies overhead.

Grandpa was grinning like an elf and chuckling, and even Dad was having a good laugh at the prank. I, besides a good laugh at Tom’s expense, was also looking forward to the many opportunities to rib him with his new title as the Naughton Family Snake Slayer for the rest of our lives.

Or so I thought.

… Well, Fat Heads, that’s about enough for this part of the story. If Tom leaves his post unguarded again soon, I can finish it up. Maybe I’ll see if Chareva will let a wasp in the house.


The Older Brother


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I was recently a guest on the highly-rated Fat to Fit podcast with Melissa Curtiss.  We had a great time talking about food, health, paleo, weight, body mass index, and why I’m optimistic about more and more people changing their diets for the better.

You can listen to the interview here.


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