40 Year Skillet Maintenance

When Bethann and I got married in 1975, we received Corning Ware Centura dishes with matching cookware that was supposed to be unbreakable, oven to freezer to microwave, last forever. We had four daughters, worked full time, rehabbed a couple of houses we were living in; exercised radical and exuberant hospitality and disproved that theory, or whatever it was. When those unbreakable pans hit the floor and broke, they shattered with panache! (Let it sink in. … OK … now ,,, both parts? groan?  Thanks.)

So we replaced the dished with cheap apple stoneware dishes for years. They take up too much room in our limited cupboards in our current old house, so we bought speckled enamel tinware in Amish country for our everyday plates. We can fit so many in our cupboards, we don’t need paper plates any more for parties. That’s right, the post is about skillets!

Back in 1975, we were given a set of three cast iron skillets. We have probably used at least one of them almost every day since. That set cost far less than a placesetting of our CenturaWare® or than one Corning® pan. Cast iron is superior to Teflon® for several reasons, the most significant of which is the production of it does not poison seals at the North Pole. If we had been given Teflon® pans, we wouldn’t be talking about them now. They would be long gone. Any bits we would have ingested would have been carcinogenic; whereas bits of cast iron pans are iron, which most people need in their diet.

Cast iron skillets take some basic maintenance. We wash them with hot water and steel wool. Then we put them on the stove with the flame on low to dry. Occasionally, if it looks too dry, we put a little olive oil in it while it is still hot and rub it around evenly with a clean rag or paper towel to re-season it.

After 40 years of use, your pan may look like this:

Medium Skillet with 40 year accretion of crud
Medium Skillet with 40 year accretion of crud on bottom

It was time to take action to restore this skillet, so it could continue to serve for another 40 years. It was simple, I took a spent oscillating cutter tool blade and scraped the accumulated charred crud off the bottom and outsides of the pan. Then I scrubbed it with steel wool and rinsed and repeated. Then I finished by scouring the bottom and outsides with comet and hot water with steel wool and rinsing thoroughly.

Almost done.
Almost done.
Good for another 40 years
Good for another 40 years

Now it should take less energy to heat and cook. It will distribute heat more evenly, like when it was new. So mark your calendars to do your 40 year maintenance on all your cast iron skillets. It works the same way for Dutch Ovens, too. With them, you could probably get away with 50 years, as there isn’t so much stovetop use.

This was one of my “sidetracks” from home repairs. I get in the mode of fixing things, then that mode sort of generalizes in me. I get sidetracked onto these little projects as breaks from the bigger ones. Not to worry, I did manage to finish replacing the fan in the upstairs bathroom.

I work on these projects and write about them to combat my severe depressive disorder and cPTSD. Maybe you find something helpful.

This house is not just our house. It is also the base of operations for The King’s Jubilee to which we have dedicated our lives and resources for three decades. It is also a small native plant refuge for birds, insects, butterflies and small mammals in the middle of an old borough in part of the urban sprawl outside of Philadelphia. If you want to help us save our house you may make a donation via The King’s Jubilee using the Paypal button below or go to GoFundMe and help us out there. Thanks!

“Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God” – a book review

whycoverWhen I read this title, my first thought was that people are going to think this is a kitchy attempt to evangelize atheists or to teach people how to evangelize atheists. However, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend at a conference with the author, Frank Schaeffer, last fall, and I know that he is the kind of man who comes at you straight on,  full frontal, with no guile, with his understanding of the world or politics or life, not like a breath of fresh air, but like an ocean breeze that just blows the blinds open and clears out all the cobwebs! I read this book in two sittings. It is that wonderful. I did have to come up to take a look around and check in with my family, once.

This book is not about the debate between theists and atheists and it is all about the debate between theists and atheists. Frank takes us to a different space in that debate, however. He reveals why this is so emotional for so many; why it is so “hot button.” It is really a debate within each of us. What Frank is doing in this deeply personal book of self-examination is calling us to stop shouting at each other long enough about what we claim to believe, whether that be Christianity, Judaism, Islam, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or whatever, to listen to our own doubts and insecurities; then look honestly at the inconsistencies in our own systems of belief.  All of the world’s religions have changed over the centuries, and evolved. Just read the words of Jesus to see how radically he changed the Israelites’ religion. Paul tried to walk back some of Jesus’ more revolutionary ideas by silencing women in the church after Jesus encouraged them to speak. So we are whatever religion we are, or are not, mostly by accident of birth. Let’s be humble about that. If we read the words of Jesus, we are not supposed to judge, so let us not put other people in hell, not even for a little bit. Sometimes atheists make the best Christians. Sometimes Christians don’t know where God is. “My God! My God! Why has thou forsaken me?” “Lord I believe. Help thou my unbelief.”

The words “objective reality” are just a metaphor for something I’ll never encounter. …

Anyway, since no one is ever just one thing, who are we planning for? Which “me” should be running the show? We’re all in the closet, so to speak. We barely come out to ourselves and never completely to others. I’ve never met an unequivocal atheist or religious believer. I’ve only met people of two, three or four or more minds—people just like me. Atheists sometimes pray and eloquent preachers secretly harbor doubts. The evangelist Billy Graham preached certain salvation and heaven guaranteed yet privately told my dad, a friend and fellow evangelist, that he feared death and had many doubts.

We’re all of at least two minds. We play a role and define that role as “me” because labels and membership in a tribe make the world feel a little safer. When I was raising my children, I pretended to be grown-up Daddy. But alone with my thoughts, I was still just me. I’m older now, and some younger people may think I know something. I do! I know how much I can never know.

Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Christian, you are that because of where and when you were born. If you are an atheist, you are that because of a book or two you read, or who your parents were and the century in which you were born. Don’t delude yourself: there are no good reasons for anything, just circumstances. Don’t delude yourself: you may describe yourself to others by claiming a label of “atheist,” “Jew,” “evangelical,” “gay” or “straight” but you know that you are really lots more complicated than that, a gene-driven primate and something more. Want to be sure you have THE TRUTH about yourself and want to be consistent to that truth? Then prepare to go mad. Or prepare to turn off your brain and cling to some form or other of fundamentalism, be that religious or secular. You will always be more than one person. You will always embody contradiction. You—like some sort of quantum mechanics physics experiment—will always be in two places at once.

It came home to me personally on a number of levels. I have always loved church. I have been ordained four or five times in five or six churches. (The disparity is due to whether you accept my infant ordination at my baptism in the Episcopal Church. The bishop gave me the laying on of hands of Peter. No one knows why.) I currently cannot attend. I suffer PTSD from being bullied and having my life threatened by clergy. I have also discovered that I have a developmental defect in my brain, and subsequent strokes in my right parietal lobe. Limited blood flow and damage to that part of the brain tends to make the ‘victim’ more religious. So the fact that there is such a defect effect could be considered evidence for the existence of God as this is all part of the design; or it could be an explanation for my quixotic quest to find the church that would not betray me, all my life. Christian me believes one. Atheist me  believes the other. Simultaneously.

The one thing I know for sure is that I need to serve the poor in Jesus’ Name. I don’t care who joins me as long as they are not there to save anybody but themselves.

Thank you, brother Frank, for letting me know I am not alone in this insanity we call human life. Let us dare to “create beauty, give love and find peace!”

God, whoever he, she or it may or may not be, bless you, Frank and Genie Schaeffer!

Cranford Joseph Coulter


Churchtown Supply Co.

Churchtown Supply Co.
Churchtown Supply Co.

Last Friday, John Haggerty and I headed off to retrieve a painting from a friend in Greensburg, PA. On the way, we stopped by Churchtown Supply Co. on Route 23, 2049 Main St., Narvon, PA, 17555, to pick up some enamelware dishes that I had asked them to set aside. Bethann and I bought each other burgundy and cream speckle and moss green and cream speckle dishes for Christmas and had asked for that from everyone else in the family, as well. Lydia and April had not gotten their money to their Aunt Susan in time for her trip to Churchtown Supply, so they were going to get us a gift certificate to the Washington House instead. It turned out that Churchtown Supply didn’t have enough of our colors on hand to make their contribution useful at the time. But the Washington House was closed the day of Christmas Eve, so they could not get the gift certificate.


I called Churchtown Supply. After several attempts, I spoke to Nancy on Wednesday, Dec. 28. She had just received a new shipment of our colors of enamelware and would set aside the plates and bowls that I requested for me to pick up on Friday morning.

Churchtown Supply Co. looks like your typical, main street hardware store from the 1960s or 70s. It is a bit unusual in that it is just on a ribbon of road with houses and churches strung out alongside of it and a lush valley falling out immediately behind it. You park diagonal nose in, like they do out in Kansas. You walk in and Barry and Nancy invite you to help yourself to coffee and cookies from a folding table, where you can also pick up your free wildlife calendar. The place is comfortably lit, with most of the light provided naturally by the plate glass windows across the front, facing south toward Main St.

I had them tally up the pieces that I had them set aside for me, to see what the damages were; then I shopped for some more pieces to complete the collection. We got to talking. I asked them how they managed to only be open Tuesday through Saturday 8am to noon, and that I was envious. Barry said they had worked for 30 or 38 years for 90 hours a week so this was comp time. He had had some health issues and now Nancy is battling breast cancer, so it’s about what they can handle. They said, “It’s something to do. It pays the utilities and the taxes.”

John, Barry, Nancy and I spent some time swapping stories about the pros and cons of dealing with customers. We had a very nice time. I intend to go back and get more dishes. I encourage any of you to patronize their place, as well. They are hard working folks who could use a break. Their shop is about 4 .3 miles west of Morgantown on Rte. 23.

Tell them Cranford sent you.

It’s Probably Cancer

A doctor read my MRIs and concluded that I had a tumor about the size of a large plum or small apple attached to the interior side of my spine at T-11, T-12 and L-1. I was told to schedule a biopsy for oncology after I had been off of Valium for at least four days; so, next Tuesday. Then I was to wait another six days for them to read the results of the biopsy, then meet with the oncologist to discuss possible treatment options. Well, didn’t that just make Bethann’s and my day!

I was literally screaming in pain, had to stop the Valium, and face the high likelihood that I had cancer on my spine. I was facing the immediate reality of trying to cope at home for ten more days with exquisite pain in my back that seemed to be growing every day. I found someone else to go down to the city for The King’s Jubilee that night. I don’t remember who. You know who you are: Thank you and may God bless you!

“How Green Was My Valley”?

About 40.5 million acres of land are used for lawns in the United Sates. About 300 million acres of land are used for harvested crops each year in the United States. American homeowners spent about $2.1 billion in 2001 for over 30,000 tons of herbicides (i.e., Roundup), insecticides, fungicides, etc., for their lawns. Lawn care pesticides kill about 7 million birds in the US each year. American farmers spent about $7.4 billion on the same in 2001. This is according to EPA estimates. (2001 is the last year for which they have published stats.) The lion’s share of the difference is that farmers use a lot more herbicide. Farmers have an additional 140 million acres in fallow and out of rotation cropland for a total of about 440 million acres. So US homeowners spent an average of about four times as much per acre on these toxins than did farmers. US residential use of these chemicals alone accounts for nearly 7% of the world market. This is more than a little out of proportion, just to have a patch of green around our castles. 

Then there is the whole issue of fertilizers. We use over 3 million tons annually on lawns. Over $5 billion per year is spent on fossil fuel derived fertilizers. Then there is the problem of gas powered mowers. The average gas powered mower emits as much pollution while mowing an acre of grass as driving a car 50 miles. Lawn mowers accounts for 7% smog causing particulate; and you are walking right behind it. 800 million gallons of gas are used each year for mowing lawns, of which an estimated 17 million gallons are spilled on the ground. (The Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons, just for comparison.) According to the EPA, America uses an average of 7 billion gallons of water each day to water its lawns; over half of which is wasted due to overwatering and overspray. It always frustrated me, as a kid growing up in Golden Valley, that the more we would fertilize and water the lawn, the more we would have to mow it. It seemed to me that we could save all kinds of time by not fertilizing and watering. 

How about the dangers to life and limb? A number of these pesticides and fertilizers have been shown to increase risk of asthma, childhood leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, birth defects, fetal death, etc., according to the Ontario College of Family Physicians: Pesticides Literature Review. Every year, about 75,000 people are seriously injured in lawn mower accidents in the US, including 10,000 children. 25,000 accidents result in an amputation. OK. Have I scared you enough? Just leave the lawn alone for a while.

I’ll get back to it with some positive, greener alternatives. I promise.