Friday, December 30, 2005

appropos of nothing much

I relate months to hours. Apparently, most people don't do this, but bear with me. I think of June as 6 o'clock and October as ten. So now, the minute hand is wavering towards midnight, and boom, we'll be in a new year.

Of course, I also have a lag in my head. So it's astonishing to wake up and realize that instead of 8:30ish, it's really almost January, 2006. I also can't reliably remember that my sister is now 18, even though I've been helping her with her college applications.

We pay a lot of attention to time. We have major milestones that are based on age-- 13, 16, 18, 21, and the dreaded 40-- and others based on duration-- 2 years, 4 years (think politics) and 30 years (think retirement). I work 8 to 4. I have an hour for lunch. I try to do cardio for x amount of time (ain't telling all my secrets).

This seems a bit artificial and contrived to me, but on the other hand, it's dependable, and it lends our lives some kind of framework. I hate that whole "work until you think you've worked enough" kind of attitude because it makes me feel guilty-- frankly, couldn't we all always go a bit farther? I like knowing exactly how far it is to the finish line.

So, on Sunday, it'll be a new year. The clock will be re-set. 12 months to accomplish all of our good intentions.

Monday, December 19, 2005

babies, babies, babies.

fun fact: in some species of wasps, unfertilized eggs become males and fertilized ones become females.

Nature seems to have a lot of variety. Male seahorses bear the babies. Some frogs flip flop back and forth and fertilize themselves. Some pregnancies last thirty days and some last over a year. Some babies are just fetuses, who need a lot of shelter and care (e.g. us and the kangaroo), while others emerge self-sufficient (fish, snakes). And then you have the baby moose, manatee, and elephant, who come ito this world able to keep up with their mother, but still needing her. That's called "precocial," by the by.

I like this: Emperor penguines, the largest of the bunch, have a fairly equitable division of labor. The female lays one egg, which the male then puts his feet under and his fat tummy on top. He then stays there for two months! Losing up to 25 lbs! The mother comes back to feed and raise the newly-born chick, all fattened up from her feeding vacation.

I make things collide all the time, and nothing as cool as penguins results.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

thursday thoughts

Question: is work someplace they have to pay you to go, or is it an important piece of your identity?

Here in white-collar America, it's pretty unfashionable to work 9 to 5, go home, and not think about the office until you drag yourself out of bed the next morning. No, indeed. My peers are passionate about their non-profit advocacy jobs (this being D.C.) or intense in their ambition to climb to the top of the finance heap. I don't have a problem with this, not really, although I wonder how they're going to fit in children a few years down the line.

At this point in my life, they most definitely have to pay me to go to work. I leave the moment I can, take nothing home with me, and yearn for the weekend Monday to Friday. That being said, I don't hate my job. It's fine. It leaves me with the mental space for my "real" life.

There's more than one way to skin a cat, after all.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas Is Coming (the geese are getting fat)

Christmas. As a recently married couple, my sweetie and I have had a few talks about what Christmas has been like for us and how we want it to be in the future. On Saturday night, in the parking lot of IKEA, I found out that he never believed in Santa Claus, which astounds me. I was convinced that Santa Claus existed until I was eleven.

And ya know, why not? If fax machines exist, why can't a guy who gets around to all the priviledged houses in the world in a single night? Why the heck not?

How do you know, anyway? People who declare that there is no God, faeries, miracles, evolution, etc. remind me of all those people who thought that tomatoes were poisonous (the Devil's apples, they were called).

Well, maybe that doesn't work. Because I can't prove to you the existence of any of the above, but tomatoes really aren't poisonous. Mmm, tomatoes. I really was born to be Italian.

But anyway, my point is this: I don't know. You don't know. And I want my kids to not know either, which is why I will "lie" to them and tell them that their presents come from a man with a snowy beard, a big stomach, and an ability to wiggle down chimneys.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

My Buddies

I love whales. I have never seen one, but I love them.

The blue whale is the biggest whale ever. Until people invented the steam engine, no one could hunt them, because they were too big and too fast. The heart of a blue whale is the size of a VW beetle.

So in other words, they're massive. They eat only krill, tiny little shrimpy things, and they migrate from the poles to the equator and then back again... but the interesting thing is, there are northern hemisphere blue whales and southern hemisphere blue whales who never meet because they frequent different poles. And even though they're loners, scientists think that they can communicate literally across the globe because of the high frequency or some such thing of their voices. Isn't that cool? "Hey Blue, how's the eating up there?"

Blue whales are my favorite.

Some countries and peoples, such as Japan and the Inuit, still hunt whale. It's monitored and such with quotas and all that. But still, a DNA analysis of the whale meat in a Japanese market showed several forbidden whale types, including my favorite, the blue whale.

Imagine a whale dying. That huge, big body drifting slowly down to the sea floor. Apparently, there are whole life systems that thrive on a dead whale. It's an ecosystem down there, with species that are not found elsewhere.

I find that comforting.

Apparently the Navy does these training exercises at sea that emits noises that are billions of times louder than what the whales can stand. Whales are found beached and bleeding from the ears after such exercises.

This makes me very, very sad. Sure, the Navy needs to practice or whatever, but really people, about how many things can we say, this is our right, no matter what or who it hurts?

Here's a pic of my buddies off the Baja coast:

Monday, December 05, 2005


(disclaimer: I am so, so not a scientist.)

But I am historically minded. I have always been interested in looking at how things are and how they got to be that way. You can look at almost everything in the world this way.

How did we get here?

The southern forests are choked with kudzu, creeper, and-- most notably at my mother's farm- multi flora.

How did we get here?

The chesnut trees died. My learned sweetie tells me that the toxins in their leaves choked undergrowth. Plus throw in our habit of importing foreign plants that become invasive (multi flora and kudzu are courtesy of Japan) and there you go, forests that you can barely hack your way through.

Add things like the demise of the Carolina parakeets, flocks of small brightly colored birds who in their heyday ate tons and tons of things like cockleburs, the small green pods that stick to your pants.

Coyotes are moving father east than they've been before.

The Appalachians used to have a similar-sized predator known as the grey wolf, also now defunct courtesy of us.

A filling-in of the natural chain? Evolution in the making?

Why not?

But it doesn't stop with science.

This weekend I was in a car with some very fun, very far-left liberal friends of mine. The kind of people who won't buy things made in China, eat meat with antibiotics, and who help the homeless, the jailed, and the poor. I like them very much, though I'm a bit more square.

But they lit up a pipe in the car with the windows closed and me, a known non-pot-smoker, inside.

How did we get here?

Then the grocery store, my favorite source for ponderings. When you look at the lunch-meat aisle, think back to our Neanderthal ancestors, Adam and Eve, and the question still applies.

How did we get here?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

anti-american mutterings

In the last three months, I have driven my car maybe 5 times. This is because I can now take the metro to work.

I love it. I love, love, love not driving my car.

Ergo, it makes sense that I love places that don't have cars. Stop. Think. A place, a town, without cars?

Oh yes, my friend. Venice, for one. I love Venice for many reasons... The good food, the hidden piazzas, the leaning flaking buildings. And the delivery boats, that unload crates of vegetables and dish detergent and beer so that strong men with wheel-cart things can take them away.

And Gimmelwald, CH, is a hamlet of 130 people without a grocery store and without cars. You have to take a cable car or walk to get there. How magnificent is that?

I am aware that I am one of a yuppie crowd that abhor progress. We turn our nose up at subdivisions, the Dow Jones, and all the myriad time-savers of modern life. I am also aware that people generally say that the people we venerate (e.g. the ones who live on the top of a mountain) advocated for progress, for electricity, dishwashers, and frosting in a can.

But I wonder.

p.s. I have been taught that the washing machine did more for the emancipation of women than anything else. And I'm all for washing machines. Just so you know.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Waxed, Sprayed, and Dyed

Pink Martini, the band, is really very extraordinary. Major kudos to Danielle for introducing me.

But anyway, the ponder point of today: fruit and what we do to it.

Pick up an orange in the grocery store. Or an apple or pear. It's waxed. Yep, that's right, waxed. Not that fruit is hairy or anything-- the wax keeps moisture in and makes it shiny and luscious. Isn't that weird?

Bananas, as well as oranges, are sprayed with ethylene gas to hasten ripening. I'm no expert, but ethylene sounds like a petroleum product to me.

So, we wax 'em, we spray 'em, and lastly, we dye them. You guys have seen the oranges and bananas that are not uniformly orange or yellow but mottled with green and brown, right? That's fruit au natural. We inject fruit with dye to eliminate spots and make it more appealing to consumers.

Gosh. Can we blame this on Hollywood? Must we wax, spray, and dye our fruit as well as ourselves?

And the bitch of it is: it's not working. Women are more attractive than ever before, what with shrunken thighs and bleached teeth and boob jobs and whatnot. Fruit is available 365 days of the year in shiny uniform goodness. And still, divorce and obesity rates continue to increase.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005


I love the holidays. I always have, and now that my Thanksgiving vacation won't be dogged by the paper some idiot professor assigned me, they'll be even better-- albeit shorter.

When I was a young hip thing I tried to hate Thanksgiving and Christmas, because that's the young hip thing to do. But I didn't really succeed. Now, grant you, I don't love all the things that come with the holidays, such as blatant commercialism, tights, airborn spatulas, and having to clean the whole damn house.

But I love turkey. I love goose. I love singing "Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat." I really love the fact that it's Tuesday and I only have to work tomorrow before I'm done for the week.

I even love the whole macho Thanksgiving football thing, where my uncles try to watch the game before my sister and cousin wheedle them into "Clueless."

Friday, November 18, 2005

What You've Probably Never Wondered

OK, so I knew that the spice trade used to be important. I knew that people would pay in pepper because it was so valuable. I even knew that Attila demanded part of his Roman ransom in pepper.

But here's the shocking little secret: I didn't really know what pepper was. Do you?

Well, here's the news: pepper is indigenous to Asia, but is also cultivated in India and China. Peppercorns are nothing more than the dried seeds of the pepper plant. Black pepper is ground from such peppercorns.

And here's where it gets tricky...white pepper is fully mature peppercorns but with the outside "rind" taken off pre-grounding. Green pepper is immmature ground-up peppercorns. AND there is PINK PEPPER, which is grown somewhere totally different, possibly from a different plant, and I don't understand it.

Mustard? (yeah, I'm a dork.) Mustard is really from mustard greens-- and the brown seedy things in Dijon are the seeds of mustard greens. There are black, brown, and yellow seeds-- the darker, the more pungent. Dijon uses only black and brown. Oh, and there is a Mustard Museum out in Mount Hores, Wisconsin.

Lastly: tea was not in Western European society until about the 15th century. I think William of Orange had it and liked it, but don't quote me on that one.

Mkay chickens. Fun facts for Friday.

p.s. someone argue with the medieval poster cos I just ain't that philosophical.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Medieval Misconceptions

Ah, the Medieval Ages....birds sang, women had long flowing hair and rode naked on horseback, and Robin Hood gave money to the poor.

Right. So we all know that that's probably not the way it was.

But for all of those who say that the world is in worse shape than it ever has been before, consider these facts:

By the thirteenth century, England had cut down ALL ITS TREES to forge iron and was burning coal and importing timber from Scandinavia. By the fourteenth century, London lay under fogs, and "sea coal"-- the dirtiest kind-- was illegal.

Water was so dirty because of the whole excrement problem that everyone drank wine or ale.

And then there are the sumptuary laws. Ah, how I love the sumptuary laws.
No matter how much money you have, you could only wear expensive clothes if you were highclass enough. Needless to say, this didn't work, as sumptuary laws got passed all the time, ever since the nobles lost their strangehold over the peasants after 1348 (the Black Death).

Other fun laws? Remember Crecy, where the English longbow carried the day against the sun-blinded French? The English fell so in love with bows that they forbade anyone, anywhere to play any kind of game, such as kicking a ball around, except archery. Only sport allowed, by decree of the King.

That one didn't work either.

But here's a bone:

Europe shifted from subsistence to capitalism during these centuries, and the change was more...difficult then you might imagine. People were really, actually worried that MAKING A PROFIT was immoral. Not robbing the other person blind. Just making a profit. Some people, like Aquinas I think, came up with some kind of percentage, like it's okay to make x amount of profit, but y amount is just being a greedy pig.

Ah, those were the days. Them polluted, boozy days.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Iles de la Madeleine

A few summers ago, my mother and I took a trip up the coast of Maine and into Canada. We drove, and we drove, and we drove though all this flat land studded with pine trees, until we came to a bridge. We crossed the bridge (despite the exorbinant toll. $40 Canadian) and then we were on the island of red soil, lupines, and potatoes: Prince Edward Island.

This place, while bustling and amazingly large for an island, seemed pretty remote to me. My mother and I stayed in a hostel in a little fishing village, from which departed a ferry to the iles de la madeline.

I wanted to go. How far? I asked our red-headed waitress at the Irish pub.

About 8 hours, said she.

We didn't go. But folks, there are these islands out there, french-speaking, that are 8 hours away FROM ANOTHER ISLAND!

There is a direct flight from Montreal. People live there. Apparently, there are some good b&bs.

But can you imagine? I'm charmed and intrigued. You couldn't drive to the mall. You can't go to a great concert a few hours away. No hopping on the interstate and going to another state without ferries or planes.

Eight hours away from another island. Blows my mind.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Addendum and additions

In case you didn't see Angeline's superior comment, she pointed out that button mushrooms and portabellos are the same species, but different strains. Like the snooty older sister of the down-home working girl. But still, aren't you surprised?

Onwards from the mushrooms:

Cute story #1:

Anika told me this story. Her friend, J., had passionate feelings towards one of the residents in their apartment building. A young, handsome bloke, who seemed very amiable. She got on sufficiently good terms with him to chat at the mail bloxes and run by for cups of sugar, but alas, the poor dense fellow did not take the hint and she remained date-less.

So what did this girl do?

With her heart beating in her ears, she went and knocked on his door.

He answered.

"I have a crush on you," she said.

And then she turned and ran down the hall.

N.B. this is brilliance. She appeals to his vanity and kicks in his predatory instict in one gesture. Men are like my dog: compelled to chase things that run. (Except you, sweetie.)

So, surprise surprise, he chased her, caught her, turned her around, and said, "You can't run away after saying something like that!"

She said, "yes, I can," and turned and ran away again.

Eventually, he caught her, and they've been running around Berlin hand-in-hand for over a year now.

:) Happy Monday!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Breaking News!

So, I was thinking about mushrooms the other day. All those packaged mushrooms in grocery stores-- where do they come from? Do people somewhere cultivate fields of mushrooms?
And because I have the leisure to research any question that pops in my sweet head, I googled it.

Alright, first the facts: the Netherlands is the biggest exporter of button mushrooms, and the third most important exporter of mushrooms in general after China, big surprise, and someone else I forget. Sorry.

But this is the breaking news: you know portabello mushrooms? And crimini mushrooms? Both of which cost more than your average homely white button. BUT! They are the same mushroom, same latin name, everything! They are just allowed to mature longer, so they grow larger and browner. I refer you to if you don't believe me.

Who the heck knew?

Portabellos are the red bell peppers of mushrooms!


You know what makes me happy? That Vermont exists. That somewhere, there is a land green and cool without billboards, neon lights, and all-night gas-stations...okay, they do have a FEW all night gas stations, but they're very tightly zoned.

And-- not they represent all Vermonters-- but that there are people who really, truly beleive that throwing away plastic bottles is a sin, that make-up is for flatlanders, and that $100 for a dress is highway robbery. That solar is obviously the power de jeur and that gatherings where you make your own icecream with your own maple syrup are the place to be.

That there is a place where everyone has their own snow plow!

Vermont. Land of good cheese, brillo beards, lumberjacks, and of course-- maple syrup. In the coffee and on the ice cream.