Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not the Photos

I meant to post some trip photos. I miss my computer, which died last week. Now I'm using my mini-netbook, which gets most of the job done with email, but is not a full computer. Earlier today it was willing to post photos to this blog, but then I went off to find the photos, and now it won't post them. I click on the "add image" icon and nothing happens. Gripe gripe gripe. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

By the Sea, By the Sea

My cousin Nancy and I decided to celebrate Earth Day by taking a road trip. This sounds counterintuitive, and it is, but sometimes it does the heart good to get outta town and see a different part of the world. It turned out that the only day we both could get away was Earth Day.
We are seeing the Oregon coast. It is a favorite destination for us. We practice the “staring at the waves” asana, and feel calm.
We both grew up with the ocean, down on the Central Coast of California. Living on Vashon Island keeps us close to salt water and tides, but on Puget Sound the only times the waves are up are when there's a strong wind, or when a large ship sails by leaving a wake which breaks on the shore about 10 minutes after the ship passes. These waves are not the same as the steady rolling of the breakers on a sandy coastal beach.
So it is a coming home to sit here at the edge of a sandy beach and watch the waves roll in.
It is strange the things you miss when you leave a place you've lived all your life. When I left California and came to the Island, I found I missed the sounds of trains, which had always been part of the background where I lived in California. In fact, my freshman dorm in college was located across the street from the main coast line and my first night there I awoke to what sounded and felt like a train coming down the hall outside my door. I got used to that, I guess, but the first night was startling.
Skunks. I was astonished to realize after I'd been on the Island for a while that there are no skunks here. They were a part of life on the farm in California. Occasionally someone would hit a skunk on the road, and you'd see that pile of black and white fur and blood and you'd prepare to pass through a cloud of skunk miasma – whewie. When I visit California and smell that old familiar reek I feel surprisingly nostalgic.
As I write the sun has been coming up, changing the sky from nighttime gray to daytime blue with fluffy white clouds. A few hearty early risers walk on the beach. What shall today bring?
We may do a little beach walking. I may go back to bed. Hard to say. We have stepped out of reality for a couple of days, and we're rolling with the waves.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Asparagus and Other Metaphors

I had asparagus for breakfast this morning. I didn’t plan to have asparagus for breakfast. It was supposed to be part of dinner last night, but I forgot to cook it, and this morning there it was. I rinsed it and cooked it. That and a handful of almonds, and I was set for the day.
It’s a miracle that I like asparagus. My mother used to boil asparagus until it was practically gray. The result was slimy, mucilaginous spears that came apart when disturbed by a fork, except for the woody ends. My reaction as a child was: yuck. I only ate it for the mayonnaise.
After I left home I learned that you could cook asparagus lightly, and have tasty, crisp spears with a little field crunch left in them. You could pick one up in your fingers and eat it without mayo or anything else. Mmm…yummy.
I also learned that in preparing asparagus, you were supposed to pick up a raw spear by the ends and bend it until it broke, and throw away the segment of the spear below the break and cook the segment above the break. That lower piece was the woody part of the spear. It is called woody because trying to eat it is like trying to eat a stick of wood.
When I finally got around to asking my mother why she boiled asparagus for so long, she said, “To get the whole spear soft.” She did not break or trim asparagus; she rinsed it off and cooked it whole, and she cooked the edible part to paste in an effort to get the woody part soft enough to eat.
I understand this. Asparagus is not cheap. Everything in the heart, soul, and mind of a depression kid would rebel at the thought of spending so much money on a vegetable, then throwing away half of what you bought.
Of course there was a generational taste preference involved, also. There seemed to be a cultural belief in the 50s that vegetables were meant to be boiled into submission. The first time my husband and I served my mother stir-fried vegetables she took a bite and exclaimed, “They’re raw!” Rick and I looked at each other and said, “Uh-oh.”
We have come again into hard times. Hard times are relative, of course. An American hard time would be considered pretty deluxe by many of our fellow earthlings, who live in a poverty that we cannot imagine.
But that is not my point. My point is that when times get tough we indulge in economies, and some economies are false economies, such as boiling the whole asparagus spear until it is no longer good to eat in any part, assuming you can afford asparagus in the first place.
So my sermon for today is this: seize the day and don’t boil the asparagus too long. If you don’t have as much as you did, enjoy what you have. That’s all.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

I’m Not a Vegetarian But…

Once in a blue moon I buy a little piece of round steak to slice up and throw into a stir fry. So the other day I was browsing the meat section, and noticed on a package of beef the claim that, “our cows are 100% vegetarian!”
It stopped me cold. Wait a minute. Aren’t all cows vegetarian? All the ones I knew back when I grew up on the farm certainly were.
Then I remembered mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE). The main way it spreads is by feeding cows to other cows. No, a cow doesn’t step up to a steak dinner and think, “Elsie, is that you?” What happens is that sick cows, sheep, and chickens are butchered, ground up, and mixed into cattle feed.
Aside from my gut reaction, “What a stupid idea,” my curiosity was piqued, and I did a little reading, and learned about the warble fly, and prions, among other things.
Turns out that a couple of decades ago the British government required cattle owners to use an aggressive organophosphate to kill off the warble fly (hypoderma bovis). OK, this is where it gets really creepy: the warble fly lays its eggs on the front legs of the cow. The cow licks its legs, ingesting the eggs. Once the eggs are inside the cow they hatch into larva which then tunnel through the cow’s body until they are just under the cow’s skin, where they cause bumps, or warbles. When the warble flies are mature they break through the cow’s skin and fly away. Argh. Didn’t I see that story on Twilight Zone back in the 60s?
Anyway – the tunnels made by the larva fill with something called butcher’s jelly, making the meat unsaleable, and the holes left in the skin by the warble flies breaking through render the hide unusable. So the British government decreed that all cows should be treated to kill warble flies, using an organophosphate (poison) that was put on the cow’s back and went through the cow’s skin and spread through the cow’s whole system. Voila, no more warble flies, or other parasites. The meat and hides are fine. Everyone’s happy.
But wait. Now the prions in the cow’s body have been weakened by the organophosphate poison. What’s a prion (pree-on)? One definition I found says, “the theoretical unit of infection.” So, theoretically, a prion is a tiny little protein thing that is like a virus, but not a virus, and unlike a virus, it is not alive. This is where the research loses me. How can a tiny little part of a living body not be alive? OK, I’ll leave it for now. This is thick enough without following that particular garden path.
Suffice it to say that damaged prions are proteins that are folded wrong, making them infectious agents. Infection leads to the formation of amyloid plaques, which cause deterioration of the brain. That’s the short version.
Because prions are not alive they cannot be killed, or cured. They just go about their amoral business for amoral reasons of their own – and they aren’t talking – and when a cow or sheep that has these misfolded prions is ground up and fed to other cows, the prions are spread around and carry on with their plaque-making. When infected cows are butchered and fed to humans, the humans then have prions misfolding proteins in their bodies and plaques begin to form in their brains. The condition is untreatable and always fatal.
Whew. Suddenly I’m thinking that a 100% vegetarian cow is a good idea, and I’m wondering if the systemic flea poison I apply to my dog’s back is a bad idea. So I read up on that. Turns out that the active ingredient in that poison is imidacloprid, a “chlorinated analog of nicotine.” “Imidacloprid is notable for its relatively low toxicity to most animals other than insects,” according to Wikipedia. So, not an organophosphate, and much easier than getting fleas to actually smoke and die from that, although I’m sure that there is a strong contingent of people who would be happy to explain why you should never use imidacloprid.
So that’s our lesson for today, kids. Oh yeah, I also learned that there is a British punk/folk/rock band named Warble Fly. Maybe “The Brain Rotting Prions” was already taken.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools (That’s Tuels)

Well, dear hearts, I haven’t had much to say the last week or two. I’ve been in a funk, it’s true, and when I’m in a funk I don’t like to talk to anyone, or write, apparently.
Tonight I caught up on the blogs I follow, because I haven’t been reading, either. Gosh, I know some good writers, great storytellers, deep thinkers. I am grateful for them, and for the internet, which allows me to read their stories and thoughts, any time, day or night, without bothering them.
I think of these down times I have as bouts of emotional flu. The correct name is depression, probably, and yes, I do take an antidepressant, but sometimes the old clouds move in anyway. No, I don’t want to take any more pills to cheer myself up. I know now that the mood will pass pretty soon and I’ll get moving again, but I do take these time outs from life.
There is an ad on TV for one of those pills to cheer you up. It asks, “Where does depression hurt?” “Everywhere!” I said back to the television. “Everywhere,” said the announcer’s voice. They got that right.
It hurts everywhere.