Shriner Go-Karts: Unsafe At Any Size

4 people were injured when a large older man in a fez lost control of his tiny ’57 Chevy Bel-Air at a Fourth of July parade.

Okay, I’m making the assumption that the car was driven by a large older man in a fez, based on my vast experience with Shriners (my brother-in-law Frank is a member) and the headgear they wear at public events (I happen to know that lady Shriners have white fezzes, and have special travel cases for them when going to conventions).

Medinah Temple owns a golf resort in the area, but I don’t know if the membership consists mostly of older men – that’s the pattern I’m used to seeing from my days as a Job’s Daughter in Utah decades ago, where the local temple was called “El Kalah.”

Shriner loses control of go-kart, 4 paradegoers hurt — chicagotribune.com

Four spectators including two children were injured Friday after being struck by an out-of-control go-kart during a 4th of July parade in north suburban Niles.

Niles Police Sgt. Vince Genualdi said a 9-year-old girl watching the parade from the curb was struck by a go-kart decorated to look like a ’57 Chevy and driven by an unidentified Medinah Shriner.

The car then turned and struck three more spectators—a 64-year-old woman, 33-year-old man and 9-year-old girl—before landing in nearby shrubbery with the woman still on the hood of the vehicle, Genualdi said.

That’s too bad about the injuries, and I’m sure the gentleman driver feels just awful. Shriners are all about caring for kids and supporting the Shriners’ orthopedic hospitals and burn units, and I will bet you that everyone will get their medical care taken care of gratis. I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Salt Lake Shriners’ Hospital when I was a teenager, and had some unforgettable experiences working with some of the kids.

It sounds like the little car had a stuck accelerator, or maybe the steering went out and the driver had trouble with the controls.

On a recent trip to southern Illinois, we noticed a couple of vanloads of Shriners who stopped at the restaurant where we were eating breakfast – a typical highway interchange chain place called “Bob Evans.” How did we know they were Shriners? They weren’t wearing fezzes, but both vans had gaudy graphics on the side announcing the names of the temples, with the Shriner sword-and-crescent logo, from two different towns in nearby Southern states. So there must have been a Shriner convention going on somewhere, drawing grand poobahs from all over the region.

No little go-karts were in evidence, however.

A Fizz-Nik For The Ages

Pop-bottle snap-on cup makes ice cream floats on demand – Boing Boing

The Fizz Cup is a cup that screws on to the top of a pop bottle. You fill it with ice-cream and squeeze the bottle and the soda rushes over the ice-cream and turns into an ice-cream float that fizzes out and into your gob, sparing you the mess of making ice-cream floats the old way.

Yeah. This is nothing new; I had a gadget called a “Fizz-nik” when I was a little kid in Albuquerque. Mine looked like this, except it was green and white. It was marketed by 7-Up, and of course I thought you could only use it with 7-Up and not with any other soda pop.

I mean, it had the old logo on it and everything. My toddlerish mind thought that meant that ONLY 7-UP could be used. I remember getting upset with Mom in the kitchen of our little house in ABQ, when she put a scoop of vanilla in the thing and popped it into a bottle of root beer. Root beer!

Okay, it tasted good, either way, but it bothered me. I wish I still had the thing, but it probably got thrown out at some point after we moved to Salt Lake. I vaguely remember it taking up space in a kitchen drawer, which is probably why it got tossed later. It was bulky, and the two parts probably got warped and didn’t fit together after going through the dishwasher a few times.

And no, I won’t be buying “The Fizz.” I’m getting ready to go on a health kick as my weight is getting uncomfortably high. Too many ice cream treats this year, don’t need any more temptation.

But mmmm, Fizz-niks were good, when the thing didn’t pop open and spill pop and ice cream everywhere.

Evidence Supports Earlier Date for People in North America – New York Times

Evidence Supports Earlier Date for People in North America – New York Times


Exploring Paisley Caves in the Cascade Range of Oregon, archaeologists have found a scattering of human coprolites, or fossil feces. The specimens preserved 14,000-year-old human protein and DNA, which the discoverers said was the strongest evidence yet of the earliest people living in North America.

Other archaeologists agreed that the findings established more firmly than before the presence of people on the continent at least 1,000 years before the well-known Clovis people, previously thought to be the first Americans. Recent research at sites in Florida and Wisconsin also appears to support the earlier arrivals, and a campsite in Chile indicates migration deep into South America by 14,600 years ago.

The find was published online Thursday by the journal Science, www.sciencexpress.org.

The cave explorations in 2002 and 2003 were led by Dennis L. Jenkins, an archaeologist at the University of Oregon. The primary DNA analysis was conducted by Eske Willerslev and M. Thomas P. Gilbert of the Center for Ancient Genetics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

Why, that’s my alma mater in the news! At one time, I flirted with the idea of majoring in archeology or anthropology, but was put off by a number of factors that in retrospect were meaningless.

Here’s the official description of the Paisley Caves dig.  Naturally, the New York Times article and BoingBoing focus on the “Hey! It’s ancient poo!” aspect. Both articles are headed by a photograph of some human coprolites – that’s fossilized shit to you – but the description is more excited about the presence of large animal fossils, although they’re a bit cautious. A previous excavation in the 30’s wasn’t conducted very carefully, leading to wild claims of humans and extinct mammals living at the same time, so this excavation is taking a lot of care to ensure that cultural and animal remains found together really do belong together in the same context.

Interesting reading, although I’m not current with some of the terminology. Dates are given like this: “ca. 12,000 to 14,340 cal. BP.” I think that means “circa (around the time of) 12,000 to 14,340 calendar years before present.” This gets avoids things dating “BC – before Christ” or “BCE – before Christian Era” and all the religious and mathematical issues that arise from that system. “Debitage” apparently means all the waste material produced when shaping and shipping stone tools.

I totally get what they’re saying about that, because I’ve actually attempted to shape chert or other flakeable stone into primitive tools (I really was a weird tomboy). And as a kid, I went on arrowhead hunting trips with my “Uncle Chuck” and his collector friends in Grand Junction.  One place we visited was a rock shelter that had been used as a lookout, somewhere in the back country behind the Colorado National Monument. It was a short scramble up a talus slope, and consisted of a shallow cave in a sandstone wall, with some petroglyphs visible higher up, and a lot of rockfall where big chunks of former cave roof came down. Farther up, there was a little alcove arch that went completely through the narrow wall, so it truly was a great place to sit, make arrows and arrowheads, and watch for game or enemies. There were a couple of grooves in the floor where supposedly the watchers had straightened arrows, or sharpened the blunt wooden ends before installing the chipped points. We didn’t find much that day, but it was really fascinating.  I was all of about… 9 years old, as Pop was still alive then.

Yeah, I wish I’d done more in college with it, but then my life now would have turned out totally differently, so I’m content to just be an armchair enthusiast. Yeah, the fossilized poop story is interesting, but there’s a lot more to  it than just that.

By the way, the collective noun for ancient shit appears to be “a scattering of scat.”

[tags]BoingBoing, NYT, coprolites, fossilized poo, scat, archeology, Oregon[/tags]

The Case of the Missing Pork Chops

I don’t pay much attention to what goes on around me at work – I have enough to do trying to maintain focus and stay on task without getting into dishing the dirt much about colleagues. But sometimes, a topic just begs to be explored.

Yesterday, a co-worker who’s now a kind of tech services/general upgrades and hardware dogsbody was walking around behind me saying “Porkchops, porkchops,” in a sing-songy, “where are you” tone of voice. I responded with “applesauce,” because that’s what immediately leaps to my tiny little mind on instinct.

She came to my desk and related the tale of the disappearing pork chops: they previous day, her husband had bought pizza puffs and pork chops on his lunch break at the nearby mega grocery, and left the bag in the big restaurant-style fridge in the main break room (he works in the same office on another team). They had planned to have the pork chops for dinner, and after about an hour, he remembered that the pizza puffs had to be in the frozen, so he moved them, leaving the pork chops in the bag in the fridge.

At 4 p.m., they left to go home and stopped to pick up the food. The pizza puffs were where he’d left them, but the grocery bag with the pork chops were nowhere to be found!

Dunh dunh DUUUNNNH!

They searched the fridge, the freezer, and looked everywhere else they could think of, but no pork chops. Given the timing, it had to be another co-worker (sic) and not a member of the building housekeeping staff, who typically don’t appear until about 6:30 p.m. 

That’s where another co-worker rolled over on her wheelie chair to chime in about other thefts of food from the break room fridge. It’s been going on for a while and suspicion falls here and there. One person is supposed to have witnessed someone taking their milk, but chose not to confront them. It’s a bizarre deal and I have my own theory, which will have to remain mine since it depends on some identifying characteristics.

But people are starting to get mighty cheesed off, especially since cheese seems to be a favorite target – last year, a fairly large quantity of expensive imported cheese and cold cuts disappeared between morning break and lunch. Milk is also an issue – people like to have it for coffee, and it’ll disappear from one break to the next. Lunch bags don’t seem to be touched, but grocery bags of any brand seem to be fair game.

It’s almost as if the perp doesn’t or can’t distinguish between stuff they bought and brought in, and everyone else’s stuff.

My idea is either to set some bait… or to set up a webcam. Others are more serious; they think that whoever it is should be fired when they’re finally caught.

When I lived in some cheap off-campus housing one summer in Eugene (Okay, it was a frat house that rented members’ rooms out to females when school was out), there was a food thief. No matter what you left in the fridge or how it was marked, it would disappear when you were most counting on it. Milk, sandwich fixings, leftovers. Also dry goods from the residents’ cupboards. Like cereal, which I lived on that summer. And if he (it was a he) left the cereal, he’d drink every drop of milk in the fridge, from the container, but leave all the sour milk for someone else to throw out.

He was caught, I don’t remember how. It turned out to be the person everyone suspected – the loudmouth obnoxious guy who got the house in trouble with the local cable company because not only did he steal cable for the TV room (which the frat guys applauded) but he used a splitter to get it into his own room (which is what got them busted, because it was a crap job visible from the street).

When confronted by several angry housemates, who loudly demanded compensation for all the milk and cheese and beer and cereal he’d consumed, he just laughed. Obnoxiously. He thought it was a great gag that he’d pulled and how funny it was that that everyone was mad, and he was completely unrepentant. He maintained he, as a real frat house member, had a perfect right to eat or drink anything we temporary residents… especially we gurrrlz, were stupid enough to leave in his way.

Years later, I ran into him when I went on an airline reservation system training course in a distant city. He was working for the airline, and had been caught dicking around in a secure aircraft scheduling systetm. He was still obnoxious, still supremely convinced of his lordly right to anything he wanted. Still convinced there would be no serious consequences.

I don’t remember his name. But I remember the name of my instructor for that session – one of 3 sessions attended in that city, over the course of 6 months, 4 days at a time. And the only reason I remember the instructor is that one of the other guys in the session had a tendency toward Spoonerisms and a strong Midlands accent, and one day he mentioned he’d been speaking to “Mu(r)ht Killah” after class, which cracked us all up in the bar. So: the instructor’s name was Kurt Miller, but damned if I can remember the food thief guy’s name.

I wonder if our own food thief at work has some kind of memory impairment – in addition to their fascination with other people’s groceries.

Memory for me is an extremely tricky thing – there are some things that I remember vaguely, but mostly I don’t remember details unless I run across something specific that matches a pattern and brings an old memory to light. I’m listening to This American Life now, an episode about memory and how deceptive it can be.  

 

Christmas memories about to go up in smoke

Salt Lake Tribune – As Cottonwood Mall is demolished, firefighters will train in the crumbling buildings

As shoppers flood stores in search of last-minute gifts, firefighters already have bagged the perfect present: They got a mall.
Through the end of January, the Unified Fire Authority will conduct extensive training exercises in Holladay’s now-nearly-empty Cottonwood Mall at 4835 S. Highland Drive.
“It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity to go there and do drills and practices,” UFA Capt. Troy Prows said Friday. “We use structures that are ready to be destroyed for practice.”
But rarely do those buildings come so super-sized – with 700,000 square feet of prime proving ground.
“We’ve never had a structure like this,” said Prows, 13 years into his career. “We once acquired a Wal-Mart, and it felt like Christmas.”

This little item may seem like an unimportant trifle, but it’s just one more hammerblow to me; it’s yet another place that’s connected with childhood memories of my mom and dad that will soon be gone forever. One more reason not to visit Salt Lake any time soon, now that Mom’s gone, the house is long sold, the many Christmas presents and shopping bags full of school clothes bought “at Cottonwood” lost in the intervening years.

What’s a shopping mall? A big place where a lot of shops come together, but to a little kid in the early Sixties, at least one was a fairly magical place that contained wonders, in different seasonal array. “Going to Cottonwood” contained a measure of glamour and mystery that going any other place to shop (downtown, for example) just didn’t have. Only Trolley Square was more fun, more quaint, more entertaining, but it was designed to be that way. Cottonwood was an ordinary 60’s era shopping mall, with large stores anchoring the ends and smaller, but much more interesting stores along both sides. There weren’t even any fancy fountains or seating areas, at least in the early years, but it didn’t need it – it had a prestige or cachet all its own (at least to my young and naive self).

In the spring, after a long cold winter, that was where we went to get Easter dresses and shoes, shiny pairs of Mary Janes in the colors of dyed eggs. Mom spent a lot of time checking out the specialty candy stores, looking for a particular kind of chocolate fudge egg she called “Penouche” or “panoosh” that apparently only came out at Eastertime. This was somehow connected with her own childhood. She was always tickled if she found black jellybeans, which were a special favorite of her best friend, and another comforting memory for her.

In the summer, especially after my sisters moved out in that direction, we often drove past the mall on our way somewhere, but often turned in to check out the sales at Penney’s or ZCMI’s as summer waned into “BackToSchool Season.”

In fall, when I was very small, we were most often there at night, with the sharp scent of burning oak and maple leaves drifting down the mountainside as we arrived for interminable bowling league games that both my parents played in. Thus we were often there a couple of times a week, until Pop died and Mom joined a different “grandma’s league.” Sometimes we’d stop in if the stores had “late opening” for the pre-Christmas shoppers, and there was at least one time when they had a Halloween costume contest that I competed in as an awkward 12-year-old. Mom made my costume out of an old raincoat, a lot of old stockings, and a couple of odd pieces of lumber nailed together into a T-shape. I was a headless girl, with big horn-rim glasses, which kind of spoiled the effect.

But quite often, the preparations for Christmas would be visible – Santa’s village would start to take shape in late October, in spite of my mom’s muttered imprecations, and the tension would begin to build. What did I want for Christmas? What would Santa actually bring? It was a source of great speculation, and dread, even then.

At Christmas, we’d go and see Santa, although there was a perfectly good one much closer by, in a tiny little hut in the center of Sugar House (which has also been completely remade, and will be remade again this year). Santa’s House was near a giant Christmas Tree at the ZCMI end of the mall, which proved somehow to lots of my friends that ZCMI was theologically a better bet than Penney’s.  About midway down the mall, there was always a giant wooden Christmas Tree designed for school choirs to climb up into its branches, a little like a really steep amphitheater standing upside-down and inside out. In high school, I climbed up into the narrow little shelves three times to sing at various Christmas programs. Afterwards, Mom and I would do some shopping – she always drove me to these things unless they were scheduled during her part-time job’s work hours.  If that was the case, I’d ride with other choir members.

Even as a child, it bothered me that certain treasured shops that had fascinated me as a first-grader, like the little electric race-car and train shop that had big windows and handrails so little kids could hoist themselves up and watch cars and trains endlessly zip around on tracks, was no longer there in the little lower-level hallway off to one side of the main mall. This shop closed or relocated sometime when I was still in grade school, and I missed it, because it was a magical place somehow, and it was replaced by something boring, like a shop for big and tall girls… a shop where I would purchase a couple of pairs of very 70’s jeans before shipping out for the West Coast and college a few years after that.

It bothered me that other shops disappeared, but sometimes they were replaced by shops or restaurants that I liked better. But then those, too, would disappear in some major remodeling project that redesigned the main entrance and forced them to close or move. And I’d hear about it from Mom, who kept me up to date on that kind of thing.

The last 15 years or so, I’ve rarely visited Cottonwood Mall, although it was always there on Mom’s chosen route to my sister Timmy’s house. Mom just could not be convinced to try a different, slightly faster route for years, because she was used to Highland Drive and didn’t want to go another way, especially if it went via “Confusion Corner,” which was really any major intersection that was cock-eyed or contained more than 4 incoming streets. There were several of these between our house and Timmy’s house and they had to be negotiated carefully, if not avoided altogether. The easiest and least confusing was to edge around most of them and go by way of Cottonwood, which also meant you could check out the movie marquee and see if anything good was playing.

The bowling alley was torn down years before, another event that made us both sad when we went past and saw it was gone.  Then the movie theater got torn down and rebuilt into a multiplex, and so that wasn’t the same, either.

I’m not sure what Mom would make of this latest piece of real estate to be completely transformed into something else. I’m pretty sure she’d complain loudly about yet another development dumping even more cars on the road and screwing up traffic on her preferred route to Timmy’s, if she were still driving, and if Timmy and her husband were planning to live out that way much longer (they’re not).

I’m sure Mom would feel sad about not being able to drive out to the ZCMI end of the mall one more time, wait with me in line, and then park herself on Santa’s lap and scold him, “Don’t you come to my house for at least another week, Santa, I’m not ready!” In the old days, this would always cause extreme dismay in the ranks of kids lined up for their consultation with the jolly gent in red, and always get Mom a big appreciative belly-laugh from a Santa who wouldn’t dare flirt in front of the kiddies with this cushy, middle-aged, but still cute housewife.

The Goddess of Travel Re-Emanates

I had a flashback yesterday on the phones. I was working with a client the day before who needed hotels booked from one end of Utah to the other, because she’d just been transferred to the West and had a long, long, long, skinny district to check out. We were chatting along and kidding around a little while I made with the flying fingers – I’m faster booking things “old skool” although the graphical tool we have is useful for “set it and forget it” bookings. So this woman was laughing about something I’d said to crack her up, and we signed off as new best friends. Next day, same woman on the line; she needed one of the hotel bookings moved farther up the road. Clickity clack, whickety whack, bada bing ka-ching, done. I recapped the cancellation number of the old hotel, gave the confirmation of the new one, and she was burbling on about how beautiful the drive was. I recommended she return in the fall to re-drive Price Canyon, which I knew she’d be driving the next day.

“That’s amazing! How do you know that?”

“Well, I used to go through there at least once a year with my mom when I was a kid, and one year was during the fall — it’s just gorgeous then. Based on where you are, and where you’ll be tomorrow, that’s your route.”

The traveler laughed, and got a few more “road anecdotes” from me before before the record was finished and emailed to her. She exclaimed, “You are the goddess of travel, do you know that?”

I was bowled over – the flashback kicked in, and for a second, it was… 1988 or so.

“Well, actually I do – it’s a long time since I’ve been called that, but that’s what they called me when I used to book travel for a little music company in Seattle called ‘Sub Pop Records.’ That was a loooong time ago.”

I’m not sure that she was suitably impressed; probably never heard of the legendary bands on that label. It sure was fun doing their travel (if a little nerve-wracking), and it gave me a peek at much weirder and more interesting and, hell, creative lives than my own.

It’s true: the founders of Seattle’s Sub Pop, and a couple of the other people in their office, used to call me up to book bands like Mudhoney and the Afghan Whigs on crazy trips to Amsterdam and Australia to go on tour. All I really had to do was get the bands to the starting point and from the ending point, for as little money as possible. I hardly knew what I was doing, but was a tiger for finding a crazy cheap routing, and more than once the owner of the fledging company would say “You are the GODDESS of travel.”

For some reason, the band organizers were always really excited when I booked the bands into and out of Amsterdam. “All riiiiight!” they’d exclaim. “I can deal with Amsterdam!”  I had an inkling as to why, but didn’t want to alert my old (SFX: hawk-spit) boss or she would have gotten all prissy about it. Fact was, Sub-Pop was big cool juju in Seattle at the time, even though they were constantly hanging by their toenails on the raggedy edge of ruin.

Aw, shucks. Good times.

I remember the agency’s owner sent her dad down there on a delivery run to the old Sub Pop office, and he about stroked out when he experienced the full-bore giddy weirdness that was SubPop in the late 80’s/early 90’s. They’re still trying to work out just exactly what happened in “the early years,” but from what I saw, it was like a juggling act with flaming chainsaws, with an excess of excess.

Still, they survived into the new millennium, and have the blog to prove it.

I wonder if they came across a mouldering box of old 3-part self-copying travel agency invoices with the “ears” still on? If so, the stuff would make wonderful mulch. Working at that agency was great experience for me, as I learned never to work for a family-owned business ever, ever, ever again.

Here I am almost fifty, and I still have a fondness for what was laughingly called “grunge” as a joke, and it got turned into a national music phenomenon. I was listening to WXRT today on my way home, and lost all patience with the evening drive-time guy, who is this kid half my age. For some reason, he insists on playing dinosaur shite, and fawning all over it, and blathering about how cooool it would have been to be at this or that legendary show what took place when he was nobbut a lad, or a glint in his ex-hippie dad’s eye, more likely. And he plays the Stoooones. And the Beeeeeatles. And Le-ehhhhhd Ze-ehhhp. Meh. Shite.

Make with the Decembrists and the Arctic Monkeys and Nickle Creek and Amy Winehouse already, young dude. Your station has a hugely diverse catalog of music to play from – get yer mitts out of the 70’s Arena Rock bins and play something from this decade already! The Goddess of Travel demands musical offerings that are not stale.

[tags]SubPop, WXRT, music, grunge, fifty, the Goddess of Travel[/tags]

Love and Buildings and Space Noodles

Boing Boing: Objectophiles who harbor passionate sexual love for buildings…

Cory Doctorow: Der Spiegel has an article on the theories of Volkmar Sigusch, a German researcher whose studies of “neo-sexuality” have led him to assemble case-studies of men and women who fall in deep, passionate, sexual love with objects, from the Berlin Wall and the Twin Towers to a toy steam engine.

Back in 1979, Eklöf tied the knot with the Berlin Wall and legally changed her name to mark the occasion (“Mauer” means “Wall” in German). Ever since she was eight years old, Sandy K. was hopelessly in love with New York’s Twin Towers. Neither of these two monumental lovers were known for being particularly talkative. Nor did they seem to be blessed with qualities of seduction. But to their admirers, the buildings were male, sexy and extremely desirable. For 25-year-old Sandy, the attraction to things is so overpowering, she confesses: “When it comes to love, I am only attracted to objects. I couldn’t imagine a love affair with a human being.”

This may sound weird, but I think that I know of someone just like this who seemed to have a very strong attachment to the Space Needle. Back when I was living and working in Seattle at a travel agency that was just a few blocks from the Seattle Center and the base of the Space Needle, we often got “tourons” who wandered in looking for travel deals after they had done the tourist thing at the Center. A woman in her thirties started coming in occasionally who would book herself and her travel partner/boyfriend at B and B properties on Queen Anne Hill, which overlooks the Seattle Center and has a great view of downtown Seattle. We’d go months and months without seeing her, and then she’d come in and book her stays… for her next trip to the city, several months later.

FolkLife1064

Always, always, the B and B had to have a view of the Space Needle, or if it did not, it had to be in a part of Queen Anne that was convenient for walking to one of several parks with good views of “the Noodle.” After her second or third visit, we pieced together a story – the woman was from Sweden, and she told us that she was passionately devoted to the Space Needle, and was absolutely consumed with curiousity about its history and enthralled by what it represented (even now it still looks futuristic, yet in a pleasingly retro kind of way).

She had an elaborately detailed custom-embroidered leather letter jacket that had the original 60’s logo for the World’s Fair on the back, she collected all kinds of memorabilia (and outright kitsch) with the Space Needle on it, and she had a lot of different T-shirts and things that she wore on every visit to our office. She would spend a fair amount of time just gazing at it, and plan her entire stay around arriving at it, taking the elevator to the observation deck, and eating dinner in the restaurant.

Her boyfriend went along with it all with good humor – it may have been they were just enthusiastic fans of that kind of 60’s/Jetson’s design sensibility, and the forward-looking optimism of the era that it came from. But her attachment seemed to be more than that. I don’t know if she would have married the Space Needle, but she certainly acted like a woman with a crush when she came into the office and talked about how much she loved it.

The original article is in .

[tags]Twin Towers, Space Needle, BoingBoing[/tags]

Random Thumbnail Stories

IMG_4221

I'll try something from time to time here – when one of the random thumbnails catches my eye, I'll tell the story behind it.

This was taken on a May trip to Washington State a few years back. David and I flew out for Folk Life and then took off on a big loop around the Olympic Peninsula, the National Park, and down and around the long way, ending up at Mt. Rainier National Park. It was a lot of fun, but the next time we do that, we'll retrace steps rather than circumnavigating the peninsula, it was a very long drive.

This was taken along the coastal unit, where we could have spent a lot more time. On a future trip, we'll arrange our days differently. 

IMG_4221 on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

[tags]Flickr, random[/tags] 

Sweetness and Light and Distress and Diarrhea

A passing reference to maltodextrin, a sugar-based sweetener, on BoingBoing turned on the little lightbulb what hovers over my brain, and I Googled around to find this:

Sugar substitutes and the potential danger of Splenda

Saccharin, the first widely available chemical sweetener, is hardly mentioned any more. Better-tasting NutraSweet took its place in almost every diet soda, but saccharin is still an ingredient in some prepared foods, gum, and over-the-counter medicines. Remember those carcinogen warnings on the side of products that contained saccharin? They no longer appear because industry testing showed that saccharin only caused bladder cancer in rats.

Most researchers agree that in sufficient doses, saccharin is carcinogenic in humans. The question is, how do you know how much artificial sweeteners your individual body can tolerate? That being said, some practitioners think saccharin in moderation is the best choice if you must have an artificially sweetened beverage or food product. It’s been around a relatively long time and seems to cause fewer problems than aspartame.

I don’t argue with this recommendation, but I encourage you to find out as much as you can about any chemical before you ingest it. Artificial sweeteners are body toxins. They are never a good idea for pregnant women, children or teenagers — despite the reduced sugar content — because of possible irreversible cell damage. If you decide it’s worth the risks, then go ahead, but pay attention to your body and your cravings. Once you start tracking your response to artificial sweeteners, it may surprise you.

On Saturday, my husband David's parents invited the whole family to their place for lunch. It wasn't a Seder for Passover – that doesn't start until Tuesday. It was just comfort food. As always when we arrive, David's mom offered us soft drinks. And I asked for "anything with real sugar and no caffeine." This prompted a discussion of the various kinds of soft drinks and the artificial sweeteners that make them go, comparing them to "real sugar" soft drinks, and whether Dr Pepper has caffeine. Turns out it does, at least in Illinois, but I still prefer soft drinks with sugar, for very good reasons of my own.

But I digress. Some background music:

The day after we returned from vacation, I settled down with that most comforting of comfort foods, a bowl of cereal and milk.Specifically, Honey Nut Cheerios, which I had purchased the night before in a whirlwind, jet-lagged provisioning frenzy because we got home late in the evening and had no food in the house. Soon after, my Lazy Saturday relax-o-thon was disrupted by some very uncomfortable symptoms, something I'll just call "distress" and leave it at that, m'kay? M'kay.

There was a certain…redolance of parfum de Cheerios, however. When I haven't had Cheerios in a long time, the first time or two I seem to be a little over-sensitive to something in them. It sometimes happens with other cereals, like Basic 4, that have some sort of malty-nutty-sweet flavor

I have a few minor food allergies, but none of the "biggies:" I'm not allergic to nuts so far as I know, but I had some pretty nasty reactions to saccharine when I was a teenager. Mom unfortunately discovered this: when she tried to get me to use Sugar Twin on my Cheerios (the old-school, unsweetened kind), because she was afraid I'd become a diabetic or something. I broke out in an agonizing, horrible, itchy rash all over my body. Woops! We figured out pretty quickly what the culprit was, because the only major change in my life was the Sugar Twin stuff. I was quite happy to be allergic to the most common sweetener then on the market, because I didn't like the taste of the fake stuff and preferred sugar to almost any other sweetener (love honey, too).

In college, I had another allergic reaction when friends convinced me to try Diet Dr Pepper. Currently, it's sweetened with Aspartame, but in the late 70's? I can't remember for sure, but it wasn't saccharine and I thought it was worth the risk. It tasted pretty good, so I started drinking more of it, and within a couple of days, I realized I was starting to break out with an itchy rash anywhere that my skin was warmer and sweatier. Lovely! So, no diet sodas at all for me in college.

I've had aspartame in some foods – yogurts and the like – but don't really like risking an outbreak, so I rarely indulge (!) in artificially sweetened yogurts or chewing gums.

The really annoying and possibly health-threatening thing is that artificial sweeteners are showing up more and more often in more and more unusual and unexpected places, like medications, condiments, and many kinds of packaged foods. And I was not pleased to read that saccharine was quietly reintroduced a few years back, while all this time I thought it had been permanently banned because it was thought to be a carcinogen. Silly me! Those powerful sweetener manufacturers were able to convince Congress that saccharine was no biggie, so hurray! We can have as much as we want! Bladder cancer for everybody!

Many of these "hidden sweeteners" are also derived from corn, and although I don't think I'm allergic to corn in its simpler forms (corn chips, tortillas, straight off the cob, etc.) it's possible that cutting down on corn syrups and related sweeteners would be a good thing. My friend Steve is convinced that corn syrup is the root of all health evils, and who knows?

 

Erin: Engage! And Make It So!

so make it up

I'm getting married. I got engaged to my long-time boyfriend about two weeks ago, and I've decided to blog about the whole ungirly-bride process. My attempts to make sense of (read: mock) it all should yield infinite hits, as other like-minded women (not to mention cultural studies professors and other Paglia types) scour the World Wide Net Superhighway for scraps of sanity amidst the wedding machine madness.

In addition to writing about my impending nuptuals, I will continue to deconstruct, harangue and satirize the rest of girl culture as well. In some ways, the wedding industry and the bride concept it relies upon is the apex predator of consumerist female culture. The ideal bride is so very many things, and should any element fail to naturally occur with the woman in question, the key to achieving it — if only for your special day — is always available for purchase. The casual become stylish (thanks to their stylists), the scatter-brained become organized (thanks to their wedding planners), and the non-traditional find themselves oddly standardized (thanks to myriad factors, it seems, and I must unravel them all in order to avoid such a dastardly fate myself).

Excellent. Eeeeexcellent. A brand new non-girly bride-to-be makes her stand. As a former non-girly bride-to-be of nearly ten years standing myself, I salute you, Erin! You go, etc. Can't wait to read future rants on blasting bridal conventions to smithereens.

Interior monologue: what is that persistent beeping noise coming from downstairs? Oh, the ADT guy is here to replace the proprietary smoke-alarm battery. David is dealing with it. He's good at that stuff, even when I wake him at 1am to report that the alarm thingy is peeping once a minute. He figures out how to disable the thing, and is asleep within 5 minutes.  I hear them downstairs, disabling and drilling, and and the alarm continues to make persistent, stubborn beeping refusing to kowtow to mere mortals. Boys are funny that way:  there goes the beeping… off again. Why don't they just rip it off the wall? That's what I would do. They seem to be making companionable fellow-geek nattering sounds. And beeping again. And off. More drilling. Beep! Off! Jeez, that thing Simply Will Not Die! BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP kerrrrack! drill! drill! urrrhg urrhg urrrgh! BEEP!! And now there are sounds of checking the window sensors, and by the way, "Beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep!" Meanwhile, back to our post. But first, a word from our sponsor:  "Beepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeepbeep!" for a lot longer than is humanly possible to tolerate. And off again.

I still remember feeling like a very ungirly and non-compliant Bride of Geekenstein 10 years ago (by the way, "beep!") as I tried to cope with the pressure of being a middle-aged first-time bride and the demands that Convention made on my time, energy, and self-image. The first thing people wanted to know after we triumphantly announced our engagement was "whenistheweddingwhereisyourring?" Jeeebus, people! It's like a miracle from God that we found each other and overcame our social bass-ackwardness and a thousand miles of geographical displacement to even date, let alone wed! Don't you get it? WE were engaged!! Not Suzy Cutegirl and Johnny Heartthrob! Us, two people who were nothing and nobody special until the lucky day that we met!!

I was irked and slightly insulted that people didn't congratulate me more enthusiastically on getting engaged, because before I met David, the chances of my getting married were less than the chance I would be killed by a terrorist. 

Grumbling under my breath, I tackled various required and non-skippable tasks as they came up.

We finally got around to getting me an engagement ring and matching wedding rings. I designed my rings, and David had his customized with an engraved bird shape to match my design. I refused to have a diamond, but happily accepted a sapphire, set in in a platinum ring.  

We ordered invitations that looked like watercolors of the mountains. If it weren't for the wording I stupidly ordered on the matching "thank you" notecards, I could still use the leftovers as stationery. Should have left them blank. I have about 50 of them left, sitting in a box. It was the smallest amount I could order. What a waste!

We registered, under protest, at a couple of local stores that were considered mandatory, and also Target and REI. I still use almost all of the things we were given – I was shocked at how generous some people were, but the simplest gifts are still the ones in daily use. My cousins Tommy and Jeanne will be happy to know that we still use the simple pasta bowl set they gave us, although one of the serving bowls hasn't survived.  After all the angst (we resisted registering until pretty late, and some people here were begging us to register for the sake of their friends) we ended up with some very, very odd presents. I also committed a faux pas by sending a thank you note for something that I never even opened until some months later, when it turned out we had been given a very nice crockery Dutch oven instead of the toaster oven depicted on the box. Heh. Don't do that, non-girly-girl brides! Open your prezzies, no matter what the box says. 

I flat refused to bother with a conventional wedding gown. Being a non-girly-girl of some height and draught, I didn't want to flounce down the aisle looking like a gigantic tea-cosy. Before deciding on a comfortable cowgirl-like getup (no boots, though: not with these Calves of Majesty), I had walked into exactly one fluffy foofy bridal boutique in a historic and ever so twee tourist town, Long Grove. Girls were going "Oooooh" and squealing as they pulled headpieces and bits of netting off the racks, or looked at "ready made" dresses (which stuck out so far into the store from the shelves that we were in danger of suffocating on taffeta and nylon netting). I stopped dead in my tracks and reversed out the door, completely immobilised by non-girly-girl inadequacy issues and the choking sensation of organza-induced claustrophobia. To this day, my memory of that event includes imaginary sound effects: the "Beep! Beep! Beep!" of a large, inconveniently placed garbage truck backing out of a narrow alley filled with china shops and beauty boutiques.

I bought clothes – ARRRRRRGH, I HATE SHOPPING, I HATE LOOKING AT MYSELF IN THE MIRROR – because I was told that my attendance at two showers was mandatory. They were not thrown by anyone I actually knew – all my friends were back in Washington, or scattered to the four winds. No, I understand it was something of an etiquette quandary; I had to suffer the ignominy of having no local friends to act as hostess, and "my" showers hosted by females in David's family, and in my mom-in-law's case, it was actually given by a friend of hers. I'm not sure why, it was some Emily Post thing. This meant that I needed two outfits, not just one, because apparently wearing the same thing twice was a no-no. What? I wear jeans and T-shirts every single freakin' day. I did refuse to wear a dress or skirt, though. The Calves of Majesty are not for viewing by the faint of heart, and besides, panty hose are the spawn of the Evil One.   

After toying with the idea of getting married in hiking boots on a mountaintop, and after being told by various people where we should get married for their convenience, we decided on having it at the B and B we had stayed at on our first ever trip as a couple, and divil take the hind parts.

They've upgraded their wedding and events page considerably since then – back in the day, I was something of a pioneer, as the Alps had only been the setting for a few weddings. They handed me a couple of pages of photocopied business cards for caterers, florists, wedding cake makers, and photographers. We made one trip in the spring to meet with providers and taste or see their wares, and set up everything long distance after the initial meeting. Aside from the photographs, which were a disappointment (we never even bothered to order prints, and have only the proofs), everything worked out beautifully, looked lush and colorful, and was actually very personal and lovely. Almost a first for me, probably the last – I NEVER want to set up an event that elaborate again, and it was a very simple wedding!   

And that was that, and it was beautiful. We wore comfortable clothing and shoes and had an Irish band.  We all moved from breakfast room to front porch at the whim of caterers and photographers after the ceremony, so the room could be reset for an afternoon brunch, and the band followed us like our own personal minstrels. We only had 35 people; the food was delicious, the music danceable, and a good time was had by all. Afterwards, we changed clothes and went for a hike down Boulder Canyon with about a third of our guests. And we stayed overnight in the inn with everyone else – we took the whole place over for the weekend – and had breakfast with everyone the next morning. Now THAT was a good time. 

No one was happier than I was when the deed was done and there were no more special wedding related events at which my attendance was required and non-negotiable.  The wedding itself we did our own damn way, and almost in spite of my own tendency to avoid that kind of planning mania, it was a memorable success.  

And I did it all without ever cracking open a single BRIDE'S magazine/paperweight.

Beep!