Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In Which I Diet--Sort Of

A year and a half ago, I was appalled at a certain number that showed up on the scale at the doctor's office. I vowed to lose 10 lbs, bought The South Beach Diet book, and proceeded to reach my ultimate secret goal of 14 lbs. lost in a month. I told myself that I had a threshold weight I wouldn't allow myself to go over.

All this time that has not been a problem. It wasn't a problem until I learned to bake bread this Christmas, that is. I realized last month that I had gained 3 lbs. over my maximum weight at Christmas, so I tried to lose it. Just one pound budged. Walking an extra mile at work with Lady Scientist J from the lab next door hasn't helped one bit. Maybe I was adding muscle and that's why the needle on the scale wasn't budging, thought I.

Sunday I measured my waist. That three pounds equals an entire inch! And I can feel that uncomfortable extra weight around my waist, constraining me as I move. So back on the diet I went (although not as rigorously as before, since I just want to lose the three pounds). No more bread, and what sweets I have are slowly getting eaten up (e.g., I gave some to the grapefruit pickers when they were over the other day--more on that tomorrow), not thrown away. After all, I ate sweets that whole year between the original 2 inches lost and now, so I think too much bread is my problem, not necessarily the sweets.

So, here is my first SBD meal, and I'm quite proud of it since normally I'm very bad at fish: the Mediterranean Cod Skillet from the SBD Supercharged book. Zucchini, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cod--who could ask for anything more? It does involve a small cheat, since I had some potato dumplings I didn't want to throw out (and potatoes are a big no-no on SBD). But delicious!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

In Which We Try to Pose for a Photo

Note that my pups' mouths are not moving. That barking you hear is our next door neighbor canine, Buddha the Pug. He must have been upset that we were having fun and he wasn't.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In Which We Say Goodbye to Secretary Udall

Stewart Udall, former Interior Secretary, died over the weekend. I live in a state where the Udall family worked and lived and left their mark in so many ways. I live in a country with immeasurably more natural beauty, wild landscapes, and preserved historic structures and places because of Secretary Udall's commitment to preserve and protect and expand our nation's beautiful and inspiring and irreplaceable natural and cultural resources. Rest in peace, Mr. Secretary, your job was well done, and we so much richer for it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

In Which Spring is Sprung

Here in the Nest, we know that tomorrow is officially the first day of spring, but spring arrived here in the desert on Tuesday. Seasonal changes are subtle in the desert. Spring and autumn are fleeting, so new arrivals to our harsh desert often miss the subtle signs of seasonal segues. Spring's arrival is marked by a softness to the air. When Pupgirl and I left home in those last pre-dawn moments Tuesday morning, that time when the sun is still below the horizon, the clouds are not yet tinged with color, and all is gray, we could feel it--Spring. The temperature was still in the low to mid-40s degrees Farenheit, but the winter chill was gone and the air felt soft. We both walked with a spring in our step.

It won't last long, this spring. The days will gradually warm to the 70s, even 80 degrees Farenheit, while nights will still chill to the 40s, then the 50s, and then the 60s, and the temperature swings over the course of the day will even out for a short time. That's when the doors and windows are thrown open, and left that way all day and all night, despite the pollen rain.

Then, before we know it, and long before we are ready for it, the temperatures will be in the 90s, pushing 100, and then over 100, and will settle in for summer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Which You Can Watch Hummingbirds

Watch this beautiful little mama hummingbird sitting on two eggs in her own little mossy nest. Thanks to Pgletsmom on Ravelry for posting the link there.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In Which We Volkssport

I dragged Lady Scientist T off to Patagonia (about 40 miles south of here, near the Mexican border) with me this morning for a 5K Volkssport. The 10K was through a "beautiful, high, grassy plain with great views of the valley," as the Volkssport Walking Klub email described it, and I sorely wanted to walk there, but I had a thousand and one things to do at home and couldn't spare the extra hour or so that a 10K would have needed. The weather was perfect--about 65 degrees Farenheit when we started, sunny, blue skies, just absolutely perfect. I was so glad to be out of town and walking through beautiful country side. Patagonia is a cute little town, part Old West, part artist colony. We stopped for an early lunch in Sonoita (where, alas, my favorite local restaurant, Grasslands, is no more; the sweet old couple that owned it have retired. What a pastry case--to die for!) at Crossroads Cafe, a small but pleasant restaurant. Brief menu, but the meals we ordered were tasty, the waitress friendly, and the view out the window stupendous. It was a slightly different angle to the photo below.

And no, if you followed the link above, I am not the only Volkssport member under 70. There are quite a few ex-military families around here that belong, so that there are thirty-somethings and young kids out on our walks. I used to take the dogs, but they are sadly too old and arthritic to undertake even a 5K, especially in warm weather, and I think even today would have been too warm for them. The organizers used to make a big fuss when I would show up with the fluffies; very happy memories down that lane.

Oh, and here's part of the lane through the Nature Conservancy property that was part of the walk:

And we saw some deer tracks on the path.

And after working in the garden for two straight hours this afternoon pulling dandelions and mustard, I decided my sore back and I deserved a cup of tea and a piece of cake. My hummingbird, who is usually not at all shy, has been avoiding coming to sip some sugar water because he must know somehow I've been trying to get his photograph. This photo is completely dreadful, but it was taken through the security mesh door, so the light is dreadful and the focus almost as bad. He's stretching his neck up to see what I was doing. He's a ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilocus colubris) and I will keep trying to get a better photo of him for you

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In Which I Do Not Sneeze

I know, an unusual title for a post, but I have been thinking about spring for several weeks now, and thoughts of spring, invariably, ultimately, lead to cringing anticipation of hay fever. Like millions of people, I suffer from spring (and now out here in the desert, fall, too) allergies. Unlike millions of people, I was crazy enough, no, intrigued enough by the scientific underpinnings of this, or no, maybe just plain tired enough of sneezing, to let my acupuncturist try an experiment on me.

Last summer, she began work on her thesis investigating whether a common practice in Chinese medicine and used extensively in China but less so here in the US, applying mustard-based plasters mixed with Chinese herbs to particular points on the back, would work on plant allergies. She'd done a preliminary test the summer before on some friends (this is the benefit of having an acupuncturist who has a Ph.D. in physiology and for years did traditional science), and decided to expand her sample to 12 people last summer. I was invited to join.

I did. The plasters were quarter-sized and left on for increasingly shorter lengths of time because they caused excruciating itching and, often, large boils to erupt. TMI, Gentle Reader? My apologies. But please don't abandon reading, because the result is...

I am not sneezing. My allergies, which generally start during the last week of February, have not made an appearance. Three weeks into allergy season here in the desert, one of my coworkers is in agony with his allergies, and I may wake up with an ever-so-slight stuffiness that goes away. The spots where the plasters were have occasionally started to itch and redden over the intervening months, and were doing so again last week, and I'm wondering if they are somehow indicating a reaction to the allergen that is not strong enough to elicit the usual sneezing 5,000 times in a row/itching eyes/watery eyes, etc. of a normal allergy attack.

I am shocked. Really. I only started telling people about my non-sneezing allergy season this week because I was afraid saying anything out loud might jinx me and I'd immediately start having to tote around a box of tissues. Clare had said last summer that generally the treatment required two or more years of therapy to succeed, but I'd reacted so strongly she wasn't going to apply the plasters to me again. I am taking some Chinese herbs she gave me for symptom relief, and had, for several weeks in late January and early February, taken another set of Chinese herbs for allergy prevention.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this to anyone, but the Nerdy Scientist in me is intrigued by what the mustard plasters and Chinese herbs did, how it did it, and why it should cause the result it did. The desert dweller in me is just delighted for a reprieve (however temporary, and hopefully it is not) from sneezing.

Olivia Judson's weekly opinion piece in the New York Times today is about wind pollination and flowering plants, a timely piece for hay fever sufferers. One of the comments left on the page called her a "bio-poet;" how true! She makes evolutionary science very readable, and as I've said before, I highly recommend her opinion essays.

The same issue of the New York Times has two obituaries we want to mentionin the Missy Nest: the first, of world-renowned herpetologist, John Thorbjarnarson, a crocodile expert. His work, and the effects of it, will live on. His life is also a reminder that children who are fascinated by something in nature, and encouraged to learn more about it, really can figure out a way to grow up to study what fascinated them and produce lasting environmental and scientific change. So no being squeamish when some enraptured child wants to show you a tadpole or a bug.

The second is that of Dr. Edgar Wayburn, physician and environmentalist, whose work with the Sierra Club was responsible for saving millions of wild acres, and all the plant and animal life therein. His life was devoted to healing us physically as well as emotionally, by saving wild spaces for us to refresh our bodies and souls.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Which I Introduce Fred

Meet Fred.

Yes, I bought myself a Kindle! I totally splurged with my tax refund (the rest of which is going to fix a leaky roof) and bought something for me. I love to read. I'll read anything, anywhere--cereal boxes, toothpaste tubes, even advertisements on buses or buildings. I am a huge supporter of, and believer in, and user of, the public library system (thank you, Mr. Carnegie). But our public library here in the Metropolis is a lending library, not an archival library. If you like to read older books, like me, you're out of luck.

Last Memorial Day I began experimenting with audio books, listening to a Librivox recording of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell as I tore the carpet up in my living room.  I don't have any kind of MP3 player, so I listened on my laptop, which meant every time I moved from one room to another, I had to move the laptop with me. So last summer, I started looking into MP3 players, and decided that the Nano Classic, which has more memory, would be better for audio books and therefore better for me.

Then I read Anna Karenina for my book group, and realized that I am too old to hold a book as thick as this in my hands whilst trying to read in bed. 

So I started looking at the Kindle. Yes, it plays MP3 files, and is part of the Amazon world. And I realized that the ability to carry 1500 books with me, or listen to them, was irresistible. I resisted since last October or November, when I started looking into ebook readers. But I gave in to temptation last Friday, and it arrived Tuesday, and I love it. I love it! I love being able to make the font of what I'm reading bigger with just the press of a button and the swish of a toggle. I can read in bed again! And without the book pressed up to my nose if I'm not wearing my spectacles.

Mother of Mossy is very intrigued by the ability in increase font size. When she is snowbirding out here in the Nest, we get her large print books from the library, but their selection is eclectic at best. and the used bookstore doesn't like to buy back the large print books we buy from them. Which makes no sense in a Metropolis half populated by retired folks, but that's their decision. So, having the ability to read any book, ANY book, in large print is very appealing to her. Maybe Santa will bring her one this year.

It looks like I will go back to buying new books now, at least of my favorite authors, instead of used copies from the used bookstore. I haven't bought new books since I left the hallowed halls of the Printed Word Bookstore. They just didn't fit in the Mossy Budget. But digital books are cheaper, so the publishing world has me back as a consumer of new books. Well, they will, as soon as I get throught the hundreds of OOP books now stored on Fred. As Fred will not be taken out into the field whilst I do science, the library hasn't lost me as a patron, either.

Oh, why Fred? That was the nickname of my favorite author, E. F. Benson. I inaugurated the Kindle with reading his Miss Mapp for the 437th time. The binding on my copy is completely ripped, and the book is in twelve sections of pages, which fall apart even more every time I read it, which is once a year. Now I need never fear losing a page again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

In Which I Am Thrilled by Dolley

Last night I watched PBS' American Experience, one of my favorite history-themed television shows (the Nerdy Scientist loves history as much as science). This new show profiled Dolley Madison, wife of one of our early presidents, James Madison, and the woman who has been credited by presidential historians with defining the unofficial office of the First Lady. It was fantastic! I heartily recommend it. The graphics were a little unusual, but the actress portraying Mrs. Madison did a fine job. I liked the graphics showing what Washington D.C. would have looked like at that time. But here's what enthralled us in the Nest.

There are existing photographs of an elderly Dolley Madison. Well, daguerrotypes, probably, but real images nonetheless taken shortly before she died in the late 1840s. When one of her standing next to President Polk was shown, it stirred a memory in me that I had seen that image somewhere and didn't remember where. Then they showed several formal seated portraits of her and I gasped. We were looking at the face of a woman who knew George Washington, whose husband was Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, whose husband wrote the Bill of Rights. And that was really her face! Not a painted portrait, but a photograph. A photograph!

Yes, I was stunned. I love history, and seeing the face of history was amazing to me.

P.S. Olivia Judson's science opinion piece today in the New York Times is about grasses--as usual, her topic is as interesting as it is well written. Don't think an essay about grasses can be fascintating? Give her column a try.