Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Fantasy and Science Fiction

I came across this neat LINK  on Facebook (thanks, Deana!) and thought it worth sharing

It's NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey as nominated by listeners  And what's fun is that you can take the survey and see how many of the hundred you've read. It's a real mix of classic and contemporary. -- FRANKENSTEIN to 1984 to THE LORD OF THE RINGS to HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE to GAME OF THRONES -- and all sorts of other goodies in between.

I was once -- back in junior high and high school -- a serious sci-fi fan. Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Norton . . . and many, many more. I had a subscription to the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction and made little dabs at writing fantasy/sci-fi short stories.  And I watched the night sky, waiting for a space ship to materialize and take me to some faraway planet.

By college, I'd quit waiting for the spaceship and had fallen into the fantasy worlds of T.H. White, C. S. Lewis, Mary Stewart's Arthurian books, and J. R. R. Tolkien. I still read some sci-fi -- mainly Heinlein -- but my subscription to F&SF lapsed.

For the past forty years, I've paid little attention to Sci-Fi  -- Dune broke a long spell of no Sci-Fi reading --and, with a few notable exceptions, haven't paid much attention to fantasy either. My older son read lots of Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin but they never appealed to me -- only Douglas Adams and, more recently, Neil Gaiman have really captured my loyalty.

So I was surprised to find that I'd read exactly fifty of the 100 books listed -- and found myself thinking of others that I would have added . And finding old friends I'd forgotten as well as enticing titles luring me back into the Fantasy and Sci-Fi fold.

What about you? Even if you don't consider yourself a reader of these genres, you might be surprised to find some familiar titles on this list.
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Monday, July 29, 2013

More Hummingbirds and a Video


Here's a link to a video of the action at the feeder. I think that there are 10 or 12 hummers -- mostly females and juveniles. John and I were sitting in the rocking chairs enjoying the show.
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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Consider the Bean . . .

I had plenty of time to consider the bean as I sat on the porch, snapping off the little winged stem ends . . .

These purple beans are green inside -- and will turn green as they cook.

We had some for dinner -- sauteed in olive oil with red peppers, purple onion, garlic, and thyme (and what a difference thyme makes to a humble bean!) -- but the rest were destined for the freezer.

It's been a routine for the past thirty eight years -- blanch for 3 minutes . . .

Plunge into cold water to cool before bagging . . .

But there's a new element to the routine! I've always stuck the beans into plastic freezer bags -- sealed with a twist tie or a zipper lock. But John sent off for this device that . . .

 (drum roll)  . . .

Vacuum  seals!!!

I am the world's most skeptical about new kitchen devices  -- partly because of the lack of counter space in our kitchen and partly because of . . . I don't know, maybe just natural orneriness. But I have to admit that this gizmo works like a charm.

By excluding all the air, supposedly the freezer life of various foods is doubled or tripled. The picture below shows the ice that has formed on pepper rings put up last year. That shouldn't happen with the vacuum seal.

The literature that accompanied the device shows special jars and boxes and an attachment to vacuum seal them. One can, it says, seal all sorts of non-food stuff to protect it from oxidation, corrosion, and moisture -- silverware, matches, clothing, batteries . . .

And my imagination takes off -- picturing a thrifty homemaker, vacuum sealing her way through the house till everything is securely encased in airtight plastic, to preserve it . . .

She looks around . . . and notices that her beloved husband is really showing signs of aging . . .

I wonder, she muses, and reaches for the roll of plastic.   
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Friday, July 26, 2013


I love learning new stuff. And, of course, personal experience is the best teacher. But I'd rather have learned this new word at second or third hand.

You may (or may not) remember my post about the severe rash I had after pruning the abundant rue in my herb garden last Friday. I thought it was like poison ivy rash -- it itched and made little blisters -- but it didn't respond to the hydrocortisone cream in the way that poison ivy does and, along about Tuesday, with my hands looking like something out of a horror movie, I made an appointment with our local clinic. 

My appointment was for the afternoon so I decided to ask Mr. Google about rue allergy in order to tell the doctor what I thought was going on. And by the time I'd checked out various sites, I realized that this pestilence was just going to have to run its course (5 to 7 days or longer) -- there is no magic bullet. So I cancelled my appointment and went to the store and bought four different over the counter creams and sprays (Gold Bond ointment is my favorite.)

 But I digress. What I wanted to tell you was about this cool new word with which I am now intimately familiar --  Phytophotdermatitis.  Phyto (plant) photo (light)  derma (skin)  -itis (inflammation.)  Or something like that.

What it means is that there are a number of plants -- rue being one -- that secrete oils which, if rubbed on one's skin and then exposed to sunlight,  will cause skin irritation, far more akin to severe sunburn than to poison ivy rash. The rash may take on a darker or lighter appearance which may take weeks or months to fade.

One could presumably roll naked in the rue by moonlight and suffer no ill effects -- as long as one bathed well before the sun rise. I know I've read in old herbals and folk medicine books about plants that should be harvested by moonlight or in the dark of the moon. Now I think I know why. 

In my reading  I also learned of a case in which a parent was suspected of child abuse because of a lingering handprint on their child. Turned out the parent had been handling one of the plants that causes this reaction and then had laid their hand on the child's skin. And then the child had gone out in the sun...

Oh, I see lots of potential for working this little known plant/sunlight reaction into a story!

It's not just rue either. Plants causing this reaction include meadow grass, carrots, wild carrots (Queen Anne's Lace,) parsnip, celery, limes, lemons, fig leaves, mustard, and chrysanthemums...

As for me, the itching has subsided somewhat and my hands are beginning to peel. A lesson learned...
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