Category Archives: Science

Storming the Bastille

I have had problems with insomnia since I was a child.  My current sleep pattern is to fall asleep easily, then wake up at about 3:00 am and not get to back to sleep until just before my alarm goes off at 6:30.

I know all the “sleep hygiene” and cognitive tricks for good sleep, but they often don’t work for me. I was gratified to read a recent New Yorker article on insomnia which described insomniacs’ cortisol levels  as so high as to look as though they are getting ready to storm the Bastille.

I know that anxiety and worry trigger the sympathetic nervous system to pump out high levels of chemicals which hinder sleep.  My anxiety and worry are all work related,  and I am hopeful that they will reduce over the next couple of weeks.  Until then, I think I will see if memorizing the lyrics to the Marseilles and repeating them over and over when I wake up at 3:00 will lull me to sleep once more.

How do you deal with insomnia? What puts you to sleep? What keeps you awake?

Are You Batty?

I’ll bet you didn’t realize that October is National Bat Appreciation Month, or that October 24-31 is Bat Week . I learned this when I clicked on Tuesday’s photo 

 where I learned that bats:

– help us by devouring tons of insects and forest pests

– and by pollinating some of our favorite fruits

– are one of the largest and longest living species on earth

– the smallest bat – called appropriately enough Bumblebee Bat – has a body about 1 inch long

– white-nosed syndrome has decimated some bat populations since being identified in 2006

When I checked in my Mammals in Minnesota Field Guide (by Stan Tekiela), I found that Minnesota hosts both the Big and Little Brown Bats, the Northern Myotis, and the Red, Silver-Haired, and Hoary Bats.

– these live 15-20 years – females often gather in “maternity colonies” of between 30 and 75 bats, depending on species

– some species live in holes in trees or even under bark, and either migrate or hibernate in winter

– others make their summer homes in attics, church steeples, barns and other buildings; spend winters in caves and mines

– most Minnesota bats are between 1-1/2” and 4”, with wingspans between 8” and 16”

Bats are our friends. One way to help them is to build or buy a bat box, giving them a safe place to roost:

Got any bat stories? What actor played your favorite Batman, or your favorite Count Dracula?

Death in a Jar of Salsa

I gave one of the nurses at my office a about 40 lbs. of tomatoes this year, since she wanted to make salsa. We had an abundance and I was glad to get rid of them. She said she got other tomatoes, too, and canned 60 jars of salsa. She gave me a jar earlier this week, and it was all I could do to smile and thank her when she handed it to me.  Once I got up to my floor, I flushed it down the toilet.

Perhaps I am overly cautious, but I would never can and process anything in a used Hormel ham hock jar using the original cap.  She hadn’t even removed the ham hock label.  I know that salsa has lots of acid in it from the vinegar, and that her salsa will probably be fine, but, still, this person is a nurse and there are some basic rules of hygienic food preservation that you just never violate. There was a story in the Fargo Forum a few years back about some well meaning woman in the eastern part of the state who invited people for Sunday dinner, fed them home canned peas, and killed half of the guests with botulism.  Those stories  stick with a person who does any home canning.

Tell about some gifts you would have rather not received.  Got any canning or food preservation disasters or horror stories? Am I being alarmist?

Fly Away

I don’t fly as much as I used to, so it’s interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t at the Minneapolis Airport every time I travel.

Construction. I moved here in 1980 and I believe that some portion of the airport and/or the parking structures have been under construction every single minute.  Currently it’s the entrance to the parking shuttle area (and probably more, but that’s what I saw).

Check-in. If you’ve flown in the last few years you’ve experienced the little kiosks that guide you “gently” through the check-in process on your own.  Now you even get to put on your own bag tags.  A little embarrassing how long it took me to figure this out after watching ticket agents do this for 40 years.  And you get to put your own suitcase on the conveyor belt, unless you run into an agent who is chatty and willing to do it for you.

Security. This has changed and not for the better.  Long long lines (which I don’t understand – the only people going through security are ticketed passengers.  Certainly the airlines know how many bodies they are expecting on any given morning, afternoon or evening?  Why isn’t the security area ever properly staffed up?)   By the time they finally diverted some of us to the other security area, which had been closed earlier, the line went the entire length of the airport.

More Security. No more plastic bins to put your stuff in.  And no more taking your laptop, tablet, kindle, etc. out of your bag. But you still have to take off your shoes if you wear Birkenstocks that always make the security scanner go off.

Shopping & Eating/Drinking. OMG!  Considering that the only things I ever buy in an airport are bottles of water and the occasional refrigerator magnet, it is mind-blowing how many shops (and expensive shops at that) and restaurant/bars there are in the airport.  With the possible exception of rolls of toilet paper, I think you can get just about anything at the airport these days.

Connectedness (if this a word).  Well, there are a lot more places to plug in and get online at the airport, especially in the international gate areas, but considering that every single person that I can see from where I am sitting is online somehow, it’s still not enough.

The changes seem to happening faster and faster so I suppose in a couple of years, this blog will be completely obsolete.

What changes would you like in future airports?

Moon Tourist

It made big news yesterday that Elon Musk has chosen tech billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, as the first moon tourist for his company, SpaceX. Maezawa is 42 and made his fortune in e-commerce, music and online fashion. He will be taking 10 other artists with him on the journey that should take 4-5 days. The SpaceX rocket won’t actually land on the moon, it’s called a slingshot trip around the Moon and is currently on track for 2023.

Maezawa seems very excited about his adventure but I say “to each his own”. Letting tons of rocket fuel go up in flame under my keester just doesn’t seem like a good idea. And, of course, I couldn’t go that far from my library!

Shot up into space
In a really small tin can?
Leave it to others.

Would you like to visit another planet (or moon)? Extra points for haiku or rhyming!

If It Ain’t Broke…..

I’m not sure how long ago Park `n Ride was instituted by the State Fair, but YA and I have been utilizing it for years. No driving around trying to find a close spot, attempting to parallel park on a busy residential street, having to remember where you parked and best of all, no trekking for what always seems like an interminable amount of time back to the car after all day at the fair.  Our favorite Park `n Ride lot is the Wilder Foundation at Lexington; we’ve parked there for years.  Everything always runs smoothly.

On Wednesday (my 3rd trip to the fair this year), imagine our surprise when things didn’t run smoothly.  First, even though the lot was almost completely empty when we arrived at 7:30 a.m., there was a line up and the staff were flagging some folks away.  Turns out that they were making everyone back into the parking spots, so it was taking three to four times longer to park.  A few of us balked at this requirement and we were allowed to just pull into a parking spot.

Then they tried to manage the line of folks waiting for the bus. Normally we just line up along the west fence, the bus pulls up and we get on. Instead of this, they split the line in two and made the back half come up and stand parallel to the folks in the front half of the line.  Then they tried to get the line to go along the north side of the fence.  This was accompanied by a lot of “make a single file straight line” exhortations.  This all went nowhere fast and was accompanied by a lot of “what are they thinking” comments from the crowd.

The initial consensus of those of us waiting was that they were thinking it would be easier/faster for people to pull straight out of the parking spaces when they got back to the lot. No one really thought this was needed but we couldn’t think of any other reason for being told to back in.  As for the line management, we thought maybe they wanted to park cars along the west end, since a couple of spots on the lot were really muddy.  But they never did park anybody there while we waited and nobody was parked there when we came back at the end of the day.

The cynical among us figured that one of the staff had probably been to “parking lot management” training the day before and was showing off their new knowledge.  I’m going back tomorrow and am curious to see how it goes.

Have you ever tried to fix something that ain’t broke? Or been subjected to someone trying to fix something that ain’t broke?


The 9 course meal we ate on Saturday night  was completely sourced from a 100 mile radius of the restaurant.  Given its location just east of Seattle, it was no surprise that salmon,  geoduck, mussels, and oysters were on the menu. We also ate local lamb and pork. All the veggies like turnips, carrots, greens, cabbage, potatoes, beets, and cucumber came from the restaurant farm, as did all the herbs and flowers used in the dishes.  (Day lilies, Marigolds, and Bachelor Buttons are surprisingly tasty.)  There were lovely local mushrooms. All the wines had been commissioned from local vintners by the restaurant owners last year for the meal.  Cooking fat was either butter, grape seed oil, or hazelnut oil. They grow quinoa locally, and we had that, too.

The restaurant owners went to the extreme, though, to make sure that everything we ate was from within 100 miles.  That meant that they churned their own butter from milk from local cows, and planted a couple of acres of rye and wheat to mill their own flour for the bread. They collected clean local sea water to make their own salt. We had no pepper, but there were so many farm herbs in the food that we didn’t miss it at all. Lemon verbena provided all the citrus we needed. The biggest dilemma was what to use for locally sourced leavening for the hazelnut cakes we had for dessert.

They started out last year collecting mule deer antlers from within a 100 mile radius of the farm  and grinding them to a powder. Horn is apparently a good leavening agent and made some pretty good cakes. It takes a lot of laborious, time consuming grinding, though, and they found an even better leavening agent  in wood ash from the fire place. Who knew?

Plan a meal completely sourced from a 100 mile radius of your house. What would you serve?