Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014: My Year in Review

If you thought I was dropping the blogging ball last year, you should have waited until this year because you guys, I only wrote like 25 posts this year including this one. Ok, I mean, last year I wrote over 100 posts, so maybe I just need to learn to pace myself a little better.

Now it's New Year’s Eve, and that means it’s time to get drunk. That’s going to be easier for me this year than it has been in subsequent years, because I’m back in Chamonix, where hard liquor flows right out of the taps. Not really, but sometimes I think it might as well.

Again, this hasn’t been a super eventful year, but it’s been more eventful than the previous. Let’s take a look at some of the things I’ve been up to this year, in no particular order.

I Quit Rescuing Cats

Nothing against the cats, but being involved in the cat rescue was becoming more trouble than it was worth. Would you believe that many people who become involved in animal rescue don’t have the best people skills? It’s true. Plus, my duties with the cat rescue continued to expand more and more – well, I say that, but in fact they didn’t because I know how to say “No.” But once I’ve made it clear that “No” is always going to be the answer, don’t keep asking me again and again in hopes you’re going to wear me down and get a “Yes.” Not cool.

Also not effective, unless your goal is to make me all stabby.

I Got Another Cat

Yeah, I know I did this last year, too. But I swear this will be the last new cat, honest.
But I’ll tell you what, this new cat is the nicest cat I have. It doesn’t bite, doesn’t scratch my furniture and doesn’t howl incessantly.

Her name is Penny, and she even knows how to use the computer.

By all rights, I should get rid of the other shitty cats and just keep this one.

I Went to My Tenth College Reunion

The three of you who are still following along at home will know that I went to my tenth college reunion back in June. Yep, I may be getting old, but I’m not getting any more mature, as those of you who read the post will have surmised.  

I Read a Bunch of Books

I was going to keep track of how many books I read this year so I could wow you three by listing them all, but I stopped counting sometime in November. Suffice it to say that my reading list this year included more than 25 classics such as “When You and Your Mother Can’t Be Friends,” by Victoria Secunda, “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single” by Sara Eckel and “How to Be a Woman” by Caitlin Moran. My favorite book I read this year was “Scriber” by Ben S. Dobson and even though I enjoyed it immensely, I hesitate to buy another of his books because he’s wearing a fedora in his Amazon author photo.

I Joined a Writer’s Group and Started Writing a Book for Realsies

I only have about 17,000 words so far, which was not, for the record, enough to impress the last guy I dated, but that’s okay, because when I say “dated” I mean I went out with him four times. He should be proud – that’s a full two to three more dates than most guys get.

The group, Morgantown Writer’s Group, is great, and they really seem like my work-in-progress, which is both a surprise and not a surprise, if that makes sense. 17,000 words may not be a lot (it’s about 30-35 pages), and it isn’t enough to fulfill my 2014 New Year’s Resolution of writing a whole book this year, but it’s 17,000 more words than I had 365 days ago and it fills me with a perhaps misguided confidence in my ability to finish a manuscript for once in my life.

I Spent Christmas in England

I spent Christmas with my friend Sarah, who lives in Brighton. I had a blast, and I will probably return next Christmas if I can afford it and she will let me. Yes, I could spend the holidays bickering with my family as is traditional, but that’s actually optional. I can tell it is because Christmas was almost a week ago and God hasn’t stricken me down yet. Of course, He’s probably just real busy not existing, as Lisa Simpson would say.

And I Returned to France

I’m back in France for an extended visit, and I didn’t tell a lot of people I was coming, so it’s been great seeing everyone’s looks of surprise, delight, and occasionally, horror upon seeing me again. Lots of my Facebook friends are freaking out right now, too, because I didn’t tell them I was going to be spending time in France even though I never actually speak to any of them in real life. If you want me to tell you what I’ve got going on, you might want to pick up the phone once in a while, guys.

So that’s my year in review. Here’s hoping 2015 is even better, for all of us. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #98: What Do Cats See?

As an owner of cats, I spend my fair share of time idly wondering how these little creatures that live in the world see me and my home. What do I look like to my cats? Do they think I’m just a big, dumb cat? Do the words I say when I talk to my cats sound the same to them as their howling and chirping sounds to me? Why does Max sit in the other room and make noises that alarm my guests? Finally, I decided to investigate.

According to Dr. John Bradshaw, author of “Cat Sense,” my cats may not exactly think of me as though I was another cat, but cats do interact with humans exactly the way they interact with other cats. When cats knead, purr, or rub up against your leg, they’re demonstrating the same behavior they used to get affection from their mothers as kittens -- and when you pet the cat, you’re basically responding the same way Mama Cat did when she groomed her little babies. Unlike dogs, for example, domestic cats have not evolved a specific set of behaviors with which to interact with humans, probably because they haven’t been bred for specific purposes like dogs have. This leads scientists like Bradshaw to conclude that cats don’t really see humans as different from themselves, although I don’t know about that because I’ve never seen my cats ask each other for treats.   

Though to be fair, they probably would if they had thumbs.

As for how my cats actually see physically see me, well, they do it with their eyes. Ha.
Live Science reports that cats have a much wider field of peripheral vision – about 200 degrees to our 180s degrees. Cats are also nearsighted, and can only clearly see objects within about 20 feet. That means they can probably see my face, which is something I’ve always wondered.

As you may be aware, cats have great night vision, thanks to their large corneas, elliptical eye shape, but also because of their tapetum, a layer of reflective tissue that directs a larger amount of light to the retina. Cats have between six and eight times more light-sensitive rod cells than humans, which help them to more easily perceive the spirits of the restless dead I mean see in the dark. The tapetum in cat’s eyes may allow them to see different wavelengths of light, so that ghosts stand out more sharply against the nighttime shadows. Cats can also spot motion in the dark far more easily than humans.

Cats can’t see all of the colors that we can, since we have more color-sensitive cone cells in our eyes. Humans, as you’re aware, can see a range of shades of green, red and blue. Cats, however, may only see blues and grays, although the results of a study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggest that cats can see colors on the UV spectrum that humans can’t see.

Human eyes don’t allow a lot of UV light to reach the retina, a fact that scientists credit for our unusually sharp vision. Cats’ eyes, on the other hand, are sensitive to UV light, and can presumably see brilliant patterns and colors on objects like birds’ wings, flower petals, and sheets of paper. This, the study authors speculate, may be why cats love paper and, presumably, cardboard boxes so much. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #97: RIP Frank and Louie

It is with a heavy heart tonight that I must deliver some sad news – Frank and Louie, the world’s oldest two-faced cat, has died at the age of 15. His owner, Martha Stevens of Worcester, MA, euthanized him after learning that he had been stricken with cancer and was probably suffering. At age 12, Frank and Louie was named the world’s oldest surviving Janus cat, as two-faced cats are called, and awarded a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Despite appearances, Frank and Louie was only one cat. He suffered from a condition known as diprosopus, or cranial duplication, characterized by the duplication of facial features. Unlike conjoined twinning, which occurs when two embryos fail to separate completely, diprosopus occurs due to a genetic mutation that results in excessive widening of the face and duplication of facial features. Like other Janus cats, Frank and Louie had two working eyes, a central, non-working, weird-looking eye, two mouths and two noses. Unlike some animals born with diprosopus, Frank and Louie had only one esophagus and trachea, a fact which contributed to his survival. 

In fact, Frank and Louie is the only two-faced cat known to have survived to adulthood; most kittens born with two faces die within a few days. Many of them are unable to suckle. Some probably suffer from brain or other internal abnormalities, since the cranial duplication can also cause duplication of some or all of the brain and other parts of the head and neck. Even those who are able to feed and suffer no internal deformities often suffer the same fate as Ditto, a two-faced pig born in Iowa. Though Ditto survived to adulthood, he contracted aspiration pneumonia after literally inhaling food whilst breathing and eating at the same time through his duplicate snouts.

When Frank and Louie was born, veterinarians told his owner that he wouldn’t live long. But she didn’t give up on the little freak of nature, tube-feeding him for the first three months of his life until he was finally able to eat and drink on his own. Frank and Louie was reportedly friendly, and his owner says she would be happy to have another cat with two faces.

Diprosopus is different from polycephaly, the condition of having more than one head. Humans can be born with two faces, but like kittens, they don’t tend to live long after birth if they are born alive at all. Most die within a few hours of birth. A girl, Lali Singh, was born with diprosopus in India in 2008, but lived for only two months, making her one of the longest-surviving babies with the condition. She possessed two complete faces, and suffered from cleft palate, which made it difficult for her to eat. She was admitted to the hospital – over the protests of her extended family and village leader, who believed she was the incarnation of the Hindu god Durga – to be treated for vomiting and dehydration. Though she initially improved under medical care, she died suddenly of a heart attack on her two-month birthday.

A second baby, or pair of babies, depending on how you look at it, Faith Daisy and Hope Alice Howie, was born in Australia in 2014. Faith and Hope demonstrated not only complete facial duplication, but also complete duplication of the brain, with two brains attached to a single brain stem. The babies even cried and slept at different times, which brings a whole new meaning to “don’t wake the baby.” That’s not a joke – the parents told The Sydney Morning Herald, “Sometimes Faith will cry and wake Hope up, who then looks sideways as if to say, ‘Thanks for that.’” Faith and Hope passed away after just 19 days.

While most children born with diprosopus don’t live long, one little boy in Missouri has defied the odds. Tres Johnson, who was born with a milder form of the condition that left him with two eyes, two noses, and one mouth, just celebrated his 10th birthday. He has suffered from epilepsy from the age of four months, and experiences about 120 seizures per day. He has to be resuscitated four to six times weekly, and has died in his mother’s arms twice. TWICE. Excuse me while I go and add “only have one face” to my Gratitude List.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #96: Why Do We Eat the Things We Eat for Thanksgiving?

If you’re reading this in the United States, Thanksgiving Day is nearly upon you/us. (If you’re reading this in Canada, I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, and if you’re reading this in Europe, yes, we really do eat that much, and no, we don’t do it every day. Honest.) If you’re the red-blooded American I know you are, you’re fixin’ to chow down on turkey, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, stuffing and Waldorf salad.

Wait, was it just my family that served Waldorf salad? See, this is why I don’t go home for Thanksgiving anymore.

But you probably never gave much thought to why we eat the specific things we eat on Thanksgiving. You probably just assumed that we eat the same things the Pilgrims ate at the First Thanksgiving. But while the Pilgrims definitely feasted on some unspecified “wild fowl,” we have no way of knowing that it was turkey. They also didn’t eat potatoes, or pumpkin pie, and probably didn’t eat cranberry sauce – if they did, they would have sweetened it with maple syrup because granulated sugar wasn’t a thing back then. Don’t even get me started on the Waldorf salad.

In fact, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag at the first Thanksgiving feast ate a lot of venison, thanks to the generosity of the Wampanoag chief, who donated five deer to the feast. The “wild fowl” they ate could have been turkey, but since wild turkeys are aggressive, hard to catch and kind of stringy, they probably ate pheasant, goose or duck instead. They also probably ate a lot of fish and seafood, onions, nuts, beans, a cornbread dish known as boiled bread, and squashes of all kinds, including pumpkins, most likely stewed with butter, vinegar, and spices.

So, if the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag ate random birds, venison, fish, and boiled things for the first Thanksgiving, why do we eat turkey and pumpkin pie? Well, obviously because pumpkin pie is much, much better than boiled pumpkin slurry, duh.

There are different theories as to why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving. Some feel that the choice was a practical one – turkeys are perhaps the only birds large enough to satisfy the American appetite, I mean, feed the entire family. Turkeys are also native to the Americas, and were apparently almost our national bird, which would have made Thanksgiving interesting indeed.

Others point out that Scrooge gave the Cratchit family a turkey at the end of A Christmas Carol, a book that was published right around the time that enthusiasm for the creation of a national Thanksgiving holiday was building. I never actually read A Christmas Carol because fuck that, so this was news to me.

Yet another theory holds that the Thanksgiving turkey tradition originates with Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, of whom I have written before. The editor of Lady’s Magazine and Godey’s Lady’s Book, Ms. Hale is credited with single-handedly nagging Thanksgiving into existence by writing letters to Congress, the governors of every state, and five Presidents. In her 1827 novel Northwood: A Tale of New England, Ms. Hale wrote of a roasted turkey as the centerpiece of a fictional Thanksgiving meal. The meal also included “a huge plum pudding, custards, and PIES OF EVERY DESCRIPTION,” Mom.

No mention of Waldorf salad, however.

Image by Nillerdk

Hale took things a step further, detailing the preparation of Thanksgiving turkey in her annual November editorials. It would take the 20th century, and the advent of convenience foods, to bring such dishes as cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie to our modern Thanksgiving tables.

While cranberry sauce was served at Thanksgiving meals as early as 1623 – two years after the first Thanksgiving in 1621 – cranberries grow in New England, and like most berries, they don’t keep well. Thanksgiving was originally a New England tradition, but as it spread across the country thanks to the efforts of Ms. Hale, cranberry sauce did not initially go with it. It wasn’t until 1912 that the inventor of canned cranberry sauce, Marcus Urann, came on the scene and left his mark on both Thanksgiving and the cranberry industry. The innovation made it possible for Americans around the country to enjoy “cranberry sauce” on Thanksgiving Day, and I’m using quotation marks around that because I grew up with homemade cranberry sauce, I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you people.

It almost made up for the Waldorf salad.

By the mid-20th century, the pre-packaged food revolution was under way, bringing such Thanksgiving staples as stuffing (made with stuffing mix), green bean casserole (I don’t know what that is either because I grew up eating string beans that my grandmother grew, stringed while watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and canned herself) and pumpkin pie – made with canned pumpkin puree. Now everyone can have Thanksgiving, even those of us who don’t want to spend half the day doing whatever it is you need to do to a pumpkin to make it fit into a pie shell.

I don't even know what is wrong with you people.

Image by Rick Kimpel 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Charles Manson Is Getting Married, But I’m Still Single

By now you’ve heard the news – 80-year-old convicted mass-murderer Charles Manson has been granted a marriage license to wed his TWENTY-SIX-YEAR-OLD fiancĂ©, Afton Elaine Burton, or, as Manson calls her, Star. Charles Manson has found someone who is willing to marry him, but I – an attractive, educated, well-traveled woman who can cook at least five things – am still left searching halfheartedly for love once in a while.

Oh well, I guess it could be worse – I could be marrying Charles fucking Manson.

The future Mrs. Manson told CNN that she and Manson already consider themselves husband and wife, even though “the paperwork hasn’t gone through yet.” 

The couple hasn’t set a date for the wedding yet. In fact, it seems like Ms. Burton had some trouble getting Charles Manson to commit to marriage – and now I need a minute because that, dear readers, is a phrase I never thought I’d ever type. Wow.

Anyway, as I was saying, Manson was apparently reluctant to marry, having gone on the record in December 2013 to call rumors of his impending wedding to Ms. Burton “a bunch of garbage.” Personally, if someone asked a guy I was planning to marry if we were really getting married and he replied that it was a bunch of garbage, I would stop planning to marry him, but what do I know, I’m not marrying Charles fucking Manson.

Ms. Burton first started corresponding with Charles Manson when she was 17. Later, she moved from her parents’ home in Illinois to Corcoran, CA to be close to Charles Manson’s prison, where she has been visiting him since 2007 and dating him since she was 19. I'm not sure, but I think this might mean that Charles Manson is this girl's first love. What's she going to tell the next guy? You would think being Charles Manson's widow would make you undateable, but somebody married Amy Fisher so I guess it takes all kinds. Burton talks to Manson on the phone “almost every day,” according to CNN, and visits him on the weekends. Because Charles Manson is serving a life sentence, the pair won't be able to enjoy conjugal visits when they get married -- if they go through with it, that is. Personally, I’ve got my money on Charles Manson getting cold feet.

Even though she won’t be able to have conjugal visits with an 80-year-old man (her loss, I’m sure), Ms. Burton wants to marry Charles Manson because she believes he’s innocent and wants to work on his release, and there are “certain things next of kin can do,” like access documents and information about his case that, she believes, would allow her to prove his innocence. When asked by an incredulous CNN reporter if she was in love with Charles Manson, Ms. Burton responded that she was, to which the reporter replied, “People get married for all kinds of reasons.” AHAHAHAHAHA.

Ms. Burton and Charles Manson’s other followers – holy shit you guys, Charles Manson still has followers, plural! – insist that all he wants to do is save the trees, which is noble and all, but when you’ve masterminded the murders of seven people, I think that harms your credibility as an environmentalist a bit. In her downtime from working on proving Charles Manson’s innocence, his fiancĂ© maintains his websites, which I’m not going to link to or visit, because I’m afraid to.

The parents of the bride will not be attending the wedding. They have made it clear to their daughter that Manson won’t be welcome in their home, although somehow I don’t think that will be an issue. Ms. Burton’s father, Phil, told the Daily Mail he and his wife would never disown their daughter, “no matter what she does in her life.” There are still parents tossing their gay kids out onto the street, but this guy can bring himself to stand behind his daughter even though she’s marrying Charles Manson. There’s a lesson to be learned here, folks.

And shockingly, it's NOT "don't hang around with Charles Manson." Although, you know, don't.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #95: World’s Tallest Birds

I came up with this idea because one of my search keywords this week was “list of tall birds,” which means that someone happened upon my blog this week in their search for tall birds. I have no idea why a search engine would bring them here, as I have never blogged about tall birds before, but I am about to rectify that oversight and hopefully, in the process, rake in some of that sweet, sweet tall bird traffic.

You probably already knew that the tallest living bird is the ostrich, a bird native to Africa that can grow as tall as 9.2 ft (2.8 m) and weigh more than 345 lb (156 kg). The ostrich is also the fastest flightless bird, capable of reaching speeds up to 40 mph (70 km/h). It also lays the largest eggs in the world; its eggs can weigh up to 3 lb (1.4 kg), and can be eaten, although I’d imagine you’d need a pretty big frying pan for one of those. Cracking open an ostrich egg is a bit of an ordeal, too, according to this YouTube video in which a lady carefully taps her ostrich egg endlessly with the edge of a knife until she’s finally able to crack a small hole in it and pry off the top.

The ostrich bears the dubious distinction of being the second most likely bird to kill you, and not from high cholesterol. Though ostriches will usually run away if they can, they will attack to defend their young or territory, which they do by kicking at you with their powerful legs and large claws. In the town of Oudtshoorn, South Africa, the “Ostrich Capital of the World,” two to three people each year are seriously injured or killed by ostriches. Domesticated ostriches are just as territorial and violent as wild ones, which may at least in part explain why a single ostrich egg costs between $45 and $90 depending on its size, although that website I linked to does make allusions to a “bargain” egg that you probably don’t want to eat.

In many countries, especially South Africa and the United States, ostrich racing is a popular pastime. Some ostrich jockeys hitch the bird to a special cart, but it’s possible to fit an ostrich with a saddle and ride it, though Wikipedia notes that the birds are “harder to manage than horses.” You see examples of both these riding styles in this Dutch newsreel from September 1933:

If the ostrich is the world’s second-most-deadly huge bird, you may be wondering which enormous bird is the world’s deadliest. That bird is the southern cassowary, a species native to the rainforests of northwestern Australia and New Guinea. This bird can grow to more than 6’3” tall (190 cm) and weigh up to 187 lb (85 kg), so it is bigger than me, though not by much.

Although the cassowary is no more aggressive than the ostrich, it will still attack when it feels threatened – and since their natural habitat is in an UNESCO World Heritage rainforest, tourists often approach them and try to feed them, a gesture that, in general, does not go over well. Though urban legends that describe the southern cassowary as capable of disemboweling a human with one slash of its 4.7 inch (12 cm) claw are untrue, the bird can inflict some nasty injuries and is capable of killing an animal as large as a horse. The northern cassowary, the third largest bird in the world, is very similar to the southern cassowary, except for its accent and slightly smaller size.

I will cut you.

Image by

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fun Friday Facts #94: What Was the Greatest Thing BEFORE Sliced Bread?

It’s Friday again, and you know what that means – it’s time for another Fun Friday Facts! As some of you will be aware, I sometimes ask my readers to suggest a topic for this column. Reader @VikingtotheMax (aka my friend Mark) wanted to know, “What was the greatest thing BEFORE sliced bread?”

If I had to guess, I would have said it was latex condoms, which were invented in the early 1920s, several years before sliced bread, but I would’ve been wrong. The greatest thing before sliced bread was wrapped bread. Yes, I know, it’s rather anticlimactic.

But etymologists (those are the scientists who study the origins of words and phrases, not the ones who study bugs – those are entomologists) believe that the phrase “greatest thing since sliced bread” refers to a back page ad placed in the daily newspaper in Chillicothe, Missouri on 6 July, 1928. The ad touted the Chillicothe Baking Company’s new bread slicing machine, which it purchased from Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, the visionary who invented pre-sliced bread. The ad claimed that the advent of pre-sliced bread (or as we call it now, pre-sliced bread) was the “greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped.” The first recorded use of the idiom occurred in a 1952 interview comedian Red Skelton (if you know who that is, you might be too old for the Internet) gave to the Salisbury Times, a Maryland newspaper, in reference to the newfangled invention of the day, television.

It was only after many setbacks that Rohwedder finally managed to sell his bread-slicing machine to the Chillicothe Baking Company in 1928. He first invented the automated bread slicer in 1912, but bakers of the era rejected the device, claiming that customers would want to be doing their own bread-slicing, please and thank you. Clearly, Rohwedder was ahead of his time.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Rohwedder lost not only the blueprints but also the prototype for his bread slicing machine in a fire in 1917. No quitter, Rohwedder was willing to jump right back on the sliced bread horse, but couldn’t convince investors to fund the revival of the project. It wasn’t until ten long years later, in 1927, that Rohwedder was finally able to produce another working model of his bread-slicing machine, but by this time, the world was ready.

This may be the very bread-slicing machine in question.

Sliced bread quickly became popular, as customers loved the convenient, uniform slices. It would take another innovator, baker Alexander Taggart, to distribute sliced bread on a nationwide scale. Taggart was a baker from the Isle of Man. His father had been a baker before him, and his father was a baker before him. Taggart immigrated to the United States after the Civil War, starting his first bakery in 1869. He teamed up with another baker, Burton Parrott, to open Parrott-Taggart Baking Company. They would go on to found the United States Baking Company, which would later merge with the National Biscuit Company, to form Nabisco. Though Taggart and Parrott continued to sell their baked goods under their own name, it would be this affiliation with Nabisco that would help them make history.

On 24 May 1921, Parrot-Taggart Baking Company introduced Taggart’s Wonder Bread, today known simply as Wonder Bread. In 1930, thanks to Mr. Rohwedder and his stubborn refusal to give up on his dream of eating pre-sliced bread in spite of long odds and much criticism, Wonder Bread became the first loaf of sliced bread to be distributed nationally.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Fun Friday Facts Are Back! FFF #93: Halloween Edition the Third

It’s Halloween again, woot woot, my favorite holiday after Saint Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Day, and Bastille Day, when baguettes fall right out of the walls. I bet you thought I’d stopped doing Fun Friday Facts, and well, you’re not wrong. But I’m going to start again because a cursory glance at my traffic data reveals that’s all anyone’s reading around here.

In previous Halloween posts, I’ve discussed haunted places; the origins of Halloween, trick-or-treating and jack o’lanterns; and candy. These days, we still practice many relatively ancient Halloween traditions in one form or another, but there are also some traditions that have fallen out of favor.

In the past, when getting married was a much more important part of a young woman’s life, several Halloween rituals centered around trying to help a young lady land a man. In Ireland in the 1700s, a young woman might hope to find a ring in her mashed potatoes at dinner on Halloween night, which would bring true love or at least a binding contract within the next year. (The tradition continues in Ireland to this day, but the ring, along with other small charms, is baked into a cake called a barmbrack.) Young women in Scotland would name hazelnuts after each of their boyfriends, then throw the nuts into the fire; the nut that burned straight to ashes instead of exploding either did or did not represent the man she would marry, according to which (presumably haggard, old and warty) fortune-teller she was talking to that night.

Other superstitions say that eating a bedtime sweet made of hazelnuts, walnuts and nutmeg on Halloween night will cause a young lady to dream of her future husband. Peel an apple in one long strip and throw the peeling over your shoulder; the peel will fall in the shape of your husband-to-be’s initials (no, no it won’t, not really). When you’re planning your kid’s Halloween party, you may want to skip the bobbing for apples – the first person to successfully bob (?) an apple will be the first to get married that year. Another technique involved standing in front of a mirror with a candle in a darkened room; allegedly, the future husband’s face would appear in the mirror, floating behind the single lady’s shoulder. Sounds like a great plan, if you want to marry a murder-ghost from another dimension.

Now that you mention it, I think my grandmother told me to do this.

Fortune-telling was popular at Halloween parties in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One game involved using milk as invisible ink – hosts wrote fortunes in milk on slips of paper, than inserted them into walnut shells. Later, party guests would warm the walnut shells, causing the milk to burn and totally mystical writing to appear on the slips of paper. This is your chance to convince your friends they’re ALL GOING TO DIE, or get married, depending on your personal idea of a fate worse than death.

As some of you may know, many Christians are freaked all the way out by Halloween, because tiny witches and zombies are pretty scary. Many Protestants celebrate Halloween as Reformation Day, because it’s the day that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. I always pictured him doing that furtively under cover of darkness, but I guess not, because he timed it to coincide with one of biggest holy days of the year. The children of these families dress up as characters from the Bible or as Reformers, which I don’t even know what that costume might look like.

Like this?

Many Christians don’t celebrate Halloween at all. Some “celebrate,” if you can call it that, by sending their children to Hell Houses, which are like haunted houses except they give you a glimpse of the eternal torment waiting for you in the afterlife. Others take the opportunity to proselytize by handing out religious tracts to kids who come trick-or-treating.

And you thought the guy handing out sugar-free candy was bad.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Double Fistful of Nope

So a few days ago one of my Twitter peeps tweeted this article about a Harvard professor exploring the Amazon who came face-to-mandibles with a Goliath birdeater, the world’s biggest spider, and like a fool, I clicked on it.


According to the article, the professor, Piotr Naskrecki, was taking a nighttime stroll through the jungles of Guyana, as you do, when he heard strange rustlings in the undergrowth that sounded like “a possum or a rat.” He turned on his flashlight – wait, what? He was wondering around in the jungle at night and waited until he heard strange rustlings in the undergrowth to turn on his flashlight? This is why I never got a PhD, you guys.

Anyhoo, the good doctor turned his flashlight on the beast, and in his own words, “I couldn’t quite understand what I was seeing.”

If you read that article I linked to above, you’ll already know that it describes the spider in question as “puppy-size.” It further informs us that this particular species of giant spider can weigh more than six ounces (170 grams), with a leg span of up to 12 inches (30 cm) and “a body the size of ‘a large fist.’” As if Ebola, climate change, serial killers, antibiotic resistance, the GOP, school shootings, and all the rest weren’t bad enough, I now have to live with the knowledge that there exists in the world “puppy-size” spiders. I mean, okay, Pomeranian puppies, but still. And my doctor wants to know why I can’t sleep at night.

Of course, Dr. Naskrecki doesn’t see it that way. Instead of shrieking like Ned Flanders and fleeing into the night, he says he “lung[ed] at the animal, excited about seeing one of these wonderful, almost mythical creatures in person.”

On his own blog, Dr. Naskrecki explains that the Goliath birdeater – which, naturally, does not eat birds – is capable of growing so large because of its low metabolic rate. The Goliath birdeater also has claws, which is why it makes so much noise while stalking its prey, earthworms, across the forest floor. The terrified spider attempted to defend itself against the intrepid explorer by emitting a warning hiss and releasing “a cloud of urticating hair” that irritated Dr. Naskrecki’s eyes for several days. It also tried to bite him, apparently, with its “enormous fangs, capable of puncturing a mouse’s skull,” which is the exact thing that I, personally, would be worried about.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Calm the F&*k Down About Ebola Already

I thought I wasn’t going to get a chance to blog about Ebola, because I was super busy a couple of weeks ago when that first Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan (may he rest in peace) showed up in Dallas and everyone started flipping all of their shit at once. And I said to myself, “This is why I’m never going to succeed as a blogger, because whenever something happens, I’m always too busy to drop everything and go for the SEO.”

But not this time, because everyone’s still freaking out about Ebola. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read more than enough statuses, tweets, threads, and comment sections to make me finally relinquish the last shreds of my hope that someday humankind will evolve beyond foam-drooling idiocy. There are  plenty of things two-thirds of Americans really ought to be freaking out about right now, including but not limited to climate change, the still-broken healthcare system, Congress, prescription drug abuse, heroin addiction, getting shot tomorrow, getting shot today, and I could go on, but you get the picture. Whenever I hear or see someone ranting about how Ebola is going to destroy this country, I mentally replace the word “Ebola” with the words “immigrants from the Third World” and it all suddenly makes a lot more sense.

The hysteria has gotten so bad that even Fox News, a media outlet not know for its calm, balanced, and rational perspectives, has had to come out and provide a calm, balanced, and rational perspective. When Fox News is telling you to calm the fuck down about something, that’s when you know you need a lie-down.

Let’s take a minute to go over a few basic facts about this situation:

This is not the movie Outbreak with Dustin Hoffman. Just because the fictional Ebola-like virus in Outbreak became airborne and killed Kevin Spacey does not mean that the real Ebola virus in the real world will become airborne and kill Kevin Spacey, or you for that matter. Movies are not real. In fact, the whole reason the writers of Outbreak had to make the fictional Ebola-like virus airborne is because if they hadn’t, it would have been a very short film indeed.

But hand sanitizer sales would have spiked after its release.

Image credit: User Dailybragger from Wikimedia Commons

You’re not going to get Ebola from riding on the same bus, plane, or train as someone who has the virus, and probably not even in the same taxi. For the umpteenth time, you can’t get Ebola unless the person is showing symptoms, and even then you have to have direct contact with the blood, sweat, saliva, urine, feces, vomit, breast milk, semen, vaginal fluids, or other bodily fluids of the person showing symptoms. The Ebola virus can survive in body fluids for about two hours outside the human body, so you’re not likely to catch it from sitting in the same chair or seat as someone who has been symptomatic. I mean, if the sick person who sat in that chair before you was literally dying and you didn’t clean the chair before sitting in it, you know, you might. But they won’t be and just calm the fuck down.

You’re not going to catch Ebola from riding one of the commercial airplanes that carried the second Texas healthcare worker from Dallas to Cleveland and back. The planes have been sterilized. I’m sorry you live every day of your life in crippling fear, but I’m not going to sit here and nod enthusiastically while you rant about how this is reason 4,957 why you’ll NEVER GET ON A PLANE EVER EVER.

No, “all of Ohio” has not been “exposed to Ebola now.” Amber Vinson was not running around the state licking people. Calm the fuck down.

Also, before you share a link on Facebook claiming that SEVEN EBOLA PATIENTS have been diagnosed in YOUR MAJOR CITY, do actually read the article and check out the site to make sure it’s not a work of poorly-judged satire. You are the reason we can’t have nice things.

You’re not going to catch Ebola from casual contact with everyday objects, including riding the bus or using a public restroom. Even if you came into contact with contaminated body fluids, the virus would have to get into your body through an orifice or a cut – it’s not absorbed through the skin. You’re American, you have Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer on your person at all times, and you’ve never sat on a public toilet seat in your life. Don’t even try to pretend otherwise.

You’re not going to catch Ebola from using exercise equipment at the gym. A person who is showing Ebola symptoms is not going to be in the gym. They’re going to be in the hospital – because, unlike most of West Africa, the U.S. has lots and lots of hospitals. I think you’re having a First World problem wrapping your head around just how sick a virus can make you.

Ebola is not a conspiracy by the Obama administration to make America more like President Obama’s native Africa. Even if Obama were secretly born in Africa, which he wasn’t, most immigrants come to this country precisely because it is different from their native countries. Shocking, I know. For the record, Kenya is not one of the countries affected by the outbreak and is currently on the opposite side of the continent. Look at a fucking map.

And while we're on the subject, Africa is not a country.

The CDC is not misinformed about how Ebola spreads and they are not lying to the public because reasons. Why would they do that? So you can die already and stop bothering them? The government wants you alive so it can keep collecting your taxes, dumbass. You don’t know more about contagious diseases than the CDC. I know you think you do, but you don’t. You think you can cure cancer with coconut oil and that it’s a good idea to just go ahead and let your kid get polio, but what you haven’t realized is that when you buy into all these conspiracy theories, you’re doing just what the tin foil companies want you to do. The good folks at the CDC did not get their credentials from a 12-year-old who’s really good at Photoshop. Calm the fuck down.

Unless you have been contacted by a medical professional and told that you, personally, may have been exposed to Ebola, then you are really, really not going to die of Ebola. You are going to die eventually, of course, but not of this. You’ll probably die of heart disease. You know what contributes to heart disease? Stress. Hint, hint.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So It Turns Out I Have a Black Thumb

Remember last year when I wrote a couple of enthusiastic blog posts about the vegetable garden I planted? And do you also remember how I just sort of never mentioned it again? Yeah, there was a reason for that. It turns out that either I can’t grow vegetables or I live on accursed soil. I would say that this is a Sign from the Universe that I’m not supposed to be here, if I were the sort of half-educated hippie who believes that the Universe is a sentient being both capable of and willing to communicate with me personally. I mean, honestly, if the Universe were going to tell me things, I think It would send me a postcard or something.

So all the things I planted last year promptly died or were eaten by rabbits. Well, that’s not entirely true, I got like five peas and two tomatoes. These tomatoes were the size of golf balls. It’s no wonder all those Jamestown settlers died.

When I lived with the ex, Toad Blowhard, we had a bunch of houseplants and I was really good at taking care of them and they thrived. I thought I had a bit of a green thumb. So I was shocked and appalled when all of my plants died. I guess maybe it was really Toad who had the green thumb and I was just the one who watered the plants and kept the cat out of them.

NO SMALL FEAT, I might add.

No, I don’t know what happened. One day all the stuff looked great, the next it was all shriveled up and brown and dead and shit. I didn’t take any pictures, because I don’t want to remember.

If I have one quality that I’m entirely too proud of in spite of the fact that it’s driving me right to my doom, it’s my inability to accept failure. I mean, my tenacity. So, this year, I bought a gas-powered tiller and planted vegetables again.

I managed to get about half a dozen small tomatoes before my tomato plants inexplicably shriveled up and died in a near-repeat of last year’s performance. I say near-repeat because the plants actually grew to a more-or-less normal size before they died for no reason, so that was encouraging. I would have gotten up to three normal-sized tomatoes off of them, but I forgot a dose of deer repellant so the deer ate them instead. I also managed to grow two whole servings of green beans and several small, misshapen and immature bell peppers that were supposed to be purple but had to be harvested while still green, on account of their weight caused the plants to fall over. Rabbits got the lettuce and cantaloupes. The carrots never sprouted. The cucumbers put up a hell of a fight, but ultimately produced nothing.

I also grew a sunflower:

But two days after I took that picture, the sunflower fell over and died.

Will I plant a vegetable garden again next year? You bet your ass I will. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Waste Not, Because I Will Flip the F*&k Out About It

If there’s one thing that bothers the crap out of me – and I’m sure we all know by now that there's more than one thing that bothers the crap out of me – it’s people being wasteful. I particularly hate it when people waste food. This, btw, is why I’m getting fat.

It’s not the starving children in China I’m worried about. China is actually experiencing a pretty alarming childhood obesity problem, second in severity only to our own. Hilariously, the People’s Liberation Army is now too fat to fit into its own tanks, according to the Wall Street Journal.

My mother never guilt-tripped me about the starving children in Africa, because I’d read Calvin & Hobbes and I would have offered to send them my leftovers in the mail. Instead, if I didn’t want to finish my food – which happened a lot, because my mother’s idea of cooking was opening two cans and lighting a cigarette – my mother would go along with it, but then the next time I got hungry she’d say, “I want you to go to your room and think about all that food you wasted the last time I fed you.” Then she’d refuse to feed me until she was satisfied that I’d thought hard enough about the terrible, terrible sin of wasting food.

It didn’t make her a better cook, but it gave me a complex. Now I can’t stand wasting food. I’ve been known to eat until I make myself sick rather than leave any food on my plate in a restaurant, and I will eat the same leftovers every day for a week and then freeze them so I can eat them for another week at a later date, if that’s what it takes not to waste them. I’ve recently started feeding my kitchen waste to the marmot that lives in the woods on my property, in a sort of compromise with my own neuroses. I’ve spoken with the marmot’s doctor and we’ve agreed that he could stand to put on some weight.

This is not the marmot, this is his sexy cousin.
Image by user Clayoquot on Wikipedia.

All of this is relevant because I like to have parties, and the people who come to these parties like to bring unreasonable amounts of food and booze. On one memorable occasion I asked people over to build a fire in the fire pit and make smores and ended up with six fucking bags of marshmallows. SIX. I fed a bunch of them to Fatty because he loves them and also he plays with them for like half an hour first, which I figure burns off enough calories to balance things out. That’s not animal abuse, right?

Other food items that have been brought over and left in my house include a gallon freaking tub of ice cream from Aldi’s, and more recently – last weekend, for my birthday party – one and a half cheesecakes, two-thirds of a tres leche cake, and two giant-sized bottles of wine plus one normal-sized bottle of wine. In my weaker moments, I wonder if my friends are trying to get me to eat myself to death.

Now you might say, “Why not just save the bottles of wine, irrationally irate blogger?” And I would, Gentle Reader, if not for the fact that my friends opened BOTH giant bottles of wine and drank a glass from each of them. For the past four days, I’ve been staring at these mostly-full bottles of wine in my kitchen and thinking to myself, “Why would you do that? Why not just open the one giant bottle of wine? Why let both of them go to waste?”


Naturally I’m not going to drink two giant bottles of wine by myself – I’m not an alcoholic, and I don’t even like wine – so they have gone off. I just tasted one to make sure. Luckily, it turns out you can freeze cheesecake, but I can’t personally eat two-thirds of a tres leche cake, because I’m already getting fat from all the other things I forced myself to eat. But I’m still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I’m just going to have to THROW OUT two-thirds of a cake and two liters of wine. THERE ARE SOBER CHILDREN IN AFRICA, FOR FUCK’S SAKE.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wacky People I’ve Met: Tide Bottle Pee Man

I’ve traveled a lot – to 40 states and a dozen countries, to be exact – and in all that traveling, I’ve met lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Some of those people are nut jobs. I’m always telling my boring friends who stay at home stories about the nutty, nutty people I’ve met in my many travels. Then it occurred to me, when I was driving home from yoga class, that I should really be telling these stories to all of you! They’re probably wasted on my boring friends who no doubt see them as proof that they should never, ever go anywhere, ever. So for the first installment in my ongoing blog series, Wacky People I’ve Met, I’m going to tell you guys about the Tide Bottle Pee Man.

I met the Tide Bottle Pee Man in California in 2004. Can you guess where I met the Tide Bottle Pee Man? I’m sure none of you will be surprised to learn that it was Venice Beach.

To be honest, Tide Bottle Pee Man wasn’t the strangest person at Venice Beach, and he wasn’t even the strangest person I’ve ever met. I know lots of people even now who are probably crazier than Tide Bottle Pee Man. But Tide Bottle Pee Man sticks out in my memory because he peed in a Tide bottle.

Some background: I was traveling with my hippie boyfriend, the Redheaded Guitar Player (not to be confused with the Redheaded Banjo Player, a different hippie boyfriend who may or may not appear later on in the series), and when we met the Tide Bottle Pee Man, he was living out of a van on Venice Beach. I mean, he was basically doing the same thing we were doing, but with a much nicer van. The Redheaded Guitar Player’s van was a 1972 Dodge Something-or-Other held together with bubblegum, dreadlocks and duct tape. The Tide Bottle Pee Man’s van was a much newer model, and while it wasn’t as big or as well-appointed as the Redheaded Guitar Player’s, it had one thing the Redheaded Guitar Player’s van did not – a Tide bottle full of pee.

The Tide Bottle Pee Man was a totally normal-looking dude. His hair was a little long, but he cut it that way on purpose. He was clean shaven and wore normal clothes. If you’d met him in a bar or coffee shop or something you’d have never guessed that he lived in a van and peed in a Tide bottle. The only way we know was on account of him standing next to said van, pointing out said Tide bottle, and saying, “I live in this van and pee in this Tide bottle.”

“Why?” asked the Redheaded Guitar Player, who was just as baffled as I was.

“Well, because I see it, and I think, clean, you know?”

The Redheaded Guitar Player and I looked at each other. Neither one of us wanted to ask why he didn’t just pee outside, although we totally had that exact conversation the minute we were out of Tide Bottle Pee Man’s earshot. For the record, neither of us had any good ideas about why Tide Bottle Pee Man peed in a Tide bottle.

I guess he was concerned about his privacy, but I’m a woman, and I’d bare my snow-white ass and pee outside before keeping a bottle of urine in my van. It’s even easier for men to pee outside. I know this because they never shut up about it.

Tide Bottle Pee Man was lonely, too. “Yeah, you know, I just wanted to get this van, and enjoy this lifestyle, you know, man,” he said. “I had a girlfriend, but she didn’t want to live in the van with me. I don’t know why.”

“Women, man,” said the Redheaded Guitar Player, in solidarity. I didn’t say anything, but the Tide Bottle Pee Man looked wistfully out to sea like he really didn’t know why his ex-girlfriend didn’t want to live in a tiny van with a guy who pees in a Tide bottle. I just can't stop picturing her trying to wash their clothes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Seeking a Professional Writer Who Is Also a Wizard

* The following is a PARODY of a Craigslist Writing Gigs job ad. THIS IS NOT A REAL JOB AD, DO NOT TRY TO APPLY TO IT. (You know who you are.) *

Hi there! We’re seeking an experienced, qualified, research-driven professional writer/blogger/editor who is an expert on a wide range of topics including shopping, fashion, travel, dentistry, underwater basket weaving and more. Ideally we’re looking for a writer/blogger/editor who is an expert in at least seventeen fields. If you have a Master’s degree or higher in one or more fields in addition to at least a BA in English, communications, journalism or a related field, that would be perfect.

Of course we realize that not everyone can be an expert in every field, so if you want to narrow your focus down to five or six fields, let us know.

We’re specifically looking for a writer who can develop 10 to 12 pages of original content per week in specific niches, while putting together a content development team of about 30 to 40 people and working with them to develop, edit, place and promote shareable blog content for our client base of several dozen businesses in a wide range of industries. You should also be able to source open-copyright images from the Web or, ideally, be a photographer.

Our perfect candidate also has experience in video development and production, although this is not required provided you are able to kidnap a film student (graduate level only) and hold them captive in our basement while compelling them to produce our YouTube videos for us. You will need to supply your own set of chef’s knives for this.

In addition you should also be adept in Javascript, C++ and HTML. If you’ve picked up any other programming languages along the way please let us know. We’re going to need you to do some light web design and app development from time to time, but nothing major. Please have experience building infographics and charts.

We need someone who can spearhead our social media marketing efforts, so we’re looking for a real social influencer who has really made a splash on social media. Please send links to all of your social media profiles for the past ten years, as well as your login information.

If you have any experience with witchcraft or magic that would be a big plus, but only if you can provide references who will verify that your spells and talismans actually work. Also, some of us here at the office are really getting into the local food movement, so if you could establish and singlehandedly nurture a rooftop garden capable of feeding all 20 of us and our families, that would awesome. Please give us an overview of your farming experience in your cover letter.

If you think you’d be a good fit for this position, please send a cover letter and resume along with:

  • Your areas of expertise
  • Links to your blogs, websites and published articles
  • A comprehensive portfolio showcasing your writing abilities
  • Links to your favorite websites and blogs
  • Any memories you may have of your first day of school
  • Your firstborn son, or if you’re childless or only have daughters, one of your feet

If you have any questions about the position, please don’t hesitate to ask. The chosen candidate will receive a competitive salary of $300 to $400 a month.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I Have a New Tenant

So, remember a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that not cutting your grass attracts snakes? I wasn’t joking. About a month ago, after not cutting my grass for like a month because my lawnmower broke down and I had to take it into Sears for repairs (Long story short: the Sears guy had to remove a large rock from inside the mower. No, I don’t understand it either.), I string-trimmed a snake. Don’t worry, I didn’t kill it. I think I stunned it though, because it just sat there and looked at me like – well, like I’d just walked up and shoved the business end of a string trimmer in its face, because that is exactly what I had done.

I stood there and stared at it like an idiot because that’s what I do when I see a snake. It stared back, because that’s what snakes do when they see a human.

I told you that so I could tell you this: about a week ago, despite having mowed my lawn at some point within the previous month, probably closer to the beginning than to the end of that month, I found a big damn snake in my garage. I mean, this snake was at least three or four feet long, although when I tell people about it, it was naturally forty feet long. I could tell it wasn’t venomous because of the shape of its head and because I have seen rat snakes before.

I spotted it slithering around in the corner of my garage when I was getting out of my car. My first reaction was, of course, to get out my phone and snap several pictures of the snake to post to Facebook. Not a lot goes on around here, you see. When you ask me what I’ve been up to lately and I just get real quiet instead of responding, it’s because I don’t want to say, “Well, the other day I saw a big damn snake in my garage,” but it’s either that, or nothing.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a really good photo of the snake because several of my possessions were in the way, damn them, and I didn’t want to scare it by moving the wheelbarrow and everything.

It's the thing with the head.

Then I got worried that maybe I shouldn’t leave the snake in my garage, like maybe it would crawl up into my car somehow and surprise me while I’m driving, so I texted my friend to find out what I should do with the snake. He advised me to pick it up with a snow shovel and remove it from the garage. But by the time I could get out my show shovel, I couldn’t really get at the snake anymore, because it had crawled back into its hole and was doing this:

I know this photo is kinda fuzzy, but I didn't want to get too close to the big damn snake.

When the snake saw me coming with the snow shovel, it bared its fangs at me. I texted my friend, “It just yawned at me is that a threat” to which he replied, “It mocks you.”


So in the end I just stood there and stared at the snake for several minutes, and it stared at me back. Then I realized I was in a Mexican standoff with a snake, so I put my snow shovel away and went back in the house. I haven’t seen the snake since. But I know it's out there, somewhere, mocking me.