Sting

August 18, 2022

Melissa and I were working in our respective home office areas this afternoon when I heard her unclearly becoming angry and loud.  I knew she had been on Zoom calls all day and wondered if she had finally snapped (admit it, we have all been there).  After the commotion died down, she came back to my office to tell me what happened.  She had been on a call when a hornet had flown into her ear.  She instinctively swatted it away and it landed on the front of her shoulder.  The hornet returned the favor by stinging her before she knocked it to the ground.  Melissa was unsure what happened to the hornet, but the sting was still hurting.  All we had to treat the sting site was the calamine lotion I had bought when I got into poison ivy.  Even though I doubted this would do any good, she sprayed it on and went back to work.

When I looked online, I found most people have only minor symptoms from a wasp sting.  The initial result can include sharp pain or burning, redness, swelling, and itching at the sting site.  The sting may cause a raised welt with a tiny white mark where the stinger pierced the skin.  The pain and swelling usually recedes within several hours.  “Large local reactions” is a term used to describe more pronounced symptoms associated with a wasp or bee sting.  People who have large local reactions may be allergic to the stings, but do not experience the life-threatening symptoms or anaphylactic shock.  Reactions include extreme redness and swelling that increases for two or three days, nausea, and vomiting.  These reactions subside on their own over the course of a week.  The most severe allergic reactions to a wasp sting are referred to as anaphylaxis.  Anaphylaxis occurs when your body goes into shock in response to the wasp venom.  Most people who go into shock after a sting do so quickly, and it is important for the victim to seek immediate emergency care.  The final words of advice were, “Try to avoid being stung to prevent these uncomfortable symptoms.”  Hmm, otherwise I would not have known.

When Melissa talked about the sting, she said it was done by a hornet.  I have seen several brown paper wasps (Ropalidia revolutionalis) on the back porch and wondered if that was not what had caused the damage.  Wasps and hornets both belong to the Vespidae family (along with bees). There are over 100,000 known species of wasps, and hornets are one subspecies of wasps.  Hornets essentially are large wasps, with some species reaching up to 2 inches (5.5cm) in length.  True hornets are distinguished from other wasps by the wider heads and larger and more rounded abdomens. All hornets have two sets of wings.  They also have a different life cycle.  Wasps can vary greatly in appearance among species, with some even being wingless, but their common appearance is that of a long slender body, two sets of wings, a stinger, drooping legs in flight, and an extremely thin waist between the thorax and abdomen.  In all wasps, a stinger is present on females, as it derives from a female sex organ.  Certain species of wasps (including yellow jackets and hornets) are considered the most aggressive stinging insects.

THOUGHTS:  While bees have barbed stingers and die after stinging, wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.  The strength of the venom varies among species, but a hornet sting is generally more painful to humans than other wasp species, due to a large amount of acetylcholine.  The sting is rarely fatal to humans (except in allergic reactions), but swarms of hornets can be deadly.  I vividly remember walking into an open restroom when I worked at a lake in Kansas and immediately being attacked by a swarm of wasps.  They managed to sting me 5-6 times before I realized what was happening.  I quickly got out, but understood my job was to remove the wasps before they could sting anyone else.  This was one of those essential jobs you wished belonged to someone else.  During the pandemic people with essential jobs were put more at risk than others.  These jobs range from medical personnel to food production staff.  When we take precautions, it is not about self-preservation, but about reducing the risk for everyone.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Gust

August 17, 2022

It started raining early this morning and continued through about 9:00 am.  When I looked at my weather app it noted the rains would cease around 9, and then resume around 1:00 pm.  That gave us a great window to get in our walk in between the storms and while the temperatures were still relatively low (70’sF/20’sC).  I had not expected or heard any wind last night, but I rarely hear anything when I am sleeping.  About the only thing that wakes me up is when Zena licks my hand or feet wanting to be let outside.  When we got to the corner of our cul-de-sac, there was a large tree limb about 1 foot (30 cm) across that had blown down during the night.  The debris indicated it had landed in the street, but when we arrived it had already been pulled into the yard and out of the way.  It appeared the storm brought at least one strong gust of wind.

When I looked online, I found the National Weather Service definition for a wind gust is “a sudden, brief increase in speed of the wind.”  Gusts are reported when the peak wind speed reaches at least 18 mph (16 knots) and the variation in wind speed between the peaks and the lulls is at least 10 mph (9 knots).  The duration of a gust is usually less than 20 seconds.  According to the Beaufort Wind Scale, at 19 to 24 mph (16.5 to 21 knots) smaller trees will begin to sway.  At 25 to 31 mph (21.5 knots to 27 knots) large branches will be in motion, whistling will be heard in overhead wires, and umbrellas may become tough to use.  At 32 to 38 mph (28 to 33 knots) whole trees will be in motion and you will experience some difficulty walking into the wind.  At 39 to 46 mph (34 to 40 knots) branches and limbs can be broken from trees and cars or high profile vehicles can possibly veer on the road.  At 47 to 54 mph (41 to 47 knots) light structural damage will occur.  At 55 to 63 mph (48 to 54.5 knots) entire trees can be uprooted and considerable structural damage can occur.  When the gust exceeds 64 mph (55.5 knots) you can expect widespread structural damage.  That suggests our gust was around 45 mph (39 Knots).

Two years ago, I had written about the gust of wind that had taken down a tree in the back of our lot.  This gust had come from the northeast and had torn a large oak tree up by its root ball.  That suggests the gust was around 50 mph (44 knots).  Luckily, the tree had fallen away from the shed that Melissa had built at the back of our property to serve as a workshop for her dad.  The storm that came in last night was from the northwest, so I assume the gust that snapped the branch was from the same direction.  That suggests the branch had fallen against the storm and into the street.  There are usually several vehicles parked in the drive and along the street where the debris indicated the branch had come down.  They were all gone this morning.  Hopefully, they were not damaged.

THOUGHTS:  When I worked for the camp in Kansas, we had a storm that brought down several trees on the acreage.  While most of the trees fell away from the buildings, one large gust had dropped an old cottonwood onto the side of the main hotel.  We had the insurance adjuster assess the damage (it did not cover deductible) and then cut the tree away from the building.  While I had help with the initial task of cutting the tree back, after that first day I was on my own.  That was when I realized one of my “other duties as assigned” was removing dead trees from the property.  Most jobs have hidden tasks that need to be completed.  There seem to be two approaches toward these extra duties.  We can say it is not in my job description, or we can do what needs to be done.  We are rarely able to move forward until someone completes the unwanted task faced, regardless of whether it was their job.  That is also true with the social ills faced by our country and world.  We are all the “someone” who needs to step up with a gust of fresh air.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Shocked

August 16, 2022

Despite my intention to end my intermittent fasting, I still tend to get up late, then get involved with other projects, and end up not eating until after noon.  Fasting worked well as a diet routine when I first started but now it is just a routine that has little effect.  When I work on Tuesdays I drive in early and by the time I am through it is always after lunch.  I usually drive back to Fort Smith (halfway home) to shop at the market, fill up my gas tank, and then go home.  At times I will eat in town and other times I will wait until I get home, and regardless it is usually after 4:00 pm.  Today I got off early and stopped at an Asian market hoping to find wide rice noodles (for Pad See-Ew) and seaweed wraps (for sushi).  After making my purchases I was getting hungry and decided to get a medium fry and drink from a fast-food drive-thru.  I ordered the medium fry and was shocked to find it was nearly US$4 for what last week had been less than US$3 for the large.  Somehow the blog I had written last Saturday on russets had not registered.

I knew it was more expensive to eat out than cook at home, but when I looked online, I found there are other advantages as well.  Cooking at home is not only cheaper than meal kits or eating out, but it is also easier to maintain your health since you know what is in your food.  A meal like vegetable Pad Thai (or Pad See-Ew?) can be made at home for less than US$2 while a restaurant could charge 7 times more.  At home you spend less and can alter the ingredients in the meal to your taste.  According to the USDA 2020 food plans, a couple on a low-cost plan should spend around US$120 weekly on groceries, or US$60 per person.  If you eat out that may only account for 2-3 meals.  Although these numbers do not reflect special dietary restrictions, organic foods, or eating out, used wisely at home that US$120 could go a long way (hopefully until the end of the week!).  Melissa and I were shocked the last two Sunday’s when we ate out (with appetizers, entrees, tea, and tip), as each of those meals ran around US$60.  That meant each meal had already spent half of our weekly food budget.

After filling my tank today at the neighborhood market, I decided to check inside and see if there was anything I needed vegetable wise for my potential stir fry and sushi meals.  Nothing really looked good, but I did notice there were several 8# bags of Jumbo Russets lying on the shelf.  I did not see a price but knew there were only around US$5 when I bought them two weeks ago, so I grabbed one.  I meandered through the store and picked up several small items before working my way to the new self-checkout aisles that had been installed during the latest reorganization (there seems to always enough money for changes).  When I scanned my bag of potatoes, I was shocked to see it was nearly US$12 for the 8# bag.  While our local gas prices have dropped nearly US$1 over the last month, the rising price of potatoes seems to have to offset our gain.  That was when the shortage of russets did set in.   

THOUGHTS:  I was shocked at the beginning of the pandemic when items like toilet paper, bread, and milk flew off the shelves.  I have been periodically shocked when specific items like baby food, diapers, and eggs have disappeared for weeks at a time.  Many have begun to treat the local market as I do the big box stores.  If something is there you may need, buy it because it may not be there when you come back.  This only exasperates the problem as items unexpectedly fly off the shelf and panic buying may occur.  Like the russets, most items will return, although we may be shocked by the price increase.  Since I had ordered the fries, I went ahead and ate them, although I may not buy them for a while.  Melissa’s response to the russets was that we need to dole them out for special occasions.  Once more, we can afford to make these choices while many do not have that luxury.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Uncovered

August 15, 2022

Credit: Newsflash

Yesterday I received a post in my email concerning the dropping water levels in major rivers across Europe as the region suffers under an historic drought.  According to German media outlet Deutsche Welle (DW), the extended heat, lack of rainfall, and prolonged drought across Europe have caused major rivers to dry up.  The Rhine River is one of the busiest waterways in the world as it flows from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, and water levels are extremely low.  The low-water levels have snarled supply chains and created more problems for an already-struggling economy in Europe.  Container ships have had to reduce their load by at least 30% to pass through the obstructions the low-water levels have created in the Rhine.  As the water level has dropped, centuries-old warning messages known as hunger stones have been uncovered in the dry riverbeds. 

When I looked online, I found a hunger stone (German: Hungersteine) is a hydrological landmark used across central Europe.  Hunger stones serve as famine memorials and warnings and were erected in Germany and in ethnic German settlements throughout Europe in the 15th through 19th centuries.  The stones were embedded in the river during droughts to mark the water level as a warning to the future generations that they will have to endure famine-related hardships if the water sinks to this level again.  One famous example in the Elbe River in the Czech Republic, has “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine” (lit. “If you see me, weep”) carved into it as a warning.  Many of the stones featuring carvings or other artwork were erected following the hunger crisis of 1816–1817, which was caused by the eruptions of the Tambora volcano.  In 1918, a hunger stone on the bed of the Elbe River, near Tetschen, became exposed during a period of low water coincident to the wartime famines of World War I.  Similar hunger stones in the Elbe were uncovered during a drought in 2018. 

Europe’s current drought is historic.  Scientists at the European Drought Observatory said the current drought is on track to be the worst in 500 years.  According to the drought observatory, 47% of Europe is in drought warning conditions, meaning the soil has a moisture deficit.  Another 17% is on alert, meaning the vegetation in the area is being affected by the dry conditions.  Major rivers in Italy (Po), Germany (Rhine), and England (Thames) are all drying out.  Water levels in the Rhine River are about half of their usual depth for this time of the year, with some sections having even lower water levels, DW reported.  The outlet reported that rivers are “too dry, too low, and too warm,” which has consequences on wildlife, the economy, and people.  In Italy, the prime minister said that the country is experiencing, “the most serious water crisis of the last 70 years.”  In addition to the hunger stones, dropping water levels have uncovered bombs and watercraft, hazards left over from World War II.

THOUGHTS:  Europe is not the only draught that has uncovered oddities.  The drought in the western US has caused water levels in Lake Meade to plunge 150 feet since 2000, to their lowest since 1937 and the construction of the nearby Hoover Dam.  Everything from World War II-era ships and bombs to four sets of modern skeletons have been recovered, including one stuffed in a barrel and at least one other the result of homicide.  When I worked with the State Archeologist in Utah, we had the opposite result as the waters of the Great Salt Lake rose during a period of high precipitation/snow fall.  The high water levels lapped along the shore and exposed dozens of Indigenous burials that had been placed beside the lake by peoples living hundreds of years ago.  These were all carefully excavated and ceremonially reburied with the direction of representatives of local tribes.  The rise and fall of rivers and lakes are always linked with inundation and exposure of past cultures which used the waters as a life source.  This can tell us about our past and give us a warning for the future.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Russets

August 13, 2022

One of Melissa’s go to meals is a baked potato.  While size does not matter for most potato uses (mashed, potato salad, hash browns), since the potato is the meal when you bake one, we like to get the jumbo Russets as baking potatoes.  We were almost out of potatoes, so I put them on my list for the market.  When I entered the produce section, I could not find any of the large russets.  They did have several varieties of smaller types of potatoes.  There were red, golden, and 5 pound bags of small russets, but none of the jumbo russets.  Instead, there was an empty bin where the potatoes had been.  There were other items I had found last week that were no longer on the shelves either.  No problem.  I had seen bags of large russets earlier in the week at our town market.  I made my other purchases and then stopped in our local market on the way home.  Here again, all I found was empty bins where the russets used to be.

When I looked online, I found the potato (Solanum tuberosum) is a starchy root vegetable in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) native to the Americas.  Wild potato species range from the southern US to southern Chile.  The potato was originally believed to have been independently domesticated by the Indigenous peoples of the Americas in multiple locations, but genetic studies traced a single origin in southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia to around 7,000-10,000 BP from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex.  Potatoes were introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century by the Spanish and have become a staple food in many parts of the world and an integral part of much of the world’s food supply.  As of 2014, potatoes were the world’s fourth-largest food crop after corn, wheat, and rice.  There are now over 5,000 different varieties of potatoes and over 99% of today’s cultivars are descended from those originated in the lowlands of south-central Chile.  To improve disease resistance of Irish potatoes, Luther Burbank selected the potato that became known as Russet Burbank.  It was not patented as plants propagated from tubers were not granted patents in the US.  A russet potato is large, with dark brown skin and few eyes.  Russets are also known as Idaho potatoes in the US.

Throughout the pandemic consumers have been battling intermittent shortages of various food products and potatoes appear to be the latest item to join the list of food products that are in short supply.  China is the world’s largest producer of potatoes followed by India.  These are also the world’s most populous countries and are invariably among the top producers of most food products.  The US is the fifth-largest producer with Idaho and Washington accounting for over half the potato production.  Potato demand during the lockdowns was strong as people loaded up on snacks and most potatoes end up as processed foods like chips in the US.  As demand soared and supply fell, potatoes faced a supply chain problem like many other food products.  This was exacerbated in November 2021 as Canada stopped the potato exports to the US amid concerns about potato wart fungus.  Potato production in parts of Europe was also impacted negatively in 2021 due to floods.  The global potato shortage has gotten worse in 2022 and the Russia-Ukraine war has only added to the food shortage situation.  In the US the potato shortage is largely of the Russet variety, the baking potatoes used by restaurants and the popular base for French fries.

THOUGHTS:  The russet Burbank is more expensive to produce than other potatoes, as it consumes more water, takes longer to mature, and requires large amounts of pesticides.  Global fast food chains have been hardest hit as quality control regulations require using russets rather than local potatoes.  In nations like Japan and Kenya they have been forced to offer alternative sides to replace the absent French fries.  As dire as going without fries may sound, a real food shortage means there are no potatoes, onions, cabbages, flour, bread, canned goods, meat, or dairy products to be had at any store.  That is what many nations (and individual families) face daily.  Adequate food should not be considered a privilege.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Happy

August 12, 2022

Just under four years ago I wrote about the two times you always mark as happy in your life: the day you buy your boat and the day you sell it.  This was my third attempt at boat ownership.  The boat was an old (1994) 17.5’ fish and ski.  Even though it had not been on the water for two years (why they were selling it) the motor ran, and it had an operable trolling motor and fish finder.  I had taken the boat out once the first year, prepped it for winter, and then got it out for two disastrous trips the following year.  On the second outing the engine died, and I drifted completely across the lake unable to get it started.  I then struggled for an hour trying to get the trolling motor going so I could get back to the dock.  That was the last time I took it out, and although I tried to get a man to work on it, he could never find time (read, he did not want to).  Several days ago, I was approached by a man who noticed the boat sat unmoved in my back yard and asked if I wanted to sell the boat.  I finally gave up and sold it for what I originally paid.  He hauled it off yesterday, making both Melissa and me happy.

I briefly wrote about the second boat I owned when we bought this boat in September of 2018.  This was an old ski boat that my brother used to have when he had a cabin on a small lake in Kansas and I had used the boat to fish several times when I visited.  After he sold his cabin, he put the boat in storage for several years.  When I moved back to Kansas, he gave me the boat.  Like my last boat, I was never able to get it running and back out on the water.  The boat sat in the driveway outside my bedroom window for three years as I tried to work on it.  One night the boat became the hiding place for the man involved in a police dragnet and I finally thought it was more trouble than it was worth and sold it for scrap to a local dealer.  Again, happy to get it, and happy to let it go.

My first boat was a motorless John boat (flat bottomed) I bought when I was in Jr. High.  I had visions of taking it out on the local lakes and ponds and catching massive bass.  I did not have a trailer and it was too big to put on top the car.  The only way I had to transport the boat was our family’s pop-up camper.  This ended up being a major undertaking and I did not take it out very often.  I do remember two trips.  The first was when I took it out on a windy day and the waves carried me to the other side of the lake.  I started rowing when it was time to go home, and the wind kept me from making any progress.  It took nearly an hour to get to the other shore, but it seemed much longer.  The second was when I took several friends and rafted down a river for a High School science project.  The trip was amazing, and we saw sights and wildlife I never knew still existed.  We were exhausted after a day on the water and pulled the boat up on the sand before we went back to get the trailer.  When we returned, someone had stollen the boat.  I had been happy to get the boat, and while I was not happy it was stollen, I was happy I longer had to deal with it.

THOUGHTS:  While owning a boat can make you happy it seems they are best owned by someone with mechanical expertise, or the money and willingness to pay someone who has.  I will probably get another smaller boat at some time as the allure of catching the big one is still in the back of my mind.  It is our dreams that keep us going, whether they are fishing the lily pads for a lunker or achieving your life-long goal.  We just need to decide what those goals are and how much we are willing to change to achieve them.  This is what can make you happy.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Polyphemus

August 11, 2022

I have mentioned my routine for getting around in the mornings.  I sleep in while Melissa logs on for work but am usually awake an hour or so later.  Rather than getting up I open my phone and play my “mind” apps.  This begins with a crossword on Wordscapes.  Next, I play Let Me Out, where you move various sized vehicles around to allow the target car to escape.  I always end with a Mahjong puzzle.  Like my newspaper crossword, I tell myself this is keeping my mind active.  By this time Zena is usually waiting patiently just outside the bedroom door for me to see her.  I usually have a cup of coffee (or iced tea!) and may read the morning paper.  I have added a new activity since Zena’s arrival, and we go for a walk.  If I take too long getting ready Zena becomes anxious and begins to pace.  Then I put on her harness, grab the treats, and we are off.  On this morning’s walk we came across a polyphemus moth fluttering in the gutter.

When I looked online, I found the polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) is a North American member of the family of giant silk moths (Saturniidae).  The polyphemus is a tan-colored moth, with an average wingspan of 6 inches (15 cm).  The species was first described by Pieter Cramer in 1776.  The moth is the most widely distributed species of large silk moths, and ranges throughout North America from subarctic Canada and into Mexico.  The moth exhibits sexual dimorphism with males having plumose (bushy) antennae to detect unmated partners and females with a larger abdomen (carry eggs).  There is a surprising color variation within the species, but all are a shade of brown.  The most notable feature is the large, purple eyespots on the hindwings, which give it its name, referring to the Greek myth of the cyclops Polyphemus.

Polyphemus is the giant one-eyed son of Poseidon and Thoosa in Greek mythology described in the ninth book of Homer’s Odyssey.  Polyphemus first appears as a savage man-eating giant who captures Odysseus and his men.  Two are eaten every morning and night until Odysseus finally escapes by blinding Polyphemus with a fire-hardened wooden stake.  Folktales like Homer’s Polyphemus are widespread throughout the ancient world.  In 1857, Wilhelm Grimm collected versions of the myth in Serbian, Romanian, Estonian, Finnish, Russian, and German.  Other versions are also known in Basque, Lappish, Lithuanian, Syriac, Gascon, and Celtic.  More than two hundred different versions from twenty five nations are identified, covering a geographic region extending from Iceland to Portugal, Africa to Arabia, Turkey, Russia, and Korea.  Like the moth, the tale of Polyphemus got around.

THOUGHTS:  While the adult polyphemus moth does not eat, the polyphemus caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight at emergence in a little less than two months.  Caterpillars feed on leaves of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, as well as their eggshells after hatching and their freshly molted skin.  In large numbers the polyphemus caterpillars can be considered pests to plum orchards in California.  There are no direct positive effects of polyphemus on humans, but many are hand-raised by the curious.  This was the first polyphemus I had ever seen, and I understand why some would raise them.  They are large and beautiful.  Having few negative or positive effects on humans means the polyphemus is (mostly) allowed to survive under human radar.  As with many plants and animals, this is a good thing for the moth.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Horseweed

August 10, 2022

I thought it appropriate since I wrote on pigweed yesterday that I follow up with horseweed today.  I mentioned while I have placed a small fence around the areas where I grow vegetables, I allowed Zena access to two small areas of ground to run and play.  The larger area had been planted with the ground cover and the naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna) I have written about.  The area next to the faucet had been used effectively for potatoes last year, but with Zena this has become the preferred digging area.  Her excavation has become intense, and I knew it was time to cut down some of the taller weeds and fill the holes back in with the soil she had piled on the cement pavers.  I was surprised to see how tall the weeds had grown, and when I googled, they were identified as horseweed. 

When I looked online, I found Horseweed (Conyza canadensis, formerly Erigeron canadensis L.) or marestail, is a common agricultural and landscape weed.   This annual plant is found in most of North and Central America.  As the plant matures, it forms a single, hairy stem up to six feet tall (nearly 2 m), with alternate leaves that are long, narrow, hairy, irregularly toothed, baseball-bat shaped leaves that lack leaf stalks (petioles).  The mature horseweed produces flowers at the top on the stem branches that look like tiny, white, daisy flowerheads.  Horseweed can be a huge nuisance to farmers and has developed a resistance to a variety of herbicides.  Horseweed only propagates by seed and is dispersed by the wind, with a single plant able to produce over 15,000 seeds.  The best way to get rid of horseweed is through tillage.  Horseweed seeds are small, and germination requires light.  Studies have shown that seeds will not germinate when buried more than 0.2 inches (1/2 cm).  That means the fields need to be plowed rather than tilled. 

Tillage is not practical in my garden but pulling the plants out is another effective way to get rid of horseweed.  Like pigweed, horseweed has not always been a nuisance and was also used as both food and medicine.  Young leaves and seedlings are edible and can be dried and stored for later use to help flavor meals (with a flavor like tarragon).  Indigenous North Americans often pulverized the young tops and leaves and ate them raw (like an onion).  The leaves are a good source of calcium and potassium as well as protein.  In traditional North American herbal medicine, horseweed was boiled to make steam for sweat lodges, taken as a snuff to stimulate sneezing during a cold, and burned to create a smoke to ward off insects.  

THOUGHTS:  My horseweed will not be used for anything.  Since it is in flower it is too late to eat the young shoots or leaves.  Since I really like onions (yet cannot get them to grow to save me) I will not eat the tops as a substitute.  However, I do not want to spread the 15,000 seeds to another area.  I tried to pull them earlier and found them difficult to remove.  Perhaps I should get Zena to dig them up for me, but more likely I will do it myself.  Another thing my attempts at subsistence gardening have taught me is when you rely on whatever is produced to survive, you find ways to utilize everything.  That is behind most traditional Southern cooking (collards, mustard, turnips, and kale; add the oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and crab; and end with pork and catfish).  Most would agree this has taken subsistence and necessity to new heights.  The same is true for traditional dishes of other areas.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Pigweed

August 09, 2022

Melissa and I were watching a show on PBS last week concerning climate change and the fragile nature of the earth.  One of the persons interviewed was Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator.  Tyson’s comments addressed the effect of raising or lowering temperatures.  During the last ice age, the earth’s average temperature was only 8F (14.5C) less than today.  By contrast, the proposed 2F (3.5C) rise predicted by 2050 (if we control the greenhouse gasses) would result in widespread draught.  One of the trending stories on today’s weather app was about a super plant that might allow humans to modify crops to withstand draught and high temperatures.  The invasive pigweed thrives in hot and dry areas as easily as it does in your garden.

When I looked online, I found pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) is a species of flowering plant in the family Amaranthaceae with several common names, including red-root amaranth, redroot pigweed, and common tumbleweed.  Pigweed is native to the tropical Americas and has spread as an introduced species on most continents and in a variety of habitats.  The weed is an erect, annual herb reaching a maximum height of 10 feet (3 m).  The leaves are nearly 6 inches (15 cm) long on larger plants, with those higher on the stem being lance shaped and those lower on the plant being diamond or oval.  The plant is monoecious, with individuals bearing both male and female flowers.  The inflorescence is a large, dense cluster of flowers interspersed with spiny green bracts.  The fruit is a capsule less than 0.08 inches (2 mm) long with a “lid” which opens to reveal a tiny black seed.  The common name of “pigweed” was given as it grows where hogs are pasture-fed.  You are likely to see it in your lawn or garden as it grows in a variety of conditions and resists many herbicides.  I have not seen this plant in our yard or my containers.

While researchers are looking for ways to use pigweed to genetically modify cereal grains, the plant is already eaten as a vegetable in different parts of the world.  Pigweed can be used like you would any edible green.  No species of the genus Amaranthus is poisonous, but the leaves do contain oxalic acid and may contain nitrates if grown in nitrate-rich soils, so the water should be discarded after boiling.  The young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw, and the leaves are high in calcium, iron, protein, and phosphorus.  Many Indigenous peoples in the US West used pigweed for a multitude of food and medicinal purposes and it is sold as a vegetable in some Mexican markets.  The seeds are edible raw, roasted, cooked as a hot cereal, used as a thickener, ground into flour for use as bread, and even popped like popcorn.  If you are using pigweed from your garden, be sure you have not sprayed it with pesticides or herbicides prior to harvesting.  

THOUGHTS:  Using pigweed in the kitchen is one way to manage a plant that many gardeners call a pest or weed.  There are indications that using pigweed as a fodder for cattle can have adverse effects (bloating) in large amounts and may even be toxic.  I found it interesting that there were as many sites dedicated to eradicating pigweed as there were touting the nutritional value of the plant.  Once again, the definition of a weed is something that grows where you did not plant it.  We tend to treat people in the same manner and find ways to discourage them from being in a location where they are not expected.  If we instead allow them to thrive, we will find diversity also has benefits.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Goodwill

August 06, 2022

Several months ago, I wrote about the old beanbag Melissa had saved.  It was filthy and I had removed the beans and washed the cover.  My thought was to take it as a donation to the local Goodwill store.  I have seen some of the “gently abused” items they receive and did not want this to be another one.  The problem came when I tried to get the beans back in the bag, and I lost a third of the foam balls “somewhere”.  At the time Zena had great fun chasing the little balls around the house and yard.  Since it was now in a depleted state, I kept the beanbag rather than donate it.  Melissa finally brought it inside to lay on when she plays on the floor with Zena.  It now has new life as one of Zena’s favorite toys as she pulls the bag around the floor and flips it over her shoulder.  Her favorite antic is to get a running start and jump into the middle of the bag as she chases her pull toy back and forth across the floor.

When I looked online, I found Goodwill Industries International Inc., or Goodwill, is an American nonprofit that provides job training, employment placement services, and community-based programs for people with barriers to employment.  Goodwill also hires veterans and people who lack education, job experience, or face employment challenges.  Goodwill was founded by Reverend Edgar J. Helms of Morgan Methodist Chapel in Boston in 1902.  Helms’ congregation collected used household goods and clothing discarded in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired the unemployed or impoverished to mend and repair them.  The items were redistributed to those in need or were given to the needy people who helped repair them.  In 1915 representatives of a workshop mission in Brooklyn, NY joined with Helms and Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries was born.  The nonprofit is now funded by a network of 3,200+ retail thrift stores in 16 countries, including 165 Goodwill stores in the US and Canada.

I enjoy browsing the local Goodwill stores in the states where I live, although I do wonder about some of the product that reaches the shelves.  Goodwill has donation policies and will only accept items that can be resold.  Goodwill generally does not accept automotive parts, furniture showing signs of damage, large appliances, exercise equipment, hazardous materials, or building materials.  For liability reasons, Goodwill generally does not accept baby cribs or car seats, and sanitary regulations prohibit accepting mattresses.  Recent safety concerns have led to not accepting certain toys due to lead content in paint.  That still leaves the clothing, shoes, books, accessories (handbags, belts), dishes, furniture (good condition), household decorations, small appliances, and consumer electronics.  Depending on local laws, the value of the goods donated can be used as a tax deduction.  Zena is happy the beanbag was not donated.

THOUGHTS:  When I lived in California the back of the Goodwill store was across the street from where I worked.  This was also the door where collections were accepted during business hours.  The store had unwanted donations dropped after hours, usually at night, and there was a pile of “gently abused” items most mornings.  This forced the store to install cameras and motion lights as a deterrent.  While one’s donation is another’s treasure, trash is just trash.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.