one moon, many names

landing

China recently landed on the moon with its robot, called Yutu, Chinese for the Jade Rabbit who, according to Chinese legend, lives on the moon making the magic elixir of life with his pestle and mortar.

The robot is on the far side on the moon, the side we don’t see, not because the moon doesn’t spin, but because it rotates around the earth at the exact angular speed as it rotates on its axis.

super blood wolf moon

A few weeks ago, we also saw (or slept through) the eclipse of the Super Blood Wolf Moon, a fine and long name, but for good reason. Super means it was at its closest point to the Earth’s orbit; Wolf derives from the Native American name for January’s full moon; and Blood comes from the way the sun’s light bends and refracts off the Earth’s atmosphere during an eclipse.

numbers

And that’s just a small fraction of names for the moon. For millennia, cultures used lunar calendars, which makes a lot of sense because everyone sees that a full moon happens at regular intervals, and there are twelve full moons every year…except when there’s a blue moon, i.e. thirteen. A moon cycle is 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes and 11.6 seconds between full moons, and that’s where things start to get tricky. In fact, the Roman calendar based on moon phases required an entire team to decide when days should be added or removed to keep up with the astronomical seasons of equinoxes and solstices.

calendar

To address this, Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar with 365 days and 12 months, and a leap year every four years. It was later replaced by the Gregorian calendar, but the long history of setting the rhythms of the year by the moon has given us a rich list of meaningful names derived from Native Americans, Anglo-Saxon and Old High German languages among others.

months and names

January’s full moon, as we learned this week, is the Wolf Moon. It makes sense, because wolves are more prone to howl in their mating season, January, and to optimize acoustics they howl upwards, which happens to be where the moon is. But January’s full moon is also known as Old Moon, Ice Moon, and Snow Moon, for reasons not hard to imagine.

February’s moon was also Snow Moon in some areas of the world, but also Hunger, Storm, or Chaste Moon.

March is, as you might have guessed, the Worm Moon. Clearly March is when earthworms emerge. It’s also the Lenten Moon, which gave its name to the Christian period of Lent before Easter, Crust Moon, because of the crust that forms on melting snow when it refreezes, Crow Moon, for the returning crows; Sap or Sugar Moon, time for maple syrup harvesting.

April is the Pink Moon, for the abundance of pink spring flowers, or Sprouting Grass, Fish, Paschal, Egg, or Hare Moon. It was originally Hare Moon because it’s the time of year when hares breed, this ancient wisdom might have given rise to the Easter bunny.

May is the Flower Moon, or Corn Planting Moon, or Mother’s Milk Moon, the month when cows were milked three times a day.

June is the Strawberry Moon, time to pick the ripening wild strawberries; or Rose, Hot or Mead Moon.

July is the Buck Moon, after the male deer who shed their antlers. Thunder Moon, Hay, or Wort Moon, because who doesn’t gather worts in July to use as spices and remedies?

August is Sturgeon Moon, the best time of year for freshwater fish. It’s also Grain, Green Corn, or Fruit Moon.

The Harvest Moon is the one closest to the equinox, but as the astronomical seasons do not match up with the lunar month, the Harvest Moon sometimes falls in October. September is also the Full Corn and Barley Moon, though the Barley Moon can also occur in August.

October is the Hunter’s Moon, time to fatten the game, hunt, slaughter and preserve meats for the coming winter months. It’s also the Travel Moon and Dying Grass Moon, and the Blood or Sanguine Moon, referring to the hunting season, not to be confused with the red of a total Lunar Eclipse.

November is the Beaver Moon, when beavers made dams of wood and mud. It’s also the Frost, Trading, or Snow Moon.

December, fittingly, is the Cold Moon, or Long Night Moon.

celebration

Though I’ll not be swapping out my electronic Gregorian calendar or my diary any time soon, there’s something sumptuously earthy about how the full moons align with nature. I might have to start celebrating the moon. Perhaps not right away. None of February’s moon names fill me with warm fuzzies, so I think I might just wait for the worms of March.

moon by Denise Weaver
moon by Denise Weaver

The moon was creatively suggested by Denise Weaver. Leave a comment if you have a topic you’d like to see at #storyeverywhere.

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a savoury story

savoury

Last week my husband asked me what savoury meant. Salty, not sweet, I told him. But what about bitter and sour, he asked, they aren’t sweet or salty. Savoury is any food that isn’t sweet, I said. If you’re discussing what dish to take to a party, as we were, the first thing you do is decide whether you’ll take a sweet or a savoury dish. I’m using the GB rather than the US spelling of the word, because if you’re British you didn’t need me to explain that basically there are two types of food in the world, sweet or savoury.
But Darryl was right (just don’t tell him I said that or I’ll never hear the end of it). Food is sweet, salty, bitter, sour or (he missed one, but so did everyone else for centuries), umami. A good topic for #storyeverywhere, I thought.

gustatory perception

Humans have taste buds on the tongue, soft palate, upper esophagus, the cheek and epiglottis to detect information and send it via clusters of receptors and ion channels to the gustatory areas of the brain. The human tongue has 2,000-8,000 taste buds. The look and sound and feel of food are also really important, coming together to make up something called gustatory perception, which of course makes me happy, because I love to explore different perceptions.

evolution’s larder

Why is taste so important? Is it a freebie from nature to give us pleasure? Well, yes actually, but not for the sheer heck of it. Feeding ourselves from the supermarket or the local chippie (where you buy fish’n’chips) have only been options for the past few decades, the bat of an eyelash in our 1.8 million years of evolution. In today’s lifestyle, we need labels to tell us what proteins, carbs and fats we should or should not eat. But nature is far wiser than we are. It’s never needed labels, it uses taste to tell us whether something is a foodstuff, and stops us eating things that are rotten or poisonous.

survival

Rather than a freebie to give us pleasure, the human ability to distinguish the five taste categories has kept our species alive. Our brains have learned to reward (or punish) us for eating different foods, and make sure we receive all the nutrients we need.

salty

Let’s start with salty. Our taste reward for eating that extraordinary mineral, salt. Yum, but put too much salt on your tongue and ew! That’s because we have evolved taste nerves to detect higher quantities of sodium than we need for our cells to work properly.

bitter

A bitter taste comes from the largest and most structurally diverse group of compounds, so we are equipped with twenty-five bitter taste receptors. We’ve evolved to recognize and steer clear of most bitter things, as many toxic plants have a bitter flavor. But this isn’t absolute, because some of our absolute favs have bitter tones: chocolate, coffee & beer, and beverages such as tonic water, bitters, and mate tea.

sour

Acids are sour, sometimes welcome, sometimes not. Sour milk, for example, is repulsive, but that said, we tend to enjoy sour, particularly in combination with sweet. This is because we had to learn to avoid spoiled foods, but to ingest acid fruits for essential vitamin C.

umami

Umami was identified by a Japanese professor, Kikunae Ikeda, in 1908. Its name means “pleasant savoury taste” in Japanese, and it identifies glutamates found in food like meat, fish, tomato and mushrooms. Though the origin of the word is new, its importance in our diets is not. Glutamates are found in aged or cooked meats, but not in fresh, raw meats which may be spoiled, thereby encouraging us to cook our food. They are also found in aged and fermented products, like soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, and Rome’s ubiquitous sauce, counterpart to tomato ketchup, liquamen. The fermentation process not only provides ready access to macro- and micronutrients, it also provides access to probiotic bacteria, which help us maintain overall health.

perfect science…

So evolution has made sure we seek a variety of flavours—the more diverse our diet, the better our chances of good health and survival. It has told us what we need and what we should not touch.

…and then there’s sweet

But there’s one taste that evolution cannot keep up with: sweet. Our brain recognizes any source of glucose, namely energy, as being sweet. Our hunter gatherer ancestors needed all the energy they could get, they couldn’t afford to ever turn down an apple or bunch of grapes. Therefore, our brains are stuck on a broken needle cycle, telling us that while we can and should vary other flavors, sweet is always good. Evolution hasn’t had the time to catch up to the sheer choice of pastries, cake, candy, and soft drinks. Nor has it caught up to the fact that we are no longer hunter gatherers, but extremely sedentary beings. Hence why so many of us have a sweet tooth, and why that gets us in trouble.

mousse

All that from a question about what to take to the party. If you’re interested, we went sweet. I made my Italian chocolate mousse—a rich, decadent dish, with a good dose of bitter.

careless comment

Later in the week, without thinking, I made a comment about an unsavoury kind of fellow. That led to a whole new set of questions and will perhaps end up as another #storyeverywhere post one day.

sweet
sweet
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It’s New Year! Or is it?

around the world

In China, the Year of the Pig begins on Tuesday February 5. Pig years are unlucky for people born in previous Years of the Pig. If you were born in a Year of the Pig, the hydrangea and daisy are lucky for you. Your unlucky direction is southeast. I was born in a Year of a Dog. My lucky flowers are rose and cymbidium orchids; my unlucky direction is also southeast.
In Thailand, New Year will be celebrated from April 13-15 by people throwing water at each other.
The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, begins in 2019 on September 29 at sunset, and ends on October 1 at nightfall. It’s an opportunity for introspection, looking back at mistakes and planning changes for the year ahead. Apples are dipped in honey to mark a sweet new year.
The date Hindus will be celebrating depends on where they live in India. Not only does India have about 880 spoken languages, it also has 30 different calendars. Wherever they are, and whatever day they do it, Indians celebrate with great optimism and enthusiasm, leaving sorrow, grudges and failures behind them.
The Islamic New Year, Maal Hira, is welcomed with peace and prayers on the first day of Muhurram. The Islamic calendar has 354 days, 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. It began on July 16, 622 AD, the estimated date of Muhammed’s flight to Yathrib.

a new calendar

In the West, Anno Domini, “the year of our Lord”, is the year 1 AD because there was no year zero. However, it was only introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and took a while to be adopted across different countries. It reached England in 1751. To align it to the calendar in use at that time, the year 1751 was only 282 days long. It began on 25 March, and 11 days were removed from September, so September 2 was followed by September 14. Good thing I wasn’t alive then, I would have missed my birthday.

customs

Here are some customs used to ring in the New Year around the world:
In Ecuador, people burn scarecrows and photographs
In Spain, it’s customary to stuff 12 grapes into your mouth at midnight
Across Japan, bells are rung 108 times to bring cleanliness, and everyone smiles to bring good luck
Peruvians get into fist fights to settle differences and start the year with a clean slate
Careful where you step in Switzerland, people drop ice cream on the floor
In Bolivia, coins are baked into cakes
The Danish stand on chairs and literally jump into the new year
In Chile, people spend the night with their loved ones in cemetery
The Irish throw bread at the walls to get rid of evil spirits
Siberians like to pick up tree trunks and jump into a frozen lake
Estonians eat 7 meals to bring abundance
Italians wear red undies and eat lentils to symbolize coins and riches.
In Greece, people hang onions on their front doors, and wake the kids the next morning by tapping them on the head with an onion.

days gone by

At Hogmanay in Scotland, you make a circle, link hands and sing Auld Lang Syne heartily. Originally a Scots-language poem by Robert Burns, the song’s title means “old long since”, or “days gone by”, and is sung in most English-speaking countries to bid farewell to the old year.

cheers

Another tradition in many English-speaking countries is to drink too much. I’m not sure quite how this is auspicious for the new start, but a bit of bubbly can’t hurt. And there’s a reason why champagne is the drink of celebration. Said to “have positive effects on women’s beauty and a man’s wit”, champagne was once associated with religion and with royalty. After the French revolution, commoners began to drink wine as the antithesis of religion, and expensive champagne became the drink of choice for special celebrations that had once been religious, like weddings and the new year.

happy new year

However and whenever you celebrate, I wish you good health, good fortune, and may you find many, many stories everywhere.

What will you be doing to welcome the New Year?

coins and lentils
coins and lentils
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Christmas tree

pagan tradition

Evergreen trees have been part of winter celebrations for thousands of years. Pagans decorated their homes with branches as a reminder of the spring to come. The Romans used evergreens at New Year to symbolize life on dark winter nights. Later, Christians used branches to signify everlasting life with God.
About 1,000 years ago, fir trees used to be hung upside down from chandeliers or lighting hooks on the ceiling at Christmas. In northern Europe, cherry or hawthorn branches were brought inside in the hope they’d flower at Christmas.
A town called Tallinn in what was then Livonia, now Estonia, claims to have documented the first tree as a symbol of Christmas in 1441. The tree stood in the town square and people sang and danced around it, then set it on fire.

coming inside

Some say 16th century German theologian Martin Luther was the first to bring a whole Christmas tree inside and keep it upright. He adorned it with candles for his children to look like the stars of heaven shining through the trees in the woods. Other tales tell a different story, but one thing we do know is that the Christmas tree we know today originates from Germany, where it would have been decorated with gingerbread and gold covered appliques.
The town of Strasbourg on the French-German border, home to one of the oldest Christmas markets, became the target of a terror attack this past week. In 1605, an unknown German wrote about the town, “At Christmas they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many-coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold foil, sweets, etc.”

Queen Victoria

Christmas trees were frowned upon by the church outside of Germany. Oliver Cromwell preached against “the heathen traditions” of Christmas carols, trees and joyful expression that desecrated “that sacred event”. German settlers put up trees in the 1830s in Pennsylvania, but they were seen as “pagan mockery” and offensive to Puritans. Massachusetts made any observance of Christmas a penal offence.
Then, in 1846, the popular Queen Victoria invited her husband to put up a tree in the palace in celebration of his German heritage. The Illustrated London News published a picture of the royal family around their Christmas tree and changed the perception of the tree forever. Soon, people were following the royal example, though it was noted that Europeans used trees about 4 feet in height, while the Americans liked their trees to reach from floor to ceiling.

Candles, apples and decorations

Apples, nuts and marzipan cookies were precursors to the decorative ornaments we use today. In America people dyed popcorn to make colorful strings, and Edison is credited with first developing strings of electric lights to replace the very dangerous candles on trees.
Originally made with beaten silver, tinsel is thought to symbolize the Christmas spider from a popular folk tale. A poor family could not afford to decorate the tree that had grown from a pine cone in their home. The tree was bare when they went to bed, but overnight a spider covered the tree in cobwebs. In the morning, the cobwebs had magically turned into magnificent silver and gold strands.

my family traditions

Growing up in the UK, I never heard the spider story, but we did decorate with tinsel. Instead of the decorative snowmen, reindeer, carriages, and so on, we decorated with colorful round baubles and ribbon bows. We also made paper chains and strung them in criss-cross patterns across the ceiling. We also had inch-tall decorations for the Christmas cake my mum made every year.
One year, my dad took me and my sisters on an epic trip to India and Nepal over Christmas. We spent Christmas day in a mud hut somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas. Dad had brought the little tree hidden in his pocket the whole time to surprise us, our only decoration that year.
There are many things I love about Christmas here in America—trudging through snow to cut down a Christmas tree, having a white Christmas in the first place, playing Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas DVD over and over and over again until the tree and our Christmas spiral made decades ago by my husband’s aunt are bursting with ornaments handed down to us by my husband’s parents, and ones we have collected each year to celebrate our combined family.

I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite traditions and memories of this season?

Aunt Lorraine's Christmas spiral
Aunt Lorraine’s Christmas spiral
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kilogram

a kilogram is a kilogram, right?

What weighs more, a kilogram of feathers or a kilogram of lead? You might think they weigh the same, but just how certain can you be?

Since 1889, the exact weight of a kilogram has been defined by a platinum-based ingot called “Le Grand K”, jealously guarded in a safe in Paris. It is the only unit of measure defined by an artificial sample. Several close replicas exist around the world, but over time, like the master kilogram, they have changed by about the weight of an eyelash as they deteriorate, forcing scientists to rethink the definition.

fluctuating weight

Weights and measures varied on a local and regional level for millennia. They even varied among social classes, whether they were employed within a city or outside its walls, or on land or on sea. A general rule in Europe was that measures increased in size or distance once land was no longer in sight.

carob and wheat

The Chinese picul was the weight a man could carry on a shoulder pole. Early Babylon and Egypt, length was measured with the forearm, hand, or finger, and time by the sun, moon and other heavenly bodies. Containers were filled with plant seeds to measure volumes; seeds and stones served as standards for weights, giving rise to gems being measured in carats, deriving from the carob seed. For thousands of years, Mediterranean civilizations used weight standards based on grains of wheat. Some poor blighter had to sit there and count out the grains to find the weight.

a heavy heart

Though mostly useful, weights also have a sinister past. The ancient Egyptians judged people on their behavior during their lifetime by the weight of their heart when they died. The heart was weighed on large scales against the principle of truth and justice, represented by a feather. If it balanced, the deceased would be granted a place in the Afterlife. If it was heavy with the weight of wrongdoings, the balance would sink and the heart would be grabbed and devoured by a terrifying beast.

broomsticks

In the Netherlands, authorities reasoned that witches needed to be light enough to fly on brooms, so people suspected of witchcraft were dragged to the weigh house for judgement, resulting in thousands of innocent people being sent to death.

a modern weight

Great scientific advances in physics, astronomy, chemistry, and indeed beliefs, made consensus a must, so France created the metric system in 1793, England the imperial system in 1824. The kilogram is the base unit of mass in the metric system. It equals 1000 grams and is very nearly equal to the mass of 1,000 cubic cm of water.

kibble

The new definition of a kilogram decided upon recently in Versailles uses a Kibble Balance, which in very basic terms involves an electric current passing through an electromagnet. For a more technical description, try these links to BBC and The Statesman.

fun facts

The world record for clean and jerk weightlifting was 266 kg until 1992, 262.5 kg until 1997, and currently stands at 257 kg. No, not typos, nor redefinition of the kilogram. The International Weightlifting Federation restructured its weight classes in 1993, 1998 and 2018, each time nullifying earlier records.

The current price of a kilo of lead is US$2.173. At the time of writing, a kilo of gold costs US$39,325.83. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find the price of a kilo of feathers.

An elephant weighs about 5,443 kilos. A mouse between 17 and 25 grams. The world’s lightest living adult person weighs 5.5 kg. The world’s heaviest person recorded was estimated to be 635 kg. The largest mammal is the blue whale, the largest weighed was 189,999 kg. The record for the heaviest pumpkin is 1,190.49 kg, the heaviest turkey, 39.09 kg. The heaviest weight held by the eyelid is 3.51 kg; the heaviest deadlift with little finger 110 kg. A kilo of tea makes 500 cups.

1/500 kg of tea
1/500 kg of tea
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pencil

a gift

When my friend, Kathleen Shoop, bestselling author of After the Fog and other books, gave me the gift of a pencil, I knew it would be the perfect topic for #storyeverywhere. The pencil was the Blackwing 602, which quickly gained a cult following when it was launched in the 1930s.

sharply creative

Bugs Bunny and other Looney Tunes characters were created with a Blackwing 602. John Steinbeck had a special affinity for the Blackwing 602. Every morning he would sharpen 24 pencils and place them point up in a wooden box. He used one pencil to write four or five lines until the tip began to round, then he’d place it in a second box, point down. After he’d used all 24, he’d resharpen each one and start the process over again. Steinbeck’s son, Thom, said about his father’s pencils, “They were surgically sharp. You could dissect a mouse [with them].”

write right

Hemingway was also well-known for writing with a pencil. In A Moveable Feast, he said, “I belong to this notebook and this pencil.” His lifelong dedication for the pencil began soon after he arrived in Paris. He went to a café armed with notebook, fountain pen and a bottle of ink, ordered a latte, and sat down to write. To his horror, the ink feathered and bled all over and through the page. A Frenchman at the next table took pity on him and gave him a pencil, and he apparently never used a fountain pen again.

long-lasting error

Pencils have been part of our daily lives for a relatively short time. In the 16th century in Borrowdale, England, a fierce storm knocked over a tree to reveal a strange black substance clinging to its roots. People thought it was lead, which is how the central rod of the pencil got its name, even though pencils have never contained actual lead. Shepherds began to use the substance, later identified as graphite, to mark their sheep. Carpenters used it to make marks without indentations in their wood. Being brittle, it required a holder, so they wrapped it in sheepskin or with string, which they would unwind as the graphite wore down. The Italians are credited with the idea of using wood to wrap sticks of graphite, and ever since, cedar has been the wood of choice.

how hard

In 1795, Frenchman Nicholas Jacques Conté patented a new process for making graphite pencil leads by mixing powdered graphite and clay and forming sticks using a kiln. The process not only reduced costs, it also allowed control over the hardness and lightness of the mark on paper by changing the ratio of graphite and clay to change the hardness. In the US, hardness is identified by a number (most commonly 2, 2 ½ or 3), in the rest of the world by letters (HB, H or F). There are 20 types of hardness and blackness, and a few hundred brands of pencil.

the yellow pencil

From the Czech Republic, the Koh-i-Noor was the world’s first yellow pencil. It debuted at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889 and is still made by the original process. It has slightly brittle, mildly scratchy graphite. The manufacturer chose yellow because in China the color yellow signifies royalty and respect.

global

The Viarco from Portugal is made from quality cedar wood and crisp graphite cores. Viarco’s creative director designed their gorgeous scented pencils for his grandmother, who grew a variety of cedar in her backyard.
From Japan, Mitsubishi, Tombow, Kitaboshi, Camel and Blackwing are some of the highest quality pencils in the world, with well-centered cores, high-quality California Incense Cedar, and fine finishing details, including an average of 14 coats of paint. Most Japanese pencils have a designation stamped on them, such as “Master Writing”, “Hi-precision Drafting”, or “Office Use”, because there were once strict pricing regulations on school and office supplies in Japan.

further reading

If this post has given you a case of Pencilnalia, and you want to know everything there is to know about the humble pencil, of the surprisingly many websites dedicated to the pencil, I found Pencil Revolution particularly impressive.

To get #storyeverywhere in your mailbox, subscribe at the top right of this page. To share your stories, leave a comment here or on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear from you!

pencil shavings
pencil shavings
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save a spider, save a life

spider rescue

People think I’m quite mad to rescue every spider I find; no squashing allowed in my house. But as it turns out, we should probably all be saving spiders. Oh, but hang on a jiffy, you thought this post was going to be about the creepiest of crawlies and the creepiest of holidays, Halloween? There’s little need for that, you’re all well aware of what it feels like to glance down to see a spider perched on your hand, or to walk into a web right where the little hairy eight-legged creature is and tussle yourself free from the web and spider skittering lord knows where on your torso, likely taking refuge beneath your clothing. Itchy yet? I’m sure its mamma thought those hairy legs were cute.

No, no need for scary stuff. This post is actually about how spiders are going to save the world, one human at a time.

awe for venom

In his fascinating TED Daily Talk, The Secrets of Spider Venom, accompanied by his tarantula, Sophie, zoologist Dr. Michel Dugon shares his passion and awe for arachnids, in particular a tiny venom-carrying sac they have in their chests, and the fangs folded inside the mouths on their underside.

venom harvest

With his team at Venom Systems Lab, Dugon studies the chemical compounds in spider venom for medicinal purposes. How they come by this venom is quite fascinating. First, the team collect between 300 and 400 common spiders, you know the ones that live on your ceiling, under the toilet seat and under your bed, and they put them in individual containers in the lab, where each spider is given a meal. A spider bed and breakfast of sorts. A few days later, the spiders are anaesthetized and then exposed to a tiny electrical current that makes venom ooze from their glands. The substance is diligently collected, no small feat considering it takes the venom of a few hundred spiders to make up the equivalent of a raindrop. The venom is frozen, then separated, and each chemical compound is purified. Each compound is then diluted several thousand times and studied.

safe and sound

Because I know your concern at this point is for the poor spiders, you’ll be happy to know that none of them are harmed in the process. They are fed and rested in their containers for a few more days before being released.

medicinal

The reason why this work is so important is that spider venom contains millions of chemical compounds found nowhere else in nature. Dugon says that 0.01% of these compounds have so far been studied, but properties have already been identified that are capable of killing antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is particularly significant because only two new antibiotics have been developed in the past five years, and infections like MRSA are now killing about 700,000 people around the world each year.

over the millennia

It’s amazing that Dugon and other scientists are able to extract such tiny amounts of venom, and thrilling to think of what other medicinal properties are yet to be discovered, but spiders actually have been used in medical applications for thousands of years.

Roman surgeons would wrap warts in cobwebs and set fire to them. Pliny, a first-century Roman, found that spiderwebs placed on open wounds promoted healing. Shakespeare also made reference to the healing properties of spiderwebs in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I shall desire you of more acquaintance, good master cobweb. If I cut my finger I shall make bold of you.”

Webs have also been used to treat eye complaints, and their ashes mixed with polenta to ease joint pains.

no more spider bites

And if you’re still not convinced that you should be rescuing rather than squashing, research shows that in truth spiders rarely bite humans. Besides their fear of people (yes, apparently they are scared of us), their jaws are designed to bite creatures their own size. Most bumps in the night that people claim are “spider bites” are actually bites by insects, or are reactions to infections. Only two types of spider in the US, and a dozen around the world out of the approximately 40,000 spider species, are able to inflict a troublesome bite.

give thanks

So next time you encounter an 8-legged, 8-eyed, hairy fiend, you might want to gently show him to his new residence outside your home, and thank him for the miracle he’s unwillingly sharing with the world.

 

cobweb tied in a bow

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autumn leaves

fall

Even better than pumpkin pies and apple cider, my favorite thing about autumn is leaves. The reds and purples, oranges and golds, yellows and browns. The crunch underneath your feet and when you kick your way through a pile someone has taken the time to build. The colorful patter of leaf-rain on a chilly walk in the woods, a colorful send off to the year’s final forest bathing.

summer green

In summer, we eat heaps of leaves. Lettuce, spinach, cabbage, basil, cilantro, parsley – yummy! Cuisines around the world use many different kinds of leaves to wrap foods. Vine, banana, bamboo and lotus leaves wrap food to protect it from the flame and form a natural container to allow the food to steep in its juices.

The major food production site for plants, leaves get their green color from a pigment called chlorophyll. It uses the energy in sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugar and oxygen gas, in a process we all learned about at school called photosynthesis. The sugars nourish the plant.
Without sufficient light and water to photosynthesis in winter, trees take the season off from food production, and live off the food they stored in summer. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves to reveal the yellow and orange that’s been in them all along. Reds and purple are mostly made in the fall when glucose becomes trapped, while brown comes from waste left in some varieties, like oak.

autumn orange

In fall, the veins that carry leaf fluid are closed off as a layer of cork cells form at the base of the leaf; then, it seems, a leaf’s main purpose becomes to enthrall us with beauty, and fill the air with a peaty, woody aroma that rates high on the olfactory scale alongside cinnamon and apple pie.

the end

But is that really the end of the road for our interaction with leaves for the year? Actually not. Litterfall, as leaves have now become, is broken down by decomposers such as fungi, bacteria, earthworms and the rest of the busy forest floor community. The process delivers nutrients to the soil. Along with the bodies or fragments of dead organism as well as fecal matter, micoorganisms turn litterfall into detritus.

dead stuff

According to John C. Moore in his video that appears on TED Blog, Dead stuff: The secret ingredient in our food chain, only 10% of plants are consumed while alive, like our fresh, crisp salads. The remaining 90% of plants die, droop and drop, and become detritus, forming a huge source of energy as they decompose. Ew you might think, but don’t be put off, the video is well worth watching. It’s animated by the TED-Ed team using cute animals made of autumn leaves and shows how detritus comes from and goes back into the food chain. Our food chain? Well, yes. Apparently no creature, humans included, is more than two degrees removed from detritus.

humans, humus and hummus

Perhaps it might sound more appetizing if we use an alternative term for it, such as humus. Not hummus, the stuff you can buy in tubs with garlic or red pepper, though come to think of it, that kind of hummus is a rather dubious shade. Does the brown food chain sound any better? Whatever name we give it, one way or another we end up eating it. Before you pledge never to accept a dinner invitation to my house, let’s be clear, we don’t consume it directly, but through the food we eat like pork, catfish, shellfish, mushrooms, and poultry.

gold

I’m not planning to give any of those up, though I admit, today is not the day to dwell on the term ‘you are what you eat’. Then again, as Moore says, “One organism’s garbage is another’s gold.”

leaf on wood

 

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a bugle call

a bugle call

I normally explore the extraordinary life of ordinary objects in #storyeverywhere, so it would be fair for you to wonder how a bugle might fit the category of ordinary. Well it was a normal part of my day growing up. In my house, it was the alarm clock. Yup. My dad liked to play it full volume (is there any other way to play the bugle?) to startle us out of bed.
His preferred tune was one he learned when he was a cadet, called the Charlie Reveille. It’s played by military forces to wake up the troops at the start of the day.
The bugle is one of the simplest brass instruments, and my morning memories would suggest it is one of the loudest. It has no valves or keys, so notes are made by changing your embouchure, or how you apply the mouth to the mouthpiece.
The bugle shares its history with its sister instrument, the trumpet. Both are brass instruments without valves and are played in the same manner. The basic difference is in the shape of the bell. The trumpet is known for its strident, brash sound; the bugle for its darker and mellower tone. Early versions were made of animal horns.
Trumpets can be traced to pre-Biblical times when they were used by Egyptians and Israelites. The earliest trumpets were straight instruments with no mouthpiece and no flaring bell. They were actually megaphones into which people spoke, sang, or roared. This distorted the natural voice and produced a harsh sound to frighten evil spirits.
Ancient trumpets were used at burials, circumcisions, and sunset rites (to ensure the sun would return). It was a male-dominated practice and among certain tribes of the Amazon any woman who looked at a trumpet was killed. The tradition of playing at sunrise (Reveille), sunset (Retreat), and at burials (Taps) probably evolved from these ancient rituals.
The ancient Olympic Games in Greece included contests of trumpet playing. These contests were judged not by musicality but by volume of sound. The instrument used by the Greek trumpeters was the Salpinx, which measured 157 cm, made of thirteen cylindrical ivory parts and a bell made of bronze, as is the mouthpiece.
One famous trumpeter who participated in the games was Achias. He won three times and a column of honor was erected for his achievement. Another contestant was Herodorus of Megas, whose playing was so loud that people in the audience were stunned by the concussion. He was a giant man, slept on a bearskin, and played two trumpets at one time, forcing the audience to move back due to the force of his immense sound.
Dad probably didn’t produce that much noise, but from what I remember, he was close. Of one thing I am certain, dad did things his way, from waking us with a bugle call, to traveling with the world with just a boat or plane ticket and the warning we might end up sleeping on the beach, to the birthday poems and emails rivaling the likes of Spike Milligan, dad’s impact on my life was immense.

Rest well, dad.
Peter Eade 1943 – 2018

Peter E school army 2

Peter at the pubbugle

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extraordinary mineral

There’s a mineral on our dinner table that we may take little notice of, but ordinary salt, one of the five basic tastes the human tongue can detect, might have done more to shape the civilized world than anything else in your home.

how to build a nation

TIME Magazine writes, “The history of the world according to salt is simple: animals wore paths to salt licks; men followed; trails became roads, and settlements grew beside them.” As civilization spread, these settlements became cities and nations.
One of these settlements sprung up because ancient Britons carrying crude salt from Cheshire to Southern England were often delayed by the high tides of the Thames River. The settlement became a village known as Westminster, and Westminster became London.

what money is made of

One of the most traveled salt routes led from Morocco, across the Sahara to Timbuktu, which is interesting, because I didn’t realize Timbuktu was a real place. All roads lead to Rome, and in Roman times one of the busiest roads was Via Salaria, the salt route, where merchants drove oxcarts full of the precious crystals from the salt pans at Ostia. Some of this salt was used to pay soldiers in “salt money”, salarium argentum, which gave rise to the word, salary. A soldier’s salary was cut if he “was not worth his salt”, which derives from the Greek and Roman practice of buying slaves with salt.
In the 6th century, salt was traded ounce for ounce for gold. Coins or cakes of salt ten inches long were used in Abyssinia and other areas of central Africa as currency; Marco Polo told tales of the value of salt coins bearing the seal of the great Khan.

devil’s work

Spilling salt is thought to be bad luck and the act of the devil. Leonardo Da Vinci immortalized this by depicting overturned salt in front of Judas at the Last Supper. Many of us throw a pinch of spilled salt over our left shoulder to hit the devil in the eye with it.

good or bad

The two elements in salt, sodium (Na) and chlorine (Cl) are  essential for life in animals, including humans, keeping our bodies chemically balanced, and our muscles and nervous system working. So it is essential, but too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing, and processed foods contain much more sodium than we need.
Salt makes food taste better because it helps certain molecules in our food release into the air. But it’s not only about flavor. Salt has been used as far back as records go to preserve meats, cheese and other food. It absorbs moisture through osmosis from the cells of bacteria and mold, ultimately killing them.

enough for Italians

Italian cookbooks often write q.b. as the quantity of salt, short for quanto basta, or quantum satis in Latin, meaning the amount which is enough. While this may seem vague, Italians are meticulous about food and its preparation, and are expected to have an innate knowledge of how much salt is enough. Their taste buds are apparently calibrated to tell exactly how much salt still needs to be added, or whether the sacrilege of adding too much has been committed.

variety is the mineral of life

Salt most often comes from deposits found in salt lakes and dried-up seas; sea salt is distilled from the ocean. Below the earth it lies in white veins thousands of feet deep. But though they have the same origin, different varieties have different tastes and textures.
Common table salt is highly refined, heavily ground with many trace minerals removed. This helps it flow nicely from the salt cellar, but doesn’t do much for our health. Unfortunately, sea salt might not be good for us either. It does contain good trace minerals like potassium, iron and zinc, but it increasingly contains a concentration of impurities and even heavy metals like lead resulting from the pollution of oceans.
Kosher salt has a flaky, coarse structure that is particularly efficient at extracting blood from meat, a requirement of Jewish law. Many consider pink salt to be the healthiest, containing iron oxide and other beneficial minerals. I particularly like smoked salt, especially as a rub on grilled food.

a salt business

The photos feature salt varieties from the Pittsburgh based Steel City Salt Company: lavender and rosemary; Peruvian pink; mesquite smoked; and espresso!

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