Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's a knack, I'm telling you.

I seem to have made a bet (in the form of an independent study course) about whether or not someone could have survived on the wild foods that were available 2000 years ago, or whether it was possible to survive on these when you were just one person or one family making the effort.

At least I didn't offer myself up as the guinea pig to actually survive on this diet for a semester, which saved my butt twice already this afternoon from one misadventure in experimenting with acorns. I didn't know two things a few hours ago:

1) If you're scooping up acorns for food, check the shells. If the acorn is cracked, has a neat little hole bored in the shell,or is soft enough to squish with your fingers, toss it. Why?


And I didn't find this out until I came back with my booty, left it there for an hour or two while I took off for my last class of the day, and then returned to discover that the bag I'd scooped up everything in had a few holes in it. Apparently the worms didn't like hanging out in a plastic bag with nine pounds of acorns all that much, and liked the carpet much better.

A sweep with a vacuum and a thorough inspection of all of the acorns outside took care of that problem, which reduced the nine pounds down to two that might have been trustworthy.

(Sigh. I can already tell this is definitely not a solo effort if you're trying to feed yourself...)

2) With the two remaining pounds of semi-trustworthy acorns, I flipped through a tree identification book to check what type I had (I hadn't thought to look straight up to see if I was picking up acorns from under a red or white oak at the time.) Turns out I had red oak acorns, from the oak trees with the sharp, pointy tips to their leaves. Fine. I dug through the wild foods cookbook I had... discover that red oak acorns were considered too poisonous to prepare. The thing about acorns is that they're loaded with tannin, which is great if you're trying to process leather but absolutely rotten for a human to eat. Too much of it and your kidneys will crap out on you. You can dry and then repeatedly boil the acorn meat through several changes of water to leach out the tannin, but red oak acorns have too much in them to do this unless you have a week or two to spare.

Out goes the remaining two pounds.

If I'm ever so hard up that I'm considering eating red oak acorns, I should just let the squirrels eat the acorns, and then I'll eat the squirrels. And next time I'll make sure I target the white oaks and start harvesting the nuts as soon as the acorns start hitting the ground.

Monday, September 28, 2009

File this under "the inventor was on crack."

During my weekend wanderings, which included a detour through the Saturday farmer's market, I managed to stumble into another knitting shop completely by accident. I noticed a sign on the outside of the building it was located in, stepped inside, and was promptly lost in a maze of twisty little passages for ten minutes while I tried to locate the stairs and the doors. I managed to find my way up to the shop eventually, where while wandering around I tripped over a pair of size 50 needles.

Don't clean your screen or your glasses, you read that right. Size 50 knitting needles.

For the non-knitters, needles in the United States are sized a little oddly - instead of going by millimeters in diameter, they each have a numbered size. Size 8 is about average and can handle most sweaters, hats, mittens, and the like, and it's five millimeters in diameter. I had previously believed that the thickest needle was size nineteen, which is maybe as large as a human index finger.

Size 50, as it turns out, looks like a sharpened broomstick. And not a small broomstick, either. Maybe it should be called a sharpened shovel handle, or a short spear. An atlatl dart, maybe, or a long lawn dart. In any case, each needle was about three-quarters as thick as my wrist, and some maniac had actually started knitting with them. Granted, it was a rug and they were using roughly spun roving (roving is semi-raw wool - not exactly straight off the sheep, as it's been cleaned and generally combed into shape or wound into long strands, but it isn't spun into proper yarn yet), but still...

And naturally, guess who had to try knitting on these things.

I can be a moron in the pursuit of the satisfaction of my curiosity.

Twenty minutes to complete as many stitches later, I managed to complete the row and gave up on the idea of another. I'd had enough already. I just scooped up a helmet liner pattern and a ball of ordinary brown wool on my way out.

Later that evening, I got to find out firsthand just how emotionally draining it is to be in the audience for a performance of Equus, but that's another story altogether. I'm still trying to get my wrists to work properly again.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Annoyance of Bobo

I'm not calling it the wrath of God, despite how it looks. For one, nobody's done anything big enough to piss off the Big Guy lately. For another, although it looks like one of the plagues of Egypt, it's not yet to the point of serious disruption of human activity. And I'm dead certain that the translation was "flies" and "locusts" when it came to the insect-based plagues, not "soybean aphids."

For the non-Midwestern readers, soybean aphids are insects about half the length of a human eyelash that live on the sap secreted from one of our main two crops. They're ordinarily kept well in check by the weather, the food supply, and the resident population of ladybugs. Around this time of year, you might see the occasional cloud of what looks like extraordinarily fast-flying dust motes in the late afternoon or evening, never more than three to five feet in diameter at its largest and generally with plenty of room between the individual "motes."


This year, it seems we had favorable conditions for a population boom. The aphids responded by multiplying exponentially. The thing about aphids is that they don't need to be inseminated to be able to reproduce. They can do it asexually. One aphid could produce three to five more in a day, and in favorable conditions the population only needs two or three days to double. And we didn't start with just one.

And did I mention that, when they run low on food supplies, these normally wingless insects sprout wings?

The result is everyone walking around campus waving their hands in front of their faces, covering their noses and mouths with whatever's handy, and brushing and shaking everything off once they get inside. The bathrooms overflow with people spitting, wiping out their eyes, cleaning their ears, and blowing their noses to clean out all of the bugs. (Aphids are apparently not born with any sense of self-preservation and gravitate to the human respiratory system's entrances.) Fifteen minutes after you step out of the mist of flying insects you can feel hitting your skin as you walk, aphids will still fly out of your clothes if you shake them.

A good hard frost will kill them or at least reduce the mist to those negligible clouds I mentioned earlier, but in the meantime the student body has been advised to not wear yellow, which apparently attracts the bugs. I'm personally keeping my window shut, covering my face with a finely woven scarf, and contemplating whether I should order some ladybug egg cases or just wait for the first frost.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. OVER?

I hate it when it turns out I didn't know someone as well as I thought I did. I'm ready to punch the next person who mentions anything to do with relationships in general.

A little background: I'm in a (currently long-distance) relationship with someone who overwhelmingly resembles Dr. Moreau of H.G. Wells' tale of the mad scientist - the sort of person whose science experiments turn out to be great and terrible (in the same way as "I am Oz, the great and terrible"), and who, when he was a bit younger, you never quite knew which dimension he was in at the moment. Somehow we managed to hit it off without leveling a city in the process, but that's another story. He's currently serving his country by jumping out of perfectly good airplanes and the like, but all too soon he's going to be in a place where people are going to be shooting at him on a regular basis. I have my fingers crossed that he'll return from the latest hellhole he's being dropped into with all of his appendages and psyche still intact.

Yeah. Being in love drives me nuts in all senses of the idiom, especially now that I know a few months from now I'll be freezing and then praying that a certain name doesn't pop up when there's an announcement about an attack on US troops. Be careful who you love, folks.

Which makes what happened the other day all the more upsetting.

I was out getting in trouble in the nearest fiber craft shop (I knit, crochet, spin wool, sew clothing so it'll actually fit me, and do other things with pointy sticks so I am not tempted to stab willful idiots with them) and had just selected a few orphan skeins to buy. While I was getting the yarn wound into useable blobs rather than the long, twisted hanks it's sold in, I got into a conversation with an older woman in the store I'm familiar with. She has plenty of advice, generally good for whatever situation I find myself in and always good for calming me down out of my initial panic when I think I'm in trouble. It was nothing serious this time, we were just shooting the shit about the semester starting and whether I think I'll do well in my classes.

So I was caught utterly flatfooted when this came out of the blue:

"Are there any cute boys in your classes?"

I know I've mentioned Moreau to her, but I thought she might have mixed me up with someone else.

"Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, and Michael Sheen don't attend Big State U, last I knew. And besides, I have one in uniform out East."

"But what about here? Having a boyfriend doesn't mean you have a ring on your finger, and there's-"

At this point my brain shut off the connection to my ears. Luckily, it also disconnected my mouth for about thirty seconds, or I would have been screaming obscenities to the tune of:


I stammered something about being loyal that probably looked and sounded weak. I can never articulate clearly when I'm upset. It's hard to enunciate when your lips are pulled back so far you're showing off the scars where your wisdom teeth used to be, or when your teeth are chewing on nothing because they can't take a chunk out of what upset you.

Then I paid, grabbed the bag of yarn, and bolted before I could do something stupid. I was beyond upset. I wanted blood. I wanted to rip down the whole building with my bare hands.

More than anything, I wanted a sympathetic ear, but the one I knew was immediately at hand was no longer there.

Great. As if I didn't have to deal with "he's military, you know what they're like" and encouragements to break up so I can "graze in greener pastures," now I have someone who had a military husband from when she was my age giving me a wink-wink nudge-nudge encouragement to cheat on my boyfriend just because our connection isn't formal. This is upsetting on too many levels to articulate. I can't even swear properly. And I thought I knew this woman well enough to...oh, damn it.

Looks like I'm not setting foot in there for a while. Or sewing my mouth shut before I do. It's the only fiber shop in town, and I want to be able to go back more than I want to show her exactly what I meant when I said I used to be a little ball of rage.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Next time, just use a d*** flyswatter.

Ah, college. Where else can you be entertained by just looking out the window?

I was completely oblivious to this whole scene until I came out in time to watch the tow truck come and haul away the vehicle in question, but apparently my little chunk of the Midwest is good for something aside from universities, the occasional meth lab, and idiotic urban planning. It seems we're also growing a bumper crop of future Darwin Award winners, as demonstrated by the story that led to the tow truck hauling away a certain vehicle outside the apartment building and an upstairs neighbor getting the fear of God put into him.

Note: all names and some minor details have been changed to protect the gormless from embarrassment and my butt from being sued.

The neighbor (who will be known from here as N for obvious reasons) and a friend of his (F, for ****ing idiot) are returning home from a late-night errand when F notices that they have an extra passenger. Somehow, a trilobite-sized spider has climbed onto their car antenna and is clinging on for dear life. F is an arachnophobe, which I can sympathize with after a bad reaction to a bite in my past, but I have no earthly idea why F decided that what he did next was anything but a Bad Idea.

F has an airsoft gun in his car. He decides that the best way to get rid of Shelob is to shoot it off the antenna with this gun, which looks remarkably like a very real weapon. He pulls out this gun and shoots it, apparently dispatching Shelob after a few shots with attendant screams of terror.
Another person witnesses what looks like a deranged man shooting at cars and calls the cops, who understandably react badly to this piece of information.

N is the first to notice the first black-and-white following them with its lights flashing, but F tells N to ignore it. Then, about two blocks later (and right outside the building, as things turned out), seven cop cars swarm their car and bring it to a halt, both occupants are yanked out and thrown to the ground with the BFGs pointed straight at their heads, and the cops promptly tear through the car searching for the gun. All of this with everyone screaming at the top of their lungs, sirens going, and the safeties on some very serious weapons being removed.

And, yes, I was completely oblivious to all of this. Even though the apartment I live in was separated only by a front yard and a sidewalk from the action.

F spent the night in the pokey, the car was impounded, and N was sent on his way to change his underwear and stop shaking.

I wonder how F's going to explain that one to future employers.

*edit* Grr. Stupid spacing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Proof that money does not equal class.

My living situation is such that I'm in one block of relatively cheap apartments, but live a parking garage and a dumpster away from the newer set of apartments that cost two to three times what I pay in monthly rent. The whole block is owned by the same realty, but the apartments across the way are generally the roomy ones that are ideal for parties.

On my way back from the library earlier tonight, I was about to cross the street when I saw two objects come flying off of one of the top balconies and hit the rock gardens underneath, both landing with weird splatting noises. After making sure no more of the mysterious objects were going to follow, I picked my way over to the garden to take a look...

...and found a flip-flop of the type favored by 85% of the students here and a slip-on shoe.

I don't care who you are - civilized (or at least sober) humans generally do not throw shoes off of balconies at odd hours of the night. Pity they didn't throw the mates, or I'd have some new shoes right now.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Crawling out of hibernation...

I'm still alive, just somewhat swamped by the world and in the race to finish my degree on time without letting the stress get to me. (A stock tip, for those still interested: invest in any pharmaceutical company that makes antacids. You'll make a mint in December and April.)

One hurdle to "official" adulthood I've cleared is moving into my own apartment, although I doubt learning how to deal with loud neighbors was on the "official" list. I have not attempted to take matters into my own hands after three in the morning by greeting them with sharp implements and an evil smile. I really must be mellowing with age. Five years ago, I'd have knocked down their collective doors (yes, my neighbors on all sides are the culprits) and done some very distressing things to the sound system, drinks, and the host in short order. Breaking crockery and blasting music at two in the morning does not make for a very happy neighbor, especially when you do it right outside that neighbor's window.

The beginning of the semester also brought back both of my jobs, although this year I got tossed to a new professor and a new class, along with another TA. (With about a hundred students in the class, most of whom regularly attend - there's a surprise for a Gen. Ed. class - we're kept quite busy, especially thanks to the agonizingly slow system known as Blackboard that the class also uses for the occasional online quiz and assignment submission.) The pickings at my primary job aren't quite as rich as they used to be, but I'm waiting for the "harvest" at the end of the semester and just before and after the big vacation times. There's still plenty, anyway - you just have to know where to look.