My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree

Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina

Just outside Charleston, S.C., you’ll come across a mystical tree called the Angel Oak. It’s a massive growth with dozens of meandering branches, some almost 200 feet long, others big enough to stand on. The Angel Oak has survived for centuries despite hurricanes and ever-encroaching urban development. It’s named after the settlers of a nearby plantation but you’d swear it has more to do with a supernatural being. When you stand within the calm and quiet of the Angel Oak’s wing-like branches, you can feel the embrace of a higher power.  You might as well be in church.

I have a similar tree in my front pasture, here in Colorado.  It’s a singular, lonely, rather sad-looking pine, about seven feet tall, standing sentry beside a swale running through the property.  My pine has very few branches, and on those, very little growth.  I could accurately describe the profile of this tree as a Tootsie Pop, or perhaps one of those ball-and-stick trees you see on architectural renderings.  I prefer a more organic comparison instead.  My tree reminds me of a dandelion, only with a very sturdy stem.  I’m tempted to puff up and blow on his modest ball of pine needles, but he looks so feeble I’m afraid they’ll actually take flight.

My pine tree is as cryptic as the Angel Oak is mystical.  There’s so much I can’t explain about him.  He was standing out there fifteen years ago when we moved to this property.  For all I know he was out there fifteen hundred years ago.  Despite our high-desert drought, winter blizzards, gusty winds, and other fill-in-the-blank weather events, my pine tree stands resolutely and takes it all without bending.  Never seems to grow, wither, or even lose those few pine needles.  In fact, he seems to be waiting for something – or maybe someone.  It’s a day-in-day-out mystery.

A tree, a horse, and an endless forest beyond

Five hundred yards to the east of my lone pine, we have a dense forest of trees that goes on for miles.  These pines stand so close together it’s a wonder they get enough sunlight to grow.  These tall timbers strike me as an army, standing silently at attention, ready to march forward with the given command.  Perhaps my pine is their evergreen general, ready to declare “CHARGE!!!” against some unseen foe to the west.

I don’t have to turn the clock back fifteen hundred years to come up with a logical explanation for my solitary tree.  Maybe just two hundred years ago, when there would already be no pasture, no horses, and not much of anything in any direction.  Settlers here and there at best, or pioneers in search of the promised land.  Perhaps one of these travelers lost a child at too young of an age.  Perhaps a tree was planted in memory of that child.  An angel-like pine carrying on in the sometimes harshest of conditions.

If I had any measure of courage, I’d get up in the wee hours of the night – no guiding light except for the inky blanket of stars overhead – and slowly, silently approach my pine tree.  In those bewitching hours, with the howls of coyotes in the distance and the soft rustle of grass beneath my feet, I might witness a presence from beyond.  Perhaps a subtle glow surrounding his branches, suggesting an endless lifeforce within his roots.  Or even better, the nightgown-clad ghost of a little girl sitting against his trunk, bare knees pulled to her chest.

I know my little tree is no Angel Oak.  In a forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir, my pine would be first choice for a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yet there he is, steadfast and strong, the king of the jungle pasture, the unchallenged ruler of his domain.  He must have the heart of a lion and a confident aura to match.  I hope someday he’ll reveal his purpose, but in the meantime one thing seems to be certain.  My dandy-lion pine will still be standing when I am not.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Hopping on Pop

In the Dr. Seuss children’s classic Hop On Pop, readers travel through pages of rhyming word pairs, with the usual whimsical cartoon characters acting out the scenes (ex. “All Ball, we all play ball” and “Day Play, we play all day”). It’s not until about halfway through the book where you see the title pair, “Hop Pop”.  And when I saw “STOP, you must not Hop on Pop”, I decided Dr. Seuss was referring to the latest junk food mashup, “Pepsi x Peeps”.

This blog often comments on sweets – so much so I should probably have a category called “sugar”.  I’ve talked about Halloween candy, chocolate, and licorice, and it’s a little unsettling I’ve discussed doughnuts in two of the last ten posts.  Naturally, my literary sugar addiction couldn’t resist a word or two on a truly disturbing concoction.  Just in time for Easter, Pepsi is advertising a Peeps-flavored soft drink.  I’m trying to get my taste-buds imagination around this “pillowy-soft and sweet” marshmallow-flavored cola.  I can’t taste it, can you?  All I come up with is sugar.  Lots and lots of sugar.

You know Peeps.  Of course, you do.  The colorful marshmallow bunnies and chicks are the hot item every Easter in the U.S. and Canada.  Consumer demand for the cute little creatures means Just Born Quality Confections cranks out 2 billion every year.  Naturally, Peeps has moved past Easter to be available year-round, especially for other holidays.  Just Born even expanded the product line beyond candy, most notably with a Peeps-flavored line of lip balms.

Courtesy of PepsiCo.

With off-the-charts (and inexplicable) demand for Peeps, I shouldn’t be surprised Pepsi injected the flavor into its latest hybrid drink.  But here’s what bothers me.  Even if marshmallow-tasting cola is your thing (and you should have your taste buds examined), why does it have to be “Pepsi x Peeps”?  It’s not as if the marshmallow taste of Peeps is unique. (It might as well be “Pepsi x Lucky Charms”.)  The appeal of Peeps is exactly what’s not in the Pepsi product: fluorescent colors, cute little creatures, and sugar-dusted spongy-soft marshmallows.

I consider “Pepsi x Peeps” a disservice to marshmallows everywhere.  Marshmallows deserve their place in more respectable foods.  Oozing out of S’mores around the campfire.  Adorning sweet potato casserole on Thanksgiving.  Buried in Rocky Road ice cream.  Abundant in Rice Krispy treats.  Floating gracefully in a sea of hot chocolate.  But reduced to a mere flavor, wandering aimlessly amidst the carbonation bubbles of a cola?  That’s just harsh.

A more deserving “frankenfood”

No matter.  Consumers love new products, especially combos of tastes that were already good by themselves.  Burger King combined Cheetos and Mac ‘n’ Cheese for a carb-loaded side dish.  Taco Bell combined Doritos and tacos into one of its all-time best-selling entrees.  And Reese’s perfected peanut butter and chocolate as a candy (as did many others as an ice cream).

Courtesy of PepsiCo.

I won’t be buying “Pepsi x Peeps” anytime soon.  But neither will you.  In the ultimate snub, this promotion is not for a product you will find on your grocery store shelves anytime soon.  Instead, you can only “win” the drink by hashtagging #HangingWithMyPeeps on your springtime photos.  3,000 of the most creative Instagram and Twitter promotions will win three-packs of the colorful cans.  I won’t be entering.  Instead, I’ll be expending my limited social media energy elsewhere.

I was raised in a Coke household so maybe it’s natural for me to knock Pepsi down a peg or two.  But they’re kind of asking for it when they’ve already test-marketed products like “Pepsi Holiday Spice” and “Pepsi Salted Caramel”.  They even amped the caffeine level in one of their varieties to promote it as a ‘breakfast drink”.  Pepsi will stop at nothing to get your business.  Including coercing you to provide free advertising on social media.  Suckers.

Stay strong, little one

I hope “Peepsi” amounts to nothing more than an out-of-reach sweepstakes giveaway.  I hope marshmallows soon return to their roles as cute, colorful, edible animals.  C’mon, Pepsi – the Easter Bunny wants you to know: Stop hopping on pop!

Some content sourced from Laura Miller’s YouTube audiobook, “Hop on Pop”,  the People.com article, “Pepsi and Peeps Have Joined Forces to Create Marshmallow Soda”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Sugarcoating the Shot

When my childhood sweet tooth took its toll so many years ago, I just about lived in the dentist’s chair getting cavities filled. Anesthetics weren’t as effective as what we have today so those drill sessions were miserable. The only upside was the shelf of free toys my dentist teased beforehand, “dangling the carrot” to get me to sit still. Now, starting Monday, Krispy Kreme is taking the same approach to entice COVID-19 vaccinations.

“Free doughnuts” – who doesn’t like the sound of that?  Even if you’re more of a Dunkin’ fan, the allure of anyone’s free doughnuts is undeniable.  As long as you show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, you can get a free doughnut at Krispy Kreme every day for the remainder of 2021.  Heck, that’s enough incentive to permanently adjust the morning commute.  But not enough to get the vaccine.

I’m a huge fan of the Krispy Kreme “yeast doughnut”.  The original glazed version is light and airy and goes down so easy you could inhale a dozen in one sitting.  In fact, I’ve almost done just that.  My wife and I were driving to the airport with friends a few years ago, bound for Las Vegas.  We passed a Krispy Kreme store, checked our watches, and mad-dashed a U-turn so we could grab a few doughnuts for breakfast on the run.  “A few” amounted to two dozen and we had no problem finishing all of them on the rest of our drive.  That’s six doughnuts apiece and I didn’t even feel stuffed.

There’s the rub (or marketing genius) of the Krispy Kreme COVID-19 vaccination promotion.  There’s no way – I mean NO WAY you’re gonna walk into Krispy Kreme, get only a free doughnut, and walk out.  Nobody has that in their DNA.  Recall the Lay’s Potato Chip slogan: “Bet you can’t eat just one.”  The same applies to Krispy Kreme doughnuts in spades.  You don’t buy them by the “one” but rather by the dozen.

[Random thought: My mind just wandered to the midway at the county fair and those big games of ring toss.  Substitute doughnuts for the rings and syringes for the pegs.  Can you see it?  Yeah, probably not the best image for the Krispy Kreme promotion.]

If this story was about Voodoo Doughnuts or another baker whose creations are more akin to a large, filling dessert, maybe one free doughnut would be enough.  But at Krispy Kreme you’re going to get your free doughnut and promptly buy a dozen more.  It’s because you’re standing in the lobby and the slow-moving conveyor of hot, fresh doughnuts tempts you just beyond the glass.  You reach out for a touch or a taste but you can’t.  It’s how Krispy Kreme cajoles you into buying more of their product.

As for the vaccine enticement, Mary Poppins would certainly approve wouldn’t she?  Krispy Kreme should put her on their television commercials joyfully singing, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”.  Mary’d fit nicely into Krispy Kreme’s advertised “Be Sweet” initiative, designed to sell a lot of doughnuts but also, “…to inspire joy and kindness”.  Let’s hope hundreds and thousands of free doughnuts do just that.

Speaking of free doughnuts, whoever created this campaign must know what they’re doing or suffer the most awful form of job termination.  Here in Colorado, our vaccination rate hovers around 15.3% for a state population of 5.7 million people.  That means on Monday, Colorado Krispy Kreme stores could potentially see 872,000 customers demanding their free doughnuts.  And the day after that.  And the day after that.  Oh and – heh – Colorado only has TWO Krispy Kreme retail outlets in the entire state.  Traffic jams of epic proportions.

Now here’s the irony behind this Krispy Kreme headline.  For those who decide not to get the COVID-19 vaccine (and that would be me; don’t judge), we can still get a free glazed doughnut and a medium coffee at their stores on Mondays from March 29th to May 24th.  That’s nine free doughnuts and coffee for someone who didn’t even get the shot.  Does that inspire their intended “joy and kindness”?  You bet it does.

I only wish the nearest Krispy Kreme weren’t forty miles away.  Lucky for me there’s a new one under construction not fifteen minutes from my house.  They’re planning to open their doors at the end of December.  You know, just as their free doughnut promotion comes to a close.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “Krispy Kreme is making vaccinations extra sweet…” and KrispyKreme.com.

Feeding Frenzy

Thanks to a whole lot of snow in Colorado I was pretty much housebound this week.  I was also reminded of the number of mouths I’m expected to feed. That total is nine… if I count the four horses, two cats, and one dog besides my wife & me. Now that I think about it, a horse eats enough for two so let’s bump the number to eleven mouths. And nine of those belong to animals.

A year or so ago I wrote a post called Sign Me Up!, where I marveled at the rapidly growing world of subscription-based services.  Among my own subscriptions I listed a magazine, a newspaper, and digital music, I also included Chewy, the online pet food supplier whose mission is “to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere.”  At the time I was just trying Chewy out, not willing to go all-in with a subscription.  Today?  I’m fully on board and wondering why I didn’t sign up sooner.

Even the U.S. Post Office celebrates “fur babies”

Every time a Chewy pet food box shows up at my front door my first thought is, “Why didn’t I come up with this idea?”  Chewy’s concept is wonderfully simple… and wildly successful.  First, create a list of the world’s major suppliers of dog and cat food.  Second, negotiate bulk purchases of their products at a discount.  Third, set up a small network of fulfillment centers.  Finally, sell to customers with some of the discount, keeping the rest for your own operation and profit.  It’s a middleman’s recipe for millions.  Er, make that billions.

If you think this post is a plug for Chewy you’re darned tootin’ it is.  Chewy offers over 2,000 brands of pet food to 15 million subscribed customers.  97% say they’re satisfied.  Chewy’s net sales in 2019 were $4.8 billion dollars.  Nosh on that impressive number for a second.  $4.8 billion sounds like the GDP of a small country.  A small country with a lot of pets.

Foresight is everything here.  Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed there were 200 brands of pet food, let alone 2,000.  If I go back to my childhood (way more than ten years ago) I can name exactly four pet food brands or products of the day: Purina, Friskies, Alpo, and a curious General Mills creation called Gaines Burgers (“The canned dog food… without the can!”)  Well, I also remember a variety box of dog biscuits called “Fives”, but that’s because I snacked on them every now and then when there wasn’t anything else in the pantry.  Fives were fit for human consumption.  At least, I think they were.

The pet food demand of the 1970s wouldn’t have sustained a subscription service like Chewy.  On the other hand, today’s market is a feeding frenzy, especially with more people opting for “fur babies” over children.  And don’t think Chewy hasn’t noticed all the doggy daycare and emotional support.  Now they also deliver food for your fish, your bird, your snake, and all those farm animals grazing on your backyard lawn (alpacas, anyone?)  Chewy even offers a pharmacy of over-the-counter meds when your pet is in some way under the weather.

Hello, “Chewy”!

I was going to wrap up this plug by smugly suggesting Chewy cater to our horses, but of course they already do.  I can’t subscribe to hay bales yet (I’m sure they’re working on that) but I can buy grain, treats, blankets, tack, and fly spray.  So instead, let me speculate it probably won’t be long before Chewy gets into the “human” food delivery business as well, to compete with Amazon, Wal*Mart, and Target.  With Chewy’s millions of subscribed customers, the new offering would take off like a bull in a china shop.  Or better, like a big, furry bad boy in a Star Wars movie.

Her Majesty’s Persistent Presence

America is a vast melting pot, her contents stirred for generations in a dogged effort to blend peoples and cultures into a cohesive whole. It’s the classic chemistry experiment, where the glass beaker is filled with all manner of substances and then shaken, only to watch the inevitable separation back to individual weights and colors.  The shake-up brings moments of drama though; the storm before the calm if you will.  It’s also an apt description of the British Monarchy.

Despite my best efforts to filter my newsfeed, I still got the announcement about Oprah Winfrey’s televised interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle last week.  I don’t know much about either former royal (or Oprah, for that matter) so I dismissed the headline and moved on.  But I was alerted to the interview again the following day.  And again the next day.  Finally, in a move that can only be described as can’t-help-myself, I got out of my chair, grabbed the remote, and programmed the DVR to record.  Something deep-rooted was telling me Sunday night’s interview was must-watch TV.

No it wasn’t.  The questions and answers were predictable.  The topics just begged for a response from Buckingham Palace (mission accomplished).  After two hours of back-and-forth (and too much time in a chicken coop) my take on this couple hadn’t changed.  Meghan shouldn’t have dabbled in the royals in the first place.  Meghan eventually orchestrated her way out of the palace (and the country).  Harry followed.  Now they’re barely surviving… in an 18,000 square foot house in Montecito, California worth $14 million.  Oprah is their neighbor.

Waste of two hours?  There’s no denying it.  Still, I chose to watch.

Americans don’t have royals, but we have a lot of movies about royals.

Why do I care about Harry and Meghan?  I don’t, yet somehow I do.  Maybe I should blame The Crown, the excellent Netflix series about the British monarchy.  By total coincidence, my wife and I started watching Season Four this week, which is all about Harry’s mother Diana.  Then my newsfeed tells me the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip) suffered a heart condition last week, rough enough to land him in the hospital.  Add to that regular photos of Queen Elizabeth looking ever-regal at the ripe old age of 94 and the royals are all over the place.  They make themselves kind of hard to ignore.

The Queen (will live forever)

The episodes of The Crown are a revelation, especially for those of us in “New England”.  Each show kind of ungilds the lily of America’s perception of British royalty.  There’s more drama, politics, and in-fighting than we Yanks would’ve ever believed of fair princes and princesses.  Yet through it all stands the queen – at the epicenter of the shaken beaker – somehow maintaining poise and presence.  All of the events in The Crown take place within Elizabeth’s lifetime, yet it feels like we’re going several generations back. 

Despite The Crown and my newfound respect for Elizabeth, there’s no question it was the late Diana, Princess of Wales who first piqued my interest in the British royals.  Who could blame me, right?  Lady Di was beautiful and supremely innocent, a veritable Disney princess in the flesh.  She was born just a few months before I was.  Her wedding to Prince Charles in 1981 – the grandest of ceremonies watched by hundreds of millions of people across the world – was the stuff of fairy tales (Charles himself, not so much).  Diana embodied all that was good and somehow magical about life as a royal.

Lady Di belongs in this club

But then we have Diana’s shocking death not sixteen years after her marriage.  Talk about shaking the beaker.  My wife and I were at a party in California at the time and returned to our hotel late, staying up hours past midnight to watch the funeral on television.  Like the Oprah interview this week, I can’t explain why I gave up half a night’s sleep to watch.  I just felt compelled to.

Thanks to The Crown, the royals aren’t looking quite as regal as they used to.  Diana effectively sacrificed her life to be a royal.  The agendas of Elizabeth and her several prime ministers were in constant conflict.  Season Four has a poignant episode where Elizabeth arranges an individual lunch with each of her four children.  She needs a valet to prepare a brief of information on each child so she can have meaningful discussions with them.  Elizabeth may be “Queen Mother” but the title rates a distant second to “Queen”.

(photo courtesy of Fox News)

Harry and Meghan seem determined to move on from the monarchy.  They’ll never achieve “normal”, and whether their marriage is the real deal is TBD, but good on them for making a show of it.  Me, I’m moving on too.  The next season of The Crown isn’t until next year so it looks like I finally get a break from the royals.  Er, unless William and Kate are up to anything interesting.  Are they up to anything interesting?  Hm.  I’d better go check.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Pulling the Plug

Thirty years ago, the S. C. Johnson Company introduced a new member of their Glade line of fragrance products called the “PlugIn”. Maybe you have one in your bathroom. The PlugIn uses a small amount of electricity to warm up scented oil, which slowly diffuses into the nearby air. You can even get one that lights up. Ironically, the Glade PlugIn was my first thought when I read about this week’s National Day of Unplugging.

So this is what we’ve come to in the year 2021.  As a counter to our undying affection for our electronic devices, a portion of the next couple of days has been designated “National Day of Unplugging” (NDoU) by a non-profit organization called Unplug Collaborative.  The Collaborative started its membership early last year and is determined to “spread awareness about how to maintain a healthy life/tech balance”.  Theirs is a noble, if not impossible effort.

Should you choose to participate in the NDoU “24-hour respite from technology from sundown to sundown, March 5-6”, I ask, will your life necessarily change for the better?

It’s just an awareness campaign, I get it.  Unplugging phones, tablets, laptops, and whatever else you consider “tech” for one whole day is essentially raising the white flag on what each of us already admit: we spend too much time with our screens.  But let’s be honest – what exactly defines “healthy life/tech balance”?  I think the answer is highly personal, depending on your job, disposable income, place of residence, and the ways you choose to spend your downtime.

My wife is a wonderful example of “wired” (er, “wireless”); someone who twenty years ago tentatively navigated texting, apps, and what little else her basic cell phone had to offer.  Today, she sports the latest model Apple Watch, two iPads, and a MacBook, all of which seamlessly share information with each other and then with her.  She even sports a protective wristband to reduce her exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

I can’t imagine my wife “unplugging” for four hours, let alone twenty-four.  My conversation with her would go something like this:

NDoU wants you to put your cell phone to bed – literally.

“Hey honey, so there’s this thing called ‘National Day of Unplugging’ where we get to shut down all of our electronic devices and work on making our life/tech balance better.  Just give me your watch and your tablets and your laptop and I’ll lock them in the closet until tomorrow night.  Sound good?” 

The response I’d get (if I did get a response from her) would be something like,

“Wait, WHAT???  National Day of WHAT?  Are you freaking kidding me?  Hahahahahahaha, good one, honey.  Yeah, let me think on that for just a second… um, NO WAY.  And keep your hands off my screens!”

I get it.  Not only does my wife fiercely track her 10,000 steps and her circles on her watch, she monitors a dozen or more daily feeds on her tablets, and countless emails and websites on her laptop.  It would be just as soul-sucking as taking my Amazon Kindle e-reader away from me (and let’s not even discuss that possibility).

This NDoU supporter doesn’t need screens… ever.

Unplug our gadgets and then what do we do… watch TV?  Sorry, if I’m really gonna play this game the TV also has to go.  The point of NDoU no doubt, is to reestablish face-to-face communication, prepare meals together, get outdoors, read books (what’s a “book”?), and so on.  Unplug Collaborative’s website lists fully one hundred ways to spend your time devoid of tech.  You can’t unlock the full list without signing up for their membership so I’m just speculating on examples.  [Hey, if you join, let me know if one of the hundred is “fool around in the bedroom”.  That one doesn’t take anything plugged in.  At least, nothing I have any experience with.]

If the NDoU campaign really gets momentum, I could see the unplugging moving beyond tech.  Perhaps next year we’ll give the washer and dryer a day’s rest too, as well as the home exercise equipment, the stereo speakers, and the kitchen appliances.  Now there’s a frightening image.  Imagine twenty-four hours in dirty clothes, with no workout, singing just to make a little music, and sandwiches and pretzels for dinner.  Okay, skipping the workout wouldn’t be so bad.

For the record, I’m a proponent of a healthy life/tech balance.  Taking away my screens for a day isn’t such a bad thing.  After all, we could be talking about my coffeemaker here.  Now don’t be talking about unplugging my coffeemaker.  You’re gonna have a fight on your hands and you don’t want to see me without my morning coffee.  Do that and I might have to think about unplugging you.

O-Love

I like a lot of foods people seem to hate. My favorite Thanksgiving pie is mincemeat, not pumpkin. My favorite licorice color is black (red is just a licorice imposter). You can heap any kind of shellfish you want on my plate except oysters. You’ll find blue cheese in my salad and Brussel sprouts cozying up to my steak. But what about “America’s Most Hated Food”? Was I born in the wrong country? Sorry fellow citizens, I must respectfully disagree with the winner of a recent survey on hated foods.  Black or green, stuffed or plain, sliced or diced, there’s nothing quite like the taste of an olive.

Zippia is a job-search engine I’d never heard of, until I came across their just-released survey called The Food Each State Hates the Most.  Zippia’s road to its results is rather unscientific.  First, come up with a list of forty-odd foods where people tend to say, “gross”.  Then, use Google Search Trends to determine which of these foods people look up the least.  Finally, group the search results by state.  After that meandering highway, here’s what you get:

    (Click image to enlarge)

I think Zippia produces these surveys as a clever way to attract customers.  Didn’t work for me – they just insulted my taste buds!  Thirteen of fifty states claim the olive as their most hated food?  Two of those states are California and Georgia, where the lion’s share of America’s olives is grown.  I’m already suspicious.

Not a pile of tires

I’ll grant Zippia’s survey this.  Most people I know don’t care for olives.  They don’t like the look or the smell, and even though they’ll admit to olive oil in their salads and heart-healthy recipes, they’ll still deny any affection for the fruit.  Yes, I said fruit, not vegetable.  Doesn’t that make those little sodium balls a bit more palatable?

The rest of the survey, I can buy.  Anchovies shouldn’t swim anywhere near a pizza (good call, America’s Heartland).  Washington and Oregon residents probably sat next to me in elementary school, overdosing on bologna sandwiches.  Eggplant, ick.  And beets… beets… I’m almost sixty years into this world and have yet to acquire the taste.  Check back with me in the next life.

If the Zippia survey is to be believed, I live in a state where turkey bacon is our most hated food.  Really?  We just bought several pounds of the stuff last weekend at Costco.  It’s not so bad.  On the other hand, olive oil and vinegar stores are trendy around here.  Most markets have an olive bar adjacent to the cheeses.  Meats and breads have been enhanced with bits of olives for years.  And for the really fancy, serve a tapenade with your crackers; a French spread made of finely chopped olives, capers, and anchovies.  Okay, so tapenade’s probably not for everyone.  But I like it.

I developed a taste for olives as a kid because my mother kept tossing them into her casseroles.  Before I knew it I was eating olives as a snack (and what kid hasn’t done the “wave” with one on each finger?)  One regrettable afternoon I downed a whole can of the large black ones before discovering my mother intended them for one of her recipes.  Believe I went to bed with no dinner that night.  At least my belly was full of olives.

[Side note: The only member of my family who likes olives is my daughter.  Maybe I should’ve named her Olivia? I did have a childhood crush on Olivia Newton-John.]

Not “monster eyeballs”

As if you need more proof of my love of olives, you’ll always find several cans in my pantry.  The sliced ones go into my pizzas, salads, and tacos.  The diced ones go into my omelets.  The whole ones sneak onto vegetable trays next to the carrots and celery (when my wife isn’t looking) or I just down ’em by the can.  And their green siblings with the red pimentos jammed down the middle?  They go perfectly with chips ‘n’ dip in front of the TV.

Step aside, America.  Spain produces more olives than any other country.  Italy and Greece aren’t far behind.  It would be appealing enough to live on the sands of the Mediterranean, growing old on their uber-healthy diet.  But also having trees of “America’s Most Hated Food” everywhere you look?  That clinches the deal.  I just might take my O-Love overseas one of these days.

Some content sourced from the Zippia.com article, “The Food Each State Hates The Most”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Tuesday seems like weeks ago.  Some call it “Fat Tuesday” (esp. those pancake-bingers partying hard at Mardi Gras) but to me, it’s just the last day of my food free-for-all.  My wife and I decided to give up “flour” for Lent (more on that in a minute) so Tuesday night we overate at our favorite Mexican restaurant.  Chips and salsa (the chips a hybrid of corn and flour).  Enchiladas and tacos wrapped in big, fluffy flour tortillas.  Sopapillas fried from puffy flour tortillas, drenched in honey.  Big, frosty margaritas to wash it all down.  It was kind of a fiesta final before Lent.

Now it’s Ash Wednesday as I type and I’m already obsessing about my forbidden flour.  This morning’s breakfast was hardly a fiesta – coffee and a protein shake.  Not a tablespoon of flour to be found anywhere.  My upcoming fever dreams will be liberally dusted with flour.  I’ll have fantasies of consuming an entire bakery case (shelves and all), eating my way out of a gigantic loaf of bread, or parking my mouth below the pasta-maker while endlessly turning the crank.  I’m looking at all the snow outside my office window right now.  It looks exactly like white flour.  It probably IS white flour.  Hang on, I’ll be right back…

As of today, we’ve officially started the season of Lent again. The next forty-odd days and nights are gonna be the usual challenge. Did you know the Old English translation of “Lent” is “spring season”?  How that computes with all the flour I’m seeing outside my windows right now is beyond me.  More to today’s point, Ash Wednesday is the deadline to answer the question, “What am I giving up for the next seven weeks?”

Lent = “no mas”

Lent, as even non-Christians know, is the religious season of preparation leading up to Easter.  It’s the time to reflect inward, with more attention to prayer and the Good Book, less attention to “shortcomings” (sins, people), more charitable service to others, and finally, a cruel little something called “self-denial”.  Self-denial is anything you want it to be, but the idea is to subtract from your daily equation: something you don’t need but you’ll struggle to be without.  Consider seven popular choices for 2021:

  1. Chocolate.  Maybe this one’s popular because it’s the easy way out.  Chocolate’s often in my desserts, occasionally in my protein shakes, and every-now-and-then in my mid-afternoon pick-me-ups.  But I can certainly do without the sweet stuff for forty days.  C’mon, people used to give up food for Lent!  A little chocolate’s not really what the Big Guy had in mind.
  2. Meat.  Christians forego meat on Lenten Fridays anyway but some choose to give it up the whole way.  Not me.  If I’m giving up flour, I’ve got to have meat-and-potatoes to soften the blow of all my bread, pasta, and baked goods currently on hiatus.  For Pete’s sake, I can’t even have chicken noodle soup!  What was I thinking?
  3. Smoking or Drinking.  Maybe these are your vices but they’re not mine, so either would be a Lenten cop-out.  I enjoy the occasional glass of wine or a beer, sure, but putting them on the shelf for the next month or so? Hardly a stretch.
  4. Coffee.  Okay, we just shifted from first to fourth gear.  There is nothing – NOTHING – to fill the vast and infinite void left behind by my morning cup of joe.  I understand self-denial but don’t turn me into a raging lunatic.  Force me to give up coffee for Lent and I’ll have a newfound respect for the next option, which is…
  5. Sleeping In.  Normally this would be another cop-out for me because I’m one of those annoying morning people.  But deny me my coffee and I’ll gladly hibernate until early afternoon – every day until Easter.
  6. Social Media.  I dropped Facebook late last year.  I’m only on Instagram a couple of times a week.  I have no Twitter feed.  I get it – it’s 2021 – but this one’s a no-brainer for me.  I mean seriously, just give me a call.
  7. Speaking Poorly about Others.  I asked my sister-in-law what she was giving up for Lent and she said, “I’m going to be nice to others”.  That gave me a good laugh until I found this item on the list.  My sister-in-law has plenty of company.  So, consider: could YOU give up airing dirty laundry for forty days?

One more thing about Lent. Each of the liturgical seasons has a color, and Lent’s is purple.  You’ll see a lot of it in churches, cathedrals, and flower arrangements this month and next.  I like purple enough, but ask me to name purple items and all I come up with is eggplant (the nightmare vegetable of my youth), figs (the nightmare fruit of my youth), grapes (I prefer the green ones), cauliflower (yep, it comes in colors), and lavender and amethysts, both of which I have little use for.  Purple is about as smart a choice for Lent as giving up flour.

In conclusion, I could use your prayers as I endure my forty-day flour fast.  By late March my car tires will look like doughnuts and my paperback novel a nice, thick Pop-Tart.  Toss me a Frisbee and I’ll slather it in syrup and devour it like a pancake.  Put your pasta under lock and key.  Guard your pizza with your life.  I’m coming for your cupcakes.

Some content sourced from the Delish.com article, “7 Things To Give Up For Lent That Go Beyond Food”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Fine Print

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the movie, Jurassic Park. I’d read the Michael Crichton novel so I already knew the story, but I still couldn’t wrap my mind around that first dino scene, where a brachiosaurus casually munches on the uppermost leaves of a forty-foot tree.  The gigantic creature was so lifelike I thought, “Where’d Steven Spielberg get a dinosaur?” In my defense, computer-generated imagery (CGI) was brand-spankin’ new back then.  A ferocious T-Rex looking and moving like the real thing was still jaw-dropping in the 1990s. And I’m having the same reaction to the stuff rolling off 3D printers right now.

A “printed” toy tugboat

If you’re like me you haven’t paid much attention to 3D printing.  You see some of the items a 3D printer can generate and they seem like child’s play.  In fact, 3D printing reminds me of a 1970s toy called “Creepy Crawlers”.  You had these tubes of colored goop you squeezed into metal molds, and then the molds went into an electric oven.  The goop would grow from flat to 3D with heat, and suddenly the oven was spilling out all kinds of bugs and spiders you could drop on your friends.  (There was also consumable goop called “Incredible Edibles”; products to compete with whatever the girls were making in their Easy-Bake ovens).

But I digress.  Here’s my 3D printing naivete in a nutshell: I still think my 2D printer is the more impressive technology, cranking out high-resolution photos and perfectly addressed envelopes.  I mean, whatever would I need a third dimension for?

Yep, I am seriously naive about 3D printing.  The scope of this topic is mind-boggling if you really take the time to understand its potential. Here’s a good example.  Picture a printer as big as your living room.  Picture a printer cartridge of concrete instead of ink.  Now watch the printer build your living room, one horizontal layer at a time.  The printer can also build the rest of your house.  Just add plumbing and electric when it’s done.

“Printed” storage crates

Without getting too far into the weeds, let’s define 3D printing for what it really is: additive manufacturing (AM).  Here’s an easy way to picture the AM process.  When you build a log cabin you lay out the entire foundation of logs for the house – with breaks for the doors – before you add the next layer of logs.  You work your way up a layer of logs at a time, keeping those breaks for the doors, adding breaks for windows, pipes, and such, completing the structure with a sloping roof on top.  Perhaps you add a fireplace in the process; again, layering bricks on top of bricks until you’ve reached the top of the chimney.

That’s pretty much how a 3D printer works.  It “pictures” an object in horizontal layers and “prints” it from the ground up.  3D printing has been around longer than you think.  3D printers were developed as early as the 1970s (preceding your inkjet 2D printer!).  The early versions just had to be manually programmed.  Once we attached a computer and software, 3D printing really came into its own.

Watch the following video of a 3D printer confidently layering a basket weave – it’s mesmerizing:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/transcoded/5/5d/Hyperboloid_Print.ogv/Hyperboloid_Print.ogv.360p.vp9.webm

The products speak for themselves, of course.  A shortlist of the more cutting-edge printed creations gives you an idea of where our world is heading:

  • Cakes and pastries – The “ink” is baked goods in one nozzle and frosting in another.  Design it on your computer screen and then “print”.  It’s like the Easy-Bake Oven on steroids.  Only you don’t need the oven.
    3D-printed confectionery from Ukrainian chef/architect Dinara Kasko
  • Bones – No, not some plastic or other polymer designed to replicate bones, actual bones.  It’s called bioprinting – the fabrication of natural tissue using cells and other building blocks, and it’s coming soon to a clinic near you.  Don’t worry how long a broken bone will take to heal; just replace it!
  • Buildings – Forget about building that log cabin one layer at a time.  Your 3D printer will do the whole job for you (and it’ll still look like a log cabin).  Your printer can also build sturdier houses out of concrete.  This one’s on the market in Riverhead, New York, for $300K.
  • Vehicles – 3D printers have already created boats, kayaks, and most of the makeup of cars and trucks.  Long ago I was impressed with the robotics of the Ford Motor Company, employed on a long assembly line to build cars one part at a time.  A 3D printer can essentially do the same job standing still, no assembly line required.
  • You – I could speculate on the potential for a full bioprint but let’s avoid that scary future for now and just say, a 3D printer can create a figurine to look exactly like you.  Think of it as printing a 3-D photograph.

If your mind is not blown by what you’ve just read, consider this: 3D is already passe.  That’s right, we’ve already moved on to 4D printing.  4D – at least with printing – refers to materials that can change shape with time, temperature, or some other type of stimulation.  A good example would be a printed window shade, sitting tight and virtually unnoticed at the top of the window in daylight but expanding to full cover as darkness falls.

Don’t know about you but this level of technology makes my head hurt.  When I’m done with this post I’m gonna push “print” and generate a nice 2D copy for my files.  Oh, and maybe watch Jurassic Park again.

Some content sourced from the 7/24/2020 Forbes article, “What Can 3D Printing Be Used For?”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Dots ‘n’ Dashes

Back in my days in the Boy Scouts, they had a merit badge called “Signaling”. To earn the badge you had to build a basic communication device (buzzer, blinker) and demonstrate a knowledge of Semaphore – visual signaling by flags – and Morse – audible signaling by “dots” and “dashes”. Today most people wouldn’t have a clue about Semaphore, and their only familiarity with Morse might be from the frantic telegraph typing in the movie Titanic.  Dots ‘n’ dashes have stepped down, more associated with the mundane pavement markings of the streets we drive.  Well hey, at least they’re still signaling devices.

“Dashing through the… street…”

Let’s talk about street dashes first.  The highway to our rural neighborhood was recently restriped, mostly dashes but occasionally a solid for safety’s sake.  Some lanes were shifted, and they just covered up the old stripes with blackish paint similar to the asphalt below.  But my car was not fooled, no sir.  It still sees the old striping.  Anytime I pass over those areas my car’s “lane-keeping assist” emits an audible warning and tries to bump me back onto the road, when in fact I’m just passing over covered-up stripes.  That’s annoying.  Either car tech needs to improve or road striping needs to come up with a better cover.  Until one or the other happens I’m all over the road.

Here’s an even better story about dashes.  Long ago, my parents were driving my brothers and me back from my grandparents’ house.  We were cruising along a paved winding road late at night when all of a sudden my dad gets to wondering about those highway dashes.  He starts to guess – if you measured one, how long would a dash be?  Talk about useless information, right?  But then, right in the middle of a darkened highway, no cars in the rear-view mirror, my father stops the car, gets out, and starts measuring a dash, foot-in-front-of-foot like he’s taking a sobriety test.  Then he gets back into the car and announces proudly, “six feet”.  Think about that the next time you pass those stripes at forty miles an hour.  (But please, don’t get out and actually measure one).

California highways are usually dotted, not dashed.

Now let’s talk about street dots.  You know, those round, non-reflective raised pavement markers used to designate lanes and borders and such?  They’re actually called Botts’ dots.  It’s a name I’ve known since childhood because I grew up in California where they were invented.  California has over 25 million of the little guys marking its endless streets.  And if you must know, Botts’ dots were named for their inventor, Elbert Dysart Botts (and how’s that for a mouthful?)

Kinda cute, right?

Botts’ dots might’ve never been a thing were it not for their total makeover.  At first they were glass discs attached to the road with nails. (How’d you like to have that job?  Whack, whack, whack!).  But then they started popping loose, and people got flat tires from the nails and the broken glass.  So Botts (or a coworker) devised a hard plastic to replace the glass and an asphalt-friendly epoxy to replace the nails.  Now the dots – and the speeding cars above them – stay where they’re supposed to.

But now Botts’ dots have a whole new challenge.  We face a future with self-driving cars.  Turns out, Botts’ dots mess with that technology.  The car may or may not recognize a dot as the border of a lane.  That’s not good when you put your steering wheel in the hands of a robo-chauffeur.  But can you imagine the task of removing 25 million Botts’ dots?  That’s worse than hammering them in one by one!

Botts’ dots may go the way of the telegraph.

Over here in rural Colorado, I got pretty excited about the prospect of California surrendering all of its Botts’ dots.  We can use ’em.  You see, out here we have mostly two-lane highways divided by dashes, or occasionally solid lines instead of the dashes (don’t pass!), or very occasionally the luxury of a defined left-turn lane.  But “dash-it-all” when it snows.  You not only lose the striping, you lose the road.  At least a Bott’s dot would make noise and give you a jolt to let you know you’re not about to cruise into somebody’s cow pasture.

Alas, my dream of millions of Botts’ dots flying over the Rocky Mountains died before it was born.  Turns out the asphalt epoxy of a Botts’ dot cannot compete with the combined weight and speed of a snowplow.  The dots’d go flying every which way from the snowplow blade, like hundreds of tiny shuffleboard discs.  Ping! Ping! Ping!

Signaling merit badge was retired by the Boy Scouts in 1992 (yet another reminder of my advancing age).  Looks like the Botts’ dot is headed for a similar scrap heap, at least if self-driving cars become more mainstream.  Meanwhile, you’ll find me out in my neighborhood navigating the painted dashes.  Even if I do prefer the dots.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.