Field of Science

Wilt proof for winter protection

It's a bit warmer this weekend, so late season garden chores go to the top of the list. This weekend is also when the Phactors traditionally purchase a nice fir tree for holiday decorating. The reason for this is simple; the trees have been harvested and won't get any fresher. While it isn't time to set up the tree inside, the tree is set in a bucket of water in our garage. If the weather accomodates, i.e., it isn't really cold, it gets sprayed with wilt proof. The commerical product is a waxy substance that makes a coating that slows down transpiration, water loss, and with a cut tree, it reduces needle drop, or at least slows it down. TPP has been asked a number of times if it's worth it to spray your broad-leafed evergreen shrubs because wilt proof (the commerical produce isn't spelled this way) is kind of pricy. In theory it works the same way; the coating slows water loss during the winter when it's hard or nearly impossible for plants to replace the water loss, so leaves dry out and die. TPP doesn't know the answer. Here in the upper midwest, broad-leafed evergreen shrubs seem to have a tough time; "winter kill" is pretty common among certain plants, e.g., rhododendrons. Of course, members of the heath family, the Ericaceae, hate our heavy, basic soils, so raising some of them is a fool's errand anyways. But back to the basic question. Is it worth it? If your evergreen shrubs have been doing OK over the winter, then it probably isn't worth it. But if you've been buying replacement shrubs, then it might be worth spraying them as insurance. Probably your best bet is to work on soil improvement so that the shrubs develop a robust root system. TPP will admit that he sprays his broad-leafed evergreen shrubs because they seem to suffer less damage over the winter. This falls short of an enthusiastic endorsement. It does increase the longevity of cut trees by reducing needle fall, but curiously, TPP doesn't know of any tree sellers that offer a spraying as an option (unless it's some hideous flocking). Spraying won't do you any good if you don't also protect your shrubs from hungry bunnies who turn into bark browsers if other food gets hard to come by.

Black Friday - Who is not with the program?

The daily newspaper on Wednesday must have weighed 10 pounds. News-wise it was a fairly scanty day; it was all the advertising inserts. If you live in the USA, and read a daily newspaper, yours was probably similarly fattened. For reasons that remain mysterious to TPP, the friday after Thanksgiving, which is always on a Thursday for reasons that remain mysterious to TPP, has turned into the biggest shopping day of the year. Part of this is because Christmas is only a month away although it's influence seems to creep into things earlier and earlier every year. Part of this is because almost everyone has Friday off, but since the stock market was open Friday AM, Mrs. Phactor had to woman her office until it closed. What this all means to TPP is big box and mall avoidance like they were handing out free ebola. It was even bad getting petrol for the car! For academics Thanksgiving means now is the headlong rush toward the end of the semester. A week or two (just a week this year) of classes left to cover maybe a third of your syllabus (they are only a promisory document) then final exams followed by reading them all and grading. TPP could just never get into a holiday spirit until all of that was over. And it always took quite a bit of desire to get TPP to go shopping even though he likes getting all the women in his life gifts (the cats are easiest). Mrs. Phactor annoyingly annouced that she was done with holiday shopping! The looks she received were not pretty. Of course in her defense this is a pretty busy time of year in her business and she does a fair amount of volunteer/chaity work as well. Since TPP's academic counterpart has retired, time should be no issue, but decades of habit are hard to change. You can't just listen to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant one day and switch to Christmas shopping the next. It isn't done in proper circles, but it looks like it is being done on a grand scale by many. 

Produce bus for food deserts

There are places even in small cities where grocery stores
are too far away for walking/biking access. This is especially important when it comes to fresh and sustainable produce. In urban areas with well developed mass transit, there will often be small, strategically placed markets at major transit hubs, but neither of these is common place in the USA. This produce bus idea makes the produce market movable and capable of serving several neighborhoods. Many parts of the world still operate with lots of small markets, many specializing in just one component of groceries: green grocers, butchers, bakers, dairy, but in the USA someone invented the car and then someone else invented the super market, and while it had everything it isn't convenient for in and out shopping, so people had to buy a week's worth of groceries. This then requires much bigger refrigerators and more storage, a whole cascade of inefficiency. So it's fun to see this all devolving change back toward small and local. Friends of ours retired to a Chi-town high rise over looking Lake Michigan, a non-gardeners paradise, and they have a convenience store for dairy, produce, and meat in their building. TPP's own neighborhood has just barely walkable shopping; it takes about 20 min to walk to the "people's" market and about the same to walk to the small business areas on either side of our campus, but those areas are both bereft of real grocery shopping. While TPP does this regularly, few of his neighbors do. While living in Zurich, TPP was quite enamored with small, convenient groceries at tram stops selling food in smaller quantities, e.g., eggs come in cartons of 4, 6, and 8. Beer came in 3 bottle packs. Fresh pastas and sauces were just enough for 2, and so were smaller loaves of bread. In all of this TPP sees some hope. For example, the USA has gone through a beer revolution. There was a time when every city had one or more breweries; our own little city had up to 5, the influence of German immigrants. Then someone invented pasteurizing and bottling for beer, and bigger breweries bought up small breweries, closed them and then distributed their product over that area. And of course the beer was brewed to be all things to all people, so mediocre at best. This continued until there were only 37 breweries left in the whole USA! Now microbreweries have proliferated and more craft beers are consumed than Budweiser, once the number one beer. So smallifying and local is good if a trend.

Squirrel olympic training

The primary training season for the squirrel olympics is underway. The primaryevent is always the same: get into the bird feeder and hog down all bird seed. So far this year the event has mainly involved the long jump and who knows how far the squirrels can be pushed to go. But that's part of the training, to push the athletes to ever higher and longer distances. The event used to involve a lot of pole climbing, but the advent and application of fairly effective baffles has pretty much ended things. Yes, the young ones try it a time or two, and that's it. A change in the garden configuration resulted in a repositioning of a bird feeder on a pole to a position that was further than ever from a large sugar maple tree. It seemed a safe bet because no squirrel had ever jumped that far before. But that was before this year! Please understand that these are fox squirrels, big, husky, handsome, and well-fed. Our gardens are prime fox squirrel habitat and that's why some 12 to 18 of them live here abouts. At any given time you can see 8-10. Well, an olympic aspirant found out that you could jump from higher up in the maple tree and land on the feeder. Others soon copied the example. A cage around the feeder did not deter the squirrels either, finding their way in withint 2 hrs of its construction. So during the weekend's break in the cold weather the bird feeder was moved another 3 feet from the maple tree. Several squirrels were seen sizing up the distance yesterday, but no one was attempting the new jump. But this morning, a squirrel was sitting in the feeder having his breakfast. No official were present so the distance of the jump could not be verified, and as certain as possible without making them all wear numbered shirts, only one squirrel has thus far qualified for the long jump. The training will continue

Great seasonal garden decorations

This little garden just wowed TPP when he noticed that the grasses in the center of this little traffic island had been bundled for the winter, a practice not all that unusual, but then enhanced by some choice additions of greens, and reds, and ribbon.  The over all effect, augmented by a bit of clinging snow, was terrific.  No idea at all who was so creative. Generally this bed is planted and kept by the
campus grounds crew, but they have never done anything like this before, nothing quite so ornamental, and as usual, the budget is always tight. Maybe a demonstration horticulture project by a student?  Technically the island is in a city street, so perhaps the city's crew, but somebody deserves some credit for a job really well done.  The golden brown tops enhanced by some red and white twigs contrast so nicely with the green and red sprigs hanging down.  So simple, yet so effective. Anyone ever seen something like this before?

Friday Fabulous Flower - Tea

The best thing about having a glasshouse at your disposal, more or less, is that things are always happening in there plant-wise. The glasshouse plant collection is support of teaching and research, so specimens tend to fall into certain types and one of those categories is plants important by virtue of their importance to humans. Although it isn't very big this little shrub flowers every year although the flower isn't as big or attractive as some of its ornamental relatives. Did you recognize this flower as a Camellia? For a long time, tea was Thea sinensis, just the Latinized name for tea, but modern systematic analysis places Thea smack dab in the middle of the genus Camellia, so now tea is Camellia sinensis, however the family remains Theaceae, based on the genus Thea which is now Camelia.  Not sure about why that name is conserved after the genus has been subsumed into another. At any rate once you know tea is a Camellia, the resemblance is pretty clear. 

Gotta get one of these! Starry, starry bike path

TPP often blogs about bicycles; always liked them. But never before has there been a reason to blog about the bike path.  This is just super duper, although it has been years since TPP road a bike at night, this bike path would change my mind. Isn't this just great! Hopefully you didn't need TPP to point out that this glow-in-the-dark bike path has a design based on Van Gogh's famous painting. It's as iconic as art gets. To heck with bikes, TPP wants this for a pathway through his garden, oh yes, a glow-in-the-dark starry night garden path!  Wow!  This is just way too cool. Now what kind of music to have piped in?

Snow snow snow

Western upstate New York is getting some snow, like 77 inches of snow with another foot or two on the way. This is the stuff of lake effect snow storms. These storms pick up moisture as they move across the Great Lakes and then when they reach colder land, it all gets dumped as snow, snow that can fall at the rate of 3 to 5 inches an hour. TPP grew up there and attended college there and personally witnessed a 104" snow fall in 48 hours. Yikes!  What else is there to say. The pictures from the Buffalo region, studies in frozen black and white taken about 60 miles from TPP's childhood home near the shore of Lake Ontario, are familiar reminders of those winter snows, although TPP has not seen that type
of snow for more than 40 years now. TPP has had lake effect snow clog the space between his eyes and his glasses, a real white-out. Lake effect snow sometimes moves in as a wall-like front, one minute no snow is falling, then a few flurries appear, and then a curtain of snow is drawn across the scenery in front of you. TPP got caught about a mile from our campus when one of these snows moved in. Creeping along the road, or where you thought the road was because  nothing was in sight, but it was West Lake Road, so the shore of Lake Ontario was right there to the left, somewhere. And then out of the white a telephone post appeared just feet in front of the center of the hood of the car. Great! To which TPP had to ask, well, does anyone remember if the telephone poles are on the lake side of the road or not?  It seemed important to know. So far out here in the upper Midwest, it's been bitter cold and windy, terrible really, but no snow accumulation of any sort yet. TPP prefers the nostalgia to the real thing.

Retirement project for the garden

Somehow the Phactors managed to accumulate a few hundred green wine bottles all cleaned up nicely. The idea was to commission a glass artist to do something for our garden with all those bottles, but that idea collapsed when the warehouse studio of this young fellow also collapsed. But the bottles remain, and for some why valuable stuff like that begins to annoy Mrs. Phactor, a trait perhaps inherited from her Mother who tossed anything without immediate utility. Not sure how TPP managed to survive those early years. But when it comes to creative recycling one must keep their minds open to possibilities. Something amusing, something fun, and quirky, but without going all Magic Gardens on the estate. So perhaps some type of bottle wall mosaic
defining a garden bed or seating area would be nice, someplace to set your wine glass in between sips. Could this be a retirement project? This might work out if a lot more wine bottles are needed. 

Water, fire, & insects

These are three primary worries of herbarium curators. The collection TPP curates is small, only 50,000 or so specimens.  Some of them date back 200 years, some were collected by famous people, and some are precious records of prior diversity. Basically our herbarium is a teaching facility. Still such collections are irreplaceable so their safety must be insured. Insects have not been a problem for us, and the sealed cases work well. However, the collection is on the first floor of a 4 story building and the infrastructure is crumbling particularly the plumbing. See where this is going? Leaks are quite common, and were even more common, and more noxious, when some chemists lived up stairs. When you turn on the tap in a sink in TPP's lab the water runs brown for quite awhile. Now some of the plumbing is due to be replaced, by necessity, so when maintenance people say there may be some unanticipated leaks while repairs are being made, us herbarium curators sit up and pay attention. Oh, and while fire is a long-shot problem, you have to make certain that water isn't used to put out a fire in the herbarium, and you hope no fire must be put out on the floors above. Water always finds its way down. So during the rest of this week TPP will be fitting some plastic sheeting over the rows of specimen cases to offer some protection should the worst happen. Ironically, while doing this the message arrives telling us that the building will be without water over the Thanksgiving break except maybe for leaks. TPP took some time to show the plumbers what the worry was, and interestingly enough, they were impressed by the age and condition of old specimens, and the size of the collection. The next day a big roll of plastic sheeting arrived.

Far out, man!

Consider TPP's mind blown!  One mighty strange nostalgia trip that came from reading the Chi-town Trib this fine Sunday AM, and that doesn't happen very often. This was a time machine instant trip to 1968 where there were lots of trips you could take, good trips, bad trips, tripping trips. Now to be quite honest, 1968 at a state college in upstate NY was nothing like 1968 in San Francisco. TPP was not a monk, but being in a cultural backwater was probably why he remembers so much of the 60s so clearly. Nothing was more emblematic of the late 60s than Zap Comics, the creation of R. Crumb, who if you don't know is one seriously, cosmically, weird dude, still! You do have to wonder about the creative mind that produces such art, but that was what was so enthralling, that someone could make such art, and as an art minor (oh, yes!) it was fascinating. So what a surprise to see the entire collection of Zap Comics for sale in a boxed set (What's happened to you R.?) for what must be more than 100 times their original price!  These were not the comics of my childhood, and they still are not for anyone that is easily offended. OK, that's not fair. They are sure to offend just about anyone at some level because of R. Crumb's artfully tasteless sense of humor (?) if that's what it's called. Still it was a strange comic for a strange time. 

How to make someone happy

Based on a recent observation, it's pretty simple to make someone really happy - send them cookies.  This morning while waiting for my pusher to prepare my caffeine fix, a couple of foreign students came in with a package from home (the post office is nearby). There was such excitement.  The box wasn't very big, but it was packed with different kinds of cookies, in this particular case Chinese cookies, familiar treats for a student studying a long ways from home. There was pure joy and happiness in that moment. So think about it; send someone some cookies. 

Friday Fabulous Flowers - Native orchids of Indiana

This is pretty great, a real botanizing effort to find and photograph all of the orchids native to Indiana, unless by now they are extinct!  Here's the link to the U-tube slide show complements of the Get Your Botany On! blog (see the side bar).  That's over 11 mins. of orchid pictures; hope you can stand it. One of the first pictures is Calopogon, the grass pink (note: it's neither grass nor a pink) and it looks upside down, but it's actually a right-side up orchid; almost all other orchids are resupinate, i.e., twisted 180 degrees on their flower stalks so that they are upside down. TPP has seen almost all of these, but over many years, and in many places.  Enjoy.    

Cure for winter blues - the tropics

It snowed today, the 13th of November, and rather early for these parts. It technically snowed yesterday too. The novelty of this form of precipitation has worn off already. Saw enough of it growing up in the snow belt of upstate New York to last several lifetimes. One of the great joys, and head aches, of TPP's academic career was developing and instructing a course in rainforest ecology, an out growth of his tropical field research. This year's class is busily getting all their gear packed for their field trip to Costa Rica over Thanksgiving break. While walking to campus in the gently falling snow, TPP was thinking maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad thing to have gone with the class this year.  What the ever-loving-hell is the problem? It's one of the reasons to retire. And yet, here is where TPP is.  Oh, yes, blew all the money on that month long field trip to Tuscany. Nice, but sometimes you just want the tropics. If you readers are curious, or equally desperate, the location from where this image was taken will be disclosed for the right price. You will not regret it. TPP didn't. 

Money, the root of all evil

Here you go, a nice cartoon. Don't know how many of you are familiar with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, but it is often very funny, and very on target, like this one about money. However TPP is a bit skeptical about there being trace amounts of ethics in all human dealings. As evidence a number of Lincolnland politicians are offered.  When TPP first found this cartoon, just the name was hilarious because it reminded him of a childhood where Saturday mornings were spent (wasted - parental translation) watching non-stop cartoons on TV and fighting with sibs about what cartoon to watch.  Of course the primary sponsors of these kids' cartoons were breakfast cereals (remember Quisp and Quake?), and to help fix that memory, Saturday morning was the only time your Mother let you have one of those sugary cereals as a breakfast treat (but we did have to eat in the kitchen).

Disappointing fall color - Persian ironwood

A Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica) was installed in our gardens about 14-15 months ago. It was decent sized, nicely shaped, and a reasonable price, so it seemed like a good idea. The tree has established itself in the medium back border of our lily pond, and looks handsome enough. Well, the fall color was pretty good this year, now most of the trees are pretty bare. Now some very cold weather is bearing down on us, so the fall color season will officially be over tonight. The Persian ironwood is still mostly green; only a few leaves are showing any sign of changing. In the same family as witch hazel and Fothergilla, Hamamelidaceae, the Persian ironwood is mostly planted for its fall color, and it's still green! What's up with that? Hard to say. The tree has plenty of flower buds, so it will flower in late winter/very early spring, right along with the witch hazels, but let's just say that in comparison the witch hazels put on quite a flowering display. The flowers are similar, but Persian ironwood lacks a corolla/petals although the anthers are red and a bit conspicuous, but not so much as Fothergilla. The fall has been so mild, perhaps a good hard frost was needed earlier to get things going. The genus is a nice example of an honorific name honoring Johann Jacob Friedrich Wilhelm Parrot, a German naturalist.

Putting the gardens to bed for the winter

Since the leaf elves have come and gone, and some hard freezing temperatures are on their way, only a few more things need to be done to finish up the fall gardening. The fountain pond must be emptied and covered for the winter. The lily pond still needs to be de-leafed by removing the leaf catching net and sucking up the leaves around the margins. Then the filter system and cascade pump will be turned off for the winter and drained. The compressor keeps going. Some beds will need to be mulched with the chopped leaves left by the elves. Some herbs will be harvested for later use, and the parsley will be mulched. Some beds, for example all the rhododendrons still need to be fenced to keep the bun-buns from girdling their stems. Same too with various shrubs here and there; this chore is almost done as many cages are in place simply transferring them from delicious herbaceous perennials to equally delicious shrubs. Such is life with a wildlife friendly property. Some foxes have been seen and the bun-buns seem a bit less frequent, but the spring will start with woodchuck in place that wouldn't cooperate with our relocation plan. Lastly if the weather cooperates because you need a mild day but after when you are pretty sure no more warm days will occur to spray a protective wax coating on broad leaf evergreens to limit winter desiccation, and it you didn't know this before, hear me now, the most damaging aspect of winter is how dry it is. In particular this spray protects rhododendrons and mountain laurels and others of a similar nature. This is one of those practices that TPP wishes he had better data on; it seems to work, but it is a tad expensive, just not nearly as expensive as replacing big old shrubs. As an additional hint, the Phactors usually buy their holiday tree at the end of November when they show up, put them in a bucket of water, and then spray them with the waxy spray to reduce transpiration and needle drop; this certainly works. Remember, those cut trees don't get any fresher. 

A visit from the leaf elves

For those of you who may not know, the Phactors' estate has something like a dozen very large deciduous trees, and this means that our lawns and gardens get buried, deeply, in leaves. Enough leaves that senior citizens don't consider raking them for even a nanosecond. In addition to the raking, dragging heavy tarps loaded with leaves to the curb, when the curb can be 300 feet away, is nothing to be undertaken lightly even though our gardens are both our hobby and exercise program. This is one of those times of year when TPP resents the spandex clad harlequins who jog by, accomplishing nothing but health. So several years ago TPP resorted to renting the Billy Goat, a massive leaf vacuum that sucks up and shreds up to 8 cubic feet of leaves, a not inconsiderable mass to drag away and empty. The problem here is that the recoil starter required a football lineman to repeatedly pull the cord, and with as many leaves as there are, that was a lot of starts. And all that for $80 rental. So, Mrs. Phactor discovered among her clients a fellow who employs leaf elves who visit during the day, when no one is around, and all the leaves disappear! So neat, so clean, and all those leaves piled up so neatly! And elves only cost $50 more than the Billy Goat! OK, you have to leave out some milk and cookies, but that's a small price to pay for not aggravating and old "tennis elbow" injury (no, TPP doesn't play tennis; it was a field trip injury). There was a lot of anticipation because you are never completely sure when the elves may visit. So our excitement is quite genuine. And those clean lawns and gardens, now the envy of the neighborhood, are a terrific gift every year. 

Fall Fungi - Fly Agaric

Here's a link to some nice images of fly agarics (Amanita muscaria). They are a very spectacular mushroom, large, colorful!  TPP's best advice; don't eat them. They are extremely toxic and while hallucinogenic, way too scary for even an adventurous botanist. A mild fall and quite a bit of rain have been very good to the fungi. 

Public domain book illustrations

Here's a huge HT to the Agricultural Biodiversity Blog for  alerting us to the over 14 million images obtained by scanning books in the public domain, books on which the intellectual property rights have expired, a date that varies quite a bit from place to place, generally 70 years after the death of the author in the USA. At any rate, these are available at the Internet Archive but just browsing could take quite awhile. Search the commons on botany or plants and you'll get to see all manner of great old line drawings and illustrations, some of excellent detail and accuracy especially given their age. Here's an Epiphyllum, an orchid cactus, from Paxton's Magazine of Botany (1841); it caught TPP's attention because mine started flowering today, about three weeks after being brought inside for the winter.  

Horrible, terrible, no good, very bad changes - SCOTUS to blame

Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing is as discouraging, as disgusting, as bad as the roll back on voter rights sanctioned by SCOTUS. What the ever loving hell are these black-robed morons thinking?  OK, not all of them, but the majority. Voting rights were hard fought to give minorities and the poor access to the ballot box, and it was not pretty at all. But now all sorts of states are doing everything they can to disenfranchise voters, especially minorities and the poor. So what gives? One party, the GnOPe has rightly concluded that they do not represent a majority, so voter suppression can limit the voter participation improving the chances of their  minority party winning. None of this is a bit surprising, but you think that maybe SCOTUS would protect voter rights.  Their failure to do so provides certain evidence of conservative justices acting on ideology rather protecting rights. This is the worst thing that has happened in the USA in the 5 decades TPP has been paying attention to politics. Expectations for the likes of Scalia and Thomas are pretty low, but until now it seemed as though Roberts might be more principled. But this does show how far this country has not come. Remove the government protections for voter rights, and Jim Crow laws pop right back up again. Sad.

The gods themselves...

OK, so there are parallel universes which may influence our own universe, and yes, quantum effects can register a full 10 point Oh on the weird stuff-a-meter. This news was an instant reminder of Issac Asimov's 1972 scifi novel, The Gods Themselves, which deals with a parallel universe with different physical laws, and an interaction between the two universes which is beneficial to one, but potentially deadly for the other, at least locally. This is a relatively short novel, and a pretty interesting novel to read especially if you are not a fan of scifi. Always amusing when someone's far out imagination turns out to be so close to reality. 

Is it ethical for candidates to lie to the electorate? Is it ethical to lie to pollsters?

Hooweee!  Does TPP ever feel popular!  As the midterm elections approach and the campaign for governor of Lincolnland remains neck and neck, the telephone calls are unrelenting. You keep expecting one of them to say, "I'll go away if you just promise to vote for me."  And that's just the candidates, then there are the pollsters, those hired by the two parties, those hired by the different candidates, and those run by students who are learning about politics (3 just yesterday!). Caller: "We are conducting an independent poll.  Do you know who you are going to vote for?"  TPP: "Yes."  Caller: "Will you share with us your decision?"  TPP: "Yes, but understand that I may lie." Caller: "What?"  TPP: "My answer may or may not be truthful.  Do you want to proceed?"  Caller: "If you don't tell the truth then our poll won't be accurate."  TPP: "Yes, isn't that a shame? Please understand that I have no vested interest in the accuracy of your poll." Caller: "Why would you lie?"  TPP: "The candidates lie to us, so let's call it tit for tat."  Caller: "So you answer will be a lie?"  TPP: "It's not that easy, it only may be a lie."  Caller: "Good bye, sir." TPP: "Have a nice day."  Based on the response, it would appear that not many people tell pollsters that they may lie to them. It only seems fair based upon how many times the candidates have lied to us. To curtail the amount of dishonesty during election campaigning, perhaps this nation needs something like a PolitiFact people's court. To borrow from ice hockey, candidates and their campaigners have to spend time in the penalty box for lying about the other candidate, perhaps a number of days of complete silence. So you tell a half-truth or a misleading statement, maybe you get a 1 day timeout. Your statement is judged to be false, and you get a 3-day time out. And if you makeup a complete whopper, a real pants-on-fire falsehood, you get a week in the penalty box of silence. This gives the cleaner campaign a "power play".  Might that not raise the tone of political discourse?  Of course, having the candidates stand on a piece of paper would raise the political discourse significantly. So, please, no more calls from either of you. A vote will be cast, and maybe for one of you.

How to medicate to have the memory of a 30 year old

TPP worries about having more senior moments, episodes of memory lapses. Of course the darned things, memories, continue to accumulate, so if some one says TPP has the memory of a 30-year-old that would just mean he only has about 45% of the memories he should have now. So it is not completely clear whether this younger memory is a good thing to desire. The memory lapses are mostly quick recall, not the loss of the memory in toto, so this is about access time, and search time is going to increase the bigger the data base. Now here's the good news should you decide to medicate yourself, some of the constituents of cocoa, the base ingredient of chocolate, seem to improve recall memory. This year's cold, windy weather greatly curtailed the trick-or-treating with the result that quite a bit of "memory medicine" was left over in nice single dosage packets. Now if TPP could only remember where it was put? 

Parsnips vs. Turnips

It just happened again. TPP was buying parsnips to make some sausage, lentil, and parsnip soup. The check-out clerk had no idea what the parsnip were and so could not enter the correct reference number. The helpful know-it-all bagger said to the clerk, "You don't know what parsnips are?" And then she adds to me, "They're just like turnips." Amazing. Why do people think this?  Other than having the same basic color, they are nothing at all alike, so obviously the person speaking has never eaten them. Parsnips are much tastier, much sweeter, and a much under appreciated vegetable. Turnips are not a favorite and fall somewhere below kohlrabi on TPP's list of vegetable likes. But why do people think parsnips are like turnips? And nobody ever says, "Yum, turnips."  Is it the -nip thing? A sounds the same, tastes the same kind of association?  Here's TPP's advice on parsnips. Never ever boil and mash them. This is a crime against a nice root vegetable. Peel and slice the parsnips into 1/4 inch thick pieces, cross-wise or length-wise. Par boil for about 8 min. until just tender. Blot dry, and sauté in butter on a griddle until lightly browned and a bit caramelized. Parsnips are quite sweet with a quite unique taste, which is nothing whatever like a turnip. Here's another rule: don't write a blog and try to cook sausage at the same time, you might burn them.