Category Archives: science

A Bump in the Road

Fourth of July we figured would be the best day to do the eight hour road trip from Santa Barbara, California to Tempe, Arizona. Given that she needed to get back before Monday the 8th, we hoped that the lowest number of fellow travelers would be on the road on the actual day of celebration. Daughter and I set off at an hour when I am normally burrowing deeper under the covers, headed to her little townhouse with her dog and cat.
Do you ask why I was needed on the trip? Well, when you travel through those deserts between Santa Barbara and Tempe you need to leave someone in the car to keep the motor and air conditioning on, or the animals will suffer– ten minutes in a closed unpowered car will stress them when it’s hot ( it was hovering around 105 F,) and if you’re unlucky or a pet has a heart condition, it may be fatal. And the little black cat, Ravage, so patiently traveling in his crate next to the dog, has an enormously enlarged
heart. So I rode shotgun.
Daughter was gassing up the car in Indio when she had a weird floaty feeling and the huge ramada overhead began to creak. She looked up and it was swaying against the sunny sky.  She had a moment of realization, but still stood staring up thinking– no time to move the car and save the dog and the cat. Later she said, and I didn’t think about how I’d be smarter to run to save myself. Instead she stopped pumping gas thirty four cents short of our twenty dollar bill, got the nozzle back into its holster, and noticed that no one else around seemed to observe that anything had happened. The ramada was already steadying down. I was walking back from prepaying our gas, so I didn’t notice a thing– probably the quake happened when I was moving too much to catch it.
 But the really funny thing is that in hindsight I think we noticed the first bump of the Ridgecrest cluster when we were fairly close to Ridgecrest– our Honda Fit jumped about eight or ten inches into the next lane, and daughter apologized all over the place to me for having proved an unsteady driver. We now think it wasn’t her fault but the earthquake’s– all puns intended. And the reason no one honked might have been that we all hopped and we were all embarrassed and hoped no one noticed!
Daughter is actually a steady and alert driver, and jumping into another lane was a real surprise–  as we drove on after that jump we’d undertaken speculation that there was some flaw in the way the highway was poured. But now we’ve converted to the theory that it might have been the first Ridgecrest tremblor, rated around 4.2. Fascinating.

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Nanowrimo is here!

What?‘ you say– ‘how is that pronounced and is it something really really small… and give me a definition, please.

No, this nano doesn’t mean something tiny. Quite the opposite. It’s national novel writing month, during which people who sign on, aspire to produce anything over 50,000 words of a narrative between a minute after midnight on November 1 and midnight of November 30th. That comes out to approximately 1,667 words a day.

Now you notice I wrote “a narrative”. That can be complicated. I started on the novel I thought I’d write on the first day and made about 980 words. Guess what? Wrong novel. That wasn’t the one I was ready to write. So on day two, I erased my word count and began again, hitting something over 3,000 words on that second day. It’s a good sign I could start running like that, but as all nanowrimo folk know, it’s no guarantee. Yesterday I had other things to do, but still managed over 3,000 words in the roughly four hours I had for writing. Today it’s 10:50AM and I’ve only created 228 words. Aaargh!

Wish me luck, please. My working title is Living with the Enemy and here’s the synopsis and my patch cover.

What does a twelve year old girl in So Cal want? To belong to the right group, have a safe home, feel accepted. Wynn has one of these taken from her when her parents split, and the other two threatened when she’s farmed out part-time to the wrong people. Staying week-nights at Juniper’s house isn’t on her list of reasonable choices. That family eats weird food, reads too many books, plus, they don’t have cable.

 You have to avoid differences in sixth grade, you need to have the right sandwich bread in your lunch, the correct brand of sneakers, watch the popular shows. Wynn knows that, even if Juniper’s parents don’t. Then the TV screen at school on a Tuesday morning shows smoke pluming from two towers in New York on September eleventh. The United States of America has been invaded, our tolerance for differences will never be the same.

Behind the warm cookies and fat black cat at Juniper’s house lie secrets. Hidden visitors move in the hallway, doors and windows open and close to conceal something… or someone? Why does Juniper’s mother work late on a computer whose screen displays elaborate non-American words– and why does she change that screen every time Wynn happens to come in? Is Wynn living with terrorists planning the next attack? For the kids at school there are sides to choose and dramas to feed, with consequences they cannot even imagine. For the girl who can’t go home, there’s no way out of this dark puzzle, except through. One step at a time.

our gate 893



Filed under blog, cats, counseling, Domestic Violence, experiences, homework, school,, science, writing

Of Blood Pressure Reduction and the Opposite

So we want life. Long life. The cardiologist says low blood pressure is the key to life, life ongoing, possibly everlasting Man, you can’t get enough of the stuff. More is better. So you take the drugs that will lower your blood pressure and you do all the things, You decrease the high and low points of your existence, you temper everything, you lose weight, and you go in obediently to the end of the year to your doctor, and hope that your drugs and exercise and diet have lowered all the excesses of your genetics and your vibrant sins so that maybe… you might live forever with no stroke, no heart attack… with lower blood pressure.

And tell me what does it serve a man that he gain the world and lose his soul?

Think what happens when you attain an orgasm. Do you fancy this is a freebie?…


Think what happens in that magic of moment when you are lecturing and you see the spark light in student’s eyes and you know you have infected them with that wonder, that joy of knowledge shared. Think of that instant when the brush in your hand makes the perfect movement and lays down a line of living paint that will vibrate in human brains forever. Consider striking the key on a piano that sounds a timing and an emphasis beyond planning– that alchemy of performance that can never be bettered. Turn upon the stage and speak words in evocative inflection, knowing in that instant that no one ever shall do it just so again. Spring from your computer in the recognition of an equation completed that has never been completed before.

And die.

Because all of these attainments break the placid expectation of what is “good” for us. They give us high blood pressure, and we love it. It kicks our asses. This is a drug beyond regulation or reasoned application.

This may kill us, but it’s why we live.


Filed under family history, health, medicine, science

An Extra Note: Compostables and Not

Warning– this is a post that includes cleaning, garbage, purity, diapers and a rant. It’s not about Ramsey Canyon and what we saw… I will get to that after the clean up.

We hosted our Earth Sciences Department party yesterday and about seventy people attended. We prepared and cooked racks of ribs, slabs of salmon, fresh breads and vegetarian beans while our guests provided all kinds of vegetable and salad dishes, plus plenty of drinkables. I baked nine pies– apples from our orchard, grapes from our vines for the grape pies, boysenberries from the neighbor’s baked into a pie, and one huge four layer boysenberry filled cake with a cream cheese frosting. I probably should not tell how many packages of cream cheese I peeled for that job!

On such occasions we try to do our bit for sustainability, with designated bins for recyclables, and bins lined with the right type of compostable bag to take the compostable plates and utensils plus food waste, which we will later deliver to the processing center. A separate batch of bins stand ready for the non-compostables– paper napkins and waxed paper goods or whatever plastics people wrapped their contributions in.

So, this is a group of people who have spent their lives being students. Yet despite clear labeling on these bins, every year, the morning after finds me in my much-reused latex gloves sorting the garbage because somehow people can’t read those labels. But this year brought an even more disturbing variant.

I met single-serving squeezable plastic/foil baby food units. All “pure”, “organic” food in plasticized squeeze containers, one serving each. To be precise, plastic-covered foil pouches none of which is recyclable. The plastic lids are very large, and recyclable. I found two of these with their lids deep in our bin labeled ‘Compostables’. If you detect a hint of offense in my tone, you are so correct. I am worried about the parent who chooses to buy pure organic food for his or her baby in such a package. That you might absentmindedly throw it in exactly the wrong container is one of those things that can easily happen by mistake. But you do not choose single serving disposable aluminum and plastic pouches without shelling out a good bit of cash and having some time to select and think. So you want organic purity for your baby? Great. But what’s the impact of this choice? How could this company not have thought further in producing these expensive and wasteful items? Pure, organic and plastic present me with a serious disconnect.

I went to the website for this product and they claim that their containers have recyclable lids– well that’s just great! Indeed, they made the lids bigger in order to make them recyclable! Next, they say the production of one of their containers has a smaller environmental footprint than that of a glass bottle– but you often have the option to choose multiple serving sized glass bottles, which could change that equation. More, I am not sure if they are saying that only the original processing to produce a glass jar is more costly and if they have calculated the incalculable recycling in the lifetime of the glass jar? Or do they mean that the environmental cost of recycling the glass is greater than the environmental cost of production for each of their one-use pouches? With foil involved? This, I doubt. I also note that a glass bottle is composed of the third most common element on our planet — silica makes up ~15% of Earth. If the glass ends up back in the soil, it changes none of the chemistry of that soil. Plastics are manufactured materials that do not readily decompose, and have consequences in their smaller particulate form after years of disaggregation, for all animals, including us.

Yes, I understand that caring for a baby is a lot of work. I did it too, cloth diapers (and a diaper service as much as possible because at the end of the equation – sterilizing and washing all your own is more costly to the environment than using a diaper service.) I made baby food at home, except for times we travelled and I had to use bottled baby food. But the bottles and lids of what I bought were all recyclable. The glass meant a stable container with no risk of container molecules separating into the food, even acidic food.

I know a majority of my audience here is not having babies right now, but this isn’t just about baby food. It’s about thinking. I think that what I want to ask is that we try not to have that single serving plastic disposable choice be every day’s choice. No one likes a sermon much, especially when it asks for something, so I’ll return to my soggy gloves and my garbage sort.


Filed under blog, experiences, science, social and anti

A Different Drug Warning to Consider

      I have a very different, more personal blog post today and what I ask is that you share its information freely with anyone you know who is over forty and gaining a longer list of prescriptions, as we all tend to do with each visit to the doctor or the specialist. Or share with anyone who is a caretaker for the older parent or friend or spouse. There have been other stories out there like this, but this one is mine.
     My best friend went in to his primary physician about a month ago and the doctor was unhappy with many things. One, the fact that his blood oxygen levels had a habit of dipping erratically sometimes for as long as twenty minutes to around 80%. (A person wants to see between 95 and 99% ideally.) Two, his joint aches, listlessness and inability to focus, fatigue, low heart rate– in the 50’s to 60’s when on a fast hike. (He is not a professional athlete.) Sweating bouts, poor circulation in the extremities, etc.
     He had talked with the cardiologist about this, asking if these symptoms could possibly be side effects of his blood pressure medication, but was reassured that it was just about impossible. But his blood test with the primary doctor  came back with a positive ANA which had the primary doctor reaching for a rheumatologist… then the primary said– “drug-induced lupus‘.
     So the lisinopril that my friend was on (at a low dose of 30mg pd) may have caused a range of ‘Lupus-like symptoms’. Possibly even an abruptly present hernia that required him to have surgery recently. (There is much debate about the likelihood of this– do your own research and see if you think it’s possible or not.) The primary physician hit the panic button and took him off the lisinopril three weeks ago. Most of these symptoms have vanished or decreased substantially in these past weeks. I am crossing my fingers it isn’t some kind of reverse placebo effect. The idea that all this difficulty and having alarming symptoms was an  issue with the medication is both infuriating and hopeful.
     One other piece of data– his blood pressure would not under ordinary circumstances be treated– he only rarely hits a systolic of 130, and his regular readings are in the 112-117 range. Diastolic ranges between 60 and 70. It’s because of a heart valve prolapse that they were treating the blood pressure at all.
     Looking back in a word search on lisinopril in my old emails, I find that my father was also on lisinopril– 200mg until the last year of Dad’s life when it was prescribed at 400mg per diem. He may have needed it, with his extremely enlarged heart. Maybe.
     However I recall with dismay an incident about three months after Dad’s two cranial hemorrhages and craniotomies. He caught a norovirus and was hospitalized for forty eight hours, put on an IV, of course. We visited him in the hospital and he was so nearly his old self that I rejoiced that yes, he might really recover his mind from those dreadful cranial surgeries. Dad was joking, lively and insightful. It was amazing. But he came home to us and relapsed. I never saw him like that — never really saw my father again, you might say.
     I went to his primary then, and asked if there were some possibility of an essential salt that had been in his IV, maybe potassium, that had caused this great improvement and return of his mind and spirit. The primary obligingly tried several things, potassium supplements too but none made a difference and we finally stopped trying. There hadn’t been much in that IV you see, other than rehydration. But I didn’t think back then, it might not have been what he was receiving in the hospital but what he wasn’t receiving. While vomiting and having diarrhea he was receiving none of his list of regular medications. I feel very stupid, and I am sorry to think I missed the obvious. Because if we could have chosen between quality of life and length of life, I know how he would have voted. It is possible the problem with his mind wasn’t lisinopril but some other drug or combination, but, man, am I suspicious now, that it would have been a good idea to try some eliminations and see if there was a way to get more of his mind back by stopping a medication or two.
     So please be alert, people, to check the possibilities with elderly parents or yourselves, and keep an eye out for drug induced syndromes and reactions. The lisinopril is a hard one because often patients can take it for months or years before any of these reactions appear. So you have to keep reexamining, and it’s not the only one that can turn on you after being your friend for a while.
     For my friend, right now, this is a good start. I wish we had figured it out earlier, though. I wish I had been smart enough to see the possibility with my father. What a wonderful mind he had. I miss it. I miss him.


Filed under blog, medicine, science

We went hunting

Envy us my friends — look at this–

over a pound of morels

Over a pound of morels, Morchella esculenta to be precise. We heard from the kid she’d seen some when out walking with a friend and after grilling her about why she hadn’t collected them, since they were on public property, we headed out. Note, it was after seven o’clock in February so the sun had set. But what are flashlights for? What are mycophiles for? How could we wait?

morels caught surprised in the night

This is what morels look like when taken by surprise in the dark.  We left plenty, and carefully cut the stems above the ground. Some folk say that isn’t necessary, but I would rather have no regrets and this way I can at least know I did my best to leave the mycelia reasonably undisturbed. Maybe we were hobbits in a previous incarnation.


(I will add the necessary caution about collecting mushrooms for food. I’ve been studying mushrooms as a hobby for over forty years and feel reasonably confident of my ability to identify specimens. I’d say never consume wild mushrooms casually. There’s good reason for all the lore about their deadliness. There are great reasons for the wonderful books out there to aid you in identification of types and species. (I don’t even know any more how many of these I own.) Additionally, some folk have allergies to certain species of mushroom and that’s not always predictable. If any doubt exists, toss the fungi away. It’s not worth a stomach ache or worse.)

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Filed under blog, food, Morchella esculenta, morels, mushrooms, science

the next book

watch cmyk S


Here’s the cover of my next book, a thriller/science fiction yarn set in the university town of Isla Vista, California. Imagine a strong smart young woman in Southern California planning to become a scientist, who notices the gradual disappearance of the local homeless, and a sequence of strange events concerning ducks– which mount to a personally threatening point. Call it science fiction with aliens, in a place where no one is ever supposed to grow old.

I just finished poring through the advance reader copy hunting down typos….My publisher tells me we have a due date of April 2015!


Filed under education, science, writing