THE MUMBLE-STANS

When the Soviet Union dissolved and member nations got their independence, a number of them in central Asia ended in “stan.” They were grouped together and called the mumble-stans. Just so you know, “stan” means land. So that it would be possible to have an Icestan or an Engstan. (England actually means “land of angels.”) Anyway, there has been political unrest this week in Kyrgyzstan. Truth be told, I had no idea where this place was, who lived there or why it mattered. I did a little investigation and now you and I can be experts on Kyrgyzstan. A great place to find out about this and other countries is www.cia.gov. That’s where this information about Kyrgyzstan can be found. Who would have thought that the CIA had a website?

Kyrgyzstan is a Central Asian country of incredible natural beauty and proud nomadic traditions. Kyrgyzstan was annexed by Russia in 1864; it achieved independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is slightly smaller than South Dakota (and they have the letters “a,” “s” and “t” in common) and is bordered by China, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It’s got weather all over the map; from polar in the mountains of Tien Shan to subtropical in the southwest. A little known fact is that Kyrgyzstan has the world’s largest natural growth walnut forest. Another little know fact is that the capital is Bishkek. The literacy among the adult population is 97% which, surprisingly (or maybe not), is the same as it is in the U.S. The people die a little earlier, about 10 years earlier, than folks in the U.S. This may be due to the fact that in this agricultural society 50% of the population falls below the poverty line. Their government is surprisingly like our own; executive, bicameral legislature and a supreme court.

Here are these people, whom we know almost nothing about living their lives in some remote place with a governmental structure similar to ours. But now you can impress your friends and neighbors with your newfound knowledge. You just have to figure out how to pronounce Kyrgyzstan.

A Small Cheat

My sister, Peggy, sent this to me. I am sure that many of you got this as one of those “forwards” that you despise in your inbox. But I thought these words were so funny that I actually laughed out loud while sitting alone at the computer. Another day I’ll rant about “forwards” but not today.

The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again
asked readers to take any word from the dictionary,
alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and
supply a new definition. Here are this year’s winners. None of them get through spellcheck.

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund,
which lasts until you realize it was your money to
start with.

2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid
people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The
bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in
the near future.

4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself
for the purpose of getting laid.

5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house,
which renders the subject financially impotent
for an indefinite period.

6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of
sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when
you are running late.

9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease.

11. Karmageddon: It’s like, when everybody is
sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And
then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting
through the day consuming only things that are good
for you.

13. Glibido: All talk and no action.

14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to
seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance
performed just after you’ve accidentally walked
through a spider web.

16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a
mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in
the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after
finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.

And the pick of the literature

18. Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an
asshole.

HAM, LAMB OR TURKEY

TODAY’S MUSING

(Note: Last week I was taken to task by one of my ardent readers for wasting my time worrying. I realize that not all of my entries are worries and will try to reflect that in my subject headings.)

I heard on the radio that about fifty percent of Americans were serving ham for Easter dinner. Why ham? So I asked myself, WWJE? Well, Jesus sure wasn’t going to be eating ham since pork products are against Jewish dietary law. John and I, as is our wont, had a lengthy discussion about this. I took the position that ham was a break with the old convenant that followed kosher laws. So that the eating of ham is a symbolic gesture. John countered that it was more likely that a pig had been slaughtered in the autumn and cured over the winter making it a good choice for a spring dinner. From there we discussed the use of lamb as a spring festival dinner entree. At Passover, lamb is traditionally eaten. In fact, a lamb shank is put on the seder plate as a reminder of the blood of the lamb which was smeared on the doorposts of the Hebrews so the Angel of Death would pass over their houses when dealing out the final plague. Maybe lamb is too Old Testament for Easter.

I don’t know why people eat whatever but at our house we always had turkey for Easter. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter it was our festive food of choice.

And you thought I wasted my time worrying.

Kosher

Kosher is a word that comes from a Hebrew root meaning fitting or proper. In Judaism it refers to the following of dietary laws. In modern parlance, it has taken on new meaning which reflects its root.

Kosher
In Judaism – Conforming to dietary laws; ritually pure: kosher meat.
Selling or serving food prepared in accordance with dietary laws: a kosher restaurant.

In slang – Legitimate; permissible
Genuine; authentic

Not Kevin or Sir Francis

What is more seductive than the smell of bacon? Ah, pork fat. Alas, you sigh, not really a part of a healthy diet. But I’ll bet that just reading these few short sentences have you imagining the aroma and crisp fattiness of bacon. When I was a kid I loved bacon sandwiches on squishy, untoasted white bread. The bread was dotted with clumps of butter which melted very slightly from the heat of the bacon. Stop! Back to diet tips! My point is, that any food can be part of a healthy diet as long as you don’t overdo it. Two slices of bacon are only about 90 calories. Yes, the fat content is high so you probably shouldn’t be eating it every day. I find, though, when I am craving a certain food, it is better to just go ahead and eat it rather than eat ten other things first trying to deny what I really want.

BLOOMING DESERT

TODAY’S OBSERVATION (totally non-controversial)

We were in the Mojave Desert yesterday. Since we’ve been there a lot, we know what it normally looks like. Pretty much brown and dry with some sage, manzanita, Joshua trees, and cacti. But there has been one heck of a lot of rain in the southwest and the desert is blooming. In fact, I heard that the amount of blooming is a once in a lifetime event. The seeds have lain on the desert floor dormant waiting for the rain. Sometimes for years and years. But this year the Mojave is covered with intensely gold flowers and light yellow ones along the verge. The Joshua trees have large white blooms. The cacti are about ready to break out into their vibrant reds, pinks and yellows. In the Virgin River Gorge, every crack in the rock has abundant grasses. It’s really amazing. Also amazing is the amount of giant bugs that manage to get squished on your windshield and front grill. You have to stop every hundred miles and clean them off or you can’t see the road.

Phototropism

Have you ever noticed that when you put a plant on a windowsill, it turns to look out at the sun. So you turn it back around so the pretty part is towards you. The next day or two, your plant starts to ignore your wishes and turns around again.

phototropism – Growth or movement of a sessile organism toward or away from a source of light. (dictionary.com)

Well, it doesn’t help when they use words you don’t know in the definition. So–

sessile – Permanently attached or fixed; not free-moving

Herbs

One way to make food exciting and even exotic is to use herbs. Buying herbs at the supermarket is often expensive. Growing your own is fun and much cheaper too. Even if you live in an apartment, you can put pots of herbs in the window. Although my backyard is fairly dark, I have oregano, mint, chives, sage and thyme growing. Ryan and Jonathan’s garden is out in the full sun and they have an amazing array of giant herbs. Jon makes excellent pesto with his basil. It’s good in Thai dishes as well. You can use Italian parsley with almost anything. A buttery sage sauce is a northern Italian delight. Mint for couscous. And I could go on and on. Really, there is nothing fresher and more satisfying than herbs you grow yourself.

CALL ANY VEGETABLE

TODAY’S WORRY

Tonight John and I were discussing a movement that promotes “eating locally.” In other words, buying produce that was grown near where you live. The advocates of this think that the amount of fuel that it takes to bring fruits and vegetables from around the world to our markets is a waste.

With that in mind, I thought back to my childhood and what I ate (or probably didn’t eat since I was a finicky eater.) Mushrooms came in cans. For a special occasion my mother might buy B & B whole buttered mushrooms. Green beans, also canned. Root vegetables, though, were a staple. My dad used to have a big garden in our backyard in New Jersey; you know, the Garden State. The vegetables from our garden supplemented the ones from the grocery store and the farm market. Wow, those Jersey tomatoes. My dad would come home at lunch and tend to those plants like they were his children. They are still the best tomatoes I have ever eaten.

So should one buy locally and go with the seasons? For the best taste, yes, I think so. For economic reasons? I don’t know. I like supporting my local farmers. Using all that fuel to ship asparagus here so I can eat it in January does seem wasteful. But John brought up that the free market (theoretically) should fix that problem. If it costs a lot to ship it to the U.S, the price of the produce will be out of range for American shoppers, the demand will go down, and then foreign producers will either have to cut their margins or stop shipping to the U.S. So this problem should regulate itself.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

TODAY’S HAPPINESS

Can it be possible that 25 years have passed since Sarah was born? I cannot imagine having a better daughter than she is. She is smart and witty, strong and sensitive. She is intolerant of intolerance. She is my friend. And I could go on and on, because I am, after all, her mother. Love and happy birthday, sweetie.

Famous March 23 Birthdays

1857: Fannie M. Farmer (cookbook author)
1882: Emmy Noether (German Jewish mathematician)
1897: Margaret Farrar (Crossword puzzle editor)
1900: Erich Fromm 1900 (Social philosopher and psychoanalyst)
1908: Joan Crawford (actress)
1910: Akira Kurosawa (film director)
1912: Wernher Von Braun (rocket scientist)
1929: Roger Bannister (runner)
1953: Chaka Khan (singer)

LIFE RIGHTS

TODAY’S WORRY

There’s been a firestorm of media and political attention on Terri Schiavo, the woman who has been in a vegetative state for the last 15 years. Her husband feels that it was Schiavo’s desire not to be kept alive by extra-ordinary means. Her parents feel differently and are fighting to keep her alive. This prompted us to sit down with our children and let them know our wishes. I think it is important to have these discussions even if they are uncomfortable. We have also indicated what should be done in the living will portion of our will. It is crucial that your wishes be written down and that the people who would have to make the decisions about your life know where that piece of paper is. I would not want my children or husband to have to make an uninformed decision and live with the burden of it.

Ephemeral

In the hope of planting some vocabulary in young minds, there has been a CD created showcasing vocabulary that might be on the new SAT. Isn’t it amazing how you can grope for the meaning of a word, but even if you don’t think you can remember a song, as you sing it, the next line comes into your head.

One of the songs starts, “Ephemeral day” and then repeats the idea in the next line with “short-lived day.” If only they could have put math to music!

ephemeral – Lasting for a markedly brief time. (dictionary.com)

Accountability

What’s a really good way to help you stay on a diet? Write it down! During the eighty weeks I was on the “long diet,” I wrote everything I ate down. Even the bad stuff. I printed out a sheet today which has boxes for each meal, a snack, water and exercise. And so far so good. Excellent breakfast, in control lunch with the excellent null soup of an earlier post, and an hour and a half of singles tennis. Of course, it’s only 4:45pm and that means that the dreaded munchie time is near. Followed by the usually overindulgent dinner. We’ll see.

SOCIAL SECURITY

TODAY’S WORRY

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “fixing” Social Security. President Bush would like to see some of the money we contribute put into personal accounts that we would administer. Putting the merit or non-merit of this aside, I don’t see what it has to do with fixing the problem – there are going to be too many old people and not enough workers contributing to support them. So here are my top 10 ways to fix Social Security.

10. Reduce the benefits to everyone
9. Have a means test; if you are a wealthy retiree then you get less or nothing
8. Create better paying jobs for young people. If they make more, they’ll contribute more.
7. Raise the percentage paid into the system.
6. Tax all the earned income; no ceiling.
5. Raise the retirement age.
4. Have more babies. (this would work well considering the administration’s views on family planning, but it’s kind of a long term solution)
3. Legalize all illegal aliens and get them contributing.
2. Invite lots of new, working-age immigrants to the U.S.

And the number one way to fix the Social Security problem –

1. In any current or future war in which the U.S. might engage, keep all the young people home so they could work, and send all the retirees to fight. This way you get a dual effect – more workers, fewer old people.

Uncle Sam
American Treasures of the Library of Congress

pyknic

We sometimes play a game in our house where one person goes to our unabridged dictionary, turns to a random page, picks out an obscure word and sees if anyone else can guess what the definition of it is. John is always the winner. So here’a word that I picked at random.

pyknic – Having a short stocky physique. From the Greek puknos, compact.
So if you have a tendency to be pyknic, don’t go on too many picnics. “Picnic,” by the way, comes from the French piquenique, to pick or peck (piquer) a worthless thing (nique.) It was originally a pot-luck social and not necessarilty outside.

Beware the Dollar Menu

In our travels, John and I usually stop at McDonald’s for breakfast. The other day we stopped at the one in Primm, Nevada. Typically, we each get an Egg McMuffin with no cheese and coffee. But, at this McDonald’s, the Sausage McMuffin with Egg was on the dollar menu. Hmmmm, $2.19 for the Egg McMuffin and $1 for the Sausage one. I stuck to the Egg McMuffin and John got the sausage one. In looking at the nutritional information, this is what I found. If you have an Egg McMuffin with no cheese, the values are 240 calories, about 7 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. Not the best but not a terrible breakfast on the road. The Sausage McMuffin with Egg (which also includes cheese) is a whopping 450 calories, 26 grams of fat and 2 of fiber. I think spending the extra $1.19 is worth it. Another tip, carry a little plastic knife with you and cut anything you get at a fast food place in half. It makes it last longer and is tidier to eat.