Monday, May 31, 2010

The War On Mosquitos . . . We're Losing!

If terrorists ever successfully weaponize mosquitos, I’m in trouble. (Ditto white chocolate covered pretzels.) Because, for whatever reason, I’m a mosquito’s favorite dish. My scent is so preferential to them that the White House should consider having me travel alongside President Obama, just in case. But, until they call on me to serve my country, I’ll be managing all outdoor evening activities by perfuming myself up like a Chemistry lab. My only other option to smelling so artificially toxic (we’ve established I must smell naturally sweet) is to risk being feasted on by enough mosquitos to ensure a subsequent Benadryl induced coma. And while I could use the rest, I really don’t have time for a coma.
Why are mosquitos so viciously angry anyway? Are they still holding a grudge because we nearly annihilated them in the 40s and 50s in the heyday of DDT? DDT being the thing I missed out on most by being born in the late seventies after bird-loving environmentalists convinced weak-minded elected government officials to ban its use because it may cause cancer (and definitely makes birds sick). Um, excuse me, but is there anything out there that doesn’t cause cancer? We live in a world where preservatives in our food, compounds in our shampoo, and invisible beams from our microwaves all threaten us daily. So, why can’t we risk sitting outside comfortably at dusk? I argue that the insecticidal DDT got a bad rap and people spent too much time speculating about its potential harm to bio-ecosystems (this may or may not be a real word), and too easily discounted how it saved millions of lives by reducing malaria and typhus, subsequently diminishing their mortality rates. And, DDT is only classified as “moderately toxic” by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, whereas mosquito bites are classified as “severely annoying” by anyone who’s ever been plagued by them. And, for the record, there are McDonald’s menu items that have been classified as “extremely toxic” by the same U.S. National Toxicology Program and no one’s banned the Big Mac.
When I was sixteen, I spent two weeks on Merritt Island, off the coast of Florida, where mosquitos are bred, indoctrinated, and then sent forth into the continental United States to bleed us dry. Had I known in advance that I would be given over as an offering to the irate throng of bloodsuckers, in order to spare the lives of fellow teenagers, I certainly would have chosen a different summer adventure. Because there, at Mosquito Central Command, over-the-counter bug repellents and home remedies were scoffed at. These mosquitos had evolved and mutated to be resistant. I would have given my right arm for some DDT that summer. Though no one would have taken it because it was mutilated by the mosquitos.
And now mosquitos have the greater threat of West Nile Virus, a disease that claimed the lives of thirty people last year. And yeah, thirty isn’t a lot. Not even close to the mortality rate that can be attributed to McDonald’s. But if you’re as sought after by mosquitos as me, it’s cause for concern. The CDC assures us that most people infected by West Nile Virus only suffer a fever or possibly a coma and convalescence. Yeah, that sounds great, sign me up for that. On second thought, maybe I’ll just stay indoors.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Strict Interpretations

As I am completely enveloped in my new writing assignment, I spent most of the day yesterday planted in front of the computer, leading to flare ups of both carpal tunnel and tunnel vision. My husband would say things like, “Can you get her some ice water?” And I’d say, “Hold on, Luke just crashed his car.” But don’t worry, I went and got the drink as soon as help arrived on the literary scene. And my husband has been very supportive this weekend, even going so far as to make dinner last night. He’s picked up dinner before, eats it on a regular basis, but making it was a new venture. And let me state for the record that he has grilled and warmed things in the oven. And the record I’m stating that for is the marriage record where if I don’t concede that point, he’ll never make dinner again. But last night’s meal was a far removal from his previous warming and grilling experiences. I had planned on making a new bacon, linguine, and tomato pasta dish. (BLT). He agreed to give it a shot.

So, once the kids were settled in with their babysitters, Charlie & Lola, my husband launched into making dinner while I worked on revisions. I had typed approximately three words when he said, “Where’s our Santoku Knife?” Ah, yes. This was a Pampered Chef recipe, the people who bring us many great kitchen tools, but also write their recipes in a manner that would lead you to believe your family may go hungry if you don’t invest in each and every product they offer. I went in the kitchen and handed him an old-fashioned regular knife. From our knife block, of all random places. “This’ll work?” he asked. I looked at the first line of his recipe. “Slice bacon crosswise using Santoku Knife.” Yeah, honey, I think this knife can cut the bacon crosswise. I’ve seen it do things as impressive as slice through a chicken breast. What I really said was, “Yeah, it’ll be fine.” I went back to the computer and typed four more words. “Wait. We don’t have this Large Micro-Cooker, either?” No, but I’m sure my friend, N, would let you come to a Pampered Chef show and buy all of these items you’re missing. “What do you need that for?” I asked. He paused then said, “I’m supposed to cook the broth and tomatoes together until hot.” Gee, let’s see, didn’t we have something around here that worked for warming things? What was that? Oh yeah, the stove. “Just do it in a pot on the stove,” I offered helpfully. I managed to finish an entire sentence in my book when he came into the office (so I didn’t have to be interrupted again?) and said, “It calls for four garlic cloves pressed.” Sometimes, I have fresh garlic on hand, sometimes I don’t. Depends on if vampires are in town. But, as I did not, I said, “Just use a tablespoon or two of the minced garlic in the refrigerator.” He sighed and walked away mumbling, “Well, don’t blame me if this doesn’t come out right. We don’t even have the right stuff.” Okay, minced garlic is not THAT big of a departure from pressed garlic. And to think that not using that Japanese knife to slice the bacon crosswise would alter the taste of our dinner was an even bigger stretch.

Not that I got much work done as he was preparing it, but dinner was great! I loved it, my husband liked it, and one kid ate it. So, we’ll probably never make it again. My son, who will not eat spaghetti in any form or variation, said, “We should have this instead of spaghetti from now on.” I was proud of him for trying something new, and even more pleased that he liked it, but I had to break it to him that, “Four of us like spaghetti and only three of us like this bacon and tomato linguine, so it makes more sense to have spaghetti.” Why? Because it’s the difference in making one supplementary grilled cheese and two. One being more time and cost effective than two. My daughter, who (coming off last weekend) is still stuck on the idea of Mother’s Day (God bless her), suggested that for Father’s Day, I make dinner. Yeah, what a great idea. I could make dinner for a change. What a treat that would be, as I only do it three hundred and sixty some days a year. But, maybe I’ll be doing it much less after my husband stocks up at the next neighborhood Pampered Chef show.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Road Hazards!

It had been a while since I had gone on a road trip by myself, but yesterday I drove to Richmond, Virginia, grateful for the freedom to listen to my music and have my bladder be the only one of concern. And on my way there yesterday, I saw a familiar sign as I crossed into Virginia. One that always makes me smile. The big welcoming one that says, "Speed Limit Enforced By Aircraft". You'll encounter these signs when you cross into Virginia from any of its neighboring states. And I'm not sure how anyone could read that without it giving them pause. Because it doesn't say, "Speed Limit Monitored By Aircraft", which would lead you to believe someone in a crop duster is radioing the make and model of your speeding automobile to a police cruiser on the ground who will lie in wait for you. No, it says, "Speed Limit ENFORCED By Aircraft", which I can only take to mean F-16s will fire missiles at you from overhead if you dare to break the limit, thereby enforcing you not to speed. Or draw another breath. Something they left off the sign because it's implicit.

Laughing at that sign made me remember laughing at it with some friends of mine when we drove back from college. The prologue here is that I attended college in Longview, Texas, which is quite a long drive from Floyd County, Virginia, the land of the perpetual 1930s and banjos where I grew up. When I left for school my freshman year, I went by plane, but did not enjoy life without a car. So, when I came home for Christmas break, the plan was to drive back to Texas. I had driven all of one hour from home before, so what was sixteen? And I wasn't going to be doing it alone because my freshman roommate was from New Delhi, India, and she came home with me for Christmas break. The one hiccup in the original plan, which is different than the many hiccups in the secondary plan, was that my roommate couldn't drive. Not only was she licenseless, but she had never driven at all. She did have other skills to contribute, though. She would be able to help me stay awake and entertained, and, more importantly, she would also be able to use her high IQ (probably triple my own) to navigate. These were the days before GPS, so it was common practice to use a genius-level Indian girl to guide you on long journeys.

The second hiccup, which was more akin to an epileptic seizure, was the snowstorm that arrived just prior to our departure. And it wasn't just any snowstorm, it was the North American Blizzard of 1996. (Actual name, look it up.) As it was too early to predict that classes wouldn't resume as previously scheduled due to this weather catastrophe, and there was no way I was forfeiting my chance at having readily available transport at college, my roommate and I took off in the pre-dawn hours to "beat the storm". Because obviously, storms travel by interstate. I should also add that my own driving skills were in question, since I was eighteen and had barely passed driver's ed. I'm actually quite certain the instructor only passed me out of the fear he would be stuck riding with me again after my failure. But, even though the odds were not in our favor, we made it. Thanks almost entirely to my father's good advice about driving in the tracks of an eighteen wheeler. And, in a stroke of luck, there was exactly one on the interstate that day. After an unscheduled detour and layover, we eventually made it Texas, physically unscathed, if not emotionally. And that was my first road trip, making all others easy by comparison. I've seriously digressed, though, because she wasn't the friend I was laughing at the sign with.

By the end of my freshman year, I had become close friends with two guys who lived in the Eastern Corridor with me. One was from Pennsylvania and one was from Delaware. In case you don't know your geography, Virginia is on the way to Pennsylvania from Texas. And on a separate geographical side note, Delaware is also a state in America. Thanks to this relative proximity, I had a much easier system of getting my car back to Virginia. The system was letting my friend's cousin drive my car back home as part of our three car caravan. His cousin was also from Delaware, and I hope that you are impressed that I knew not one, BUT TWO people from Delaware. I would wager many of you know none of its 25 citizens.

Even though I didn't have to drive, I did have many important tasks on our journey. I was responsible for entertainment (alternating which friend I rode with by switching at each stop), and stereo control, and some minor navigation. I was pretty good at two of those jobs and not so much the other, and if you know me, or know someone who knows me, you know which one gave me trouble. I think the highlight of my navigational career was when my friend "Dover" (a geographical nickname) asked me to look something up on his Road Atlas. Thankfully, he had one of those fancy high-dollar desk reference type atlases that even a novice like myself could read. Unfortunately, there were other unpredictable obstacles to my helpfulness. One was we were driving with the windows down. Being unfamiliar with all the laws of physics, I held the atlas a little too close to the window as I scoured it for our next exit. Apparently, at speeds of 90ish miles per hour, a vacuum is created by an open window and it was "So long, Directions". Honestly, after I experienced the force of that thing flying from my hand, I was thankful just to have my arm.

Since we were the lead car, Dover signaled and got off at the next exit, so we could all "regroup". My other good friend, the driver of car two in our line, jumped out of his car and said, "Man, something just hit my windshield!" He inspected it, and his hood, for damage. To my surprise, he found none. But he didn't know what had hit him, and Dover and I were laughing so hard, we couldn't tell him right then. Cousin Delaware got out of my car and mentioned how he had narrowly avoided hitting something himself. He had seen the UFO bounce off of the middle car and been forced to utilize his defensive driving techniques. When we could finally speak again, we told them what had happened and then thought to ask if either of them got a look at what exit we were supposed to take next. (I did have it open to the right page at its time of departure.) They hadn't caught it, but luckily these guys had an innate sense of direction and we were very shortly crossing into Virginia, where we were warned that if we broke the speed limit, we'd have a lot more than flying atlases to worry about!

In loving memory of Rick Seachrist.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Worst Case Scenario?

Occasionally, on the weekends, I will stumble across an opportunity to get caught up on the news. The things I don’t hear about during the week watching Dora the Explorer and Sid the Science Kid. Though, in Sid’s defense, he is pretty in the know. Today, I saw a lot of coverage on the oil spill. And I know what you’re thinking, c’mon Heather, there’s nothing funny about an oil spill. And I wish you were right, but you’re not. For starters, there were some suits sitting around in one of CNN’s mission control centers discussing the effects of this “catastrophe”. And one heavily titled and credentialed expert said, “Worst case scenario we won’t have any shrimp.” Really? Shrimp? Because even just hearing about the oil spill, I was thinking that gas prices may climb up near that travel-inhibiting four dollars a gallon mark. Don’t get me wrong, I like shrimp. I can’t remember the last time I had shrimp because they don’t really go with Kraft macaroni and cheese, but I do enjoy them. Still, I’m not quite as concerned about what I’ll have to dip in my cocktail sauce as with what I’ll have to fill my minivan tank with once it becomes a decision between filling up or paying the electric bill.

And who spilled the oil? BP. The British. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Brits. But if this is a stunt to pay us back for throwing their stupid tea in the water a long time ago, I’ll be upset. And guess who’s down there cleaning up this mess? The U.S. Coast Guard. Not the Brits. I mean, I’m sure they’ll be right over, as soon as they finish their tea.

In light of our overdependence on oil, which is akin to a crackhead’s overdependence on cocaine, maybe we should be a little more careful about spilling the oil. If we’re going to mishandle something, it should be a resource we could do without for a bit, like cauliflower. Because I fear limited choices at Red Lobster may not be the only consequence we face for this snafu. I’m wondering about the beaches on the Gulf Coast and how they’ll look with a fresh shellacking of oil and decomposing sealife.

And some seaweed hugger, on another news program today, was warning of how this would affect turtles and manatees. Manatees, for those who don’t know, have already had a rough go of it. They’re endangered, or at least an alternate on the endangered list, because they’re a little bit like the drunk uncle of the deep seas. Always swimming along, having a great time, but never seeing straight enough to notice all those boats on the surface, which they frequently “bump” into, causing everything from a bad hangover to a trip to that big old aquarium in the sky. And this isn’t even their only problem. They’ve also earned the nickname Sea Cow, which even though they play it off like it’s funny, really hurts their feelings. And now they have to be worried about oil in their water? I’m not sure the manatee is intellectually equipped to prevent its own oil poisoning. Manatees may not be able to read the “No Bathing” signs the British are coloring and planning to put up. First of all, these are American manatees and they call it swimming. But have no fear, Dora’s cousin Diego is an animal rescuer and I’m sure he’d be happy to pitch in with the relief effort.