Garlic Power And Marigold Magic

We’re getting close to the spring planting season in Stonington, and I’m working on a strategy to try to deal with the marauding deer population that decimated the flowers in the lower, unfenced part of our yard last year.

On a walk over the weekend, I ran into a fellow gardener who was out working in her yard and asked if she had any recommendations for non-chemical, non-fenced—yet effective—ways of keeping deer away from those tasty flowers. She recommended garlic, and lots of it. She said you crush the cloves to increase the smell and place them around the perimeter of the area you want to protect. The deer apparently hate the odor and supposedly avoid the garlic aroma area.

Garlic: it’s not just for vampires any more!

I don’t want to use any kind of chemical spray, which will just wash down into the harbor, and I don’t want to put up any wires or fencing, which would ruin the rustic look of the down yard. I’m therefore going to try the garlic approach this year, and combine it with another tip I got from a gardening neighbor. He said that when he planted marigolds last year he was surprised to see that the deer not only didn’t eat the marigold flowers, they avoided the marigold area of his garden entirely because they find that smell unpleasant, too. Some other locals also endorse the marigold approach.

So, this year I’ll be crushing and placing garlic cloves around the down yard, and planting marigolds as a kind of protective barrier for other flowers. If garlic and marigolds work alone, imagine their impact in combination! And I hope this technique works, because this morning I saw a huge herd of deer at the end of our road—and they looked hungry.

Cereal Advances (II)

The cereal makers keep pushing the envelope and blurring the lines between cereal and dessert—as well as messing with our holiday traditions. I’m not sure that Kellogg’s Peeps cereal can ever be topped, but I saw two new strong entrants in the cereal advances category on a recent trip to the grocery store: Kellogg’s Elf On The Shelf Sugar Cookie Cereal With Marshmallows (really, that’s what it says on the box) right next to Post’s Dunkin’ Mocha Latte Cereal made with Dunkin’ coffee that the box discloses is both naturally and artificially favored. (No kidding!)

I can’t figure out what’s weirder—Christmas-themed cereal in April, or wanting to buy a cereal that tastes just like the sugary flavored coffee that you are drinking with your cereal. I guess as between the two I would have to pick the Elf On A Shelf cereal, both because it threatens complete sugar overload and because kids deserve a break from thinking that creepy bug-eyed elves are spying on them and monitoring their behavior all year ‘round.

New Words For New Times

Germany has a checkered history, to put it mildly, but you’ve got to to give them credit in one area. As I’ve noted before, Germans have an uncanny knack for inventing useful words that capture very specific feelings or concepts.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Germany would be leading the way in inventing new words to deal with the COVID-19 world. In fact, the Leibniz Institute for the German Language did an analysis and determined that some 1,200 new words have been created during this pandemic period. One of the professors involved in the process of collecting the words concludes that the word creation process helps the German to deal with pandemic anxiety, which is captured by one of the new words: Coronaangst.

Some of the 1,200 words are pretty useful, and I’m going to try to incorporate them into my daily vocabulary. For example:

Impfneid — vaccination envy

Hamsterkauf — panic buying and stockpiling food like a hamster (This one is bound to be used in the post-pandemic world, whenever a hurricane or some other hazardous impending event is forecast.)

Coronafrisur — corona hairstyle (Who doesn’t know at least one person who hasn’t grown a special coronafrisur? I’ll be using this one the next time I talk to the Red Sox Fan, who has grown a remarkable mane during the shutdown period.)

Alltagsmaske — everyday mask

Abstandsbier — distance beer

Maskentrottel — literally, “mask idiot,” to refer to someone who wears a face covering leaving the nose exposed

When you consider the choice words the Germans have come up with, I’m afraid we Americans are losing the Words Race. About the only new phrase I can think of is “social distancing”–which I think gets absolutely blown out of the water by hamsterkauf.

Scooter Wars

The people of Columbus must really like riding scooters. Or, at least, that must be true of people hanging out in German Village. Schiller Park, in particular, is a magnet for scooters. Every morning on my walk around the park I see scooters at every point of the compass—some neatly arranged in appealing groups, like the ones above, some scattered willy-nilly, and some casually discarded and lying on their sides , like scooter litter.

By my count, there are at least four companies vying for the business of Cbus scooter users. And it must be a rule that scooter companies have four letters in their names—no more, no less—because that’s true of every Columbus competitor. We’ve got Bird, Link, Spin, and Lime.

What’s next? Sync, maybe? Given the ‘tude of the scooter riders, I’m surprised that Cool and Pose haven’t been used already.

15 Years Of Goldbricking

According to the BBC, an Italian civil servant is being investigated for collecting his salary, but not working . . . for 15 years. If the suspected facts turn out to be true, the public employee at issue has taken goldbricking–the ability to shirk meaningful work on the job while still getting paid–to entirely new, heretofore unexplored levels.

According to the BBC story, the individual “worked” at a hospital in the Italian town of Catanzaro. He stopped showing up in 2005, and nevertheless received full pay for the next 15 years and was reportedly paid more than 500,000 Euros during that period. His case came to light as part of a police investigation into rampant absenteeism and payroll fraud in the Italian public sector. Six managers at the hospital also are subjects of the investigation.

So, how did this happen, exactly? It’s not entirely clear, but the BBC article indicates that the employee was going to be the subject of a disciplinary charge by his manager when he threatened the manager. She didn’t file the report and then retired, and her successor, and the hospital’s HR staff, never noticed the employee’s absence. In the meantime, he kept getting his paychecks.

This impressive goldbricking feat sounds like an episode from Seinfeld or The Sopranos, or the plot for Office Space II. One thing the BBC story doesn’t disclose is what, exactly, the employee’s job was supposed to be. The reader is left to wonder: what paying position could be deemed necessary to create in the first place, but could be so inconsequential that no one would notice it wasn’t being done?

Taking Crust

The other day I was characterizing somebody’s action that was pretty darned brazen. The phrase that immediately popped into my mind was “it takes crust,” so that is what I used. To my surprise and disappointment, the other party to the discussion had never heard that phrase before and had no idea what I was saying.

I can identify the source of this particular phrase with precision. It was one of Grandma Webner’s favorites, and always said with a look of abject disgust. It meant that the person in question was acting with unmitigated gall, impertinence, recklessness, and a complete lack of regard for social mores and Grandma’s accepted rules of behavior. Usually there was a certain element of hypocrisy in the mix, too. For example, if somebody with a well-earned reputation for sketchy and dubious behavior insisted that another person be held to the highest standards of conduct in their personal affairs, Grandma would get that look and say “it takes crust for so-and-so to do such-and-such.” And everyone who heard her knew exactly what she meant.

It’s a great little bit of American slang that apparently was much more commonly used in the early 1900s, although it seems to have fallen out of favor recently–as the bewildered reaction to my use of the phrase indicated. I’ve always thought that the phrase must draw from the meaning of “crust” as a kind of protective coating, and reflects that the impertinent actor must be hardened or oblivious to how polite society will react to their conduct. But “crust” is just too good a word to fall out of slang usage entirely, and according to the Urban Dictionary it is now used to described a particular kind of fast and garbled punk music, and it can also refer to a thing or person that is unappealing.

I like Grandma’s sense of the word better, and I’ll continue to use it, explain it when necessary, and do my part to ensure that “it takes crust” doesn’t fall completely out of usage.

My Favorite Star Trek Episode

Kish was out of town earlier this week, so I seized the opportunity to indulge in a little Star Trek fix. It had to be something from the original series, of course–those shows I’ve been watching since they first aired during my childhood and that I’ve watched consistently in the more than five decades since. Some of the later Trek series are quite good, but nothing will really overtake the original series for me, with those familiar characters and plot lines that are as comfortable as an old shoe.

Of course, the viewer’s mood can affect show selection. If I’m looking for a lighter episode, I might go for I, Mudd, or The Trouble With Tribbles, or A Piece Of The Action, and if I really want to venture into the realm of guilty pleasures I might go for one of the bad, campy episodes from the third and final season. But I wanted instead to watch one of the best episodes–one of the classic shows that helped to make me into a fan of the Trek world until my last day. I thought about what my all-time favorite episode might be, and after a minute or two of reflection, I opted for Amok Time.

It wasn’t an easy call. Mirror, Mirror and Journey To Babel are great episodes, and so are Balance Of Terror and Devil In The Dark and City On The Edge Of Forever and a few others. I’ve got a soft spot for The Corbomite Maneuver, too. All of those episodes feature crisp plots, some meaningful insight into the Trek universe, and the great byplay between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy that the fans of the original series love.

Amok Time, where Spock’s biological impulses require him to return to his home planet of Vulcan to mate, and Spock and an unwitting Kirk must fight to the death due to Vulcan tradition, has all of that. It’s the first episode to give the viewers a significant look at Vulcan culture and Spock’s inner turmoil and what lies beneath that logical exterior, and the interaction between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is all the diehard fan could hope for. I particularly love the scene where Kirk promises to risk his career to get Spock back to Vulcan, the scene where the crusty Dr. McCoy is surprised and honored to be asked by Spock to accompany him to Vulcan for the mating ceremony, and the entire final part of the show, where the quick-thinking McCoy saves the day and is rewarded with a chance to see an emotional outburst from Spock. Amok Time is just some great, vintage TV.

Now that I think of it, I probably should watch some of the other contending episodes, just to be sure that I’m right in picking Amok Time as my current favorite.

Maintaining A Squirrel-Like Calm

You normally don’t associate squirrels with a calm demeanor. To the contrary, squirrels seem to be some of the most skittish, hyper alert members of the animal kingdom. They are always nervously chewing up a nut while on the lookout for a dog and ready to run like crazy.

So this squirrel, perched on one of the concrete stanchions along the St. Mary fence line, was displaying decidedly unsquirrelly behavior. It gazed into the far distance with a placid expression and attitude, oblivious to the world around him, perhaps thinking deep squirrel thoughts. It was only when I approached that the squirrel ended its reverie, turned my way as if wondering why I was disturbing his solitude, and scampered off into the shrubbery where it undoubtedly resumed its zen like meditation..

On The Wild Burro Trail

The Wild Burro Trail is one of the primary trails in the Dove Mountain network of trails, and is also one of the longest. It’s the trail that you find at the trailhead, and it stretches for 6.5 miles and links up with many of the other trails.

The trail begins flat, and winds through and around some of the dry washes on the floor of the canyon between the mountains. It’s an easy hike, and it was not hard to imagine herds of braying wild burros trotting down the canyon and kicking up a cloud of dust as they followed the trail.

Once you reach the ruins of a stone house (shown above) about a mile into the hike, however, the trail becomes a lot more challenging, and heads up the hillside at a pretty good incline.

The trail even goes between two giant Saguaros that look a bit like praying hands as it progresses up the hillside. It’s a narrow trail that has a steep drop-off to one side, which is common on the trails here. I took my hike in the afternoon heat, when only a lunatic would be out on the trails, so I didn’t see another soul and had the trails completely to myself. As a result, I didn’t have to share the narrow passes with anyone.

As you gain in altitude you see some interesting desert plant life, like the furry plants shown below. I also saw eagles, lizards, jack rabbits, chipmunk-like creatures, and a number of birds. There were no large critters, though.

The Wild Burro Trail heads straight up and out of the canyon and intersects with other long and challenging trails. I didn’t have the time for a real lengthy hike, so when I reached the ridge line on one of the hills I stopped and turned around to head back. You have commanding views up there, but you need to be careful where you put your feet lest you go careening down the hillside. Selfie takers, take note!

Pictures from the heights really don’t convey the view. You are far above the canyon floor, but it is hard to give a good sense of the drop to the wash far below.

You also need to be careful about where you place you feet heading down. Stumbles could be disastrous. And Midwesterners like me need to remember that you have to watch what you touch to brace yourself on the way down. Rocks are okay, obviously, but you’ve got to remember that those objects that seem like telephone poles as you pass by have thorns, and so do many of the other plants.

By the time I reached the canyon floor and the dry wash, the sun was starting to sink, and it backlit the Saguaros on the rocky hillsides as I headed home. These Saguaros almost looked like they were trying to spell something. “It’s too hot to hike,” perhaps?

COVID Travel

We took a commercial airline flight a few days ago, and the pandemic continues to change the way we travel. Here are a few things I noticed:

* In the three airports we used on our trip, many of the stores, including food and snack options, were closed, and the ones that were open had very long lines. In Phoenix, for example, the line for a Wendy’s had about 30 people in it, which means you’ve got a pretty long wait for your Frosty. Next time we travel by air we’ll pack a lunch or a snack.

* The months of social conditioning about social distancing have had an impact. If you get to your gate early, people are spaced far apart, but as departure time nears the gaps fill in and people get noticeably antsy when people sit in the adjoining seat—and that’s even with everyone masked up.

* Here’s a positive: masked travelers make fewer annoying and intrusive phone calls. The gate areas are a lot quieter.

* The airline magazine on our flight, shown above, has supposedly been treated with some process to make it safe to handle. Nevertheless, it looked like it hadn’t been touched, and I didn’t flip through it, either. I bet readership is way down, and wonder whether this is the death knell for such magazines. For now, though, travelers can expect pristine in-flight magazines and untouched crossword puzzles., even if they are flying mid-month.

* The pre-flight lecture has gotten longer, with a COVID-19 specific section at the end. We were told that federal law now mandates a two-layer mask, and scarves, gaiters, and bandannas do not make the cut. And, keeping with the airline tendency to say even the most obvious stuff—like how to work the seat belt—we’re now being told that if the oxygen masks drop, it’s okay to remove your COVID masks before donning your oxygen mask.

Cereal Advances

With great advances being made in space flight technology, rocketry, electric cars, and communications devices, it’s nice to see that the cereal companies are keeping up their end of the bargain.

Kellogg’s has introduced Peeps cereal, which looks like it consists of Froot Loop-type rings and small marshmallow chicks and bunnies—just in time for Easter. It seems as though that combination would be sweet enough to curl your teeth, but perhaps that’s the point. And judging from the number of boxes that were absent, it looks like Peeps will be a hit.

When will the cereal companies finally drop the pretense and just start putting chocolate bunnies and malted milk eggs into cereal boxes?

Tread Lightly, Pranksters!

On this April Fool’s Day, here is some heartfelt advice for those who are scheming about practical jokes: tread lightly today.

Any capable prankster has to consider the setting, the nature of the prank, and the prankee. Any kid old enough to attempt an April Fool’s Day gag during his formative years intuitively understood this. You might try the “put salt in the sugar bowl” trick on your brother, but you were risking an explosion if you pulled it on your Dad as he was taking his first, wake-up sip of morning coffee. And doing anything permanently destructive, like sawing through the legs of a chair so your sister would crash to the ground when she sat down for her cereal, was clearly out of bounds.

This year, any practical jokers need to understand their audience and some reasonable boundaries, too. We’ve been pretty battered by the past year, and we’re more brittle than normal. So slipping somebody one of those dripping cups, or putting an obscene hat on the statue in Schiller Park, or sticking a “kick me” sign on Captain Kirk’s back might be funny, but nobody’s going to get much of a belly laugh out of a COVID-oriented gag. Let’s not mess around with vaccination needles, for example, or cut up vaccination cards. And I’m not sure how those who have been involuntarily housebound for more than a year now would react to a flaming bag on their doorstep, either.

The best April Fool’s Day jokes have a certain silly, timeless quality, anyway–like the 1957 BBC broadcast that convinced some gullible Brits that pasta was harvested from trees in Switzerland. If you’re interested in reading about legendary pranks of the past, take a look here and here. But if you’re going to actually try a prank, please–go easy on us!

Upper Arm Display

The combination of COVID-19 vaccination sweeping the nation and social media being a primary form of communication in modern America has produced an unusual situation. We’re seeing a lot more of people’s bared upper arms these days–either displaying the Band-Aid signifying that they’ve got their shot or actually getting stuck by a needle.

This is unusual because the upper arm is a part of the body that normally is blissfully covered by clothing. In pre-COVID times, it would be rare indeed to encounter a friend and have them expose their upper arm in greeting you. There’s a reason for this. Unless you’re a bodybuilder who is working on getting ready for next year’s Arnold Classic, you’re not really paying much attention to that triceps area.

Oh, you may have noticed, with a sad realization of the regrettable realities of aging, that as you’ve gotten older that upper arm area has become saggy, with a flap of loose skin and jelly-like flab that hangs down and sways in the breeze when you hold your arm out. But you thought that, in the priority list of body parts that demand attention in your personal fitness regimen, the upper arms fall well below, say, the waistline, because they are simply not as visible and obvious to the casual observer. That is, they weren’t as visible and obvious until posting vaccination photos suddenly became de rigueur.

We weren’t prepared for this new reality, which is just another way in which COVID-19 has upset our well-ordered, pre-pandemic world. And now I wonder: will the increased visibility of the upper arm cause a surge in people hitting the gym and performing push-ups or other exercises designed specifically to tone those triceps areas, to make for more attractive vaccination photos when the COVID booster shots inevitably hit the market in the future?

In the meantime, we can all be grateful that vaccination shots are given in the upper arm, and not in the belly.

Looking For Lamination (In All The Wrong Places)

We got the second part of our two-part vaccination a few days ago, and we’re pretty happy about it. Now, we are not only fully vaccinated, we are also the proud owners of completed, bar-coded, scannable CDC COVID-19 vaccination cards.

The folks who gave us our shots recommended that the treat those vaccination cards like other super-important documents in our lives, such as passports and birth certificates. This advice makes sense, because we don’t know exactly what the post-pandemic world is going to look like. It may well be that we will need to show a completed vaccination card to get on an airplane flight or attend a football game or for some other purpose, so we’ll have to get into the habit of carrying those cards around as a matter of course. And although the vaccination cards are made of light cardboard, we all know that such objects can easily become bent, creased, and dog-eared. So if we want our vaccination cards to have long-term functionality, the solution is clear: get them laminated while they are still in their pristine, newborn state, before pockets and purses and interaction with keychains, coins, pens, and clumsy fingers have a go at them.

Lamination isn’t a service that I’ve ever had to look for before. The only thing I’ve had to have laminated in recent memory is my driver’s license, and in Ohio the BMV does that automatically when you get a new one. There’s no nearby lamination store, to my knowledge. And, surprisingly to me, a Google search reveals that “lamination” is used to describe a variety of services, including industrial lamination, laminated flooring, and eyebrow lamination. Which of those providers would be best suited to take care of our vaccination cards?

Fortunately, we learned that two of the office supply chains in our area–Staples and Office Depot–are offering to laminate COVID vaccination cards for free, so that’s where we’re going. That’s a smart move by those businesses that is bound to establish some loyalty on the part of grateful vaccinated people like us, and we’ll remember their generosity the next time we need lamination or office supplies. It also, fortunately, will keep me from going into a flooring contractor or eyebrow salon to ask if their lamination services can be repurposed.

Ducks On The Run

This is the time of year when the ducks in Schiller Park are out and about. Instead of hanging out at the pond, as they typically do, at this time of year they clearly feel a certain wanderlust and could be anywhere–crossing the street, emerging from underneath bushes, or strolling across the lawns.

It can be a bit unnerving as you walk in the pre-dawn darkness. You’ll suddenly detect movement near your feet in the gloom and feel a surge of adrenalin in response to the unknown, and the next thing you know there are a pair of ducks waddling past, murmuring in apparent indignation at your presence. With the DuckShock over, you breathe a sigh of relief and continue on your way.

The roaming ducks always seem to be in female and male pairs, which makes me think the wandering is intended to secure a little privacy, away from the rest of the flock at the pond, for some springtime mating. I always feel a little bad for interrupting the roving of my waterfowl chums–whatever they are doing.