26 December 2010

Preparing for the New Year

On New Year's Eve 2009, I wrote this poem:

Today I am happy
Contentment soaks my body like oxygen
I hear Maya Angelou say "And still I rise"
And I lean back into my chair


I hope that all of you have many occasions to feel this way now and throughout the coming year.

I ask your indulgence as I offer a few more bits of poetry written by me in 2009-2010:

3 Jan. (haiku):
Sun trifles with Earth
a fitful novice lover
clouds drift to part them

8 Feb. (when we actually had snow):
Fat fluffy snowflakes swirling
make dogs happy, twirling,
dipping, plowing, faces down,
white masks shine up, eyes bright

19 Feb. (upon the illness of a friend's pet):
A season cannot contain a pet's love
nor a lifetime diminish it
These tender spirits intertwine our lives
like dancing, breezy candle flames

13 Apr. (haiku):
Little plum blossoms
hold on on tight while April's winds
clear off winter's dead

27 Nov. (haiku challenge, word: abandon):
fog, wind, sand, driftwood
deep abandoned childhood
sorrow settles here

5 Oct. (on turmoil):
Perhaps this is my challenge
to accept without caveat
that which is
to release, seek peace, not resist
I bow

Last night, to a friend:
Life doesn't need to come all at once.
There is no disappointment in not achieving things
Exactly as planned
As you think it is supposed to be.
Sometimes life's problems come from our own striving
Our own imagining of how it should go
Rather than stepping back
Being quiet
Accepting what IS at this moment
What is good in this moment
Even if it is but the smallest detail.
It's hard when the rush of life comes at you like a stormy sea
To stop and see it all as continuity
Each drop linked to each drop
Even to the quiet and stillness of the deep.

12 November 2010

Time to start blogging again

Just registered for #scio11 — ScienceOnline2011 and am thinking about where I am in terms of my own blog. I don't think I've ever really decided if this is a completely personal blog, or part science & part personal, or something else. I started with an explanation of the title: Dragonfly Wars. My most detailed post came on 27 March, discussing a New Scientist article: "Food, not flab, is the real killer," by Andy Coghlan. This post combined science and personal experience. Another post I am particularly proud of is my 4 April entry, "Branding Bhutan — or the story of a 'Trek through Time'." This post again combined science (in particular, an article in the 19 Feb. 2010 Science magazine, "Improbable partners aim to bring biotechnology to Himalayan Kingdom") and personal experience — that of my grandmother's trek in Bhutan with Tenzing Norgay back in 1975.

After that, the blog has become a little more personal, while still touching on topics of interest to a wider audience. "Sugar: I've cut it out" (28 April) is my take on how to cut sugar out of a person's diet. I have yet to go into greater detail as to how that has helped me in several arenas to become a more balanced person. An 8 August post, "Cleaning up," reacted to the book Nickled and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, going off on tangents about my life as a maid, a housekeeper, and a group-home counselor. I'm also proud of this entry, but don't know if anyone has read it — maybe the picture of a dirty mop at the top of the story puts people off.

The "myth" that only your mother reads your blog is really a myth — I'm pretty sure my mother has never looked at it. But I know my father has. His favorite entry is from 26 May: "Thankful, Part I." I guess dads like to know their kids are happy. I haven't gotten to "Thankful, Part II" yet, but it'll come.

My saddest and most personal entry is "Memorial to Buddy, a good dog." This post got the most "reads" and comments. Buddy was a golden retriever whom I had the pleasure of calling my "best friend" for almost 10 years. He died suddenly (of a burst hemagiosarcoma I didn't even know he had [stoic to the last]) on 11 June 2009. Conversely, another of my favorite entries is about our other dog, Blue Aroo, whom we adopted from the MaxFund Shelter in Denver in 10 June 2009.

I tried doing the "What I linked to on Twitter this Week" thing I saw other blogs doing (particularly "Highly Allochthonous") but have found that that takes up a lot of time I don't have — and those who read my tweets (@Colo_kea) are far greater in number than who might actually look at my blog anyway.

My most recent post was for Blog Action Day 2010. I kinda took the lazy way out (or maybe not lazy exactly — I showed off what I do best with water, and that's as a photographer, not as a scientist). The post is called "Water shots." I announced once on Twitter a while back that water was my favorite thing in the whole world, and I meant it. Of course, the best of the best is a golden retriever and water at the same time.

So now — this is a nice summary of the blog so far. What's next? Do I dive into the more personal, or do I stay above that fine line? My professional expertise is as a journalist, editor, social media manager, former community college instructor, and former 9-year sheriff's department employee. I'm no scientist; I just work for a science organization and read a lot of science blogs. My skill set includes amateur Web design (see my current Web site, which will transition soon to become keagiles.com to be consistent with my chosen married name; see also the Web site I built for my brother's bookstore, Applegarth Books) — no bells and whistles on these, but I do like the images and design elements. That leads to my other amateur calling  — that of a digital photographer. I've sold a couple of photos but haven't put much effort into getting them "out there." Another artifact of the "not enough time" syndrome.

I think that's enough of summarizing myself. You can always get more from LinkedIn for Twitter or even from my profile on this blog. That's not what this post is about. This post is asking you, the reader, what you'd like to see here. It's also helping me to get my thoughts together regarding what I want to write here and what I'm bringing to the table at ScienceOnline 2011. Comments? Appreciated.

15 October 2010

Water Shots

I've decided to take part in Blog Action Day 2010 because it's about water. Just so happens, water is my favorite thing. It's everywhere. You can't do much without it. In fact, you can't do anything without it. It's our life's blood, more a part of us than the air we breathe.

I'm no hydrologist, but I do love a good picture of water. Here are a few water shots as tribute to what is good and beautiful and vital to us all. (Note: Pictures copyright keasmus; if you want to use one, just let me know.)

You can see the veins of this leaf magnified in the water drops.
Water cushioned in a geranium leaf.
A cup of raspberry.
Water drops caught in a spider web.
Water frozen on a dandelion.
Water reflections in glacial silt, Skagway River, Alaska, USA.
The cool blue water of Glacier Bay, Alaska, USA.
Glacier Bay, Alaska, USA.
Snake River, Idaho, USA.
South Boulder Creek with golden retriever.

10 October 2010

Of Note • Colo_kea on Twitter 2–8 Oct. 2010

Following the example of some of my fellow tweeps & bloggers (including Chris Rowan, Anne Jefferson, and Brian Romans), I've decided to start logging here the sites and articles of interest that I link to on Twitter from my nom de plume (hee hee – get it?) Colo_kea.

New Scientist: Honeybee disappearance mystery may be solved

Hilarious pictures: Who's really your best friend?

Physorg_com: Adobe shares surge on Microsoft acquisition report

Wired Science: Exclusive: First Autistic Presidential Appointee Speaks Out (via Lynne Soraya)

ESRI: New podcast explains how GIS can be used to assist green building
http://www.esri.com/news/podcasts/podcasts.html#user_pyke (opens podcast)

Boulder Daily Camera: Survey: Boulder fourth-most educated in nation

Wall Street Journal: In Boulder, Colo., Bring Your Dog (via

Associated Press/Google: George Clooney in Southern Sudan over war worries (via Ann Curry)

Ann Curry from UN Security Council Hearing in south Sudan

The Guardian: The Lay Scientist: Why I spoofed science journalism, and how to fix it

Schneier on Security: Monitoring Employees' Online Behavior

Tucson Citizen.com: Wry Heat blog: Saguaro National Park and Climate Change

BBC News: Why companies watch your every Facebook, YouTube, Twitter move (via Chris Rowan)

Guardian.co.uk: Malaria threatens 2 million in Pakistan as floodwaters turn stagnant (via Anne Jefferson)

08 August 2010

Cleaning Up

Have you read the book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich? If not, I highly recommend you do so. I think about that book every time I go out to eat, every time I stay in a hotel, and whenever I clean my house, and so will you when you're done.

Such a time came yesterday, when I made a more thorough attack on the upstairs bathroom than usual. The gloves were ON, and I was scrubbing every corner, even the ceiling.

There's a lot more to cleaning than making things look clean. I know — I used to be a maid in a hotel. All that mattered was how quickly we got in and out of the room. Our cleaning rags were the guests' used towels, and we almost never got into the corners with those towels or the vacuum. This part of Nickel and Dimed is right on; maids have to hurry because their supervisor has to meet a strict budget and the best way to keep the budget in line is to cut housekeeping hours.

When I was in college, for both undergrad (after that summer as hotel maid) and grad, I made my way by cleaning for professors at the university. It was a lot better than hotel work, because I could spend the time I needed to get things right. I liked putting in that extra effort — I mean, even if they're never going to lie on the floor of their bathroom and look up at the bottom of their pedestal sink, I have, and I've cleaned the dirt and muck that accumulates there until the porcelain sparkles again. And I've climbed a ladder to dust away cobwebs and shake down lost socks from vaulted ceilings and cross beams.

I liked being a housekeeper — as long as no one was home. Trying to clean with the professor or the family at home made me nervous. I didn't want to have to talk to anybody, and I certainly didn't want anyone to be in the same room where I was working.

I was housekeeper for a family of five (a law professor father and his four kids) for a couple of years. The father required that I wax the kitchen floor (Wax! Who does that anymore?) at least once a month. That involves stripping off the old wax, then cleaning, getting into grooves and shaving off stuck foodstuffs with a razor blade, and then painstakingly coating the floor in even mop rows of wax, trying not to overlap at the edges like you would if you were mowing the lawn. In the middle of that, without asking or warning, one or two of the boys would almost without fail come tramping in on the floor to cook ramen! They were hungry teenagers — but the question became — would I allow them to do this and mess up my floor (including probably getting noodles stuck in the wax) or did I risk making their dad angry by telling them to get out? They had no understanding of what I was trying to do. They had no respect for me — I couldn't believe it when the youngest (9) brought a friend home and in passing introduced me as "our help." I continue to wonder what became of those kids, brought up in such a way, having someone paid to come in and clean their rooms, their bathrooms, do their laundry, and all the rest, while they just went about their merry ways not even understanding the luxury of the situation or the damage it was doing to them.

I grew up having to do chores, and I think that's the right thing for all kids. Discipline, work, creativity, and plenty of play outside. Kids need consistent, patient discipline, and part of that is giving kids jobs to do, to be proud of, and to earn rewards for (10 cents a chore when I was young). Housework in and of itself is not as tedious and dull as some might think. It's a creative process; moving from dull to sparkling, from disorder to order, from grimy to beautiful.

I gave up maid work after earning my B.A. in psychology and went to work in a group home. The "residents," kids ages 12 to 17, were assigned to the home due to various crises in their families, or lack of families. One 12-year-old girl had been taken from her mother's house because her mother-slash-pimp had been selling her as a prostitute. 12 years old! My job, if I could, was to get her to at least smile and laugh a bit.

All the kids in the home had to do a certain amount of cleaning. But the the place had some senseless, archaic rules, one of which was that the kids weren't allowed to listen to music or play until all chores were completed. Well, at least on my shift, I turned that rule on its head. Who wants to clean without music? You do a half-assed job to get it done as quick as you can. But what if you have music? We did dance-sweeping and dance-mopping — the more you mop, the more you get to blast the music. On my Saturdays, the house was rocking AND sparkling. And people were smiling, even the 12 year old.

It's funny how I don't remember their names, but I remember each of their circumstances. I worked the night-shift there once in a while, and had to call the cops several times because a couple of the girls' pimps were outside their windows threatening them with violence and enticing them with drugs and money to come out and get back on the streets. Luckily, all windows and doors were chained shut. Not good for the fire code, but good for these girls. Some of the girls would have left quite willingly.

On night shift, another part of my job was to prep dinner for the next day. My specialty, if you can call it that, was quiche. You can make lots of servings out of a few government-issued blocks of cheese, eggs, flour, and lard. Add in some onion, spinach, maybe bacon or ham if you're lucky to have it, and you even have a pretty good meal. Thing is, I never got to see the kids eat the quiche, so now I think about it, I don't know if they even liked it! What if every dinner they knew I had cooked they would groan and shove the food to the side of the plate? I'll never know now.

I just hope I made a positive impact on some of their lives, at least in some small way.

How did I get here from Nickel and Dimed? Mostly this was just a free flow of ideas. It does follow a theme, in a way — I got paid more to clean those professors' houses than I did as a counselor in that group home. I joke that I once had a job where I got paid to play pool (with the kids, in the afternoons), but I didn't get paid much. And now those kids, many of them, are probably out there being nickel-and-dimed into a lack-luster existence when they deserve more.

I don't have a magic answer or moral to this story. I just wanted to tell it, and hope someone listens. For that 12-yr-old girl, and the thousands or millions out there like her. Maybe she's even your hotel maid — so next time you're away on business or vacation, try to remember to leave a good tip for the person who cleaned your room. You'll be helping her out, and you just might make her smile.

28 July 2010

Memorial to Buddy, a Good Dog

Buddy was a Good Dog — capital G, capital D. He wasn't the most clever or most talented, nor the "worst dog ever" (aka Marley). Certainly nothing to write a book about. But, he was my Buddy. We did stuff together.

Buddy's first swim was at the dog park at nine weeks old; his first "real walk" was at Bobolink Trail (he was so little, I had to carry him part of the way). He liked to play with his giant purple "Jolly Ball," and he enjoyed a good soak in the local canal. And, of course, retriever rolls.

Buddy grew up visiting my grandmother in the nursing home (that's another, important story) and graduated to working for the Boulder Community Hospital Canine Corps for a couple of years (he even earned a diploma). This story, Buddy's Hospital Hints, appeared in the canine corps newsletter.

We liked walking best, hanging out second best. Buddy's theme song was "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers — imagine those droopy golden retriever eyes and Buddy just waiting for me to come home from work, and you get the idea... "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone; I'm all alone when she's away..."

As a golden retriever, Buddy was very much the extrovert. He knew everyone in the neighborhood, and took plenty of time trying to convince everybody he met that he loved them more than anything else in the whole world. Imagine the dog in the movie "Up," with the classic line, "I have just met you and I love you." That was Buddy.

I promised Buddy once that we'd never live anywhere without snow. Have you ever seen a dog thoroughly enjoying snow? Rolling in it, running in it, shoveling his nose through it... it's an experience not to miss. If you don't have a dog, see if you can borrow your neighbor's golden retriever next winter.

Buddy died on 11 June 2010, one month before his 10th birthday, two weeks before Bear and I got married. True to his stoic golden retriever nature, he never told me he was sick, until he was so sick, he couldn't hide it anymore. He caught pneumonia, and two days later, I found out he had a burst hemagiosarcoma (tumor on his liver). The emergency vet told me Buddy would bleed out within the hour, but we did a body compress bandage, and he was happy and tail-waggy again, for about five hours (so Bear could get home to say good-bye), and then, as he slowly grew weary, we had him "put to sleep."

Buddy was a good dog. I'll miss him for the rest of my life. He knew my every move; each movement of my fingers, my eyes, my shoulders, meant something to him. Our walks together were like a dance; we were in rhythm with each other.

OK, except for when there was some really good sniff, or a cat or squirrel to chase, or another human to worship and sing to (yes, he "hummed" and sang a bit as he got older)...

But always, Buddy was my friend. In my heart, he will 'ever enjoy cool, bubbling waters, long, snowy days, plenty of humans and happy dogs to play with, and sunshine, lots of sunshine, now he's gone away.

26 May 2010

Thankful, Part I

I've been holding off on blogging, waiting until I have time to write the promised chocolate post (comparing various bars of dark chocolate).

I really will get to that, but for now, I have something more urgent...


I'm thankful that this evening I got to swim outside and gaze up at the blue sky and watch the clouds form and fade. After the swim, I sat in the sauna and thanked God (the God of Jesus, the God of Mohamed, the God or good or good spirit that inspired Buddha ... whatever you want to call it) for all the good things in my life right now. Thanks that I can just sit here in this space and think "thanks." Thanks for Bear and Buddy and Blue Aroo. Thanks for the upcoming wedding and the dress and the rings... Thanks for the freedom and the means to be able to plan a fantastic honeymoon.

Beyond all that is an even deeper gratitude, one that can't be explained in a single blog post. It's a gratitude that comes from both struggle and privilege, from having looked into the face of evil more than once and flourished in spite of it, from simply being able to be thankful for everyday beauty, for what we call the "little things" (which add up to something bigger than all of us understand, I think).

I know I'm not expressing this as well as I'd like right now, but it's a start. And, as I sat in the sauna tonight with nothing to do but be grateful, I knew this post couldn't wait until I could make it perfect (whatever that means).

Hey - and thanks for reading this!

28 April 2010

Sugar: I've cut it out.

People have asked me how I've done it & what they can do to reduce sugar in their diets as well. It's really not that hard.

The first thing to do is to read labels. Did you know that a 6-oz. carton of Yoplait piña colada yogurt (Bear's favorite) has 21 grams of sugar? Naturally, six ounces of yogurt (in this case, Cascade Fresh fat-free plain yogurt) will contain about 10 grams of sugar. This is due to the presence of the milk sugar, lactose (see http://lowcarbdiets.about.com/od/whattoeat/a/yogurtcarbs.htm, and esp. info on how the live cultures break down the lactose). The additional sugars in the Yoplait yogurt (and other regular brands) are from two sources: the fruit and, yes, added sugar.

What about that fruit? Fruit is a natural source of sugar, so I've had to watch the types of fruit I eat as well, and what I combine them with. An apple a day is fine, as long as I pair it with some cheese or a few almonds. A banana is better with some peanut butter. According to a dietician I saw when I began this change (in reaction to learning that I am hypoglycemic), the best fruits are those with lots of seeds: raspberries, strawberries, and so forth.

Plain yogurt is so, well, plain... How can you stand to eat it? First, once you cut the sugar in your diet, things that seemed too bitter before aren't and, on the other hand, things that seemed fine before taste way too sweet. But that doesn't mean I like plain yogurt. I dress it up. Take six ounces of plain yogurt, add half a cup or more of those nice seeded berries, toss in some chopped walnuts, and, for added sweetness and texture, some UNSWEETENED coconut. Forget ice cream; this stuff is good!

How could you possibly give up chocolate? Who says I gave up chocolate? Here's another reason to read your labels. Did you know that a 43-gram Hershey's bar (regular size bar; see http://www.hersheys.com/products/details/hersheysbar.asp) contains 24 grams of sugar? Ouch! While I really, really love milk chocolate, it's something I've had to steer away from. Instead, I've gone for dark chocolate. But not 50% dark, or even 70% dark — we're talking 85% to 90% dark. A 41-gram bar of Hershey's Special Dark still contains 21 grams of sugar (note, the same amount as a serving of Yoplait). The highest percent dark chocolate bar I have been able to find is by Lindt. A 3.5 oz bar (about 99 grams) of their "Super Dark" chocolate has nine grams of sugar. Wow! I can eat half of one of these bars and still ingest less sugar than is in my plain yogurt! But there's a catch: A Lindt "Super Dark" bar has a lot of fat in it — 360 of the bar's 550 calories are from fat. So, don't go all crazy on that chocolate! (I'm currently "researching" dark chocolates [85%–90%] for a future post comparing taste, sugars, fats, and calories in six different bars, so watch for that!).

Along with cutting out sugar, it's a good idea to increase your protein and fiber intake. In the morning, I have eggs scrambled with onion, broccoli, and brown rice. Or, if I'm feeling self-indulgent, I'll have peanut butter on a brown rice cake or some gluten-free "Glutino" fiber bread. Again, read your labels! Natural, organic peanut butter is just that — peanuts, with no added sugar. The brands you usually find in the grocery store have had corn syrup, sugar, and even molasses added, along with unnatural oils. Once you get used to it, having to stir and refrigerate your peanut butter isn't all that inconvenient.

Oooh, and one more thing: My new favorite: Sugar-free pbjs! No, I don't use jam; I use frozen raspberries. I warm the raspberries in the microwave (defrost for 1 min., then cook for 30 sec., stir, cook for 15 sec.), spread them on my gluten-free toast, and mush that together with my natural peanut butter on another piece of gluten-free toast. Yum! Note: Even though this is really tasty, it's really not a good idea to have this pbj for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner. LOL.

I'm not a dietician, a nutritionist, or a medical professional — just an editor. But I think eating is a good idea, and eating so you are WELL is even better.

In the word's of Julia Child, "Bon  appétit!" But I doubt she would approve of this blog, unless I added butter.

24 April 2010

Who is Blue Aroo?

10 June 2009, Denver, Colorado, USA: Mr. Speedy here, aka Blue Aroo, finished his last morning in supermax... I mean at MaxFund Shelter, where he'd been waiting patiently since late March for someone to come adopt him — again...

Originally adopted from MaxFund when he was a year old, Blue Aroo was returned to the shelter 10 years later because his owner could no longer care for him. I've come up with two explanations in my mind to justify that — either she lost a job and could no longer house him, or he was just too afraid of thunder and fireworks and she couldn't handle the stress anymore.

That was the big warning on his shelter chart — fear of flashing light, thunder, and fireworks. But as soon as we got him home, we built him a little cave in our house (a crate insulated with blankets), and he goes there to feel safe, or just to hang out.

So, Blue was 11 years old when we adopted him. But you can't tell — he's full to brimming over with life! My nickname for him is "Sparky." He goes for runs with Bear, bounces around the house, and runs circles around the other dogs at the dog park. He's so fast, I think he even runs circles around himself! He and our golden retriever, Buddy, get along "famously."

People often respond in wonder that we would have adopted an "older" dog. So close after the death of Bear's longtime canine companion, Sequoia (a playful chow-chow mix who died 26 May 2009 at the age of 16), why would we want to invite more heartbreak?

So far, heartbreak hasn't been a word in our vocabulary when it comes to Blue. Except perhaps for the heartbreak I felt for his previous owner, having to give up such a sweet dog.

And he is sweet! Never have I met such a happy, friendly, sparkly dog. As a golden retriever, Buddy has a head start on almost any dog when it comes to happiness and friendliness, but Blue, a husky–cattle dog mix, even outshines him.

When it comes to his age — well, the last time we had him in to see the vet, she remarked as she looked into his goofy blue eyes that if she didn't know better, she'd place his age at around seven.

Buddy is almost 10 now (I've had him since, well, before he was born), and Blue is over 12. But they're both healthy enough to bounce, run, and play with us every day. If it ever comes time to adopt another dog, I'll have my eyes trained on the older guys first. And Blue Aroo says, "Aroooooo!"

14 April 2010

Falling for Spring

What's your favorite season? Up until this year, I would have answered, clearly and with determination, "Fall."

Clearly, because as long as I can remember, I have felt this way. With determination, because I'm just a little bit contrary — most people love spring (is that really true? stats anyone?), so why not be different?

It occurred to me just today that something fundamental has changed in the way I see the natural world. Each hint of new growth pleases me deeply. I have an almost maternal attachment to the budding wild plum blossoms, the muskrat in Skunk Creek, the first little insects (even the ants) emerging from winter hibernation, and our little mallard pair taking up housekeeping in Bear Creek to the east.

I love spring. It's exciting. Green sprouts everywhere! Hints of color tip tree branches and bushes. Bees, gnats, and other insects (maybe soon some ladybugs!) travel the three-dimensional space between ground and sky. The black vultures return, and hawks dance in pairs over the greening prairie grasses.

I recently came across the Dragonfly Archive, a blog dedicated to capturing Twitter haiku, tanka, senryu, and micropoetry. On its "About" page, the author has posted this: "FACT: A dragonfly larvae lives up to three years, but in the winged-state they live only a few weeks. Anytime you see a dragonfly in their winged-state, know that they are close to the end of their lifespan."

Perhaps that's what I mean by "dragonfly wars" — the growth and beauty — the time to stretch one's wings, really — in the space between the bulk of one's life and the gradual rise and drift toward its termination. That's where I am now.

My 47th birthday last August was a milestone, because it was the first birthday on which I remember looking forward to life, to the possibilities, and feeling happy, content, and grounded in being ALIVE.

OK, I know. Forty-seven does not equal "close to the end of their lifespan." But metaphorically, perhaps in "dragonfly years," it is — at least, it's far beyond the larval stage (I shall not extend the metaphor to try to incorporate "nymph," the term applied to dragonfly larvae, into the mix, I promise).

I see beauty in every detail, every fragile detail, like the wings of the dragonfly.

And I'm happy to say, I've fallen for spring.

13 April 2010

A blog NOT

Last night I published a blog post, complete with photo, from the supposed point of view of my great aunt, Miss Beulah Johnson, discussing the "hat ritual" as outlined in Frances Benton's 1956 book, Etiquette: The complete modern guide for day-to-day living the correct way. Then I decided it was too kitschy and forced. So, I deleted it. The idea is no. 4 on my list of blog topics as noted on my 2 April post. But after giving it a "test drive," I decided it's just not going to work. That's not to say I wouldn't want to share some of Benton's advice — I find the book fascinating! From hat rituals, to glove guidelines, to matters of form regarding engagement and marriage — I wish I could share it all with you. Perhaps, from time to time, I'll pull out some choice information from the book, but I'll do it in my own voice. Not that I wouldn't appreciate what Great-Aunt Beulah would say — she was all about style: the right hats, gloves, coats — even her car. So very different from my grandmother's side of the family. Maybe some pictures will come up from time to time as well.

This is what I call the "blog shakedown" period — like the trial run of a ship before setting out on a long voyage. Thanks for hanging on for the ride!

04 April 2010

"Branding Bhutan" — or the story of a "Trek through Time"

The 19 February issue of Science includes an article on Bhutan titled, "Improbable Partners Aim to Bring Biotechnology to Himalayan Kingdom" (v. 247, p. 940-941). Reading it over lunch the other day, I thought, "Hmmm... well, that's interesting." Then I read a subheading on page 941, "Branding Bhutan." "Wow," I thought, "we have come a long way since 1974." Is this good or bad? Or neither? Is it just the natural course of things in a country both protective of its borders and open to change?

Just a little over 35 years ago, in October 1974, National Geographic featured on its cover a picture of a new leader coming to power in Bhutan. The cover caption read, "With his great-great-grandfather's five-colored scarf on his shoulders, 18-year-old Jigme Singye Wangchuck formally becomes monarch in the tiny kingdom of Bhutan. John Scofield's picture story highlights the color and enduring traditions of the sequestered nation."

A dusty copy of this issue remains on the bookshelf in the living room of my grandmother's house, though she passed on in 2003, and my aunt lives there now. An avid Nat Geo reader, my grandmother, Lillie Asmus, felt something in her heart shift as she read the article and took in Scofield's pictures. She had to go there, no matter what it took.

But Bhutan was closed to tourism — until young Wangchuck realized the potential benefits of well-regulated tourism. In 1975, upon permission from the king, a small party brought together by an up-and-coming adventure tourism company, then called Mountain Travel and now known as Mountain Travel Sobek, was allowed to trek this 38,394 km2 country.

My grandma was a member of that first group of American tourists. At 65, she was the oldest, and probably the most determined. Still recovering from a stroke she'd suffered six years earlier, she walked with a limp, and she'd lost her ability to take hand-written notes. Fortuitously for me, she carried with her the whole time a tape recorder, and each night recorded notes and impressions about the trek. She played those tapes for me back in 1992, and we spent several hours going over the events that touched her the most. On 28 June 1992, the Boulder Daily Camera published our account of her adventure in an article titled, "Trek through Time" (p. 1C, 3C).

The trip had multiple highlights, but I think the most significant one was the presence of Tenzing Norgay as sirdar (guide). Tenzing, you may recall, was the Nepalese sherpa who, with Sir Edumund Hilary of England, became the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1953. Quoting from my 1992 article, "In countries like Nepal and Bhutan, and even India, Tenzing (who guessed his age in 1975 to be about 61 by our calendar) was revered almost as a legend."

My grandmother said that she liked Tenzing "instantly" and still blushed years later when she told me that after she presented the sirdar with a pair of mittens (knit by my aunt), "He kissed me on my cheek and gave me a big hug."

The group began the official trek in Paro, northern Bhutan. The tiny guest houses quickly set up for tourists could not hold the entire group, so grandma volunteered to take a tent. This was mid-January, but, grandma recalled, it felt to her to be the right thing to do because "Tenzing did it too."

The group's trek continued to Tiger's Nest (Taktsang), the ancient Buddhist monastery perched on the edge of a narrow, grassy cliff. It's a rather treacherous trail up to Tiger's Nest, and not for the faint-of-heart. For safety, the group was required to take to horseback (which frightened my grandmother more than walking), but when the horses could go no further, they made the rest of the approach on foot, down so many steps my grandmother could not keep count, and finally up again, into the temple.

After several days in Bhutan, the group returned to India, trekking through Nepal and Sikkim (now a part of India).

I'll save my grandmother's time in Sikkim for another post, but I will tell you she met the last king of that country, and we still have the ceremonial prayer scarf she exchanged with him before tea. And I'll also save the next part of the story — the 80-mile trek along the Nepal-India border and the visit to Tenzing's home — for another time. Then there's grandma's trek in the Scottish Hebrides. Oh, and I must tell at some point the story of her honeymoon, bicycling through Europe in 1935.

But back to Bhutan, and the Science article.

Thimpu businessman Wangdi Jamyang has teamed up with a British mycologist (Nigel Hywel-Jones) to "Brand Bhutan." That is, according to the Science article by Richard Stone, they're "crafting a business model for biotech in the kingdom." You see, among its many natural riches, Bhutan is the home of a fungus (Cordyceps sinensis or "yartsa guenbub" in Bhutanese) "that fetches outrageous prices as a Chinese medicine." Wangdi wants to trump the poachers coming in across the border, ensure that the fungus is collected without violating the country's "Buddhist reverence for the environment" (which is one reason behind keeping the country closed to tourists for so long), and, of course, keep the profits in-country.

According to the article, the decision by Bhutan's leadership to allow collection of the fungus each June has "pulled many rural Bhutanese out of poverty," with earnings in that one month surpassing "a year's income from yak herding."

It's a good idea. As biotech adviser Hywel-Jones notes, "The best ideas come when you're in a forest." Long before Bhutan allowed western tourists into the country, it was known as "Lho Men Jong, or 'Southern Land of Medicinal Herbs.'" Bhutan's relatively pristine countryside is flush with fungi. Those fungi, managed in Bhutan's farsighted manner, could provide opportunities for advances in medicine as well as increased financial "happiness" for the country's citizens.

Grandma sold her trekking boots back in 1990. If I had those boots here now, I'd look them over quizzically, wondering if they'd ever trod upon the insect fungus that now might be leading Bhutan into a future delicately balanced between protecting its soils and reaping its environmental rewards.

If grandma were here, she'd clap her hands together, smile, bow, and send her best wishes across the seas to the country that so touched her life.

02 April 2010

Titles, chromium & future blogs

I'm a fidgeter and a fusser, which made me terrible at painting because I kept piling color over color hoping to get it just right but instead creating a muddy, dirty canvas. I'm already fidgeting and fussing with this blog - note the title change to my 27 March post, among other things. I hope "once the dust settles," as they say, I'll have a better handle on how to write a more descriptive and compelling title and a clearer understand of how I want to structure each post.

I took one of those silly quizzes on facebook to find out which element in the periodic table I am most like. Came out as chromium, because, as the quiz said, I am "easily distracted by shiny objects." At first, I was rather irked by this conclusion, but when I thought about it, I realized the quiz was right. I am easily distracted. That's different than having trouble concentrating. I just concentrate on many things at once. I have a three-sided desk at work, and I work all three sides at the same time — proofreading on one side, reading and referencing on the other, and copyediting/computing in the middle. Other people I know who took the quiz came out as either gold or helium. Sounds nice, but in sour grapes fashion, I say, well at least I'm not a softy or a lightweight!

So, you may notice in my blog a little bit of jumping around from one subject to another – not some nice linear theme. I'm kinda hoping for the "Annie Dillard of blogging" award (if you've ever read her essays, you know what I mean).

I already have lots of ideas for future posts. The ideas are coming faster than the posts themselves, because I'm finding I have less time than I thought to put together "real posts of significance" each time I want to say something. I do have every intention to make good on the following themes:
1. The Dragonfly Wars theme as reflected in my Day 1 post (another riveting title);
2. Posts about what I'm reading and what associations I make from that reading to my "real" life;
3. Coming next (I hope): "Branding Bhutan and what that has to do with Grandma's Trekking Boots";
4. A side series: "Notes from Your Receptionist" — you'll be introduced to Miss Beulah Johnson, who will share excerpts from a 1956 guide by Frances Benton intriguingly titled Etiquette: The complete modern guide for day-to-day living the correct way.

It's going to be fun – at least for me. I hope it is for you as well.

27 March 2010

What I read and what I thought about it [[ed. note: title changed from "Read It," which I think was a lousy choice]]

Over lunch today, I had the pleasure of reading the 13 March 2010 issue of NewScientist [[Note: mag. title edited 29 Mar.]]. Two articles, both, ironically, about eating, merited underlining and annotation: Andy Coghlan's "Food, not flab, is the real killer" (p. 8-9) and Ewan Callaway's "Grrr… what's 'Step away from the bone' in dog?" (p. 14).

"Food, not flab, is the real killer," highlights new research1 findings that being overweight or even obese might not be as big a health risk as most people think. In fact, having some extra fat on you might be to your benefit. Fat cells, it seems, were designed to protect us.

According to the study, fat cells are kind of like the air bags of the immune system – absorbing the impact of excess fat and sugar (and other food-borne toxins associated with overeating or a junk-food diet) that would otherwise flow unimpeded about our circulatory system. It's this free flotsam and jetsam that signals danger, danger! to the body. Once this stuff hits the organs, "metabolic syndrome" (it is believed) follows. The organs begin to fail, bringing on diseases we regularly blame on obesity: diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and the like.

If fat absorbs these toxins, how come obese people tend to end up with metabolic syndrome more often than "thin" people? First, let's fine-tune this assumption. Coghlan cites statistics from a 2008 study2 in Archives of Internal Medicine that found 33% of obese people and 50% of those considered overweight to have "healthy metabolic profiles," while 25% of so-called "lean" people showed "signs of metabolic syndrome."

The idea is that these "lean" folks just don't have enough fat cells to cushion them from the assault of bad food. On the other end of the spectrum, according to Coghlan's article, fat cells can only do so much. Pushed to the extreme, they collapse under the pressure. Toxins nicely packed away in these cells by our trusty immune system overflow and overwhelm.

Why did this article spark my interest? Well, first, it speaks to something I've been thinking about for some time. I've learned that I'm pretty sensitive to what I call "normal-but-toxic" food ingredients; namely, gluten and sugar. I gave up gluten (more or less – I confess a weakness for pancakes) a couple of years ago and lost a bunch of weight plus some unpleasant digestive problems.

In January 2009, after noticing that every time I had a Coke or a Hershey's bar I got really crabby with my boyfriend (more so than usual), confused, and dim-witted (more so than usual), I had my glucose tolerance checked. One hour after drinking a bottle of horribly sweet yellow water, my blood sugar level went down. It's supposed to go up. Over the next two hours, my blood sugar dropped 11 more points, and I lost all my cookies (so to speak). Doc said, "Hypoglycemia."

My point is – Back in 1996, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, what I believe to be the result of an overactive immune system (not, like all those TV ads are saying, "overactive nerves"). If the immune system reacts to food toxins as in the studies noted above, perhaps, for me, those toxins include sugar and gluten. Instead of developing "metabolic syndrome," however, my body attacked itself on another level. Like I said, my health improved after I cut out gluten. And that's nothing compared to what happened once I reduced my sugar load: The fibromyalgia symptoms abated. I'm running 5K races, experiencing the joy of working out for the first time in years, and getting ready to do a half-marathon in June.

I'm not a scientist, just an editor. I hope that I'm making sense here. What makes sense to me is that food triggers an immune response. I'm looking forward to seeing more articles along these lines.

Oh, and the other article?

Researchers3 tried to separate a dog from its bone by playing recordings of three types of growls elicited from 20 unsuspecting dogs to 36 other unsuspecting dogs. Turns out, "dogs' growls seem to have distinct meanings," and, according to Alexandra Horowitz (quoted in Callaway's print piece, though it's not clear how she's related to the study), growling is actually "used intentionally." Hello? Just in case you're not sure about this, you can listen to the growls at www.newscientist.com/article/dn18617.

1Unger, R., and Scherer, P., 2010, Gluttony, sloth and the metabolic syndrome: a roadmap to lipotoxicity: Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, doi: 10.1016/j.tem.2010.01.009.

2Wildman, R.P., Muntner, P., Reynolds, K., McGinn, A.P., Rajpathak, S., Wylie-Rosett, J., and Sowers, M.R., 2008, The Obese without Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering and the Normal Weight with Cardiometabolic Risk Factor Clustering – Prevalence and Correlates of 2 Phenotypes among the US Population (NHANES 1999-2004): Archives of Internal Medicine, v. 168, p. 1617-1624, http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/168/15/1617.

3Faragó, T., Pongrácz, P., Range, F., Virányi, Z., and Miklósi, Á, 2010, 'The bone is mine': affective and referential aspects of dog growls: Animal Behavior, v. 79, p. 917-925, doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2010.01.005.

26 March 2010

Another Cool Thing

A short film I first saw via the bioephemera blog:


A Cool Thing

Travel IQ: How well do you know your world?
I've only managed to get up to level 7 on this thing: http://www.zefrank.com/memory/travel_iq/ ... tests your knowledge of world geography.

Think fast - click faster!

Day 1

I always think it's funny when people name their posts "Day 1," because it's rather non-descriptive. But this one works for me because it is Day 1 of the new blog. I started this on my Web site, www.keasmus.com, but decided to move it to a platform that provides for comments (be gentle), among other things.

My blog's title, "Dragonfly Wars," originated as a possible book title, and it still is a possible book title. But it also relates to the conflicts inside a person, between fear and beauty, ignorance and acceptance. I've pasted below my first notes on this from my Web site so you can get an idea of what I mean.

I used to be afraid of dragonflies. I thought they were like bees. Come to find out, they're gentle, beneficial beings. Then, come to find out, so are bees! They only sting if you ask them to. Well, that sounds a little wrong, like blame the victim, but I'll leave it for now.

I also used to be afraid of spiders. Oooh, so scared I couldn't sleep in the same room with one. Now, I think they are awesome. So many varieties! My favorite spider, I think, has to be the orb weaver, especially the orange spiny one I had living out on my back patio for a year or so. Amazing. I called her "good Charlotte" — not after the spider in Charlotte's Web, but after the band. My current favorite picture on the Web is an extreme closeup of a wolf spider carrying hundreds of babies on her back. For lack of energy to find a better phrase, I'll just say it's way awesome.

I also used to be afraid of people. Come to find out, I'm an extrovert. Love public speaking. Haven't found anyone I can't talk to about something. I like that. And, I mean, maaann, I have met some PEOPLE. All kinds. 

I will follow on from there as I develop this blog. Thanks for reading!