Thursday, June 26, 2008

dramatic irony

(Setting: kitchen table, 7:30 pm)

Part of the problem in this class is you guys have too much knowledge. So when I say something you don't just hear what I say, you think 'oh, this remind me of this,' and 'I read something back ten years ago' and 'maybe I disagree with that'.... it's like you got a blank piece of paper and I give you one sentence to write down but then you think of another thing and another and now you've got a whole paragraph.


You know, when I was in judo we used to say something similar....

I remember reading that in the Classics....

(clasps hands over head for a moment. purses lips. gets up to make some more tea)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

what our ancestors ate

I found a remarkable website called, which is absolutely chock-full of information about nutrition, mostly from a human-history standpoint. The author is a former vegetarian and raw-food enthusiast who found his health deteriorating after many years of eshewing animal products. He's very frank about his change of paradigm, and refreshingly free of finger-pointing.

There are pages and pages and pages of discussion here, far too much for me to read--much less (ahem) digest--at a sitting, but I'm deeply intrigued by "Setting the scientific record straight on humanity's evolutionary prehistoric diet and ape diets" and even more so by the updates to that essay. Some samples:

  • "...recent findings pointing to a correlation between increasing levels of animal flesh in the diet over the eons at the same time the human brain was in the process of near-tripling in size..."

  • "Lack of sufficient intake of long-chain fatty acids in the diet would be a limiting factor on brain growth, and these are much richer in animal foods than plant. (Relative brain size development in herbivorous mammals was apparently limited by the amount of these fatty acids in plant food that was available to them.) Given the foods available in humanity's habitat during evolution, the necessary level of long-chain fatty acids to support the increasing size of the human brain would therefore presumably only have been available through increased intake of flesh."

  • "human cranial capacity has decreased by 11% in the last 35,000 years, the bulk of it (8%) in the last 10,000. ...this correlates well with decreasing amounts of animal food in the human diet during this timeframe.(...[also] correlates with the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago.)"

  • "the brain (20-25% of the human metabolic budget) and the intestinal system are both so metabolically energy-expensive that in mammals generally (and this holds particularly in primates), an increase in the size of one comes at the expense of the size of the other in order not to exceed the organism's limited "energy budget" that is dictated by its basal metabolic rate. The suggestion here is not that the shrinkage in gut size caused the increase in brain size, but rather that it was a necessary accompaniment. In other words, gut size is a constraining factor on potential brain size, and vice versa."

All of this is fascinating to me--it addresses some questions I had, in a non-hysterical and well-researched voice that is informative and easy to read. Even better, he talks about the spread of agriculture and cooking worldwide, and discusses the correlation between genetic origins--what part of the world your ancestors came from--and ability to thrive on certain foods, particularly milk and grains.

"Another interesting example of the spread of genetic adaptations since the Neolithic has been two specific genes whose prevalence has been found to correlate with the amount of time populations in different geographical regions have been eating the grain-based high-carbohydrate diets common since the transition from hunting and gathering to Neolithic agriculture began 10,000 years ago. (These two genes are the gene for angiotensin-converting enzyme--or ACE--and the one for apolipoprotein B, which, if the proper forms are not present, may increase one's chances of getting cardiovascular disease.)[123]

In the Middle East and Europe, rates of these two genes are highest in populations (such as Greece, Italy, and France) closer to the Middle Eastern "fertile crescent" where agriculture in this part of the globe started, and lowest in areas furthest away, where the migrations of early Neolithic farmers with their grain-based diets took longest to reach (i.e., Northern Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Siberia). Closely correlating with both the occurrence of these genes and the historical rate of grain consumption are corresponding rates of deaths due to coronary heart disease. Those in Mediterranean countries who have been eating high-carbohydrate grain-based diets the longest (for example since approximately 6,000 B.C. in France and Italy) have the lowest rates of heart disease, while those in areas where dietary changes due to agriculture were last to take hold, such as Finland (perhaps only since 2,000 B.C.), have the highest rates of death due to heart attack. Statistics on breast cancer rates in Europe also are higher for countries who have been practicing agriculture the least amount of time"

I'd never seen this correllation spelled out so simply. I'd suspected it, myself, when someone asked me why the Chinese ate so much rice but didn't get fat*; the only thing I could suggest was that the Asian genetic pool had adapted to heavy rice consumption. Nobody was willing to buy that, though, since we've all been conditioned to think that evolutionary changes take millions of years to enact.

Well, maybe on the bone-structure level. But how can a paleontologist know what the gut flora of Australopithecus looked like? And how many generations of bacteria can live and grow and die in the span of one human's gut's life?

"The difference in time since the advent of Neolithic agriculture between countries with the highest and lowest incidences of these two genes is something on the order of 3,000-5,000 years,[126] showing again that genetic changes due to cultural selection pressures for diet can force more rapid changes than might occur otherwise.

[however]"...Nobody yet ... really knows whether the observed genetic changes relating to the spread of milk-drinking and grain-consumption are enough to confer a reasonable level of adaptation to these foods among populations who have the genetic changes, and the picture seems mixed."

Nevertheless, it's a fascinating concept, and those of you who are interested in this kind of thing will probably enjoy further reading.

*By the way, it's not entirely true that the Chinese don't get fat. The women tend to get quite plump when they move to America, and there's a famous kung fu fighter who was very slim and trim until he went to work for the Emperor and had access to the banquet table--he died a young man, and very obese.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

no excuses

Some wonderful anecdotes from Mike Resnick about the SF writers he's known and loved, published over at Baen's Universe and generously made free to the public. Go check out the rest of them.

"...There was a point in the mid-1940s where [Theodore] Sturgeon was played out. He couldn't come up with any saleable stories, his creditors were after him, and he was terminally depressed . . . and he mentioned it to Heinlein in a letter. A week later he got a letter from Heinlein with 26 story ideas and a $100 bill to tide him over until he started selling again. And, according to Sturgeon, before the decade was over he had written and sold all 26 stories."

And here I was feeling proud of myself for everything *I've* been getting accomplished.

Of course it would be nice if I had a Papa Heinlein on my email list.

Monday, June 16, 2008

obnoxious productivity

I am in serious output mode. I got the latest Harley costume almost done on Sunday, all that remains is the white parts and a little glue, but that was the least-interesting part of the weekend.

In-between sewing, I hosed off the porch, washing away 10 years of cobwebs and road dirt, and washed the front windows. It was so amazing to be able to look up and actually SEE through the front storm door, I left the front door open all afternoon. Luckily we had a small rainshower blow over and the air was cool and fresh.

I washed all the small area rugs in the house, but the red one bled over the others and one of them came out pink. Oh well.


I've been happily watching my hits rack up on the Victorian dresses on Etsy. Nobody's buying yet, but it's a nice little egoboo. As soon as this costume is done, I'm going to do the Harley Quinn Lolita dress. It's decided. No more messing around. It's been in my queue long enough I no longer have an emotional attachment to it, I just want it gone.

I'm amused, though--apparently a lot more people come looking for bustle dresses than for Harley Quinn costume patterns. Hmm. Maybe a Harley Quinn-patterned bustle dress, á là Mardi Gras? Or Marie Antoinette-style?

Speaking of Marie, I heard back from Jeweler-girl, and sent her a quote. If she accepts it, that project will take up the next two months or so--it's three big French court dresses. Very exciting. I'm trying hard not to think about all the time it will take, the equipment I'll have to acquire, the reinvestment of capital I'll make.


I was feeling so very nonchalant on Friday that I sent "Parlor Games" off to Baen. They rejected it pretty quickly--I got the note this morning. I don't mind much--they don't really do that sort of supernatural-fantasy stuff. I was kind of bemused by the first reader saying it reminded her of "The Sixth Sense," since the only element they have in common is the character who sees ghosts--hardly an unusual trope--meanwhile, the themes are dissimilar, the character dynamics and setting are completely different. People are weird, in the little things they latch onto and can't see around.

But oh well, they said the writing was good and invited me to submit again. It's too bad I'm not really writing right now. I'd like to be--my meeting is Saturday--but my writer's group only wants to see Trace, and I don't know if I want to write about Trace anymore.


Had a fun class on Saturday; Tony stayed home to rest his knee so I got to work with the boys and lead exercises. I actually felt as if I knew a thing or two. Of course Sit was also teaching the young'uns the tai hui form, and it's been two years since I've had any review in that, so I got lots of correction on what I don't know. It's encouraging--I'm at a point now where I've quit worrying about how good I should be or whether I'm better than that guy, I just want to do it correctly. It's a liberating feeling; takes the ego out of the equation. Lets me enjoy the activity for what it is.

There's also an interesting feedback/learning loop going on in my head where the sword form is concerned. Tony mentioned he could see a lot of improvement in my weapons forms in general, and I think that has to do with learning the traditional sword from, from which all the preliminary forms are derived. The moves are bigger with the sword: they must be, to accomodate that long shank of metal you're waving around. As a result, I can see what the movement is supposed to be, the back and body moving the arm, the sword as an extention of the arm. Part of it is just the level I'm at, part of it is being forced to see the movements from a new perspective, part of it is just plain practice--I like the sword and it feels very natural to me.

That wasn't always the case. I used to be very uncomfortable with a sword in my hand. The staff was my favorite weapon for quite a while--not saying I was good with it, I just liked the bluntness and the balance of it. I think now I was just intimidated by the sword and didn't understand the movement of it.

But yesterday, I was cleaning in a tight space and Tony was moving things out of the way. He handed me a Japanese ripcut saw and asked me to put it back on the rack, on the wall. Almost unconsciously I moved it like a sword: in a vertical arc, so the blade swung up between us and posed no danger of snagging on flesh or clothing. And I realized as I did it, that's why the sword must move that way: it's the safest way to move an edged weapon in a tight space without binding it up. Sit tried to explain it to me, but it's like a math problem, you don't get it 'til you see it in use.


My productive energy was contagious, too. Tony got my raised-vegetable bed all framed together, out of scrap lumber from his last job, and quite handsome it is, too, sitting in the backyard. Unfortunately the place I need it to rest, for maximum sun exposure, is currently occupied by a pile of bricks. So that's what I'm going to tend to, as soon as Ms. Harley is shipped off tomorrow.

AND, in the excitement of the bid for Jeweler-girl and my raving desire to sew more, more, MORE, Tony said, "I need to get your workroom done!" He dragged me into the half-finished room, and pointed out to me all the reasons why framing out that second window jamb was a pain in the ass. I made sympathetic noises, and then he waved me back to my sewing and went and framed out the jamb. I guess he just needed to talk about it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Victorian dresses on sale now!

Yes, I am finally cleaning out my closets. I have all these lovely dresses, all of which have been worn once or twice, hanging in storage like specimens in a museum. I will probably never wear any of them again, because a) I've lost interest in Conventions and b) when I go I don't feel like dressing up and c) if I do feel like dressing up, I'll just want something new. Selling these and having no time/space/money doesn't mean I don't still have yearnings for a new black velvet reception gown!

So. I put up two bustle dresses and a RenFest costume for sale on Etsy, and I may do more. Already the bustle dresses have been getting a lot of attention, although I always suspect it's because other modistes are checking out the goods to monitor the competition and/or steal ideas. I know I do!

Big sewing planned for this weekend! Ta!


Confidential to SG: I know the proprietess of whom you speak; I saw her wares last year. I didn't post your comment because I didn't want her to track the link back here. I don't perceive her as competition. She and I are selling to a different class of clientele, I think.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

sweet & sour tart

I never tried rhubarb til last night. It looked pretty icky, but when I read descriptions of rhubarb tarts and pies they described the flavor as "tart" or "sour," and as some of you know I adore sour flavors--lemon and pickles and the like.

So I picked up some rhubarb at the local mercantile, threw in some of my mother's freezer blackberries, and came up with this.

Trim rhubarb stalks (I used two large ones) and cut into pieces about 1/2 inch. Put in saucepan with about 1/4 cup butter and 1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, dash of vanilla and dash of cinnamon. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb starts to get pulpy.

Meanwhile, make a small amount of pastry from about 3/4 cup flour, 2 Tbs of butter, 2 Tbs of full-fat sour cream, a sprinkle of sugar and dash of salt. When fat is incorporated, add more flour if necessary so it is stiff and not too greasy. Divide into two balls and press into the bottoms of two small tart pans or 16-ounce ramekins.

When rhubarb is softened, turn off heat and throw in a handful of blackberries (if frozen) to thaw. You should have about 2 cups fruit and syrup.

Heat oven to 375°F.

In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, about 1-1/2 Tbs butter. Combine with fingers or fork until sandy. Stir in 1/3 cup of slivered almonds, chopped fine.

Ladle fruit mixture into prepared ramekins and divide syrup between them. Sprinkle almond-crumb mixture over the tops. Bake for about 25 minutes or until tops are crusty and browned.

I think this would be really good with vanilla yogurt. My husband ate his for breakfast today.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

born in the wrong scene

Disclaimer in advance: I'm not a music hound. I don't check out the local scenes, I don't pretend to know what's new and hip and fresh. I've never been to the Pacific Northwest, so I have no idea if the youngsters of that scene are dressing in faded jeans and work boots and yearning to run away to the wheatfields of Kansas.

But it sure as hell sounds like it. I present to you, Sera Cahoone, of Seattle Washington. Close on the heels of another steel-string pluckin' Washingtonian girl crooner, Brandi Carlile, whose music I have been enjoying for a couple years, now.

I'm a little bemused by this, considering that the last major musical exports from Seattle--at least major enough to permeate my little world--were Nirvana and their grungy kin.

Of the two artists, I prefer Carlile for her complexity, but Sera Cahoone ain't bad for sittin' on the porch, sluggin' back a bottle of whiskey, and contemplating... I dunno, the waving wheatfields? The fish market? The chickens in the yard? Laying down on the railroad tracks?

Ah well. Everybody in Nashville is singing about Los Angeles, bling, and badonkadonk. Meanwhile here in Kansas they're singing thrash metal and aspiring to be goths. The grass is always greener.

(And hey, lookit that--Brandi and Sheryl Crow will be at Starlight Ampitheatre tomorrow night. See? No involvement with the local music scene--I woulda never known if I hadn't looked at her MySpace page just now.)