Category: recipe

Research and Information, the Old, Hard Way

In research for my fiction writing, I use primary sources when available. The internet is a wonderful thing but there are a lot of opinions flashing around, impersonating facts. Because of blatant plagiarism, bias and writers apparently on magic mushrooms, I work to cross-check online information against books, photos, magazines and video from the relevant culture and period.

Scientific American, March 1967

For my novel-in-process, I purchased on eBay a Scientific American (SA) issue dated March, 1967. Reading, I was struck with the scope and depth of the scientific information that, for many people, was everyday reading.  Adults and older children sat down in their living rooms with this magazine to expand their understanding of the world, in their free time.

Here are some of the featured articles in this issue:

“Toxic Substances and Ecological Cycles” Yes, people were concerned about the environment then, even before the current “green” marketing barrage. This article concerned radioactive materials and DDT.

“The Heart’s Pacemaker” focuses on the detailed functions of the atrioventricular node and sinus node in the human heart.

“Ancient Ararat” is an expedition into the civilization of Ararat, or Urartu, via archeological finds in Turkey.

“The Surface of the Moon” begins with the subtitle, “Nine spacecraft have provided thousands of close-up pictures of the moon…” and questions the moon’s origin.

“Behavioral Psychotherapy” considers abnormal behavior and its relationship to “social learning.”

“Salt-water Agriculture” suggests that plants in sandy soil might flourish in even oceanic-strength salt water.

“The Origin of the Automobile Engine” in 1876 and how it had progressed since then.

“Advances in Superconducting Magnets” had wide application in research.

Scientific American
“The Amateur Scientist”

Two other regular features in SA were “Mathematical Games” and “The Amateur Scientist,” which demanded considerable thought and effort from a reader.

While the magazine topics may seem basic and outdated today, several articles were groundbreaking in that year. You can still connect the relevance of that technology to our current research and concerns.

I ordered this sixty-cent edition (I paid more than sixty cents, but it was still a deal) of Scientific American to check facts related to my novel’s plot because there was no website with that relevant information. Of course, the irony of finding the magazine and purchasing it over the internet does not escape me. It’s just one more reason that the internet will always be my friend–my smart, funny, colorful and distracting friend who will eat up all of my time if I let her…my friend who can give me a false sense of intellectual security because she’ll show me almost anything I ask her to, even if it’s not correct. More, the internet says to me, this isn’t enough. You must look for more. Absolutely. I keep other friendships with libraries, archives and good old printed books.

This magazine from 1967 gave me more than my money’s worth. It is a snapshot of a time, information and its context. It reminds me that unbridled access to knowledge does not equal an education and scratching a surface teaches me nothing about depth. I admire the writers and readers of this 1967 publication for their curiosity and focus because it meant calculating, studying, writing and owning information, the hard way.

7 Random Drops of Water: Poured, Dripped and Logged

Lake Michigan, Door County, Wisconsin

Water is the most taken-for-granted necessity of our lives, except perhaps for air. While much of the world pines for water, here in the U.S., we bottle it, spill it, spray it out of garden hoses and flush it down the drain. As long as it flows out of the tap and doesn’t back up through our sewer lines, we give it little thought.

Today, let’s change that. As a topic, water is as vast as its oceans, glaciers and atmospheric presence. I’ve spent a little time considering it as a metaphor, a scarce necessity, a molecular compound and a force of nature. Today, I present for you 7 random “drops” of water.

Gavins Point Dam, 2011

1. The Missouri River Flood of 2011, an impressive, unexpected deluge, devastated farmland, disrupted local economies and travel and destroyed many homes and barns. Fortunately, it wasn’t fatal, as were the hurricane-related floods of the South in recent years. As with most natural disasters, finding someone to blame for this one is still a priority. Some blame nature, while others lay it at the feet of bureaucrats. I believe nature can outsmart bureaucrats 99% of the time. Smart water wranglers assure us that this was a “500-year flood,” unlikely to recur soon. Smart people who rebuild on the flood plain are pouring very tall concrete foundations for their homes. See my video of Gavins Point Dam in 2011, when 160,000 cubic feet of water passed, per second.

Thales, out of the well

2. Thales of Miletus, whom Aristotle described in his Metaphysics as the founder of natural philosophy, is reported in myth to have fallen into a well while studying the stars. Aristotle also recorded that “Thales says that it is water”–meaning that according to Thales, water was the originating principle of matter.

3. A rarely-noted water behavior is sublimation, where H2O in its solid state bypasses liquidation to become a gas or vapor. During my childhood in Colorado, I learned about one such phenomenon: the Chinook wind. According to Dave Thurlow of the Mount Washington Observatory,

Chinook winds are westerlies from the Pacific whose moisture gets wrung out as it passes over the Rocky Mountains. Once these winds come down from the mountains onto the high plains, they can be quite mild and extremely dry-as warm as 60 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit — over 15 Celsius — with a relative humidity of 10% or less. The air is so dry that when it hits a snowpack, the frozen water evaporates, going directly from the ice to vapor and bypassing the liquid phase entirely.

This sublimation is not to be confused with Freud’s psychological equation: sublimation = sexual energy transformed into creative energy, which has little to do with drinking or bathing, but likely has everything to do with Freud’s mother…drinking or bathing.

Ogallala Aquifer

4. An aquifer is a soil and bedrock formation that percolates water into purity, filtering out minerals, organisms and some contaminants. Abandoned wells (Make sure you don’t have one at your place; children tend to fall into them.) bypass the aquifer and allow those bad things into the groundwater. Here is a map showing the Ogallala. It’s very shallow, but one of the largest in the world.

5. Digging a well by hand is very hard work and this video demonstrates how it’s done in most parts of the world. Thanks to ghost32, whatever your real name, for this video of hard, thirsty work in Mexico.

Beaver by Ilyes Laszlo

6. Not only is there a Beaver Crossing Nebraska, but this village has an impressive, watery history. I lived there for less than a year, leaving against my better judgment, but holding a neighbor’s recipe for the best oatmeal cookies I ever ate. First struck in his mercantile basement by Earl Eager in the late 1800s, a gusher of an artesian well system made this village better than the average watering hole. (Did anyone else notice the fortuitous “Eager” and “Beaver” juxtaposition in this text? Of course you did.) Learn more in Mary Lanik’s history of Beaver Crossing and its wonderful wells, as well as at the first link here, in #6.

7. To the best of my knowledge, since 1866, federal water law and policy has deferred to states in the allocation and administration of water within their boundaries. Please notify me if this has changed and I will assume all blame for the error.

Just as She Wrote It

What is that handwriting?

Good question. This is a scan of one page of my Grandma Laura Feess’s ledger, a thin but treasured volume that my Mom recently shared with me. As a young wife in Nebraska, Laura kept her “receipts”–what most of us call recipes–and accounts of her hard work and finances on these crumbling pages. I’m sharing this because her ledger has become involved with the novel I’m writing.

It warms me to touch and read the pages she wrote on, not really so long ago (yes, the older I get, the more recently it happened). Again I look to my family, even the ones who linger just out of sight, when I tell stories. It pleases me to do so in a more obvious way, to feel my grandmother’s hand near mine.