Friday, July 20, 2012

Moment of SIlence

My heart goes out to the victims of today's Aurora, Colorado shootings. Let's all be sending them collective strength as they deal with the aftermath. Unimaginable tragedy has struck, from the hands of one of our own, and getting past this sadness will take time. That's enough for now....

Monday, July 16, 2012


I’m not. But often, I see people posting on Facebook about being bored or their kids being bored or how bored they are or how they hate being bored and having nothing to do.

I hadn’t considered it before in concrete terms, but upon reflecting on these “I’m bored” comments, I have become aware that I’m never bored. This is a revelation—not because it surprises me, but because even though it seems obvious, I’d never really thought about it until now. In truth, I’m tired more often than I’d like to be. Stressed or overworked, sometimes. Lackadaisical every now and then. But bored? Never. Honest: never.

The English teacher me headed for the dictionary to see if I could discover any new insights about the word “bored.” The dictionary often rewards my efforts with arcane meanings that have been lost or altered over the centuries; this time, the results were more or less straightforward but still rewarding. When used as an adjective (describing a kind of feeling or awareness), “bored” comes from Old English via Germanic roots via the word bohren, reflecting the verb, i.e., the making of a hole into something, followed by the reality of emptiness created by that hole. Presumably, when one is “bored,” there’s an empty spot within that the bored-afflicted can’t seem to fill or doesn’t care about filling. Similarly, a person described as “boring” may be considered tedious or tiresome or dull or even as a wet blanket, one who sucks life out of a space and creates even more emptiness.

As for me, I just don’t seem to find those holes in my day. I wake up in the morning and immediately start thinking about all the things I want to and have to get done that day, and the day becomes a matter of unbounded possibilities and finding balance between what must be done and the fact that there’s never going to be enough time to do everything I want to do. Likewise, when I find myself with free time, it’s never a matter of being bored and feeling “empty.” I tend to have the opposite problem: too many options. Should I start the new book? Work on my sketching? Grade a few papers? Make some progress on the next book outline? Dive into my photo-organizing project? Putter in the garden? Go for a swim? Read for an hour or two? Watch a movie? Take Owen for a walk? Call a friend for coffee? Write a blog post? Check Facebook? Fiddle with my herbs? Try a new recipe? Clean the garage? There are dozens of ways I can spend my time, and there’s never enough time to do everything. When I’m confronted with unexpected time, it becomes a gift of unrealized possibility and excitement. Some may called me a little too Type A, and I wouldn't be able to deny the label. But bored? Never. Not so far, anyway.

So where’s the disconnect? Why do some people struggle with recurrent ennui and apathy while others simply don’t find boredom in their personal gene pools? I have no answer. Maybe as children, the oft-bored never learned to keep themselves busy. Maybe the frequently-bored have never developed hobbies—and let’s be clear that playing with a smart phone doesn’t qualify as a hobby. Maybe they don't read. (If one loves reading, you'll never be bored.) Perhaps, as noted above, being "Type A" confers immunity against boredom. Part of me also wonders if boredom may be an effect of our increasingly digitalized/sound bite world. Are we becoming so dependent on electronic entertainment and instant e-socialization that we’re lost when left to our own devices? To be honest, I hope that’s not it, because that would be incredibly depressing.

I’m not sure what’s at play here, what makes some people lose hours to boredom on a given day. I’m just thankful that I wasn’t bored this morning, am not bored now, and don’t plan to be bored anytime soon.

And, I hope that reading this didn't bore you. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Solar Storms

Earth is, right now, on the receiving end of the energy from a massive X-class solar flare, meaning that enough energy has reached Earth to potentially disrupt e-communication and, even more importantly, to create aurora borealis right here in the continental U.S. Or, at least in the northern regions.

I've had no luck seeing anything with my naked eyes-- I looked last night, but because it's summer and getting dark quite late and because my home is surrounded by tall trees, I had no luck. But I happened to be online with my Cornell Heron Cam group (from northern New York state) when we realized we were picking up aurora activity on Cam #2. It wasn't much-- just a sort of upwelling/oscillating brightness every couple of minutes-- and it was pixellated and in black-and-white. But it was still cool to watch.

It was also a fine start, I might add, to Mercury retrograde, which began yesterday and will cause disruptions of its own. Be careful out there....

Saturday, July 07, 2012

I Hate Cilantro

One of my Facebook groups is called, “I CSA: Therefore, I Am.” My colleague, Jaime Wood, and I are getting Community Supported Agriculture boxes this year from a co-worker’s farm, and we decided to set up a FB group to detail our experiences with all those veggies. (And by the way: We’d love to have you join in if you’re interested—look us up!)

We’re having fun with the group, and some interesting topics are coming up, like how do you make a white sauce that’s gluten-free, and what the heck do you do with kohlrabi? This evening, we started talking about cilantro. I happened to mention that I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. Heck: I hate the stuff. And that makes a total of about three things I’ve ever eaten that have given me the queasy shivers and thereafter become mostly un-eatable. Interestingly, they’re all herbs: tarragon, spearmint, and cilantro.

Tarragon tastes… weird to me, although in a different way than cilantro. It just tastes off. Wrong. I’m able to eat it if it’s served to me in a dish and I have to be polite, but I don’t enjoy it. Spearmint bothers me when used in candy or as a flavoring in foods (makes me shudder), but I’m able to drink it—and like it—when it’s one of many ingredients in a tea blend.

But cilantro? There’s just no way. It really, truly, honestly tastes bad, and I’m not exaggerating. It creates this awful, moldy, soapy undertaste that obliterates and screws up whatever it’s served with. Touching it is awful, too, because the aroma clings indelibly: if I have to handle cilantro or breathe its scent, it makes me almost instantly queasy. Sometimes it even causes my airways to constrict, activating my latent asthma. That’s always fun.

And here’s the thing: I’m not alone. Among well-known cilantro haters are none other than Julia Child herself, plus television chefs Fabio Viviani and Ina Garten (“The Barefoot Contessa”). (Kim Kardashian supposedly dislikes it, too, although I hate myself for knowing that.) Search the Web and you’ll find “I Hate Cilantro” groups and Facebook pages along with cilantro surveys claiming it to be the most divisive food of all, the one that creates a clear dividing line. Apparently, there’s no gray area: people either love the stuff or they can’t stand it, and some 10% of us humans are in the latter group. Scientists have discovered that we “haters” actually have a gene expression/mutation that changes how we taste and perceive cilantro. This goes hand-in-hand with recent research explaining how the sense of taste has a strongly genetic basis and varies widely from person to person.

The discussion sent me to the Web, where I found this really interesting New York Times piece about cilantro hatred. It’s full of fascinating facts, like that the word coriander (coriander seed and leafy cilantro are from the same plant) is from the Greek for “bedbug,” linking cilantro’s smell to that of “bug-infested bedclothes.” Or that the perceived soapy smell results from aldehyde chemicals common to cilantro, with the same aldehydes used by bugs to create noxious scents that repel invaders. Also, it seems that most of the “haters” live in parts of the world where cilantro and coriander aren’t part of the traditional cultural diet. Conversely, in countries where cilantro has always been added to lots of foods—Vietnam, Latin America, Portugal—almost no one experiences the tastes-like-a-moldy-bar-of-soap phenomenon.

The NYT article suggests that one may be able to retrain his or her palate to tolerate cilantro, but I suspect that only works for those who simply aren’t that thrilled with the stuff—not for those, like me, whose genes have already been programmed on the subject. In any case, I'll continue to avoid the noxious green, and if you feel the same way, stand proud and tall, knowing you’re not alone.