Murder and Aquatic Invasive Species?

I recently wrote a post for the blog I manage for work, which I think you might enjoy. The promo: “Senior science communicator, Marie Zhuikov, recalls a grisly discovery in connection with a project to control invasive goldfish.”

You can read the story by clicking on this link.

A Keen Grasp of the Obvious

Image of one of my current favorite commercials courtesy of Progressive Insurance

In high school, I had a classmate named Dave. One of his favorite sayings was, “You have a keen grasp of the obvious.” He’d say it whenever someone made a comment that was self-evident. These were often conversation fillers, used in instances when a person would step outside, notice it was raining, and say, “It’s raining.” Dave would then say his thing. It made him sound so smart and superior.

Dave and I have since been lost to each other through the vagaries of forty years and geography, but I think of him and his sarcastic saying periodically, especially when it comes to those signs that are so popular now in people’s homes. You know, the ones made for the kitchen that say “EAT,” or ones for the living room that say “LOVE, LAUGH, LIVE,” etc.

When they first started appearing years ago, I thought the signs were sort of neat, mainly because, you know me, I love words. But the longer they stay around and the more I see them, the more I have developed a knee-jerk negative reaction toward them. I think things like, “Why would I need a sign to tell me what to do in a kitchen?” As my friend Dave would say, the signs have a keen grasp of the obvious.

The signs are also bossy. Maybe I don’t want to laugh or love. Stop telling me what to do, signs!

I have taken a solemn and deadly vow never to add one of those signs to my home décor.

My dislike of these signs is one thing that makes me love the recent series of Progressive Insurance commercials that feature “Dr. Rick.” He is a pseudo-therapist who tries to ensure his customers (patients) don’t turn into their parents once they become homeowners (a.k.a. parentomorphosis). One of the most recent commercials features not one, but two instances of Dr. Rick encouraging a young female homeowner to trash one of the dreaded bossy signs.

Those commercials make me laugh every time I see them, and that’s something during a pandemic. Well done, Progressive. And Dave, if you’re out there, I look forward to seeing you at our 40th class reunion this year. Maybe I’ll bring you a sign.

The Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game – Marie’s Version

Greetings! I hope all my dear readers made it through Thanksgiving in a healthy and happy way. But if you are getting COVID-isolation crazy and want to let off some steam, I humbly suggest you try the Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game. I heard about this from a coworker and it sounded too fun to pass up.

I got together with two people from my COVID bubble and we watched “Christmas at Grand Valley,” available for streaming from Amazon Prime. In this scintillating saga, which is cast in the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries series, Kelly returns to her Wyoming hometown (from Chicago) and becomes involved in an effort to save the town’s beloved lodge. In the process, she falls for a handsome widower sent to decide the fate of the lodge.

I’m not sure why this movie is considered a mystery. The only inkling of mystery comes in the form of, “WHEN ARE KELLY AND WIDOWER MAN EVER GOING TO KISS?”

Whenever certain things happen on screen, viewers must take a sip of their drink, or two sips, down the whole thing, or take a shot. I *think* (memory is fuzzy) I ended up drinking a whole bottle of wine between supper and the movie. It was great fun, plus I thought up some new rules, which are the ones posted in red.

Happy Holidays everyone!

RULES

Take one drink whenever:

  • A reference is made to a dead relative
  • The “Mayor” appears on screen
  • The main character’s name is related to Christmas (Holly, Nick, etc.)
  • Anytime someone disses fake Christmas trees
  • A newcomer partakes in an old family or town tradition
  • Hot chocolate, apple cider, or eggnog is on screen
  • A big city person is transplanted to a small town
  • Christmas caroling, a tree farm, or baking cookies appears
  • Mistletoe is on screen
  • A character makes a magic deal with Santa or an angel
  • Any time you hear “Jingle Bells”
  • The town is named something Christmas-y
  • A cisgendered character appears

Take two drinks whenever:

  • Characters experience a ‘near-miss’ kiss
  • An obvious product advertisement appears
  • A snowball fight or ice skating happens
  • An ugly sweater or tie appears
  • The characters are snowed in
  • A “Pride and Prejudice” reference is introduced (a character is named Darcy, a place named Pemberly)
  • Someone with slicked-back hair expresses their hate for Christmas

Finish your drink whenever:

  • The cynic is filled with the Christmas spirit
  • It snows on Christmas
  • Someone selects a Christmas tree
  • The main characters bake/cook something together, or Christmas-themed food is mentioned
  • Bad art appears or a literary reference is made
  • Dissonant architecture appears (for instance, a lighthouse in Wyoming)
  • Accordion music happens, especially if it’s playing Jingle Bells

Take a shot whenever:

  • The movie stars Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert, or Andrew Walker appear
  • The main characters fall in love
  • The main characters kiss

That Time I was Invited to Join Mensa

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Credit: National Institutes of Health.

Back in my high school days – when cowl neck fuzzy sweaters were in, hair styles were big, and women’s shirts sported shoulder pads large enough for the wearer to participate in professional football – I took the ACT test to get into college.

I studied out of a large book, which offered practice questions and reviews of math concepts. Now, I’m sure students must be able to do this all online, but this was back in the 80s, before most people had any inkling about computers.

I’m not sure if the test is still in the same format, but back then, most of it was multiple-choice. The most useful thing I learned from studying for the ACT was how to identify incorrect answers so that I could home in on the correct ones. The hardest things about the test were figuring out its format and its unwritten rules.

All my studying paid off. I scored very high in the English section, and higher in the math section than if I hadn’t studied. My overall score was good enough that I didn’t need to worry about admission into the college of my choice. It was also elevated enough that I received a letter from Mensa in the mail one day.

Mensa International is an organization for people with high IQs. As author and comedian David Sedaris says in “Me Talk Pretty One Day” (which I just finished reading), Mensa members “come from all walks of life and get together every few weeks to take in a movie or enjoy a weenie roast. They’re like the Elks or the Masons, only they’re smart.”

Growing up in the northern hinterlands of Minnesota, I had never heard of Mensa. After opening the letter, I mentioned it to my mother, and her first, and only, response was, “Ach, you don’t want to join that!”

So I didn’t.

I was so taken aback by her reaction, I didn’t ask her why I shouldn’t join them.

Looking back over the decades, I have a twinge of regret that I so blindly followed my mother’s advice. How might my life have been different if I had surrounded myself with high-IQ people?

But I also realize my mother’s knee-jerk reaction was truly Minnesotan. It’s not part of our culture to brag or make ourselves stand out. (See more in my post about “Minnesota Nice.”)

Perhaps my mother was afraid my head would swell with self-importance were I to hang around other intelligent people. Or, maybe she figured they were all a bunch of dorks and exposure to them would increase my social awkwardness. Or she could have been threatened by having a daughter labelled as “smart.” I don’t know. My mother has passed, so it’s not like I can ask her now.

A couple of years ago, I looked into the qualifications for joining Mensa. They’ve upped them now. My ACT score is a few points short. Another way to qualify is through an IQ test. But an IQ test just seems like a lot of work to me now. I wonder if they grandfather (or in my case, grandmother) people into the organization based on the year they took their ACT?

Even if I did get in somehow, I suspect I would feel like a fraud. I am not naturally brilliant; I just know how to study, and I read a lot.

I guess I’m satisfied I was invited and could have joined Mensa if I really wanted to — but that I am just too Minnesotan to do so.

Adventures in Acupuncture

Oliver dixon jpeg

This is not me, but this is how I felt! Image by Oliver Dixon.

I realized I haven’t updated you all on my “Fun with Acupuncture.” Dear readers, as you may recall, I decided to visit a local acupuncturist for help with my hot flashes. That was in July. Now it is over two months later. What’s the verdict?

During the first week or so, I thought the treatment wasn’t working. It involved an acupuncture session and herbal supplements to take later. Then I realized I wasn’t taking the proper dose of the supplements. When I fixed that, things seemed to improve.

I’ve done well avoiding chocolate, as the acupuncturist suggested. Not so well avoiding wine, but I have cut back quite a bit.

I went back for a follow-up session a few weeks ago. This time, she wanted to stick her needles a few new places to help my allergies and my stuffy sinuses. She asked me if she could stick some needles in my face.

Let me say that again: MY FACE. Stupidly, I said yes.

I LET HER STICK NEEDLES IN MY FACE. Specifically, I let her stick two needles in that space between my upper lip and my nose. (Also known as the philtrum.)

I felt nothing with the first needle. I felt the second needle go in, plus she twisted it a bit. She also stuck a needle in the TOP OF MY HEAD. That one started to sting.

I asked her if it was normal for it to sting. She said she thought it would calm down after a while.

Happily, the pain did lessen, but it was rather disconcerting for a few minutes. Lying on the table for 20 minutes was a bit easier this second time. I think it helped that I couldn’t see the needles she stuck in my face. They were so close to my eyes that they were blurry. She also gave me an additional herbal supplement for my allergies.

For the first day or two, I had no hot flashes. Then they started returning at night, but only a few times a night. I’ve also had them during the day, but not as often as before I started treatment.

The supplement she gave me for my allergies worked like a charm.

Overall, I’d say that my hot flashes have improved by about 65%. And the flashes I get are not as extreme. They are more like warm flashes than hot flashes. I am sleeping better and plan to continue taking the supplements until I feel like I don’t need them any more (or I get sick of them, whichever comes first.)

If you are thinking of trying acupuncture for help with hot flashes, I say go for it.

Personally, I feel like I’ve had enough sessions with the needle for now. I fear a continuing escalation of where she’ll want to stick needles next, and I’d rather not go there.

Free Stuff and Boring Place Names: A Road Trip Through America’s Heartland

We recently returned from an epic road trip straight south. Our mission? To take my youngest son to college in Arizona. He wanted to have his car with him at school, so thus the necessity of driving it 1,700+ miles.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a long road trip and I was looking forward to it. I’d also never driven across Kansas or Oklahoma before, so was itching to cross those states off my driving list.

20190820_170403

Photo taken by Hunter Zhuikov, somewhere along the Kansas Turnpike.

Two themes soon emerged: free stuff and boring geographic names.

The free stuff started with our first lunch while we were still in Minnesota. We stopped at a Perkins Restaurant. Unbeknownst to us, Mondays are free pie days at the chain. Our waitress thought that everybody knew this and that’s why we stopped there. When she announced our free pie choices, we just stared at her in dumbstruck wonder. Afterward, we continued our drive, fortified by a few hundred extra free calories.

Our luck continued that night in Kansas City where we ate at a Red Lobster for supper. Due to a computer glitch, our food order did not make it to the cooks in a timely manner, so, even though we weren’t upset by the wait, the manager offered us a free dinner and two desserts. More free food, yippee!

The next day our luck changed from food to transportation. We were at a tollbooth on the end of the Kansas Turnpike when the machine malfunctioned. The toll operator let us pass through without paying because it was going to take too long to reboot the machine. Yeehaw!

We thought our luck was over when no free stuff appeared for the next 24 hours, but we were wrong. On our third and final day of the trip, we decided to stop at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico because it was right next to the highway and it looked picturesque. We could only spend about a half-hour there, however, because relatives were waiting for us in Arizona. As we drove up to the entrance fee booth, we noticed it was empty. Yay! Free scenery!

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White Sands National Monument

If you ever get the chance to visit White Sands, be sure to do so. The piles of white gypsum flow in spectacular dunes, which you can access right off the park road. We had enough time to drive to a boardwalk trail and hike to the end of it, taking photos along the way.

Now for boring geographic names. C’mon Kansas, you can do better. Examples: there’s a town named Rock, another named Urbandale. How generic can you get? A river called Whitewater. Another town named Grove.

Ugh. As if driving through farmland isn’t already mind-numbing, the place names in Kansas, at least those before Witchita, were totally uninspiring.

After Witchita, things changed. We ran into town called Smoots. Another called Pretty Prairie. That’s better, Kansas. Keep it up! We crossed the Ninnescah River about three times. I probably liked this name because it sounded Minnesotan. Thank goodness the place names got better or I might have fallen asleep behind the wheel.

Other things of note: We passed the world’s largest hand-dug well in Greensburg, Kansas. We did not stop, but maybe we should have. I mean, the thing has its own visitor center, it’s so huge! We also passed the world’s largest pistachio. This was in New Mexico. It’s not a real pistachio, but a “mammoth outdoor sculpture” to advertise a pistachio tree ranch. We didn’t stop there, either, having already used all our spare time at the White Sands.

We were also impressed by all the wind turbines in Kansas and Oklahoma. It seems as if wind power is alive and well in those states.

I am happy to report that my son’s car survived the journey, and so did we! My son is ensconced in his dorm room and starting his classes now. Once we flew back home, the house was eerily silent without his presence. We are still adjusting.

20190822_103411

Moving into the dorm.

Fun with Acupuncture

acupuncture-on-wristAs you may know, I am in my elder years. As you may not know, I have been experiencing hot flashes for several of those elder years. If you don’t want to know that information, you can stop reading now. But if this revelation holds any interest to you, and you want to know what it’s like to have acupuncture, read on!

At first, my hot flashes weren’t so bad – just a minor inconvenience. After a few months, they went away. I thought they were over and that the whole hot flash thing wasn’t so bad. WRONG. They returned and were a bit peskier than before – interrupting my sleep, arriving at inopportune times during the day, eliciting knowing looks from other older women in airports and grocery stores as I fanned myself.

My doctor offered the idea of estrogen therapy or some anti-depressants, but I shied away from those. Reports of problems with those drugs made me skittish, besides, I figure there’s a good reason our bodies are no longer making estrogen. Why prolong this with adding it back in?

As my hot flashes became more severe over the past year, I tried a few different herbal supplements, but they just made things worse. On the advice of several friends, I decided to try a local acupuncturist.

The first step in my appointment was filling out about a 15-page health history. Wow! I dropped it off at the practitioner’s office a week beforehand so she would have time to look at it before my appointment.

When I arrived for my session, we went over the document and she asked for details on a few things. She quickly zeroed in on several habits I have that can worsen hot flashes, those being drinking WINE and eating CHOCOLATE. She suggested I give those up for a month or so to see if that helps.

WINE and CHOCOLATE. These are the only things that make my life bearable. Because I’m intolerant to wheat and corn, I can’t have pastries, pies, cookies, doughnuts, etc., unless I go to great (and rare) lengths to make them myself from alternative ingredients.

I have often said that I am so glad I can still eat chocolate. If I ever become allergic, someone should just shoot me.

This woman might as well have had a gun to my head. Granted, she wasn’t saying I had to give up these two elixirs forever, just for a month. But still. The only good part of that conversation is that hard liquor (spirits) might still be okay to drink instead of wine. I grasped desperately at the idea that scotch could get me through this deprivation.

As we spoke, the practitioner took notes for my treatment plan. Then she asked if I was open to the idea of acupuncture. I agreed, so she laid me down on a table. She made me stick out my tongue so she could see the color of it, etc. Then she took my pulse in both wrists. Then came the needles.

I didn’t want to watch. I also don’t watch when I get shots. I’d rather not see sharp things approaching my skin. During television news stories about the importance of flu shots, I cannot watch as other people get shots, either.

As I looked up at the ceiling tiles, she inserted seven thin, stainless steel needles into my wrists, lower legs, and feet. It hurt a little bit, but not as much as I was expecting. On a scale of ten, they were about a three. She flicked the needles as she inserted them.

She said she was going to leave to write up my treatment plan. She asked if I would like some music while I waited. When I asked how long it would take, she said fifteen minutes. “Yes, music, please!”

The practitioner exited, leaving me alone with seven long needles sticking out of my body. Well, not having the courage to look at them, I didn’t know they were so long at first. Eventually, I lifted my head and looked at my wrist. A needle stuck about three inches out of it!

I put my head back down, fighting the urge to rise up, tear out all the needles, and get the heck outta there.

“Breathe,” I told myself. “Relax. This is supposed to help you.”

I tried to concentrate on the music (Carlos Nakai flute music, BTW.) That worked for a while, but then I just had to look at my legs. Mistake! The urge to flee came back.

I laid back down and fought it. I tried to meditate, with limited success. I tried to write this blog post in my head, but that made me concentrate on the feeling of the needles and how to describe it.

My right wrist was developing a deep ache. A nerve in my calf twitched. Was this normal? I began to wish the practitioner was in the room so I could ask her. What if my leg cramped up? If I called for help, would she hear me?

I did not like the being left alone part.

After a long fifteen minutes, she came back and took the needles out. I expected her to ask how I felt, but she didn’t. When I sat up and she noticed me rubbing my wrist, she asked if it hurt. I told her it was a deep ache. She said that meant there was a blockage, and suggested I rub the pain out through my hand, not back toward my body.

I could hardly tell where the needles had been. There was no blood, just some tiny discolorations that disappeared quickly. I felt fairly normal and was able to walk down the hall to her office just fine.

There she gave me a different herbal supplement than the one I’d had before. We talked about a follow-up visit. I paid and was on my way.

Once I was back home, I had a hot flash, but it wasn’t as powerful as before. That night, I had another, but it was at a different time than usual and didn’t last as long. I felt more rested than before when I awoke.

Today is the next day. I just read a research study that says acupuncture has been scientifically proven effective to help menopausal sleep disturbances, which is reassuring.

It’s too soon to say definitively if it is helping me. That will take time. I’ll let you know if it does!

In the meantime, I’m glad I resisted my urges to flee the acupuncture table. That would definitely not have been helpful. Time for some scotch.

* * *

UPDATE: Two months later, what’s the verdict?

During the first week or so, I thought the treatment wasn’t working. It involved an acupuncture session and herbal supplements to take later. Then I realized I wasn’t taking the proper dose of the supplements. When I fixed that, things seemed to improve.

I’ve done well avoiding chocolate, as the acupuncturist suggested. Not so well avoiding wine, but I have cut back quite a bit.

I went back for a follow-up session a few weeks ago. This time, she wanted to stick her needles a few new places to help my allergies and my stuffy sinuses. She asked me if she could stick some needles in my face.

Let me say that again: MY FACE. Stupidly, I said yes. I LET HER STICK NEEDLES IN MY FACE. Specifically, I let her stick two needles in that space between my upper lip and my nose. (Also known as the philtrum.)

I felt nothing with the first needle. I felt the second needle go in, plus she twisted it a bit. She also stuck a needle in the TOP OF MY HEAD. That one started to sting.

I asked her if it was normal for it to sting. She said she thought it would calm down after a while.

Happily, the pain did lessen, but it was rather disconcerting for a few minutes. Lying on the table for 20 minutes was a bit easier this second time. She also gave me an additional herbal supplement for my allergies.

For the first day or two, I had no hot flashes. Then they started returning at night, but only a few times a night. I’ve also had them during the day, but not as often as before I started treatment.

The supplement she gave me for my allergies worked like a charm.

Overall, I’d say that my hot flashes have improved by about 65%. And the flashes I get are not as extreme. They are more like warm flashes than hot flashes. I am sleeping better and plan to continue taking the supplements until I feel like I don’t need them any more (or I get sick of them, whichever comes first.)

If you are thinking of trying acupuncture for help with hot flashes, I say go for it.

Personally, I feel like I’ve had enough sessions with the needle now. I fear a continuing escalation of where she’ll want to stick needles next, and I’d rather not go there.

The Love of Their Life

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I have developed a fascination with obituaries lately. Most likely, this is because I read them out loud every month from the local newspaper for my volunteer stint with the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss.

Despite my history as a romance writer, the cynic in me always gets a kick out of obituaries that state the departed met or married someone who was the “love of their life.”

I have noticed that the “love of their life” phrase is usually used when the “love of their life” survives the person for whom the obituary is written. Could it be that the survivors are the ones who wrote the obituaries? If so, are they including the phrase because it’s true, or as an ego boost for themselves and a way to assert their important status in the departed person’s life?

The romance writer in me would like to think the phrase is true. But I have done an informal survey and have noticed that almost every time, the “love” is the one who is the survivor.

If the couple had a long relationship, I’d be inclined to believe that the phrase is true, but length of a relationship does not always indicate a happy, loving relationship.

I often wonder if the departed person would have included the phrase in their obituary if they had been the one to write it. Since they are dead and I cannot ask them this, I guess this is one of those unanswerable burning questions that will plague me for the rest of my days during the wee hours of the morning.

What do you think about this phrase? Is it overused? Is it just a way for survivors to feel better? Am I entirely too cynical? Should I try to solve world hunger instead?

When Classical Music Goes Bad

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Image courtesy of Syracuse New Times.

Look what I found in the classical record collection that I inherited from my father.

During the two years since he died, I’ve been listening to my dad’s records whenever I exercise on my elliptical strider at home. It’s a way of getting healthier, figuring out which records I’d like to keep, and remembering him.

I’m about halfway through the stack and probably have another two years to go, unless I start exercising a whole lot more.

As a child, I used to hang out in my dad’s “radio room” when he played music after supper. I remember some of the albums vividly, others not so much.

I don’t recall this album (“Switched-on Bach” played on Moog synthesizers) and somehow don’t think it’s going to make my cut! Although all classical music is retro, this is just a little too retro-techno for me.

I wonder what possessed my father to purchase it? Maybe he thought it was cutting-edge at the time.

According to an article this spring in the Syracuse New Times, “Switched-on Bach” was released in 1968.  It “dropped like a bunker buster on the world of classical music, fostering incredulity and pushback from classical music purists, who considered such treatment to be blasphemous.”

Apparently, those objections were quickly quashed by enthusiasm from younger listeners who were otherwise not interested in classical music. The album vaulted to the top of the classical charts where it remained for 49 weeks. It was honored with three Grammies in 1970: Classical Album of the Year, Best Classical Performance by an Instrument Soloist, and Best Engineered Classical Album.

It even sold one million copies (!) – the first classical album to achieve that status.

*   *    *

Okay, I just listened to it. My judgement hereby is that the music does not stand the test of time despite all the awards it won.

Sorry dad, this one’s going in the rummage sale pile.