Monday, July 21, 2014

Apple #679: Pork Bellies and Bacon

Not long ago, I tried pork belly for the first time. 

The first -- and for many years the only -- time I heard of pork bellies was in the Dan Aykroyd/Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places (1983) -- which still holds up, by the way.

Never heard a whisper about pork bellies after that. But all of a sudden in the past five or six years, it seems every other Food Network show has some chef who makes pork belly at least once per episode and gets all excited and drooly-mouthed about it as if it's some incredible delicacy.  Especially on Top Chef.

Top Chef season 6 contestant Kevin Gillespie (the guy with red hair & beard who made pork about 90 ways)'s smoked pork belly with pickled apples and pureed peanut sauce.
(Photo from Food Gal)

In spite of all their enthusiasm,pork belly has never looked that appetizing to me because there's usually a big hunk of fat on top.

Pork belly, with the fat on top crispy.
(Photo from Simple Comfort Food)

But recently I was at a restaurant that had pork belly on the menu so I thought, what the heck, I'll try it and see what all the fuss is about.

It tasted like a pork chop with a lot of fat on top.

But I did suspect that pork bellies and bacon have something to do with each other, and that if you cut a pork belly vertically, you'd get a strip of bacon.  Was I correct?  What exactly is the relationship between pork bellies and bacon?

  • The short answer is yes, my guess was correct.  Bacon is sliced from the pork belly.  But let me back up a second and give you the whole low-down.
  • As you would suspect, the pork belly is cut from the belly of the pig.

Chart of cuts of pork from the pig.  The section marked Side is where the belly and the bacon come from.  Even though this chart calls it the "side," most people say the pork belly comes from -- you guessed it -- the belly.
(Chart from Sugar Mountain Farm)

Raw pork belly with the skin still on.  The Food Network described pork belly as "a fatty slab of meat."  Yup.
(Photo from A Knife's Work)

  • Once you've got a slab of pork belly, you can go in either of two directions.  You can either roast or fry the belly or otherwise make that your dish of choice.  Or you can transform the pork belly into none other than our good friend bacon!
  • Bacon is pork belly that has been cured so it won't go bad, smoked, and then sliced into the familiar slices we all know and love.
  • Curing means you coat it in a ton of salt.  This is true of any meat, but with the pork belly you need an especially large boatload of salt.  This is because pork belly tends to go bad in a hurry.  Unsalted, pork belly would turn rancid in about 5 days.  So for the amount that's cut off the end there, you'd probably need around 3 cups of salt.
  • Plus you would add some sugar.  This is to help combat the saltiness and to add flavor. One guy recommends brown sugar.  Someone else recommends maple syrup.  Still another says to use honey.
  • You'd also want to add any other kinds of spices or flavors -- black pepper, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, whatever strikes your fancy.
  • Another guy recommends adding just a touch of a preservation called saltpeter.  People are afraid of it because it's in things like gunpowder, but lots of green vegetable naturally contain more saltpeter than you'd be adding to your pork belly/bacon.  
  • If you don't use the saltpeter, you might use pink curing salt, which is sodium nitrite.  This ingredient helps to prevent botulism, and the pink helps turn the meat the nice red color we associate with deliciousness, and it also does improve the flavor to give you that deliciousness that the color promises.  
  • Yes, people have health concerns about sodium nitrite (or its precursor, sodium nitrate).  
In general, the American Medical Association has found that the concentrations of nitrites in normal quantities of preserved meats aren't sufficient to cause cancer. However, they also report that nitrites lead to formation of modified hemoglobin proteins, [which] can lead to cellular oxygen deficiencies. [from Livestrong]

Pork belly rubbed with the cure -- in this case, curing salt, kosher salt, dark brown sugar, black pepper
(Photo from Pork Drunk)
  • Once you've got your pork belly all salted & flavored up, wrap it snugly in plastic and put it in your refrigerator for about 7 days.
  • When you take it out and unwrap it, you will discover it will have formed a flabby soggy looking whitish layer on top.  This is called the pellicle and, yucky-looking though it may be, its appearance means you've done everything properly do this point, and it also helps seal in flavor and acts as a protective layer during the smoking.  Which comes next.
  • Some people buy or own a smoker and they stick their cured pork belly/almost bacon in there.  Or if you have one of those barbecue drums, you could use that.  Or you could use your regular old oven, but the flavor would not be as good. Because you would not really be smoking it.
  • You want the temperature in your smoker/grill/BBQ thing to be on the low side, around 200 degrees, but really smoky.  One guy recommends using half the coals you normally wood and adding wood that's been soaked in water for a little while so it will smoke a lot.  Of course the type of wood you choose will make a difference too.  Fruit woods tend to smoke a lot, as does hickory.  Which is why you often hear of hickory-smoked bacon, for example.
  • When you take your cured pork belly out of the smoker/BBQ/oven, it will look dang near like the bacon you're used to seeing.  And that's because it has become bacon.  All you need to do is slice it, and you'll say, hey!  I know that meat!  That's bacon!

Home-made smoked bacon, from pork belly.
(Photo from

  • Some people say to refrigerate for a while before slicing; others say slice and then refrigerate or fry it up as soon as you want to eat it.
  • Oh, and pancetta is essentially the same thing.  You take a pork belly, cure it, & smoke it. The difference is you use a specific recipe of spices in your cure rub.

Here are some recipes in detail:

Home-cured bacon, with spices still on top, prior to slicing.
(Photo from TasteFood)

Give it a try.  Let us know how your bacon turns out.

Oh, and by the way, pork bellies haven't been traded as a futures commodity since 2011.  Which may seem like a mistake because their fortunes have really taken off.  But actually this is why they're no longer traded.  The bellies don't get frozen & stored for later use, which is what made them ideal as a futures commodity.  Now, bacon & the pork bellies themselves are so in demand, they're eaten all year round.  Paradoxically, there's no longer a future in 'em. Har har.

Some futures traders lament their passing from the trading floor.  Apparently, pork bellies were a commodity for the most hard-core trader.  They could make you or break you.
There was the balding trader whose wig was seen as a gauge of the market’s volatility; on the craziest days, the wig’s part ran ear to ear, [Chicago Mercantile Exchange futures reporter Gary] Wilhelmi recalled. There was the analyst who died right there. “Bellies killed him,” Mr. Wilhelmi said. [from the New York Times]

Photo from the day the Chicago Mercantile Exchange began trading pork bellies -- September 18, 1961.  It was a good 50 years.
(Photo sourced from The '60s at 50)

Seattle Met, Bacon vs. Pork Belly, March 2, 2012
Food Network, Pork Belly Ribs and Bacon Guide
Sugar Mountain Farm, What Good is a Pig: Cuts of Pork, Nose-to-Tail, April 4, 2014
Cool Material, How to Make Bacon from Scratch
The Guardian, The secrets of home-curing your own bacon, March 16, 2011
A Knife's Work, Roasted Pork Belly
Jacob Burton, Difference between Sodium Nitrite, Nitrate, & Pink Curing Salt
Livestrong, Sodium Nitrate vs. Sodium Nitrite, October 21, 2013
Investopedia, Commodities: Pork Bellies and Pork Bellies: Definition
Trade in Pork Bellies Comes to an End, but the Lore Lives, The New York Times, July 30, 2011

Monday, July 14, 2014

Apple #678: Does Hair Dye Make Your Hair Fall Out?

Most of my Daily Apples start when I encounter some sort of question I don't know the answer to.  I look stuff up online, and I post what I find here.  One of my goals is to demonstrate that you can find the answer to just about any question on these here Internets, if you take a few minutes to run a few Google searches.  Now that pretty much everybody has a smart phone, you're all starting to figure that out.

But in some cases, these here Internets don't have all the answers.  I know, you Internet lovers are gasping in disbelief.  But it is true.  Sometimes the best way to learn about something is to experience it.  The answer to today's topic, can hair dye make your hair fall out, comes to you courtesy of your Apple Lady's personal experience.

This is actually a home hair coloring DON'T.
(Photo from SheKnows)

I'll give you the answer first, and then I'll give you some more information.  If you're interested, you can read on.  Or you can just get the answer and move along.

  • Yes, hair dye can make your hair fall out.  But only if it touches (and burns) your scalp.
  • One little spelling/grammar thing.  People, you are not "dying" your hair.  You are "dyeing" it.  Dying is the process of going down that dark road to death.  Dyeing is the process of coloring.  OK?  
  • And actually, we want to find out how to dye our hair without dying it.  If you get my pun.

Knowledge by Experience

  • Here's how I learned the truth about hair dye and hair loss:
  • For a while I had my hair professionally colored, but my hairdresser left a very thin strip along the part that wasn't colored.  After several sessions when this was still the case I thought, What the heck am I paying him all this money for if he doesn't even color the roots?  I'll do this myself.
  • So I started coloring my hair myself.  So much less expensive!  Plus, I made sure to put the dye as close to the scalp as possible.  No more differently colored roots!
  • Rinsing out the color afterward, I noticed more strands than usual coming away in my hands.  Not a ton more, but enough to be noticeable.  Slightly disturbing and not ideal, but not enough to freak me out.
  • But by the third or fourth time I did it myself, I was really putting the color close to the scalp.  Get it all down in there, I thought.  We don't want any of that undesirable shade (OK, gray) to show up any sooner than necessary.  I even kind of scrubbed it in at the temples.
  • Rinsing out the color that time, egad, practically buckets of hair came away in my hands.  Not, like, in giant bunches, but six & eight & ten strands at once, again and again and again.  Combing my hair afterwards, still a ton of hair coming away.  One and two days later, still, a ton of hair coming away in my comb and my brush, and even just when running my hand through my hair.  THAT was enough to freak me out.

This is about the level of hair loss at that time.  Maybe not even quite as much as this.  But enough to be upsetting.
(Image from

  • I looked up all sorts of things online and I found out that there's a chemical in some (OK, most) hair colors that can give you "adverse reactions" including making your hair fall out, or giving you an allergic rash, etc.
  • That chemical is paraphenylenediamine, sometimes abbreviated P-Phenylenediamine, or PPD.  
    • IMPORTANT NOTE:  At the time, I thought it was the PPD that was making my hair fall out, but it turns out, that only happens if you have an allergic reaction to it.  That's why the hair color box tells you to test the color on your skin first, before applying.  This test is to see if you are allergic to the PPD.  I didn't have that skin reaction, so the PPD wasn't actually the problem.  But for a while, I assumed it was. 

This is the amount of hair loss you could experience if you are allergic to PPD.
(Photo from Ishida et al., ISRN Dermatology)

  • I checked the ingredients on the box of hair color I'd been using and sure enough, that giant para-blahblah word was in the list.  The next time I went to the store, I looked at other brands of hair color, and they pretty much all had that ingredient.  So I thought, Well, so much for coloring my hair by myself.
  • So I went back to my hairdresser.  I assumed he was using some sort of "professional" hair color that wouldn't have that bad old PPD in it.  I told him what I'd read online, and when I mentioned this chemical, he picked up a box of the stuff he uses and frowned at it.  He said, "So, you're allergic to this chemical, and I shouldn't use hair color that has that in it?"
  • OK, now, here comes what's known as a "human moment."  I so wanted my hair to be colored that, even though I suspected his hair color had the PPD in it, and even though I suspected that the PPD would make my hair fall out, I told him it was fine, don't worry about it, go ahead.  I wanted my hair to be colored, even if that meant a good deal of it would fall out.  Go figure.
  • But there is actually a logic to me telling him to go ahead.  Which is that after he colored my hair a number of times before, there hadn't been much hair loss at all.  In fact, I noticed no difference between the day after getting my hair colored by him and any other day's normal hair shedding.  You know, a strand or two here & there.  No big deal at all.
  • So this left one other possible explanation for my hair shedding episode.  I said to my hairdresser, "So, do you avoid putting the hair color all the way to the scalp on purpose?"
  • "Yes," he said.  He explained that this keeps the different colors from bleeding into each other, and it also protects your scalp and the root of the hair from being damaged.
  • If I'd just asked him the question from the get-go, that would have saved me so much time.

Ignoring the fact that they are making this poor woman's hair striped, notice how they've left a bit of hair NOT colored up near the part. This helps keep your hair from being damaged and breaking at the scalp or falling out.
(Photo from BoldSky)

Again, notice how the foil doesn't actually go all the way up to the scalp but stops a little bit below the scalp. You may not be using foils at home, but you can be sure to apply the color a bit away from the scalp.
(Photo from 7YearsYounger)

This is what you DON'T want to do.  You don't want to inject the color right down into your scalp.  These squeeze bottles don't actually give you much control over where the color goes.  It will work better if you squeeze the color into a plastic dish of some kind and use a little brush to apply the color.  Clairol's Nice 'n' Easy Root Touch-Up is really cheap--about $4.50 at the grocery store--and it comes with a brush.  The color has lots of ammonia and is pretty harsh after more than a couple uses.  But it's a cheap way to get a coloring brush that you can rinse out and use again.
(Photo from SheKnows

  • Since then, I've looked up this question a couple other times, trying the search a few different ways to see what other responses come up.  Because all the aesthetician/cosmetician/professional hair care people insist that no, hair dye does not make your hair fall out.  But regular people like you and me say, Well, actually, it seems like my hair is falling out.
  • After combing through (pun!) a number of comments on a few chat boards, I noticed a pattern.  People who said they'd put a ton of color on their hair, or let it soak in, or otherwise put it all the way on their scalp--these were the people saying they were experiencing episodes of "shedding": tons of hair falling out over a period of a few days to a week.
  • So I took a chance and went back to coloring my hair myself.  (I really can't afford the professional thing that often.)   I've been careful not to let the color touch my scalp, though it is hard to keep that from happening sometimes, and I have not had another shedding incident since.  Some extra hair still does come away during the post-coloring rinse, but nowhere near as much as before.
  • Thus, I call the case solved: hair dye can make your hair fall out, but only if you let it touch your scalp.  Conversely, if you keep the hair dye from touching your scalp, you can reduce the possibility of hair loss quite a bit. 

More Facts I've Learned Since

  • So, most of your hair is dead.  That's why you can color it, cut it, curl it, blow it dry, and feel nothing.  As long as you confine the stuff you do to your hair to the dead part -- the shaft -- it's probably not going to have really serious effects.
  • But when you start messing around with the live part of the hair, then you're going to have problems.

A trusty diagram of ye olde hair follicle.  How many times have you seen diagrams like this?  But here's my point: look at all the activity going on under the surface of the skin.  There are oil (sebaceous) glands, there are blood vessels, there's the outer sheath, and there is the dermal papilla, better known as the bulb or the root.  All this stuff exists to keep your hair alive and growing.  Mess with this and your hair is not going to be happy.
(Diagram from Too Loop)

  • Hair naturally goes through a cycle of growth, falling out, and regrowth.  One strand of hair is in the growing phase for 4 to 6 years.  That's right, years!  Then it goes into a resting phase where nothing's happening.  Then a new bit of hair starts growing in the follicle under the old hair, pushing the old hair out and the cycle begins again.  
  • Normally anywhere from 50 to 150 strands of hair fall out per day as part of this cycle.  

Stages in a strand of hair's life: Growth, Transition, Resting, Falling Out/Regrowth.
(Diagram from Pure Aesthetics Pure Wellness)

  • When a stressor hits, the effects are felt in the follicle.  The results -- hair falling out -- can happen right away, or more often, within 2 to 3 months of the stressing event.
  • These kinds of stressors are usually major life things, like big changes in hormone levels, giving birth, very high fevers, diseases such as diabetes or lupus, severe dieting or anorexia, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, burns. 
  • Those big-time events literally make the hair fall out of the follicle. When the stressful thing goes away, the hair usually grows back eventually.
  • One of the experts who finally admitted that dyeing can adversely affect your hair says that dyeing the hair (or bleaching it or straightening it or giving it a perm) doesn't actually make the hair fall out, but rather breaks the hair off at or near the scalp, and then the root of the hair continues growing.  
  • I think she might be splitting hairs (another pun!).  I don't remember noticing the little bulb of white at the end of any of the hairs that have come out following a coloring incident, so maybe she's right.  Maybe the hair isn't actually falling out; it's only breaking off.  But either way, it's not what you want to happen.
  • The good news is that, once the color-treating process is over, even though that's when you discover that damage has occurred, the damage has actually stopped.  From that point on, the hair continues its growth process.
  • Hair grows about half an inch per month.  So within a couple of months, you can go back to being happy, smiling you.

(Photo by Ahoova on Flickr)

Ishida et al., "Severe Hair Loss of the Scalp due to Hair Dye Containing Para phenylenediamine," ISRN Dermatology, April 2011
Dr. Judith Reichman, Getting to the root of female hair loss, TODAY Health, August 2006, Can dying [sic] your hair cause hair loss?  
Susan Donaldson James, After Hair Loss at 11, Shame Ruins Woman's Singing Career, ABC News, April 3, 2013
Florida Center for Pediatric Dermatology, Does Hair Dye Make Your Hair Fall Out? Dr. Tace Rico Explains [they're talking about PPD and allergic reactions to it]
Linda DiProperzio, Women's Hair Loss: What Your Hair Stylist Might Not Be Telling You,

Monday, June 23, 2014

Apple #675: Gondolas

Continuing the discussion of my many travels this spring, at one point in my travels, I rode in a gondola.  No, I was not in Venice.  This was one of those gondolas that is an enclosed little box that hangs suspended from a cable and carries you up the side of a mountain.  No, I was not skiing, I was riding up over a hillside covered with redwood trees.  Pretty spectacular stuff.

The gondolas of the SkyTrail. As you ride in your gondola, you're suspended hundreds of feet above the ground as you're being carried up the hillside through the trees until you're at the top of the hill and the top of most of the redwoods.
(Photo by the Apple Lady, a.k.a me)

But the fact that I have to explain what kind of gondola it was leads me to think about gondolas.  How many kinds are there?  Why are so many different things called a gondola?

Maybe a better shot of the SkyTrail gondola and its high altitude situation.
(Photo from the Trees of Mystery)

  • The first kind of gondola is the one from Venice.  A flat-bottomed boat with prongs that stick up, one at the front (prow) and one at the back (stern). (see also Venetian gondolas)

The Venetian gondola -- the first kind of gondola.
(Photo from Local Venice Tours)

  • The Merriam-Webster dictionary says there are also gondolas -- flat-bottomed boats--that were used on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  But I can't find images of any such boats. 

Gondola on the Charles River in Boston. Note the Venice-wannabe-suit the guy is wearing, but with Boston in the background.
(Photo from Gondola di Venezia a.k.a.

  • Venice or Boston, it's still pretty much the same idea -- a flat-bottomed boat that takes you across a river.  But there are many other types of gondolas.
  • There's also the railroad type of gondola, which is a flat-bottomed car with fixed sides but no top.  This sort of railcar is primarily used to transport goods.  Like coal, for example.

This train is nothing but gondolas full of coal. 
(Photo by the Apple Lady. That's me.)

  • Both the boat and the railcar have one thing in common: flat bottoms. 
  • The flat-bottomed boat and the railcar gondolas are also very long & skinny.  Elongated, if you will. So another type of gondola is also elongated, but this one is up in the air.  Not riding on top of something, as the boats were on top of the water and the railcar was on top of the train tracks, but beneath something.  Beneath an airship. As in, the place where the people ride under a blimp or a zeppelin.

In this photo of the Goodyear blimp over Miami Beach, the gondola on its underside is clearly visible.
(Photo by Chris Hansen, sourced from the State Archives of Florida)

  • Then we have other types of gondolas, which are neither flat-bottomed nor elongated, but they are suspended from airships -- from hot air balloons, to be precise. 

You could call the person-holding thing that hangs below a hot air balloon the wicker basket.  Or you could call it a gondola.
(Photo from HotelChatter, describing the hot air balloon rides you can take from the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, CA)

  • Now that we've got things hanging down from airships, and those things don't necessarily have to be elongated, we might as well include the closed, spherical things that also hang down -- not from airships, but from cables.  And here we have arrived at the ski lift gondola.

Whooee, that gondola is way up high in the air.  This is at Crystal Mountain in Washington. 
This photo is copyrighted by Jeff Caven, and normally I would not post a copyrighted photo. But this is just too good not to show it to you, and I hope he will be kind and realize that this blog's purpose is educational only, and allow you to see it so you can admire his work.
(Photo by Jeff Caven at VisitRainier)

  • Along with ski lift gondolas, we have other types of gondolas that hang from cables such as the one I rode in, and now we are back where we started.
  • So we've followed the progression from flat-bottomed boats to flat-bottomed railcars, then to elongated things that hang from airships, to smaller circular things that hang from airships, to smaller circular things that hang from cables.  But these are all pretty disparate things, lumped together under that one word, gondola.  Which leads me to wonder, what the heck does that word "gondola" mean, anyway?  I mean, what is its etymology?
  • The word originates in Venice in the 1540s, so the Venetian boat is the original gondola.  The etymology people aren't not sure, but they think the word comes from the pre-Italian dialect (called Rhaeto-Romanic) word, also gondola, which means "to roll or rock."
  • Yes, that's right.  Gondolas are rock & roll, baby.  The original rock & roll.

Led Zeppelin. Oh, the word play and the actual rock & roll. My Apple Lady heart is about to burst.
(Photo from Glow Magazine)

  •  Ahem.  [Adjusts Apple Lady attire, regains composure.]
  • So. I don't know if you'd want to tell your mother before you coaxed her into the swaying ski lift that the word gondola actually means "rock & roll" and therefore it is that to its core.  But you could keep this little fact in mind as you grin to yourself while you slowly sway up over the vast abyss below and tell yourself, I am so rock and roll.

P.S. This is the message that the SkyTrail in all seriousness gives you at the end of the ride:

(Photo by the Apple Lady. That's me.)

For more information about Venetian gondolas in particular, see my entry on Venetian gondolas.

Merriam-Webster dictionary, gondola
Online Etymology dictionary, gondola

Monday, June 9, 2014

Apple #674: Blue Star Memorial Highways

I'm still getting caught up from all my travels last month.  When I was visiting out Northern California way, I drove through the famed Avenue of the Giants. You'll be hearing more about this in the future, I promise.  But for now, briefly, this is a two-lane scenic highway that winds between enormously tall and very old redwood trees.  Jaw-droppers these things are.

The road has all kinds of shoulder spots and turn-off areas where you can park and get out and let your jaw hang open while you stare around.  There are also little trails that you can walk in among the trees.  At the first place I stopped, I happened to see this:

In case you can't read the sign, it says Blue Star Memorial By-Way. A tribute to the Armed Forces of America, Southern Humboldt Garden Club, National Council of State Garden Clubs, Inc. 
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This is in California, right?  Well, there's a place I've been going to in Michigan for years, ever since I was a little applet, where there is a Blue Star Highway.  Any time we would give people directions, we would say, "Get off the expressway and take a right on Blue Star."  Which is to say, this was the only Blue Star Highway I'd ever known, and I thought it was the only one.  But lo and behold, there's another Blue Star highway (OK, this is a by-way) in California.

What gives?  Are there lots of Blue Star highways?

Blue Star Memorial Highway marker in Anchorage, Alaska.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign)

  • Yes.
  • The Blue Star Memorial Highways were first established in New Jersey in 1944, as a way to honor the Armed Forces from New Jersey.
  • Specifically, the first Blue Star highway was established after the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs planted about 8,000 flowering dogwood trees along a 5-1/2 mile stretch of US 22 in New Jersey.
  • Along with the dogwoods, they erected a large metal memorial sign with the blue star on it.
  • They used the blue star from the armed services flag, because people who had family members in the service would put a blue star in their window.  If the service member died, they would change the blue star to yellow.  But the Garden Club wanted to commemorate those who were still living and serving, so they chose the blue star as their symbol.

This is "Sergeant Adam" taking down the Blue Star service banner that was hanging in the window at home while he was serving in Iraq.  Now that he's home, he gets to take it down.  (This flag indicates that the people who live here have a family member in military service.)
(Photo from Chief Bob Lusk)

  • The idea was that the tree-planted--"beautified"--highway would accomplish three things:
    • it would act as a living memorial to those still serving
    • it would show what can be accomplished through unified strength
    • it would also be "a protest against billboards" in that the commemoration would go well beyond simply placing a marker or a sign next to a road.
  • The National Garden Clubs thought this was such a good idea, they decided to take it on as a national program.  The concept was expanded to commemorate all veterans, those who are currently serving as well as those who have served in the past.

A Blue Star Memorial Highway sign from Illinois.  This one is in need of attention, as the star has faded and the sign's color has changed over time. But you can see that it states its purpose, that it was dedicated by the Garden Club of Illinois, and it's located in Jacksonville, Illinois.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign

  • Where the markers could be place has also been expanded to allow other types of locations besides just highways.  By-way markers are placed in parks or grounds with civic or historic significance, or also at cemeteries or other places of importance to veterans.   
  • Most locations that have been designated with the Blue Star are highways , but you might see the Blue Star at places such as the Agricultural Museum outside of Jerome, Idaho, or at the St. James Veterans Home in St. James, Missouri.
  • I tried to count how many Blue Star Highways and By-Ways and Memorial Markers there are in each state, but let's just say there are a lot.  Florida alone has 147 Blue Star locations.  
  • Georgia's list has 7 districts, each of which contain several locations.  California's list is too nighmarishly complicated to count.
  • Suffice to say, each state has several Blue Star Memorial locations.  Hawaii is the only exception with only one location -- the Wheeler Army Airfield, Schofield Barracks.  
  • One source says that there are currently over 70,000 miles of highway designated as Blue Star Memorial highways.

The By-Way sign (left) is a plaque that goes on a thing, like a big boulder.  The Highway sign (right) goes on a 7'-tall post next to a highway.
(Photo from the National Garden Clubs
  • If you or your local garden club would like to dedicate a new location as a Blue Star Memorial spot, you have to get the approval of your state garden club's chairperson, and then you can request a marker, for a fee:
    • Highway markers: $1,410 per plaque, includes shipping & 7' post
    • Byway markers: $470 per plaque
    • Replacement posts: $325
    • Refurbishment of an existing plaque, no new post provided: $800
    • If you live west of Louisiana-Arkansas-Iowa-Minnesota, it'll cost you an extra $50 in shipping.
  • Different states have different rules about who gets to say what gets the Blue Star.  In the case of California, for example, highways are designated as Blue Stars by the California legislature.  So you'll want to check with your state's Garden Club or its local district to be sure you follow your state's procedures. (Virginia's Garden Club also sells memorial markers, but their prices are different.)

This Blue Star Memorial Highway marker is blue.  It is located on US 77 in Oklahoma.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign)

Here's another example of a by-way marker.
(Photo from the National Remember Our Troops Campaign)

From a dedication ceremony in By City, Texas, 1985. Vandals broke the marker off its post in 2011. At last notice, local groups were working on repairing it.
(Photo from The Daily Tribune, sourced from TXGenWeb site for Matagorda County)

Here's a marker from Punta Gorda, Florida. (This one's for you, Jarred. Because it's in Florida.)
(Photo from RV-A-Gogo)

Well, I guess I should have done this entry around Memorial Day.  But I didn't know then all I know now. I'll just have to keep my eyes open in the future for other places where I might see the Blue Star signs. Because apparently they're all over the place.

US DOT, Highway History, Blue Star Memorial Highways
National Garden Clubs, Blue Star Memorial Program
National Remember Our Troops Campaign, History and Current Status of The Blue Star Memorial Highways
California Department of Transportation, Blue Star Memorial Highways
North Carolina Department of Transportation, Blue Star Memorial Locations

Monday, May 26, 2014

Apple #673: Mallard Ducklings

I hope you all had a lovely Memorial Day weekend.  I just participated in a mallard duckling rescue.

Mallard duckling. The fuzziness of these things is unreal.
(Photo from Postcards from Sussex)

I was walking around the park near my house when I heard all sorts of peeping.  It was getting near twilight, and I caught sight of a little bird in the grass that I thought at first was a sparrow.  But it was moving differently than that, sort of side to side, and then I realized it was a mallard duckling.  A little fuzzy thing, no adult ducks in sight, and it was walking around fast as its tiny little legs could carry it, peeping away like mad, clearly trying to find its parents.

Then it motored its little legs under a parked car.  Which turned out to have a person sitting in it.  She saw me looking under her car, so I told her a baby duckling had just run underneath it.  The woman immediately froze, even though she wasn't driving, didn't even have her car turned on.  She was asking me, "Is it still under there?  Is it still there?"  Every time the little duckling caught sight of me, it would run back under the car and hide next to one of the wheels.

Duckling on the water, where the little one I found probably would prefer to be.  Again, with the fuzziness.  It might be the fuzziness that makes people immediately protective of them.
(Photo by HAZY at RSPB)

Finally, it ran out the other side of the car away from me, across the parking lot, and toward the street.  I pointed out to the woman that the duckling was out from under her car, then followed the duckling to try to keep it from running out into the street.

I kept trying to get on the other side of it, to drive it back away from the street and in the direction of the duck pond.  I don't know if that's where it's parents were, but that's probably where the duckling would stand the best chance of finding them.  But the duckling kept running away from me, still peeping like crazy the entire time.

It ran into the grass, and then along came two dogs followed by their owner.  The dogs were very interested in the fact that I was walking slowly through the grass--clearly stalking something--and it was very hard to see by this time, so I don't think they knew the duckling was there.  The man asked the dogs, "What are you so curious about?"  I told him, "There's a little duckling here.  I'm trying to get it to go to the pond."

Immediately the man understood.  He got on the opposite side of the duckling and tried to close off the duck's exit to catch it.  One of his dogs went forward to get involved, but he pushed the dog out of the way.  The duckling was getting tired, but was still peeping like fire alarm.  The man got his hands on the duck but it wriggled out and ran toward me.  I bent down to scoop it up, and I almost had it.  The duckling was in my hands for not even half a second before it slipped out of my hands and kept running.

Another try, and the man got the duckling in both his hands, the duckling poking its little head out as far as it could to try to get free.  We thanked each other, and he went off toward the pond, carrying the duckling up next to his face, his dogs following, and I went on my way.

You know how you've always imagined that duckling down must feel completely soft?  Well, you've imagined absolutely right.
(Photo from Gower Bird Hospital, sourced from Barbelith)

I've already done a Daily Apple about Mallard Ducks, but I thought I would find out a few things about just the ducklings.

  • A mother duck will not abandon her young if a human touches them.  However, if you come upon a duck family, it's best to keep your distance so you don't scare off the mother.  The ducklings can easily get separated from each other, which may have been what happened in this instance.
  • Usually about 9-13 ducklings, or chicks, are born in one nest.  
  • Predators, accidents, bad weather, and getting separated from the mother usually reduces the number of ducklings that survive by at least half.

This mother duck hatched 14 ducklings.  Eight weeks later, her family was down to 6.
(Photo from Words4It)

  • Ducklings are born with their eyes open.  Ducks have excellent color vision.
  • Ducklings can leave the nest within hours of hatching.  They have a full layer of down to keep them warm, so once they're hatched they do not need to return to the nest to keep warm.  
  • So it is possible for ducklings to survive without their mother, but they stand a much better chance of getting enough food and taking care of themselves if they stay with her for the first 5 weeks or so.

A whole lotta ducklings = a whole lotta fuzziness.
(Photo from

  • They are also born able to swim, but they lack the oil gland called the "preen gland" that produces the oil necessary to waterproof their feathers.  The mother will collect oil from her preen gland and spread it over their down.
  • (By the way, when you see adults ducks standing on the shore going over their feathers with their beaks, they are spreading the waterproofing oil over their feathers, as well as removing any bugs or unfriendlies that might be in there.)

This isn't exactly learning to fly.  It's more like, You can jump and you'll be all right.

  • Ducklings eat mainly seeds and bugs or the larvae of bugs, as well as seaweed and other plants that grow in the water.
  • Ducklings learn to fly at 5-8 weeks old, some say.  Others say the flight lessons don't start until 10-12 weeks.
  • Ducklings look about the same, regardless of sex, for quite a while.  As they leave the fuzzy downiness of ducklinghood, their feathers become the camouflaged brown similar to an adult female's.  It's not until around 14-16 weeks that the males' feathers change and turn into the shiny gray and green.

These ducklings are in the process of trading their fuzzy down for feathers.
(Photo by Derek Stoner at The Nature of Delaware)

Mallard ducklings, about 8 weeks old.  I'd call these teen-agers, or young ducks.  You know, like young bloods.
(Photo from Words4It)

  • One last fact: ducks are never completely asleep.  They often sleep with one eye open, especially if they are on the outer edge of a group and must keep watch.

Animal Corner, Ducks
Metzer Farms, Mallard Ducks
Mallard Ducks as Pets
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Mallard
National Geographic's Mallard Ducks
Lakeside Nature Center, Critter Corner--Mallard

Monday, May 19, 2014

Apple #672: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs

As you may be aware, I've gone on many travels in the past month or so.  Naturally, I encountered many things that made my Apple Lady brain ask many questions. I want to share some of those things with you. But first, I must tell you a story.  And then I will give you some Daily Apple facts.

Betty Boop as Little Red Riding Hood. This is relevant, I promise.
(Screen shot sourced from Pinterest)

On one of my travels, I happened to be in a small town in Michigan, the fair state of my birth.  I am not from that small town (I am not naming names so as to protect the, well, maybe not-so-innocent).  After I finished my a long day of work there, I went exploring.

I found a wonderful restaurant downtown, a pub that served British and Indian food.  Delicious, well-prepared, yet not that expensive.  The wine was tasty, the service was decent, the dessert delicious.  This was on a Wednesday night.  The next night, I tried someplace else and was disappointed.  Friday night, I thought, heck, I liked that first place so much, I'll go back.  Friday, the same place was a completely different scene.

What had been a quiet pub with few occupants toward the end of its night, on Friday, it was a bit of a local hot spot.  A roving guitarist was playing hit songs, and there was a gang of rather soused locals sitting at the top end of the bar.  One of them, a man who looked something like Brian Cox from a couple decades ago, was going back to his seat as I was walking in.

Brian Cox. The man in question looked something like him, hair a bit more lush, face a bit younger and also redder with drink.
(Photo from

I'll call our man Mr. Not Cox.

He was obviously having a good time, snapping his fingers along to the roving guitar man's song, which I think was "Yellow Submarine."  I ducked and paused in the doorway, waiting for Mr. Not Cox to pass.  He saw me, smiled, and stopped right in my path.  There wasn't much room to get past him so I was waiting for him to take a step to the side, but he held out his hand for me to go by, laughed, and said, "You're so shy."  It was not about shyness, but I did not want to discuss it.

I went to my table, ordered my food, and watched the Tigers game on TV.  Roving Guitar Man came by, dropped a piece of paper inside a plastic protective sleeve, and told me sotto voce (though his face mike picked it up so that anyone paying attention could hear) to see if there was anything I wanted to hear.  He roved on, playing someone else's earlier request.

This is Usher, but I'm showing you this for the face mic.  Mr. Roving Guitar was wearing one like this, and he also had his guitar wirelessly amped, so wherever he went in the restaurant, everyone could hear him.
(Photo from

Names of songs were printed, in alphabetical order, in two columns down the 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper.  The list of songs continued on the back.  They included fairly standard 60s & 70s rock songs -- Beatles tunes, some Neil Diamond numbers, Gordon Lightfoot, some Johnny Cash, "A Horse With No Name," you get the picture.  Kind of impressive, that he was essentially saying, "I can play any one of these 150 songs. You name it, I play it."

But he was playing them all in the same boom-chick, happy-go-lucky, hey-everybody-let's-all-have-fun kind of style.  When he roved back to my table a few songs later, I asked him to play Elvis Costello's "Alison," just to see if he could put any kind of real feeling into one of his renditions.

Nope.  He played this song with the same boom-chick, happy-go-lucky style.

I thought that request might be my only shot, but it took a while for my food to arrive, and other people at tables were finishing up and leaving, so Mr. Roving Guitar had fewer people to ask what they wanted to hear.  He came back around to me and asked for another request.

I'd noticed "Little Red Riding Hood" from Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs and thought about asking for that one.  But I decided I'd rather choose something that maybe the whole room could get into.  The soused locals at the bar were getting a little more vocal, singing along to "Cheeseburger in Paradise," so I thought a more sing-along item would go down better.  So I asked Mr. Roving Guitar for "Ring of Fire."

When Mr. Roving Guitar kicked off the song with its unmistakable, "Love, is a burning thing," while still standing near my table, Mr. Not Cox at the bar turned around with excitement and shouted across to me at my table, "Yes! I almost picked this song!  I LOVE this song!  I almost picked it! What a coincidence!"

I nodded with what I hoped was a neutrally pleasant expression and went back to my dinner.

Mr. Roving Guitar clearly knew the soused locals at the bar because he asked a few of them by name what songs they would like to hear.  They asked for all sorts of items from the list--I can't remember now what they all were--and I was half-listening to the music, half-watching the Tigers game.  After a while, I looked over toward the bar to see what the soused locals might pick next when, uh-oh, here comes Mr. Not Cox sliding off his barstool and coming over to my table.

Standing in front of me, he said in a somewhat deprecating fashion, "Our eyes met at some point tonight, I'm not sure when" (I thought, was it when you shouted at me across the bar, or was it that awkward moment when I first walked in and you thought you were being a gentleman but you were really not? But I kept that neutrally pleasant smile on my face and said nothing), "and I thought I'd just come over and say hello, and maybe I could join you for a drink."

I said something completely non-committal in return, like, "Hello," since that was the minimum that was asked of me.  I really did not want Mr. Soused Not Cox to sit down at my table because, in my experience, guys in his condition are not really interested in anything meaningful, they just want to blather on about themselves and say stupid things, and they're hoping to get some physical thing or other out of the deal.  So I tried to let him know, No dice, without having to come out and say it.

Then he says, "I can see you're reluctant.  I didn't mean anything by it.  I just thought, hey, our eyes met at some point, maybe we could have a friendly conversation.  But if you don't want to, hey, that's life."  He shrugs as if to say, no big deal, you want to be a jerk, that's up to you, it's got nothing to do with me.

So I thought I could either tell him to beat it and feel like a jerk, or I could say, No, it's fine, sit down.  So I said, "No, it's fine, sit down."

Instead of taking the chair right next to where he was standing, he went around the table and sat in the one against the wall.  I don't know why he did that, but I thought it was kind of odd.  Maybe so he could still see his fellow soused locals at the bar?  Maybe it was so he could see the bartender and simply wave and call to her, "Could I have another Pinot Grigio?  I don't need two, I'll just take one."

Pinot Grigio.  He didn't need two, just one.
(Photo from Chatham Imports)

So he started talking.  He had retired in November, he loves music, really loves it, loves what this guy plays, loves my purse, how it's blue and all, and he has a place up on Lake Superior where he likes to spend as much time as possible in the summer, but now that he's retired, he can go up there so much more often, and it's beautiful, really beautiful. 

I'm sure it is beautiful.  I like the Great Lakes, myself.  But this was all said with a soused, show-off manner, and I was nodding, half-smiling, all the time thinking, as soon as I've finished my half-glass of wine, I'm out of here.

Then, here comes Mr. Roving Guitar again, playing his latest request, "Little Red Riding Hood."

He's roved over to my table where Mr. Not Cox is still talking, trying to talk over the music, but Mr. Roving Guitar gets louder.  Now, if you don't know the song, you really need to click the button and listen to it.

Because, lo and behold, when Mr. Roving Guitar gets to this verse, the song changes key and gets serious:

What big eyes you have,
The kind of eyes that drive wolves mad.
So just to see that you don't get chased
I think I ought to walk with you for a ways.

and Mr. Roving Guitar, who until now was all boom-chick, play everything exactly the same way, GETS DOWN ON ONE KNEE IN FRONT OF ME AS HE IS PLAYING and is singing to me and in essence telling me, with great, exaggerated but no less sincere seriousness, that the guy sitting at my table is the Big Bad Wolf.

I start laughing because though I do not need him to tell me this, he is absolutely right, and I am impressed at his chutzpah in doing this right in front of the soused locals who surely know him the same as they know Mr. Not Cox.

The thing is, I'm not sure Mr. Not Cox understood what was happening.  He was chuckling away merrily, as if his mark was not being explicitly warned against him.

And then, as the song is going on and Mr. Roving Guitar continues to sing so clearly in my direction he might as well be speaking entire paragraphs to me, my face turns red.  Flaming, super-hot, and I am sure, beet red.

"You're blushing!" Mr. Not Cox announces, pointing.

How very astute.  There's nothing like being pointed at to make a blushing person stop blushing.  Right. 

I said, "Yes, I know," and tried to make myself stop by taking a sip of wine.  Mr. Roving Guitar got up off his knee and went roving around the rest of the bar, finishing his song.

Well, I sat and listened to Mr. Not Cox talk for a little while longer, until I had finished my wine and paid up, and then I took my leave.  I looked around for Mr. Roving Guitar so I could wave in his direction and let him see I was leaving by myself, no wolf with me.  But Mr. Roving Guitar had finished his set and was talking to a woman he knew at the bar.  So I tipped my mental cap to him and left.

And now I will tell you a few things about Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.

Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, in a publicity still for a 1965 terrible re-make called When the Boys Meet the Girls
(Photo from Robert Kruse's page on Sam the Sham etc.)

  • You may know them by their more famous song, Wooly Bully.
  • Sam the Sham's real name is Domingo Samudio.  Some sources spell it Zamudio, except people shortened his last name and called him Sam.
  • Sam was born in Dallas, Texas, and that's where his group hails from.
    • He was in the Navy in Panama, and then he was a carny for a couple of years, after dropping out of U Texas-Arlington, and before forming the band that would become the Pharaohs.
    • They dressed up and called themselves Pharaohs after Yul Brynner's costumes in The Ten Commandments (1956).
      •  "Old Ramses, the King of Egypt, looked pretty cool," Sam said once in an interview, "so we decided to become The Pharaohs." 
    Sam and the Pharaohs, 1965
    (Photo from Wikipedia)

    • He called himself "the Sham" because, as he said, "what I was doing, fronting the band and cutting up was called 'shamming.'"
    • The band went through a lot of iterations.  The first group recorded an album which didn't sell at all, so they broke up.  Then another group of people formed the band, they wrote "Wooly Bully" (which is about a monster with two big horns and a wooly jaw), which became all kinds of popular.
    • The band changed some more, they recorded lots of songs about nursery rhymes, including "Little Red Riding Hood," and they took the show on the road.
    • For a while, they were backed by a group of three female backup singers who called themselves The Shamettes.
      • "When I was a kid, about 10 years old or so," Mr. Not Cox told me, "Sam the Sham and the Shamettes came to the fair and my dad took me to see them.  Now, we're from a small town and we're not dumb, there's just a lot you don't see.  And I had never seen anything like the Shamettes."
      • "Why, what were they wearing?" I asked, thinking maybe they had on spangly suits like Las Vegas dancing girls.
      • "I can't remember, I was only ten, but I do remember I had never seen anything like that." And he gestured with both hands in front of him, signifying, breasts.

    Sam and the Shamettes.  They look pretty tame to me.  But maybe this was a relaxed moment, not on stage in all their Shamette glamor.  Or maybe what looks tame to adult-me seemed like a really big deal to a small-town 10 year-old boy.
    (Posted on Reddit)

    • Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs' fame started to fade as musical tastes changed in the late 60s and early 70s.  Sam tried to remake himself and recorded a blues album in 1971.  It won a Grammy --  for Best Album Liner Notes. 

    How's that for a travel Apple?