Sunday, October 28, 2007

Apple #277: Goose Honking

More Canada geese have been flying around lately, gearing up for winter, I suppose. I'll hear one or two of them honking, I'll look up, and there's a whole big V of them not that far overhead, on their way to the next open grassy spot or little pond nearby.

I like to hear their honking noises, especially when they're flying like that. Because otherwise, they're so quiet, the way their enormous wings beat the air. And something about their honking sounds so human and funny to me. I just find it delightful.

Canada Goose
(Photo from the Carson River Watershed)

I'm sure the honking communicates a lot of different things depending on the situation. But I'm curious, what do people know about their honking sounds so far? What kinds of things do we know that geese are trying to tell each other?

It turns out, biologists -- and hunters -- have grouped their calls into categories. I'll name and describe each of the primary ones in turn.

Contact, or "I'm over here, where are you?"
  • Geese can call to each other while they're flying. And actually, when they honk, they do so in a way that's synchronized with the beating of their wings. That is, they let go of the honk when their wings hit the downbeat, again and again and again as they beat their wings. This keeps their wing movements and their breathing all coordinated. You try it and see which is more natural: exhaling when you drop your arms or when you raise them.
  • Geese can also call to each other while they're landing. But the sound is different, probably because they're flapping their wings faster and they're also backpedaling their feet quickly. So the calling is similarly fast, short, and loud, a kind of clucking sound. With all that going on with their wings and their feet, they probably don't have a lot of wind left over for anything more complex than that.
  • They also talk to each other while they're feeding. Typically, most of the geese will graze around, their heads bent to the grass, while one or maybe two others stands upright and keeps watch, swiveling its head here and there to make sure nobody's going to sneak up on the group. The ones that are eating will sort of gabble to each other to make sure nobody wanders too far from the sentinel. The sound is a two-note honk, like kherr-onk. It's also more guttural, probably because their heads are bent. The sentinel will answer back in a similar guttural fashion.

Geese grazing, one on look-out
(Photo from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Greeting or Status
  • If geese in the same family get separated -- the gander had to go chase somebody off, the female had to leave the nest, the goslings got distracted -- when they come back together, the geese will say hello to each other. The goose extends its head and neck and lets out a loud, slow honk that fades away as the goose runs out of breath. "Hhhhhhhhii."


  • There's also a version of this communication that goes on between the goslings and the parents. The goslings peep peep peep like crazy almost all the time. The parents will talk to their young less often, probably when it's really necessary. They'll make a soft unk after the chicks hatch and then again when they're all eating together. If the goslings wander a little too far from the parents, they'll get louder in their call to the young to round them all up again.

Geese parents with the young in tow
(Photo from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Silence is the alarm

  • The geese keep up their patter while they're eating so that, actually, it's silence that acts as the alarm. When the sentinel keeps his or her head up and says nothing, the other geese pick up on the silence and the watchfulness, and they'll lift their heads, too. If enough of them think there's enough of a threat, they'll all take off.


  • Before the geese are going to take to the air, they let each other know they're about to fly. In fact, the gander (male) father will tell everybody else in his family that this is what's going to happen. He'll honk, but as he does so, he lifts his head so the bill is pointing to the sky and shakes his head back and forth. This makes the white cheek patches on either side of his face flash -- a signal that's hard for the other geese to miss. He keeps doing this, even as he starts to take off, matching the timing of his calls to the wing strokes, and everybody else will join in. They'll stop the take-off honking once everybody's in the air and going at a pretty good clip.
There's a really good photo here of a goose landing, and you can tell in the picture that the goose is saying something. I didn't link to it because the photographer has the copyright insignia stamped on it.

Mating Triumph
  • After the gander has claimed his mating territory, he'll let everybody know it. He tilts his head back and honks several times really loudly and really fast, until he thinks everybody has probably heard him. He'll slow down and let the sound die away until he's quiet again and goes back to his eating.

Agonistic, or Warning

  • When the geese are on the ground and they perceive a predator or a threat approaching, and they don't want to give up their territory, they'll honk in a way that tries to warn away the threat. They combine honking and clucking in rapid succession. The call is almost always the same, but it can be accompanied by different body language depending on how aggressive they perceive the threat to be and how aggressive they think they need to be in return.
  • The first level is if they're on the ground and another flock of geese in the air is thinking of landing nearby. They'll call to the geese in the air, bills to the sky, mouth open and tongue extended. Sometimes that's enough to make the other geese decide to go someplace else.
  • If there's a goose on the ground or in the water that a more dominant goose wants to go away, he'll keep his head bent to the ground but he'll pump it up and down while he calls to the unwanted goose. Usually the call is short, a Hut Hut sound. It's sort of like saying, "You're not worth my time to raise my head, but get out of here." Usually the unwanted goose will move away.
  • If the unwanted goose doesn't move away, then the main goose will lift his head, hold it at a slight tilt, and give that fast, double-honk some more. If the subdominant goose still doesn't move, he'll get bitten or slapped with a wing.
  • Finally, when a predator or a human comes too close, especially when goslings or eggs are nearby, the goose will hiss with its mouth open and tongue out: back off!

This mother goose is telling the guy with the camera to back off now, buster!
(Photo by Michael Laszlo)

I've done an entry on Canada geese before, but on an entirely different aspect of their lives.

T.R. Michels, Trinity Mountain Outdoors, Understanding Goose Communication and Goose Communication and Calling
T.R. Michels, Advanced Goose Calling, Wildfowling Magazine International
Ducks Unlimited Canada, Facts on Canada Geese
Hinterland Who's Who, Bird Fact Sheets: Canada Goose

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Apple #276: Truth or Consequences

In preparation for Friday, I thought, what better place name to investigate than Truth or Consequences, New Mexico?

  • Once upon a time, this New Mexican town halfway between El Paso, Texas, and Albuquerque, New Mexico used to be named Hot Springs. Because there were springs there, and they were hot -- or at least warm. People used to come to the springs, and resorts were built, and it was quite the tourist haven for a while.

Earliest known photo of Hot Springs, New Mexico, circa 1860s or '70s. This couple is bathing in the hot springs, hoping for relief from their rheumatism.
(Photo from the Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce)

  • But the public's interest in springs died away as more people learned more about how medicine works, and fewer people made the trek out to Hot Springs.
  • Then, in 1950, the producer of a radio program called Truth or Consequences got his staff together and said, "Our 10th anniversary is coming up. Wouldn't it be great if we could get some town to change its name to Truth or Consequences?"
      • The radio program -- which later became a TV show -- was like a quiz show in which the contestants were asked questions. But the questions were usually bizarre or silly and the contestant usually got the answer wrong.
      • Getting the answer wrong meant the contestant had to "pay the consequences," and the contestant was required to perform some sort of stunt.
      • Sometimes the stunts had to be performed over time, off the air, and the contestant had to come back to the program and report on how they'd done.
      • The stunts were usually embarrassing, such as being chased by a man in a gorilla suit, or sentimental, such as being reunited with a long-lost family member.

What looks like the end of a Truth or Consequences episode, after various contestants have paid their required consequences
(Photo from Tim's TV Showcase)

      • Bob Barker hosted of this program from 1956 and 1974 -- this was his first TV show.
  • So the radio show's promotional people put the word out to various magazines and tourist boards and who knows where else. The Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce heard about the idea and started spreading the word around town that this would be a great way to get free advertising. And, if they could get the name changed, that would sure distinguish it from the other Hot Springses around the country.
  • People talked and debated about it so much, the city held a special election. By a vote of 1,294 in favor, the proposal to change the name to Truth or Consequences won.
  • There were 295 dissenting votes, and those dissenters filed a protest. So the town voted again. But the second vote was even higher in favor of changing the name.
  • So Hot Springs called up the Truth or Consequences radio program and gave them the news. The show sent the producer and the entire staff and cast, and they aired the show's first live broadcast in 1950 from the newly-named Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
  • Every May, the town holds a fiesta called the Ralph Edwards Fiesta Day, in which Ralph Edwards, erstwhile producer of the radio show, is the guest of honor. He has attended the fiesta every year since its inception .

Ralph Edwards (right) and Bob Barker (left) attending the Fiesta Day together in 1970.
(Photo from the Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce)

  • The radio program turned into a TV show not long after Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences. The TV show ran until 1974. A few attempts have been made to revive the show since then, but they petered out pretty quickly.
  • Today, the town is officially a city, with a population of 7,068, or almost 7 times the number of people living there in 1950.

What Truth or Consequences looks like today
(Photo from the Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce)

  • And I'd wager that today, more people have heard of the town than the radio or TV show. So I'm going to guess that the decision to change the name was ultimately a good one. Though if I'm wrong, I might have to pay the consequences (har har).

"How Hot Springs Became Truth or Consequences," The Chaparral Guide, January 2000 posted at City of Truth or Consequences Chamber of Commerce
Tim's TV Showcase, Truth or Consequences
IMDB, Truth or Consequences
IMDB, Bob Barker

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apple #275: Hell, Michigan

In keeping with my recent promise to provide the origin of strange names of towns in the United States, here's how Hell, Michigan got its name:

The red dot shows where Hell is
(map from Wikimedia)

  • In 1838, a guy named George Reeves built a mill and general store on the banks of a river called Hell Creek. How that got its name is uncertain.
  • From there, three tales about how the town slowly earned its moniker are:
      • 1. Some German travelers stopping briefly remarked, "So schoene Hell." But in German, hell means "bright and beautiful." But some residents overheard this, thought it was funny, told others and spread the tale.
      • 2. The land is low and swampy, and it was really hard to get a team and wagon heavy with provisions through that place. So people referred to the area as hell to get through.
      • 3. George also ran a whiskey still, and soon people spent a lot of time at his mill. People asking for someone who happened to be hanging out at George's place would get the reply, "Ah, he's gone to hell."
  • Regardless of how the name started to take hold, when the State of Michigan asked founder George what he'd like to name the town, he said, "Call it Hell for all I care; everyone else does."
  • So it became official.

The Official Site of Hell, Michigan, The History and the Really L-O-N-G History

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Apple #274: Vampires

Not very long ago, I did an entry on zombies. That plus the fact that Halloween is coming up, it only stands to reason that I follow up on that entry with all the, um, facts about vampires.

Poster for the 1958 movie Dracula
(Image from British Pictures)

The legends about vampires seem to have started with Vlad the Impaler.
  • Born in 1431 in Romania, in a principality called Transylvania.
  • When he grew up, though, he was prince of a Romanian region called Wallachia.
  • Vlad was called "Son of the Dragon" not because of his bloody ways but because his father was inducted into the Royal Order of the Dragon. The Romanian word for"dragon" is dracul. Add an a on the end to make "Son of the Dragon," and you get Dracula.
  • When he was still pretty young, he was captured by the Turks and flogged daily, deprived of food, and otherwise tortured for being belligerent.
  • He also witnessed the executions -- by hanging, beheading, and impaling -- of fellow prisoners. Most of the members of his family were killed by the Turks.
  • Finally he was let out of the Turkish prison and given a post in the Turkish cavalry. But he soon escaped and went back to Romania and swore to avenge the deaths of his family members.
  • Vlad engaged in much political intrigue, gaining and losing his power several times over and fighting the Turks, until he became more or less paranoid.
  • He killed thousands of people, many of whom he suspected of treachery but sometimes because he was bored, by hanging, stretching them on the rack, burning them at the stake, or boiling them alive.
  • But most of the people he killed were impaled on "a forest of spikes" around his castle.

Vlad the Impaler = truly nasty psychotic killer
(Image from Monstrous Vampires)

  • During one impaling festival on St. Bartholomew's day, Vlad had 20,000 people rounded up and impaled. He had his servants set up a table laden with food and wine so that he might eat a sumptuous dinner while he watched these people die. He even had a servant carry a piece of bread over to the dying folks and dip the bread in their blood and bring it back to him to eat.
  • Estimates of the number of people he killed: anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000.
  • Died fighting against the Turks in 1476.

Vlad was the person on whom Bram Stoker based his fantastic tale, Dracula. Even though Stoker never set foot in Romania, he read lots of books in the library about old Vlad.

Copy of Dracula by Bram Stoker from 1902
(Image from Dracula: Between Hero and Vampire)

Here's what happens in the book -- which is entirely fictional, as I'm sure you know. As you can see, the novel bears only the faintest resemblance to Vlad's biography. But it sure is similar to a lot of movies and other novels that have been made since.
  • English lawyer goes to Transylvania to help a count with a real estate deal. The count is freaky and lunges at him.
  • Lawyer next finds himself locked up with three female vampires, but he manages to fend them off.
  • Dracula knows he's outed and so takes off with fifty boxes of his homeland's dirt.
  • Meanwhile, back in England, the lawyer's fiancee's friend, Lucy, sleepwalks and gets attacked by a vampire, but remembers nothing. Two pin pricks are found on her neck.
  • Mina, the lawyer's fiancee, gets a letter from her man in Transylvania, so she leaves England to nurse him back to health.
  • Lucy is wasting away but nobody can figure out what's wrong, so a wily doctor named Van Helsing is called in.
  • He diagnoses vampires and hangs garlic all over the place, but all the same a giant wolf breaks in, and the vampire is still sucking her blood away.
  • The lawyer and his fiancee, Mina, are now married and they come back to England. When they discover what's up with Lucy, the lawyer and Mina compare notes and decide vampires are at work.
  • After Lucy tries to bite her own fiancee with her now-gigantic canine teeth, everybody gets together for a confab and they decide to stop the vampiring. They gang up on Lucy, drive a wooden stake through her heart, cut off her head, and stuff it with garlic.
  • Then, in a shocking turn of events, Mina is found sucking at a giant gash across Dracula's chest. Upon discovery, Dracula vanishes.
  • The gang decide it's time to get serious and eradicate Dracula himself. So they go on a hunt for the fifty boxes of earth.
  • In an adventure that involves hypnotizing Mina, enlisting a band of gypsies, and much travel into the mountains, they find all the boxes. In the last one, they discover Dracula. They cut off his head and drive a knife into his heart, and he crumbles into dust. The end.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (Coppola, 1992) was surprisingly faithful to the book.
(Photo from DVD Town)

Various movies about vampires have established differing rules about vampires. Really, the rules keep changing so much, it's hard to keep straight what turns a person into a vampire, what works to repel a vampire, and what will out-and-out kill one.

Turning into a Vampire
  • Some sources say that you turn into a vampire by sinning against the Church or religion; others say that people who have committed suicide and are thus excommunicated from the Church will rise from their graves to stalk the living.
  • Some say you could just be born with especially sharp teeth and a penchant for blood, but I find this less compelling.
  • Then, of course, there is the famous vampire's kiss. A vampire bites you, usually at your neck, sucks your blood until you are dead, and then you turn into a vampire.
  • In real life, though, if somebody bit you in your carotid artery hard enough to puncture it, you'd bleed so forcefully and so much, the biter would be overwhelmed and pretty well drenched by all the blood. There'd be none of that erotic, dainty sipping going on.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer the movie (1992) was way better than the TV series, in my opinion. Kristy Swanson, Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry, David Arquette, Hilary Swank, and Pee-Wee Herman -- I mean, you can't beat it.
(Photo from Stomp Tokyo)

Preventing Creation of a Vampire
  • Bury suspected to-be-vampires upside down so they can't find their way out of the grave.
  • Bury the to-be-vampire with thorny roses so the shroud gets all tangled in the thorns and the vampire can't get out.
  • Drive hawthorn-wood pegs into the grave so that when the vampire sits up in the grave, he is impaled by the pegs, and gack, he's done before he can even start.
  • Stuff the orifices of the corpse with garlic.

Fending Off Vampires

How a crucifix can weaken a vampire
(Photo from Dracula [1958], sourced from The Hammer Vampire)

  • Sprinkle the area around the grave with various seeds or grains. This won't stop him, but it will slow him down because he'll stop to count them.
      • If you use poppy seeds, you'll get the added bonus that the narcotic effect of the poppy will make the vampire sleepy
  • Certain objects held up to a vampire's face or thrown at him will weaken him
      • Crucifix
      • Holy water
      • Eucharistic wafer
      • Bible passages (read, not thrown)
  • More recently, non-religious objects may also ward off a vampire
      • Objects from whatever religion the vampire used to practice
      • Non-denominational objects that symbolize Light and Good
  • Garlic
      • Wear it
      • Hang it around the house
      • Smear the oil on people and stuff and animals
  • Drink the vampire's blood before he can drink yours and thus immunize yourself against his attack.

Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the 1931 movie, with Frances Dade, in the classic vampire-attack pose. She sure wears a lot of make-up to bed.
(Photo from Universal Pictures, sourced from

Killing Vampires

Interestingly, many methods of killing vampires involve impaling them
  • Drive a wooden stake through his heart
  • Drive a silver stake through his heart
  • Shoot silver bullets (sometimes consecrated; more recently not) through his heart
  • Expose him to direct sunlight
  • Cut off his head and stuff it with garlic
  • Cut off his head and burn it
  • Boil his head in vinegar
  • Cut out his heart and burn it
  • Burn the body and scatter the ashes so that the vampire cannot re-form

The Fearless Vampire Killers, or, Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck looks like it would be a stellar picture -- and it stars the ill-fated Sharon Tate, no less.
(Image from Super Duty Tough Work)

I should note that some actual people claim to be vampires. They say they're not undead or immortal, they just happen to crave the taste of blood. They have formed online communities with "support groups" and everything.

You know, I wonder, if vampires had a reputation like zombies for being slow and stupid, would people still say they just happened to crave the taste of blood and were really vampires?

Joseph Geringer, Vlad the Impaler, CourtTV Crime Library: Serial Killers
Monstrous Vampires -- an excellent resource
Cliff's Notes, Bram Stoker's
Dracula, A Brief Synopsis

Monday, October 15, 2007

Apple #273: Hair Weaves

On various TV shows I've seen lately, enough people have mentioned hair weaves, saying so & so's hair weave was just nasty, or something to that effect. The cumulative effect has been to make me -- a white girl through & through -- wonder: exactly how do hair weaves work?

  • Hair weaves, first of all, are a type of hair extension.
  • The hair you get added to your own can by synthetic (plastic), or it can be human hair. A lot of people say stay away from the synthetic stuff.
  • Many people also say that of the human hair available (Asian, European-Quality which means Indian or Pakistani, and European), European hair which usually comes from Italy or Spain is generally the best to get.
There are two basic types of extensions.
  • Strands: the extension is loose, and applied to your hair in clusters of 20-50 strands at a time.

This is what a "bulk" of strand extension looks like. This particular variety is the Beverly Johnson, 18" of deep-wave human hair.
($54.99 from

  • Wefts or tracks: these look like curtains of hair that are attached, either by hand or by machine, to a mesh that is then secured to your scalp underneath your own hair.

Examples of wefts or weaves or tracks. The place at the top where the hair is crimped is where it gets attached to your own hair.
(Photo from Nubian Hair in Canada)

Some wefts have a strip of adhesive across the top, or a place to apply glue or tape.
(Photo from Xinya Hair Products)

Even though glues or heat can be used to apply either of the two extensions, there are additional methods of fixing the extension to your hair to choose from:
  • Braided: Your natural hair is braided in tiny cornrows, going across your head to create a sort of curtain rod from which to hang the weaves. The braids are made toward the lower part of your head so that you still have some of your natural hair to hide the braids. The extensions are then sewn onto the braids using sturdy weaving thread. While this option has the benefit of not using any adhesives or chemicals, the braids can be made too tight, or the extensions can be too heavy for the braids and pull out your hair. To prevent your hair from breaking or getting brittle, stylists advise applying oil to your scalp where the braids are.

Three types of needles that can be used to sew weaves. 99 cents each from EsthersOnline.)

It's kind of hard to tell from this picture, but thread used for hair weaves is thicker and sturdier than your typical sewing thread.
($15 per spool, from Clem Lue Yat, which specializes in hair weaves and units for people who've undergone chemotherapy)

  • Tracked or Micro-Weaved: Like the braided method, your hair is braided but entirely around your head in concentric circles. The braids are sewn together to form a sort of cap around your head. The extensions are then sewn to the braids. Tracks are used in this case because they are much larger. About 8 to 15 tracks will cover your entire head. Lasts about two months. $15 to $35 per track.

A quick picture of how micro-weaving works
(Image from Scott International in Rotterdam, the Netherlands)

  • Netted: Your hair is contained under a thin, breathable net. Extensions are then sewn to the netting. The benefit to this is that the stylist can apply the extensions anyplace he or she chooses and is not limited to the demands of your own hair. The drawback is that you have to wash your hair with the extensions and the net on, and you need to make sure your hair is completely dry "so it will not mildew under the net." $150 to $350.

One example of a weaving cap. This one goes for $8.99 from EsthersOnline.)

  • Bonded: Your hair is divided into small sections, glue is applied to it close to the scalp, and the extension is bonded to the section of your hair with the glue on it. The adhesive can irritate people's skin, and as little adhesive should be used as possible. It can also make removing the extensions very difficult and can cause damage to your own hair. Bonded weaves usually last one to two months, and although they will start to loosen on their own, it is best to have a professional remove them for you. $10 to $15 per track.

One type of adhesive used in bonding extensions. This can only be removed with a special solvent made by the same company.
(Liquid Gold, sold by Laissez Fair Hair for $8.00)

What the extensions look like just after they've been bonded to the natural hair.
(Photo from Laissez Faire Hair)

This is the Economy Purging Tool with Control. Even though the name suggests removal, it's actually used to apply bonded extensions.
(The Purging Tool can be yours for $89.95 from Laissez Faire Hair)

  • Extend Tube: Your hair and the extensions are pulled through little plastic tubes (sometimes called shrinkies). The tube is then clamped and heated so that it seals the extension to your hair.

The plastic tubes that go around your hair and the top of the extension. They can be clamped or more often are bonded with a purging tool to attach the extension.
(250 in a pack for $24.95 from Laissez Faire Hair)

Long hooks are used to pull the extensions through the tubes. This one is marketed as a deluxe variety because it has a hook at both ends.
(Dual Action Pulling Needle, $18.00 from Laissez Faire Hair)

This extension is specially made to be used with extension tubes. The top ends are already crimped together to make each clump go through the tubes more easily. This particular extension is actually human hair, I think dyed in the bleach blond with strawberry blond shade.
($74 for 14 inches from Laissez Faire Hair)

  • Fused: Like the bonded method, your hair is divided into sections, but instead of using glue, fusion weaves use hot wax using a device much like a glue gun. The weaves last longer, about 2 to 3 months, and they are more expensive -- about $800 to $1,800.

This is a Fusion Hot Gun kit. It includes templates, "fusion pliers," gloves, fusion remover, a clarifying shampoo for use before treatment, and the fusion wax in your choice of colors: black, brown, or red-brown.
($94.95 from Laissez Faire Hair)

If you want to know more about how to do hair weaves, check out these free videos:

Marquetta Breslin has a DVD that demonstrates her braided weave techniques. The brief video at her website gives a quick picture of how they work.

Bobby the Headmaster makes weaves but without using braids. (Video is excerpted, but still weighs in at almost ten minutes)

Regardless of what type of extension you get, how you take care of it is crucial. While washing and blow-drying and especially coloring can loosen or even wreck your extension, you do have to wash your hair (see the Weaves Library for tips on washing your weave). Most stylists recommend washing every two to three days. It's important to keep the extension clean because it doesn't take long before bacteria can build up in it and it'll stink and generally be nasty. It's also important to keep your own hair clean, for similar reasons, and also dry underneath those extensions, but you also want to make sure it's not drying out too much and getting brittle and breaking on you.

Here's one woman's tale of other things that can go wrong with weaves:

Still, lots of famous people have hair weaves:
  • Oprah
  • Beyonce
  • Tyra Banks
  • Ashanti
  • Naomi Campbell
  • Serena Williams
  • Jessica Simpson
  • And, I'm told, most black women with flowy, wavy hair are wearing weaves
  • Britney did, too, but even before she shaved her head, she kind of let hers go...

All that gluing and waxing and sewing looks like various forms of torture to me. According to what I've read, some people get extensions so they can make all kinds of hairstyles without damaging their own hair in the process. Other people get extensions because their own hair has already gotten damaged, and they're essentially covering it up while it repairs itself. Other people get extensions just because they think they look cool.

But I think if it were me, because I don't usually go in for lots of hair styling and I generally want to keep things as natural as possible, I think I'd go with the fro. Though I've read that "going natural" can also be time-consuming.

I doubt I'd be cool enough to pull off something like this, but Nina Simone sure did.
(Photo from Jeanne's Body and Soul blog)

By the way, I didn't do a Strange Place Names sub-entry here because this entry seemed long enough as it is.

Dr. Susan Taylor's, Hair Weaves
iVillage, Weave the Magic
Laissez Faire Hair, Hair Extension Application Techniques
Karen Marie Shelton and Terri Robert-Edwards, Hair Extensions the Safe Way, Hair, October 14, 2007
Julyne Derrick, Black Female Celebrity Hairstyles,
Tanika White, With weaves, stars let their hair down,
The Baltimore Sun, June 3, 2007
Yahoo! Answers, Why do black women wear weaves?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Apple #272: Horseheads, NY, and Casseroles


I just came across the name of this town. You know there's a story behind this name.

Horseheads, NY is near Elmira, near the southern border of the state.
(Map from the Real Estate Agents guide to New York agents)

Turns out, it's a pretty unpleasant tale.
  • In 1779, George Washington sent out a bunch of soldiers to completely destroy all towns and settlements of the Iroquois nation, many of whom were supporting the British in the Revolutionary War. The soldiers fanned out in various regiments across what is now Pennsylvania and New York. This is now referred to as the Sullivan Expedition, after the general who led the majority of the troops.
  • In compliance with those orders, the soldiers destroyed, burned, ate, or otherwise annihilated everything belonging to the Iroquois that they could find: cultivated fields, orchards, houses, log cabins, hundreds of bushels of corn, even the birds' nests in the trees.
  • The Iroquois that survived lived in absolute destitution. Many retreated to the British at Fort Niagara and had to be fed by the British to survive the winter, but many starved or froze to death.
  • During this expedition, General Sullivan marched his men and horses across such an expanse of territory and through so many swamps and muddy areas that his horses got completely worn out. Finally, so many of the horses were so debilitated they had to be slaughtered on the trail.
  • White settlers who later came to the area discovered all sorts of bleached horses' skulls lying around, so they named the place Horseheads.

Horseheads, NY today has a National Guard base.
(Map from the New York State Division of Military & Naval Affairs)

Well, that's upsetting. Let's talk about casseroles.


This isn't a complete non sequitur, trust me. A friend and I were both experiencing some particularly stressful weeks last month. We were on the phone -- she lives many states away -- and she was telling me of various rent, tuition, and job nightmares that were all descending on her at once. In an expression of sympathy, I said that if I were closer, I would make her a casserole. Complete with melted cheese and crumbled potato chips on top, of course. That made her laugh, so in a way, it worked.

In my opinion, the tuna noodle casserole is the quintessential casserole. At least, it was one of my mom's go-to standards.
(Photo from all recipes; recipe provided by Pam (not Pamela) Anderson)

  • The word casserole refers to the dish in which it's cooked: a deep pot or dish, usually earthenware, that allows the food inside it to be cooked slowly.
  • Cooking the casserole way is something practiced by cultures all over the world, from France (where the word casserole most recently originates) to Morocco, to India and China -- although I'll bet that not many hot-weather cultures make casseroles.
  • The base of casserole recipes is some form of starch, usually rice. Though I've made a few casseroles in my time that used pasta or potatoes.
  • Then you need some form of sauce or moisture -- milk, sour cream, tomato sauce, etc. For those folks like my mom who find condensed soups eternally useful, the sauce tends to be cream of mushroom soup. Sometimes she gets all adventurous and branches out into cream of broccoli, or cream of asparagus, or sometimes -- and this is when she's going for the southwestern recipes -- nacho cheese soup.

This cheesy chicken and rice casserole uses Campbell's cream of chicken soup. The recipe for this and other casseroles that use their condensed cream soups are available at their Casserole Kitchen site.

  • Next comes the star of the dish, whatever protein is your comfort favorite -- tuna, chunks of roast beef, ham cubes -- and/or vegetables -- broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, etc.
  • And I don't think any casserole is complete without some form of cheese. Whether it's mozzarella mixed in with the sauce, shredded cheddar on top, or Parmesan sprinkled liberally over the pot after the cooking is done, there's got to be cheese involved or it's not a true-blue casserole, as far as I'm concerned.

Two casseroles: Spicy polenta lasagna (front) and Smoky vegetable casserole (above). The first uses polenta as the starch and mozzarella and Parmesan as the cheese. The second uses zucchini, bell peppers, yellow squash, artichokes, and chick peas plus Swiss cheese on top.
(Photo by AP/McIlhenny. Recipes from The Decatur Daily)

There. Now, after just looking at a few casseroles, don't you feel a bit more comforted? I know I do.

P.S. If you're looking for a tasty casserole recipe, has an enormous selection of all different kinds of casserole recipes to browse and search.

Horseheads, NY
Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central American and the Struggle for Peace, 1985, page 76.
Stanley J. Adamiak, Archiving Early America, The 1779 Sullivan Campaign
Andrew Slough, Sons of the American Revolution, The American Revolution Month-by-Month, August 1779
Wikipedia, John Sullivan
Horseheads Town Court
Ulysses, New York, Trumansburg History

Food Timeline, casseroles, Casseroles Through the Years, Do-Ahead Casseroles

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Apple #271: Strange Place Names - Walla Walla

I've been noticing lately that there are a lot of towns & cities in the United States that have really odd names. I started to make a list of them. I was thinking I would do one entry on several strange place-names and provide the origin of the name of each town. But I've got enough places on the list that I think that would make for a very long and mish-mashy entry.

So instead I decided that I would give the name-origin of one place-name per entry. I might do entire entries on a few of the names, but in the case of some others, I might append their name-origins to the end of an entry on another topic. It would be a kind of factoid cherry-on-top, if you will.

Anyway, let's start with Walla Walla, Washington, shall we?

Where Walla Walla, Washington is
(Map from the KJ Suffolk sheep farm)

  • The most famous early written record of Walla Walla was when Lewis & Clark wrote home about it. They spelled it Wolla Wollah.
  • The name comes from a word "walatsa," which means "running."
  • Walatsa is a word in the Shahaptian language, which was spoken by several native tribes that lived along the rivers in SE Washington, NE Oregon, and W Idaho. One of those tribes was called the Walla Wallas.
  • I couldn't find enough information to confirm whether the word "running" referred to the nearby Walla Walla River, or the Walla Walla people who lived along it.
  • Walla Walla isn't just a city; it's an entire county and also a river valley in the southeast corner of Washington State.
  • The Walla Walla rivershed, shown in red in the map below, surrounds the Walla Walla River and extends into Oregon.

Much of central Washington's river valley basin is now thriving wine country.
(Map from the Isenhower Cellars in Walla Walla)

I couldn't talk about Walla Walla, Washington without including this classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, Transylvania 6-5000.

(wait for it...)

Lots of good place names in that cartoon. Another one of them was already on my list.

I think I've used the phrase "Walla Walla" more times in this entry than I have in the entire rest of my life.

Sound clip from Nonstick, a great resource for all kinds of Looney Tunes sounds.
Historylink, Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, Walla Walla County
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, People of the lower Columbia

Friday, October 5, 2007

Apple #270: Blood Pressure

About a week ago, I donated blood. Then a few days later, I went to the doctor to ask them to tell me whether my broken toe was healing properly (it is, it's just taking a long time). Then another few days later, I had a "health assessment" done so I could get $10 off per month of my health insurance. In all three events, somebody tested my blood pressure.

They always tell me the numbers, and they always tell me it's good. But in truth, I have no idea what the numbers mean. I asked two of the three nurses who took my blood pressure to explain it to me, but they both said, "the first number is the systolic, and the second number is the diastolic." Totally unhelpful.

Time for the Apple Lady to get helpful.

  • When someone "takes your blood pressure," they're getting a measurement of the force of the blood as it hits your artery walls. It's a way of seeing how well your heart is working, if it's pumping too hard or if it's not pumping hard enough, and also how much room there is in your arteries for the blood to get through.
  • In most people, your heart beats about 60-70 times a minute when you're not exercising.

Measuring your pulse means you're counting the number of times your heart pumps per minute.
(Image from Oregon Health & Science University)

  • When your heart pumps, the blood rushes faster through your arteries. When it relaxes or contracts, the blood slows in your arteries.
  • Blood pressure measures those two extremes: the point of highest pressure when the heart is pumping, and the point of lowest pressure when the heart is relaxing.
  • The high pressure measurement is called the systolic pressure (the first of the two numbers), and the low pressure measurement is the diastolic pressure (the second).
  • There are all sorts of ways that medical people can measure blood pressure. But the most common method is to strap a cuff around your arm, secure it with Velcro, and inflate the cuff.

This is the cuff, with the pump that inflates it, the gauge that measures pressure, and the stethoscope the nurse uses to listen to your blood sounds. You can order this one for adults from Gould's Discount Medical for $48.

  • Here's what's happening when they're using that blood pressure cuff:
      • The nurse inflates that cuff until it literally stops the circulation in your arm.
      • Then the nurse releases the valve that allows air to escape the cuff slowly, thus relaxing the cuff and allowing the blood flow to begin flowing again into your arm
      • As the blood begins filling your arteries again, the nurse listens with a stethoscope to your arm near the cuff, in order to hear the sounds the blood is making as it re-enters your arteries.
      • The sound the blood makes changes as more blood flows in. At first, it makes a distinct tapping. The moment the nurse hears this initial tapping, whatever the number is on the cuff's gauge represents the systolic number.

This man is having his blood pressure taken. Apparently he's also told a joke or something that the nurse doesn't find that funny. It's nice that he's having a good time, but she's probably trying to listen to his blood sounds and would rather hear the joke when she's done.
(Photo from Independent Health Care Plan)

      • As the air continues to escape the cuff, the sounds get softer but the tapping or pulsing lasts longer, then for some reason the sounds get louder again and more distinct, and then the sounds grow muffled again, and finally they become completely indistinct.
      • The moment when the last sound is heard, the nurse records the number on the gauge as the diastolic number.
      • When the nurse is finished with the measurement, he or she will tell you, in a shorthand fashion, your systolic and diastolic pressure readings. For example, the last time my blood pressure was taken, the nurse told me, "It's 115 over 68. That's good."
  • Here is what the American Heart Association defines as healthy blood pressure ranges and what's problematic:




below 120

below 80




Stage 1 hypertension



Stage 2 hypertension

160 +

100 +

  • Of course these numbers are not absolute. Your blood pressure changes all the time, depending on whether you've just exercised, what you recently ate, if you're taking any medications, if you're sitting or standing, even what your mood is like that day.
  • Other factors that can affect your blood pressure reading more dramatically include:
      • As people get older, their systolic pressure gets higher while the diastolic gets lower.
      • Young children who are in the midst of a big growth spurt can have very high systolic numbers.
      • Some people also "test" high when in the presence of a doctor or a nurse because they're nervous. This is referred to as "white coat hypertension."
      • Some medications can also inflate your blood pressure. Sometimes that effect goes away when you stop the medication; in other cases it doesn't.
  • So if your blood pressure numbers are a little high on one occasion, that might not be a sign of a problem.
  • But if your blood pressure tests often enough in one of the other categories, you should talk to your doctor.

When there's less space for the blood to flow through, the pressure will be higher. So if your blood pressure readings are high, this might be happening inside your arteries.
(Diagram from Physical

  • In general, here's what the "problematic" categories mean:
      • Pre-hypertensive: it would be a good idea to improve your diet by doing things like reducing your salt intake, increasing the amount of leafy greens and whole grains you eat, and increasing the amount that you exercise.
      • Stage 1 hypertension: you and your doctor should monitor your blood pressure regularly, you'll want to make some fairly extensive changes to your diet, quit smoking, drink less alcohol, exercise more, etc. Your doctor might also prescribe you a medication to help reduce your blood pressure.
      • Stage 2 hypertension: your doctor will prescribe something to reduce your blood pressure as soon as possible. You'll also need to make radical changes in your lifestyle.

This blood pressure monitor is one of several available for people to test themselves at home. This one has an audio feature that reads the results aloud, and includes a jack for headphones if you want to keep those numbers private. It's avilable from QuickMedical for $120.

And here's something else that I feel like medical people don't say but should: if you don't test "normal," that doesn't mean you're a bad, bad person who needs to reform or just get it over with and die already (actually, I think it's the insurance companies who are responsible for that implication).

What it means is that, if you want to improve your the way your body works and how feels to move around in your body -- and maybe you don't -- you can do some things to improve your body's function. Though in some cases, you can't really help what's happening, so you'll want to find a way to live with what's going on the best that you can.

We're all human, our bodies get stuff wrong with them over time, the flesh gets tired. That's the way it goes. You can't give anybody bad marks for simply being alive.

American Heart Association, Blood Pressure
American Heart Association, Recommendations for Blood Pressure Measurement in Humans, December 20, 2004
Medline Plus, Blood pressure, July 21, 2006
Life Clinic, What is Blood Pressure?
ehealthMD, How is High Blood Pressure Treated? October 2004
Health A to Z, Hypertension