Sunday, September 25, 2011

Apple #549: Losing Your Voice

So I went to a really great concert this week. Whoo, that was good. I sang along with just about every song, and since so many people were there and the whole thing was generally loud and huge and a whole lot of fun, I was singing more loudly than I realized. When the concert was over, the lights came up and everyone was leaving and talking at more normal volume levels, and that's when I discovered that my voice was hoarse and cracking. The next morning when I woke up, I tried to speak but no sound came out except a whisper.

That lasted only a couple of hours. But I'm a bit proud of this, I have to say. That's the first time I ever lost my voice because I was so into a concert, I was singing and yelling and whooping like mad.

Dave swears a lot in this. That's the way he is.

But of course I had to know more about losing your voice.
  • The medical term for losing your voice is laryngitis.
  • I had always thought of laryngitis as something official and medically serious that happened in connection with some sort of illness. Duh me. It's far more general than that. Any time you lose your voice, regardless of the reason, it's laryngitis.
  • You lose your voice because the vocal cords in your voice box, or larynx, become inflamed. The word "laryngitis" literally means "larynx, swollen."

As this diagram shows, your larynx is at the top of your trachea, or wind pipe. It's not connected up with your esophagus but sits next to it.
(Image from HowsHealth)

From the top down, the larynx looks rather like a vagina. So you may be rather startled by these images, but relax. It's just the larynx.

This is the best image I found of what laryngitis looks like compared to vocal cords that are healthy. The vocal cords turn red and swell up.
(Diagram from emedicinehealth)

Here's a video that shows how the larynx and vocal cords works, and what happens to them when you get laryngitis. (I'd embed it here but that's not allowed.)

Of course after I looked at pictures of laryngitis and watched that video, I wanted to know more about how the larynx / vocal cords work in general. So I've got a couple visuals for you as part of that detour.

This seems counter-intuitive to me, but when the vocal cords are open, that means you're breathing and not making any sound through your trachea. When they're closed, that means you're talking or singing.
(Diagram from vocal clinic)

Finally, because I'm fascinated by the whole vocal cord (or vocal fold) thing in general, here's a video of a woman's larynx in action as she breathes and then sings. There's a spot in the middle where all the action stops, but after that, you can see what her vocal folds like like as she sings the National Anthem. It's pretty amazing that such sound comes out from such a little thing.

  • Okay. Now back to the more specific topic of laryngitis.
  • By the way, you don't have to lose your voice entirely to have laryngitis. Hoarseness alone can be an indicator of laryngitis.
  • All kinds of things can cause you to lose your voice:
  1. Overusing your voice, like I did
  2. Cold or flu (this is the most common cause)
  3. Acid reflux
  4. Irritation from smoke or other harsh fumes, or due to allergies
  • By the way, I think someone ought to study Dave Grohl's larynx. He screams like a madman for hours, night after night, and he seems to be completely unaffected.
  • For most people in most situations, the swelling in the larynx subsides after a few days.
  • If the laryngitis lasts longer than two weeks, then it's time to go see the doctor. You may have a viral or a bacterial infection, or some other situation going on that requires further treatment.
  • But if you've lost your voice for relatively minor reasons and you're about as irritated by it as the vocal cords are themselves, here are some tips.

What Not to Do

  • Losing your voice is common enough that a there a lot of suggestions out there for home remedies. Many of them don't do anything or they may even make the situation worse.
  • Lemon -- People often recommend drinking hot tea with lemon, or warm water with lemon, or sucking on lemon lozenges. Lemon is an acid. Acids irritate things, including vocal cords. Acids also contribute to acid reflux, which is the most common cause of chronic laryngitis. If you've lost your voice, avoid lemons and lemon juice.
  • Hot tea -- This is another acid. Even the much-lauded green tea. Not a good idea for an inflamed larynx.
  • Acids in general -- Lots of foods out there are acidic, and it's a good idea to avoid these if you've lost your voice. Some other acids to avoid are any citrus fruits, tomatoes, and -- sob -- chocolate.
  • Hot toddies -- for those of you younger than 109, a toddy is a warm alcoholic beverage. Some people recommend warm whiskey with lemon (as to the lemon, see above), or warm brandy or rum for laryngitis. Alcohol is a desiccant. That means it will dehydrate you. Anything inflamed will get worse if you take the moisture away. So alcohol is the opposite of what your inflamed larynx wants.
  • Whispering -- Since you can't speak in your normal way, you may be tempted to whisper. But whispering actually puts extra stress on the vocal cords. You're effectively constricting the vocal folds, holding them back out of the way while allowing sound to pass through them. This keeps them from rubbing together, and it dries them out. As we know, dry vocal folds are unhappy vocal folds. So whispering may actually make your vocal cords take longer to heal.
  • Clearing your throat -- Like whispering, clearing your throat puts added stress and vibration on your already inflamed, sore vocal cords. You may be tempted to do it as a way to make the hoarseness go away. But it will only hurt, not help.

What Makes No Difference
  • Slippery elm -- this is one of those botanicals that people have recommended for years to treat sore throats or laryngitis. It's essentially gooey, and people think the gooiness helps coat and soothe the throat. But there is so far no scientific evidence that shows this helps at all. There's no evidence that shows it hurts, either. So it's a placebo.

What Does Help
  • Drink lots of water -- yes, I know, you hear this so often it's boring. But it's true. Good old water is plain good for you. Inflammation is often caused by or characterized by not enough moisture. So an inflamed larynx will be helped and soothed the most by giving it all the nice, soothing, life-giving moisture you can: water. As an added bonus, if there's anything floating around in there like smoke or bacteria or some other irritant, the water will help flush that out.
  • Use a humidifier -- a humidifier or a vaporizer are other good ways of getting more of that soothing, life-restoring moisture to the larynx. If your laryngitis is due to a cold, the extra humidity will help break up the stuffiness in your sinuses.
  • Don't speak -- your vocal cords are tired. They've been overstrained, or overloaded by some external badness like a cold or an allergen or smoke. They need to rest. Don't speak. Let them sleep.

Take Helen's advice.

WebMD, Laryngitis
Mayo Clinic, Laryngitis
ABC News Cold and Flu Coverage, Losing Your Voice: 5 Myths for Remedies
Vox Daily, Vox Health: The Dangers of Whispering for Your Voice
Anahad O'Connor, The Claim: Whispering Can Be Hazardous to Your Voice, The New York Times, February 7, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Apple #548A: White Caterpillars, part I

I'm terrible at plant and animal identification. When I manage to find a description that comes close to fitting the plant or animal in question, there are nearly always one or two features that differ slightly from the description. Does this mean the description I've found is for a different species entirely, or does this mean I'm looking at a lesser-known variant?

Recently, I came across two very fuzzy white caterpillars. I took pictures of them, thinking I would identify them later. But of course that's a more difficult task than I expected.

One of the caterpillars I'm reasonably sure I've identified correctly. I'm pretty sure this is the caterpillar of the American dagger moth (Acronicta americana).

American dagger moth caterpillar, I think. I almost stepped on this one.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

This freddy can be yellow or white, but most of the pictures online are of the yellow version. So that was one thing that gave me trouble.

It also looks a whole lot like another kind of caterpillar, which I'll get to in a moment. First, some terminology.

The dense fuzzy hairs on the caterpillar are called setae. The caterpillar pictured above has white setae.

The long spiky things that stick up farther than the setae are called lashes. This particular caterpillar has black lashes. One of the tools of identification that entomologists uses is to note on which abdominal segment the lashes appear. In this case, the black lashes are on segments 1 and 3 and 8. The lashes on segments 1 and 3 are paired, but there is only a single black lash on the 8th segment.

These details about the color of the setae and the lashes and the placement of the lashes all match up with descriptions of the American dagger moth, so that's why I'm pretty confident I've got the right name for this dude. Or dudette, as the case may be.

The other one has me stumped.

Hickory tussock moth -- but a variant with white lashes?
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

When I was searching on phrases like "white fuzzy caterpillar black spikes" to identify the previous caterpillar, I kept getting hits for the Hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae). But the one above doesn't have black bands on its abdomen, so I ruled out this species for that caterpillar.

This freddy, however, does have those black bands or spots on its abdomen. It also has thick white setae like the Hickory tussock moth does. It has lashes on what look like maybe the first and seventh segments. But the Hickory tussock moth's lashes are black. This dude's lashes are white.

I can't find a description of any species of caterpillar that has white setae, black spots, and white lashes. So I'm very tempted to say it's a variant version of the Hickory tussock moth caterpillar.

For sure a Hickory tussock moth caterpillar.
(Photo by Brookhaven National Lab)

I've got a couple other tricks up my sleeve to try to identify this freddy. But in the meantime, I thought I'd call on the power of the internet. Does anyone out there know for sure what species of moth caterpillar this is?

Once I've got them both identified with a fairly strong level of certainty, I'll tell you some facts about the life and times of these caterpillars. Here's a teaser: if my identifications are correct, these dudes have some caterpillar-sized amounts of venom in those lashes. So if you touch them, you'll feel a sting like from a mosquito bite or you may get an itchy rash like from poison ivy.

Good thing I didn't actually step on that first one, eh?

Here's the follow-up entry

Monday, September 12, 2011

Apple #547: Cotton Balls

I've lately taken to polishing my toenails. When I want to change the polish color, I rely heavily on our good friend, the cotton ball. A fairly genius little invention.

Cotton balls are so soft and fluffy and nice.
(Photo from Just for Life)

  • Cotton balls are uniquely good at absorbing liquids. They're used in medicine to treat wounds as well as in cosmetics for applying make-up and other liquids.
  • Some cotton balls are not actually made of 100% cotton but are made of synthetic fibers in part or entirely. Those cotton ball pretenders won't absorb whatever liquid you want to put on it nearly as well as 100% cotton. Other types of fibers will also tear and break apart much more quickly.
  • One bale of cotton can make 680,000 cotton balls.
  • You can use cotton balls as miniature air fresheners. Just plain cotton balls in the refrigerator has the same smell-absorbing effect as baking soda. And if you have small spots of mildew in your bathroom, soak a cotton ball or two in bleach, wedge the cotton ball against the mildew spot, and let it sit there for a few hours. When you come back, the mildew will be gone.
  • If you're having trouble starting a fire, soak a cotton ball in melted Vaseline (or any petroleum jelly). The petroleum jelly acts like an accelerant and the cotton ball acts like a super-packed wick. The fire will last a pretty long time, people say.

That looks like someone dropped their marshmallow into the fire, but no, that's a cotton ball soaked in Vaseline, used to start the fire.
(Photo from Off Grid Survival)

  • Despite all their fluffiness and niceness, there is a phobia of cotton balls. It's not very common, but some people do have it. They cannot bear to touch cotton balls. Something about the texture of them, or the sound when they're being ripped apart, gives people the shivers to such an extent, they won't go near them.
  • This phobia is known as Sidonglobophobia or Bambakophobia. It sounds like I'm making this up, especially after that one entry I did about the fear of being watched by a duck (which is a made-up phobia). But this one is for real. Apparently Michael Jackson is one of the few people who had it.
  • Here's more cotton ball weirdness: there is a diet that involves eating cotton balls. It's an insane diet because it can cause major digestive problems, to say the least. But people have done it. The idea is to eat cotton balls before your meal so that the fiber in the cotton makes you feel full and you eat less. Some people soak the cotton balls in something like orange juice to make them palatable at least. But this only makes me sigh. There are no shortcuts, people. Not even via cotton balls.
  • Yes, it's true, Marlon Brando put cotton balls in his cheeks when he played the Godfather.

Cotton balls played a crucial role in this scene.
(Photo from Celebrity Picnic)

  • Peter Sellers spoofed this to great effect in Revenge of the Pink Panther. As a master of disguises, you kneauw, he disguised himself as a rotund exaggerated version of the Godfather, complete with cotton balls in his cheeks. Except he started choking on them in front of the bad guys. When one of them clapped him on the back, the cotton balls flew out of his mouth.
  • Artist Zimoun created an art installation featuring 138 cotton balls. He put each one on in its own cardboard box, attached each to a motorized stick, and rolled them back and forth over the cardboard, and recorded the sound. It's surprisingly loud.
  • You can make tons of crafty things yourself out of cotton balls. Here is a sheep made out of cotton balls and a toilet paper tube.

Instructions for making this cotton ball sheep and all sorts of other cotton ball crafts at Artists Helping Children.

Here's another picture of cotton balls because I just couldn't resist. They're so round and soft and friendly. I definitely do not have Sidonglobophobia.
(Photo from Daily Glow)

Cotton Catchment Communities, Cotton Fun Facts
Cotton Incorporated, Personal Products: What Are They Made Of?
Fear and, Phobia and Fear of Cotton Balls
Phobia Fear Release, Comments for Fear of Touching Cotton Balls
Clean Your Home, Cotton Balls Cleaning Secrets, Vaseline and Cotton Fire Ball starter
Neatorama, 10 Craziest Diets in History
Everyday Health, Outrageous Diet Fads
Flixster, Marlon Brando Best Movies and Characters

Friday, September 9, 2011

Apple #546: Piggy Banks

I was in Target the other day and I saw a whole shelf of piggy banks on sale. I wondered, why do we put our money in pigs? Is it because money is associated with greed, which is in turn associated with gluttony, and our best representative of gluttony is the pig?

Time for the Apple Lady to find out.

Piggy banks on sale at Target
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • One site I found suggested that, just as farmers feed piglets all sorts of scraps until they are ready for slaughter, which in turns give the farmer a lot of food, so too we feed our little banks with scraps of money (change) until that builds into a great big nest egg.
  • I've mixed my metaphorical farm animals. But you understand my point.
  • That's a nice little story, but most sources agree, the reason we put our money into ceramic pigs has nothing to do with the animal itself. It is, in fact, another instance of etymology at work. (That's word origins, not bugs.)
  • Long, long ago, back in the Middle Ages when the English that people spoke was very different from the English that we speak today, people made pots and jars and various pottery items from a particular orange clay. Their word for that clay was "pygg."

I post this image with a high degree of skepticism. There is no information about this image apart from the caption you can see on the photo. It was posted on Photobucket by Imaginary Rofler, which sounds like the name of someone into playing practical jokes. But we can at least say this is someone's approximation of what a pygg jar might have looked like once upon a time. Though probably in real life, pygg jars didn't quite look like this. The piggy bank on the right does seem to have come from the National Museum of Indonesia, though.

  • It's thought, by the way, that at that time, the y sound was pronounced like a short u, so that word probably sounded more like "pug."
  • At some point or other, some enterprising person dedicated one of their pygg-clay jars to be a receptacle for coins.
  • Pretty soon, everybody was doing it. Putting their change willy-nilly into their pygg jars, saving money all over the place. Dang kids.
  • Over the centuries, the way people spoke their English changed a lot. But that habit of tossing spare change into a jar did not go away. Thus, though people still kept tossing their spare change into the same receptacle, they started to change the way they pronounced said receptacle. Instead of pronouncing it like pug, pretty soon they were pronouncing it like pig.
  • Eventually, they also changed the way they spelled the word. They cahnged the y to an i and dropped the extra g. I'm also thinking that the phrase "piggy jar" was easier to say than "pig jar." And that -ggy ending looks more like the original "pygg" spelling, too.
  • The word "bank" showed up around the same time that "pygg" did. The word did mean a financial institution, but that meaning was a bit more open-air, if you will. It literally referred to a money-lender's table.
  • It wasn't until around the 1700s that the word "bank" became a verb. So this is just a guess, but I'm thinking that it was probably around the same time that people switched from calling their spare-change jars "pygg jars" to "piggy banks."
  • When piggy banks began to be manufactured on a wider scale, initially there was no hole in the bottom where you could retrieve your cash. If you wanted to get anything back out of the pig, you had to break the thing open.

Uh-oh. Someone raided the piggy bank.
(Photo from Boston Catholic Insider)

  • For a while, piggy banks were pretty much ubiquitous. But people are saying that these days, they're a dying breed, as children are given savings accounts rather than ceramic toys as a place to keep their money, and as inflation has chipped away at the buying power of loose change.
For those of you looking for a whimisical or decorative spare-change jar, here are a few piggy bank options for you:

This is a nice friendly-looking piggy bank.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

Piggy bank from South Africa, with polka-dots.
(Photo from topnotch car rental)

This one looks like it might be made out of wood.
(Photo from Tom in Philly at BartCopE)

These are piggy banks made out of clay with no opening on the bottom, but they're made in the present day. You can buy one for $20. Which I think is kind of funny.
(Photo and banks available from Posie Row)

Sitting-up sailor-like piggy bank, available from Piggy Banks of America. They boast that they have the widest selection of piggy banks in the world, they allow you to choose whether you want a hole with a stopper in the bottom or not, but they don't say how much their piggy banks cost.
(Photo from Piggy Banks of America)

I also find it funny that these piggy banks were marked down.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

The Straight Dope, What's the Origin of the Piggy Bank?
Consumer Watch, Insider Reports, Piggy Banks - A Short History
The Corner Stork, The History of the Piggy Bank, Inventors, Piggy Bank
The Great Idea Finder, Did you ever wonder why it's called a piggy bank?
Piggy Bank World, History of the Piggy Bank
Online Etymology Dictionary, bank

Friday, September 2, 2011

Apple #545: Pansies

You thought I'd forgotten all about my Shakespeare-themed posts, didn't you? Not so! I have another one for you.

I have some greeting cards that I bought a long time ago. They illustrate lines from Shakespeare plays.

This card is my favorite. I like the colors, and how she's peeking out from behind that fan.

The line on the card above is taken from The Winter's Tale. Perdita is saying she wishes she had some flowers to make "like a bank for love to lie on and play on." She wishes she had these flowers:
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes
Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses,
That die unmarried ere they can behold
Bright Phoebus in his strength, — a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips, and
The crown-imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one. — O, these I lack,
To make you garlands

This card isn't bad, though the dress made of daisies isn't very flattering.

The line on this card and the next both come from Hamlet, specifically, the scene when Ophelia has gone around the bend and is handing out flowers to people.

Of course, as in all of Shakespeare's plays, anybody who is going mad or is a fool or is otherwise speaking gibberish is actually saying intelligent or secretly wise things. So it is with Ophelia; her lunatic ramblings in fact make sense.

This card may be my least favorite. The pansy-cap on her head and the way she's leaning on her hand makes it look like she's wearing an ice pack and has a headache. It's always seemed to me that sending this card would be like wishing a cold or a flu or a hangover on someone, so I don't think I've ever sent one of these.

Even though I'm not a fan of the illustration on the card about pansies, I'm taking pansies as my subject today. Because I happen to remember from the etymology class (that's word origins, not bugs) which I took long ago in college that pansy comes from the French pensee, which in turn goes back to the Latin penseo which means "to think."

So Ophelia is etymologically correct when she says, "There's pansies, that's for thoughts."

So what are a few other things to know about pansies?

  • Pansies are sometimes considered a type of violet. They're in the genus viola, and some people do call pansies violas. But violas are also a type of flower, and they're slightly different than pansies.
  • Pansies like cool temperatures. They do best in early spring or in fall. So now is a perfect time to be talking about them!
  • Pansy blossoms have one of the widest color ranges of any annual. They can be anywhere on the spectrum from deep reds and purples to pale apricot and lavender to white.

A bevy of pansies, in all sorts of colors.
(Photo from Carlene Reinhart)

  • The blooms take one of three patterns.

They can be a plain color, nothing in the center. Sometimes these are referred to as "clear" pansies.
(Photo from The Gardening Experts)

The second type of pansy has black lines radiating out from the center. This one in particular is the Cheeky-faced Blue Pansy.
(Photo from

The third and probably the best-known type has a shape in the center that resembles a face.
(Photo from Fairway Lawns Blog)

  • It's said that the shape in the center resembling a face is the reason the flower was named after thoughts. That, plus the fact that when the wind blows, the flowers nod, so it looks like they're actively thinking.
  • I have to say, I don't really see a face. If anything, they look to me like stick-figure bodies with their heads squashed down where their necks should be. But centuries of people have said they look like faces so, okay, faces it is!
  • Some people saw the pansy blossom as being heart-shaped. So they thought it would be good for curing broken hearts, and the flower was used as an ingredient in love potions.
  • Pansies are used as love potions in another of Shakespeare's plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was pansy juice that Oberon and Puck put on various people's eyes to make them fall in love with the first creature they saw. In Titania's case, she fell in love with an ass.

Titania Sleeps, by Frank Cowper, 1928. That might be a pansy next to her head, or maybe it's a rose, hard to tell.
(Image from Art Decoblog)

  • Pansy flowers are, by the way, edible. So no worries about those love potions being poisonous.
  • Still others thought the three major petals was reminiscent of the Holy Trinity, so these folks sometimes referred to the flower as herb trinity.
  • The flower has had all sorts of other common names:
  1. Johnny jump-ups
  2. Monkey faces
  3. Peeping Toms
  4. Three faces in a hood
  5. Tickle-my-fancy
  6. Kiss-her-in-the-pantry
  7. Heartsease
  • One German legend says that pansies used to have a tremendous fragrance. Their scent was so beguiling, people came from miles around to smell it. In doing so, they trampled all the grass around it, which the nearby cattle needed for food. The pansies saw how the cows were suffering, so they prayed to God to help the cows. So God took away the pansies' fragrance and gave them beautiful faces instead.

I could see thinking a that red pansy like this might be the source of a love potion.
(Photo from Baer Home Design)

  • "Pansy" is also derogatory slang for an effeminate homosexual man, or a weak person.
  • A, insults are never nice. B, I tried to find out why this flower, of all flowers, got chosen for this meaning. No luck. The most I could discover was that the slang meaning's first recorded use was in 1929.
  • In an ironic contrast, J.K. Rowling named one of her toughest, meanest female characters Pansy Parkinson.

A deep purple Bingo pansy. No wimpiness here.
(Photo and seeds available from Thompson & Morgan)

Caring for the Flowers
  • Pansies like the cold so much, there is even one variety called the icicle pansy that doesn't mind the snow.
  • Though they like the air to be cool, pansies love the sun. They won't do well in the shade.
  • Pansies do actually have a fragrance, although it's often so delicate, it's hard to detect. The fragrance will be most noticeable at dawn or dusk.
  • If your pansies have bloomed in the spring, and if you've been able to keep them protected from the heat, when it gets cool in the fall, they might bloom again.
  • They're annuals, but they don't come back as vibrantly in subsequent years, so most people change the plants each year.
  • Don't plant pansies in the same bed for more than three years in a row.

I think these look really cool. They're called Jolly Jokers. They're hybrids and they won all sorts of awards in 1990.
(Photo and seeds available from

  • In the 1880s, pansies were described as "the most popular of all flowers grown from seed."
  • But because pansies are so particular about temperature, they can be tricky to start from seed. So if you want to plant them, you'll have the best luck if you choose plants that are already growing.
  • They like to be watered regularly and fed fertilizer monthly.
  • If the plants are "leggy," or they have lots of stems, they're getting too much shade.
  • If the edges of the leaves turn brown, they've probably had too much water.
  • Slugs and aphids like pansies, too, so be on the look-out for those.

Georgia O'Keeffe's black pansy.
(Image posted by Bob Swain on Picasaweb)

  • Lots of variety from a little flower.

About the cards:
The label on the back of the box says they're Caspari Note Cards, Flowers from Shakespeare's Garden. But I checked and I couldn't find anybody who sells these exact cards. I'm not surprised; I bought them a long time ago. But here is Caspari's web page where they sell other note cards. Those are more contemporary than the ones I've posted here. Alternatively, Amazon sells a few other Caspari note cards that are more similar in style to mine.

Online Etymology Dictionary, pansy
Nancy O'Donnell, Pretty pansies, the world's favorite, have a long history,
Albany Times Union, April 20, 2005
Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension, Pansy
West Virginia University Extension Service, Pansies
Marie Iannotti,, Pansies - Growing a Cool Weather Favorite
Flower for You, Pansy
Angelfire, Meanings & Legends of Flowers, P