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Category Archives: Observations

Do you dare to durian?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto credit

Months ago, I “liked” Mental Flosspage on Facebook because its seemingly endless supplies of facts, trivia, lists, and quizzes bring light to even the most monotonous of days. I’m always tickled when the editors post something I’m already familiar with; I love comparing their impressions on a particular subject to my own.

Earlier today, I read with interest their take on durian. If you’ve never heard of durian, it’s a fruit native to southeast Asia, one that I encountered when I visited Thailand a few years ago. It has the heft and appearance of some kind of medieval weapon–a yellow-green, spiky, football-shaped cannon ball. Durian is banned in hotels and on public transportation in many locales–not out of fear that someone would use it to inflict bodily harm, but because it stinks.

Let me be more specific. Durian smells like sweaty feet wrapped in a poopy diaper, propped up on a rotting carcass. It is foul.

So foul that I often wonder about the desperate circumstances that led the first human to brave the spiky exterior and offensive odor to actually break open the fruit and raise a piece of its flesh to his mouth. Why did he think durian was going to be safe to eat? Why did he think, with that aroma, that it would be palatable? Was he so hungry that he was willing to risk everything to prove this fruit could provide sustenance? Or were things so bad in his life at that moment that he was actually hoping it would be fatal?

I tasted durian when it was offered by a street vendor in Bangkok, because hey, when in Rome, right? Holding my nose and circling around to approach from upwind to control my gag reflex, I tentatively accepted a small wedge of the butter-colored fruit. The texture was unappetizingly soft and slimy, and despite my best attempts to find something positive about the flavor, it tasted exactly like it smelled–like sweaty feet wrapped in a poopy diaper, propped up on a rotting carcass. Water did nothing to chase away the aftertaste–nor did a bottle of warm Coke or a series of chain-crunched Wint-o-green Lifesavers. Hours later, I actually started wishing the flesh of the fruit would prove fatal, just so I wouldn’t have to endure the noxious aftertaste any longer.

But not everyone has the reaction I did. Although nearly everyone will admit that durian stinks, some, like New York Times writer Thomas Fuller, believe the fruit has “overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana and egg custard.” Wow. That’s some sophisticated palate, to find all of those flavors hidden beneath the taste of rotting flesh.

I won’t be sampling durian again. Frankly, I think Fuller was smoking something when he ate it. But I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to attempt to prove or disprove his claims. Durian has a place of honor on my relatively short “been there, done that, won’t EVER do it again” list.

Have you ever tried durian? What did you think? Creamy, fruity, custard-like delicacy or offal from a slimy, putrid, corpse? If you haven’t tried it, would you?

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Monday Mix, Observations, True Life

 

“A date which will live in infamy”

I admit that prior to my visit to Hawaii in 2004, a lot of what I knew about the horrific attack of December 7, 1941, came from the 2001 film Pearl Harbor. The Hollywood depiction of events was undeniably dramatic, but the grainy historical film presented at the USS Arizona Memorial was just as gut-wrenching. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the cold-blooded ruthlessness of the Japanese officers who planned the attack, and the unwavering devotion to the destruction of the base by the men who were sent to carry out the mission. I felt disgusted, incredulous, sad, and angry at the blatant disregard for the sanctity of human life and somewhat resentful of the presence of a huge number of Japanese tourists in the audience. I couldn’t help but wonder at their motives for being there–had they innocently come to learn about a terrible event in history as I had, or were they there to gloat over how their country had taken advantage of ours? Irrational and prejudicial thoughts, I know, ones of which I was and am ashamed.

The shoe was on the other foot in 2010, however, when I had the opportunity to visit Hiroshima. Suddenly I was cast in the role of “enemy” tourist, and I had to wonder if the Japanese exploring the Peace Memorial Museum were as suspicious of my motives for being there as I had once been of their countrymen in Hawaii. I was there to learn, not to gloat, but would anyone believe that? Would they believe that I was once again disgusted, incredulous, sad, and angry…but this time at the American officials who decided such a catastrophic and far-reaching attack on Japanese civilians was justified in the name of war? I wasn’t even a gleam in anyone’s eye back in 1945 (neither were my parents, for that matter), but nevertheless I felt guilty by virtue of simply being an American. The shame I felt brought me to tears just as much as the heart-breaking personal stories I read in the museum.

So on this, the 72nd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I take a moment to honor the unsuspecting men and women who lost their lives that early December morning, and the countless service members who subsequently died in defense of our country when the US officially entered WWII. But, as unpatriotic as it may seem to some on this day, I can’t help but also think, with sympathy and regret, of the Japanese civilians who died four years later. I am grateful that I was able to visit both the Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima memorials, not only to learn more of the history surrounding key events of the war, but to experience my own gut reactions to being, however indirectly, the “attacked” and the “attacker” in those events. Visiting both sides of the historical fence reinforced the notion that two wrongs don’t make a right, and made me proud that we could move past such atrocious behavior on both sides to forge the amicable, cooperative relationship our two countries enjoy today.

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Observations

 

Road trip: Skyline Drive

The hubby and I were hoping to see some glorious fall leaves when we drove through Shenandoah National Park along Skyline Drive today. There were a few golden hues, but the leaves were definitely past their peak by a couple weeks (duly noted for next year). It was still a lovely day out though…a leisurely drive, a tasty lunch, and a chance to play with the camera feature on my new iPhone. Gotta say, I’m impressed with the color and detail it captures. I think the days of point-and-shoot cameras are numbered. Why carry an extra piece of equipment if you’ve got such a quality camera in your phone?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to research photo editing apps. If you’ve got a favorite, please share!

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Monday Mix, Observations, Photography, True Life

 

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I call BS

Bullshit!I usually watch the evening news with one eye and half an ear, because there is only so much nonsense I can stomach. If the American media weren’t so determined to give the idiots, miscreants, and sociopaths their fifteen minutes of fame, I would be more inclined to pay attention. But what I see most evenings saddens, disgusts, and embarrasses me, so I’ve taken to tuning it out.

But last Friday evening, one story snagged my hopeful attention. At the top of the broadcast, with that half an ear I normally use, I heard Anne Curry (sitting in for Brian Williams) mention “ancient treasure,” “Boy Scout leaders,” and “caught on camera.“ I was eagerly anticipating an uplifting, feel-good story for a change…possibly some previously undiscovered wonder that would now be known to the masses because of selfless action by the Boy Scout leaders.

Ten minutes into the program, that naïve expectation was literally crushed by a giant boulder.

Maybe you saw it, too. In the haunting landscape of Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, scout leader David Hall sings, “Wiggle it, just a little bit” and rolls tape (okay, he shoots a cell phone video) while his massive friend Glenn Taylor throws his bulk around and finally manages to topple a boulder from the pedestal it’s rested upon for the last 170 million years. Hall, Taylor, and Taylor’s teenage son, proud that they have “now modified Goblin Valley,” whoop, dance, laugh, and exchange high fives after their blatant act of vandalism. Then Hall, ignorant heedless of the Boy Scout principle “leave no trace,” uploads the video to Facebook, and the men are subsequently baffled by the public outrage that ensues.

They claim that they are heroes because their action has saved some little kid from imminent death. “It’s all about saving lives,” they smugly boast.

I call BS!! In fact, fighting back tears of utter fury, I screamed it repeatedly at the TV screen Friday night (only I used the unabridged version). BS! BS!! BEEEE ESSSSSS!!!

They destroyed the goblin simply to prove they could. Why else would they record it and post it on Facebook?

That boulder has stood there for 170 million years. ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY MILLION YEARS!!!!! What are the odds that it was going to just fall over and crush some unsuspecting kid now? The deputy director of Utah State Parks and Recreation said in his 22 years on the job, he’s never known a goblin to roll off its pedestal. Ever.

Look at the video. Look how many times Taylor had to hurl his sloppy several hundred pound self at that rock before it finally broke free. No “stiff wind” was going to blow that sucker off. I suspect small children could have safely passed by that rock for another million years before it posed any real danger. If and when it was ever identified as a safety hazard, the park service should have been the entity to deal with it—its employees are quite skilled at erecting barriers around things you want to touch but shouldn’t.

I would have been angry about the vandalism regardless of who caused it. It’s just another example of how our society has gotten off track, with individuals so focused on their own wants and desires that they completely ignore common decency and disregard previously sacred norms of acceptable behavior. But, right or wrong, I hold Boy Scout leaders to a higher moral standard than the average dude hiking through a state park. Back in the day, my brother was in Scouts, so I know that they teach (or used to teach) the value of natural areas, and how to properly respect, conserve, and protect such treasures. How did these yahoos miss such an important tenet of Boy Scouting?

I cannot even bear to imagine the havoc these guys and their troop would cause on an overnight camping trip, in some ordinary woods that were not part of a protected state park. “See all this dead brush? Those poor neighboring towns are just one lightning strike away from being toast. It’s all about saving lives; this brush has got to go. Let’s light it up, boys!”

With “heroes” like these, who needs villains?

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Observations, What's She On About?

 

Looking out for Number 1

anger
ME, ME, ME!

Horns honking, birds flipping, curses flying, guns blazing.

Decency, respect, and compassion the exception, not the rule.

Selfless acts now worthy of the 6 o’clock news.

What are we becoming?

_________________________________________________________________

 

Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, wrote, “It’s like the smarter you are, the more things can scare you.” Inspired by the quote, this weekend’s Trifextra challenge is to write 33 words about something scary. 

Blogger’s note: I came across the above photo on several other blogs and websites, but have been unable to find the original source to which to give proper credit.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Challenges, Observations

 

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Lead, follow, or get out of the way: Proper highway driving

i95-north-trafficImage from WTVR

Driving in England for two years was an excellent refresher lesson in how to properly and politely use the highway. The last two months of driving up and down I-95 have clearly demonstrated that this knowledge has been forgotten (never learned?) here in Virginia, so I’d like to pass on a few pointers. However unrealistic impossible, all of the following assume multi-lane highways, with free-flowing traffic (no accidents, no construction, no military convoys) and ideal driving conditions (no fog, no rain, no snow, no ice, no sun glare).

1. Know before you go. Highway speed limits in the US generally range from 55mph to 85mph. If your vehicle is not mechanically capable of achieving the posted speed limit, or if you are too timid to navigate the roadways at that velocity, choose another route.

US_speed_limits Map retrieved from Wikipedia

2. Slow traffic keep right. If you are only willing to go as fast as the posted speed limit, the right lane is your home. Stay out of the other lanes. If you are comfortable driving somewhat above the speed limit, you might be able to drive in the middle lane, depending on who’s out there on the road with you. No one, and I mean NO ONE should be traveling in the far left lane. It is meant as a passing lane.

slower-traffic-keep-right-and-i-ll-keep-calmImage created by BradEiskamp

3. If you’re gonna pass, pass. Regardless of whether you choose the middle or right travel lanes, you might come up behind a vehicle moving slower than you. In this case, you will need to move one lane to the left in order to overtake the slower driver. Make sure you have a large gap in traffic on your left before changing lanes, then step on the gas! Do not move into the left lane if it is going to take you five miles to finally overtake the slower car. As soon as you have safely passed the slower car(s), pull back into the lane to your right.

4. Be the other driver. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. Anticipate what he wants. If you are in the center lane and he comes charging up behind you, so close that in your rearview mirror you can read the barista’s notes on his Starbucks cup, he wants to get around you. If he does not have room to move left, you might need to speed up until he can find his window of opportunity. Or maybe, just maybe, you could be courteous and move to the right.

If everyone on the interstates would adhere to these few simple guidelines, driving in the States could be just as civilized as driving in the UK. So please, sir–yes, you in the rusted out Civic–lead, follow, or get out of my way.

lead-follow3-300x241

 
 

What’s the link?

Hmm, what have we here?

Hmm, what have we here?

Let’s play a little game. I’ll name some items, you guess what they all have in common. Ready?  Here goes.

  • safety pin
  • scratch-off lottery ticket
  • lollipop stick
  • sock

Got it yet? No? Okay, I’ll give you a few more.

  • cat feces (?)
  • button
  • dog food
  • candy wrapper

Did those help? Still no? These last few should do it.

  • a collar stay
  • lint
  • two used dryer sheets

Betcha have it all figured out now. These are all things I found when I pulled out the washer this afternoon. And the best part? They were all floating on a lake of petrified fabric softener. Rarely have I been so grossed out.

Exactly how did so much fabric softener get on the floor?

Did a bottle, possibly stored on top of the dryer, tip over when no one was watching and empty its entire contents? (Some rivulets down the adjoining sides of the washer and dryer support this theory.) Didn’t anyone notice that the once-full bottle was suddenly empty? Why wouldn’t that someone pull out the machines and clean up the mess?

Is the fabric softener dispenser (located in the agitator post inside the washer) broken, so that any fabric softener added just runs straight out the bottom of the machine and onto the floor? Didn’t anyone notice that their clothes were static-y and neither soft and fluffy nor outdoor fresh? Wouldn’t that someone investigate why they were spending good money on fabric softener and not seeing any of its advertised results? (Do you think that someone instead sent nastygrams to the fabric softener manufacturer demanding a refund?)

More disturbing…how long has the fabric softener been on the floor? It was completely solidified. This did not happen last month. Has no one cleaned the laundry room floor in five years? We had four different tenant families. And the house was supposedly cleaned by professionals between tenants. So why is it that I am the one who lost a whole hour of her life scooping, scraping, and scrubbing away all evidence of that hideous lake and all its flotsam?

Lord, save me from what may be lurking beneath the fridge.

P.S. The scratch-off lottery ticket (already scratched) was a winner. But there was NO WAY I was handing that revolting little card to the clerk at the local convenience store to claim a dollar. I’d like the staff not to cringe in disgust every time I walk in to pay for gas or buy a soda in the coming years.

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2013 in Monday Mix, Observations, True Life