Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Arachnids Awaiting Us In Arkansas

Apprpos of nothing, Owatonna, MN
T-38 Airforce Jet Statue.
I didn't want ticks hogging up all the pictures.

It seems every time the Tumbleweeds got out of the truck in Arkansas this summer, we picked up a few extra passengers; ticks to be precise.  In the spring, they were normal sized ones that were easy to spot or feel as they walked across our skin.  Yesterday, we went walking in a wooded area in northwest Arkansas and must have stomped right through the mother of all breeding grounds.  
We didn’t notice until about an hour later when we were back in the truck.  Himself and I were both itching like mad, especially around the ankles.  We stopped and pulled off our shoes and socks and lo and behold we were covered with tiny ticks, no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.  Hundreds of them.  Some of them could just be brushed off, but many were already attached and those little buggers were strong!  How could something with a mouth the size of a speck of dust hold on against the strength of something thousands of times bigger than it?? 

Before dinner.
After dinner.

If we were invaded by aliens that were so big they made humans look like insects, would we have that kind of strength?  I don’t think we’d have a chance if a giant pair of hands were to come down on us and pinch and pull at us.  Have you ever swatted a fly, knocked him to floor and he got back up and flew off?  Again, imagine something the size of King Kong swatting you off the third floor.  Think you’d get up, brush yourself off and go about your business?  We need to be studying insects so we can be prepared for the King Kong sized alien invasion.  But no.  This is what we are studying instead: The effect of shrimp listening to Benny Hill while running on a treadmill.

The Arkansas ticks have even put up a Facebook page which just goes to show you how prevalent they are in that state.  I'm definitely not "liking" them!

Here are some facts to make you feel smart(ish):

* The thing we think of as a tick's head, is really just its mouth.

* The Lone Star tick is the only tick that can bite people during all three stages of its life (larva, nymph, and adult).  Yay for us to have stumbled on vicious biting babies!

* Tick larvae have six legs, the nymph and adults have eight.

* Ticks can transmit lots of diseases. I'm not looking those up, I'll just start feeling every symptom they list and then get the disease by the power of suggestion.

* Murfreesboro, Arkansas is home to Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only diamond mine in the world open to the public.  They let you keep any diamonds you find there.

* Glen Campbell is from Arkansas, but all he ever found were rhinestones.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Food Fillers and Fiber for Fodder

Do you eat paper?
Tree bark?
Chances are, you do.

Last week the Tumbleweeds had a trailer full of very large, white rolls of what we thought was paper.  We often haul paper like this, to be made into paper towels, newsprint, toilet tissue; you know normal paper products.

We picked up these rolls at the port in Newark, New Jersey, they had come from France on a container ship.  Wondering why we would need to import fancy French paper ('cause if it's French, it's fancy!™)* to wipe our nether regions with, we asked for what purpose would the paper be used.  The reply: a food additive.

It is called Biofloc and is made by Tembec, a fancy French company.  Virgin trees are turned into wood pulp, aka cellulose, then processed into very thin sheets of white paper-ish stuff in Tartas, France**.  It is then sold to food manufacturers and they, with various chemicals and mashing about, turn it into a magical ingredient in milk shakes and macaroni and cheese.  Yum-o right?

Newark, NJ port. I'm sure it's illegal to
take a picture at a port, but I
risk my life for this blog.
Your welcome.

Apparently, cellulose is common in foods that are labeled reduced-fat and high-fiber.  It adds fiber to processed foods that might not otherwise have any and the cellulose has water-absorbing properties that can mimic fat, so manufacturers can reduce real fat that is used in their products.

My first reaction was, ewww, I'm eating wood?!  And then I thought, well really, what's the big deal? A tree is just a plant, like broccoli, only bigger and more vertical.  So is it really a big deal?  One could argue, that since I have eaten Spam recently, I have no right to get all uppity about food.

I was curious if we had any wood pulp products in the truck and didn't find any; however, we did have Fiber One™ Chewy Bars (35% RDA of fiber!) and the first ingredient in them is chicory root extract.  Huh.  Now I have to look that up too?

Chicory root extract is sometimes labeled as inulin and it's also found in bananas and garlic.  Food manufacturers have found a way to manipulate the chemical structure of inulin to mimic the taste and textures of other foods, kind of like in Terminator 13 where that creepy cop could turn his hand into a machine gun or a hammer.

So, wood pulp in my Frosty™ and Terminator-morphing sci-fi food in my granola bars, great.  What's next?  Pretty soon, they'll have a man on the moon.  Oh, wait.  The Space Program was canceled.  Way to go US Government, now we'll never be able to get at all that cheese.  Way. To. Go.

Liberace Rabbit and Meow Meow, hitting the sauce.
They were planning on marrying astronauts.

* I just found the key for that little symbol today.  So excited! 

** I would like to have inserted a bit of trivia here about Tartas, France but I got stuck in a French/internet worm-hole and gave up before my head exploded.  All I could find is that a: Tartas is in the south-west of France and b: Charlemagne once drank some water there in a fountain.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Spam, Wonderful Spam!

This week the Tumbleweeds visited the Spam museum in Austin Minnesota. We played Spam games, watched a Spam movie, ate some Spam samples, bought some Spam postcards and peed in a Spam bathroom.

As soon as we walked in the door we were greeted by a nice Minnesotan (love those big round vowels) who offered up samples of the gelatinous pink meat. Ever notice that food that has been cut into tiny little pieces and stabbed with toothpick always tastes good no matter what it is? Small foods must kick in our caveman brain neurons that light up and say "Not enough food. Need more. Give me now."

We learned all about how Spam single-handedly saved the Allies in World War II by providing the Vikings with much needed protein for their long journey across the ocean in their cool dragon headed boats. I may have some of my facts mixed up, all those nitrites turning my brain to jelly. Regardless, Spam will keep for years unrefrigerated and that is very handy during wartime. 

Did you know there was a Leif Erickson Day?
Those crazy birthers have been
looking in the wrong
direction; Obama is a Norwegian.

Anyway, Spam is great and everyone likes it, just ask them. They sell 13 flavors of Spam in America, but there are two flavors you can only buy at the museum and the country to which it is exported; garlic, which goes to Guam and Black Pepper which goes to Australia. I’m guessing they only say this so you’ll buy at least those flavors in the gift shop, but we didn’t fall for that trick. Yes we did.
Spam Facts:
There are two Spam factories in America and between them 44,000 cans of Spam are produced every hour.
The museum has a picture of Brett Favre wearing a Spam jersey and a milk mustache. There is no mention of milk in this picture, so I am just assuming it's milk mustache.

The Spam factory is not far from the museum, just around the corner, but it's a stark contrast to the shiny, happy, kitschy museum. The factory is a series of huge sprawling buildings that do not smell nice. No wonder, the slaughterhouse butchers 19,000 hogs a day

We saw several hog hauling trucks around Austin, but I'm sure those hogs were just being taken on a field trip to the museum. Right?

Pulling up 50lb crate of Spam to simulate loading
  a Viking ship. I pulled it a LOT higher
than the kid I pushed out of my way to get to it.

Hawaiians are so crazy for Spam that the Hamakua Nut Company makes Spam flavored macadamia nuts. The flavor is vegetable based so it's safe for vegetarians. All that Spam flavor without all the guilt!

Those crazy Britons are big fans of Spam too. Not only do they have Monty Python's Spamalot, they have a Spam Box, a recipe finalist in the 2010 Cook of the Year Contest. The directions for this concoction include the phrase "break the egg and drop it into your preferred cavity." Weird? Yes, but I don't think it warrants all that rioting.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wickets, Worm Holes and Wonders

Velociraptor in Casper, WY.
He's giving the squinty eye to the price of fuel.

Do you have a reliable internet connection?
Are you distracted easily?

I don't and I am and that is a very bad combination indeed.

For several days we have been in the land of spotty internet signal and you would think I would use that time wisely to add and subtract numbers, but I don't. 

I’m actively avoiding it and bugging Himself with all manner of pointless conversation.

Me: Hey, what was the name of your 5th grade teacher?
Himself: I don’t remember.
Me: Mine was Mrs. Griffin and she made fun of me one time because I said purty instead of pretty, so on the last day of school I put a ketchup packet on her seat.
Himself: Uh-huh.
Me: You know that way when she sat down it would explode all over her ugly dress.

Himself: Wow. You were a rebel even way back then.
Me: I know, right?
Me: So. Who was your first crush?
Himself: I don’t remember.
Me: You have a terrible memory, what are you repressing?
Himself: What’s our profit margin this month?
Me: Don’t try and change the subject. I think you were abused by a traumatic experience as a kid and you have somehow suppressed it all these years. What are you afraid of?
Himself: Nothing. You don’t have internet do you?


The elusive tiger-striped T-Rex of Kentucky.

When I do have a good internet connection, instead of writing Nobel Prize winning blog posts, I look up things on the List. The List is a place where I write down all the things I come across in life that I need to know more about; words I don't know, plants I can't identify, the lyrics to Good TimesThis is why I love the internet. I can find out anything with just a few clicks. The problem is that there is no end to the internet or to the things I don't know.


Spell-check wants me to capitalize internet but I refuse to even though I can't stand to see that squiggle under it every time I don't. I think it's a little presumptuous of the internet to want a capital I and I'm not giving in to the pressure, I'm slave enough to the internet as it is. Besides, I'm pretty sure that's how HAL got all uppity. (Did you know that in the French version of 2001: A Space Odyssey it's not HAL it's CARL? No wonder they always surrender, who's scared of Carl??)


Let's say I want to know what the difference is between crickets and grasshoppers (their antennae). That will lead me to wonder about the British sport of cricket (it's boring) but I will learn that the phrase a sticky wicket originated from cricket not croquet as I had thought and only Americans call the hoops in croquet wickets and that a form of croquet is played at the Burning Man Festival that involves glowing Magic 8 Balls. 

This is how time sucking worm holes are created and before I know it the whole day is gone. On the plus side, I won't remember any of it, so when I look it up again, it's all new to me.

I'm fairly certain that King Kong
wasn't a dinosaur, but I'll have to look
it up tomorrow. Again.