Archive for November, 2011

Mercedes Lackey Quotes

All but the last two of these quotes are from Storm Warning, by Mercedes Lackey.

“Friends help friends.” Karal, just as he is preparing to risk his life to prove to An’desha that he can control his mage-gift.

“Leaders are just people, and they frequently forget to think before they act.” Karal, arguing that the whole Empire should not be blamed for the fact that some of its leaders decided to kill his mentor, Ulrich.

“Cats. They always know.” Elspeth, right after Altra the firecat has summed up her dislike of being forced into anything.

“When we have done all we can, then it is time to add prayer to the rest.” One of Ulrich’s sayings that Karal remembers on the way to the Iftel border.

“Understanding is the essence of not making the same mistakes.” Karal to An’desha, when he hears the doubt in An’desha’s voice as he recounts some of the things that Ma’ar did.

“It does not matter what is, when the people are convinced that the very opposite is what should be. Mercedes Lackey, Storm Rising. An’desha, discussing problems of religion with Karal.

“The younger they are, the easier they take to free fall.” Sue Ann Bowling, Homecoming. Derik’s comment after helping with a birthday party for two-year-olds in a free fall gym. (The children at the party have had a wonderful time. Derik and Elyra have had to deal with the parents.)

The Grinch and Dr. Seuss

Christmas is coming, and it’s time to dig out the DVDs I normally watch this time of year. No, I don’t sit on the sofa or in a recliner and watch them. More often, I watch while on the stationary bicycle, peddling away, or while on the rowing machine. DVDs and an occasional PBS program are how I get my exercise. But there are certain DVDs I usually watch, and books I usually reread, this time of year, and the first this year was How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

I was in high school by the time the Grinch and The Cat in the Hat came out, and I don’t remember reading those books. But I remember sitting in our grade school library, reading And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, McElligot’s Pool, and The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins. The last was even made into a song that we sang in one of my early school music lessons, and I still remember about half the tune.

Dr Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel, and he wrote 46 children’s books, most still popular today. You’re Only Old Once I read in a doctor’s waiting room (an appropriate place for it) while waiting to find out what was wrong with my gall bladder. But the Grinch I met first through the cartoon special.

It’s a wonderful antidote to the Christmas shopping madness, with its message of “Christmas is within our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp.” And I have to admit that I enjoy the extras on the disc – how it was made, the commentaries from cartoonists and voice actors – as much as the Chuck Jones cartoon itself.

The cartoon represents the combined talents of Chuck Jones and Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) with the wonderful voice of Boris Karloff both as narrator and as the Grinch. This is another DVD I worry about wearing out. (And as a snowflake connoisseur, I love those falling snowflakes.)

Fairbanks Weather

“Winter is icumin in…”

No, I won’t finish Ezra Pound’s poem, beyond noting that at least we don’t have rain or slush. We do, however, have darkness. And cold. It is warming up, though. We might be up to 20 below  by this afternoon.

Noon from my south window. Unfortunately the camera insisted on focusing on the screen.

The sun will rise this morning at 10:09 am and set at 3:08 this afternoon, for 4 hours 58 minutes of daylight. We’re now losing 5 minutes and 39 seconds a day, and the sun at noon is only 4° above the horizon. I can barely see it out of the south window at noon, and I can probably say goodbye to it until well into January. There were enough ice crystals in the air in town Saturday to produce sundogs, but I think that was just in town. It’s cold enough that cars are putting quite a few ice crystals in the air.

The snow is still settling a little, but we haven’t had much snow accumulation for the last two weeks – just an occasional trace or at most a tenth of an inch a day. While there’s not much chance of snow, the Weather Service is forecasting a Chinook wind for midweek, with temperatures on the hilltops possibly close to freezing.

Why is a Chinook so warm? Moist air climbing a mountain range – in this case the south side of the Alaska Range – cools, and moisture condenses and falls out as snow. In the process, the latent heat released as the water condenses is transferred to the air. When the air moves down again on the lee side of the range, it warms, and the heat added by the condensing water makes it even warmer than it was on the windward side of the mountain. Here, away from the passes, it tends to ride over the colder air near the ground, so it’s not likely to get above freezing where I live. I certainly hope it doesn’t, because above freezing temperatures this time of year just makes things slippery.

Another snippet from Rescue Operation, continued from last week.

All were fastened to the cable, which ended near a bored-looking woman with a stunner and an odd-looking console.

A stunner.  Tod felt a little better about falling off a horse, but a lot worse about the future.  He glanced again along the line.  The other kids were beginning to stir, and he thought that all were alive.  None of the group that had worked on the landslide — they must have gotten away.

Visit the other Six Sentence Sunday participants.

Your Mileage May Vary


That particular acronym, standing for Your Mileage May Vary, is all too common on the insulin-pumpers’ website.

It applies to those of us with any chronic disease, and one of the main problems with “evidence-based” medicine is that it tends to rely on how the “average patient” reacts. There is no such animal as an “average patient.”

I had first-hand experience of this when a doctor, pre-pump, tried to put me on what he called a sliding scale of insulin, and gave it also to nurses in the local hospital. They insisted on using his scale when I was in the hospital for something else. I looked at the dose of insulin they insisted was necessary when my blood sugar was a little high at bedtime, and said “that’s going to put me into insulin shock.” They insisted on giving me the dose anyway. Luckily insulin shock still woke me up back then, and at 3 am I woke up shocky, hit the call button, and demanded a snack for insulin shock. They insisted on checking my blood sugar first, which only confirmed what I had tried to tell them earlier. I know now that that particular sliding scale, which was probably worked out for the average diabetic of my weight, simply did not work for me. I am very insulin sensitive, and while I absolutely need insulin and will see a very fast and uncontrolled rise of blood sugar without it, I need a very small amount, given my weight.

It isn’t just person-to-person differences, either. It can be time of day, time of month, stress, air bubbles, absorption rate of injected or infused insulin, or just the natural cussedness of the universe. Sometimes it can be how what you eat gets into your bloodstream.

Your blood sugar does not rise the instant you put carbohydrates into your mouth. The food has to be chewed and swallowed, as almost nothing is absorbed directly from the mouth or esophagus. It has to reach the stomach. One of the side affects of diabetes in many people is gastroparesis, which is delayed passage of food through the digestive system. To further confuse the person trying to keep diabetes under control, this delay is highly variable.

As a general rule, food I eat at breakfast time gets into my bloodstream, as glucose, fairly quickly. I’ve taken to eating yogurt for breakfast because most of the carbohydrates are lactose, which absorbs fairly slowly, and because the relatively high protein content also slows absorption. At noon my food absorption is a little slower, and by dinner time it’s slower yet – slow enough I normally spread my insulin out over 4 hours or so.

Changing my eating habits, as I did two days ago for Thanksgiving dinner, can cause an unexpected change in how fast the dinner actually gets into my bloodstream as glucose.

I didn’t have a huge dinner, or an unbalanced one, but I had more than normal, and upped my pre-meal insulin to compensate. I kept to a four-hour dual bolus, but by the time we went to another house for dessert, my blood sugar was running low. We had pie for dessert. I had a small piece, and I was still low, but I did take more insulin to balance the pie.

By the time I got home I was well into insulin shock, with a blood sugar below 50, and over the next two hours I ate enough to bring it up to normal by bedtime.

Four hours later my blood sugar was over 300.

I’m pretty sure that what happened was that the relatively large dinner caused more than the usual delay between swallowing food and the actual rise in blood sugar. As a result the amount of insulin I took, which was reasonable for the amount of food I ate, was enough to put me into insulin shock. Later that night the food caught up with the insulin, but by that time I had eaten enough extra to treat the shock earlier that my blood sugar went high.

The only way a doctor can prevent this is by insisting that you eat exactly the same meals at the same times every day. But we’re people. Most of us can’t keep up that kind of regime. And if we don’t accept that rigid a regime, we have to be intelligent enough to treat ourselves, to a certain extent.

I’ll probably do the same thing for Christmas dinner. But I’ll know to spread the insulin out over more than 4 hours.

Day 599

They’re gone!

I kept an eye on Songbird and her relatives for three days. It wasn’t as if I had anything else to do, and it salved my conscience a little over sending her back. This morning the camp was not just empty, but gone!

They don’t have much, of course. A few tanned hides for shelter, fire-hardened spears for killing game, cutting tools of flaked stone, gourds and baskets for carrying food and water …. Today nothing was left of the camp but thorn barriers, and those can be cut anywhere. I searched everywhere, but there was nothing. Far less than was left with Songbird.

Why didn’t I put a mental tag on Songbird, so I could be sure she was all right? All right, that would have been very wrong without her informed consent, and how could I inform her in a way she would understand? But at least I would have known that she was safe, and that the abandonment of the encampment did not mean harm to her.

What can I do? I am no tracker, and in this rain not even Patches can tell what way they have gone.

I returned to the shelter after dark, wet and exhausted. The drumming of the rain on the roof is a constant reminder of the inhospitable weather outside. Where is Songbird sleeping tonight?

This is part of the remote back story of the Confederation where my science fiction is set. Jarn’s Journal to date can be found on my author website.

Cranberry Recipes

The blade to my food processor. That black is supposed to be all one piece.

Disaster struck as I was preparing to start the salad for Thanksgiving dinner — the chopper blade on my food processor is broken. It was fine when I put it away, but now the plastic that holds the blade to the processor is shattered. Guess I’ll have to use the old mini-chopper for the cranberries and chop the rest of the stuff by hand.

Here’s a photojournal of the process of making the salad without a food processor. Turned out the mini-chopper did help with the oranges, too.

Ingredients and tools for the salad. (The paring knife didn't quite make the picture.)

Chopping celery's not that hard--just make a few cuts lengthwise before you start.

Yes, the whole naval orange is cut up. The mini-chopper took it down to small pieces.

Frozen cranberries and nuts help each other in the mini-chopper. It took three rounds, though.

The mini-chopper could not handle the apple wedges, so I had to chop them by hand. Apples were left to last, when I started heating the apple juice and water for the Jello.

What, all those solids for such a little bit of Jello? (I used orange, as I couldn't find lemon.)

The finished salad, ready for the refrigerator.


It’s anything-goes-day as well as Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d share a couple of my favorites. After all, they go well with turkey leftovers, too.

The first is my mother’s recipe for a Jello salad, modified to avoid added sugar and take advantage of a food processor. Note that while the usual Jello salad is Jello with fruit in it, this one is fruit, nuts and vegetables with a little Jello holding it together.

Cranberry-Orange Salad

2 4-serving or 1 8-serving packages of sugar-free lemon Jello
1 12 oz can frozen apple juice concentrate
1 c water
1 seedless orange, washed but unpeeled, cut into chunks
2 cups celery, cleaned and cut into pieces
2 washed apples (Granny Smith preferred), cores removed and cut in chunks
3 cups raw cranberries, washed and (preferably) frozen This is one 12 oz bag.
1 cup walnuts

Heat the water and apple juice concentrate together to boiling, and dissolve Jello. Meanwhile, use the food processor to chop (coarsely) the remaining ingredients. (It may take several batches.) Place the chopped ingredients in a 9” x 13” pan, level them, and pour the dissolved Jello over them. Mix and level to get all of the chopped ingredients below the liquid, and chill until set.

Makes 24 servings of 82 Calories each. For each 68-gram serving:
13 g carbohydrate
1 g protein
3 g fat (mostly from the nuts.)

Don’t laugh at the gram measurement – when I eat this I weigh the portion, and I use the carbohydrate and and half the protein to figure my insulin dosage. The recipe may have no added sugar, but with all the fruits and the apple juice concentrate, it’s far from sugar-free.

A half recipe would probably fit nicely into an 8” x 8” pan; I’ve just never tried it that way as this is my regular contribution to potlucks and Thanksgiving dinners.

The second recipe isn’t mine and is probably quite familiar to NPR listeners, but here is the link to Mama Stamberg’s cranberry relish. It may sound strange and look like Pepto-Bismol, but it’s yummy. I freeze it in an ice cube tray.

Happy Thanksgiving!

All of the last week’s quotes are from the same non-fiction book, Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy. Rather than my usual “who said it under what circumstances” I’m just going to give extended quotes this week, with the part tweeted in italics.

“Conventional wisdom long held that the megafauna fell victim to a warming climate at the end of the last glacial peak of the Ice Age. According to this theory, rising temperatures led to changes in vegetation, altering habitat in ways that proved fatal to many large herbivores and in turn to the dire wolves, American lions, and saber-toothed cats that had preyed on them. Today many scientists believe ancient people were responsible for the extinctions, an idea raised with dramatic flair by paleoecologist Paul Martin.

“From the beginning, people have seen what they wanted to see in the bones of America’s extinct monsters. The devout seventeenth-century colonists who found the first pair of mastodon molars were convinced that they had discovered the remains of a human giant, proof that the David and Goliath story was true.”

Healthy populations of giant herbivores shape the landscapes that sustain them. But the mastodon at the close of the Pleistocene was so rare it was environmentally insignificant.”

Seeds that drop to earth beneath the parent’s canopy are doomed: easy targets for predators such as rodents and insects that swarm around fruiting trees. The few that survive to sprout will be shaded to death by the tree that produced them.”

The clash between elephants and people is as old as our species. To hold on in the long run, elephants need that precious commodity, land.

“Cats, large or small, are the ultimate carnivores: they have lost most of their cheek teeth, except for two or three carnassials that slice against each other, ripping meat away from tendon and bone. A cat’s mouth was made to eat meat and little else.”

“Whoever back at headquarters had come up with the color-coding scheme should try to live with it.” Sue Ann Bowling, Tourist Trap. Penny’s thoughts. The color coding was applied both to the clothing of clients and to the collars, harnesses, and dogsleds – but the two sets of coding caused some major color clashes.

I bought Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy after seeing a review on a science blog. It is indeed an excellent book, though at times it seems that it covers almost too many topics. All, however, have one thread in common: our present ecosystems were to some extent broken by the extinction of large mammals, which can have a profound impact on their environments. Who expected, for instance, that the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone would have a positive impact on songbirds and possibly, if the wolves spread far enough, on antelope?

The book attracted me primarily because of the debate on whether the Pleistocene megafauna (mammoth, mastodon, saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, and ground sloths, among others) died out because of climate change or because of overkill by humans, as proposed by Paul Martin. I have Martin’s book, and have been more than half convinced by his arguments. Certainly it has seemed unlikely to me that the warming at the end of the Pleistocene was enough in itself to trigger the extinction of a large number of animals who had survived similar transitions from glacial to interglacial repeatedly in the past. In fact, if we ignore the last fifty years, all the evidence is that it was warmer than the Recent during at least some past interglacials. But Martin very definitely writes as an advocate for his theory, glossing over the problems.

Sharon Levy has written a more balanced book, and one that tends to agree more with my own conclusions. Yes, the changes in climate at the close of the last ice age undoubtedly stressed the Pleistocene megafauna. But the major difference between the last warming and the ones that had happened before was that human beings had emerged as a major predator, and one against whom the large herbivores had no natural defenses. As she points out, the Clovis people need not have killed many mammoths or ground sloths. But human predation, unlike predation by most animals, tends to target healthy animals, often pregnant females. This disrupts the natural social groupings of herbivores, already under stress from climate and habitat change. As the herbivores are killed off, the large carnivores may well die off from starvation. Some of the environmental effects brought about by humans, such as those caused by fire, may also be partly to blame.

The idea of re-wilding, of introducing either the original species (as wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone) or a surrogate is even more controversial – but the controversies are even more political than the reintroduction of the wolf. Predators are an important part of ecosystems – but people simply do not want to live with animals capable of killing large prey. Neither do they want large herbivores, such as camels or elephants, to compete with domesticated animals for food. The mustang problem is an example of both.

A less well-known problem is certain aspects of the protection of endangered species. In some cases animals or plants stressed by the ongoing changes in climate need to be relocated closer to the poles or to higher elevations – but this is often prohibited by the very laws meant to protect them.

I’m fond of the large megafauna, and would love to see a mammoth in person. In fact the terraformed landscape of Falaron in my own novel Tourist Trap, based on ice-age North America, reflects that wishful thinking. But I have to confess I’d have my doubts about living with the creatures of the Ice Age, or with introduced African lions.

Winter may not be here for another month by the calendar, but it certainly feels like it’s present. Fairbanks has already had an official temperature below 40 below, and I’m sure it’s been much colder where I live. Remember that new indoor-outdoor thermometer? It starts reading LL at temperatures below 40 below, and except for a few hours around noon that’s all it’s read lately. Last night at bedtime it had already switched from forty below to LL, and this morning’s news said we’d set new low temperature records for six days straight. That’s in Fairbanks; North Pole is generally colder.

View from a south window. Note that the time is very close to solar noon.

We’re still losing around 6 minutes a day of daylight but the loss has started to slow down, with the loss each day decreasing by 4 seconds. Today the sun rose at 9:46 in the morning, and it will set at 3:26 this afternoon for 5 hours and 39 minutes of daylight. At its highest the sun is only a little more than ten times its diameter above the horizon, and it’s barely visible through the trees south of my house. Driving is only possible for me around noon, and driving toward the sun makes it very difficult to see where I’m going. Especially since the condensed water in the auto exhaust makes dense contrails behind each vehicle.

It’s supposed to be wonderful weather for stargazing and aurora watching, but I have to confess I haven’t had the nerve to brave the cold. I did manage to get to our writing group’s reading at Barnes and Noble Saturday night, thanks to a fellow author. I’m afraid most of the listeners were part of the group.

It is, however, forecast to begin clouding over a bit, which will warm things up. Clouds here act as a blanket in the winter. Maybe we’ll even get some more snow. Nothing has melted, but the snowpack has settled to around 8”, which is not enough to insulate the ground and keep buried pipes from freezing..