September 15

Making Mushrooms [Cooking]

So my partner has been on a mushroom kick lately. I think it started when she happened upon this YouTube channel. I was also pulled in after watching a few of their videos. I’ve always enjoyed mushrooms, incorporate them into a few of my dishes, but I really don’t know much about them.

White button, portobello, shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle. That’s the extent of my mushroom knowledge.

It blew my mind to learn just how many varieties there are, and that’s just the ones that are safe to eat. And the nutrition. That was another unexpected bit of information. I highly recommend the YouTube channel I linked above. After watching a few, I think you’ll have a better appreciation of our fungi friends.

Sidenote here: About ten, maybe fifteen years ago, I picked up a bed-full of mushroom compost in the back of my old pickup truck. A small town about twenty minutes east of here has a lot of mushroom farms, and occasionally they sell off the spent compost the mushrooms grow in. While it’s done as a growing medium, it makes for amazing lawn and garden fertilizer. White mushrooms in my yard

I scattered it across my backyard and all the plants and grass loved it. However, I now have a lot of mushrooms popping up here and there. I don’t know enough about them to dare harvesting, but they’re pretty to look at and photograph.

But I digress – The point of this post is to note that I purchased a mushroom kit from North Spore. I figured, if I’m going to try my hand at mushroom farming, I should start with something simple. The kit is for Blue Oyster Mushrooms, which sound both tasty and pretty. Mushroom grow kit box.

I started the kit the other night and it can take up to two weeks to sprout, so I’ll update when that happens. Of course, it’s trial and error and when it comes to growing things, there’s always the chance it doesn’t work out. I’m keeping my fingers crossed this works. I like oyster mushrooms.

Now I need to find recipes so I’m ready to cook when they’re ready to harvest!

RB

September 14

Bradbury Challenge – Update 2.1

Fueled by a bit of inspiration and a couple shot of tequila, I finished my latest draft. That’s the second one I’ve completed in the past four weeks. And yes, if feels good. Apparently, I was much closer to the finish line than I thought in my last update. First page of my short story, Misfits.

I’m also still working my way through Leaves of Grass and a collection of horror/weird fiction short stories I stumbled across online. Reading a little of both each day is an odd juxtaposition. On one page beautiful verse honoring the early U.S, the potential of a young, wild country, and on the other page are zombies. No wonder I’ve been having weirder dreams lately.

The latest draft turned out well. I’m happy with it. It ended sort of like how I originally envisioned it, but as always, the story led the way and veered off the path a bit. It worked out, tough. Now it gets filed away for a few weeks until I can look at it with fresh eyes.

One other thing, I want to share one of the poems I read the other day. It’s one of my favorites of Whitman’s, a sort of challenge to future poets (writers). Seems appropriate at the moment.

Poets to Come
Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than
before known,
Arouse! for you must justify me.

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the
darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.

Hope this inspires you, as well.

RB

September 10

Living in a Bubble [Mental Health]

Depending on where you live in the world, COVID may or may not be a pressing issue. What I mean is that some areas are handling the virus with common sense. The majority of the population in these places has been vaccinated, people are wearing masks in public, adhering to social distancing, and the numbers of infected remain low.

Then there’s here, where I live. Things are frightening. Two days ago I read that one of our two local hospitals has started bringing in refrigerated trucks to hold the deceased because the morgue is full. And they’ve also canceled all non-emergency procedures. And they’re running out of beds and staff, who are quitting due to the overwhelming number of cases.

woman inside a bubbleBecause of this, I’ve been living in a bubble. I’ve been vaccinated, but I know that I can still carry and transmit the virus. I don’t want to have to live with the guilt of knowing I got someone else sick, especially if it kills them. Plus, I know that I can still get sick from COVID. Not as badly as the unvaccinated, but I don’t want to go through that, even a mild case.

Living in this bubble has been interesting. Luckily, I work from home, so I don’t have much reason to leave the house, except for grocery shopping and taking my mutts to the vet every so often. I’m comfortable with that. I have stacks of books to read, stories to write, games to play. I don’t have to worry about getting dressed up, I only wear shoes maybe once a week, and I get to spend a lot of time playing with my dogs.

Of course, this also means a lack of human interaction. I have Zoom video meetings a few times a day with coworkers, which is okay, but it’s not quite the same as a face-to-face discussion. And I have five minutes to talk to the cashier at the grocery store. And, well, that’s about it.

Now, keep in mind that I’m not what you’d consider a social butterfly. I enjoy small get-togethers, good conversation, adult beverages, but I’m not one to necessarily seek it out.

After a year and a half of distancing, it’s interesting to note that I miss those small gatherings. It’s the conversation, mostly, hearing about other people’s interesting adventures and excursions. Hearing them describe things, conversations they’ve had, things they’ve overheard. Basically, hearing other people tell their stories.

There’s something about the oral tradition of storytelling. At parties, dinners, backyard cookouts, people relay their personal short stories, their creative non-fictions. Humans have been doing this for millennia. The main difference being that now we stand around a gas grill rather than squat around a campfire.Photo of campfire at night

Living in a bubble removes my exposure to that continuing tradition. It’s unfortunate, but necessary at the moment. Luckily, I still have my partner sharing her stories with me, coworkers who involve me in side conversations on a video call once a meeting ends, and there are podcasts. So many podcasts.

That all helps to fill the void. But yet, I look forward to when things get back to some semblance of normalcy. I’ll enjoy hearing voices first-hand, picking up on the nuances of body language, sharing laughs and gasps, immersing myself in those interesting stories.

Stay safe.

RB

September 9

Bradbury Challenge – Update 2 [Writing]

So far, so good.

I’ve read another book, Packing for Mars, and been working my way through Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. The latter is for my ‘poem a day’. I’ve read Leaves of Grass many, many times over the years. It’s one of the greatest poetry collections, so raw and pure, and I find it inspiring. A perfect accompaniment to this challenge.

The story is also coming along. I’m just over halfway through the first draft. I estimate the ‘halfway’, though. The story is leading me along and I really only have a rough idea of where I hope it will take me. It feels like it’s getting there, like I’ve gotten to the point where things are beginning to come together for a confrontation, a revelation, then a resolution.

I’ve been enjoying the routine and I feel like it’s making a positive difference in my creativity. I feel more inspired to write, I’ve had more ideas popping into my head, and I’m even seeing the world around me a bit differently. What I mean is, I’m not seeing it in a two-dimensional, black-and-white way. I’m seeing more nuance, color variations, more beauty.

For example, there’s a butterfly bush in the front yard. I don’t know what kind it is, but it produces these tiny orange flowers and small black berries. Over the past couple of weeks, the bush has been attracting a wide variety of butterflies. Black and yellow, bright yellow, black and blue, Monarchs, and some too small to identify from my seat in the living room.

Now they’ve been out there all summer, the bush and the butterflies, but it’s only recently that they’ve been catching my attention. I’ll see the fluttering wings out of the corner of my eye, and I stop what I’m doing – reading, watching television, sketching – and spend the next twenty or thirty minutes just sitting and watching these little guys (and girls, I’m sure) dancing among the flowers.

I think this is due to a change in perspective, which in turn is the result of the Bradbury Challenge. Pushing myself to be more creative is changing the way I see the world around me. In a positive way, of course. I think that’s amazing. Ray Bradbury

I’ll have my second short story draft completed in a few more days (barring too much distraction from the butterflies), and then it’s on to the next. I’m still not sure how far I’m going to take this before I stop to work on the completed drafts. Or maybe I’ll work the editing process into the challenge.

So many possibilities.

RB

September 7

Review – Packing for Mars [Books]

Mary Roach enjoys being a writer. It comes across in every one of her books. It’s not surprising since she gets to investigate, research, and even get hands-on with her subject matter. Packing for Mars is no exception. Of course, she gets to hang out at NASA and spend the day with astronauts. What’s not to love about it?

As far as non-fiction is concerned, this is a fun read. Roach throws herself into her research, speaking with astronauts, NASA administrators, researchers, and inventors. Her focus isn’t just on the parts of the space program we read about. She also delves into some of the less-known but just as interesting aspects.

There’s a chapter on food and eating in zero-gravity. Waste disposal, both in the early days and with modern technology. And yes, there’s even a chapter on sex in space. I’m still not certain if it sounds sexy or incredibly awkward. In zero-g, a body in motion stays in motion, if you catch my meaning.

It’s not a great book, however. While I enjoy Roach’s writing style and her wit, I felt like she spent too much time focusing on the history of the space program at NASA. It was interesting, but for example, she spends more than a chapter writing about the first two chimps the went into space. It didn’t really feel like it needed this much attention.

The book is subtitled, “The Curious Science of Life in the Void”, and she does touch upon this, but I feel the book looked back far more than it looked forward. If that makes sense. I would have preferred to have read more about where we are going, rather than where we’ve been. I understand laying a foundation, giving readers some context and history, but that seemed to be her focus.

I’m a huge fan of NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and all the different companies, institutes, and universities that contribute to the exploration of space. I think it’s important to explore and research everything we can out there. As Roach notes in her book, yes, the money could arguably be better spent on terrestrial issues – housing, education, medicine – but, I would argue, we don’t know what we might find out there that could benefit everyone down here.

Roach does note many things that we currently have thanks to the space program. Everything from microwave ovens to smartphones, medical procedures, cybernetics, computer components, none of which would be here if we hadn’t gone out there.

Packing for Mars is a fun read. I imagine I’d be just as giddy and excited as Roach seems to be when she rides in the ‘Vomit Comet‘, or when she hangs out with both astronauts and cosmonauts. Who wouldn’t be? Trajectory for zero gravity maneuver

If you aren’t familiar with the space program and all the various aspects of it, then you’ll find this book an interesting read. It shies away from the highly technical stuff, no rocket science needed. Instead, it’s mostly about the people – plus a few chimps and dogs – that helped to advance our knowledge.

If nothing else, you’ll come away from this book with a deeper appreciation of what astronauts go through, the highs and lows, and how much work goes into the simplest process to ensure safety. Think of this as a science book for the non-scientist.

RB

September 3

Review – The Demon-Haunted World [Books]

There are good books and there are great books. In the realm of non-fiction, I’d place Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, to be in the latter category.The Demon-Haunted World book cover

Sagan, without argument, was one of our great minds. If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, you knew who he was. His television program, Cosmos, was one of the most-watched shows ever. And the thing I always liked about him was that he always came across as a down-to-earth person. Just one who was smarter than everyone else in the room.

The Demon-Haunted World was published in 1995, which was a transitional period in the world of technology and science. The internet was becoming a big deal, Windows 95 was released, the first Sony PlayStation went on sale, the Galileo Probe entered Jupiter’s atmosphere, and the existence of a Top Quark was announced by the scientific community. 

I think much of this got Sagan thinking about progress and how it can have both good and bad affects on society. What he ended up doing was writing (along with co-author and life partner Ayn Druyan) a eerily accurate forecast of where we are today.

Photo of Carl SaganSagan, obviously, was a proponent of science. As an astrophysicist, he was able to see things from a wider perspective than the average person, and coupled with his joy of knowledge and learning, he did his best to get people interested in science and its place in our lives.

I think The Demon-Haunted World does a good job of extolling the importance of science education in schools, as well as for the general public. But at the same time, it also serves as a warning about anti-science mentalities and how a lack of basic scientific knowledge can be dangerous and insidious. 

Sadly, many of the things he predicted that could happen if science education were to be de-emphasized have come to pass. Roughly one-third of the US population rejects science. We can see it in with how easily people are swayed by unsupported rumors and theories, who reject scientific research in exchange for ‘gut instinct’ and social-media research.

I found myself repeatedly shaking my head while reading this book as I realized how right Sagan was, and how disappointed he’d be if he were alive today.

If nothing else, this book demonstrates the importance of science in our lives, the importance of science education, and the importance of critical thinking skills. These things have taken a back seat in school curriculums, and unfortunately, society is suffering because of it. 

The Demon-Haunted World is a well-written, thoughtful, and thought-provoking book. It’s a shame that the people who would benefit the most from it aren’t likely to read it.

Regardless, I recommend it for anyone with an interest in science, psychology, sociology, and critical thinking. I learned a lot from reading it. Even decades after his death, Sagan can still teach us something important. 

RB