23 October 2010

Tomato hangover...

Last year I planted three cherry tomato plants and we ended up eating cherry tomatoes all fall and winter and spring until we had cherry tomatoes coming out of our ears. My wife Gina finally ripped them out because they were getting quite scraggly looking and she was tired of them. I think that cherry tomatoes might be one of the most prolific plants on Earth. I have read that after a nuclear war the only animal life that might survive would be the cockroaches, scorpions, mice, rats, horseflies, yellow jackets, and mosquitoes. On the plant side I think it would probably be crabgrass, thistles, dandelions, and cherry tomatoes. All you need to do is plant cherry tomatoes once and they will come up year after year from the seeds of fallen tomatoes.

One day I was cleaning out the vegetable bin of our refrigerator and I came across a dried up cherry tomato. I figured "What the heck!" and I took out the seeds and sprouted them and planted them in some 1-1/2 and 2 liter plastic Coke bottles. I then hung them on the garden wall from whatever was handy. I even planted one upside down to see what would happen. You guessed it! It wasn't long before we had cherry tomatoes again. The plant that I planted upside down with the roots above and the green part hanging down doesn't seem to mind at all as you can see in the photos below. About the only problem is the fact that I need to water them every day or they begin to wilt. That's why the 2 liter bottles work better than the 1-1/2. I also give them a shot of Miracle Grow once in awhile. I poked some holes with a hot wire about three inches from the bottom of the bottles for drainage but perhaps that isn't necessary. I wrapped a bit of paper towel around the tomato stem in the neck of the upside down bottle to keep the dirt in until the roots took over.

As you can see in the pictures I wrapped some aluminum foil around the bottles to keep the light away from the roots and perhaps keep them cool but I don't know if that is necessary. It is just the "mad scientist" in me that made me do that. I might even try growing other things in the sky...like pumpkins maybe. You better keep your eyes on the horizon!

Click on images to enlarge.

18 October 2010

Anticipatory celebration elation...

There is a Mexican Spanish phrase that I like to use and today it seems more appropriate than ever because it is both literal as well as figurative. The phrase is "Ya está la calabaza". The literal translation is "The pumpkin is already in place" and the the figurative meaning is "Everything is all set", or "It's ready to go", or as George W. Bush might say, "Mission Accomplished".

Over the weekend I bought several jack-o-lanterns made from "barro" (clay or terracotta) and gave them to my wife, Gina, as a surprise. Judging from the amount of hugs and kisses that I received in return it was a good move. You can see "calabazas" in the photo below. One thing that I noted is the difference that exists between Mexican Halloween Pumpkins and Gringo Halloween Pumpkins. In Mexico all of the jack-o-lanterns and ghosts and goblins and monsters, etc., are very happy. This is in contrast to the menacing grimace that you see on many of the Halloween creatures in the U.S.

When I first came to Mexico there was no sign of Halloween but little by little thanks to Walmart and the Chinese, the spirit of Halloween crept over the land. Many older people are still afraid that Halloween will supplant "El Día de Los Muertos" (The Day of the Dead) but I don't think that will happen. The Mexican people are very clever and they have found a way to adapt Halloween to their own culture and by doing so I think they have enhanced their traditional activities and made a nice holiday even longer and better, especially for kids. The kids just love Halloween. I know because I did when I was a kid, so why not?

So, are we really all set for Halloween? Not quite, but we will be by the time our bell rings and the children shout...

¡Queremos Halloween!

13 October 2010

Oh, Lordy!

About one billion people in the world watched the Chilean miners being rescued today and we all rejoiced in the triumph of the human spirit. Thank God that this story had a happy ending. It is a reminder, however, that we never know what will happen when a loved one walks out the door and and there is always a chance that we will never see them alive again on this Earth. For this reason my wife Gina and I bless each other when we part each morning to go to our respective jobs or whenever we separate. We make the sign of the cross over each other and she usually says:

Yo te bendigo en el Nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo.
Que vayas y regreses con bien.
Que San Pedro te cubra con su manto.
Que te proteja de toda clase de peligros.
Angel de tu guarda, dulce compañía, no lo desampares ni de noche ni de día.

I bless you in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
That you go and come back safely.
That San Pedro that will cover you with his cloak.
To protect you from all harm.
Guardian Angel of yours, sweet companion, do not forsake him night or day.

Then I pray over her but usually I just "wing it" and use my imagination because I imagine that God gets tired of hearing the same old thing all the time. After that we kiss and then we part but we never part if we are angry with each other. It is very comforting to know that if something happens, the last memory that we will have of one another is a benediction, a prayer, and a sweet kiss.

Speaking of using my imagination...about eight years ago I was visiting my elderly parents at their home in Arlington Heights, Illinois when both of them were still alive and well. They were in the habit of eating their main meal about two o'clock in the afternoon and Ma always set a nice table in the dining room. On this particular occasion my mother asked me to say grace and we all bowed our heads and...then my mind went blank! After about a half a minute my father said, "Well?" and I started clearing my throat to buy some time. Just then the refrain from the old song about the preacher and the bear wafted through my head so I ran with it. With great reverence and humility I prayed:

Oh, Lord, you delivered Daniel from the lion's den,
You delivered Jonah from the belly of the whale, and then,
The Hebrew children from the fiery blast so the good book does declare,
Oh Lord, for goodness sake, please nourish us with this, thy bounty.
A truly wonderful fare.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen!

My mother said, "My, but that prayer was quite different. It was very poetic though. Where did you learn it?".

I said, "I don't know Ma, I think it was an inspired prayer. Perhaps I was filled with the Holy Spirit and He inspired me".

My father mumbled, "Oh yeah? I think that maybe you are full of something else".

My mother said, "What was that George?".

Dad said, "Nothing Mel. I was just asking Bob if he wanted something else" and she said, "Oh yes, help yourself Bob, there is plenty of everything".

Out of the corner of my eye I could see my Dad staring at me so I focused on my mother. "Hey Ma!", I said, "So what do you think about the Cubs? Are they going to win the pennant?".

I really miss my parents and I look forward to seeing them again. I think that my Dad will have forgotten this particular incident and I am sure that the Lord has a sense of humor.

I HOPE !!!

10 October 2010

Survival of the fattest...

I once read that the average American can miss only nine meals before resorting to acts of desperation. I don't know who came up with that statistic but it is reasonable to assume that after a disaster people might get pretty antsy after eating the last can of cranberry sauce or jar of anchovies from their pantry. It also probably depends upon whether you are skinny or fat. Like a buffalo or a camel I could probably live off my "hump" and my "rump" for quite awhile. However, I have decided that in the light of so many recent disasters around the world it might be prudent to gather up a few things and store them in a footlocker "por si las moscas" as they say here in Mexico which means "just in case". I also feel that it must be something that you can store away and pretty much forget about without worrying too much about the "fecha de caducidad" or "expiration date".

I came up with three canned good items that will last almost indefinitely in storage but for at least three years without worry that they might go bad or lose their flavor. The first is sweetened condensed milk. Here in Mexico the popular brand is "La Lechera" but in the U.S. and Canada there are a number of popular brands. It was developed by Gail Borden in 1854 and one of the first uses was for portable rations for the Union Army during the Civil War. A typical 14 oz (300 ml) can contains 1,300 calories ), 1 oz (30 g) each of protein and fat, and more than 7 oz (200 g) of carbohydrate.

The second item is good old Spam which was developed in 1937 by Hormel Foods and became the basis for some of the canned "C" rations and "K" rations in World War II. Spam is typically sold in cans with a net weight of 340 grams (12 ounces). A 100 gram (3.5 ounce) serving of original Spam provides 310 Calories, 13 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbohydrates, 27 grams of total fat, including 10 grams of saturated fat. The processing techniques utilized by Hormel Foods makes the canned product safe for use indefinitely if the product seal remains intact, unbroken and securely attached to a can that has been well maintained. Okay, so health food it ain't but it will keep you going. Just ask an old soldier. My father was a tank commander in the Normandy Invasion and he told me that his favorite "K" ration was Spam with chunks of carrots and apples.

The third item is canned sardines. A 4 oz. can of sardines packed in oil has about 210 calories consisting of 23 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat, and 1 gram of saturated fat. Canned tuna packed in oil is another good item and can have a shelf life of up to ten years. The same for canned chicken. Personally, I think that three years is a good shelf life for all of these items and then you should "borrar y cuenta nueva" or "erase and start over".

Certainly there are more foods that could lend themselves to prudence aforethought but I picked these because you don't need to cook them or refrigerate them. If you include foods that you need to cook you better include an axe so that you can bust up your furniture for fuel. A lot of your planning depends upon whether you want a three day emergency supply or a contingency plan that will cover several weeks. I wouldn't go overboard but like they say here "Mejor prevenir que lamentar" or "It's better to prepare than be sorry". FEMA has a guide that may be helpful to those who are interested, especially families with small children. You can access it and save it in .pdf format by clicking here.

Buen Provecho (Bon Appétit)

05 October 2010

Oh happy days!

Yesterday I posted the Tommy Douglas "Mouseland" speech from 1944 and today I am posting his "Cream Separator" speech. I love this guy and I know why many Canadians loved this guy. He tells a good story and he tells it in such an affable way that even if you don't agree with him you still end up smiling. The days of Tommy Douglas are gone and they probably won't becoming back again but I just wish that the politicians of today would let us have a little fun like Tommy did. Here is "The Cream Separator" by Tommy C. Douglas:

So, you know I used to visit farm homes in the early days. Of course everybody was always busy. Feeding pigs, chickens, pitching hay and oat sheaves. Even the youngsters were busy at important jobs. Now, you know, they couldn’t trust a city boy with anything important, something skilled, like milking a cow! I was given the one job anyone could do...turning the handle on the cream separator. They’d pour the milk in, I’d turn the handle, and out would come cream from the cream spout and skim milk from the other. One day it penetrated my thick Scottish skull (that can take time) that this was how our economy worked!

We’ve got the producers: the farmers, the fishermen, the loggers, the auto-workers, they produce and pour in the “milk” and then there are the service workers, the office workers, the nurses, and the clerks. They turn the handle. But then I thought, wait a minute, there’s someone missing here in this economy. What about the guy who owns the cream separator? Where is he? Why, of course! He’s the little fellow sitting on his stool, very contented, big smile on his face, his mouth wide open drinking all the cream from the cream spout! And everyone else, well, they take turns on the skim milk spout. Now nobody likes skim milk! It tastes awful, right?

So they were angry. But were they angry at the little fellow, no. They’d blame each other for the missing cream; “If only those greedy union members/farmers/nurses didn’t ask for such high wages, we’d have more cream!” But of course, they were wrong. There was nothing wrong with the producers or the service workers. The problem was the darn machine! It was designed to give the awful “blue” milk to the workers and the cream to the corporate elite. But sometimes it produced even more cream than the happy little fellow could digest. The darned machine would produce a surplus! So the fat little fellow would get indigestion from being such a pig. Then he’d shout, “Stop! We have a recession. You’re all laid off.” But, then after a while, he’d burp, pat his ample stomach, the cream had been digested and he’d say, “Okay, boys. Happy days are here again. Start the machine!”

Now what we have been trying to tell Canadians for a long time is that the time has come. The time has come, my friends, for the people to get their hands on, to get control of the regulator of that machine...to get the machine to produce homogenized milk with cream in it so that there is a little cream for everybody in this land!”

04 October 2010

We're going to Mouseland

It just so happened that the day after I wrote a blog post about controlling mice I saw an item on Cory Doctorow's blog about the famous "Mouseland" speech of the beloved Canadian politician Tommy Douglas who is considered the "Father of Canadian Health Care". He is so admired in Canada that in a poll taken by the Canadian Broadcasting System in 2004 he was named "The Greatest Canadian of All Time". The Mouseland story was told by Tommy Douglas in 1944 but it is so apropos of the coming November elections in the United States that I want to share it with you. Tommy used this story many times to show in a humorous way how voters fail to recognize that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are truly interested in what matters to ordinary citizens, yet people continue to vote for them.

Mouseland – A Political fable told by Tommy Douglas

Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died. And they lived much the same as you and I do.

They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election. They used to walk to the polls and cast their ballots. Some of them even got a ride to the polls. And got a ride for the next four years afterward too. Just like you and me. And every time on election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of big, fat, black cats.

Now if you think it strange that mice should elect a government made up of cats, you just look at the history of Canada for last 90 years and maybe you'll see that they weren't any stupider than we are.

Now I'm not saying anything against the cats. They were nice fellows. They conducted their government with dignity. They passed good laws--that is, laws that were good for cats. But the laws that were good for cats weren't very good for mice. One of the laws said that mouse holes had to be big enough so a cat could get his paw in. Another law said that mice could only travel at certain speeds...so that a cat could get his breakfast without too much effort.

All the laws were good laws...for cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And life was getting harder and harder. And when the mice couldn't put up with it any more, they decided something had to be done about it. So they went en mass to the polls. They voted the black cats out. They put in the white cats.

Now the white cats had put up a terrific campaign. They said: "All that Mouseland needs is more vision." They said: "The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouse holes we got. If you put us in we'll establish square mouse holes." And they did. And the square mouse holes were twice as big as the round mouse holes, and now the cat could get both his paws in. And life was tougher than ever.

And when they couldn't take that anymore, they voted the white cats out and put the black ones in again. Then they went back to the white cats. Then to the black cats. They even tried half black cats and half white cats. And they called that coalition. They even got one government made up of cats with spots on them: they were cats that tried to make a noise like a mouse but ate like a cat.

You see, my friends, the trouble wasn't with the color of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.

Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, "Look fellows, why do we keep on electing a government made up of cats? Why don't we elect a government made up of mice?" "Oh," they said, "he's a Bolshevik. Lock him up!" So they put him in jail.

But I want to remind you: that you can lock up a mouse or a man but you can't lock up an idea.

"I've no patience with people who want to sit back and talk about a blueprint for society and do nothing about it." (Tommy Douglas)

03 October 2010

Here Mickey, Mickey, Mickey...

Somewhere along our evolutionary journey the fates of humans and mice became intertwined just like it came to pass with dogs and cats. The common house mouse (Mus musculus) needs humans to survive even though humans could do very nicely without the destructive little buggers, notwithstanding their"cuteness". I have a particular interest in mice because my wife Gina is deathly afraid of them and has been since she was a little child. In fact, when she even thinks there is a mouse around she shrieks and jumps up onto a chair and then it costs me a lot of effort to coax her back down. In fact, when there actually are signs of a mouse in the house there is truly hell to pay.

October is the month when one must really be on the lookout for mice. In the summertime, "when the living is easy", the mice generally prefer to be outdoors. However, when the nights start getting colder in October they start looking for winter quarters. Because their metabolism rate is high and their fur is short they need the warmth of a shelter and and the provisions of a well stocked larder in order to bear their young. They have learned over the millennia that where there are humans there is warmth and food. They also sense that a close proximity to humans is dangerous but their need to procreate mitigates their fear. Mice in the wild only live for about a year so if they are to survive as a species they must continually reproduce.

Mice need only a very small opening in order to squeeze into your house but most of the time they just come in through an open door when you aren't looking. All it takes is for an outside door to be left open and unattended even for a few seconds at dusk or early dawn on a cool day and you have a mouse in the house. Once they get in they can be hard to deal with. They like to chew little holes in a pantry or closet wall where you can't get at them and their nests will be protected. When this happens the best way to deal with it is to seal them in. I learned this from my "suegros" (in-laws). The first time we had a mouse and discovered a hole in the pantry wall Gina called her parents who, of necessity and through close association with Gina, became excellent "mousers". They arrived shortly after her cry for help with all their gear and they went right at it. First they rammed some newspaper in the hole with a broomstick to distract the mouse. On top of they they rammed in some broken bits of "barro" (clay pottery). After that they mixed together some "cemento" (Portland cement) and some "yeso" (plaster of Paris) in a 50:50 ratio and stirred in some water. With this mixture they finished filling the hole. The mixture of the two materials with water is a quick setting filler and it is still hard enough to keep the mice from easily gnawing their way back out.

Yes you can trap them too if you want and there are all kinds of traps and yada, yada, yada. In my experience though, traps are retroactive and it is always better to be proactive. A mouse can't run into your house if there are no mice around the outside your house. That is why it is important to keep the lawn short and remove any dead leaves or twigs or trash of any kind that might provide a shelter within fifty feet of your home. I have had much success using a "cebo" (SAY-boh). The word "cebo" means bait and for mice and rats it means a poison bait. These baits are only mildly harmful to humans but they cause rodents to bleed to death internally. Nevertheless one must be very careful to safeguard children and pets. I only place the baits where they can't be seen or accessed by life forms other than the intended target such as under the water pump cover or in a corner behind some big and heavy "macetas" (mah-SAY-tahs) or "flower pots". Another method that I like you can see in the pictures below.

I found that I can buy four inch diameter black plastic sewer pipe fittings in the form of a "Y" with one leg of the "Y" reduced to two inches. I can also buy black plastic caps that "snap" into the four inch openings of the "Y" leaving me with a closed chamber that has a two inch diameter entrance. Into this chamber I place my "cebo" and then bury the chamber part way into the ground or place it along an exterior wall near a door opening. The "Y" costs 30 pesos and the end caps 12 pesos each. The "cebo" comes in a jar in cubes that are about 3/4 inch by 1 inch. It cost about 125 pesos for a year's supply. It is hard and dry and odor free. The mice love it because it contains barley, one of their favorite foods. I add a fresh piece about every two weeks and about every three months I clean out the chamber and start over. No fuss, no muss, and no "Mus musculus".

Now, some people might feel that poisoning these poor creatures is inhumane. I don' because it's either me or them. That reminds me of a little mouse story that I heard years ago:

One day a Dominican nun saw little Johnny cupping something in his hands during recess at school. She said, "What do you have there Johnny?" and Johnny said, "I have a little mouse Sister". The nun said, "Well Johnny, what are you going to do with that little mouse?". Johnny said, "I haven't decided yet. Maybe I will whack him with a stick or maybe I will throw him in that mud puddle over there". The nun's eyes opened very wide and and her face got red and she said "JOHNNY!, Whatever you do to that poor little mouse I am going to do the same thing to you. Now what do you have to say?". Johnny furrowed his brow and thought for a second and then he smiled. He held his cupped hands up close to his lips and he purred:

"Little mouse, little mouse, this is your lucky day, because today I'm gonna kiss your butt".

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.