Apples, apples everywhere

At the beginning of the month we trekked out to our beloved Mt. View Orchards to pick apples. We go every year, and with the addition of my brother-in-law — newish to preserving and very enthusiastic — we wanted to make sure we got a good haul. 

We indeed got a very good haul — something like sixty pounds!  That seems like a lot, but it was amazing how quickly we got through them, particularly with all the apple butter we made. Man nothing burns through apples like apple butter, especially if you keep adding apples to the crockpot as it cooks down, (which is what we did, slowly, over the course of two days.) That behavior will significantly decrease your apple population, but you also end up with the richest, most glorious apple butter you can imagine. Christmas presents: accomplished. 

We also made about five quarts of applesauce (I’d envisioned more, but I think I’m the only one in the house that cares about applesauce so we’ll just see how far that gets me), a glorious cake tart thing I make every year, and we are trying our hand at apple cider vinegar, since we had so many apple peelings on our hands. (And we go through rather a lot of that stuff.)

We also ate a lot of the peelings just as is, like chips, because dang these apples. You don’t want to waste a thing. 

Things I wanted to try but have not yet include apple chips in the dehydrator, Béa’s baked apples, and fruit leather (which may be where the pear / apple butter ends up, as it was not nearly as exciting as the straight up apple butter.) I also want to make Smitten Kitchen’s apple cider caramels, because HOW CAN YOU NOT. 

The result of all this — mostly of the apple butter — is that the house has smelt beautifully like autumn. Or like heaven, as one of my roommates put it. He sent me this video of little apple rosettes in puff pastry, to which I replied: challenge accepted. 

Cedar waxwing feathers

Something made a snack of a cedar waxwing in my backyard — I didn’t see it in progress but I found the feathers. A whole lot a smooth greyish brown ones, and several diagnostic ones, including the namesake “wax” tipped secondary flight feathers. 

I’d never seen these up close before — they’re very striking. As though someone shaped them with scissors and then dipped them in paint. 

The Sparkling Salish Sea

I didn’t want to talk about this until I could show you, and short of standing with you on the shore and demonstrating, this is the next best thing.

Apparently the waters surrounding the San Juan islands (which we visited recently) are filled with noctiluca scintillans (also known as sea sparkle!) a microscopic organism. (Not a plankton itself for it eats plankton, but just as small.) Agitation of the water’s surface causes a chemical reaction within their little organelles, and they glow for a brief moment with a fascinating blue-greenish tinge that you have to really pay attention to at first, because it seems unreal. (It reminded me of the table-cloth we were “seeing” at the blind cafe.)

Once you do finally accept that what you are seeing is real, it becomes captivating. I was particularly mesmerized by the waves crashing onto the pebbly shore, and the sparks of light that would dance of the surface of the bouncing pebbles — the bright hiss of the peebles tumbling in the surf registered as a sizzle, coupled with the dance of light so quick it seemed like electric sparks.

These guys are dinoflagellateflagellate meaning they travel via flagellum (like sperm — they have sperm tails) and dinos meaning they are tiny dinosaurs. (Just kidding. It is latin for “whirling.” They spin!)

(…whirling-lizard?) *checks Wikipedia and the OED via the local library website* No, we’re good: the Greek root “dinos” means whirling, whereas the Greek root “deinos” means terrible, potent, or “fearfully great”.

Back to our creatures. They feed on plankton, which is apt to bloom in the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the San Juan islands, and evidently this bloom is reliable enough that bioluminescent tours exist. We knew nothing of this phenomenon before we went out to the shoreline at night, so in our case the discovery was as serendipitous as it was delightful.

You know now, so I’ve spoiled the surprise for you, but I don’t think I’ve diminished the wonder, because there really is no picture I can show you that will replace seeing the thing for yourself with your own eyes. So get to it, will you?

Explorations down the aural canal

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE EAR CANAL IN THE PAST 26 HOURS OR SO

You are apparently not supposed to clean them with Q-tips, not even a little bit, despite the fact that Q-tips look and feel expressly designed for that purpose. (What…are they for then? Can anybody tell me?) My mother did not teach me to clean my ears in any fashion, but neither did she teach me not to, so alas, I do from time to time. What can I say? I have gunky ears, and once had the magical if alarming experience of getting them sort of…douched via turkey baster by a medical professional, and the great wads of sediment that came out of my ears were unlike anything I had ever seen. And I heard clearly for what felt like the first time in my life.

– Speaking of douching: Ears, like vaginas, are self-cleaning organs. No cleaning necessary. Wow! Who knew? And color me surprised and ashamed a little, for not trusting my own body and the nonsense it produces. These things happen for a reason.

What is one to do about the gunk, then, if one has that ears-filled-with-cotton feeling? Place a warm washcloth against your head, over your ear, to allow it to sort of “melt” and “drain” the proper amount. (Which is different for everybody, and depends on how good your system is at fighting disease.)

You can drip in a solution of equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, but it should be applied via dropper (not Q-tip!) and the solution should be warmed to body temperature, as cold fluid dripped without preamble into the ear canal can cause pain and dizziness. (I had my doubts, but then I thought about Neti Pots, and the various false starts I’ve had with water not QUITE the right temperature, and realized it makes perfect sense. Your tubes. They are not acclimated to climate change.)

You can also just chew your food. According to an article cited by wikipedia: “Cleaning of the ear canal occurs as a result of the “conveyor belt” process of epithelial migration, aided by jaw movement. ” So, just go about your business.

Your eardrums recover if you puncture them, in about a week or two, which I guess makes perfect sense, but to confirm this on WebMD was interesting. I’ve held one of those a since-childhood misconceptions that seem absurd when you examine them with your adult mind but that sticks with you because of the purity of feeling (be that joy or terror) (usually terror) in the original question that led to the formation of the hypothesis. One of these misconceptions was that if you touched the electric cables that go into the ground from a telephone pole, you’ll get a nasty electric shock and probably will die. (This is…almost certainly not true, since the object that inspired this theory was on a playground we would visit on a weekly basis, and the wires were between a distant swing set and a popular slide, and it seems unlikely that EVEN IN TEXAS IN THE 80s a person would build a large playground for children around something so casually lethal. But still to this day I have no idea if its true or not. Touching something to answer the question, “will I die if I touch this?” is not something even my four year old self would have dreamed of doing, and I’m certainly not going to start now. I can live with the uncertainty.)

Another one of these theories? You Only Get One Pair Of Eardrums, And If You Puncture Them, That’s It. Gone Forever. Deafness.

While the body can fail us in many ways, a fit body has a delightful way of healing superficial abrasions, and so it’s neat to learn that “perforation of eardrums” — as it is officially called —  is fairly trivial so long as you don’t, I guess, try for a morsel of inner ear at the same time.

That there are several kinds of “ear infection”. They are impossible to accurately diagnose without a visit to the doctor. I haven’t done that yet, because the folk treatment of warm garlic oil and the washcloth thing helped enough — far better than even ibuprofen. I remain keenly aware of my ear canal, but I can chew food again and can look over my shoulder without needing to fight the urge to meltdown like a toddler with the same affliction.

Q-tips (or cotton swabs to use the non-branded name, though not nearly as vivid to the North American mind,) were originally called “Baby Gays”. They were invented provisionally in 1920 by a woman named Ziuta Gerstenzang, who wrapped cotton wool around the end of a toothpick for what purpose? CLEANING THE BABY’S EARS.

Leo Z. Gerstenzang, her husband, is the man who witnessed this miracle and who took the idea, manufactured an object, and produced it for mass consumption, so his name credited for “inventing” them, but really, isn’t he just the production guy? Who was dealing with the baby’s nooks and crannies, who was fretting over filth lurking deep in the baby’s dark crevices, who saw the toothpick and had the flash of inspiration to use it in a way that would confound doctors many decades later? That would be Ziuta Gerstenzang, and not her husband, thank you very much.

(Note: even the “official” version of this origin story is apocryphal, but L.Z. Gerstenzang IS credited with inventing Baby Gays, that much we know. There are numerous anecdotes, and all of the ones I read were along the lines of “he got the idea from his wife”. PRETTY SURE THAT MEANS THE WIFE IS THE INVENTOR, but thanks for the Assertion of Patriarchy, o authors of history.)

Improper use of Q-tips is one of the chief causes of impacted earwax, which leads to one of the various ear infections, and is suspected to be the reason children get so many.  Nervous parents, like the good Ms. Gerstenzang, wanting the best for their off-spring and in so doing causing them more harm.

– Again according to Wikipedia, anthropologists have used earwax to track human migratory patterns! Apparently east Asians and native Americans tend to have “dry type”, which is grey and flaky, and very different from what Africans and Europeans often have, which is the brownish wet stuff. Wet-wax peoples also tend to have more sweat production and body oder, yay us. May or may not have to do with the grey-wax folks historically living in very cold places, where sweat is fairly moot. And I suspect frozen earwax would be intolerable.

NOW YOU KNOW

What’s in a user image?

I have been using Mr. Stargazer as my user image for a long time. I couldn’t remember how long until I had to dig around for the original file in my archive-drive, and found him in the folder labeled…2010. Good God.

It’s not that I feel a particularly VISUAL affinity to the guy, it’s just that at the time I didn’t have a lot of featured faces in my work aside from him, and I liked his wistfulness, his gazing upward towards the heavens seemed hopeful to me. He was also one of the first finished paintings that I sold immediately upon unveiling him to the internet, so that felt like a sign of good luck.

I am also the sort of person that only changes their user image once every five years or so — at least on Facebook, which is the only place I use a picture of my own face. (It feels weird to use a photograph on my “official illustration business” social media things, as an illustrator).  I have so few pictures of my face — I don’t have a particularly photo-happy group of friends — and I’m not big on “selfies”.

I never really gave my choice of the Official Face Of Simply Kumquat much thought until that Newsweek thing happened, and I started talking more with my fellow civic minded lady-illustrators. The topic of user images came up in many of these discussions. Does a person “present” as male or female, and why? Do you use a user-image that represents you, or an entity that the industry wants to hire?

There’s a lot of stories about authors using initials, because J. K. Rowling sounds less telling than Joanne Rowling, I guess. Did you know her pen name for adults is currently “Robert Galbraith”? Not Rose, Rachel, Rebecca, or even Robin, which could maybe go either way. Robert.

On the one hand, I get it, because she’s not in the business of Changing The Knee-Jerk Reaction Of The Masses, she’s in the business of selling books. And the name “J. K. Rowling” is inextricably bound to the writing of children’s fiction, just like the name Lemony Snicket. The difference here is David Handler can use his own name when writing books for grownups, whereas Ms. Rowling has opted to adopt a pseudonym that will hide her inconvenient gender from the eyes of people who think women can’t write serious books.

This idea was further brought to my attention by this Op-Ed in the New York Times, which influenced this self-portrait of mine very heavily.

I am kind of straddling both worlds here, according to that article. My limbs, rather than being entwined like supple vines, are pointy and stick out at angles. But I suppose am looking dreamily into space — partly because of the real logistic difficulty of eyeballs through refracted eyeglasses as I was exploring a bit in those sketches there, and partly because it isn’t about YOU, it’s about what’s out there.

I am somewhat androgynous as far as humans go — so I realize this picture isn’t really all that gender-y anyway, and may not even warrant this entire conversation. But I wanted to mention it because I was thinking about all this as I was painting it, and all the placements here are intentional (just like any painting).

At least my user image no longer sports a beard, so it’s more clear who we’re dealing with when you get emails from me. That’s the hope, anyhow.