Factoid #16: Tarantula Hairs??

Mexcian Redknee Tarantula (courtesy WIkipedia)

Mexcian Redknee Tarantula (courtesy WIkipedia)

You know they bite.

But did you know that tarantulas can also get you with their tiny hairs? It’s called “urticulating.” They can either loose them defensively–kind of like a porcupine with its quills–or rub them off on you. These hairs contain tiny amounts of venom which can’t, of course, kill you (just as the tarantula’s bite can’t kill you, unless you’re a mouse–but you knew that, right?), but can be very painful and irritating.

BUT DID YOU ALSO KNOW that some in the medical community are investigating the use of tarantula venom for treating muscular dystrophy? Apparently they’ve identified a peptide in the venom that, when artificially produced, can improve muscle activity. At least in mice. So stay tuned about human health advances, and meanwhile…be nice to spiders.

Because you never know. Those urticulating hairs of theirs might just be worth harvesting someday.

Thanks to my baker-colleague Ben for sending this weird topic my way.


Imperfectionists Unite!

auction quilt

SO not me. (courtesy normanack, flikr commons)

I have started making quilts. But I am careful NOT to tell people I’m a quilter.

Quilters choose patterns, or design their own. Quilters pay careful attention to color contrasts. Quilters cut cloth into little tiny pieces. Quilters MEASURE the heck out of those pieces as they stitch ’em together. Then they measure some more, because, to quilters, like carpenters, precision is everything.

I’m a lousy carpenter. So I never thought I’d make it as a quilter either, and I never tried. Till I discovered landscape quilts.

Landscape quilting is just what it sounds like: you create a landscape, like a painter, substituting appliqued cloth for paint. The effect can be as realistic or impressionistic as you choose. Me, I’m all about the impressionism. Who cares if that flower has eight petals in real life? On my quilt, it gets five, and it’s still pretty.

...or four petals. Who's counting?

…or four petals. Who’s counting?

Another way landscape quilting is like impressionist painting is in its wonderful, inherent sloppiness. Who cares if my stitches are uneven, or if I miss an edge here or there which might fray? Nature’s full of ragged edges, weird curves, asymmetry. It’s a gorgeous slop-fest out there! Too much precision = unnatural-looking landscape…or so says I.

Nice and sloppy, just like nature.

Am I making a virtue of necessity? Cheering myself up for being lazy, not to mention bad at arithmetic?

You betcha. But hey: I’m quilting, aren’t I?

Isn't it gorgeous??

Isn’t it gorgeous?

THIS is what I’m shooting for (someday!) These three come from Nancy Zieman and Natalie Sewell’s book, The Art of Landscape Quilting.

Yup, it's all cloth!

Yup, it’s all cloth!

I'll never be this good, but I can dream, right?

I’ll never be this good, but I can dream, right?

So what’s your version of landscape quilting? What’s something you have NO patience for, but have found yourself a better way around? Maybe you’ve discovered an ingenious way never to empty the cat box? Or a recipe for croissants that doesn’t involve sticking the dough back into the fridge every half-hour? Don’t you feel smart? Let me hear from you!

Wing Wecommends…

cup of coffee

courtesy Author Lynn Kelly, WANAcommons

Okay, people. If you love any of the following…

1. space travel

2. coffee

3. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

you have to check this out:


Seriously, if you haven’t read The Sparrow yet–stop reading this right now, turn off your computer, and go find a copy. I’ll wait. Then come on back to this website. You’ll thank me later. (Three words: Jesuits in space.)


For that matter, if you want to know more about this amazing anthropologist-storyteller who writes novels about space travel, Italian Jews in the Holocaust, Saudi Arabia in its infancy, and, of all people, Doc Holliday, check out her blog:


By the way, the Saudi Arabia one? Dreamers of the Day is going to be a movie! Think Lawrence of Arabia meets My Brilliant Career.

Factoid #15

THIS JUST IN! Shocking news for us Northwesterners: The Douglas Fir is not–I repeat NOT–an actual fir tree.

I know. We’ve been living a lie.

For those of you not privileged to live anywhere west of the Cascade Mountains and north of the Bay Area, these trees are EVERYWHERE. Tall, dark and handsome. And everyone calls ’em fir trees (unless we’re like, “oh, look at that eagle in that pine tree–” but that’s a whole other issue).

courtesy Wikipedia

courtesy Wikipedia

Turns out the good ol’ Doug Fir isn’t even in the genus Abies. Nope, it’s a Pseudotsuga. All I can make of that name is that it’s a “kinda-sorta tsuga”–whatever a tsuga is.  The species is menziesii (so says Dr. Wikipedia), named after naturalist Archibald Menzies. Dr. Wiki says he was a “rival” to naturalist David Douglas, so I bet ol’ Archie felt pretty smug when he got that species name. Joke’s on him, though–no one calls ’em Menzie-firs!

Do Bosom Buddies Require Bosoms?

Lopez ferry dock

It took me a few months to meet folks when we first moved to Lopez Island, but a year later I looked around and found myself part of several groups. I have people to write with, people to meditate with, people to sing with, and people to hike & bike & paddle kayaks with. And that’s just here on this little isle. When I go back to visit my old life in “America” (what we Lopezians call the mainland), I have my old book group to catch up with, old neighbors to potluck with, old colleagues to meet for walks or tea.

And then there’s facebook and email. And my annual get-together with my three besties from high school.

Source: shanalogic.com via Gretchen on Pinterest

Interesting fact: 85% of these interactions are with other women. Yes, I make music with men, and share food and thoughtful silence with them. But when I make dates that involve TALKING? It’s all gals.

See, this is the kind of thing we gals need each other to discuss, right? (courtesy    )

See, this is the kind of thing we gals need each other to discuss, right? (courtesy someecards.com, Pinterest)

This got me thinking of the importance of friends in my life, vs. my husband’s.  He has a handful of very close friends from as far back as college (which for him is pretty far back, since he’s a Boomer). None of them even live in Washington State. He stays in touch through sporadic email. Phonecalls? Maybe once a year. Visits? Hey, if we’re passing through…But, encouraging as he is of my annual Girlfriend Pilgrimage, he has no counterpart to that, and doesn’t seem to need one.

How typical is this? Are we women conditioned to need each other’s company, or do we condition ourselves? Perhaps we’re hard-wired that way? I’m sure there are tons of sociological studies on this, but I’m more interested in anecdotal responses.

Guys have buddies. Women have friends. Guys fish or hunt or play poker or build stuff together. Women talk. Is this a complete stereotype, or is there something to it?

Gals–does this hold true for you? Guys–what say you?

(I know–men don’t read blogs, so I’ll probably never know what you think. So, women–ask your guy friends/spouses/whatevers. Then get back to me.)

In my PROFESSIONAL Opinion, Holly’s Buns are Best

When I left the teaching profession, I told folks I wasn’t retiring, I was just graduating. “Took me 20 years, but I finally get to walk across that stage!” Cue laughter.

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at desk

Old me (just kidding). Courtesy George Eastman House

New me.

New me.

But really, that is how I feel. Who retires at age 49 except Microsoft millionaires? Sure, I have a new “job” as a writer. But I’m backing that up, financially as well as socially, with my job at Holly B’s Bakery.

Everyone I talk to thinks baking is cool. Everyone shows awe and admiration at how early we bakers have to get up (3:45, for me–make that 3:15 in high summer when we get super busy). And everyone jokes about how hard I must have to work not to gain a million pounds from all those fresh, hot, crusty croissants and scones and…OK, I’ll stop.


Point is, they’re right: baking IS cool, getting up early IS hard, and yes, I exercise my buns off (Ha! Pun!) to stay gorgeous.

But lately The World’s Best Boss, Holly B, has an ample supply of bakers on her payroll and not enough counter people. So she’s put me on counter this month, selling all those yummy treats that my colleagues have risen early to bake.

Need I say more?

Need I say more?

So the conversation’s changed a bit:
“What do you do?”
“I work part-time at a bakery.”
“Oh, you’re a baker!”
“Well, these days I’m just working the front counter.”

Apparently retail–even in the world’s cutest bakery, the heart of our village–is not cool. More accurately, it is not “professional.” That is the (unspoken) message I get from people who knew me in my old life.  Selling muffins? That’s all you do? With a Masters in History and 20 years of teaching? Why…?

The long answer is, Because my boss needs me to, and I adore her, and feel I am more part of a team than merely an employee. Because even though there’s not much skill involved (besides addition, and I’m kind of embarrassed to say how often I reach for that calculator, especially towards the end of the day), I love people and miss interacting with them. Writing is lonely. And because, at the end of the day when I’ve mopped the floor, turned off the lights and locked up, I feel just as much pride in my work as when I tucked a dozen perfectly-twisted butterhorns into the oven.


But more and more I feel inclined to give the short answer: Work is work. I don’t feel any less “professional” selling cinnamon rolls and asking folks how their day is going than I did grading essays. If you care about your job and give it your best attention, you are, in my opinion, a professional.

My esteemed colleague, DianaMy esteemed colleague Diana

I know some of you must have experience with this. Tell me about a time when you felt a huge gap between how YOU felt about your work, and the reactions of other people. How did you–or how do you–handle that? Let me hear!