Pumpkin Everything Tuesday, Oct 14 2014 

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Pumpkin biscotti, latte, bread, soup, and even ravioli. This is the season for pumpkin everything. The fruit—yes, botanists consider pumpkins a fruit—play an important role in American fall traditions. Halloween is no more complete without a gutted and carved Jack-O-Lantern than Thanksgiving is without a pumpkin pie.

Some countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, use the term pumpkin to refer to the broad category of winter squash but here it typically means the large orange, round or oblong fruit, although we can find them in an endless variety of shapes and colors.

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It’s estimated that 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced in the U.S. every year. Illinois is by far the top state for pumpkin production, raising 90-95% of them, mostly for Libby, a division of the Nestle Company. California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan grow most of the remainder.

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Pumpkins typically range in size from less than one pound all the way up to more than 1,000! They are native to North America. Most pumpkins are grown for eating and can be boiled, baked, steamed, pureed, or roasted. They are a good source of Vitamin A. The seeds are often roasted and salted as well.

The tradition of carving pumpkins is thought to have been brought from Great Britain and Ireland where they carved many different types of fruits and vegetables. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s when it is recorded that they were used as lanterns. Catholic children are said to have carved turnips to represent a face, placed a candle inside them, and walked door-to-door begging for soul cakes on the eve of All Saints and All Souls in honor of deceased loved ones.

(Information gathered from mayoclinic.com, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Wikipedia.)

(Photo of my niece, Kelly, with a giant pumpkin, taken by a friend.)

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Making the Right Decision Tuesday, Oct 7 2014 

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One of the most valuable lessons my father taught his children was how to make a decision. He didn’t rush in to fix things. He guided and allowed us to take care of ourselves and succeed on our own.

Together we would discuss the pros and cons of going one way or the other. We talked about repercussions, cause and effect, what we wanted to achieve, and which direction to go to make our goal happen. And then Dad encouraged us to make that final decision. If we wanted to discuss the end result with him, he was available, but he never criticized or judged what we did, even when we knew he would have done things very differently.

Decades ago, people had fewer things and fewer opportunities, therefore, fewer choices. Although that limited potential in some ways, it omitted the continuous challenge we encounter every minute of every day today. We have so many decisions to make. Our lives our stressful because we begin with which shampoo to use, what outfit to wear, which shoes go with that outfit, and what to eat.

Most of the decisions we stress over are insignificant. How much does it really matter if we have Cheerios or Shredded Wheat for breakfast? If a choice has little impact on our well-being, or that of other people around us, it’s not likely our decision is worth the time and effort to worry about.

Many decisions also can be back-tracked. We may go in one direction and find it isn’t working as well as we hoped, so we regroup and go another way.

Then there are those decisions that are life-altering, such as a marriage, a major residential move, or a split second decision that results in a traffic accident.

In some cases, making a list can be quite helpful. Gather as much information as possible, and then sort the entries into columns showing the benefits and drawbacks. One item may make the decision clear. For example, our child may have an opportunity to develop her interest in music at a particular school but the tuition is beyond our budget. We simply can’t afford to send her there.

To avoid being on edge all day, every day, we must let go of the little stuff. If we don’t stress over every little move we make all day long, we have more energy for the big things.

And then follow my dad’s guidance by asking yourself:

  1. Do I have all of the necessary information?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an action?
  3. Am I willing to do what it takes to follow through with this decision?
  4. Am I prepared to accept the responsibility, criticism, or accolades that may come with my decision?
  5. Will this action achieve my goal?

(Photo: My dad, John Doyle)

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Fall Colors Tuesday, Sep 30 2014 

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Spring blossoms with hope, summer peaks with flora and fauna, and autumn bursts with color.

The leaves are beginning to change in the Midwest. A new splattering of vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds is seen everywhere we look. It’s like fireworks shooting a new display every day.

The process of leaf changing is fascinating. Much has to do with the declining hours of daylight and the types of trees. Aspen leaves turn bright yellow; oaks’ turn red or brown; dogwoods’ turn purplish red or light tan; and some of the maples’ turn brilliant scarlet. Others, such as elm leaves do not change at all. They simply die and fall off.

For the trees with leaves that do change, leaf color is influenced predominately by the shortening of daylight but also by pigments in the leaves and weather. For optimum color, leaves require a warm, wet spring, favorable summer temperatures, and warm, sunny fall days with cool but frostless nights.

During the spring and summer, the trees take in water from the ground through their roots and carbon dioxide from the air. They use sunlight to turn the water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose in a process called photosynthesis.

There isn’t enough light or water in the winter for photosynthesis. The green chlorophyll disappears from the leaves revealing the yellows and oranges that until then were present but unseen. The cool nights of autumn turn the glucose bright reds and purples.

Unlike the tender leaves of deciduous trees, the tough needles of evergreens with their heavy wax coating and fluid inside their cells resist freezing and withstand severe winter conditions.

(Information gathered from the U.S. Department of Agriculture)

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

The Weight of Weather Friday, Sep 26 2014 

Some dispute the effects of weather on the body. For those of us who feel it in our joints and bones, we don’t need any scientific basis for the phenomena. We are our own meteorologist. Many of us can predict the weather by the effect of barometric pressure on our bodies.

Last month we had heavy cloud coverage, rain, and a high mold count in the Chicago area for several weeks that knocked me off my feet. The mold and humidity triggered my asthma and fibromyalgia resulting in labored breathing and pain that made it difficult for me to get off the couch.

More than 5 million people in the United States have fibromyalgia. The Mayo Clinic describes it as a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue and sleep, memory, and mood issues. Tension headaches, temporomandibular joint disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and depression are common. There also is an increase in levels of certain chemicals in the brain that signal pain. The brain’s pain receptors develop a memory of the pain making them more sensitive causing them to overact.

Stress and weather, especially low air pressure, are my greatest causes of symptoms. The heavy weight of the air results in great pain.

Air pressure is also called barometric pressure because it is measured by barometers. Barometers measure the current air pressure at a particular location in inches of mercury or in millibars.

High pressure systems moving in often predict cooler temperatures and clear skies. Low pressure systems bring warmer weather, storms, and rain.

Atmospheric pressure is the weight of tiny particles of air molecules exerted upon us. The pressure and its density is related to the weather—the air’s temperature and height above the Earth’s surface.

The Earth’s atmosphere is pressing against each square inch of our bodies with a force of about 14.7 pounds per square inch. The force on a space of a little larger than a square foot is about 1 ton and it is up to our bodies to balance the pressure within us with that outside.

Since the pressure depends upon the amount of air above us, the pressure decreases as we go higher. As elevation increases there is less atmospheric mass resulting in the barometric pressure dropping about 1 inch of mercury for each increase of 1,000 feet. Our ears pop as we move up to balance the pressure between the outside and inside of our ears and we breathe faster to bring more air molecules into our lungs to make up for less air.

I feel considerably less pain on clear days and at higher elevations, so perhaps the solution for me is to keep my sights on the heavens and stay high above the clouds.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

A Rose By Any Other Name Wednesday, Sep 24 2014 

If your name is misspelled in print, is it still your name? The Chicago Tribune recently ran a story on the many times and ways Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s name has been misspelled, including in the Tribune. Even the White House website had it wrong when he was Chief of Staff. You think they’d check the spelling before listing his name.

I have to admit, I’ve misspelled names as well. In my first book, I omitted the “e” from Carole’s name. I also spelled Terri’s name with a “y” in a newspaper article.

In one of the articles I wrote for the Chicago Tribune, they incorrectly corrected Cooky the Clown’s name to Cookie.

And my own name has been misspelled many times. Doyle has been changed to Boyle and my married name of Brodien’s been spelled a variety of ways. Years ago I received a bill from a hospital after delivering a baby where my name was noted as Mark instead of Mary K (for Kathleen). No wonder the insurance company initially denied the claim.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

No Mothballs for Me Wednesday, Sep 17 2014 

Chipmunks rule the land. The cute little critters dig holes all around my house.

My sister suggested placing mothballs—those old-fashioned white, pungent balls grandmas used decades ago—along the perimeter of the house to ward them off. I don’t know how many chipmunks they kept away, but I couldn’t stand the smell and found that I was avoiding everywhere that the mothballs were. I retrieved and tossed them all. Surprisingly, the trash can smelled from them for weeks afterwards.

Mothballs are small balls of chemical pesticide and deodorant used to protect clothes from mold, moth larva, and silverfish. It also may repel snakes, mice, and other small pests. Not only is their smell offensive and overpowering, mothballs pose some serious health hazards. They must be used with great caution around family pets and children.

The ingredients have changed over the years but they continue to be somewhat flammable. They contain a chemical called 1,4-dichlorobenzene. Sometimes packaging lists it as para-dichlorobenzene, p-dichlorobenzene, pDCB, or PDB.

Mothballs are highly toxic when ingested. The US Department of Health and Human Services has determined this ingredient to be a carcinogen. It is a neurotoxin and may cause series illness or death. Large quantities in a basement or living space may also cause respiratory problems.

A better alternative to mothballs may be to spread blood meal or pieces of unchewed sticks of fragrant gum near chipmunk holes.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Flood Water Caution Friday, Sep 12 2014 

The Midwest is certainly seeing its share of flooding. But as stated on the government website, flooding is possible anywhere it rains.

Floods are caused by spring thaws, heavy rains, and damage to the landscape due to construction and wildfires. Also weakened levees can result in catastrophic floods.

A few terms to keep in mind:

  • Flood Watch—Flooding is possible.
  • Flood Warning—Flooding is occurring or will soon. Evacuation may be necessary.
  • Flash Flood—A flash flood is rapid flooding of low areas caused by intense rainfall.
  • Flash Flood Watch—Flash flooding is possible.
  • Flash Flood Warning—A flash flood is occurring.

Flash Floods are the #1 weather-related cause of death in the U.S. The water can move faster than it appears. As little as six inches can knock you off of your feet, pull you under, and result in drowning.

Recommendations during flooding include:

  • Do not drive through flooded streets.
  • Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. Electrical current travels though water.
  • Turn off the electricity. Even unplugged appliances such as televisions, can cause shock.
  • Watch for small animals that may have found shelter in your home during evacuation.
  • Step carefully across floors covered with debris. There may be broken glass or other harmful items underfoot.
  • Don’t smoke or use candles until you are certain the gas has been turned off and the area aired out.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

The Sting of Fall Tuesday, Sep 9 2014 

It’s that time of year. The wasps, which seem more active in the fall in the Midwest, have joined our outdoor fun in full force, especially when food is involved.

Vespid wasps include paper wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets. They can be differentiated from bees by their lack of body hair and thin, elongated bodies.

Paper wasps live in colonies of less than 100 and build open umbrella-shaped nests often suspended under eaves. Yellow jackets and hornets have colonies larger than 100. Hornets build massive, enclosed nets found hanging from tree branches. Yellow jackets, the most annoying wasps to humans, also make enclosed nests but build them below ground.

All three produce new colonies each year. Only the mated queens survive the cold winter months. In late summer or fall, the old queen dies, and a new one mates before its siblings die off.

The severity of reaction to a wasp sting depends on our sensitivity and whether we’ve been stung before. Most often, there is a little swelling or itching. If the stinger is visible, it should be gently removed and the area washed with soap and water. A cold compress and a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, will ease the pain.

An allergic reaction may include mild nausea, intestinal cramps, diarrhea, or swelling larger than 4 inches in diameter at the site. We should seek medical assistance immediately if there is difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips or throat, faintness, dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, or hives.

(Information gathered from mayoclinic.com and about.com)

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

Who’s Looking at You? Saturday, Sep 6 2014 

All I want for Christmas is a drone.

Not really. But it is the hot item of our times. Nearly every day we see another news story about a drone. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos wants to use drones for home deliveries. So does Google. Martha Stewart loves hers. Photographers see the world from a whole new perspective offering realtors, artists, developers, farmers,and scientists literally a bird’s eye view.

And then there are those for military use.

The Predator drone flew over Afghanistan for the first time on September 7, 2000. The unmanned, unarmed plane buzzed over Tarnak Farms, a major al Qaeda camp. The U.S. says the video footage was necessary for counter terrorism. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the first known killing by an armed drone occurred on November 2001, taking the life of al Qaeda’s military commander, Muhammad Atef, in retaliation of the September 11 attacks on the U.S.

The possibilities are endless, and there’s no turning back with these remotely controlled unmanned aerial vehicles that raise a number of questions in regards to security, safety, and privacy. Who knows what the future will bring with a sky full of drones buzzing overhead?

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

D Is For Disease Prevention Friday, Aug 22 2014 

According to a significant study recently published in the journal, Neurology, older adults severely deficient in vitamin D may be more than twice as likely to develop dementia than those who are not. Participants consisted of a group of 1,658 Americans aged 65 and older in the National Heart Blood and Lung Insittute’s Cardiovascular Health Study.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. Currently there are more than five million Americans living with the disease and this number is expected to soar to more than 13.5 by 2050.

The more deficient in vitamin D, the greater the risk of developing dementia. Still unknown is whether eating foods high in this vitamin or taking supplements can delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Vitamin D has also been linked to preventing asthma, diabetes, and cancer. My pulmonologist, cardiologist, internist, and family physician have all recommended I take it for various reasons.

Vitamin D may be absorbed from sunshine and supplements. It also is found in eggs and oily fish like salmon and sardines.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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