Saturday, December 24, 2022

How about Some Home-Grown Olive Oil? It Could Save Your Health--and the Planet

Like many people around the world, I use olive oil for cooking, not only because it is healthy, but also because it is yummy. I wouldn't use it to make cookies or brownies, but it's just perfect for anything savory, from meat to veggies to omelets. Olive oil consumption in the United States has been rising steadily because of people like me, who heard about the health benefits, tried it, and liked it. The United States imports nearly 300,000 tons of olive oil every year. That's a whole lot of pesto, yes?

Thing is, we can actually make olive oil right here in this country, and we do. I always pictured the olive as an exotic Mediterranean fruit (yep, it's a fruit--has a pit and grows on trees, just like cherries!), but I have recently found out that we produce about 12,000 tons of olive oil annually right here in this country. In the state of Texas, for example, olive oil production has grown from zero in 2002 to 54 tons in 2012, and the number of olive trees is estimated to have grown from 250,000 in 2012 to 1,500,000 in 2013, according to a report released by the University of Texas at San Antonio. The Texas Association of Olive Oil (TXAOO), established in 2016, works with the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas A&M AgriLife and the American Olive Oil Producers Association to combine all segments of the olive industry together in one organization to effectively work to promote and develop the Texas olive oil industry.

I am personally happy to hear this: As we know, Texas has long been devoted to oil production of a different kind, and with the use of fossil fuels such a major contributor to global climate change, some drastic swings toward renewable energy will eventually have to be made. Right now, the oil and gas boom is bigger than ever within the United States, as we try to become less dependent on foreign imports, but it is necessary to move away from that, for a brighter (and cleaner!) future. Texas is developing renewable industries, such as solar arrays and wind fields, but conservatives are fighting against federal funding for such projects. I don't think anyone is raising objections to olive farming, however, so before the fossil-fuel-based economy collapses, let's get something else going. Something that feels better.

Something that smells better!

Image Credit »

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Largest Seed in the World

Since I wrote about the smallest seed in the world ( click here for that ), I thought it only fitting that I would also tell you of the largest seed in the world, which is the Coco de Mer, or "sea coconut". With the Latin name of Lodoicea maldivica , it is the seed of a palm tree native to the Seychelles islands, which are located in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar, off the eastern coast of the African continent.

Unlike the orchid Aerides odorata, which is found throughout the Asian continent (although endangered), the Coco de Mer is only found on two of the islands in the Seychelles, having gone extinct from the three others on which it was formerly found. Unfortunately, the Coco de Mer is also on IUCN's Red List as a species in danger of extinction.

The Coco de Mer can grow to be 44 pounds, which is the typical average weight of a six-year-old child, so that's a very big seed! And the Coco de Mer seed takes longer than a child to get to that weight, too: it can take up to ten years for the Coco de Mer seed to mature! So there you have it; now you know about the biggest seed in the world and the smallest seed in the world. 

Image credit:

The Smallest Seed in the World

There are 300,000 species of seed-bearing plants in the world that we know of. Among these, the smallest seed belongs to an orchid known as Aerides odorata . This flowering plant lives in areas across China, Southeast Asia, and the Phillippines, preferring a rainforest-type habitat. The seed of the Aerides odorata is only 0.2 millimeters in length. That may be a little hard to picture, so here is more of a visual: It takes over three million Aerides odorata seeds to make up one gram--3,300,000, to be exact! The seed is truly miniscule--almost microscopic!

Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, this fragile orchid is on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, so we need to try to do all we can to prevent more destruction of native subtropical and tropical forests, or the beautiful orchid with the world's smallest seeds may become extinct.

And now click here for the world's BIGGEST seed!

Image credit

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Tips to Avoid "Mystery Fish Deaths" in Your Home Freshwater Aquarium

A friend was disappointed and confused because her newly-purchased goldfish all died after just a few days, and she had no idea why. I kept fish for years, and I remember having such experiences myself. I will pass on the advice I gave to her, in case you are thinking of getting fish, or if you are having problems with "mystery deaths", as well:

Three things can kill fish: poor water quality, disease, and predators. "Mystery deaths" are usually due to water quality, as you would probably notice signs of disease or predation. This is either because there is chlorine in the water, the pH balance is wrong, ammonia is building up in the water, or there is not enough oxygen.

1) To get chlorine out of water, just "age" the water by letting it sit around in a bucket for a couple of days before you put it in the tank, and the chlorine will dissipate. Also, that will bring it to room temperature, so it will not shock the fish.

2) To check the pH balance, get a test kit, which will come with some treatment drops to adjust the pH. Most goldfish prefer a pH of 6.5 - 7.0. If you need to adjust the pH, do it slowly, because a sudden change can also kill your fish. Also, test your tap water to see if it has a high or low pH to start with--then you will know how water changes will swing the balance.

3) The most likely problem is ammonia buildup, because freshwater fish, and especially goldfish, pee a lot, and I think they would have died sooner if it were a chlorine or pH problem. Make sure your filter has some material that absorbs ammonia. There are ammonia test kits, too; you can check to see if the levels are safe. If they aren't, best thing to do is change the water, but not all of it: Only change about 10% of the water at a time (you should do this once a week, anyway). Just make sure to use the water that has been aged in the bucket, so there is no chlorine.

4) It's also possible that there wasn't enough oxygen in the water. Yes, fish actually breathe oxygen, they just do it after it has dissolved in water. To properly oxygenate the water, make sure your tank has a large surface area (that's where the air gets in--if your fish are all hanging out at the surface, they might not be hungry--they might be gasping for air! If there's not enough oxygen in the water, some fish get desperate enough to gulp air at the surface). 

Having an air bubbler helps a lot, but the surface area is very important--goldfish bowls are very bad, because they have a small surface area when they are filled up. If you have a bowl, make sure the water level is below the upper curve of the bowl so that the surface area is larger. But it's really best to avoid bowls altogether - they are just too small. The only fish that does okay in a bowl is the betta or Siamese fighting fish, because they breather from the surface. You should still make sure the bowl is much bigger than the kind they sell them in. It's cruel to keep a fish in such a tiny container. 

5) Lastly, make very sure not to get any foreign matter or substances in the water. Soap is extremely deadly to fish, so don't clean around the tank with soaps, cleansers, or sprays. Make sure that little children don't have access to the tank, as a toddler may try to feed the fish with inappropriate items. When decorating the tank, use only items that are designed for doing so, as paint or substances from non-aquarium-safe objects could poison the fish. Even the approved decorations and equipment should be thoroughly washed (no soap! Just hot water and maybe a bit of bleach - thoroughly rinse) before putting in the tank. 

This probably sounds like a lot of work, and it is. Fish aren't just for decoration--like any other pets, you really have to be willing to take care of them. It's best to buy a good book on aquarium keeping, and to get the tank ready in advance before purchasing the fish. Good luck!

Image Credit » by Hans

Sunday, July 24, 2022

A Guard at the Prague Castle, Wherein the Crown Jewels of Bohemia, Including the Crown and Sword of Saint Wenceslas, Who Was a Good King but Who Had a Terrible Brother


Good day! Today's internet rabbit hole started with the Wikimedia Commons Picture of the Day for July 24, 2022, above, titled “A Guard at Prague Castle, Prague.” I admired his ornate uniform and noted his very serious demeanor and wondered what his name was and what his story was. His name might be Miloš (pronounced MEE-lowsh), like Czech director Miloš Forman, from whose films I remember a grand total of one word in Czech, which is ahoj. This one is easy to remember, because it is pronounced like “ahoy”, and why, yes, it does mean “hello”. So if you say “Ahoy, Mate”, maybe you're speaking Czech, Australian, and Old-timey Sailor. Anyway, if you're going to know only one word in Czech, that's a useful one.

Since maybe-Miloš's uniform was so splendid and he looked so serious about doing his job, I wanted to get a good look at Prague Castle and learn a bit more about it, because it's clearly a very big deal. Prague Castle, which is located in the Czech Republic, was built in the 9th century. Holy clams, that's old. And just look at this thing – it's so sprawling and fancy:

I wasn't wrong about it being a big deal: it holds a position in The Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest ancient castle in the world, at 750,000 square feet (that's 70,000 square meters for you, uh, rest-of-the-world people). For comparison, Neuschwanstein Castle is a tiny baby ,at 65,000 square feet and a birthdate of 1869. Prague Castle is open to tourists and receives almost two million visitors annually. So no doubt there are many, many more serious and ornately-clad guards like maybe-Miloš.

One of the things they are so serious about guarding is the Bohemian Crown Jewels, which reside in Prague Castle. The Bohemian Crown Jewels are also called the Czech Crown Jewels, but Bohemia sounds more romantic. They are the somewhat standard crown, orb and sceptre, but also contain a gold reliquary cross and the Sword of Saint Wenceslas. Yes, sometimes saints can have swords, mainly if they used to be kings (or dukes, anyway; stay tuned). The crown is also the Crown of Saint Wenceslas, although it was originally made for the coronation of Charles the Fourth in 1347. Clearly Wenceslas was much cooler. Sorry, Chuck.

Now, just in case “king” and “Wenceslas” ring a bell for you, you get a cookie, because this is indeed the Good King Wenceslas about whom the famous Christmas carol (sung surprisingly well by Prime Minister Hugh Grant's driver in the movie Love Actually)was written. And it's no surprise, because you have to be pretty good to become a saint. 

Wenceslas (also spelled Wenceslaus, because it's just a transliteration of the original Czech, anyway) wasn't actually a king until after he was dead (we'll get to that). He was the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century, from AD 921 until about 935 (or possibly 929, because records were a bit spotty back then). He had a younger brother who was known as Boleslaus the Cruel and who was not nearly as popular, not just because of his name but mostly because he was probably responsible for Wenceslas's death in maybe-935 after a quarrel (unsurprisingly, alcohol was thought to be involved).

Wenceslas had much better public relations than Boleslaus, and his legend for awesomeness grew exponentially after his death until he was posthumously made a king and subsequently canonized as a saint and further, made patron saint of the Czech Republic, although of course it wasn't called that at the time. It's amazing what a very catchy carol will do for you (this is possibly the birthplace of the commercial jingle). By the way, the carol in question was not actually a Christmas carol but was written instead for the Catholic feast day of Saint Stephen, which as you can find out here is actually on December 26th (Hence the opening line “Good King Wenceslas looked out/On the Feast of Stephen”), but hey, close enough.

Guard mage from Wikimedia Commons, free use with attribution of the author: By © Jorge Royan /, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Castle image from Wikimedia Commons, free use with attribution of the author: By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

For way more information than I gave you on any of these subjects, please see:,_Duke_of_Bohemia

Sunday, June 12, 2022

A Quick and Easy Way to Take Metamucil Fiber Powder

There are commercials out there that make fun of Metamucil as being "thick and gritty" and urge you to take a pill instead, but frankly, I stand by the effectiveness of Metamucil, or as I affectionately refer to it, "poo powder". However, since the directions do indicate that you should drink eight ounces of water with your heaping teaspoon of Metamucil, and yes, you do need to drink it fast before that powder starts to thicken up (it doesn't really get "gritty", but it sure does get thick!), what's a loyal Metamucil fan like myself to do? Just grin and chug it?

Nah, you don't have to do that. I figured out a very quick and easy way to take Metamucil powder without the agony of chugging down a large glass of rapidly-thickening glop. Now, don't smack yourself in the forehead TOO hard, because the "secret" is pretty simple: instead of using an eight-ounce glass and filling it with water, simply use a four-ounce glass. Put the teaspoonful of powder in the smaller glass, then fill it with four ounces of water and stir well. The mixture might be a little stronger to taste, but you can drink it down in a flash before it gets thick at all. Once you've downed the initial mixture, simply refill the glass with your other four ounces of water, and drink at a normal pace--no chugging required!

Image credit:

Monday, May 30, 2022

Review of Your Head is a Houseboat by Campbell Walker, aka Struthless


I found Campbell “Cam” Walker, known online as Struthless, on YouTube a couple of years ago. I can't remember whether his channel was recommended by a friend or by YouTube's algorithm, which no doubt noticed that I was enjoying the channels of my fellow artists (whichever/whoever it was, thank you!!). I initially followed him because he had a lot of great art videos, but I noticed that besides having really good advice about producing art, he also just had really good advice, period, about life in general. I look forward to his videos about how to handle life as much as his videos about how to get past creative blocks or how to commercialize your art. I also enjoy the window that he allows us into his own life, and I have followed his successes with his art ventures and his personal growth, as well as his sweet and supportive relationship with his partner, Felicity.

And then, along with all his other projects, came the book, Your Head is a Houseboat. Feeling like I had derived so much value from watching his YouTube channel, I bought the book to offer my support. And just like his channel, the book has all the personality, the quirky flair, and the honest, down-to-earth helpfulness I've come to know and love from the Struthless channel. So now, here is my review, for those of you who would like to know more about the experience of reading Your Head is a Houseboat.

As with his videos, Cam starts out with a bit of a disclaimer in the foreword, which essentially says, “I'm not an expert, so take what I say with a grain of salt, but these are things that have worked for me and might work for you, too.” We then venture into the table of contents, which starts off with a bang, as Chapter One is called YOU'RE GOING TO DIE. I find this hilarious, because I know it's going to be a shot of philosophy and common sense in a let's-just-get-this-established-right-up-front kind of way. The contents are arranged in a very appealing way, with colorful graphic blocks.

This book is a very easy read. The pages are not dense with text, owing both to the delightful illustrations and also to the light, open font (it's not identified that I could see, but it looks like Century Gothic). So it's physically easy to read, but it's also easy to absorb and understand; there is plenty of information, but it's parcelled out in easy chunks in a conversational tone that is very much the way Cam presents in his Struthless channel videos. Things are explained with clarity but not a trace of self-importance; this is less like a lecture and more like advice from a friend who is really excited to share what he has learned with you so that you can enjoy the benefit, as well.

Your Head is a Houseboat is not just funny and entertaining, it is enlightening and helpful, as well. There are useful exercises in each section that you should absolutely do (not just initially, but any time you might need them), but even simply reading the book will provide you with very valuable insight into the inner workings of your very own houseboat and how to tidy it up so you can navigate that ocean out there. Oh, look at me, all caught up in the metaphor – well, it's catchy!

Link to the Struthless YouTube channel:

Reviews of other books you might like: