I’ve met some new friends and I think they are trying to kill me!

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We are spending the winter in Arizona at a RV Resort.  Lots of activities to keep you busy.  You wanna play crib?  Cross crib?  2500? Bridge? Majohng? Poker? well do you?

I’m not much of a card player so to insert myself into the group here and get to know some of the fine people that surround me I decide to join some of the more physical activities that are offered here.

Pickle Ball?

 I’ve played badminton in my younger years, I can hit a ball with a paddle, I’m pretty sure of that..  Off I go and sure enough I can hold my own out there with the others.  What else can I join?

Billiards?

  I’ve played some billiards in my younger years, I can hit a ball with a cue, I’m pretty sure of that… Off I go and sure enough I can hold my own in there with the others.  What else can I join?

Hiking?

I can walk a mile or two or three, I’m pretty sure of that.  It’s the desert, it might be kind of warm out, but we are leaving early.  I’ll wear shorts and bring a couple bottles of water.  I’ll be fine… Off I go…

Me and 12 of my new friends meet at the clubhouse at 8AM.  They look innocent enough, they have white hair, grey hair, dark hair and are a cross section of your typical winter snowbirds.  Tall, short, medium, stout, skinny, wood walking sticks, titanium walking sticks, fanny packs, bright orange hiking shirts, durable footwear, smiles everywhere.  Looks harmless… right?

My assumption is that we are going to all go to the site of our hike and then break into our “easy” and “arduous” hiking groups and all will be good.  One group jumps into a van and off they go.  The rest of us separate in to 3 trucks and away we go.  We drive in the direction of The Wild Burro Trailhead in Marano, Arizona.  When we arrive the 3 trucks park and we disembark.

‘Where are the people in the van?’ I ask..

I am told: “They went on the “easy” hike on Casa Grande Mountain.  But don’t worry you’ll be fine!”

We begin our walk along a flat trail.  It’s beautiful.  My new friends point out different flora, fauna and cute little sing song birds that we can hear and see all around us.  We walk for 15 minutes and stop at the kiosk.  The kiosk is where you sign in to the trail system ( I found out later it’s so they know how many bodies they may need to retrieve if you fail to survive the Wild Burro Trail…).

We casually continue our walk along the wash towards the Tortolita Mountains and pass the lovely Ritz Carlton Hotel and Dove Mountain which you can see up the rise and off to our left after walking about a mile.  I’m having a great time, I’m seeing chain fruit chollas, saguaros, ocotillos, ironwoods, agaves and jojobas.  This is fantastic!

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We have now reached the end of the wash and my new friends have stopped for a break, we drink some water, discuss the hawks, bunnies and birds that we’ve seen so far.  Then our fearless leader points to the purple sign post that says “Wild Burro Trail” and the climb begins..  Are we really going UP THAT MOUNTAIN? … well yes we are.. OMG and before I know it, the 7 brightly colored orange shirts are off and climbing with ease.. It doesn’t take long before me and one other skinny guy wearing jeans are bringing up the rear.  My new friends are being pretty polite, they holler down the trail to ask if I’m ok… I weakly wave and give a thumbs up that yes, I’m OK.. (can’t they hear me and Mr. Jeans gasping for breath from where they are?).. This torture continues for at least an hour as we climb, stop and gather our breath, climb, stop, climb, stop, stop..  We finally arrive at our intended lunch break spot at the basin of the Wild Burro Trail.  We have a beautiful view of Marana and the valley.  There’s an old ranch site, stone walls and round depressions in the rocks called morteros.  They are thousands of years old and it is hard to imagine how many years of grinding it took to wear an 18 inch deep hole in a granite rock.  Were they grinding acorns? nuts? beans? Maybe all of those things?  Archaeologists aren’t really sure.

After catching our breath, battling the little gnats and flies while eating our lunch, we begin our return trip.  I’m relieved when I find out that we are taking an easier route back to the truck.  Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you I’m thinking.. then away they go.  We begin to climb a little more (I’m officially horrified to learn that we have to climb around this little mountain before we begin our descent).  The view was incredible, there was a nice cool breeze, and we saw a batch of colorful flowers along the trail.

The name of the return trail is called… wait for it.. The Alamo Loop.. (you know what happened to the guys at the Alamo right?).  But there’s not much I can do now, here we go.. down, down down, switchbacks, rocks, ledges, head down watching every step, don’t trip, don’t fall, don’t grab a cactus for support (Mr. Jeans learned that on the way up when I stopped suddenly and he had no choice but to grasp at the nearest thing to support himself).. poor guy, I felt bad for him.

We safely negotiate our exit, arrive back at the wash and trudge our way back to the safety of our vehicles.  All in all our hike lasted 5 HOURS and our distance travelled was 7 MILES.  I had survivor’s euphoria when it was completed.

 All in all, I enjoyed my hike, it was longer than I thought it was going to be, it was more exercise than I thought it was going to be, but my new friends were very supportive, made sure I had water, didn’t leave me behind and didn’t manage to kill me or Mr. Jeans.  I will definitely join them on another day!

 

The CIRCLE HAS CLOSED and I’M SAD

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We are back home on the Island.  We’ve been here since the first week of March.  The cooler weather was a definite shock to our system… yuck.. back to damp clothes.. but yay.. back to the smell of the sea.

People have been asking what the best part of the trip was. You know what I tell them?  I tell them that the best part was just “doing it”..

We had a dream, we hatched a plan, we started driving and here we are.  It feels weird to have driven so far and now we are back where we started.  25,000 km (15,000 miles) and here we are back home again.

So why am I sad?

I’m sad because my sister died a few weeks after we got back from our trip.  She wasn’t feeling well when we left, and throughout the last year she didn’t get any better.  Every month or so another symptom, more medication changes, more unanswered questions, more pain.  She did everything you would expect a sick person to do.  She saw her doctor regularily, she took the medicines they said would make her feel better, she took all the blood tests, scans, MRI’s.  And she died.  She’s gone.  And she’s not coming back and I’M SAD about that.

We took our trip, we crossed it off our bucket list and we have awesome and fun memories from the last year.  The scenery, the stories, the food, the accents, the people, they all added value to the experience.

I guess I can get philosophical and say that this is an example and a reminder of why we should do what we want to do, do it now, because tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.  This is true, very true and it’s good advice to follow.  But I’m still sad, that I missed her last year here.  She didn’t want me to stay, she wanted me to go, but I am still sad.  The CIRCLE HAS CLOSED, our family circle has another hole in it and I’m sad.

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How many types of VINEGAR do YOU have at your house?

how many kinds of vinegar can one person have in their house?
Apple Cider Vinegar – check
White Vinegar – check
Tarragon Vinegar – check
Raspberry Vinegar – Check …

Balsamic Vinegar – check
Fig Balsamic Vinegar – check
Malt Vinegar? — Shit — where is it? NOPE, not here, not anywhere — oh well, it’s a good reason to get out and walk to the store to buy some, I guess…. I don’t think my plum / apple chutney will taste the same without it.. darn!!

So then, that got me to thinking….. how many types of vinegar are there? turns out there’s lots and lots!  Here’s some info I got from the Internet at :

recipes.howstuffworks.com

Types of Vinegar

You might be surprised to learn that there are dozens of types of vinegar. The most common vinegars found in American kitchens are white distilled and apple cider, but the more adventurous may also use red wine vinegar; white wine vinegar; rice vinegar; or gourmet varieties, such as 25-year-old balsamic vinegar or rich black fig vinegar.
Vinegar can be made from just about any food that contains natural sugars. Yeast ferments these sugars into alcohol, and certain types of bacteria convert that alcohol a second time into vinegar. A weak acetic acid remains after this second fermentation; the acid has flavors reminiscent of the original fermented food, such as apples or grapes. Acetic acid is what gives vinegar its distinct tart taste.
Pure acetic acid can be made in a laboratory; when diluted with water, it is sometimes sold as white vinegar. However, acetic acids created in labs lack the subtle flavors found in true vinegars, and synthesized versions don’t hold a candle to vinegars fermented naturally from summer’s sugar-laden fruits or other foods.
Vinegars can be made from many different foods that add their own tastes to the final products, but additional ingredients, such as herbs, spices, or fruits, can be added for further flavor enhancement.
Vinegar Varieties
Vinegar is great for a healthy, light style of cooking. The tangy taste often reduces the need for salt, especially in soups and bean dishes. It can also cut the fat in a recipe because it balances flavors without requiring the addition of as much cream, butter, or oil. Vinegar flavors range from mild to bold, so you’re sure to find one with the taste you want. A brief look at some of the various vinegars available may help you choose a new one for your culinary escapades.
White Vinegar
This clear variety is the most common type of vinegar in American households. It is made either from grain-based ethanol or laboratory-produced acetic acid and then diluted with water. Its flavor is a bit too harsh for most cooking uses, but it is good for pickling and performing many cleaning jobs around the house.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is the second-most-common type of vinegar in the United States. This light-tan vinegar made from apple cider adds a tart and subtle fruity flavor to your cooking. Apple cider vinegar is best for salads, dressings, marinades, condiments, and most general vinegar needs.
Wine Vinegar
This flavorful type of vinegar is made from a blend of either red wines or white wines and is common in Europe, especially Germany. Creative cooks often infuse wine vinegars with extra flavor by tucking in a few sprigs of well-washed fresh herbs, dried herbs, or fresh berries. Red wine vinegar is often flavored with natural raspberry flavoring, if not with the fruit itself.
The quality of the original wine determines how good the vinegar is. Better wine vinegars are made from good wines and are aged for a couple of years or more in wooden casks. The result is a fuller, more complex, and mellow flavor. You might find sherry vinegar on the shelf next to the wine vinegars. This variety is made from sherry wine, and usually is im
ported from Spain. Champagne vinegar (yes, made from the bubbly stuff) is a specialty vinegar and is quite expensive.
Wine vinegar excels at bringing out the sweetness of fruit, melon, and berries and adds a flavorful punch to fresh salsa.
Balsamic Vinegar
There are two types of this popular and flavorful vinegar, traditional and commercial. A quasigovernmental body in Modena, Italy (balsamic vinegar’s birthplace), regulates the production of traditional balsamic vinegar.
Traditional balsamic. Traditional balsamic vinegars are artisanal foods, similar to great wines, with long histories and well-developed customs for their production. An excellent balsamic vinegar can be made only by an experienced crafter who has spent many years tending the vinegar, patiently watching and learning.
The luscious white and sugary trebbiano grapes that are grown in the northern region of Italy near Modena form the base of the world’s best and only true balsamic vinegars. Customdictates that the grapes be left on the vine for as long as possible to develop their sugar. The juice (or “must”) is pressed out of the grapes and boiled down; then, vinegar production begins.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged for a number of years — typically 6 and as many as 25. Aging takes place in a succession of casks made from a variety of woods, such as chestnut, mulberry, oak, juniper, and cherry. Each producer has its own formula for the order in which the vinegar is moved to the different casks. Thus, the flavors are complex, rich, sweet, and subtly woody. Vinegar made in this way carries a seal from the Consortium of Producers of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
Because of the arduous production process, only a limited amount of traditional balsamic vinegar makes it to market each year, and what is available is expensive.
Leaf ratings. You might see that some traditional balsamic vinegars have leaves on their labels. This is a rating system that ranks quality on a one- to four-leaf scale, with four leaves being the best. You can use the leaf ranking as a guide for how to use the vinegar. For instance, one-leaf balsamic vinegar would be appropriate for salad dressing, while four-leaf vinegar would be best used a few drops at a time to season a dish right before serving. The Assaggiatori Italiani Balsamico (Italian Balsamic Tasters’ Association) established this grading system, but not all producers use it.
Commercial balsamic. What you’re more likely to find in most American grocery stores is the commercial type of balsamic vinegar. Some is made in Modena, but not by traditional methods. In fact, some balsamic vinegar isn’t even made in Italy. Commercial balsamic vinegar does not carry the Consortium of Producers of the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena seal because it is not produced in accordance with the Consortium’s strict regulations.
The production of commercial balsamic vinegar carries no geographical restrictions or rules for length or method of aging. There are no requirements for the types of wood used in the aging casks. It may be aged for six months in stainless steel vats, then for two years or more in wood. Thus, commercial balsamic vinegar is much more affordable and available than the true, artisanal variety.
Whether you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the traditional variety or you’re using commercial-grade balsamic, the taste of this fine vinegar is like no other. Its sweet and sour notes are in perfect proportion. Balsamic’s flavor is so intricate that it brings out the best in salty foods such as goat cheese, astringent foods such as spinach, and sweet foods such as strawberries.
Rice Vinegar
Clear or very pale yellow, rice vinegar originated in Japan, where it is essential to sushi preparation. Rice vinegar is made from the sugars found in rice, and the aged, filtered final product has a mild, clean, and delicate flavor that is an excellent complement to ginger or cloves, sometimes with the addition of sugar.
Rice vinegar also comes in red and black varieties, which are less common in the United States but very popular in China. Both are stronger than the clear (often called white) or pale yellow types. Red rice vinegar’s flavor is a combination of sweet and tart. Black rice vinegar is common in southern Chinese cooking and has a strong, almost smoky flavor.
Rice vinegar is popular in Asian cooking and is great sprinkled on salads and stir-fry dishes. Its gentle flavor is perfect for fruits and tender vegetables, too. Many cooks choose white rice vinegar for their recipes because it does not change the color of the food to which it is added. Red rice vinegar is good for soups and noodle dishes, and black rice vinegar works as a dipping sauce and in braised dishes.
Malt Vinegar
This dark-brown vinegar, a favorite in Britain, is reminiscent of deep-brown ale. Malt vinegar production begins with the germination, or sprouting, of barley kernels. Germination enables enzymes to break down starch. Sugar is formed, and the resulting product is brewed into an alcohol-containing malt beverage or ale. After bacteria convert the ale to vinegar, the vinegar is aged. As its name implies, malt vinegar has a distinctive malt flavor.
A cheaper and less flavorful version of malt vinegar consists merely of acetic acid diluted to between 4 percent and 8 percent acidity with a little caramel coloring added.
Many people prefer malt vinegar for pickling and as an accompaniment to fish and chips. It is also used as the basic type of cooking vinegar in Britain.
Cane Vinegar
This type of vinegar is produced from the sugar cane and is used mainly in the Philippines. It is often light yellow and has a flavor similar to rice vinegar. Contrary to what you might think, cane vinegar is not any sweeter than other vinegars.
Beer Vinegar
Beer vinegar has an appealing light-golden color and, as you might guess, is popular in Germany, Austria, Bavaria, and the Netherlands. It is made from beer, and its flavor depends on the brew from which it was made. It has a sharp, malty taste.

Vinegar is a versatile condiment with many uses. ©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Coconut vinegar is popular in Southeast Asian cooking, and adds a yeasty flavor.

Coconut Vinegar
If you can’t get your Asian recipes to taste “just right,” it might be because you don’t have coconut vinegar — a white vinegar with a sharp, acidic, slightly yeasty taste. This staple of Southeast Asian cooking is made from the sap of the coconut palm and is especially important to Thai and Indian dishes.
Raisin Vinegar
This slightly cloudy brown vinegar is traditionally produced in Turkey and used in Middle Eastern cuisines. Try infusing it with a little cinnamon to bolster its mild flavor. Salad dressings made with raisin vinegar will add an unconventional taste to your greens.
Now that you’ve got the idea of the wide variety of vinegar flavors available, perhaps

Cobweb? What kind of word is that?

You never know what you’re going to think about while in the shower.. I was left pondering where the word “cobweb” came from, after all, we know that they aren’t made by cobs, but they are a web! 

Yes, cobwebs are made by spiders. Arachnologically speaking, a “cobweb” is a web made up of short irregular strands arranged haphazardly, as opposed to the elegant and elaborate orb webs made by spiders of the family Araneidae. The “cobweb spiders” make up the family Theridiidae. One of the commonest in the U.S. is the common house spider Achaearanea tepidariorum. Because the strands are sticky, they gather dust, producing the long fluffy streamers you see. The notorious black widow spider Latrodectus mactans also belongs to this family. Another spider which may be responsible for webs around the house is the long-legged cellar spider Pholcus phalangioides of the family Pholcidae, which makes loose irregular webs in dark places.

Some stray strands of cobweb aren’t (and never were) part of a web, haphazard or otherwise, but are produced by spiders or other arthropods just the same. Jumping spiders, for example, trail a dragline wherever they go, but don’t make webs. A single filament like this can sometimes get into the airstream and land and stick somewhere. Likewise, as readers of Charlotte’s Web know, many spiders will disperse from their egg sac by “ballooning,” which involves trailing a long filament of silk from the spinnerets until the air currents catch hold (like flying a kite more than ballooning, I suppose).  These filaments can obviously occur indoors if that’s where the egg sac was located, or they may blow in from the outside. Similarly, many tree-feeding moth larvae will make silk “escape” lines if they feel threatened, and these lines can break loose and get into the air.

While we’re on the subject, you’re probably wondering what a “cob” is. Here’s what the Word Detective says: 

The most commonly encountered “cob” is the corn-cob, the cylindrical woody shoot on which grains of corn grow. That kind of “cob” comes from a very old English word that meant “head or top.”

It is possible that “cobweb” is related to that word, but a more certain ancestor is the Middle English “coppe,” which meant simply “spider.” Over the years “coppe” was gradually slurred to “cob,” and, voila, “cobweb.” 

— George, Doug, and Ken

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Staff Reports are written by the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board, Cecil’s online auxiliary. Though the SDSAB does its best, these columns are edited by Ed Zotti, not Cecil, so accuracywise you’d better keep your fingers crossed.