Thursday, April 2, 2020


To wear, or not to wear a mask, that's the question...

With the current Covid-19 pandemic protocols of extreme hand-washing (20 seconds each time, 20 times each day or more), social distancing, shelter-in-place or lockdowns, the one thing that the western world has been wary of, is the dilemma of wearing a face mask or not, to help protect against the spread of the virus.

The authorities have been insistent that no masks are needed for the common man or woman in the streets. "It takes away precious resources for health professionals",  "It encourages carelessness.", "It may not be as effective if improperly worn.", go the usual reasons. All true, in some ways, especially if referring to the 'blown fabric' special masks that are reserved for doctors, nurses and other providers who are working with patients in very close proximity of their bodily fluids.

That's not to say though, that ordinary masks are anything, pardon the pun, to be sneezed at. These are the ones improvised or sewn from fabrics at home, that sewers and crafters have been madly making, in hopes of supporting the front-line medical providers in this new war against virus, since the news has been proclaiming their desperate and unmet needs for PPE and N95 masks. ("Knit balaclavas for soldiers fighting in the Crimea", comes to mind).

Eastern cultures such as China, Hong Kong, Singapore and others, have no problems with masks worn against air pollution, which can do double duty against germs. They happily wear them to protect themselves, there being no cultural interdictions, and in the process, are more likely to protect others, since masks of that variety are best to keep one's droplets to oneself.

Currently, the problem with mask wearing in the West is more cultural than medical, but soon, even
that may change. Recent studies in the wake of the coronavirus spread show that the virus may be able to spread even from simply breathing or speaking, let alone coughing or sneezing, and this, combined with the fact that many carriers are asymptomatic, is likely to end up persuading authorities that it's in the public interest to promote, maybe even enforce mask wearing.
 'To mask is the new black!', some ad campaign is sure to suggest. #BeBest might become #BeMasked.

P.S. I haven't started churning out new fabric masks for the family yet, am waiting for the official decree before I do so. But I do have a link to likely mask patterns saved away for the day.

Update: The official word is out, as the PA Governor has now tweeted that the general public should start to wear fabric masks to help slow the spread.  I made my first mask of the day from an old T shirt and elastic earlier, for hubby to go out grocery shopping, need to get to work on the ones for M and myself now.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Birds of Spring

One afternoon, a few days ago, there was a heavy thunderstorm. Small bits of grape-sized hail pelted the wooden deck behind our house. I walked into the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.
Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
"Freeze", said my husband, standing at the sink. "Go round to the other window, and you will see what I am seeing here. It's huge!"
I peered into the other window, and there was a huge hawk sitting on the little gate we had that led to steps from the deck. It sat unmoving in the heavy rain pelting down, didn't seem to be in any kind of hurry to be flying off.
I ran to get my phone and managed to get a few photos and video of it, before it decided the gate's swaying in the wind annoyed it and swooped off.
Looking up the markings in my Sibley field guide, it appeared to most closely match with the picture of the Juvenile Cooper's Hawk, which is considered an uncommon bird in these parts.  I was delighted to have this close encounter with the avian visitor, who, no doubt, had been hanging around in hopes of preying on smaller birds that like to visit our bird feeder, before it got caught in the thunderstorm.

Great Horned Owl (Wikicommons)
On this morning's walk, there were no stars to watch in a clouded sky, nor earthworms to watch out for on dry roads. Signs of the dawn chorus have started though, relatively early in the year, with the warmer temperatures and blossoming trees. Today I heard an owl close to my home. "Hoo Hoo-hoo Hoo, Hoo!", it called insistently again and again.  A little while later, a counterpoint arose, a lighter owl voice calling out "Hoo Hoo-hoo, Hoo, Hoo!"
Another owl, what a surprise!

I stopped for a moment to record the call, and heard a third owl chip in to this duet. I wonder what they were talking about.

Take a listen to owls and other birds of spring by clicking on the link below.

Birdsong and Owls Spring 2020

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Necklace of Lights

After a few days of incessant clouds and rain, early this morning the skies cleared enough for the gorgeousness of the spring constellations to be visible.

I took the precaution of downloading a constellation app on my phone, not wanting to struggle to identify individual star names which I had long forgotten. Antares, Arcturus, Deneb, Altair, Vega...
To the south-east,  a loop of three bright planets. Venus or Jupiter, I wondered. I tapped open the phone app, and it confirmed that  I was looking at Jupiter, a noticeably more orange than red Mars, and Saturn.

The Big Dipper was overhead, with patchy cloud around it. I continued walking uphill to the highest point in my neighborhood, and then froze as I saw a stream of lights moving in a line, from Arcturus towards Vega. The moving lights continued, on and on for a good couple of minutes. My glasses were fogging up from my breath, and I removed them for a few seconds, still watching the now-blurry moving lights, not quite sure of what they might be.

High altitude aircraft? Drones? Perchance, even UFOs, aliens come to save earthlings from the follies of the coronavirus pandemic?

I pulled out my phone to see if I could capture the movement, but the optics weren't powerful enough to get a good image of the moving lights. The screen just seemed to capture unrelieved blackness. I popped the phone back into my pocket, and continued my walk under the starry skies, admiring the steady shine of the three planets whenever my direction took me towards them.

Coming back into the house, it struck me that what I saw might have been a sequence of linked satellites, so I googled those to find that what I seen was the Starlink Satellites, launched in December last year and January this year.

 Astronomical mystery of the necklace of lights solved!

Monday, March 23, 2020

King Baby

Mardi Gras fell on February 25, this year.

(Hlane13, Wikicommons)
Having been the lucky recipient of the King Baby from the cake that my manager brought into the office last year, I was obligated to bring a King cake this year.
I dutifully set my reminder for the date, and started scouring the internet for a suitable recipe to make at home. First stop, an elaborate concoction for the authentic version of the King cake, which seemed like too much work.
Next, an easier version that relied on purchased cinnamon pastry dough, and a few bottles or tubes of food coloring. But the recipe was not only easy, but had more than a few unsatisfied reviewers.
Next, the online search for a bakery that sold the authentic version nearby. Don't we have enough specialty bakeries that would carry that? Alas, the closest specialty bakery didn't list them on their website. I didn't want to take a chance on not finding one if I went there.
More searching, and at last, a few answers on some internet forum. 'Giant Eagle' has them. Or 'Shop n' Save', chimed in another user. I cheered up considerably, and put it on the grocery list for my next shopping expedition. I could always try the cinnamon pastry version if that didn't work out.
Sure enough, there were about a dozen King cakes right up in the front when I went there. The only wrinkle, for the very reasonably priced and delicious looking cake, was that this plastic King baby was huge in comparison with my King baby from last year, and was taped to the plastic container, not baked into the cake, as had been the case earlier.
The cashier glared at me as I asked her the obvious question about how to go about getting the baby into the cake "Maybe make a hole and put it in?" she suggested, rather gingerly.
So that's what I did, pushing it in carefully from under the cake after making a hole with a butter knife.
Mardi Gras day arrived, and I carried it triumphantly to the office, placed it in the common conference area, and sent out a group email "Come one, come all! Try your luck at getting the piece of cake with the King baby!" to paraphrase my more formal 'officialese' email.
I had even provided utensils, and plates, along with purple napkins to make it easier for the hungry hordes.  An hour later, I peeked at it to see how much was left. About 3/4 of it was gone, except for the large section of green frosted cake which harbored the King baby. People were avoiding Mr.Luck!
As it turns out, the King baby is viewed by my colleagues, not as the harbinger of good luck, but the annoyance of having to bring next year's King cake. So much for the tradition being upheld, of happily accepting the King baby, and bringing next year's cake!
The final piece with the King baby still lay forlorn and unclaimed as I left work. The next morning it had vanished, who knows where!

As for next year's King cake, will we even get one? It's all up in the air now...

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Worm Moon

 The Worm Moon played hide-and-seek with fluffy patches of cloud, as I continued down the road. Why is this called the Worm Moon, I wondered. It was quite chill that morning, so I had bundled up with my favorite scarf and walking coat( a much loved corduroy which had frayed so much near the pockets that I sewed a decorative scrap to conceal them, rather than discard it).
Elsewhere, stars shone sharply in clear areas of sky. The head of the Scorpion glittered to one side, the Swan and the Big Dipper elsewhere. I trudged along, head turned skyward.
The roads are always empty at this time, and once I get off the arterial ways, there are no cars to interfere with my attention to the sky.
A week later, and my morning walk turned into a gambling game with the rain clouds. "Will you pour on me, or won't you?" I stepped out in one such gap between the rains and headed up the smooth black asphalt that lines streets in my neighborhood.
There was no point in looking at the sky, so I looked down at the glistening wet road. Little thin, long streaks lined the road. Earthworms, traveling across, trying to get from the grass on one side to the other. Or, earthworms, following long established paths of their ancestors, just moving over the roads that were built over the earlier pathways of soil and untouched forest.
The moon was a banana crescent, with Jupiter and Saturn glittering nearby. Or maybe turning into a worm, a fat one.