Who Is The Kumquat Thief?

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The bitter cold and weak light of an Illinois winter make growing a kumquat tree outdoors an impossibility.  Indoors, it’s not easy either.  Especially if there’s a thief in your house.

If you’ve ever tasted a kumquat, you’d know why I grew one.

I fell in love with the fruit when I traveled to Florida one year, and a relative of mine picked one off the kumquat tree he had growing in his yard.  He handed it to me and instructed “eat the whole fruit, skin and all.”

It was instant love at first bite.  Unfortunately, despite the wonderful sweet/sour taste of the fresh fruit, there’s not a lot of kumquat shipping going on.

I don’t get it.  You can buy Florida oranges, Texas grapefruit, Costa Rican pineapples, Honduran bananas, kiwis from New Zealand, and Mexican avocados.  But try and find kumquats at your local grocer.  It’s a rare day in January when you’ll find one.

So it came about that one year I bought a kumquat tree from a nursery that assured me the citrus was hardier than most and could be grown successfully indoors in my zone 5 habitat.

For three years I nursed that tree.  It wasn’t easy.

Our summer takes too long to get hot, and turns cold too quickly.  Normally flowering in spring, forming fruit in summer, and ripening in early winter… my kumquat barely had time to set flower outdoors before it was time for me to carry it back inside.

All those websites and catalogs that tell you it’s easy to grow kumquats inside in the frozen north are either 1) unintentionally ignorant, or 2) flat out lying so you’ll buy a tree from them.

Kumquats need heat for the fruit to ripen.  Try getting heat next to a sunny window when it’s 10 degrees below zero outside.  Speaking of that sunny window… kumquats need light.  Warm, bright light.  My winter light shining in a full sun window is still too weak.

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Not to be daunted, I re-arranged my office, the brightest room in my house.  I turned the whole room into a mini-greenhouse and set the kumquat as close to the window as possible, catching what little sun rays it could.

I adorned my office with artificial light.

I researched the plants native habitat and fruit production schedules and set the plant lights on a timer, designed to imitate the amount of light required for optimum fruit production.

To protect it from the cold near the window, I enclosed the whole shelving unit in plastic sheeting.  Of course, dry heat from a furnace comes nowhere near the humidity needs of tropical fruit, so I had to set up a humidifier within my tiny office as well.  And, what the heck, I added a bunch of my other house plants to the locale, which not only helped them, but also created additional humidity for my kumquat.

You couldn’t come into the room without skirting the equipment and plants.  As my office faces the street, the lights from my windows lit up the whole block.  My neighbors commented that they didn’t need to turn on their porch lights anymore.  The light leaked into their homes in the evenings.  Did it lower their electric bill?  I wonder.

I had a trick-or-treater ask why I had a bright “jungle” on the side of my house and I suspect we were the subject of many Halloween stories… at least by the parents.

I’m not even going to begin to tell you how much this all cost.

Finally, after several years of this insane behavior, I found – to my delight – that my kumquat held twelve little orange globes.  I was thrilled.  A dozen kumquats isn’t much (they are a bit larger in size than a grape).  Those twelve kumquats would’ve been just one or two snacks, actually.  But did I care?  No!  I was one happy gardener.

Patiently, I waited for the fruits to ripen.  Every few days I would check on them, smacking my lips in anticipation.

Then one day, I noticed something funny.  Something had changed.  I counted the fruits, and two of them were missing.

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“Two of my kumquats are missing,” I said to Hubby.  “Did you eat them?”  There was an accusatory tone in my voice.

Hubby denied responsibility.  I could only assume that I had counted wrong.  After that, though, I kept closer watch.  The next week passed and all seemed fine.  I began to relax again.

Then, inexplicably, another one disappeared.

I confronted Hubby.  “There are only nine kumquats on my tree,” I said.  I didn’t need to say more, my combative stance and expression said it all.

Alarm lit up his face.  He lifted his palms, facing me, signaling me to stop, and swore up and down that he had nothing to do with it.  I had no proof and it seemed out of character for him to steal my fruits, but I couldn’t see how else it had happened.  Sylvester, our dog, didn’t like going into the office because of the crowded set-up and humidifier.  Plus, he’s a dog…  kumquats (especially unripe ones) are kind of sour.  He liked to have a bite of banana whenever we did, but he was really a meat and potatoes sort of a guy.

After that, I became obsessed with counting the kumquats every day.  Every so often another one would mysteriously disappear, so I began to watch the office door like a hawk, but I never caught anyone doing the deed.

Then, one day, I caught him.

He thought I wouldn’t see him, engrossed as I was in my book.  He passed the outskirts of the hall silently, moving covertly and sticking close to the wall, hanging his head low so I wouldn’t notice him out of the corner of my eye.

He slipped into the office and disappeared from view.

I popped up from my chair and ran to the office, just in time to catch him with a kumquat on his treacherous lips.

“Wait!” I cried.  His eyes grew wide and he ran past me and took off for the other side of the house, where I found him hiding behind the bed.

I was shocked.

But as much as I loved my kumquat tree, I love my dog more.  And how could I blame him?  Kumquats are the most glorious fruit, and I suspect he knew he’d never get any offered to him.  So I forgave Sylvester his trespasses.

That night, when Hubby came home, I told him what had happened.  Of course he took Sylvester’s side, as I knew (and Sylvester knew) that he would.

Sylvester watched as I set up a barricade to the office, protecting the remaining five kumquats.  When they finally ripened, I gave Hubby two and I ate the remaining three.

Sylvester watched us eat them, longing shining from his big, brown eyes.  I almost relented and gave him one, but then I didn’t.  Hubby gave one of his to Sylvester, and the kumquat story has come to epitomize some of the craziness I sometimes go through for plants.  We talk about it with humor.

Oh, the tree?  Despite all the artificial light, summer wasn’t enough to repair the damage caused by yet another winter indoors – It died the following year.  The neighbors were thrilled – no doubt Sylvester was disappointed.


People Fall for NYTimes’ Fake Hacking Story of 1.2B Stolen Passwords

If you don’t want to read all this post, at least scroll down and read the last two paragraphs. Unbelievable!

Engineering Evil

Friday, 08 August 2014

On August 5th, the NY Times published a story titled “Russian Hackers Amass Over a Billion Internet Passwords ” which was, in fact, a “Native Advertising” venture between this once respected newspaper and a relatively new computer company identified as Hold Security founded last year in Wisconsin by Alex Holden.

“Native Advertising”, is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed.

The word “native” is used to refer to the formatting of the advertising materials to make them appear more consistent with other media in the recipient’s universe. In other words, paid advertisement is presented as “news”, even though it isn’t.

The New York Times began their “Native Advertising” program this past January, when…

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Now Hear This: Drink Up!

I knew there was a reason I loved coffee!  A new report has come to light!  According to an August 7, 2014 report in Clinicalnews.org, caffeine intake is associated with a lower incidence of tinnitus.  (Say what?)  According to this article, “Researchers observe that women with a higher intake of caffeine had a lower incidence of unexplained ear ringing.”

If you know me personally, then you know this is pretty funny coming from me.  But I’m not laughing (as I turn up the volume on my hearing aids to hear the good news).  Uh-uh.  Coffee is serious business.

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Not only is coffee good for your ears, but apparently it’s good for the rest of what ails you too:

“A study tracking the health and coffee consumption of more than 400,000 older adults for 13 years, and published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that coffee drinkers reduced their risk of dying from heart disease, lung disease, pneumonia, stroke, diabetes, infections, and even injuries and accidents.  (High blood caffeine levels in older adults linked to avoidance of Alzheimer’s disease,  8/5/14, Clinicalnews.org.)

Somebody call my doctor, quick!  He apparently is misinformed into believing that caffeine raises your blood pressure.  Silly man.

The above referenced Alzheimer’s study took place in Tampa, Fl, 6/4/12, (what better place to do it?), a collaboration between researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Miami.  They found that higher caffeine levels in the blood were associated with avoidance of, and perhaps protection from, developing Alzheimer’s disease.  “Moreover, coffee appeared to be the major or only source of caffeine for these individuals”.

So, what exactly do they mean by “higher blood caffeine levels?”  Well, that’s a good question.

According to the news article:  “These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee — about 3 cups a day — will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease — or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s,” said study lead author Dr. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the USF College of Pharmacy (http://health.usf.edu/nocms/pharmacy/) and the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute (http://health.usf.edu/nocms/byrd/).

But then later in the article:  “No one with MCI* who later developed Alzheimer’s had initial blood caffeine levels above a critical level of 1200 ng/ml – equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee a few hours before the blood sample was drawn. In contrast, many with stable MCI had blood caffeine levels higher than this critical level.”  (*mild cognitive impairment)

Hmmm… so several cups of coffee is below the critical level?  Then, does “several cups” mean 2 cups?  Because it would have to, wouldn’t it, in order to jive with the statement that 3 cups a day will protect you from the disease?  “… In contrast, many with stable MCI had blood caffeine levels higher than this critical level.”

I don’t know; these statements appearing conflicting to me.  But I’m betting that whatever the “above critical level” is, I’ve got it covered.

This is the problem with news articles.  This one is the journalists attempt to compile summaries of more than one study and cram as many references as possible into it in order to make it accurate and professional.  Or at least appear accurate and professional.  Not this journalists fault, I’m doing the same thing with this post.  But the process does sometimes unintentionally drift into unclear territory.

(As a side note, I have to wonder if anyone’s ever done a study on the link between Alzheimer’s, increased caffeine consumption and Florida’s vehicular crash statistics.)

Nevertheless, the message coming across is consistent.  If you want to head off Alzheimer’s, drink more coffee:

“Moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee appears to be the best dietary option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss,” Dr. Arendash said. “Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain, and has few side-effects for most of us. Moreover, our studies show that caffeine and coffee appear to directly attack the Alzheimer’s disease process.”

And since the study also points out that neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s) actually start one or two decades before the symptoms become apparent, the sooner you start drinking that coffee the better.

Hey… I don’t need a light bulb over my head to do that!  I heard that message a long time ago.


Decisions, Decisions…

Many years ago I went to see a hypnotist to quit smoking.  Afterward, an acquaintance commented to me that she’d heard some people were more pre-disposed to suggestions, making them easy subjects for hypnosis.  She herself did not trust hypnotists and would never entertain thoughts of seeing one.  She wasn’t cutting me down, rather she was expressing her own fears about the subject, afraid that that being hypnotized was the same as giving away free reign over her thoughts.

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Actually, contrary to what you see in the movies, hypnosis doesn’t take away your free will or change your morals.  There’s no flashing light or swinging crystal.  You aren’t unconscious; nor are you a gullible, submissive person.  If you wouldn’t normally stand up and take off your clothes in front of someone – just because they suggest it – then you wouldn’t do it under hypnotic suggestion either.

Likewise, if you resist being hypnotized, then you won’t be!  Simple as that.  It’s just a totally relaxed state where you decide to let yourself be open to the suggestion being made.

According to Dr. Ray from Penn State, “… good hypnotic subjects are active problem solvers”.  (Reference: Penn State U website, “Does Hypnosis Work”)  I don’t know about that, I just know that in my case I really, really wanted it to work.

I’d developed asthmatic problems as a result of smoking.  Many attempts to stop on my own had proved unsuccessful.  So I joined a stop-smoking class offered through my place of employment.  The class met for 10 weeks, designed to gradually reduce our number of smokes per day.  I was pinning my hopes on that class.

By the end of the program, the entire group graduated smoke free, but I quit smoking at the very first session.

You see, the very first meeting held a surprise: after initially getting acquainted, the instructor introduced a hypnotist and announced we were going to start the program with a hypnosis session.  It was the only time we were hypnotized during the entire 10 weeks.  Everyone else in class followed the weekly program and quit smoking gradually, but that first day – right after we came “out of hypnosis” – I stood up and threw my cigarettes in the garbage.

Everyone was surprised, including the instructor.  But once I’d learned we were going to experience hypnosis, I made a conscious decision, before we “went under”.

I had decided hypnosis was going to work for me.  It was a decision that drastically changed my health.

So just how do we make these decisions that determine the quality of our lives?  Do our feelings make our decisions for us, or do we consciously decide?

Letting your feelings tell you what path to take is not the same thing as using your feelings to decide your path.  When I decided to let hypnosis work for me, I used my feelings to make that decision.  I desired to quit smoking.  I was terrified of the asthmatic attacks I’d suffered and seriously afraid I couldn’t quit on own.  I was actively seeking help.

But it was a definite decision.  Not a reaction.  I remember consciously thinking I was going to allow myself to be hypnotized and it was going to work.  Come hell or high water.

Three months after the class ended, we had a class reunion to see how we were doing.  With the exception of myself, every one of my classmates had returned to smoking.  Yet, many years later, I am still smoke free.

Oh, that I could solve all my problems so completely!  But in truth, I am painfully aware that many of the things I’ve done (and continue to do) are purely emotional, gut reactions.  Decisions that my feelings make for me, not something that I consciously decide to do.

Sometimes that turns out well, but often it just throws me off kilter.  Or at the very least, just keeps me in my “comfort zone”, even if that zone is actually uncomfortable for me, it’s less stressful than facing what I don’t know.

What I can say is that most of the best things I’ve done in my life have been the result of decisions consciously made, not reactions.  Like quitting smoking, deciding to stay married (see How Walter Matthau Saved My Marriage), or changing jobs.

My best decision?  Choosing to become a Christian: Light Gets In Your Eyes.

(You knew I was coming around to the “God part” sooner or later… right?  I can’t help it.  “I yam who I yam.”)

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I’m one person, and we all have different strengths and ways of choosing the paths we take.  I’d love to hear from others and hear how they’ve made the decisions in their life, what has determined the paths they’ve chosen.

So what about you?  How do you make your decisions?

One of the most amazing things I’ve learned about blogging is how international it is.  My feedback stats tell me how many readers my blog gets every day, and it never ceases to amaze me when I see the myriad countries from which my readers hail.  We all truly are an international community.

So, please, feel free to comment and share.  Bring to light your brightest and darkest decisions with us.  Anonymously if you prefer.  It may look like no one cares, but actually, we’re listening.