Monday, May 23, 2016

A Verdant Spring

The Missouri River continues to run a little high. Although the flooding in this area has peaked at the moment, there is more rain expected in the next few days.  The greatest amount of rain in eastern Kansas typically falls in the spring. This May is proving to be a particularly wet month. That's why the grass looks so green in these pictures.

I sometimes think to myself when I am outside, "It's hard to believe that the Earth is dying." There are still moments in which everything seems to be right with the world.  It's these times that need to be treasured.

One has to realize that the water pictured here isn't potable and picks up the treated sewage from the cities and towns upriver. My drinking water comes from wells located below the river and undergoes a treatment process before it is pumped throughout the city.  Atrazine is still present in the water at amounts considered safe, that is, something like three parts per million. There is no telling how many plastic microbeads can be found in the water.

Although fishermen are not visible in these pictures, I often encounter people who fish for carp and catfish and who tell me that the river provides some good eating.







Saturday, May 14, 2016

Music in Stores and Restaurants

One thing in particular that I hate about shopping, when accompanying my wife, for example, is the music in each store. Even grocery stores play music, usually contemporary popular music, most of which I don’t recognize. Probably people in marketing have discovered that shoppers respond, often unconsciously, to upbeat music. It has probably been proven that consumers spend less time making a decision when music is played in the background.

Actually, according to the research found on the Internet, fast tempo music leads to more impulse shopping while slow tempo music causes shoppers to linger and to spend more money as a result. The volume of the music plays a part, too. Older customers, according to the research, prefer to have the music in the background and are more apt to leave stores where the music is in the foreground. Younger customers, on the other hand, prefer to have the music in the foreground and will often remain in a store to hear the music. James J. Farrell in One Nation Under Goods: Malls and the Seductions of American Shopping, a booklength examination of how Americans are manipulated by the marketplace, admits that music “increas[es] our productivity as consumers by increasing our proclivity to purchase products.” Our response to music is one way out of many that consumers are manipulated to act in illogical ways, Farrell says.

I am particularly bothered by loud music in restaurants. Many of my experiences in restaurants, as of late, have proven to be unpleasant because of the loud music. I don’t know what restaurants hope to achieve by having the volume turned up.  According to the research, customers drink more and eat faster when the music is loud. A restaurant with loud music is also perceived as being more fun. A restaurant critic in Washington, D.C., I have discovered, rates restaurants on not only the quality of the food but also the amount of noise. Someone younger will find loud music more stimulating and more inviting. I think of loud music as annoying. It is often difficult to talk to the person next to me because of the noise. I much prefer to take my food somewhere outside or to sit in the car while overlooking a pleasant scene.

Noise pollution is such a fact of our lives. I have spent much of my adult life searching for a quiet environment. Sometimes, ironically, I want nothing more than to fully experience the nuances of my music. At other times, I want to hear nothing more than bird songs or the rhythm of cicadas, their songs rising and falling in the evening. Within this crowded world of ours, we should be able to know quiet at times and should have some options on what we allow to enter our ears.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Orgasmically Organic Oranges


Beginning about ten years ago, I have slowly been altering my diet and moving away from processed food. My transition started when I was reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, which examined the food served at fast food restaurants.  Thanks to Schlosser’s book, I became more aware of the food that I was eating and started eating at far fewer fast food restaurants.

Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma introduced me to the dangers associated with high fructose corn syrup while Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, Sandra Steingraber’s Living Downstream, and Theo Colborn’s Our Stolen Future, which was co-written with Diane Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers, emphasized the hazards regarding plastic and artificial food dyes, such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, all of which are derived from petroleum. I now make it a point to avoid foods packaged in plastic as much as possible. Also, I read the ingredients on food labels and avoid food containing high fructose corn syrup and artificial food dyes, which the Food and Drug Administration has chosen not to ban.

My diet primarily consists of multi-grain bread, peanut butter, and mostly fruits but some vegetables, too. Trips to the grocery store are primarily spent in the produce section. Recently, I bought some reusable mesh bags for produce and manage to avoid using plastic bags to carry oranges or apples. With the exception of things like cheese and peanut butter, I manage to avoid most processed food during the day. I cannot classify myself as a vegetarian because each night my wife and I usually eat some kind of meat product. Occasionally, we buy a few pieces of baked chicken or a whole roasted chicken from the grocery store and pair it with a salad. A whole chicken lasts a couple of days because we use the leftovers for chicken and noodles, one of my wife’s favorite foods. Other nights we might have stuffed peppers or chili made with chunky salsa, hamburger, and organic pinto beans and organic black beans. Less frequently, we have my rice concoction recipe with ham, broccoli, mushrooms, onion, cheese, and quinoa. My favorite meal consists of a banana, dates, baby French carrots, a piece of toast with peanut butter, and a small bowl of blackberries and blueberries or an orange and a kiwi. I could easily eat that assortment for all of my meals.

Eating a meal outside of the house has become more difficult. Usually, my wife and I choose Chinese, Mexican, or Mongolian barbeque during those occasions when we eat out. She may have a glass of wine or a margarita while I order water. Genghis Khan, our favorite Mongolian restaurant, is about an hour away in Kansas City, and during peak times on weekends, it can require an hour’s wait to get a table. My students had recommended this restaurant when I was teaching at U of Missouri-Kansas City many years ago. This family owned Mongolian restaurant offers a wide selection of fresh vegetables, noodles, and meat, all of which are cooked on the griddle. At other times when we eat Mexican, for example, I usually order chicken fajitas, which is what I had on my birthday.

Through trial and error, I have learned which grocery stores in the area carry the freshest produce at a reasonable price. My town has three grocery stores, but only Dillons has a large produce section and carries the widest assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables—both organic and non-organic although the organic produce is usually much more expensive. This same grocery store is the only one that carries an assortment of Lara bars and the coarsest multi-grain bread. Shopping at Wal-Mart is usually a waste of money because their produce pales in comparison. Once in a great while, my wife and I may make the hour long trip to Whole Foods in Overland Park. Whole Foods carries the best produce in the area, and it’s a real treat to have one of their oranges.  I like to think of their oranges as orgasmically organic, that is, full of juice and full of flavor.

My wife is more apt to eat crackers, corn tortilla shells, and tortilla chips than I am. She also likes the convenience of eating a can of soup at lunch. Thanks to my urging, she has gotten away from eating those canned soups that contain bisphenol-A in the lining. More recently, she has been willing to get away from most processed foods and to adopt more of a plant-based diet. Like me, she has her favorite foods, such as radishes, raw turnips, cauliflower, and watermelon. She is reluctant to eat as much fruit as I do because she says it raises her blood sugars. Even so, she sometimes loves my homemade fruit salad at dinner. This salad usually contains lots of berries, along with sliced orange, kiwi, and banana. It’s a great meal in the summer when these berries—raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries—are in season and relatively inexpensive.

I cannot say that my diet has made me skinnier. My upcoming goal is to reduce my consumption of sugar by drinking more water and by getting away from fruit juices and the occasional Izze, a drink containing fruit juice and sparkling water. Chocolate is one of my weaknesses, and I need to eat less of it.  Overall, my diet has kept me out of a doctor’s office and has kept me relatively healthy, even at the age of sixty-five.  I am hoping to have a few more years of good health ahead of me.



Sunday, May 01, 2016

After a Spring Storm


After a series of storms on Tuesday and Wednesday dropped almost four inches of rain, I got out on Wednesday evening to see whether the Missouri River was running high. The bulk of the water from farther upstream, I have learned, won't actually arrive until Monday.

There have been places in the US that have been devastated recently by the flooding. My heart goes out to those people affected by the recent flooding. I feel fortunate to live at the crest of a hill and to live in a town that only floods along the river and that has prevented people from building in its flood prone areas.

Before my wife and I bought our home, we checked with our insurance agent and his maps of the area to ensure that we were not in a flood zone. Having experienced a flood in Oklahoma, we didn't want to repeat the experience.  Not everyone has that option for any number of reasons. Likewise, it is difficult to anticipate those bouts of abnormally heavy rain brought on by our changing climate.