3 Ways to Keep from Dying from Stupidity

TV SCREENSHOT: When the government is painting signs like this on your neighbors' homes, you should try to leave.
TV SCREENSHOT: When the government is painting signs like this on your neighbors’ homes, you should try to leave.

“What was that sound?”

“I don’t know but it’s gone.”

Said no survivors ever.

This has been the frustration with AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. The above is actual dialogue. And yes, I shouted at the TV screen.

For those who aren’t familiar, The Walking Dead deals with a world overrun by zombies. It began near Atlanta, as the local sheriff woke up in a hospital that already was overrun, and a group of tight-knit survivors now are winding their way in backroad fashion toward DC. The spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, is set in a grimier section of LA and endeavors to tell the part of the tale we never saw, how our civilization disintegrated in the first place.

To those accustomed to swordplay and crossbows, the new show is much quieter. Slooower. Slower than TWD’s farm season. But worse than that, we just don’t think these people deserve to live.

Granted, they have been given a severe handicap. In their alternate reality, no one has ever seen a zombie movie or TV show. There is no talk of having to shoot people in the head. Only in the most recent episode has transmission by blood been mentioned.

But still. The same family members who dismissed the sound they heard decided at one point to run next door. There probably was a sidewalk or something they could have used, but no. They go through this winding wire-walled path that would be a maze if it were any longer. After encountering their “sick” zombified neighbor, they take that same route back.

But wait! That’s not all! (Imagine that in a Ginsu knife ad voice if you wish.)

While they’re at the neighbor’s house and looking back at theirs, they see something shuffle into the house. It eats their dog. How is this possible? They left. The door. Open.

Do people always think clearly in crisis situations? Of course not. Did they plan to return to the house? Yes.

The real kicker? They had seen Mr. Shuffles before they left. You’d think they’d want the outsider to stay out.

How else are they stupid? They think the government is there to save them.

As proof, I offer the sorta patriarch’s actual words when the National Guard arrives to seal off the neighborhood and not worry themselves about restoring niceties like medical care or phone service:

“The cavalry’s arrived. It’s gonna get better now.”

Of course it is. Because the government has unlimited resources to spread around covering your ass and couldn’t want anything in return.

There is a glimmer of hope when sorta matriarch – his girlfriend who sees the “protection” quite differently – slips the fence and does some poking around in the surrounding area. There are people who have been killed. Not all of them seem to have been ill. Hmmm…

But then she ruins it by staring at a dead guy in the road. He is dead-dead, not horror-show-oops-he’s-moving-now-dead. He has a handgun nearby.

Does she pick it up? NO. Maybe she’s freaked out. But she gets another chance, and she established earlier that she is fine with people learning about guns in times of need. Does she pick it up? STILL NO.


So let’s recap, just in case – bwahaha! I mean WHEN – evil befalls the world in whatever fashion. Want to dramatically increase your chances of survival, or at least that people you meet won’t trip you instead of letting you tag along? Follow these three simple steps:

  1. Shut doors. Keep what’s in in and what’s out out.
  2. The government will always save itself first. You are secondary, perhaps tertiary.
  3. Pick up weapons and ammunition you find. Even if you don’t know how to use them. Even if they don’t go together. Whacking someone/thing with an empty handgun is better than whacking it with your fist.

These people have two weeks to get a grip or get eaten. Right now I’m hoping for the latter.

Got tips? Got gripes (or praise) about the show? Chime in below.

Reigniting my love affair with horror

A dark room for some dark reading.
A dark room for some dark reading.

I picked up keys and was heading out the front door shortly after my husband arrived home. Courtesy of one of the boys, dinner already was ready, even though it probably wouldn’t be eaten for another hour and a half.

“I’m going to the library,” I told him.


Was this a trick question? “To get books.”

I know there are plenty of other cool reasons to go to libraries. In fact, the one I was heading to, Sage Branch Library, is hosting a 3D printer demonstration in a few weeks and I am so there.

Still, when I head to a library, usually with my daughter, I tend to come home with a stack of books. In that regard, I was fairly restrained in only coming home with five books.

The librarian noted that I had found something I had liked, but then hesitated at A Book of Horrors. “Ooh, I couldn’t do that,” she said. “I’d hear things going bump all over the house.”

I shook my head and smiled. “I’ve loved horror since I was little,” I told her. “It’s easier now that I’m not afraid of the dark.”

It was true. I checked out Hitchcock anthologies from the elementary school library. When I was a little older, I pulled a book labeled “ghost stories,” I think, off my daddy’s shelf and read George Langelaan’s The Fly on the couch in his den, in full light.

I was terrified. It haunted me.

Years later, I fell in love with H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a guilty pleasure, especially the stories that end in italics. And exclamation points! So often, the idea is better than the execution. But some of his ideas are so intriguing. And The Thing On the Doorstep jarred me deeply, frightening me for weeks afterward whenever I thought about it.

I love horror movies. But frankly, scaring people with pictures is child’s play compared to scaring them with words. There’s a holiday weekend coming up and a collection of horror tales sounds like the perfect companion.

The books I came home with:
A Book of Horrors, edited by Stephen Jones
The Memory Painter, by Gwendolyn Womack
Disclaimer: A Novel, by Renee Knight
The Fold, by Peter Clines
Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub

Feel free to share your thoughts if you’ve read any of these books or authors, or have suggestions for other reading.

Ice and Orchids at Dow Gardens

One final orchid.
One of the orchids in the "orchid room" of the Dow Gardens' Conservatory.
One of the orchids in the “orchid room” of the Dow Gardens’ Conservatory.

At Midland’s Dow Gardens this time of year, you get a marked contrast: snow and ice outside, tropics inside the Conservatory.

When I visited last Tuesday, the restroom were under construction, so my first sight was this:

Chic and shiny portable restrooms.
Chic and shiny portable restrooms.

These are the loveliest portable restrooms I ever have encountered. Want to know if one is occupied? Check whether the light above the door is red or green. Why so nice? Duh, Midland. If they’re still there this Tuesday I’m going inside whether I need to or not.

Following are photos I took on the way to and from the Conservatory, outside it and inside. The orchids are not labeled so I cannot name the varieties, but welcome comments from anyone who can.

The iconic waterfall.
The iconic waterfall, almost but not quite entirely frozen.


The lovely ballerina, snowed in but not forgotten.
The lovely ballerina, snowed in but not forgotten.


Ice formations.
Ice formations.


More ice formations.
More ice formations.


A pitcher plant. I plan to grow these at some point.
A pitcher plant. I plan to grow these at some point.


A stem of orchid blooms.
A stem of orchid blooms.


One final orchid.
One final orchid.

Why Joan Jett is like bacon

Among the headlines that caught my eye this morning was the announcement of the 2015 class for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Joan Jett and the Blackhearts? Cool,” I thought, and said so on Facebook.

Some of my friends agreed. Others didn’t, with one posting on his own page, “That pretty much seals the suckness of that institution.”

My response: “I like Joan Jett’s music. Do I claim it’s great? Hell no. But I listen to music to please myself, not impress others. Reed and Vaughn, yes, long overlooked, and the inductions always educate me on at least one musician I didn’t know about. I don’t consider the HOF any more a credible authority than the Grammys, but I do think it’s nice when deserving people get recognition, and if Jett cares that her band is in then I’m happy for them.

I don’t believe there’s any genre in which there is nothing I enjoy. Even down to individual artists, most everyone eventually releases at least one song I like.

Some I’m still waiting on. I know Nickelback is an easy target, for example, but I gave their latest song, “Million Miles an Hour,” a full listen in the interest of fairness and came away feeling it was one of their worst songs ever.

In the same vein, even my very favorite musicians eventually release at least one song I deem dreck. When I first played Guns N’ Roses’ “Get In the Ring” I thought “Wow, thanks for wasting my money, guys.”

Music is so highly subjective that it’s like asking someone to justify their favorite color. Most often, you just plain like it. Any argument that, say, yellow is better than red will quickly devolve into the absurd. (Also: purple is awesome.)

Try this one: It’s like bacon vs. kale. Which do you like better? I’m guessing about 97 percent of meat-eating Americans will choose bacon.

SHOULD you like bacon? By almost every measure, bacon is an indefensible choice. Kale is a vegetable, not salty, not fatty, not laden with preservatives …

and it tastes like kale. No one gobbles kale, which is not anywhere near as succulent and downright nommy as bacon.

Bacon is the No. 1 hit. Kale is the technical award in an obscure sound editing category.

There’s room in the music world for both.

Feed your head

My list of books to acquire from the local library is up to three index cards now. Yes, front and back.
My list of books to acquire from the local library is up to three index cards now. Yes, front and back.
My list of books to acquire from the local library is up to three index cards now. Yes, front and back.

An idle thought on New Year’s Eve turned into a model I actually can follow.

I had called to find out what hours Old Town Gym would be open on New Year’s Day, as management prides themselves on being open every single day, even if like on Thanksgiving, it’s just two hours. For New Year’s, there was a four-hour window, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

That’s when I thought, hey, I could go 365 days a year.

By mid-morning I already was questioning that plan, but I dragged myself over there long enough to do machine work. Then I started pondering what I really hoped to gain from the 365 notion.

As I told my son, the plan sounded great for alternate days – machine days. He understood. Like me, he hates cardio. I knew I would be unlikely to go over just for cardio.

But the germ of the idea remained. Maybe I could do SOMETHING every day. A little digging produced a home Pilates workout (although exercise #5 will be beyond me for a while) and a 30-day plank challenge. At some point I might add stretches, but this is enough for now.

That led to not a resolution, but a life shift I could truly embrace: exercising my mind and body every day.

The mind part is easy, because I have reading and learning to do on the way to writing a dystopian novel one day. Right now I’m going through material related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first required reading in a no longer available Canvas Network course on surviving a zombie apocalypse, brought to my attention by the nice folks who promote The Walking Dead. I was too focused on other things to participate while the class discussions were going on, but I snagged all the reading before the course disappeared from the network.

I also have an ever-growing reading list, to which I’m sure to add more from Dystopia.com’s book list. Finally, I signed up for another Canvas course, this one on sustainability, and I plan to participate weekly this time.

Body and mind. So simple, so vital.

Dow Gardens in winter has more than butterflies

While I’ve been volunteering at Dow Gardens’ Butterflies in Bloom, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to take photos.


Certainly there are lots of butterflies. One of the most popular is the blue morpho, which looks like this open:


Sometimes they’re hard to spot when they’re closed, because the underside of their wings looks very different:


We also had African moonwing moths this week:


The gardens look very different in the winter-almost-spring, with ice formations on the waterfall.


In case you haven’t been to the gardens, one of their most recognizable features is the “red steps,” which are very Alden B. Dow-like in design.


This is the view of the inside of the conservatory from the “office” within.


This is the center of the conservatory, with permanent artwork hanging above.


The center also is home to a pair of frogs (this is the male) who are at least 7 years old.


The noisiest residents are the canaries, but there also is a lone Chinese quail.


Art exhibits periodically grace the gardens. This work by Victoria Billingham is one of three in the conservatory, and there are more throughout the gardens.


In one of the side rooms of the conservatory there are a number of bonsai, including this olive tree.


In the room opposite, there are orchids.



Teaching Tuesdays: Behind the scenes at a butterfly house

Every year, Dow Gardens in Midland, Michigan, hosts Butterflies in Bloom, a butterfly house that is unusual in that visitors are allowed to touch the butterflies. I am a butterfly caregiver, so here are some photos from last week, three days before opening.


This case is home to all the chrysalids while the butterflies and moths grow and prepare to emerge. How do the chrysalids get there? They are pinned. Entomologist Elly Maxwell gets boxes that she opens inside a box with sleeves, then sorts the contents. She and volunteers then carefully pin them and add them to the case.


There is much more drama than the wiggling and stretching creatures, though. One key task is inspecting the case for invaders — either from within, through parasitic wasps, or from without, through the tiny white ghost ants that pervade the conservatory. We are careful not to let any cords or leaves touch the case so ants can’t get across that way.

When the case is not open for removing invaders or ready butterflies, it must be locked. The USDA would shut the exhibit down otherwise. Visitors understand that live butterflies can’t leave, hence the two sets of doors. However, we also cannot let dead butterflies or even parts such as wings leave the building, no matter how much students or Scouts might beg. Plant material can’t leave, either, on the off chance it might have eggs on it.


One of the jobs of a butterfly caregiver is to rescue crashed butterflies. Sometimes they fall from their chrysalids onto the moisture-soaked pads below. The case is lined with these mats because the inhabitants need about 93 percent humidity to develop properly. The red stuff isn’t blood, but meconium, which drips out as the insects emerge and pump fluid into their wings.


This is a crasher. If a butterfly falls before its wings are ready, it needs to be placed somewhere it can attach itself and reorient hanging down to finish the process. I reached into the case, “tickled it under the chin” as Elly says, and waited for it to crawl onto my hand.


This is the “nursery” for recovering butterflies. That Norfolk pine is where I was trying to get my butterfly friend to go. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a good grip and fell through the tree to a potted plant blow, and this is how it looked when I left:


Here is one that developed properly but still is in the case, photographed through the glass case front:


Here’s an underside shot of another species:


Just as butterflies like it humid inside the case, they like it humid in the conservatory, which can reach 90 degrees. Hence, another critical butterfly caregiver task is watering the floor. Not kidding.


When watering or even just walking around, you have to make sure you don’t dampen or trample one of the winged residents, which sometimes hang out on the floor.


Misting fans also help keep the humidity up.


As long as visitors are careful, they are encouraged to interact with the butterflies. Remember that the wings are too fragile to touch. There are many species in this exhibit, including some from Asia and Africa, and if one lands on you, you are welcome to let it hang out there if you like.


Wake me, please

iPodFor a long time, I’ve wanted a wake.

Right away, this begs the question of who services after someone’s death are for. Pretty much, they’re for the survivors, and I get that.

Still, it seems some of the more thoughtful viewings and the like that I’ve attended have tried to incorporate something of the deceased besides the coffin at the end of the room. Usually, this comes in the form of photos.

This doesn’t suit me so well. For one, I’m not terribly fond of being photographed, because it forces me to focus on how the world views me and I just am not that interested.

A better representation would be things I had DONE. A notebook of clips. A portfolio of artwork. Photos of my kids, maybe. Plants I had managed not to kill, as even now I have some that have been with me several years, and I like this purple wandering Jew better than some former co-workers and other folk who might choose to breeze through.

The other missing element is music. I usually don’t hear any, but I always have thought any event that was meant to mark my life needed to have loud guitars or it wouldn’t be a true reflection. I went so far as to tell my son a while ago that there was a song to be played at my viewing, LOUDLY, and he promised to cooperate.

I thought about this again when I was listening to my iPod Shuffle and my favorite Nirvana song, “You Know You’re Right,” came on. I sang along as loudly as I possibly could, even though I am not a belting kind of singer. It is a very personal song to me.

That made me think, though. It’s from a place I don’t live anymore. Another song I knew I needed at my wake, “Ain’t It Fun,” fell into the same category: deeply felt, but in memory now, not in present.

It still works. Not everything at a memorial is from the most recent past; some of it goes way back. And to tell my life without any pain in it would be a lie.

So for anyone who might be involved in planning such a thing, here’s a playlist so far, with annotations and appropriate links:

“You Know You’re Right,” Nirvana lyrics • video

“Patience,” Guns N’ Roses. This was played for the first dance at our wedding reception. lyrics • video

“Ain’t It Fun,” covered by Guns N’ Roses lyrics • audio

“Welcome to the Jungle,” Guns N’ Roses. OK, at this point you’re sensing a theme, and you’d be right. The original GN’R (sorry, Axl) was my favorite band on the planet, their concert my most meaningful. But in addition to loving the noise of this song, it has to be played as a joke because EVERY effing pro sports event plays it and I laugh every time. lyrics • video

“Seize the Day,” Avenged Sevenfold lyrics • video

“Take Me or Leave Me,” from “Rent” lyrics • video

“I Wanna Be Sedated,” Ramones. Besides that I love this song, I think it would be great funeral home music. lyrics • video

My choices for the Three Book Diet

My choices for the Three Book Diet.

I’m late joining the Three Book Diet, but that’s because I was late stumbling onto it. It’s Chris Brogan’s brainchild, and essentially, you choose three books to read, reread and implement through Nov. 1, 2013. If you care to tweet about it, use #3BD.

I took a couple of days to ponder my choices, but I pretty much knew one would be about food and one would be about art. The third I knew instantly: Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History, which I bought many years ago and never read.

I was born in 1964 so I had some exposure of Vietnam during the era, but it was glancing and sketchy, like huge headlines in the Louisville Courier-Journal about POWs, or my best friend Dee Dee being very worried in second grade about her dad, who was in this far-off place called Saigon.

To not know more about this war/police action seems shameful, and I aim to correct that this year.

The other two books will be part reading but part action.

Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef is a marvel. I was drawn to it because I imagined it would teach me how to think about ingredients and what I could do with them, not just how to follow recipes. It does that, with chapters devoted to single ingredients or trilogies, but what really sold me were the technique chapters. Braising! Finally this mysterious technique would be unlocked. As we use less expensive meats and traditionally challenging ones such as venison, this is something I need to master.

I also chose one of two anatomy guides for artists that I own. I settled on Gyorgy Feher’s Cyclopedia Anatomicae because it covers not only humans but also several animals — although sadly, not elephants.

If you’re following the Three Book Diet or decide to do so now, drop me a line and let me know your choices.

Red and gold and portents of gloom

More than a week into fall, and I’m still not ready for summer to end. I want one more hot day at the beach before fall settles in, bringing winter’s crush all too soon.

It’s not autumn I object to. Autumn means sweaters! That’s one of the few girlie vanity points I make, but there it is. Cooler weather = time to stop being wistful and break the sweaters out of storage.

Other than that, I don’t have much use for fall. I’ve lived too many of them to care about the color change except in idle passing, and certainly won’t be driving around to gawk at leaves with gas running $4 a gallon. Apple cider, football games, the crisp air and crunchy leaves … meh.

It’s a countdown to winter, that’s what it is. And in Michigan, even here under the bridge, winter lasts a damn long time.

So forgive me for not appreciating autumn’s unique beauty for what it is just yet. I see the changing leaves and zoom ahead to black February and the seemingly endless parade of single-digit days.

Just one more day of hot sand and too-cold lake. Then fall can whip its chill wind and I won’t complain as loudly, knowing I seized all I could.