Friday, April 24, 2015

Greek statues

If you ask me what my favorite thing it, I will quickly say, "I love to travel." I also love sharing travel stories with people who love to travel.

I was at a meeting the other night and spoke to my very senior friend, Mary. In the conversation, I told her that I was going to Greece next month. Mary spoke of it fondly and indicated that it was one of her very favorite places to go.

The last time she was there, she had persuaded her husband, Paul to go on a cruise to the big islands and then take a shore trip to Athens, Delphi and back. During all the visits to the museums, Mary took photographs of statues. She indicated that her favorite one was of a young charioteer from a museum in Delphi. At the end of her trip, someone approached her and said that she wasn’t supposed to use her flash when taking photos because it could damage the antiquities.

Mary just knew that she would get into trouble, so she offered to give the person her roll of film, not wanting to get caught with it. The woman said she would not take it, but asked Mary not to use her flash again. Mary agreed.

Mary and Paul developed the roll of film when they got home, and they sat down together to look at the photos. Paul was surprised at the photographs, then remarked, “You only photographed statues of naked men.”


Mary smiled.


May all your days be filled with travel stories. I'd love to hear from you. Email me at aitken.helen@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Christening the new oven

I guess it will take forever to learn how to use this stove. Every time I brush up against it the cooktop comes one. Thankfully I took advice and don't have anything on it. 

Today I'm baking a cake from scratch with my mother's 7 minute icing that takes 20 minutes to make, and fresh coconut for my sister's birthday. I only cut myself once cutting away the coconut from the husk and the inner husk. Cutting myself is a ritual, not wanted but always the case.
Scott volunteered to help me open up the coconuts last night- he used the screwdriver and hammer method while I just attacked it with a hammer and turned it in my hand. We saved the coconut water for the top of the cake before the coconut goes on. Joanne will put on some ceramic bunnies my mother made for Easter time and this cake should look like the one she would make for Joanne's birthday. I hope.



I turned on the oven for the first time and the house is full of smoke. Does this mean I broke it already? Will Joanne's scratch cake taste and smell like smoke? Will I have to resort to cooking another one using a box mix? Only time will tell.

And then, will Joanne appreciate that I spent an hour trying to find two coconuts from the Dominican Republic, 3 hours fixing the coconut, an hour making and baking the cake, 20 minutes for the icing and about another 30 minutes for the decorating? Then there is the big mess in the kitchen.

Back up plan, if nothing turns out, I'll go to Food Lion and buy one. If this happens, Scott will say, "Why didn't you do that in the first place?"

I never win.


May all your days be full of birthday cake. I'll let you see the final product if and when it comes together. I'd love to hear from you, email me at aitken.helen@gmail.com.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Lionfish in North Carolina May Signal Climate Change

Just thought you would like to see my latest article in All At Sea Southeast magazine. It's not funny but enlightening.


http://www.allatsea.net/lionfish-in-north-carolina-may-signal-climate-change/

This group of lionfish (Pterois volitans) are actively foraging for small prey fish species. A NOAA diver is using video to help quantify and document the fish community off North Carolina. Credit: NOAA
This group of lionfish (Pterois volitans) are actively foraging for small prey fish species. A NOAA diver is using video to help quantify and document the fish community off North Carolina. Credit: NOAA

Lionfish in North Carolina May Signal Climate Change

North Carolina reefs are important to study because they occur in a temperate-tropical transition zone and act as a boundary for temperate and tropical species, regulated by the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream. In this north/south migration area, food is available and reproduction occurs. Theoretically, when the seasons change, the migrations should reverse. However, water temperatures have changed in favor of the lionfish ability to establish new territories.Lionfish look beautiful in an aquarium, however they can prove deadly to humans as well as ecosystems. Since being released into the waters off Florida in the 1980s, this colorful fish has expanded throughout the Caribbean and is now making its way up the eastern seaboard. With no known predator, lionfish have begun to outnumber or replace native fish species. Warm water, especially in winter, has allowed this fish to migrate as far north as North Carolina. Climate change, due to global warming, may be the reason.
The University of North Carolina Wilmington and NOAA compared 40 fish species communities at different temperatures and depths during summer and winter months. Results of the data collected during a six-year period were published in the September 2014 issue of Marine Ecology Progress Series. The findings report declining native fish populations, alien species successfully competing for food and habitat, and warmer waters extending the natural range of all fish. Large numbers of lionfish, along with tropical reef fish, angelfish, and wrasses, are now the “ecological indicators” signaling major environmental changes.
The study found lionfish, being temperature dependent, like waters warmer than 57°F, as waters cooler than 58°F will drive them away. In winter, they were most abundant at 64°F. Further, as seafloor depths increased from 87-150 feet, temperatures rose and the lionfish population increased at least tenfold. It also predicted as the nearshore communities experience warmer temperatures, more lionfish would appear.
“Lionfish may prove to be one of the greatest threats of this century to tropical Atlantic reefs,” wrote NOAA ecologist, James Morris, Ph.D., in NOAA news online. “As the first reef fish invasive species to this region, lionfish have clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of Atlantic reefs to marine invasions.” Reefs do not repair easily or quickly, therefore if the lionfish destroy them, it may take decades before they fully recover, if at all.
North Carolina estuaries are also in jeopardy of climate change and alien invasions. This system of marshes, mudflats, oyster reefs, seagrass and mixed grasses lies between the shoreline and its barrier islands. Here, water transitions between salt, fresh, and brackish waters. The estuaries provide safe havens for many animal varieties and each specie has a preference. Estuaries also provide nursery areas and feeding grounds, so changes in water temperature and encroaching tropical populations could be devastating. Invading fish will disturb habitats, compete for food, and eventually disrupt recreational and commercial fishing.
Once alien species are established, getting rid of them becomes difficult if not impossible. For lionfish, the eradication process is ambitious, inventive and ongoing. To protect and conserve delicate environments, there are paid and volunteer removals, fishing derbies, catch-and-eat tournaments, and commercial removals for restaurant menus, fish food, aquarium use, or jewelry. This vigil may be the only way to reduce the lionfish’s impact, but it doesn’t seem enough.
It’s unknown how warming waters will eventually affect offshore reefs or estuarine populations. If the transition zone moves northward, the problems seen in North Carolina will move to Virginia and Maryland to the Chesapeake Bay, the largest, most productive estuarine system in the U.S. In the meantime, researchers continue to monitor lionfish, other tropical species and native fish populations, identify environmental changes and try to predict the impact on species and habitats in the future.

Helen Aitken is a writer and photographer from eastern N.C. who loves classic wooden boats, “backyard” boat makers, coastal areas, and contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast magazine. Visit her website at www.helenaitken.com.

Monday, April 6, 2015

To Cook or Not to Cook, that is the Question.

A little over 3 years ago, my downdraft oven died.  It was also a downdraft oven and for 7 years using it, it worked well. 
It was only 20 years old.
Perhaps you don't know this, but I'm not a great cook. Technically, I can follow a recipe because in my mind, it's Chemistry and if I think like a chemist, things usually come out alright. 
For years, Scott wondered why my measuring cups were beakers and Erlenmeyer flasks.
So we bought a counter top convection oven that would bake pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches and the occasional casserole in the smallest of casserole dishes. Actually I cooked as well in that thing than in the big oven, so the family survived.
Realistically, I thought it would be easy to replace the range, but when I was ready to buy the bazillion dollar unit, Jenn-Air lost its mind. It had the worst reputation for needing repairs and held the patent so that other companies couldn't create their own. 
We waited, and waited, and thought about remodeling the whole kitchen just to get a range in our peninsula. The dollar signs got larger and larger, but what could we do?
We went through 6 contractors who couldn't make my simple dream come true.
Then slowly the old burners burned out one by one. The last burner sparked, flamed and died in November, 2014. 
So I went to Home Depot and purchased the beautiful range just before Thanksgiving, and, it only took 6 months for someone to get it installed.
Now, we have a high-tech range with a sophisticated computerized system that qualifies me for manning the space shuttle when I learn it.
The bonus is that the process for reworking the vent and the kitchen might begin this month with company #7.
The downside is that I have to get rid of all my copper cookware and those with ridges on the bottom and hope that I don't drop anything on the cooktop.

Scott said he wanted to see the oven used all the time and I said, "Let the burning of food begin."

May all your days be filled with dreaming of new appliances and cooking spectacular dinners. I'll dream too. Email me at aitken.helen@gmail.com. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Shopping for Toys For Tots

Scott and I hit Walmart to buy lots of toys for the Toys For Tots campaign. I felt out of touch with what kids play with these days, so I lumbered through each section trying to figure it out.

At first we landed in the clearance section and the shelves and toys were similar to what you'd expect after a blue light special on Halloween candy, on October 31st.

Since I've survived many blue light specials, it was exciting to root through things and try to find a bargain that wasn't taped together or lacking an arm. As I found something interesting, Scott would try to find the prices. In futility, he called an associate for help.

Billy, a gentleman much older than Scott was asked about prices. He just shook his head and indicated this was a part of the store he avoided, and perhaps everyone else should too. We took the hint and headed to the pricing machine attached to a pole in the electronics area. So far, we hadn't spent too much.

We found Lego's for girls and I almost wept. Boy, I would have loved to build cool stuff when I was a kid, even if it was an ugly pink house with unreal unicorns and fairy princesses.

I kept gravitating towards the boy stuff. I suppose it was because I have only a son that needed Lego's and Power Rangers when he was little. Even though he's almost 24, he still gets excited over a good Lego set.

Standing on the shelf was a Spiderman with gigantic, padded fists. It urged me to "try me" and I couldn't figure out what it did. Scott played with it for awhile, and as he got the body to twist and legs to kick, the fists swung also. Scott eventually put him back, and walked away. Then Spiderman yelled, "Hey buddy, where are you going?"

I thought I would die laughing. Both of us were surprised with the comment and perfect timing.

We went to another isle.  I came up from behind Scott and said, "Hey buddy, where are you going?" We laughed again, and it became our catch phrase for the afternoon.

We found a Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, or should it be Heads? They were on sale, so I grabbed 2 of each. Scott said, "These kids today have it so much better than I did growing up. When I played with Mr. Potato Head, I had to use a real potato."
"You did not," I said.
"I sure did. and I'm sure you did too."
Fortunately, I can't think that far back.

By the time we made it to the front cashier, the shopping cart was nearly filled with toys. We managed to get some toddler things, with some older boys' and girls' toys. Five dollars here, ten dollars there, really added up. Although there were some chips, salsa, drinks, some vitamins and hair products, the price tag for it all came to over $300. It was more than I would have paid if I had done the shopping by myself, but considering the cause and the enjoyment we had, Scott said, "Is that all?"

After we packed up the car, Scott grabbed the cart to put it back. I yelled, "Hey buddy, where are you going?" We laughed again.


Toys For Tots is a great charity sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, helping to grant lots of smiles on Christmas morning. If you're interested in donating an unwrapped toy, watch for dedicated cardboard boxes in local donations or check it out on the web, at http://www.toysfortots.org/.

May your days be filled with laughter, as you play with Mr. Potato Head. I'd love to hear from you, write me at aitken.helen@gmail.com.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Celebrity Bowling. Reality Shows Don't Look So Bad

Scott was doing a search online and bumped into a TV show from the 1970's. Celebrity Bowling popped up. Yes, Celebrity Bowling with current "hot" TV and Movie actors in front of a studio audience at a bowling alley. 

I'm so glad I had never seen it then, on TV.

Of all the least athletic and boring things that could be aired, this makes #1 on my list. If you'd like to watch what Scott made me watch, it's episode 47.  http://www.mrmovietimes.com/watch-now/60012792/celebrity-bowling-episode-47-s-1-ep-47

After seeing it, reality TV looks literary.

Michael Douglas had mega hair and was wearing a "pirate" shirt similar to the Seinfeld "puffy shirt." Elizabeth Ashley wore a tank top and had a "Lioness" hair style.  James Farentino had on cords and a silky shirt, and Brenda Vaccaro wore a short, "Love Boat," 70's hairstyle.

Do you even remember these actors? 

I had nightmare flashbacks to these fashion boo boos and hairstyles I had also tried. 

These stars looked embarrassed being there but as they started bowling, and despite their best efforts, they demonstrated a competitive spirit.

Based on the highest points, one of two audience members could receive Samsonite luggage, sans wheels, Farah men's slacks, or for the top winner, a Vega car. Sadly,the audience members didn't have a chance in hell for the Vega, with scores that dipped low in the double digits by both teams. Oops, gutter ball. 

It was ridiculous and you could tell it was a low budget production.

Now that Scott found Celebrity Bowling, I know he will look at more episodes. I think he's hooked... So sad.


May all your days lack Celebrity Bowling, but filled with reality TV.  I'd love to hear from you at aitken.helen@gmail.com.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Writing, Networking and the Fear of Stinking

I love writing. You might think this is strange, but I go into withdrawal when I can’t write. I guess this means I’m addicted to writing. Thankfully this is better than being addicted to shopping or Mtn. Dew, but not by much.

I carry reporter notebooks in my purse; I have notepads in my car and every room, so that I can write down whatever I must write. In fact, I get some of my best ideas in the shower and on the royal throne. I've thought about putting one of those underwater, diver communication boards in the shower. Unfortunately, I think the hot water will turn icy before I get my toes washed. I like clean toes.

One thing I like to do equally with writing is to talk about writing. This past weekend I acted as a faculty member during the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop (SCWW) conference, and taught two sessions. I think the attendees found some tidbits they could take away, and no one fell asleep in my sessions. Bingo.  

If you know me, things happen. Unfortunately, I forgot my deodorant. Usually when I rush, I perspire like a flood. My upper lip, forehead and the back of my head require mopping, not to mention that sweat smells. Friday morning, I had to mentally say, “Calm down and try not to stink.” I walked to the hotel Starbuck's/store in search of deodorant, and I was willing to pay the equivalent of the national debt for men’s deodorant, if I couldn't find some for women.

Eureka. I went to the bathroom close to where I would speak and peeled off my clothes. In the end, the skunk factor was avoided.

When I wasn’t in front of the projector, I found out what others were writing, gave out million-dollar advice (Monopoly money), and reunited with great friends. I also made some new ones. Networking was a blast.

Writing is a solitary thing, networking isn't. I talked and talked, and talked some more. I even had to wear clothes to the three-day event. That meant I couldn't wear my pajamas or fuzzy slippers. I had to brush my hair and teeth and wear ironed clothes. Actually, I wore stuff that was new or didn't wrinkle. I sort of looked like the person my husband married decades ago.

I even wore mascara. (A fact that deserves its own paragraph.)

All this effort and talking nonstop wore me out. Instead of sitting up until 2 or 3 in the morning talking to my roommate, Beth Browne, lights went out before 11 pm…

Now, I’m back home. The writing begins anew, with new projects on the horizon. Instead of writers being present, I have two snoring Weimaraners, a husband that insists on talking about what happened while I was gone, and cats that must be petted.


When things return to normalcy, I’ll again withdraw to my computer friend and welcome the writing once more.


May all your days smell sweet as you write. I'd love to hear from you. Please write to me at aitken.helen@gmail.com

Cheers!