Saturday, June 22, 2013

Leaves of Three, Let them Be!!

Franco-Poison-Oak-borderPhoto: Franco Folini

Today I was riding along Pierce Street, at the base of Albany Hill. Amongst the Eucalyptus trees was some guy collecting small branches and twigs. For what I don't know.

I remarked to my sister that I wondered if the guy knew he was near several patches of Poison Oak?

Over the past few months, the annual Poison Oak crop has returned. At first, it was a nice shiny green color. However, as the temperatures have risen, and there's been less rain, it has started to dry out and turn a vibrant reddish color.

Every year the patches seem to creep closer and closer to the Pierce Street sidewalk, within arms length of unsuspecting pedestrians.

For those that don't know what Poison Oak looks like, it has three leaves, similarly shaped like Oak leafs (hence the name). The stem has no thorns. It usually grows in small bushes that spread across the ground. However, it has been known to climb up into trees too.

Photographer Hans Kellner has put together a web gallery showing several good examples of what it looks like.

The easiest way to stay safe is to remember the old adage, Leaves of Three, Let it be!

* * *

Tolerances very from person to person. Some people are lucky enough to be immune. My great-grandfather one time picked a bouquet of this beautiful wild plant he found to take home and give to someone. He couldn't figure out why everyone on the street car was giving him a very wide birth as he got on and found a seat.

Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky. My father was the extreme opposite. Allergic, to the point that, as a kid, his eyes swelled shut, his face puffed up and he was forced to drink soup through a straw anytime it was meal time.

And just because you don't get it the first time you encounter the plant, don't assume you're set for life. I've was pretty lucky for the longest time, especially when in Boy Scouts. Then, sometime in high school, my immunity weakened and I had a reaction.

While it was mild, it reminded me that you always need to give the plant a good healthy respect.

Should you find yourself a bit itchy after returning from your outing, whatever you do DON'T SCRATCH!! No matter how much it feels good. It's through the scratching that the Poison Oak oil is spread across the skin. And if you should break the skin, it can get nasty and infected.

For those brave enough, or who are not currently eating, here are some photos of reactions, including some that are pretty extreme.

Chances are that should you catch it, your case won't be anywhere near the worst examples, and it will clear up in only a few days.

If you find yourself in need of some quick relief, you can make a thin paste of baking soda, so even a solution of good old fashioned vinegar mixed with water, will help.

When I was growing up, one of the go-to lotions was Calamine. It looked awful, because it left you with a white paste look wherever you applied it. But, it felt so good!

Should you find yourself in need of drugs, the pill form of Benadryl, usually knocks down the urge to scratch. However, do NOT use the Benadryl lotion. If you do, you might find yourself with a reaction of some sort that's just as bad as the Poison Oak you're trying to combat.

* * *

On the small chance Poison Oak makes itself to your landscaping, one of the simplest was to get rid of it, is by manually going at it with a hoe and pulling it out.

There are also poisons that can be used to kill the plant. But, a organic option would be to find yourself a goat! It turns out that the goats will munch away on the stuff, and never get sick. Nor will the poison make itself into their milk, should they be dairy goats.

Just make sure you are very careful around your furry friends, should be exposed to the bushes, as the oil will be picked up by their fur.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Go Westeros Young Man!


DISCLAIMER: This blog entry DOES contain spoilers for anyone who has never seen HBO's Game of Thrones television series and never read any of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

* * *

  • 9 1/2 weeks
  • Five books
  • 4300 pages
  • 1.7 million words

Let the withdrawals begin!!!

To be perfectly honest, I can't believe I'm already done with all the books. When I took up the task of reading George RR Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, I figured it would take all Summer before I'd be done; just in time for the next book to hit the shelves.

Or so I thought. Martin is nicknamed The Great Bearded Glacier for good reason! He writes at his own pace, and is reluctant to acknowledge estimated release dates. It now looks as if the soonest The Winds of Winter will be released is sometime during Spring 2014.)

* * *

February 2012, I signed up for Comcast's Triple Play Package, and the deal included free HBO. Until that time I had a vague understanding of the Game of Thrones TV series. But, didn't know much of else about it.

Like some unexpected addict-to-be I surfed the On Demand menu until I found Game of Thrones.

Watching the first episode, I was intrigued. By the time I got through the second episode I was floored. I think it took me about three days to work through the entire season, only to find out Season Two wasn't due for several weeks.

Fast forward to late April 2012. I was eagerly anticipating the new season, and what would one do in that case? Well, naturally watch the entire Season One all over again to refresh their memory.

NOOOOOOO! I thought, as they flashed the 2013 release date for Season Three at the end of Episode 10.

One of my bigger frustrations when I decided to cut the cord was the thought I would be missing Season 3 of HBO's Game of Thrones television series.

Shortly thereafter, I found a couple of Barnes & Noble gift cards, forgotten and collecting dust.

I figured maybe it would be a good idea to dive into the original novels since, at that time, HBO didn't offer their current season through iTunes or Amazon, and a Season Three DVD release was nowhere on the radar (and still isn't).

So in April I took the plunge, and downloaded the sample.

I found the first novel very readable and didn't want to put it down. When I reached the end of the sample there was no question I would buy the series.

A word of caution. If you decide to get the eBook versions, I highly recommend buying the INDIVIDUAL books, rather than the special 5 book collection.

While the $10 savings might seem attractive, it's not worth the headache while reading. The collection is ONE VOLUME with all five books smooshed together so it takes over six minutes to open every time you want to read it! And it doesn't matter if you might be on the fifth book. You STILL have to load the first four books into memory.

* * *

Anytime something gets translated to the screen there's bound to be some changes. Sometimes it follows the source material pretty close. But, sometimes about the only thing left are the names of the characters and the title of the book.

Fortunately, for fans of the novels, this hasn't turned out to be the case. The first book was pretty close to what made it to my TV for Season One. Material left out really didn't hurt the continuity. This is a direct benefit of having Martin take an active role in production of the series.

Overall, the TV show has aged most of the main characters a bit, especially the younger characters, who Martin placed in their early to mid teens. While a young teenage King Robb Stark might be believable in a book format, which relies on the reader's imagination, I don't think it would have translated very well to the TV.

But make no mistake in thinking these are a series of children's fantasy books. While there are wolves, princes and princesses throughout, there is also blood and gore at every turn, as well as a major plotline of incest running though out.

Had the producers stuck with the youthful ages I'm fairly certain they would have run afoul of groups who found the visualizations objectionable.

But, I will readily admit that perhaps my perception of what the characters should look like was clouded by watching the series before reading the books. Martin goes at great lengths to describe physical characteristics of his characters, and a good portion of them do not match what made it to TV.

Seasons Two and Three (which I watched in one 10 hour sitting thanks to someone who still has HBO) have some major diversions for some of the characters as compared to the original source material.

A couple of characters have been combined, who had passages in the book, which had them doing things in different parts of the world at exactly the same time.

This will make for some tough editorial decisions down the road since I think they both might become important parts of the novels' story line in the remaining two unreleased titles.

Another thing which caught my eye were the cities in the opening credits. These stylized credits zoom over a map showing us which cities are likely to be visited in that particular episode.

Yunkai and Meereen are two cities that have very important storylines in books 3 and 5. However, there seems to be no room on the map for the latter city. We will have to wait until April 2014 to see if this was just a glitch by the animators, or whether we diverge even further from what Martin created.

There's a very detailed wiki which collects all the differences between the books and the TV show.

* * *

So am I glad I went ahead and read the books, effectively knowing where the TV series will be going over the next three seasons? Yes.

The world that Martin created is so rich, that there's a lot of stuff that simply won't make it to the screen. And the producers have already said they don't see it being stretched to ten seasons, which would be necessary to save some of the less important stuff.

Can a person get by with only watching the TV series? Sure. But, you're cheating yourself of the fuller experience.

* * *

if you are still looking for something to do between TV seasons, I highly recommend subscribing to The Boiled Leather Audio Hour podcast.

These guys make a super detailed examination of all facets of the world Martin created! Be forewarned every episode is basically loaded with spoilers if you've not read all five books.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Asphalt for Parking, Sidewalks for Walking

Since I fell in December, I've been hobbling around with a little help. First with the aid of crutches; and since about January by the use of a hand-me-down cane that used to belong to my father.

Without health care my rehab and physical therapy has consisted mostly of walking around town. Our being blessed with such nice weather this season, has made it a no-brainer, except for when I developed a bit of arthritis in my good knee.

I'm not quite ready to put the cane back in the closet for the next time I wrench a knee. But, walking IS getting better with more and more mileage I add to my tally.

* * *

There've been a couple of things that I've observed the more I walk around town.

First off, the number of other people walking around with a third leg of some sort. We're not just talking about elderly either.

Before starting to walk with a cane, the most I'd really notice were those walking with a four legged walker. Now it seems like there are people with canes everywhere I go.

In fact, on one trip to church on Sunday, I saw no less then three other people in a span of three blocks of downtown Oakland walking with canes. All were in the 30-40 year range.

I'm hoping I'll shortly be at a point where I won't have to use it. But, having done so now for going on six months has created a fuller appreciation for those who are afflicted with permanent disabilities.

* * *

The other thing that I've noticed is the continued encroachment on sidewalks by parked vehicles, especially in residential areas.

Years ago, a family friend was visiting our house. One morning he came out to find a parking ticket on his front windshield for blocking the sidewalk.

Mind you this was probably 15 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The driveway of my childhood home was pretty short by today's standards. However, it was also extra wide, with enough room for people to walk around the vehicle, with space to spare.

Flash forward to 2012.

Last year, Albany, CA's Planning & Zoning Commission took up a discussion about the narrow section of Washington Ave between Pierce Street and Gateview Avenue.

Not sure when it started. But, residents have taken to parking with the right wheels of their cars on top of the sidewalk.

The explanation given was that this was a narrow street, and if cars on both sides of the street parked legally, then there would barely be enough room for a vehicle to get through (especially a large SUV). People were basically concerned about their cars getting hit.

As I remember it, several options were to be studied. Making the block one way; keeping it two-way, but eliminating the parking on one side of the street; possibly others. I don't remember all of them off the top of my head.

That study must've went by the way side. Either that, or they've decided to continue to allow people to park illegally, because it seems like nothing has changed.

Being that this block of Washington is extremely steep the chances of someone using a wheel chair to go through are probably not great.

The same CANNOT be said for Pierce Street.

At least a couple of times a week I walk the full length of Pierce Street. For the most part people park legally. However, there's a narrowing of the street, north of Washington Avenue, right around Calhoun Street, where there are more than a handful of vehicles which seem to constantly park over the sidewalk.

Sometimes only a little. Sometimes taking up over half the sidewalk, leaving only enough space for a person to walk crabwise through. (Heaven help anyone who might be in a wheel chair. They would simply be out of luck!)

Big SUVs, vans and trucks, I might understand an owner's rationale. But, once there was a Mini Cooper which had more car on the sidewalk than in the street!

No matter how you try and rationalize it, illegal parking is…illegal.

The next time you pull your vehicle up over that curb ask yourself what it would be like if you, yourself, had a disability, and were forced to ride a wheel chair everywhere you go. (And also, check into Uninsured Driver coverage on your auto policy.)  

* * *

In case anyone is wondering where I've been, I haven't given up blogging. I just decided to take the month of May off to recharge my batteries. Then I looked at a calendar today and realized I'm almost half way through June as well!

Hopefully, look for at least one new entry a week. More, if things come to mind.