A broken Jar of Wasps and Hardware Stores That Don’t Open on Sundays

News flash, most Italian hardware stores are not open on Sundays. DO NOT choose that day to release a hive of wasps in your house.

Let me back up a bit. I’m visiting my daughter’s house in Napoli, and outside, on my terrace is a satellite dish in which some European paper wasps had made their home. I’m not a mean person, but in this case I was not feeling generous. I returned with a glass cup and a stiff bit of cardboard. I thought (such a silly girl!) I’d remove them from my terrace and humanely euthanize their tiny souls. Becuase, although I have friends who wouldn’t hurt a fly, I most certainly would.

I nervously (and rightfully so!) left the wasp filled cup on the counter until I could research how to end their lives without creating too much misery for them. I do not hesitate to end a life, but causing pain and suffering is not my thing. And yet, that’s exactly what I did.

See, I didn’t find any quick answers. And life, you know, continued to happen. Two trips across Naples to the airport, three to the Navy base, and regular activities had me a bit distracted. Two days later I remembered they were on the counter and stared mournfully into the glass.

They were attacking one another! There is nothing humane about leaving them to die slowly. I simply had to end this.

Immediately.

I remembered a humane end for sick fish is the freezer method. They get cold, then warm and fuzzy, then experience a quiet death.  If it’s good enough for fish….only, the cardboard over the wasp glass wasn’t going to transfer to the freezer shelf. So here’s where the story really starts. In the process of finding a suitable top one of the little guys wedged himself through a gap in the cardboard and gave my finger a sting.  Out of surprise, I dropped the glass and had an instant houseful of wasps.

Sure, that sounds bad enough, but two days ago, when I had been googling how to kindly stop sharing the same air as these guys, I stumbled onto an article that explained how european paper wasps have the ability to recognize and remember faces. Faces like mine, that had been watching them through the glass wondering how to fix the stupid thing I had already done (trapping them in a jar, and storing them in the house, of all places). 

As a cloud of wasps filled the kitchen, my first thought was, “Oh forking shirtballs (thank you, Good Place), they know my face and I’m clearly the enemy.”  I ran out of that house fast. 

I had the presence of mind to leave the door open behind me. In case they wanted to follow, and then hopefully (I love my innocent reasoning), get distracted by food before they caught up to me.  I mean, they had missed a meal or two. Which I assume was why they had begun attacking each other.    

Up until this point, on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, I had regretted all of my recent choices, but this one seemed to be a winner.  I sat near the gate until I was bored; which without any electronic devices was about five minutes. And sure enough, there were only a few wasps left in the house, and those ones were trying to figure out how curtains worked.  It felt safe enough to run in for my phone and back out to the safety of the gate again. 

All drama gone, I thought I’d see about getting the remaining wasps out, this time, forget any crazy ideas of any humane endings. I googled ‘wasp spray near me’. 

Of note: In Italy, superstores are not the normal, if they even exist.  I know they don’t in the area I’m in.  If a person wants groceries, they go to the grocery store; if they want household items, they go to the house store; clothing? Go to a clothing store, etc etc.  I wanted wasp spray and google was telling me I’d need to go to a hardware store.  And here’s the point to my whole story.  They are not open on Sundays, when everyone is home thinking, “Hey, I should get around to fixing that such-in-such’. No, a person had to wait until Monday.  Monday!!   When they would be occupied in their own jobs!

I looked into it. You have no idea how reliant I’ve become on the internet these days. It turns out that as well as midday breaks, many stores don’t open on Sundays, and many also include midweek half days. See here: https://www.justitaly.co/italy-business-hours/

This is where I know I am an American. I am soft. Spoiled. I am too reliant on everything being availible to me whenever I want it.

Moral of the story: Don’t wait until you need something to buy it. Boyscouts would thrive in Napoli, but me? I worry I will never be prepared or disciplined enough.  

Covid-19 and the Trolley dilemma

Captured from trolley problem memes

The last thing I want to do is write a polarizing post. But I need help pulling away from this emotional ledge I am tottering over. 

I was completely onboard with the measure to protect our more vulnerable citizens when this all started. Who wouldn’t be willing to make such a small sacrifice to help others? But then, when the “Just for two weeks” stretched into years, when the “science” kept rewriting itself to suit new edicts, when the rules became nonsensical, I started to become less sympathetic. Not to the vulnerable citizens but to the value of what we were doing. 

Today I have entered a new phase in my levels of frustration. Today I learned that someone I love will lose their career, one they have already invested half their life in, because they are not willing to risk their life by taking the vaccine until it has been time tested.

But let me back up a bit and spend just a moment sharing how I started to lose my patience with the covid rules. My first introduction to the fact that the rules aren’t helping anyone may have been the mask rule pulling a 180, starting with the advice not to buy masks. They “don’t help because they are not individually fitted to you and are therefore useless, and in fact, may make matters worse by becoming a portable carrier of the virus” became “wear one or don’t enter a business because you are scum who doesn’t care about anyone but yourself”.  What – did masks magically get better? We can now use a head bandanna to cover our faces, where before it was scientifically believed that any mask that was not specifically tailored to our face was worse than not wearing one at all?

I really started to wonder the value of our efforts while attending a government function where everyone had to sit six feet apart, which meant a lot of attendees were forced to stand. So what, right? Save a life, right?  100 percent.

Except, those forced to stand had to do so in a crowded vestibule, so if there was going to be any transference of the virus, the chances of it happening went up, not down. And, as if covid rules had a sence of humor, those who had obtained a seat – six feet apart – were allowed to come out and reunite with those left standing, and all were permitted to hug to their hearts content. But I guess it follows the same logic as eating in public. We all know you can’t get covid while eating (the reason everybody wants to buy a food or drink on public transportation) or when outside at any distance (please hear the sarcasm in the above statement). But can you see how the rules are just KILLING me?

Same thing with businesses that remained open. The solution was to close all entrances but one, forcing people to crowd into a single spot rather being widely dispersed. They did this same trick throughout the shopping experience, from entrance to checkout, all while creating the illusion that they were doing it for your safety. And with so many business forced to close, those allowed to remain open (oddly, only the ones that were already rich) not only made a fortune while the poor became poorer, but they also gathered people to one place to shop…which again, made the odds of spreading the virus increase, not decrease.

But what really got me was the math, of which I admit, IS NOT my thing and I could be miscalculating. But if covid kills less than 1% of the entire population and we, while trying to protect that 1%, harm over 50%, are we really handling this correctly?  I DO NOT, and I can’t stress it enough, but I do not mean we should subscribe to the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest. What I do mean is that there must be a way to protect that 1% without throwing the harm onto others. 

It’s like the “trolley problem” except instead of deciding to intervene and kill one person to save the five, we are taking it upon ourselves to throw five people under the bus to buy ourselves time to reach the one.

Captured from trolley problem memes

A quick google search will populate pages of research done on the social and economic damage done by the edicts set down for covid. That quick glance would include suicide rates that have jumped in an unpleasant direction because children weren’t able to adapt to the sudden and drastic isolation; people who were forced out of their jobs, throwing them into poverty; and adults who had been saving for their retirement suddenly having to use their lifesavings to keep their families fed. And now, thanks to the push for the vaccine, people are feeling another round of venomous persecutions.

Which brings me back to today. Laws are being written that will cause even more poverty. People who have finally been allowed to go back to work will lose their jobs if they don’t get the vaccine. And here’s the core of my problem with it: We are told the vaccine works, but that it doesn’t actually prevent us from getting the virus, or even from spreading it, and that’s why we must still keep wearing our masks. I’m not entirely sure why my definition of the word ‘works’ varies from theirs, but, nonetheless, if we can still pass the virus after getting the vaccine, is it really in everyone’s best interest to make this vaccine mandatory? Is it worth ruining people’s careers, or forcing them to choose between long-term health risks or their jobs? Just for fun, I thought I’d look at the covid numbers today, here are the snapshots from my phone. Am I missing something? The numbers are going the wrong way?!??

Covid deaths before vaccine

Covid deaths after the release of vaccine

We know that the vaccine has some risks that are showing up in the immediate (for a small percentage of people) but what we don’t know, because it has not been time-tested, are the risks over the long-term. Ever hear of the anthrax vaccination? The military made the vaccination mandatory for forces deploying to the middle east just before and then after 9/11. (Also applied to DOD civilian contractors.) Not only did the untested vaccine turn out to have a list of long-term health risks (showing up after ten years), but it was later suspected that the anthrax letters that had reignited the need for the vaccine were sent by a person in the bio field to keep the waning vaccine relevant. Note: It’s important to know that the case against the mailer was unable to go any further and the suspicions will always be a likelihood, but not a fact. But what really hurts is that those who did their research on the vaccine (discovering government reports about the safety issues at the vaccine’s manufacturing plant, along with possible links to Gulf War Syndrome and cancer), and then refused the inoculation with evidence as to why it was unsafe, were persecuted. Some thrown into the brig, some sent to psychologists – because who in their right mind would want to refuse the vaccination that would prevent the damages of anthrax? Most lost their jobs and their retirement pay.

Sorry, I have gone just a bit off-track. I am ranting to try and make sense of why we are doing this to each other and in the process, I am losing sight of my goal.

In the beginning, the covid “stronger together’ propaganda worked for me: I love my neighbors and so I would gladly make sacrifices for them. But now I feel we are hurting our neighbors. We are hurting so many more than we are helping.  And today we are ruining the life of someone I love so very much and I am near to tears over it. So I rant. And I beg of you, dear reader: how hard would it be to help those who are at risk from this virus without throwing everyone else under the bus? How can we be stronger together without strangling each other with unhelpful edicts in the process?  How can we get to the point that we either have faith that the vaccine is doing it’s job for us and therefore don’t need to worry about anyone who hasn’t gotten it, because those who have are safe, or we admit it isn’t perfect and shouldn’t force everyone to take it.   

Captured from trolley problem memes

I truly want answers. I truly want solutions. But please don’t use the comment section to belittle another person’s personal beliefs with your own person beliefs, even if you feel yours are legitimate because the media you chose to believe in supports them. Trust me, we all think our beliefs are legitimate. For one brief moment, lets put aside our purchased beliefs and help find solutions that don’t create another trolley dilemma for the philosophers to debate over in future years.

Why traveling is hard

“Go see the world!” I told my kids, knowing it is the best investment a person can make in themselves. To see the world as a whole, not just from the little window you judge it from….that’s a mind opener. But having to adjust your thinking to mankind’s diverse habits and living conditions is also what makes visiting new places so uncomfortable.

And honestly, for me, it’s been the little things: Cars shoved in every available space so that sidewalks are no longer accessable; a mutual understanding of what a comfortable room should feel like; the graffiti on everything…walls, historical monuments, even plants!

Fun fact: Did you know the spectators in the Roman colosseum left graffiti on their stadium benches?! Clearly the practice is as natural as breathing… I guess I’ve been holding my breath all my life…except that one time when I was sixteen. I almost forgot about leaving my mark on that bathroom stall.

It’s worth the pain of personal growth – 100 percent – but the whiney diva in me still wants to complain. But hold on – what if my warnings were actually helpful preparations only disguised as complaints?

My son just came out of the bathroom of our Airbnb in Greece. I swear, as I’m writing this, guess what he said!? And I quote: “you see that picture on the wall?” He points to a commercial ‘home is…’ addage hung on the wall. “Well to me, home is where you know how the shower works.”

He’s not wrong. The hardest part of adjusting is not having information. Being blindsided.  I came into Italy already forewarned that the driving was hyper-agressive and if I had a weak stomach I should avoid looking out of windows. So, oddly enough, that’s the one part of Italy I feel absolutely comfortable with.  Is it because I was an Italian driver in a past life, 🙂 or that I had already mentally prepared myself? 

The courage to drive with only inches between you and the other guy!

The video above might not want to behave. Here’s an image pulled from it. Although it looks like the blue van is parked, both these vehicles are driving.

With that idea in mind, I am tempted to write a grumpy traveler blog. A blog filled with things I wasn’t prepared for, things I was too ignorant of to be able to appreciate. I’d mention these things for the sake of helping others, of course, and not, as it would seem, for the sheer joy of bellyaching over my culture shock.  

Be prepared, my hopeful traveler! Be forewarned, not with the intention of avoiding cultural differences, but to feel familiar enough that you joyfully dip your toes in, immersing yourself into the possibilities of our amazingly diverse lives. 

Mozzarella, the right way

Image borrowed from walmart.com where I often by my mozzarella

I’ve eaten mozzarella my whole life.  I have it on pizza, quesadillas and inside my Chicken Florentine.  So imagine my shock when I tried to buy the stuff in Italy, the birthplace of this white cheese.

Here’s what I have learned: Mozzarella that is sold for transport must have a longer shelf life.  To do that, they must reduce the moisture content.  Every bag of mozzarella I had bought in America always said “low-moisture content”.  I always found that odd, since none my other cheeses wasted their packaging real estate going on about moisture.

But now I know why. It’s a subtle way of letting you know that you are not getting the original.  The original, by the way, is made from water buffalo milk. It is wet and sold in a watery bath.

I balked when I saw that.

Removing the mozzarella balls from their bag

But trust me, you’re going to want to pick up a ball and take a bite. All on its own this cheese is like a delicious appetizer. It has a firm outer crust with a gooey, yet stringy center. The balls are less salty than the mozzarella I grew up with, and have a strong milky flavour. This cheese is also much lighter and softer than the dense low moisture version. 

Aside from flavor and a very short shelf life, the differences between mozzarella balls and low-moisture mozzarella are textual. Low-moisture mozzarella has more stretch.  It also doesn’t leave wet pools of moisture on your dough when heated. Both reasons why low moisture is great for pizza and burgers. 

As much as I love my pizza and burgers, I’ve never cared for eating low-moisture mozzarella on its own. It’s too dense, and flavourless. These buffalo milk high-moisture mozzarella balls are absolutely delicious straight out the bag.

But I’ve recently discovered my favorite way to eat them is salt and peppered alongside sliced tomatoes on a small baguette.  Soooo good! 

Because this cheese has recently become more popular internationally, you can find this delicious gem even in America. I know Galbani in buffalo NY makes it…but I can’t promise they use water buffalo milk to recreate the original.

Just for fun…

I’m separating my euros to buy due caffè. Can you tell me which of these coins doesn’t belong? Bonus points to whoever can tell me where a person would spend it…

Hint: it’s American, and it’s meant to be fun.

Italian Ritz

I’ve been in Naples, aka Napoli – I swear I’ve heard it both ways, even here in Italy – for just over a week. I fell in love with their fried pizza (still too chicken to try the Italian style pizza), I’ve devoured many a cornetta, and even tried a mystery dish…it wasn’t a mystery to them, just to the American who didn’t understand the italian response to, “And what’s that?” and bought it anyway.

But it was high time I made some food myself.  So I biked to the store a block away to get the goods for a simple tuna salad on crackers. After discovering that asking for pickles will get you either olives or bell peppers, both pickled of course, and that this store didn’t know what a dill pickle was, I moved on to the crackers.

Would you believe I found Ritz? Seriously, good old Ritz crackers! At least, the box said Ritz. And inside the box were crisp, buttery round crackers with the traditional scalloped edges. They even had the seven perforations you find on every Ritz cracker.  But my mouth told me these weren’t Ritz. 

Also, I was suspicious to find they were loosely collected in the bag like Lays chips (Ritz are normally stacked like Pringles), so that might have clued me in.    

But, no, it was something about the mouth feel: they were dense, rather than light and flaky. Imagine biting into a slice of buttered bread when you were expecting a croissant. Like that. 

On the back of the box, instead of Nabisco, it listed the manufacturer as Mondelez International.  

I thought: Copyright infringement?!  Oooh, was I going to rat them out!  

Or was I just going to embarrass myself?

A quick internet search cleared things up for me.  It turns out, to generate sales outside of the US, Ritz uses a subsidiary. Instead of Nabisco manufacturing the crackers, they have Moldelez do the job. So all on the up and up. But, still, if you see the brand name, you expect the brand taste!  Funnily enough, another internet search led me to find that Mondelez (once Kraft foods) is also based in the US…so why are they the better choice for international sales?  *shrugs shoulders*

I also read some very unsavory things on the Mondelez “Controversies”section  of Wikipedia, but that’s someone else’s blog to write. 

Oh, wait, we still need to wrap up this blog.  The lesson I am quickly learning: even American food is made differently for overseas sales. 

In case your curious what other American foods might taste a little off when traveling internationally, the same Wikipedia page tells us Mondelez also makes Belvita, Chips Ahoy!, Oreo, Ritz, TUC, Triscuit, LU, Club Social, Sour Patch Kids, Barny, and Peek Freans; chocolate brands Milka, Côte d’Or, Toblerone, Cadbury, Green & Black’s, Freia, Marabou, Fry’s, and Lacta; gum and cough drop brands Trident, Dentyne, Chiclets, Halls, and Stride; as well as Jell-O, Tate’s Bake Shop and powdered beverage brand Tang.

So, you’re welcome. Enjoy your travels, enjoy your eating, and then enjoy not having to question why your American favorites might not taste exactly the same.

Ze Frank is so bad, he’s good.

(better than good, he’s the best!)

As you read this blog I feel I should state that although my books are for children, I don’t expect them to be my blog audience. This blog is for the parents. It’s not always innocent. With that out of the way….

No matter how hard my day gets, watching a Ze Frank video makes everything better. 

Every video is so mind-bogglingly informative, while also having you rolling on the ground laughing (in the way you wish you actually were when you text ROFL to your bestie). 

But if you’ve just crawled out from under a rock and have no idea who this guy is, it’s vital that I give you a huge heads up: Don’t play his videos when the kids are in the room. Or if you are sensitive to things like mildly crude humor and soft “language”- AKA words you shouldn’t use until upper elementary (or was I a fast developer?). Otherwise, if like me, you are a fun loving parent raising great kids, his videos are definitely for you. 

This video was one I wanted to share with you – not because it’s his funniest, it really isn’t – but owing to the fact that I am currently drumming up support for my upcoming book The Day of the Ants, and this video is about…you guessed it – ants, I figured I’d share the love that is Ze Frank. You’re welcome.

Enjoy!

Annie

Can Ants Shrink and Regrow Their Brains? — Plant Science by Atrimed

For most ant colonies, there is a simple hierarchy: a single queen lays all the eggs, and a caste system of workers manages everything else – food gathering, baby ants, war, etc. The rest of the ants are sterile, only males & queens can reproduce. The colony normally dies when the Queen dies. The Indian […]

Can Ants Shrink and Regrow Their Brains? — Plant Science by Atrimed

A little something to brighten the day

When this “Friends Furever” video first came out, I watched it on loop. When I feel like reassuring myself that the world really is as amazing as I think, I find myself searching out this old and true comforter. I hope your day is bright and inspired!

Annie

Now I get it!

As I throw back the covers and plop onto the mattress I suddenly realize something very important. One of the reasons I get so little done each day is because I am so absolutely amazed by all the beauty this world has on display. Seriously. Today I spent 5 minutes just looking at a jumping spider. Their little white spots, their erratic but graceful movements, it’s just mesmerizing. Everyday something happens that is so beautiful, I am lost in thought for eons after. So if it takes me forever to get anything done – blog, updates, new books, now you know why. It’s not my fault this world is so amazing.

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A broken Jar of Wasps and Hardware Stores That Don’t Open on Sundays

News flash, most Italian hardware stores are not open on Sundays. DO NOT choose that day to release a hive of wasps in your house. Let me back up a bit. I’m visiting my daughter’s house in Napoli, and outside, on my terrace is a satellite dish in which some European paper wasps had madeContinue reading “A broken Jar of Wasps and Hardware Stores That Don’t Open on Sundays”

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