Saturday, August 17, 2013

Pull out, Betty!

Since moving to the country three months ago mosquitos have taken on a new meaning in life. Never thought much about the little devils during the time I lived at the beach, the almost constant ocean breeze keeping them off and away. But that was then. In my new home among the tall moss draped oaks, palmetto scrub and marshland, along with a host of less bothersome creatures, mosquitos are a force to be reckoned with. Stepping into the outdoors is no longer a casual action, but one measured by the preventatives necessary to hold off the ever present swarms of hungry blood suckers. The five minutes it takes to walk out and lock the gate at night require either a beekeeper’s costume or a nasty head-to-toe lather of chemical sprays. Ever in the market for a working solution, I’ve gathered an almost cumbersome collection of products that promise to keep mosquitos at bay. So far, none have truly solved the problem.

Blood gorged, the mosquito passes blood to make room for more solid nutrients in her gut.

The first trick I tried was the heavily scented Bounce fabric softener sheets, but they turned out to be like most remedies, working partially or with some atomic mosquitos, not at all. “Tuck one in your pocket when you go outside,” advised my sister. At one point I had them pinned all over my T-shirt and jeans with one in each pocket, and was still slapping at the dozen or so who enjoyed a hint of Fabreze with their blood. Next came the much stronger chemical spray, Off. This one worked well, but left me feeling uncomfortable with the chemical residue on my arms, neck and legs. And the monsters still went for my face because I refused to put the spray there. Next came the pleasantly scented cream, Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard made by Avon. I continue to use this one, convinced I’m not rubbing agricultural pesticides on my body and pleased that it keeps the mosquitos away for the most part. In the hardware store one day, I came across a large spray bottle of Cutter Backyard Bug Control. This one promised to keep mosquitos away for six to eight weeks. Problem is, I have to take it back to the store and ask someone to explain how the baby-safe top works to get any spray out. I can’t even pry it open to pour the contents into a Flit can.

Remembering how well the old Pic mosquito coils worked at the drive-in movies way back when, I looked on Amazon and found Off mosquito coils, but while serving well enough on the screened back porch where a few pests can always find a way in, they work not as well when friends sit around the backyard. I doubt that the company ever considered mosquitos in the numbers that plague my backyard. Next came sonic mosquito repellers made by the PIC Corporation. I bought three and discovered they work to repel mosquitos about as well as macaroni and cheese. I later read that a professor of entomology at Rutgers University does not believe electronic devices that transmit sounds to mimic male mosquitoes or dragonflies work, and even suggests that claims made by distributors are next door to fraud. Hearing that the Bounce sheets didn’t suffice, my sister advised last week that I try eucalyptus oil. So now I apply several drops of the oil to ears, neck and other exposed areas before going outside. The result? The tiny vampires buzz around until they sense an oil-free spot of skin and then dive bomb for lunch.

With my ongoing battles I’ve managed to collect some interesting info about our favorite pest. Some of it might be useful on Jeopardy! or in a trivia contest, the kind of facts few of us ever encounter. Did you know that…

Mosquitos are the deadliest animals on Earth.
More deaths are associated with mosquitos than any other animal on the planet. Mosquitos can carry malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis. They also carry heartworm, which can be lethal to your dog.

Only female mosquitos bite humans and animals; males feed on flower nectar.
Female mosquitos need protein for their eggs and must dine on blood in order to produce another few hundred pests. Since males don’t produce young they avoid humans completely and look for flowers instead. When not trying to produce eggs, the females too are satisfied with only nectar. 

Mosquitos fly at speeds between 1 and 1.5 miles per hour.
Mosquitoes are the slow pokes of the insect world. If a race were held between all the flying insects, nearly every other contestant would beat the mosquito. Butterflies, locusts, and honey bees are much faster on the wing.

Early twentieth-century Japanese poster ad for mosquito coils

A mosquito’s wings beat 300-600 times per second.
Rapid wingbeats produce the warning buzz you hear just before a mosquito drives her snoot into your ear.

Mates synchronize their wing beats to perform a lover’s duet.
At one time scientists thought that only male mosquitos could hear the wing beats of a potential mate but recent research has proven that females also listen for males. Wing beats are synchronized in mating pairs.

Adult mosquitos sometimes live from 5 to 6 months.
Few probably make it that long, given our tendency to slap them when they land on us. Under the right circumstances, an adult mosquito has a long life expectancy, in the insect world.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Fountain Pens: Starting Young

The mailman brought a breeze of fresh air on Saturday. No matter the enticement of lush green outside my windows, August is ablaze in eastern Florida and days are defined by heat, humidity and mosquitos ready to pounce. Happily, a good part of all that was relieved by the arrival from a longtime Tokyo friend, of the latest issue of Stationery Hobby Box (Shumi no bungu bako). Since leaving Japan a few years back, Kumiko has never missed sending the magazine as quickly as a new issue appears on bookstore shelves. Volume 26 came out in June and like every issue contains over 150 glossy pages of articles and photographs highlighting fountain pens, ink and paper, pencils and a few dozen other stationery-related products.

The bold black copy on the cover this time suggests that people want to write with fountain pens (mannenhitsu de kakitai) and in Japan that is a not an exaggeration. Related to that idea is the magazine’s feature article about eight people who treasure their fountain pens and use them as a daily tool. Among them is a film producer, a stylist, a couple of businessmen, a teacher, and a high school student.

Yûdai Kamei is a seventeen year-old high school student in the Tokyo suburb of Saitama who got his first fountain pen in the third grade. Since that early age his enthusiasm has been nourished by parents who share to some extent their son’s interest in fountain pen history and quality writing instruments. How many fathers take their son on a summer holiday with the specific aim of browsing pen shops?

Yûdai’s collection of fountain pens now numbers ten. The article offers no listing of exactly what those pens are, but looking closely at the photos it is easy to spot a Montblanc Meisterstück 146 Doué, Pelikan 800, Pelikan M200 Demonstrator, Pelikano Junior, Pilot Custom 742, Lami Safari, Lami AL-Star, Platinum 3376 Century and two others difficult to distinguish, though one is a Montblanc. The photograph below shows his stated favorite, the Meisterstück 146 Doué, a gift from his parents at the time he entered high school.

Below the fountain pen in the photo is a bottle of Sailor Jentle Ink and a page from Yûdai’s school notes. The bottle of ink is Miyougi Amber bought on the above mentioned summer pen-trip with his father. The color is reflected in the brown ribbon running down the bottle from cap to base and again at the bottom of the page to the right. The ink is one he first saw in the August 2011, vol. 20 issue of Shumi no bungu bako. To the right is a page of school notes from the morning newspaper, different articles distinguished by a different ink. 
As a way of trial and error, Yûdai uses his journal to get a feeling for his pens used with different inks, a natural extension for any fountain pen aficionado striving to better understand a specific pen or ink. The photo shows a sample of writing with the Pelikan 800 and the Sailor Miyougi Amber ink.
Born in Saitama Prefecture in 1996, Yûdai is currently in the 11th grade and his favorite subject is government economy. Apart from fountain pens, his interests include cars and leather goods. He is also an avid reader, getting through about two books a week.
For those who deny themselves nothing in the way of fine writing instruments, a full page advertisement in this latest issue of Stationery Hobby Box offers the new Montblanc Paul Klee Limited Edition fountain pen for a mere $28,643. ‘Limited Edition’ in this case means Montblanc made only seventy-nine of them.

About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America