Body Armor

A very personal essay by Melanie, spurred by a docent’s presentation at Edinburgh Castle.

Catbird Quilt Studio

While touring Edinburgh Castle, Jim and I encountered a man describing medieval arms. He demonstrated the long bow and the crossbow, detailing differences between them. One of the great benefits of these weapons is they could be used from a distance. Closer contact between enemies was dangerous for both.

He showed us a gambeson, or quilted coat. It looked remarkably like the coats worn by many in the audience. It’s purpose, though, was not warmth, but protection. It could protect the skin from cuts and tears rendered in close combat.

2016_0912edinburgh_38 Docent with audience volunteer. She is wearing the gambeson, quilted body armor, and a helmet and is holding the crossbow.

The demonstration reminded me of an essay I wrote a few years ago, while at the tail end of recovery from depression and anxiety. Excerpts from it are below.


This morning I awoke thinking of body armor. Imagine the padded…

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Walk Before the Morning Rain

by Melanie and Jim

We left the house in a hurry this morning after checking radar. Showers were headed our way, and we wanted to stretch our legs without getting too wet. As I write this, the radar shows it is raining here now. However, the sidewalk is not even damp. I guess that is one more example of why you shouldn’t believe everything you see online.

When we walk, our attention is usually quite mixed. Sometimes we chew over world problems, sometimes personal ones. The “personal” ones often have to do with our children. Parenting adults is hard! They have a whole range of issues we’ve otherwise moved past. We also enjoy the noises outside. Humming crickets and locusts, peeping frogs, and various bird songs capture our notice. Today we heard catbirds, bluejays and cardinals, chickadees, and a flicker or two, among others. We watch for daddy longlegs, small snakes, and the occasional chipmunk crossing the pavement. And we enjoy the wildflowers.

A few weeks ago, there were dozens of wildflower species blooming along trails, railroad tracks, and streets. Now there are fewer, but those left are some of my favorites. Though the Queen Anne’s Lace has faded, goldenrod is coming on with bright yellow brushes. Jewelweeds still display their brilliant orange drops. Cattails stand proud and tall, and the few thistles allowed to grow wild are bursting with their lavender-colored blooms.

Before we left this morning I insisted we bring a camera, something we rarely do. Jim captured the shots below.

Cup Plant | In Morning Sun

Our cup plants near the woods behind the house were in bright morning sunlight today. Weeks ago, this particular plant was standing tall with flower buds showing. A deer passed by soon after and ate the tops. Today, the plant rewarded us with this view after having grown back for another try.


Two features of silphium perfoliatum stand out in addition to the cheerful yellow flowers. The main stem is square, not round. And, they have leaves arranged to cup and gather water. Read more about these plants here.

Cup plant | Note the way it captures water around the square stem

Cup plant | Note the way it captures water around the square stem

Hibiscus | Along the Garden Path

by Jim and Melanie

Our walking path takes us by the garden of a neighbor who has many Hibiscus plants nearby. We check on each pass to see which ones are in bloom. Their flowers are large and showy. Each is about 6 inches (15 cm) across. Some are deep red, pink, and white with different combinations.

The link provided here has many interesting facts, a list of the many species, and photos of many of them.


Click to embiggen any image.



Buttonweed | Velvetleaf | Annual Weed

Do you recognize this seed pod? It is from the annual weed I always called Buttonweed. By late summer the plant forms these characteristic pods. Each vertical segment contains from 2-9 seeds. It is 1 inch across. Later they split open for seed dispersal. Notice the many hairs.



It is a member of the mallow family. The plant Abutilon theophrasti is native to China and India. It was used as a fiber crop in China since 2000 BC. The stem has long fibers suitable for cord, rope, binder twine, fishing nets, coarse cloth, paper and a caulk for boats (Mitich 1991; Spencer 1984). The seeds are edible.

It was apparently introduced to North America before the 1700s. Records show it was cultivated along the east coast for its fiber content. It is now widespread in the croplands of the U.S. and Canada and is considered a weed pest. It was one of the targeted weeds Dad told us to not miss when we walked the soybean fields in the summer.

Known for its ability to thrive in disturbed soils, it grows in the worst of conditions. Here are two examples I found in weedy patches by the trail. Buttonweed2


The leaves are heart shaped with a point at the end. They and the stem are covered with fine hairs. Even the seeds have a fine hairs. The seeds are very durable. They can pass through the gut of animals unharmed. They can remain viable up to 50 years before germination.


Campus Trees | U of Iowa Map

I like to share good examples of blending technology with a specific set of data. The University of Iowa has over 8000 trees of 281 species on 3 campus locations. Care of those trees is under the auspices of the Facilities Management office. They have kept a database of the trees since 1989. How can that information be shared with others?

A web app was announced 29 April 2016 on Arbor Day to make the details of each tree available to students, faculty, researchers, and the general public. Follow this link to the app. This image is an example of a small part of the campus trees map.



From the web site about the web app:

The UI Tree Inventory app delivers information about the number and location of trees and their condition, size, and species, with additional links to photos and descriptions. Users can also see if the tree was dedicated or planted as a memorial and view other designations, like state-champion status. Use the “find my location” feature on your mobile device to view information about the trees around you.

Users can drag the map, zoom in or out, and click on any of the tree symbols to bring up a window with details about that tree. What a great way to share the knowledge with everyone.


Our New Neighbors

We watched the progress on the home from our window each day. New building materials were arranged and re-arranged. It seemed to take a long time. Finally, they settled in and seemed content with what they built.

Today, we noticed new neighbors in that home. Tiny Robin heads peeked above the rim of the nest. It was a hot day, too hot to sit on the nest. The youngsters held their mouths open and ready. Mom or Dad stood still. The babies drooped a bit and closed their mouths. A noise or a movement made them gape open again. They will grow fast. We’ll be watching.



Update: This image is one week later. The nest is crowded. Eyes are wide open. Ravenous.


Peace | Can’t We Act Better?

by Jim and Melanie

We stepped out the front door into the sunshine for a walk. Nearby were two young doves. They sat very still so we would not see them. Adult doves fly away in an explosion of sound. These sat there until our return.

How nice if they carried a message of peace and harmony between people of Earth. Such terrible things we humans do to each other. Our thoughts and prayers are with our French brothers and sisters today.



Gun Violence | The Costs Are Huge

How I See It

StopViolenceWe pay a high price in the U.S. for our lack of action to curb gun violence. It is inexcusable how little is done to combat the spread of weapons of carnage. Especially disturbing is how large percentages of the general population think smart measures should be taken, yet, political forces prevent it.

The price we pay is obvious when we see the stories of police violence toward citizens, shootings of police, murders, robberies, and senseless horrible mass killings. People are understandably fearful for their lives and those of their children and loved ones. Some segments of our society are in much greater danger than most. We must try to turn the tide against this.

Besides the emotional and societal costs, another price we all pay is in actual monetary cost. This isn’t reported as often. It doesn’t carry the visual impact of a shooting or senseless crime. Media wants…

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