I’m back to being a student again. As part of the Wisconsin Idea (also see https://www.wisc.edu/wisconsin-idea/and https://lafollette.wisc.edu/outreach/), the university has a program for Senior Guest Auditors. Old folks are allowed to take university courses (for no credit, just to learn). We aren’t allowed to turn in assignments or take tests, and we are supposed to sit quietly at the back of the room as observers/passive listeners. I figured that last thing would be the hard part.
My first class was in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, called “Cooperatives and Alternative Forms of Enterprise Ownership” . The professor asked us to introduce ourselves, say why we were taking this class, and, if we could eat only one kind of cheese for the rest of our life, what would it be? (Aged Cheddar; if I had to be specific, it would be Renard’s Two Year Cheddar. While I love older Cheddars, I’m not sure I would want to eat them all the time. Feel free to answer the question in the comments.) She clearly wanted me to answer like everyone else. After class I told her our instructions as Senior Guest Auditors. She considered that silly and wanted me to talk like anyone else, especially since I spent a career in co-op management. Whew! That was going to be a hard class in which to sit down and shut up.
My next class was “History of the Cold War” with a professor whose primary work is in Southeast Asia, with published works including “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia:CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade“, and “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror“, and “Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation“. And those are just the books of his that I’ve read. I was far from the only old fart in that class, so he did let us know that we are not welcome in the discussion sections, though a fellow old fart did ask a question at the end of class, so we might not have to be totally silent, just circumspect. I didn’t have access to course materials until a few hours before the first class, as I wasn’t allowed to register until the first day of classes. I found there were 110 pages of required reading for the first class. I didn’t finish. There are about that many pages every week, plus hundreds of pages of suggested readings. This may keep me busy if I want to keep up. Luckily I don’t have to write papers or take tests. The class was in a packed lecture hall and only a few of us wore masks.
Bike? What bike?
It’s been awhile since I posted anything about riding. I have been commuting to school and the library. Virtual rides have been in Norway and Austria. I have yet to try Fulgaz, as the free rides on YouTube have suited me just fine.
The winter is at an awkward stage. For a while it was too warm for anything involving ice or snow. It’s cooling down and starting to look like winter. There has been too much snow to skate and not enough to ski. That might be changing (1/27) and I have a ski outing planned (1/29) with a bike club.
Last minute addendum: went to friends’ house for dinner Saturday night. Five inches of snow fell while we were there and I’d already shoveled there times today. Still coming down. I hope I can get the car out in the morning to join folks for skiing. Otherwise I may just have to ski out the front door.
Picnic today featured guacamole and chips along with quesadillas. That, of course, brought to mind the Texas Tornados.
I tried to sleep in, since I had no tent to pack up. Didn’t work – I was still up at 5:15, but I read the paper before getting out of bed. We’re now in the glaciated eastern side of Wisconsin, with more flat land, fewer and gentler hills. We headed northeast and through the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (in which the sky becomes invisible with migrating geese in spring and fall), then turned more easterly. The “flat” ride included Breakneck Road with a short but steep climb – one switchback, so I didn’t know how long it would be until it was nearly over. I almost wanted to go back and do it again. Later was a series of four straight climbs – no surprises, but they always look more daunting on the approach.
We rode the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive. “Kettles” are created when a melting or retreating glacier leaves behind a block of ice which becomes covered by debris. When it melts, a depression is left behind. “Moraines” are created when the glacier pushes rock and debris ahead of it, then retreats, leaving a ridge of rock behind.
Being a short day, we were in Plymouth before noon. Some headed to a bar. Those of us whose drinking before noon involves coffee headed to a coffee shop converted from a bank. The vault is a little private room. This is the same shop where I met my friend J for a cortado four years ago after a failed attempt to ride the Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive together – he couldn’t get out of work early enough. After a couple of cortados, a bagel and cream cheese, and a coconut gelato with chocolate shavings, I headed to the nearest credit union for some cash before arriving at the school. We are camped on a wooded knoll.
Tomorrow is a 40 mile ride to Manitowoc, the home port of the SS Badger, a coal-fired steamship that will take us across Lake Michigan. The boat is chartered on Saturday. As a result, we will have a long afternoon and evening in Manitowoc as well as a long morning Sunday before boarding the ferry. A laundromat will be in the plan somewhere in there. We’ll arrive in Ludington, MI at 7 PM with barely time to eat dinner and set up camp before it gets dark. It will be a short night before we start across Michigan Monday morning. We will cross Michigan and Ontario next week.
As usual, I have invited Jef Mallet and Frazz to join us in Michigan. Since Frazz is two-dimensional, he may have joined us last time and I just missed him because he was turned the wrong way.
The other day I heard Bill Bryson on NPR talking about his latest book. To paraphrase, he said that our bodies deal with cancer on a nearly daily basis. Usually we recognize mutated cells as invaders and destroy them before they cause damage. This is, of course, a completely unconscious process. Our bodies are way smarter than our conscious minds. (Imagine having to take responsibility for beating your heart every second, and still having enough consciousness left over to decide whether The Bachelorette was making a smart choice.) It is only on the rare occasions that those cells divide uncontrollably that we are faced with what we know as cancer.
That got me thinking about mucus. Over the years I have seen a lot of fad diets come and go. In the ’70s, the “mucusless diet” was a big thing. The theory, as I understood it, is that when we have a cold we have an excess of mucus and therefore mucus is bad. We have a stuffy and/or runny nose and we don’t want that. The next step was that certain foods cause us to produce mucus and we should avoid them. Among those “mucus-producing” foods were all dairy products. Being a Cheesehead, that was pretty hard to swallow. No 11 year old Cheddar? No Brie? And don’t get me started on the Velveeta on which I was raised.
What if that is bass-ackwards? What does mucus do? It forms a protective barrier. When we leave a dusty environment, we notice that we want to blow our nose. When we do so, we blow out some pretty disgusting-looking stuff – dusty mucus. The technical term for that is boogers. Our body makes mucus (snot) to line our mucous membranes. That snot ensnares toxins in the air we breathe – dust particles and god knows what else. It traps that gunk so we can get rid of it before it gets into our lungs and causes some real damage.
When we have a cold, that system gets overwhelmed. Something has gotten past the defense. Our body makes more mucus to try to repel the invaders. Too much, too late. That we have failed doesn’t mean the system is bad. Our body also has an inflammatory response. Sometimes it, too, is overwhelmed. At that point we suppress it with ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or steroids. Does that mean the system is bad? No, it just means that it sometimes overcompensates after its failures. (Sound familiar?)
Likewise, mucus is not bad. Mucus is a good thing. We need it every day. It is only when it is overwhelmed and tries to overcompensate for its failures that it becomes excessive.