Lessons #398-399: Sleep Sneezing and Milk Frogs

Right…end of semester. You know how it is. So…two very interesting links about things that I’ve learned this week.

1. As I was drifting off to sleep the other night, I sneezed. Which got me to wondering whether people sneeze in their sleep. To my knowledge I’ve never heard it. It turns out, you cannot sneeze in your sleep because your brain shuts that area of your brain down. You can read about that here.

2. Before refrigeration was a thing that existed, people put frogs in their milk to preserve it. Which is gross on so many levels, but apparently is totally scientifically sound. You can read more about that here.


Lesson #390: Protracted Refugees

I was reading an article, recently, about how the UN’s daily food allotment for roughly 450,000 African refugees is 850 calories. That’s not a lot. It’s about a third of what the average American consumes on a daily basis.

This got me to thinking about how long that’s sustainable. Obviously, that’s an untenable situation — because math, science, and common sense say so — and something will have to give, but I was curious about the length of time the average refugee is dependent on UN food resources.

According the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a protracted refugee situation is one in which 25,000 or more people from the same country seek refugee status in another country (or countries) for a period of at least five years. Of the 15 million refugees worldwide, roughly two-thirds are living in protracted situations. But here’s the thing…in 1993, the average length of protracted refugee situations was nine years; by the end of 2003, it was 17 years. Seventeen years. That’s very literally half my life. 17 years stuck in a foreign country, often without the resources or recourse to find employment, or housing, or access to education. I’ve spent more than 17 years of my life being educated by actual institutions. Seventeen years of being stuck in a place with few, if any, options to move, work, and learn is just unfathomable to me.

Anyway, there’s a challenge that exists to go a single day on 850 calories. It’s honestly not that bad if you do it right…I did it for a week and wasn’t any the worse for wear as a result. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it still sucks. But it’s not that bad if you can eat a variety of things. For me, it was a lot of chicken, fresh vegetables, hard boiled eggs, beans, and a lot of spices. No bread or pasta — which aren’t things I eat a lot of anyway, so that wasn’t a huge challenge — no crackers, no pecan butter, no cheese, (mostly) no chocolate, no juice or pop — also fine because apart from limeade, I rarely drink either — and definitely no booze.* Basically no drinks other than water and one glass of chocolate milk a day.** But refugees don’t have access to grocery stores/farmer’s market and fresh fruits and veggies and eggs and lean meats. They have access to lentils, rice, and a spoonful of salt. Every day. If I’d had to do a week of that, there’s barely a sliver of a chance I’d have succeeded — in no small part because unless you put it in jambalaya, I’m not really very keen on rice. I’d encourage you to give the challenge a go, though. If nothing else, it was really interesting to pay that close attention to what I was eating.

For more on protracted refugee situations, including which nationalities are listed among the displaced, see the state department’s website, here. Or Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre’s website, here.

*I find I drink more frequently during the summer — because, as I’ve already noted, everyone knows beer consumed outdoors tastes better than beer consumed indoors and everyone enjoys being out in good weather — but giving it up for the football match was the harder aspect. Beer and football go together and always have. I gave up drinking for five weeks between the end of the Premier League season and the start of the World Cup, and that was fine. I went and hung out on patios for happy hours and to friends’ barbeques and whatnot…no problem. I spend one Sunday 8:30am match not drinking with my footie mates, and it’s two hours of agony. Even with a 4-0 victory for Spurs.

**Because secretly, I’m eight.

Lesson #381: The Smallest Capital City

We got here today by way of my dad, even though he doesn’t know it. He sent my brother and me a link yesterday that had a video of Americans trying Canadian snack foods, which included maple sugar candy*, nanaimo bars, all dressed chips, and poutine.** I posted this to Facebook, and a discussion ensued, which eventually led me to Iqaluit (because of course it did), which is the capital city of Nunavut. It has a population of fewer than 7,000. And that led me to wonder what the smallest population is of any country’s capital city.

The answer is dependent on whether or not you choose to acknowledge protectorates. If you do, the answer is King Edward Point, capital of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which boasts a population of…


Yes, you read that right. 18. One-eight, of whom only nine live there year-round. But that sort of makes sense when you find out that it’s really just a research station in the Antarctic.

If you choose not to acknowledge protectorates, the answer is Ngerulmud, capital city of Palau, the population of which is 391.*** Sort of. The thing is, that’s the number of people who live in the entire state of Melekeok, where the village of Ngerulmud is located. From what I’ve read, none of it from credible sources, there’s no actual population in Ngerulmud, just a capitol building.

You can find the whole list of capital cities by population here.

Bonus lesson: in my reading, I learned that Syria’s capital, Damascus, is the oldest continuously populated capital city, which makes sense if you have ever read anything ever.

*My favourite part of the video was the guy who tried the maple sugar and then pronounced it the sweetest thing he’d ever eaten like he was surprised that something with an ingredient list that is literally maple syrup and nothing else would be so sweet.

**I wish they’d had them try Canadian Oreos, which are better than American Oreos in every possible way; the cookie is crunchier, the icing tastes like something other than oil, and most importantly, the filling can be peeled away from the cookie and rolled into a ball, as nature intended.

***It should probably be noted that until 2006, the country’s largest city, Koror (home to 11,200 of Palau’s 20,000 residents), was the capital.

Lesson #330: The Red Cross Donut Wagon

I was out running errands today and when I got back in the car after one of my stops, there was a radio report on from WWII, talking to people serving overseas who were from the city I live in and the surrounding areas. It was so, so odd to listen to, but kind of fascinating. From what I gather, this was done at a base in England on Christmas day, but I don’t know what year, and they couldn’t say what base.

Anyway, one of the women they interviewed was with the Red Cross and stated her position was, “I work the donut wagon.” I figured this was some sort of nickname for some vehicle, so came home and looked it up.

The donut wagon to which she was referring to is…a donut wagon.

Literally, a vehicle that women with the Red Cross drove around, delivering coffee and donuts to the troops.

Sometimes, a donut wagon is just a donut wagon.

There’s one “donut girl”‘s story here and some video from the Netherlands in 1944 here.

Lesson #313: The Greatest Thing Before Sliced Bread

Here’s an interesting tidbit I ran across today: the pop-up toaster was patented before the automatic bread slicer.

The patent for the pop-up toaster was issued to Charles Strite (patent number 1,394,450) by the US Patent office on 18 October, 1921. The patent can be seen/read here.

The patent for the automatic bread slicer was issued to Otto Rohwedder (patent number 1,867,377) by the US Patent office on 12 July, 1932. That patent can be seen/read here.

What’s interesting is that as Rohwedder had blueprints for a bread slicer by 1917, but they, along with a prototype, were destroyed in a factory fire, forcing him to start from scratch. The first bread slicer went on sale in 1927, and the patent application was filed in 1928.*

More on that here.

Lesson #286: Bright Blue Lobsters

If you don’t know the song ‘Lester the Lobster (From P.E.I.)‘, this is probably nowhere near as funny to you as it is to me.

Everyone* knows that lobsters are the same colour of red as PEI soil. Except when they’re not. There’s a genetic disorder that causes a rare few to be born bright blue. I’m talking the same flashy blue that people paint their cars.

The most recent ones caught (there seems to be a newspaper article about this every two years or so) were caught off the coasts of PEI in June and County Clare in August. The odds of catching one? One in four million. The most rare lobster is the albino. The odds of catching an albino is one in 100 million, though one was caught last year off Gloucester, Massachusetts.

*Okay, everyone who is familiar with Lester the Lobster

Lesson #238: Alpaca Meat

It’s really best not to ask how my friends and I got on the subject of eating alpaca the other night, but we did.

One of my friends, whose girlfriend is Peruvian, was swearing up and down that alpacas are known for their tender meat. Then the other girl got involved. And then my best friend.

Now, my friend with the Peruvian girlfriend works on Capitol Hill, so he’s well versed in spin. My best friend, when he’s been drinking (which he had), will endorse anything just to mess with me. Needless to say, I wasn’t biting. I called shenanigans and the conversation moved on, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t determined to find out whether alpacas aren’t valued for their tender meat.

Another college friend of ours rang in today with her opinion on the subject, having spent some time in Peru. The internet turned up a strange assortment of information, none of it particularly credible (though if you ask the other girl involved in the conversation, there are credible sites…she and I have differing opinions on what is credible). But between my friend with the Peruvian girlfriend, my friend who spent some time in Peru and various questionably credible websites, I will concede that alpaca can be, and is, eaten. I will concede that it is a Peruvian delicacy. I will not concede that alpacas are renowned for their tenderness.

Here are the results that a Google search for “alpaca meat” pulls up.