Thursday, June 21, 2012


   Few creatures in the world inspire more dread than the rat. Long a symbol of death and pestilence, they haunt our nightmares and scuttle in our walls, scaly tails dragging behind them. Rats cause billions of dollars in damage every year, spoiling food supplies, chewing through electrical wires, biting babies in their cribs – and yet their benefits to mankind have been simultaneously overwhelming. Read below for further information on some of our creepiest neighbors.

10. Norway Rats
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   Although there are many different species of rats, the one most people associate with the word are Brown or Norway rats. Likely originating in China, the largest specimens can top 2.2lbs. Norway rats plague cities such as New York (where population estimates vary wildly- from a few hundred thousand to a few hundred million depending on your source) and London and have pervaded nearly every corner of the globe with the rare exceptions of Arctic and Antarctic areas, the Canadian province of Alberta, and pockets of New Zealand. The white albino rats used in laboratories and kept as pets are domesticated versions of this species.

9. Black Rats

   Driven to a fraction of their former range by the larger, nastier Brown Rats, Black Rats prefer tropical locales these days, but were once Europe’s dominant species. It was this rat which ushered in the Black Plague. Fleas that lived on the rats transmitted the Yersinia pests bacteria to millions of unwitting victims. The black rat is an excellent climber, and has proven to be the bane of many nesting bird species throughout the world. They are especially pervasive in New Zealand. Unlike their brown counterparts, they tend to be subject to huge population explosions, typically around harvest times when food is abundant.

8. House Guests

   It is nearly impossible to completely rat-proof your home. They can fit in through openings as small as the diameter of a quarter. According to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, a rat’s teeth are harder than iron or steel, and are easily able to gnaw through substances like cinderblock and wood. Once they have invaded the home, they are very difficult to get ride of. Rats are clever and notoriously trap shy. Using poison has its drawbacks and well. It is dangerous for children and pets, and even if it works precisely as advertised, one still has to deal with the rats, who often hide themselves in the walls to die and fill the house with the obscene reek of rotting flesh.

7. Zombie Rats

   Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite whose life cycle can only come fully to fruition in the body of a cat. Other animals can carry it, but it needs a cat to flourish. And the way it finds a host is insidious – rats who become infected suffer a change in the brain chemistry which causes them to become attracted to, rather than naturally fearful of the scent of felines. Obviously, they don’t last long. Humans also contract toxoplasmosis – some estimates indicate 1/3 of the world’s population has it.   Occasionally fatal, it is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women (which is why women are told to avoid cat litter boxes when they are expecting). Toxoplasmosis has also been linked to many other ailments, including schizophrenia.

6. Rats are Tough

   The spread of rats throughout the world was not due entirely to fortunate circumstance. They are able to adapt to different environments without much difficulty. A rat can go longer without water than a camel. It can fall some five stories without injury. They can survive large doses of radiation, and swim for half a mile across open water. Over generations, they tend to build up certain immunities to poisons. And the biggest, feistiest sewer rats can send your average house cat running for the hills.

5. What’s for Dinner?

   While some housecats may have largely lost the ability to take on rats, there are many other creatures that rely on them as a staple of their diets. Owls and hawks, snakes, members of the weasel family, and many large predators eat rats. There any many dog breeds specifically conceived to hunt them – terriers are exceedingly good at eliminating vermin. In many parts of the world, rats are a food source. They are frequently eaten in Africa, China, and other sections of southeast Asia. Even in the same country, there is a fine line between the delicious and the taboo; in certain areas of India, they are considered a delicacy, and in others they are worshiped as scions of the Hindu deity Ganesha.

4. Lab Rats

   There is no underestimating the importance of the laboratory rat in research. Great strides have been made in the medical field using rats. There are several strains, inbred so that they becomes almost genetically identical to each other, including the Wistar, the Sprague-Dawley, and the Long-Evans. However, certain genetic manipulations can result in extremely specific types, such as the Biobreeding rat, which develops Type 1 diabetes, and the Zucker rat, which becomes obese. Lately, rats and mice have been used for tissue engineering, a controversial process wherein rodents can grow skin and cartilage for transplant in humans.

3. Giant Rats
Gambian Pouched Rat

   For those with a fear of rodents, the Gambian Pouched Rat would be an absolute terror. Similar in appearance to a Norway Rat, the Gambian version can grow up to 15lbs. In its native Africa, it is eaten as bushmeat, but its intelligent and tractable nature has also led it to be used to detect land mines. While huge by rat standards, it is small enough to climb over the mines without detonating them. The Gambian pouched rat has also shown a marked propensity for detecting tuberculosis. It can examine a sample of human sputum and declare whether it is infected far quicker than humans can through more scientific methods. Despite its jarring appearance, the giant rat is actually quite friendly and has a growing following as an exotic pet. Ownership was made briefly illegal in the United States when it was discovered the rats were a vector of the disease monkeypox.

2. Baby Boom
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   A mating pair of rats can have 5 litters of 7-15 pups in a year, and the pups themselves become fertile around 5 weeks of age. In a vacuum environment, such a pair could theoretically produce hundreds of thousands if not millions of descendants in a single year. Such a prolific rate of breeding is necessarily to keep their species extant, however, because even under auspicious circumstances, a wild rat rarely makes its 2nd birthday. Depending on various environmental factors, the mortality rate is around 95% in a rat’s first few weeks of life.

1. Rat King
Rat King

   A rat king is a strange freak accident wherein many rats clustered together become inexorably tangled together by their tails. Several have been found since the Middle Ages, but many doubt the veracity of these specimens. Although not strictly reserved to Germany, the vast majority of rat kings seem to have occurred there, lending some credence to the idea that it is a cultural phenomenon and perhaps something of a hoax. The largest rat king known is a cluster of 32 mummified black rats found in a miller’s fireplace in Buchheim, Germany in 1828. It can be seen on display at the Mauritianum Museum in Altenburg, Germany. Historically, rat kings have been seen as a terrible omen associated with death and disease.


   This recipe comes from www.wndyseewendydo.com .  Nothing like the smell of cinnamon baking in the oven!

Ahhhh, cinnamon sugar!! The perfect combination of spicy sweet. Doesn't it just scream childhood memories? I am pretty sure everyone was treated with a cinnamon sugar something when they were a kid. For me, it was cinnamon sugar toast. My mom used to slather lightly toasted bread with lots of salty butter and then top it with a heaping amount of cinnamon sugar. The spice mixture just perked me up and made me smile! It still does today!!

Don't be intimated by this recipe. It is quick, easy and super delicious. What is my secret weapon, you ask? Store-bought bread dough! Have you ever used this stuff? I love it!! Use it to make a loaf of tasty french bread, roll it out to make a thick pizza crust OR pull apart muffins!! YEAH BABY!!


Makes 6 muffins


  • Pillsbury Simply Rustic French Bread dough
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a small skillet, brown butter over medium-low heat, about 5 minutes. You know the butter is browned when it turns a light caramel color and smells slightly nutty. ((Be careful not to burn the butter!)) Once browned, set the butter aside to cool.
  3. Remove bread dough from tube and place on a cutting board. Starting in the middle, divide the dough with a small slit. The divide again and again until you have 31 slits. Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough. You should end up with 32 slices. Flatten each slice with you hands or a rolling pin and place on a sheet of parchment or wax paper.
  4. In a bowl, combine the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  5. To assemble the muffins, brush each dough slice with the brown butter. Then sprinkle with the entire sugar mixture. (Yes, ALL of the cinnamon sugar!) Stack the dough slice on top of each other. (some stacks will have five slices and some will have six.) Using a sharp knife, slice the stacks down the middle.
  6. Place two of the sliced stacks, side by side, cut side down into a greased muffin tin. Repeat with the rest of the stacks.
  7. **This step is very important!!** Before you put the muffin tin in the oven place it on a larger, rimmed baking sheet. This will catch any butter/sugar overflow and avoid a very smokey oven.
  8. Bake muffins for 20-25 minutes until tops are golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Gently remove. Enjoy!!



    A sport for all times, the Calcio Storico or traditional football played in costume, in Florence, Italy, dates back to the 15th century. Woven with Italian brain, brawn and passion, the Calcio Storico was played by the aristocratic young noble men in front of the Basilica of Santa Croce and some times in the areas of Via Il Prato, Piazza della Signoria or Piazza Santa Maria Novella in celebration of the Feast of St. John. Held every year on June 24th, the awesome pageant of the Calcio Storico takes you to its ancient origins where ‘calcio in costume’ or ‘costume football’ was played for over 500 years.

The playing field

    With traditional districts to identify each of the four teams, the Calcio Storico, ‘calcio livrea’ or ‘football in livery’, colors the spirited pageant with the teams dressed in different colors, blue for St. Croce, red for St. Maria Novella, white for St. Spirito and green for St. Giovanni. Stimulating and involving body, mind and soul, the bloody and violent sport of the Calcio Storico stunned even the armies of Charles V, who had come to re-install the Medici government with the sound of firearms and the cannon tearing through the air. The Florentines continued their game as if nothing had happened as His Royal Majesty and his Imperial army stared in utter shock at the Renaissance costumed players as they proudly upheld their traditional game.

    Written by Count Giovanni de’Bardi di Vernio in 1580 in his ‘Treatise on Football’, the Calcio Storico has 54 players divided into two teams which are lined up in three rows.
    Though there are no major rules in this game, the final result has to end in a ‘caccia’ or goal. Each end of the opposite walls has a four-foot wooden wall that runs its entire length. The round red and white ball is tossed over the wooden wall which denotes a ‘caccia’ or a goal. In the center of each goal wall a narrow white tent with red trimmings and a red flag guards its goal while the captain of the team with the flag

Some of the pagentry

bearer stand with the respective team’s flag near the tent. The color of the balls and the tents vary according to the designated teams who are playing the match. Each year it varies and the finalists play the last match which decides the winner for that year. The game resembles Greco-Roman wrestling simulating the movements and motions with a mixture of rugby and soccer. The color of the balls and the tents vary according to the designated teams who are playing the match. The game itself is said to originate from an ancient Roman ball sport, which became the sport of princes and noblemen in the golden age of the Tuscan capital.

    With sand layering the entire square, the players run with the ball in their hands and pass it to their team mates. As they run, the opponent team tries to stop the player and pin them down till they are rescued by their own team players. This often results in their costumes being torn to bits and the players bloodied up but not too severely. There are six referees positioned at various points dressed in colorful Renaissance outfit of smooth velvet caps with ostrich feathers and a doublet of rich shades with knickerbockers. The referee judge with a sword has a plumed hat that he sweeps with a flourish to acknowledge change of sides. The goal scored by the winning team spurs the standard bearer to run around the square waving the team’s flag, whilst the losing

team’s standard bearer looks down-faced. Before each game is played, a long and solemn procession starts from Piazza Santa Maria Novella at 4 p.m., and winds through Via de’Banchi into Via Rondinelli to Via Tornabuoni going through Via Strozzi, around Piazza della Republica and into Via degli Speziali and up the winding Via Calzaiuoli to the picturesque Piazza della Signora right to Via della Ninna and finally through Via de’Neri till it reaches Borgo Santa Croce with much fanfare and trumpets.
Horsemen follow with foot soldiers in armor or the ‘alabardieri’, completely suited with the ancient Florentine helmets of iron and corsalets of leather. Twenty drummers perform in sync, wearing dashing yellow and blue silk tunics with the famous crimson

lily of Florence emblazoned on their drums as a symbol of freedom and peace. The Ball Bearer carries the ball with the colors of the chosen teams followed by twenty six infantry men in colorful uniforms with feathers in their caps. A young heifer bedecked with garlands being the traditional prize of the winners is led by two oxen drivers who are dressed in white smocks with leather vests with enthusiastic shouts of ‘Viva Fiorenza!’ echoing around. A presenter announces the members of the aristocratic

families who are followed by the gonalfiers, the keepers of the four ancient city quarters of Santa Croce, Santo Spirito, Santa Maria Novella and San Giovanni. Then the representatives of the old corporations, the musicians, the flag bearers, the mace carriers, the referees and the players in their beautiful Renaissance attire walk with the parade. This fantastic pageant was a traditional festival it was stopped for a period in 1739 by the Grand Dukes of Lorraine, but was re-started in 1930 by the Fascist Government. The historical game of the Calcio Storico follows its traditional rules with the Santa Croce area having the Blues or the Azzuri, San Giovanni with the Greens or the Verdi, Santa Maria Novella with the Reds or the Rossi and Santo Spirito with the whites or the Bianchi. The game does not allow anyone with a criminal record to participate in it. Over 500 dignitaries that include military officers, politicians, bankers,

judges, nobility and rich merchants walk behind the parade in their bright and rich Renaissance costumes. The flag bearers in their costumes of short tunics and soft leather boots with tights carry sixteen flags with different symbols. The sound of the cannon heralds the bandierai who perform awesome acrobatics with their sticks as the parade retires to their respective seats. Following the semi-finals, the final match takes place on 24 June and winners are rewarded with a mass of steaks equivalent in weight to the more traditional prize of a white calf or bistecca fiorentina, which was historically butchered for the occasion, and then there are fireworks after all of the other festivities have ended.