Are Dental X-rays Causing the Boom in Thyroid Cancer?

A few years ago, I was turning 40 and figured it’d be a good idea to have a routine physical exam. I hadn’t been to the doctor in years and wasn’t really using that nice health care insurance I had access to. The doctor discovered a lump in my throat. One biopsy later and bam! I had cancer.

Xelfie

Xelfie: The bright dots are a couple cancerous lymph nodes, which absorbed the radioactive iodine post-surgery.

I was of course shocked and freaked-out. I had a thing growing inside of me which didn’t belong there. What followed was a furious bit of googling, a series of appointments, a 3-hour surgery, radioactive iodine treatment (complete with a few days of isolation), and a lifetime of pills to substitute for my now-missing thyroid gland. As cancers go, they call Thyroid Cancer “the good one”. Screw that – no cancer is good. Granted survival rates are pretty high when caught early, and since the cancer is made of thyroid cells, it’s fairly easy to isolate and treat (thyroid tissue soaks-up iodine, so just make the iodine radioactive and blamo – you’ve poisoned the cancer). But thyroid cancer is often asymptomatic, going undetected until it’s spread and caused all kinds of serious complications. Mine was a 5cm tumor – about as big as they get before spreading. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have caught it just in time, and I’m immensely grateful to my doctor, who may have saved my life by simply feeling my neck.

Thyroid Cancer Types

There are four types of Thyroid Cancer

As soon as I learned I had thyroid cancer, of course, I scoured the internet looking for answers. In addition to concern about my prognosis, I wanted to know how this happened. Was this just random chance? or did something specific cause this? What I found was alarming. Thyroid cancer has tripled in prevalence over the past 30 years. While some of this may be due to improved detection, that doesn’t account for all of the increase. Something is certainly causing it – something that has changed in the recent past.

The only certain cause of thyroid cancer is exposure to radiation – especially in one’s youth. Even moderate exposure can dramatically increase the risk of developing cancer when you’re older. There have been many studies to show this link, such as this one. The onset can be decades after the exposure, which makes linking cause and effect difficult. Did I wander past some radioactive facility when I was young? Maybe… Was the basement of my childhood home filled with radon gas? Possibly (in fact, this might be an interesting thing to investigate). Or perhaps I was just randomly unlucky; even without a distinct cause, thyroid cancer still happens. But, my concern is more than just personal. This didn’t just happen to me. Something is happening throughout our society – and in fact, throughout all developed societies.

If exposure to radiation is the most certain cause of thyroid cancer, what are the most common exposures to radiation? And have any of these changed dramtically in the past few decades? While there are many possible sources of radiation exposure, from radon gas to nuclear test fallout, one thing immediately jumps out – x-rays. In particular, dental x-rays. Since the 1950s, access to professional dental services has grown exponentially in the US, and throughout the developed world. As a child in the 1970s, I was subjected to dozens of x-rays during my regular visits. Either my teeth were crappy, or the family dentist was “drilling for dollars”. I had a lot of cavities, and a lot of x-rays.

Thyroid Cancer Rates - from NIH

Thyroid Cancer Rates – from NIH

My suspicions got a serious jolt when I learned this fact: The use of x-ray equipment in the US is virtually unregulated. That’s right, your dentist could be blasting you with any level of x-ray radiation, and nobody cares or knows. Nobody is measuring machines to see if they’re operating as expected. Sure, we know that excessive exposure to x-rays are incredibly harmful, but you can’t see them, and the harmful effects are only apparent years later. Who would know if you’re being blasted with the equivalent of a nuclear explosion at every exam? The dentist might not have a clue either. For all I know, my childhood dentist got his x-ray machine from the army surplus dump after WWII, and it had the level set to maximum. Why not? If it makes for easier operation, and clearer x-rays, who was to care?

What makes this particularly concerning is that dental x-rays are directed at an area very near the thyroid gland (which sits right about at your collar bone). Sure, x-ray operators will cover your chest and neck with a lead vest, but this is hardly a rock-solid protection, and I have no memory if or how this was done when I was a kid. Vests are not always situated properly, and the x-ray beam can be directed such that it bypasses the vest altogether & goes straight to the neck.

The good news is that modern digital x-ray machines use far lower levels of radiation, and are certainly a lot safer. But, there are still plenty of older machines in service. New equipment is expensive… and the older equipment doesn’t go to the dump, it goes to the third world, who are just getting on-board the dental hygene train and all that comes with it.

How can we figure out if this is more than just speculation? A couple studies have looked at this. This is a particularly good one, and quite striking too – the conclusion is that there is indeed a measurable link. However, this is looking at broad population. The challenge is that dental practices & patient experiences vary widely. A dentist who used x-rays sparingly, was very careful with neck shielding, and had a low-emission x-ray machine would have given their patients very low exposures. Some patients may have received a lot of x-rays as a youth, others only a few. A study comparing the outcomes of patients of specific dentists ~30-40 years on would be far more interesting. I’m hopeful there are epidemiologists with ideas of how this might be accomplished. The data exists, the challenge is combing through it – ultimately looking at groups of people treated by specific dentists, and see if some groups have a higher incidence of thyroid cancer ~30-40 years later than others. Dentists keep good records, and one might be able to determine which equipment they were using, and which patients had how many x-rays. There are likely issues with privacy though, I’m not sure how you get around that one.

There are a number of articles raising this issue. And there are a number of articles telling people not to worry about it. Those downplaying the link essentially conclude “It hasn’t been proven, so don’t worry about it”. They claim that dental x-ray radiation is “low”, without mentioning that it’s unregulated, unmeasured and widely inconsistent from dentist to dentist. They claim that the increase in thyroid cancer incidence is primarily due to increased awareness. That might certainly contribute, but don’t we owe it to ourselves to do an actual detailed study? There’s a lot of vested interest in maintaining the status-quo. Can you imagine the costs involved to replace all the aging x-ray equipment still in use? What if people get irrational and panic, eschewing all x-rays? X-rays have saved millions from serious dental problems, but that doesn’t mean they’re 100% good.

So, that’s where things sit. I have no tools to take this much further. It’s my hope that this blog post will find its way to someone who has more experience or resources and can look into it. I’m not a conspiracy nut, but this is a problem craving for more study. Thyroid cancer is a huge cost to society – in dollars, in time, and in quality of life. Maybe the answer isn’t dental x-rays, maybe it’s something else? But, we simply don’t know. One thing is completely unacceptable – denial of a potential problem simply because we don’t have the data. All I’m asking is that it’s thoroughly studied, and proper regulations are put in place so we know what our x-ray equipment is emitting. Everyone should be in favor of that. Something is causing this, and we owe it to ourselves & our children to figure out what it is.

If you’re reading this as a newly diagnosed Papillary thyroid cancer patient, don’t panic. You’re not alone, and your prognosis is likely pretty good. This is unfortunately a common cancer, and treatment is almost like a formula. It goes something like this:

  1. Someone feels a lump in your thyroid. Perhaps this is precipitated by some symptoms of low Thyroid levels (sluggishness, fatigue, etc), or you just happen upon it. Thyroid cancer is often asymptomatic – even the lump may not be noticable.
  2. You get a biopsy. Even if this doesn’t show cancer, your doctor might treat it as such. Thyroid nodules (semi-solid growths) are fairly common, and while many of these are benign, they can grow and turn cancerous.
  3. Surgery to remove your thyroid. It’s a delicate surgery, though common. Mine took about 3 hours, plus a day in the recovery room. Risks are damage to the parathyroid (a completely different gland that sits snuggly against the thyroid), and damage to other things in your throat (my vocal nerve got nicked, and I couldn’t talk for a week afterwards). Recovery is anywhere from a few days to a week or so. You’ll likely acquire a 2-3 inch scar on your neck.
  4. Radioactive Iodine treatment (RAI). Since thyroid tissue soaks-up iodine, they can feed you radioactive iodine, which any remaining thyroid tissue soaks up. The first step in this to give you a low dose followed by a full body scan to see if you have any hot spots. In my case, the cancer had just started spreading to a nearby lymph node. They missed this during the surgery, but it showed-up like a beacon in the scan. So, I did the high-dose treatment a few weeks later. (this involes going on a low-iodine diet beforehand, and stopping thyroid replacement medication). After a year, I had another scan, which showed the hot spot was gone,and there was no other uptake – I was clear.
  5. A lifetime of pills. Your thyroid gland does one thing – produce thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone essentially enables your cells to metabolize energy. Luckily this hormone is easy to synthesize, and cheap. It’s also one of the most common prescribed medications. Many people get T4, which is what the thyroid produces… it’s most commonly known by the brand Syntheroid, but there are generic equivalents. T4 breaks down into T3 in the body (and it’s the T3 which actually does the work). You might also get prescribed a T3 replacement (most commonly known by the brand Cytomel). Personally, I take 125 micrograms of T4 and 10 micrograms of T3 every day. Your dosage may vary depending on many factors, such as your weight and how well your body uptakes the medication.
  6. Monitoring your thyroid levels. It’s a good idea to get your thyroid levels checked every year to make sure your doseage is correct. If you have symptoms of low thyroid levels (fatigued muscles, tiredness, chills, fuzzy thinking) see a doctor. Too much thyroid hormone can be a problem as well.
  7. Checking for Thyroglobulin. Your thyroid gland also produces thyroglobulin, which is a fatty very of thyroid hormone. A few months after surgery & RAI treatment, you should have zero thyroglobulin. If you have any, it might mean there are rogue thyroid cells (i.e. cancer) in your body somewhere. It’s good to get a thyroglobulin check every 5 years or so.

Stereolab

Sometime in the mid 1990s, I first heard Stereolab – it was unlike anything I knew… yet entirely familiar.

How do you classify Stereolab? It’s a little electronic, a little rock, often French, a bit new wave, a bit classical, a bit pop. It’s filled with infectious ever-changing rhythms and sounds, and an endless array of instrumentation – everything from buzz-saw guitars to Moog organs to sliced-up xylophones. Topping it off are the interlaced vocals of Laetitia Sadier rambling on in diva-esque French as often as English, and Mary Hansen backing with a flourish of lovely ba-da-dums.  You might consider it 21st-century lounge music. It’s something you’d expect to hear while relaxing on futuristic furniture, contemplating the clouds with your fellow cyborgs.

For years I didn’t give them much thought as my musical tastes wandered all over the map. The band didn’t stop though. They released a flurry of albums throughout the 1990s and 2000s, each exploring new ground, and slightly evolving always in interesting ways. Eventually I picked up another album… and another. As I started building a library of Stereolab songs, it took over more and more of my headphone time. I got all their albums. Then, thanks to the Internet, I found tons of singles and other obscure tracks, until I thought I had everything they’d released. About this time (2009), the band released their final 2 albums, and went on a “permanent hiatus”.

But, I didn’t stop listening… just the opposite. Somehow, Stereolab has become the background to my life. The amount of music they produced is immense, and I love nearly every track. Even recently, I’ve been discovering new tracks… I’m now up to about 304, including a few live sessions and collaborations.  That kind of depth means it just never gets old. Even if I listen to hours a day, there isn’t much repetition. I simply can’t decide which I like best, or even why. But, at this point I must have listened to more Stereolab than only a few others on this planet. Thanks to iTunes keeping track of my habits, I know that most of their catalog has over 100 listens… a few over 200.

In case you’ve never heard of them, I thought I’d make this post a bit of an introduction… perhaps a thanks to “The Groop… and a bit of a love letter too. It’d be futile to make a “best of Stereolab” list – their music is too consistently rich. Every time I start a new tune, I think to myself “maybe this is my favorite…”. So, consider this just a sampling.

To start things off, how about one of their more accessible and dare I say “popular” songs from the mid 1990s, Wow and Flutter. It’s not especially representative (no backing vocals?), but it’s a nice little tune. Interestingly, this version on YouTube is a different mix than what’s on the album Mars Audiac Quintet.

Taking a hard switch to classic Stereolab of the late 1990s, how about this track from Dots and Loops – Rainbo Conversation. What is this song about? start guessing.

If you really want to get deep, try Refractions in the Plastic Pulse – the very next track on Dots and Loops. It’s 17 minutes long with 3 or 4 distinct parts twisting throughout – how do you even classify the part that starts at the 8:08 mark? If you stick through this whole track… you’re hooked.

Just about every track on Cobra and Phases is Classic Stereolab… and I could post any one of them here to get at their essence. But, I’ll leave you with the last track, Come And Play in the Milky Night – a simply-constructed and especially lovely tune.

Stereolab started their run a bit heavier, with droning, buzzing guitars. Their first few releases follow this style. But, even here the elements that make them unique are being developed. A great example of this early period is John Cage Bubblegum.

For others in this vein, try Farfisa or Super-Electric.

Stereolab were masters at the the limited-release, only-in-Japan, pink-vinyl b-side singles, that nobody knew even existed until years down the road. The difference with Stereolab is that nearly all of these obscure tracks are interesting. I’m not sure if the band considered them throwaways, but I’ve kept them in heavy rotation. How does it get any more 21st-century lounge than Fluorescences? One of those singles that’s easy to overlook.

Stereolab’s song and album titles are often da-da-esque nonsense, but the songs themselves are filled with intricate stories & observations. Deciphering the dreamy lyrics opens another dimension. I’d listened to International Colouring Contest for years without bothering to hear what was said… in part:

Before Armstrong took his steps she’d been there with friends
They took all instruments and recorded on the moon
Gathered variety of sound from where the air is different

Then there’s a song like Long Life Love – one of their very best, and a rarity with Mary Hansen on lead vocals. It’s another track they just quietly popped onto an EP. The story is about as involving as the song.

The lyrics:

The skeletal ghost twirling in the sea
For having been disobeyed to people
The father had drowned his daughter’s body
No one could remember why exactly
A lost fisherman thought he’d caught big fish
The hanging bones were instead nightmarish

He rushed back home with her caught in his line
Lit a fire which appeased his panic
Kind ladies untangled her from her cling
To keep her warm covered with furs and hides
Starting to soften in the warm silence
Fell asleep untempted by her presence

He was dreaming, a tear formed in his eyes
She saw it shine, suddenly felt thirsty
Unfurled her bones, brought her mouth to the tears
She drank and drank, it felt like a river
Plunged her hand in and gently pulled his heart
Harp and full drum that would follow her prayer

They woke up all entwined breath against breath
Got up to live by the sea where they were fed
By the ocean
No they are not afraid death has its place
In order to create, in order to live

She’d beat the drum and would sing for new flesh
Sing for hair, eyes, chubby legs, hands, and breasts
All that are warm and needs (?wood and surface??)
She sang some more to bear the sleeping child
Slipped in back with him new skin against skin
Returned the harp and magnificent drum

This crazy fairy-tale is set against what otherwise sounds almost like a children’s song… but is anything but.

This came about the same time Sound-Dust was released… One of my favorite albums, and possibly their least-discussed. A number of tracks on Sound-dust have wonderful trippy transitions such as Space Moth or Double Rocker, with the tune finishing completely not where it starts. They delved into darker territory with Suggestion Diabolique. The transition/jam after the 3:22 mark is about as good as it gets.

Tragically, Mary Hansen died in a biking accident in 2002, soon after Sound-Dust was released. The band marched onward, surely shaken… and while they lost Mary’s special sparkle, what remained was as interesting as ever. Their next album – Margerine Eclipse – was essentially a tribute to Mary as only Stereolab could produce. Feel and Triple is an obvious heartfelt message to Mary. Sudden Stars is a bit more subtle.

Stereolab kept at it for 7 years after Mary’s death, releasing dozens of additional tracks. Their sound continued to evolve, now with Laetitia shouldering the load of vocals. The songs on Chemical Chords are shorter and more straightforward, but no less inventive or infectious. For a sample try Valley Hi!

I could go on and on with more tracks, but this post is already too long. While Stereolab isn’t exactly a secret, it seems to me that they were never as popular as they might have been. Perhaps it was too much French? Perhaps some of their live performances were a bit stiff (with this music, there’s simply a lot of standing around – no other way to perform it.), But most likely, it’s simply because Stereolab was too unique for the fleeting attention spans deciding what’s popular – How do you package something that doesn’t fit into a box?

A Morning at Ankeny…

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge – located just south of Salem, Oregon – is one of a handful dotting the Willamette Valley. While these refuges can be great places to spot birds, February is not the best month to visit. I was having a pretty unproductive day when I stumbled upon this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. These excitable little birds rarely sit still (this one posed for only a few seconds – and this is why accurate & quick auto-focus is important) I’ve missed a lot of shots of them over the years… finally got a good one.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Here’s what the surrounding landscape looked like. This will dry out a bit in the summer, but for much of the year, it’s pretty swampy.

Boardwalk at Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Here are some more shots from Ankeny & other Willamette Valley wildlife refuges.

Walking Portland

We had this book for years before bothering to crack it open. When we finally did, a whole new world opened under our feet.  Portland Hill Walks, and the sister book Portland City Walks are wonderfully detailed guided tours, filled with stories of Portland’s history…

hill-walks  city-walks

The amount of research and care that went into these books is astounding, and every bit of it is interesting. The only challenge is trying to follow along and keep it all straight as the miles pile up behind you. Portland owes Laura O. Foster a huge debt. Without these books, many of these amazing stories would be lost to time. Instead, the history comes alive as you walk some of the Portland areas most interesting neighborhoods (Hillsboro is noticeably absent… though, it might make an interesting footnote in a future book).

Each walk is about 4 to 6 miles in length, with a map, general advice/directions, and key point marked on the map and text to help you keep track of where you are in the narration vs. ground. I take a photo of each map, and use an iPhone app called Map Overlay, which overlays the map on my iPhone GPS… This makes following all the turns a lot easier. (Maybe someday, we’ll have GPS-enabled narration too, so you can listen while you walk?).

In addition to the interesting history, it’s nice to have a reason to explore Portland’s many neighborhoods. The walks have taken me to many places I’d never have discovered otherwise, and they’re all right here in town. At this point, we’ve done about 2/3 of the walks in both books – that’s a lot of walking. I’m not sure if there is some kind of prize for completing all the walks, but perhaps there ought to be?

As you might guess by the title, “Portland Hill Walks” focus on the hilly areas around the city… these also tend to be pretty interesting neighborhoods anyway. The walks utilize the labyrinth of concrete staircases that connect streets all over the city. There are more of these than you might realize – they’re like secret pathways…

There are staircases like this one hidden in hilly neighborhoods throughout Portland. This one is in the Nob Hill area of NW Portland.

There are staircases like this one hidden in hilly neighborhoods throughout Portland. This one is in the Nob Hill area of NW Portland.

Inevitably the walks take you by homes most of us can only dream about. This one isn’t even especially notable… I just happen to have a photo of it.

This house could be yours for the low low price of $1.175M. 3 Bedrooms, 2 baths... 3486sq ft... and a killer location in the NW Portland hills. I'm a bit amazed that anyone can afford to live in these places. My mortgage payment is only half of what they pay in property tax!

This house could be yours for the low low price of $1.175M. 3 Bedrooms, 2 baths… 3486sq ft… and a killer location in the NW Portland hills. I’m a bit amazed that anyone can afford to live in these places. My mortgage payment is only half of what they pay in property tax!

Once nice perk of the hill walks are the views… this is a well-known view from near Pittock Mansion, in Portland’s west hills.

A view to the east on a hazy morning. Mt. Hood rises above the city skyline of Portland. The sun was reflecting off the buildings, giving a sort of back-glow.

A view to the east on a hazy morning. Mt. Hood rises above the city skyline of Portland. The sun was reflecting off the buildings, giving a sort of back-glow.

The walks slowly take you by the underside of places you might otherwise drive by without a thought.

I'm not sure who brough English Ivy to Portland, but I hope they're happy. While this invasive weed can look neat on passing observation, it completely envelops anything it encounters, choking native trees and plants. It's a constant struggle to contain, as it's very difficult to remove.

I’m not sure who brough English Ivy to Portland, but I hope they’re happy. While this invasive weed can look neat on passing observation, it completely envelops anything it encounters, choking native trees and plants. It’s a constant struggle to contain, as it’s very difficult to remove.

Many of the walks head through trails in Portland’s many parks. This one is a short section just below Council Crest.

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I think we’ve walked through about a dozen cemeteries as well. They’re peaceful, moody, creepy, and just plain neat. This one is Greenwood Hill Cemetery, in the southwest hills.

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Speaking of spooky walks through the land of the dead… Here’s a view inside the Portland Memorial Mausoleum in the Sellwood neighborhood. This place has nearly 6 miles of hallways… and while there are lots of residents, none of them are living.

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Ok, enough of the dead… how about a stroll through Crystal Springs Rhododendron Park? Try to visit in early May to catch the Rhododendrons at their peak.

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Another neighborhood a little bit out of my price range…

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The walks pass by many of Portland’s city colleges. It’s a good excuse to visit these campuses – otherwise only the realm of faculty & students. Doyle is an old dorm hall at Reed College. The books include all kinds of details about how these places came to be as they are.

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It’s fun to stumble upon pathways I never knew existed. This pedestrian bridge crosses a ravine on the Reed College campus.

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And this walkway connects a couple buildings together at OHSU.

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One constant on many of the walks… cats. This fluffy individual demanded attention!

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Around every corner, there’s a new discovery to make you smile and say “neat!”

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A few of the walks venture into Portland’s outlaying areas… from Forest Grove to Oregon City. One of them heads through Lake Oswego. I might poke fun at the snooty attitude that’s pervasive in “LO”, but some of these lakeside properties are quite nice.

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We’ve done walks in all seasons… But, mostly we seem to do them in the winter, as they’re a quick way to get outside, and comfortable enough to do even if the weather is a bit yukky. Here’s a little fall color in a park in north Portland.

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I’ll be sure to post many more walks as they happen – this post is simply to catch-up a bit.

 

 

Nibble Comes for a Visit

We had a fun visitor last weekend. My sister Karen was out of town for a long weekend so we watched her cat Nibble back at our place.

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She liked seeing what was happening outside.

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She kept popping-up in unexpected places.

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Things never get too serious when Nibble is around.

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But, she can look regal when she wants to.

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Sometimes she just looks like she’s in charge of the place… and she was!

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Nibble is quite the hunter. The floor is not safe for yarn and fuzzy stuffed mice!

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Just hanging out on the rug again…

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Maybe it’s time for a break…

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I hope she’ll be able to come back soon!

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Welcome to the Sausage Factory

Sausage was once a euphemism for “all the left-over stuff at the butcher shop you don’t want to know about”. Thankfully, we’ve grown out of that time… at least in the suburbs of Portland. Sausage takes on a whole new meaning with fresh ingredients, and a personal touch.

There’s no magic recipe for sausage, and really no hard rules. For this first foray, I mostly stuck to the basics – 1.5 yellow onions chopped small, 1.5 heads of pressed garlic (from the garden!), 8oz of medium cheddar cheese, some curing salts from a kit, and well… the “casings”, which is a euphemism for… casings.

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After preparing all this, next step was mixing with 10 pounds of ground pork, and 2.5 pounds of ground beef. Luckily, we live just down the street from The Meating Place – which is like a candy shop for carnivores.

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After mixing it all up, it looked like this:

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While I was chopping and mixing, the casings (ok, pig intestines… and yes, they reek like it) were soaking in water. They had to be loaded onto a tube that attached to the sausage stuffer. I found that it was easiest to cut-off the final 2 inches or so of each casing to make it easier to find the opening. I also had to keep everything lubricated with water.

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Next, it was time to pull out the sausage stuffer (thanks Paul!), and get to business.

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The stuffer has a plunger in the middle that you crank down. The sausage comes out the tube, and you get a long length of sausage. If you want links, you have to twist them as you go… Twisting is a bit of a challenge, as it’s easy to untwist the previous link when you do the next one. I tried to alternate twisting directions to keep everything together… somehow I managed, and only blew-out the casings in a few instances. The process looks a bit um, vulgar… but, uh… ya. I’m gonna eat that.

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Turns out that 12.5 pounds of meat, plus the extra goodies was just about enough for half a pack of casings – perfect. And it was just enough to fill the smoker – double perfect! Thanks again to Paul for the use of the smoker & the hickory chips.

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Here they are, all loaded-up and ready to go.

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Then, it was about 6 hours of smoking… though, really only about 3 pans of chips. Each pan lasted about an hour, so between the smoking hours was a lot of sitting in luke-warm air. I felt a bit like I was making this up as I went, but it seemed to be working.

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By the third pan of chips, things were looking pretty good inside.

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The smoker didn’t get especially hot… and the process really dictates that the sausages get up to 180F or so (Did I mention I was kind of making this up as I went?). So, I plunked them in the oven at ~180-200F for an hour. After this, here was my bounty.

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After a day in the fridge to cool down & stiffen up a bit, it was time for some vacuum sealing. While sausage curing & smoking was invented to help keep meat fresher longer (and with the added bonus of flavor), I’m sure if the old generations had a vacuum-sealer, they’d have used it! I like sausage, but this is… well, a lot.

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Finally, it was time for a little reward. For a change, I know exactly what’s under the casings of this one!

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And, yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

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Star Wars: What’s next… I hope.

the-force-awakensI’m not a total Star Wars nerd, but I was a kid when the first three movies came out… and they’re just a part of my DNA. They were what a kid wants all movies to be: Explorations of fantastic places that exist only in our imaginations, yet complete enough to seem somehow real. The three prequels weren’t great as movies, but they did add to the “universe & mythology of Star Wars”– just this idea there could be a galactic republic, what would that look like, how it would work, etc. Of course, you need a story to keep the viewer engaged… and they were considerably lacking on that front.

So, now everyone is buzzing about “Episode 7”. I thought it was fun, and a welcome departure from the prequels. There are a few things I might have wished were different (can we think of a different super-weapon, please? This is like the 3rd death star the rebels have blown-up), but I couldn’t complain too much – there was a lot more I liked with “The Force Awakens” than I disliked.

Now, I can’t help but look forward to Episodes 8-9, and wonder how it might play-out. So, here’s my outline:

Luke’s quest to find the ancient Jedi temples made him realize something – the entire history of The Force has been a constant struggle of light vs. dark, with incredibly destructive to everyone else. Think of all the millions who’ve died in the crossfire due to conflicts between Sith and Jedi. The Force always tries to achieve balance, so when one side gets too strong, the other brings it down. This same thing happened when he tried to resurrect the Jedi order – he lost his star pupil to the Dark Side. He may even shows Rey evidence of this… historical tomes showing it. So, he decided the only solution was to quit the game – let the force go quietly into the night… and all the destruction with it. He dispersed any remaining novices without training & somehow wiped their memories so they’ll never know the power they have. That’s why he’s holed-up in the middle of nowhere. He’s assuming the likes of Snoke will inevitably seed their own destruction. If he and other users of The Force get involved, it’ll be worse in the long run. We also find that the ghosts of deceased Jedi (Obi-Wan, Yoda, Anakin…) have faded over the years… they rarely visit Luke anymore & Luke feels a bit lost in the wilderness with no guide.

Rey tells Luke he’s full of crap – giving up is no answer. She’s going to fight! In essence this plot is similar to Wargames – the old master is content to let the world burn, but the kids are like NFW! There could be a lot of good dialog & character-building in this argument. Rey eventually gives-up on Luke and leaves, saying she’ll fight with or without him. Luke is troubled… Luke is aware of Rey’s origins & power (or at least suspects it), but doesn’t tell her this. If he trains her, the cycle continues… but if he doesn’t train her, the Dark Side may either kill her or control her. Some choice.

It seems Rey was one of the potential students dispersed and hidden by Luke. However, there was someone watching her on her home planet Lor San Tekka (Max Sydow) – the guy we see in the very first scene of Episode 7… the one who had the map to Luke. He was a friend to Luke – a bit of a disciple perhaps. That’s why he had the map. Luke had told him to keep it a secret, but Lor realized things were headed south with the First Order, so he gave the map to Poe. In fact, he basically says this very thing in Episode 7… but the first time you see the movie, you don’t know what he’s talking about.

We find that Snoke is really the master behind “the Emperor”… he was never killed, but rather fooled The Emperor into thinking he was dead. He’s been pulling the strings behind the scenes all along. We also discover Snoke was responsible for the “virgin birth” of Anakin Skywalker (aka Darth Vader), and had some kind of dream/plan to assume control over Darth Vader to become immortal. After Vader’s death and the unraveling of that plan, he’s been back at it… he succeeded in producing another “Virgin Birth” – that’s where Rey came from – Rey has the same origin as Anakin, and Snoke has the same intention for Rey – that he’ll somehow use her for his own immortality. This also explains why Rey is so powerful in The Force even without training.

After Rey leaves Luke she confronts Kylo Ren again… but this time Kylo has more training (a few training sequences with Snoke & Kylo would be cool), and he has Snoke right there with him. They capture Rey… Snoke tells Rey of her origins and “her destiny” & she’s distraught… They don’t torture her, but keep her in a “gilded cage” of sorts, tempting her with the power of the Dark Side & twisting it to make it seem like good is bad & vice-versa (You think we’re evil, but we only seek peace and order). There’s a lot of opportunity for some great acting & writing with this kind of thing – a theme of good and evil depending on one’s point of view (as Obi-wan might have put it).

Finn & Poe (with the support of Leia) go find Luke & tell him what happened. Luke realizes he has no choice but to be involved this one last time… He ultimately confronts Snoke & Kylo. We find that Luke knows exactly what Snoke has been up to with Anakin & Rey – he learned this from the Jedi archives a well. He either kills Snoke, or weakens him to the point where the others can kill him. But, Luke dies in the process (for example: Luke is hanging off a precipice, and slices off Snokes arms… This causes him to plunge to his death, but leaves Snoke defenseless). Luke knows this is likely to happen – it’s part of his plan to bring balance to The Force – to zero-out the most powerful entities. Rey fights Kylo, but he escapes, and remains our lead bad guy, now more powerful than ever… and in a sense happy to be rid of Snoke (though, wondering if Snoke just faked his death again).

So, that leaves it for the story to just keep going… Luke might die, but he’ll come back to some extent as a “ghost Jedi” like Obi-wan did. Where the story goes from there is anyone’s guess. I’m out of ideas for now – Force out!