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I’m reading Book Six of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. The rings with the birthstones of my grandchildren are from Luna & Stella.

It’s always nice to learn that something you do anyway is good for your health. For example, I love to read. Now an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune tells me that reading books may help older folks stave off dementia.

Doug Williams writes, “If you want to live a long, healthy life, be sure to exercise, eat your veggies, get plenty of sleep and surround yourself with family and friends.

“Oh, and read a few good books each year, too.

“Several studies in recent years indicate that reading — especially reading books — is beneficial to health, wellness and even longevity.

“In 2016, research done by a team at the Yale University School of Public Health found that of more than 3,600 men and women 50 and older in a long-term health and retirement study, book readers — reading at least 3½ hours per week — had a 20 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years than non-book readers.

“Books, even more than long magazine or newspaper articles, seem to enhance quality of life, the researchers said.

“ ‘You have to engage more, hold on to information longer,’ says Avni Bavishi, one of the researchers and authors of the study done while she was completing her master’s in chronic disease epidemiology at Yale. …

“Bavishi, now a medical student at Northwestern, says regular book readers can find relaxation in reading. That can be an oasis — an old-school refuge — in this era of constantly changing stimuli from the Internet and 24-hour news cycle. Lifelong readers, too, may develop better critical thinking skills, vocabulary and empathy that can improve quality of life.

“The researchers believe books promote ‘deep reading’ that is a slow, immersive process. That cognitive engagement may help a reader over his or her lifetime to develop better skills for reasoning and concentration that can improve quality of life (better schools, jobs, income, standard of living). Plus, reading books can ‘promote empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence’ that can help create what they call a ‘survival advantage.’ …

“A study published in the journal Neurology in 2013 also cited the benefits of a lifetime of reading as a barrier to ‘late-life cognitive decline.’ It found that although there is no cure for dementia, ‘reading, writing and playing games’ can slow the progress of that affliction. …

“In a 2009 study at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, researchers found reading reduced stress levels by 68 percent, better even than listening to music or taking a walk. Stress reduction was indicated by a lower heart rate and reduced muscle tension.

“Other studies show reading — especially before bedtime — promotes better sleep. It also can enhance social skills and can boost overall intelligence and academic success. …

“In 2012, Stanford researchers — using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — tracked blood flow to the brain of men and women critically reading excerpts of a Jane Austen novel. They found positive physical results, including increased blood flow to the brain in general, not just to the areas responsible for ‘executive function.’ ” More here.

FYI, I post mini reviews of all the books I read at GoodReads. You can email me at suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com about that.

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Photo: Smithsonian
This quilt, “Solar System,” was created by E.H. Baker in 1876 and is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. Astronomy was a field of science that was more open to women historically than other fields were.

Women have always been interested in science, but they have not always been welcomed as equals. Consider Beatrix Potter, who was more knowledgeable about botany (mushrooms especially) than most men of her time.

But a determined woman could still learn and contribute. It seems that many were interested in astronomy, sometimes translating that interest into the art form they knew best.

At the Smithsonian’s website American History, you can read about Ellen Harding Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, and the quilt of the solar system she completed in 1876 after years of research to make it as accurate as possible.

“The wool top of this applique quilt is embellished with wool-fabric applique, wool braid, and wool and silk embroidery. … The lining is a red cotton-and-wool fabric and the filling is of cotton fiber. The maker, Sarah Ellen Harding, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 8, 1847, and married Marion Baker of Cedar County, Iowa, on October 10, 1867. They lived in Cedar County until 1878, and then moved to Johnson County.  …

“The design of Ellen’s striking and unusual quilt resembles illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. New York Times (September 22, 1883) mentioned this item from an Iowa paper: ‘Mrs. M. Baker, of Lone Tree, has just finished a silk quilt which she has been seven years in making. It has the solar system worked in completely and accurately. The lady went to Chicago to view the comet and sun spots through the telescope that she might be very accurate. Then she devised a lecture in astronomy from it.’ ” More.

Good news, bad news. Maria Mitchell of Nantucket garnered international recognition for discovering a comet, but her female students were generally shut out of work in the field.

Smithsonian reports, “Mitchell was born on Nantucket in 1818. Her family was Quaker, which meant that they believed both girls and boys should go to school. Her father, a teacher and an astronomer, taught her about the skies when she was very young. In terms of equipment, at-home astronomers weren’t at a disadvantage; Harvard’s telescope was roughly the same size and power as the Mitchells’. When she was 12, she and her father observed a solar eclipse.

“From there, Mitchell’s ascent as an astronomer was swift. In 1847, the prince of Denmark awarded the 29-year-old Mitchell a medal for reporting a comet that was too far away to be seen without a telescope (the comet became known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet’). The next year, she became the first woman elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. …

“[Mitchell] used the rhetoric of the time to argue for more women in the sciences. ‘The training of a girl fits her for delicate work,’ Mitchell wrote in 1878. ‘The touch of her fingers upon the delicate screws of an astronomical instrument might become wonderfully accurate in results; a woman’s eyes are trained to nicety of color. The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.’ ” More.

Quilters! Be sure to check out other solar-system quilts at Barbara Brackman’s blog on blogspot, here.

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110518-amazing-shade-of-red-on-Japanese-mapleDid you read The Hobbit? Do you remember the thrilling moment when an ancient prophecy comes true as a “thrush knocks” and the sun briefly beams at a tiny spot on the wall of the Iron Mountain, revealing the forgotten keyhole to the dragon’s backdoor? No? Well, check it out.

I mention this ability of the sun to shine at a certain place only at a certain time because the photo below represents one of my attempts to run outside in a mad rush and capture how a particular solar angle projects the squares of the gate on the stone wall. It only happens a couple times a year because the sun keeps moving. (That is, the Earth keeps moving in relation to the sun.) In a few minutes the projection would be on the grass, not the wall. The following week, it wouldn’t happen at all. I totally lost out last spring, but managed to get this much in the fall. Stonehenge.

The first sculpture was by a grateful patient of Mass General Hospital in Boston. Next come sculptures seen from the cafe balcony at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. And, typical of the City That Never Sleeps, Insomnia Cookies will deliver until 3 a.m. The port-a-potty confirms Asakiyume’s contention that these ubiquitous accommodations are as creatively named as hair salons.

Then, I give you Central Park the Beautiful. What city would ever build something this magnificent today?

Finally, another of my favorite topics: the wonder of lichen.

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Photo: Bobby Bascomb
The Grupo Vidas crew taking a break from their coral restoration work in Puerto Rico.

Perhaps inadvertently, media stories lead one to believe that all Puerto Ricans are passively waiting for the Mounties to rescue them from the destruction of Hurricane Maria. The Mounties surely better get their act together, but residents of the island are not counting on them. They’re taking matters into their own hands. I plan to post soon about the women who are rebuilding the island’s farming industry, but today the topic is restoring damaged coral reefs.

The National Public Radio (NPR) show Living on Earth has the story.

“Roughly 10 percent of Puerto Rico’s corals were broken and damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Corals are a first line of defense against storm surges and a critical habitat for juvenile fish but face an uphill battle against warming seas, ocean acidification and ship groundings. As Host Bobby Bascomb reports, Puerto Ricans are finding ways to give corals a fighting chance by reattaching healthy fragments. …

“BASCOMB: Chunks of coral were broken off by rough seas and ocean swells. But on a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I discovered there’s still hope for thousands of battered bits of coral lying around the sea floor.

“I’m standing on a tall dune near Vega Baja on Puerto Rico’s north coast. The ocean stretches out in shades of dark blue, turquoise, and pale aquamarine. But interspersed among the usual colors of a tropical ocean are patches of brownish orange – elkhorn coral.

“Salvador Loreano is a worker with the environmental NGO Grupo V.I.D.A.S. Their main task is coral restoration.

“S. LOREANO: Our goal right now is to plant coral fragments here because you know that Maria, Hurricane Maria, came here and devastated the island. This caused great damage to the coral reef because the first time we went to there after Maria, the reef was like destroyed, like we see big coral colonies upside down and a lot of dead coral.

“BASCOMB: As long as they remain submerged under water, these coral, which are colonies of tiny invertebrate animals, have a 20 percent chance of survival. But that increases to more than 90 percent if they are attached to a larger structure, not getting banged around by the surf or smothered with sand.

If a piece of coral is at least 2 inches long and 80 percent healthy, it can actually be reattached to an existing reef. …

“MARIOLA LOREANO: [Here’s] a slate where we write our tallies, basically, which is all of the fragments that we’ve successfully planted, a bag for any trash that we find inside the ocean, and a buoy so it floats. …

“BASCOMB: We put on our mask, snorkel, and fins and walk backwards into the bath-warm water, stepping over the sharp black sea urchins. … A rainbow of fish greets us – green fish with florescent blue heads, black fish with yellow stripes, green fish with pink stripes. They’re all juvenile fish, and the reef is a critical habitat for them. …

“A worker named Ernesto is already hard at work. He uses a wire brush to scrape algae off a piece of coral the size of a ping pong paddle and does the same to a suitable spot on the reef. Just like gluing two objects together, you need to start with a clean surface on both sides. Then he pulls a plastic zip tie out of his sleeve and uses it to attach the coral in place.

“He uses pliers with a florescent pink handle to pull the zip tie tight and cut off the excess plastic, which he sticks in his other sleeve. This piece of coral is now one of hundreds just like it pinned to the reef with zip ties. And in two to three weeks, it will grow onto the reef enough to stay put on its own. …

“BASCOMB: If hurricane damage was the only issue, this work wouldn’t be necessary. But much like the world’s coral reefs in general, this reef has a lot of challenges. Grupo V.I.D.A.S. worker Ernesto says one of the biggest problems is algae blooms from sewage runoff. In many places the coral is essentially smothered, leaving it a ghostly gray color. …

“E. VÉLEZ GANDÍA: It’s like Day of the Dead but under the water.

“BASCOMB: There is a very large dead coral at the entrance to the reef in the shallowest, warmest water. Ernesto believes that one died not from algae blooms but from stress of a warming ocean. … Ernesto talks about the death of that coral as one might talk about a member of the family passing away.

“VÉLEZ GANDÍA: And we got a lot of love for him. We saw him alive, very alive. He is one of the oldest in our reef, but he start dying. We saw the process of his death. So, we just admire him and remember him. It’s very sentimental, I don’t know, but it’s deep in the heart.”

More at Living on Earth, here. And you can read another article about ways to save reefs at Earther, here.

Photo: Sean Nash
Elk horn coral are part of a vital reef ecosystem that provide habitat for fish. In Puerto Rico, many were damaged after Hurricane Maria.

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Photos: Charles Jencks
Landscape artist Charles Jencks has turned a Scottish coal mine into a work of art reminiscent of Stonehenge.

It’s not news that to save the plant we need to move away from using coal. Every few days, it seems, someone else is getting on board. Yesterday, for example, I saw that a big Italian insurance company decided to stop insuring coal plants. (Story at Reuters, here.) And remember this post about a German coal town turning an old mine into a giant, water-powered battery?

Well, human ingenuity continues to work at the problem of coal mines present and past. In this story, a Scottish mine was turned into artwork.

Writes Contemporist, “Landscape artist Charles Jencks has completed the transformation of Crawick Multiverse, a former coal mine that has now become a 55-acre artland, visitor attraction and public amenity. …

“Crawick Multiverse is a major land restoration and art project in Dumfries & Galloway, utilising landscape art to transform a former open cast coal mine into an outdoor space that can be enjoyed by future generations.

“Privately funded by the Duke of Buccleuch and designed by globally-renowned landscape artist Charles Jencks, Crawick Multiverse … links the themes of space, astronomy and cosmology, creating a truly inspiring landmark that will appeal to everyone from art enthusiasts and scientists to the wider community. …

“The site is managed by the Crawick Artland Trust which includes trustees from the local communities surrounding the site.”

The BBC adds that the project “follows on from other works by Mr Jencks including the likes of Northumberlandia in north east England, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation north of Dumfries and the Beijing Olympic Park’s Black Hole Terrace.

“He said: ‘This former open cast coal site, nestled in a bowl of large rolling hills, never did produce enough black gold to keep digging. But it did, accidentally, create the bones of a marvellous ecology.

” ‘The landscape had to be healed, it had to welcome the nearby communities of Sanquhar, Kelloholm and Kirkconnel, and help restore the locality both economically and ecologically.’ ” More.

More great pictures at Contemporist, here.

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using-cookie-cutters_heroPhoto: Betty Crocker
Full-service libraries are starting to lend out cooking utensils as well as cookbooks.

You’ve heard of the Internet of Things, right? Using the internet to turn on the heat in your house before you arrive home from a trip, for example, or checking inside your fridge while you’re at the supermarket to see if you need milk.

Well, I just learned about something called the Library of Things. This expansion of the role of libraries is a recognition that you may not want to buy all the paraphernalia for making a gingerbread house, say, but would love to try making one if you could just borrow the equipment.

Deanna Fox writes at the Times Union, “When you go to visit Guilderland Public Library on Western Avenue [near Albany, New York], be sure to bring your appetite. Besides the expansive array of cookbooks in the stacks and shelves to peruse and whet the palate, the library now offers bakeware and food-related programming to make those glossy images in cookbooks a reality.

“Maria Buhl, department head for programs and services at the library, said its 2,200 cookbooks serve as the foundation for a new cake pan and cookie cutter loan program that provides patrons with a chance to use a piece of kitchen equipment that they typically could only access through purchasing it.

” ‘We choose items that are not things people want in their homes,’ said Buhl, who added that people enjoy kitchen gadgetry and trying new recipes, but purchasing the equipment needed to make the recipes is space- and money-intensive and having a lending library of novelty pans, Bundt pans, springform pans and various cookie cutters gives utility to the cookbooks the library offers.

“There are currently a few dozen cake pans and cookie cutter sets to choose from at the library, and Buhl said there are plans to add 15 to 20 more items. Some of the sets and pans are included in the ‘birthday in a backpack’ program that offers patrons a backpack filled with books, games, decorations and bakeware that all follow a theme (‘Dora the Explorer’ or dinosaurs, for example) to create a celebration with otherwise onetime use items.

“Tim Wiles, the library’s director, said the cake pan program is part of the facility’s ‘library of things,’ a growing trend among public libraries.

” ‘There is a general thought in society that because everything is on the internet, there is no need for libraries in general,’ he said, but the success of the lending of material items like bakeware or other items, like 6-foot folding tables that are often the top checked-out items in the ‘library of things,’ secures the purpose of a library in the age of digital information and media. …

” ‘Take a historical look at this. Libraries started in the mid-19th century because books were rare and expensive. It is all part of the sharing economy,’ said Wiles.

“Bakeware is no good without a recipe, however, and Guilderland Public Library’s cookbook collection is the highest circulating nonfiction collection in the library, said Buhl. …

“A new cookbook club at the library highlights one or two cookbooks per month that patrons can choose a recipe from, make a photocopy of, and take home to try. Patrons are invited to gather one night per month to share the dishes they make from the books and discuss them.

“September was the first month of the program and the chosen book was ‘Great British Bake Off: Big Book of Baking,’ by Linda Collister. … Because the measurements in the book were offered in metric form, conversion charts were provided for patrons. ‘It became like a STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math] program,’ said Buhl. ‘It was an opportunity for people to step outside of their comfort zone.’ ”

Now, that’s another good idea — especially in Suzanne’s kitchen, where the great recipes Erik remembers from growing up in Sweden are all in metric.

More information is available at the Times Union, here, or at guilderlandlibrary.org.

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Photos: Mahmud Hossain Opu for NPR
The nonprofit group Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha has a fleet of 23 school boats in Bangladesh. The boats pick up kids along the river, then pull over into the marshy riverbank to hold class.

Kids complain about school when school is a given, but what about when it is hard to access? I have been reading about a fire-ravaged county in California that has no schools right now (story here). California is sure to get it together before long, but what about poor countries with drastic education challenges?

Jason Beaubien reports about Bangladesh at National Public Radio (NPR). “On the Atrai River in the northwest of Bangladesh, a small beige boat is tied up in tall grass that lines the riverbank. The interior of the boat is packed with narrow benches which in turn are jammed with children.

“There are 29 students in this third-grade class and it would be hard to fit any more into the narrow vessel. The kids sit shoulder-to-shoulder facing a blackboard at the back of the boat.

“When the teacher asks for a volunteer to recite a multiplication table, 8-year-old Nila Khatun’s hand shoots straight toward the unpainted ceiling.

“She leads the class in a chant that begins with ‘6 times 1 equals 6’ in Bengali. They end with ‘6 times 9 equals 54.’

“Educators in Bangladesh have a problem. Not only do they face many of the same challenges as teachers in other resource-poor countries — funding constraints, outdated textbooks, overcrowded classrooms — they also have to worry about monsoon rains. Flooding is so common in Bangladesh that students often can’t get to the classroom.

“So one local charity has decided to take the classrooms to the students in the form of schools on boats.

“This boat is one of 23 floating year-round schools in this part of Bangladesh run by Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a local nonprofit group. …

“Mohammed Rezwan, the founder of Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, grew up in this part of Bangladesh.

” ‘If you visit these areas you’ll find that during the monsoon season they get isolated,’ he says. ‘It becomes very difficult to have the normal life.’ …

” ‘In the rural areas. the parents are mostly concerned with the safety of the girls,’ he says. ‘If they [girls] have to travel a long way to go to school, then the parents would not let them go to school.’ …

“That’s true for the family of third-grader Nila. Her mother Musa Khatun says that if it wasn’t for the floating school, Nila probably wouldn’t be in school at all. …

“Khatun says that during the monsoons the village is only accessible by boat. Their family primarily survives by raising jute in the nearby plains. The long, fibrous plant is used to make burlap bags. Nila’s mother, however, sees a different future for Nila. She says Nila is the smart one of the family. No one in their family has ever gone to college, yet Khatun insists her daughter is going to be a doctor.

“And Nila nods her head enthusiastically.”

More here, including eleven wonderful pictures.

When class is done for the day, the boat putters along the river to drop off its students. 

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