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Photo: The Home Depot.
Easy-care succulent plants are media stars in China.

A new craze in China shows a revealing side of the natural character, including the determination to find online fun that no government could possibly object to. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone objecting — unless the fad were to lead to depletion of the planet’s succulent plants.

Rebecca Tan writes at the Washington Post, “There’s a group of burgeoning new stars on China’s live-streaming scene. They’re painfully photogenic, diverse in age and origin, and offer up vividly different performances as the seasons change.

“Succulents.

“The thick, fleshy plants have been growing in popularity in China for nearly a decade, but only recently collided with live-streaming in e-commerce, a $60 billion industry that got a massive boost during the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people are logging on daily to admire these vegetating celebrities, oohing as chattering hosts turn and twirl them around, showing off blushes of new color, entire centimeters of growth, or — what a treat! — some velvety new leaves.

“ ‘For me, it’s a must-watch every day. I can’t not watch it, I’ll feel like I’m missing something,’ said Yang Weichun, 39, of Zhejiang province. Before live-streaming drew her into a passion for succulents, or ‘duorou’ in Chinese, her phone used to be filled with pictures of her two sons, 13 and 16. Now, her phone has space only for pictures and videos of her several hundred plants, which she scrolls through daily to feel at peace. Unlike teenage boys, she noted, succulents never throw tantrums.

“ ‘My sons say, “mom is silly to buy so many succulents, what is it for?” But when I look at my succulents, these useless things, I feel really happy,’ said Yang, a business executive with 14-hour work days. ‘It’s like unconditional love.’

“Yang is a top client at Gumupai Succulents — one of the many succulent nurseries in the mountainous region of southwest China run by 30-somethings fleeing their former lives in cramped cities. Equipped with selfie sticks and ring lights, these online-only merchants are part of what Chinese media calls ‘new farmers.’

“A former fruit-peddler who auctions off fruit online as ‘Brother Pomegranate‘ garnered 7 million fans. A once-struggling beekeeper found riches through Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.

“Succulent sellers have found their success through live-streaming, described by Forbes as ‘the Home Shopping Network, but with charismatic, trendy anchors.’ On platforms like Taobao Live, sellers host videos that last 16 hours a day or more, blurring the lines between commerce, entertainment, and social media.

“Jialu Shan, an economist who studies China’s digital market at the International Institute for Management Development, said live-streaming caught on because it cut out the middleman between buyer and seller, offering more transparency and intimacy in a country often short of both. Instead of relying on Photoshopped or filtered images, buyers can examine products in real time, pose questions to sellers and swap notes with other users. …

“In China, home to nearly 1 billion Internet users, there are some unique outgrowths to traditional plant-rearing.

“Demand is on the rise for ‘succulent fostering,’ merchants say. A growing number of (wealthy) clients want to own succulents but aren’t in a rush to get them right away — or ever, actually. They prefer to outsource the parenting part of plant parenthood, content with watching their wards grow through pictures, videos or maybe the occasional visit.

“According to state-run broadcaster CCTV, more than 80 percent of succulent sellers now provide fostering. One seller told local media that when he started fostering mid-pandemic, he only wanted to take care of a few succulents on behalf of friends in hotter places. Now, he has 5 acres of land and 270,000 foster plants. A 37-year-old seller from Yunnan, who asked to be identified by her live-streaming name Queen of the Strange Flower, said she has 600 clients who have left plants under her care — some for as long as four years. …

“Yang is Gumupai’s biggest foster client, with hundreds of succulents under their care. She wants eventually to retrieve all her dourou — she recently bought a house with a large garden expressly for this purpose, she said — but she’s in no rush. She’s working toward retiring at age 50, at which point, her succulent-rearing skills will be more up-to-mark, she said. And in the meantime, she can see her plants whenever she wants, a collection of pin-sharp pixels on her phone screen.

“ ‘In the past, I wanted to travel and see all of China’s grand rivers and mountains. Now, I don’t have any of that desire at all,’ Yang said. ‘I just want to be in my garden, raising my succulents — just that simple.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Mike Birbiglia
Behind the scenes of one of Birbiglia’s virtual comedy shows.

My older granddaughter is having a birthday this week, and her joker dad told her she wouldn’t really be 8 until after the pandemic. Maybe sometime in the summer.

She is on to his tricks, but I laughed as I unnecessarily reassured her over What’s App that she would be 8 on her real birthday. Gotta be grateful for any wisp of humor in a pandemic, even goofy humor.

Comedian Mike Birbiglia always knew that laughter was important, but since he started putting his comedy online, he’s learned just how hungry people are to laugh in difficult times.

At Vulture, Birbiglia how his virtual shows got started. “On March 10, 2020, I drove from my apartment in Brooklyn to a weekend of club shows in Buffalo, New York, to work out new material for a theater tour. … I like Buffalo because I like the people at my shows and the hotel near the club and the people at the hotel and the coffee shops near the hotel. In general, those are the folks I encounter when I’m on the road.

“And I love being on the road. I like meeting people from all over the country and performing shows. … The further you go into more remote locations, the more people seem to crave live comedy.

“When I was 24, I was asked to perform in Seward, Alaska, which has a population of 2,700 people. I was booked there by, I believe, the town of Seward. If memory serves, I was pretty terrible and the crowd was pretty great. Same with Fargo, North Dakota. I remember driving there with my brother Joe through many feet of snow and thinking, This show is gonna be as bad as these roads, and then it was one of the most appreciative crowds I’ve ever played for. …

“These types of shows are typically called ‘hell gigs’ by comics — shows that don’t take place in clubs, but instead loud bars, town gymnasiums, bowling alleys, sometimes even laundromats.

I’ve performed in the center of all-night college walkathons and in the deli lines of cafeterias in the afternoon. I’ve shown up to at least 30 shows that didn’t have a microphone and 100 that didn’t have a stage. Hell gigs are part of the job.

“But the location actually doesn’t really matter. People just want to watch comedy. Everyone’s reason for watching comedy is different, but for me, it’s the shared catharsis of a person onstage talking about the same anxieties you might be experiencing. …

“At its best, stand-up comedy is one person taking the mic and providing the audience with an hour of escapism from the predictability of life. … In one moment, it shocks us, and in the next, it hangs a lantern on the universality of the absurd.

“Stand-up comedy on TV can shrink the format. It can feel like reheated pizza. When you show up in Fargo or Seward, you’re delivering the fresh, hot pizza of comedy right to their door. Showing up in people’s towns cements the communal upside of comedy, which is that it isn’t just the comedian who is seen and heard, but it’s also the audience.

“On March 11, 2020, I was driving to Buffalo via Ithaca, listening to epidemiologists on NPR weigh in on the spreading virus. I stopped at a local pizzeria called Thompson and Bleecker and sat down at the communal table. I was sitting with a couple of strangers who just drove in from Maryland, and they were concerned about the virus too. The guy said, ‘We were listening to Joe Rogan, and he had this scientist on, and we’re starting to think this is really serious.’

“That was the moment I knew I had to drive home. When the Venn diagram of Joe Rogan intersects with NPR, I know there’s something of a national consensus. Things are bad and are about to get worse.

“I drove the four hours back to Brooklyn. We postponed the Buffalo shows for what we thought was a shocking amount of time: four months. My agent asked me to consider doing some virtual shows, to which I was completely resistant.

“The next person I talked to was comedian Sam Morril, who [said] to me, ‘I actually get a lot out of it. I also didn’t expect that not only are you performing for people who can’t leave their houses from the shutdown, but you’re also performing for people who maybe couldn’t even leave their houses before COVID.’

“That’s when I decided I would try this at least once.

“In summer 2020, I did one night of Mike Birbiglia: Working It Out Virtually for 500 people who were located around the world. It was weird. And fun. Then I decided to do more.

“I started adding virtual crew members: a cinematographer, a sound technician, a director. We added three more iPhones to give us new camera angles. We lit my brother Joe’s Rhode Island office like a TV studio. It became this strange hybrid stand-up comedy interactive talk show.

“What I discovered was that the same thing people enjoyed about the live shows were things they were able to enjoy on the Zoom show. One of our producers noticed that during one of the shows someone wrote in the live Zoom chat: ‘I can’t unmute! I want to laugh!’ Those folks were unmuted by the hosts. They were seen. They were heard. …

“People Zoomed in from the most remote locations: living rooms with their cats and dogs and rabbits, gathered around bonfires with whiskey, families huddled in their children’s playroom because it has the best Wi-Fi, a woman knitting a shawl in her TV room, a couple carving a pumpkin with their family in the kitchen. Five continents and over 20 different countries were represented. …

“I’ve done about 18 of these virtual shows, and I’ve learned things from them that I thought I had long understood after 20 years of being a professional comedian. People need comedy. At very least, they need to laugh — particularly when life is most burdensome and unwieldy. People need to laugh to be reminded what laughter feels like and why anyone would have laughed in the first place. It’s the defibrillator that sends a shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. …

“I enjoy it because I feel connected to people all over the country and all over the world. I’m not saying it’s ideal. Arguably these are the worst conditions imaginable for comedy, but I think the people participating appreciate that I’m showing up at all. I mean, let’s be honest. It’s a hell gig.”

More at Vulture, here.

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Photo: Elevate Prize Foundation
Trisha Prabhu, a Harvard undergrad and the founder of ReThink. is the winner of $300,000 for her anti-bullying app.

Nowadays, I’m repeatedly surprised by young people leading inspiring initiatives. They are the ones out front, showing leadership on issues such as climate change, sane gun laws, food security, and social justice. Honestly, I want to follow where they lead. They are building a better future.

After seeing so many examples, I shouldn’t be surprised by today’s story about a college junior who started building a better world when she was 13. But as usual, I’m amazed.

Hiawatha Bray writes at the Boston Globe, “A junior at Harvard University is about to receive a big payoff for her seven-year campaign against cyberbullying. Trisha Prabhu, 20, will get at least $300,000 from the Elevate Prize Foundation to further develop ReThink, a smartphone app that nudges people into using more courteous language online.

“The grant is just the latest accolade for Prabhu, whose work earned her a White House visit during the Obama administration and a 2016 appearance on the ABC television series ‘Shark Tank,’ where she persuaded entrepreneurs Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner to invest in ReThink.

“ ‘It’s been an incredible ride, and not one I imagined at 13,’ said Prabhu, a native of Naperville, Ill., who is studying political science and computer science at Harvard.

“In middle school, Prabhu endured some bullying but shrugged it off. She later learned about other children who had suffered far worse, in some cases committing suicide. …

“So Prabhu channeled her outrage into a science project.

She surveyed 500 high schoolers and found they were less likely to make insulting comments if they were encouraged to think about their words before speaking.

“The results of the survey inspired Prabhu to develop ReThink. …

“The app monitors the words typed by the user and pops up subtle messages when it detects a swear word or insult. For instance, the user might see ‘Would you like to reword this?’

“ReThink doesn’t censor speech. The user can choose to go ahead and type the insult. But Prabhu believes many people will take the app’s advice to heart and mind their manners.

“Prabhu said that schools in 134 countries have formed ReThink chapters that encourage students to use the app, and it’s being used by some 5 million students worldwide. Now Prabhu is looking for ways to generate revenue without relying on intrusive onscreen ads. …

“The Elevate Prize Foundation will support ReThink as it upgrades the product and provide business advice and mentoring. The foundation was launched by a Boston native, Joseph Deitch, former chief executive of Commonwealth Financial Network, in partnership with MIT Solve, a social innovation project sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” More at the Globe, here.

I looked up more on the Elevate Foundation. I think you’ll be interested.

“The Elevate Prize offers $5 million in prize funding, professional development services, and connections to a powerful network of influencers, industry leaders, and subject-matter experts. …

“We are looking for extraordinary people leading high-impact projects and organizations who are:

  • Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
  • Elevating issues and their solutions by building awareness and driving action to solve the most difficult problems of our world
  • Elevating understanding of and between people through changing people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.”

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Photo: New Music Box
The First Congregational Church of Los Angeles virtual choir.

Online group singing has become a fixture of the coronavirus era, and many of the choruses have given great pleasure to listeners. But how do the singers fare emotionally, considering that part of what they love has always been the proximity of other participants?

Fahad Siadat has a few answers at New Music Box.”While the entire music sector has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the choral community has been hit especially hard.

“Singers have been deemed ‘super spreaders’ of the virus, by a study commissioned by a coalition of performing arts organizations. The study has let the national community know they don’t believe there will be a safe way for choirs to safely rehearse until there is widespread testing and/or a vaccine, potentially an entire year or more in the future. Like other musicians, this bleak forecast has prompted panic for professional choristers who rely on group singing for their income, but it has also affected some 40 million people in the United States who rely on choirs for the social community, mental health, and emotional well-being.

“My spouse Cynthia Siadat, a licensed psycho-therapist, recently wrote an article about how choir helps alleviate mental health distress. She writes, ‘73% of singers report that choral singing helps them to feel less lonely. … A 2015 study, found that loneliness has been proven to be just as detrimental to one’s longevity as obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day’. …

“The question becomes not only, ‘how do we make a quality musical product?’ But, ‘how can we continue to have meaningful musical and social experiences?’  …

“I have the good fortune of making my living as a chorister in a particular subset of the community deeply interested and invested in innovating and experimenting with choral music, and because of this involvement have had the opportunity to participate first hand in how different groups are handling the crisis and trying to move forward.

“No one group has ‘solved’ the issue of not being able to sing and rehearse together, but all of them have found unique ways forward and are experimenting wildly. …

“Building a virtual choir, once considered a technological marvel, has become astonishingly commonplace in the last few months. The professional choir at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles (led by my long time colleague David Harris), for instance, has recorded 3-4 virtual choir pieces every week since March.

There are many resources for those interested in getting involved with virtual choirs. I’ve even put my own document of step by step instructions for composers, conductors, and singers.

“(Virtual Choir ProTip: Recording the audio and video separately allows a great deal of editing and ‘punching’ in while recording. It goes much faster than trying to get a single perfect take.)

“(Additional ProTip: Conductor tracks aren’t all that helpful for the singers, use a click instead. Also consider using a ‘section leader’ to create a guide track for each part so the rest of the choir has a voice to follow along with for style and phrasing.) …

“There are some unexpected perks to virtual choirs, namely in terms of how it makes certain kinds of repertoire more accessible than ever before. … The ability to learn and record a piece phrase by phrase allows for the ‘performance’ of music that might have otherwise been out of reach of an ensemble.

“In May, for instance, the FCCLA professional ensemble performed Stravinsky’s 12-tone anthem The Dove Descending, an emotional and mystical work rarely performed by choirs today, especially church choirs, perhaps in-part due to the amount of rehearsal time required. In the virtual choir setting, however, we were able to effectively record the piece in a matter of a few hours. …

“While the end product of virtual choirs can be satisfying, the means by which that product is made can be sorely lacking. The great communal spirit of singing together is completely lost. …

“Luckily, there are some low-latency audio options specifically designed for musicians to re-create some semblance of in-person music making. (Soundjack and Jamulus are two that my community uses, but there are others.)

“It didn’t take long working with this medium to realize that remote choirs are entirely new kinds of ensembles. … Typical choral values like blend, balance, and uniformity are made that much trickier by every singer’s individual mic set up. Rehearsals started with about an hour of tech adjustments, setting levels, and troubleshooting. …

“And yet, once we finally waded through the tech set up and arrived at our first moment of singing together, just a simple C Major chord, I felt a flood of emotion. After long weeks of isolation, I was finally singing with my friends. It wasn’t the choral experience I was used to, but it was unmistakably live music making, and that taste was enough to keep me coming back every week.”

The author provides a lot of technical detail showing how to approximate the group-singing experience, here, at the New Music Box.

I wonder if the rest of us can find ways to feel more present with friends and family via new internet applications. FaceTime and What’s App and Zoom are way better than a mere phone call, but nothing beats meeting someone in a yard for a chat that feels normal. And how will we manage that in winter?

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Photo: Warner Bros. via Wikipedia
In 1957, Warner Bros. released a Bugs Bunny version of the Wagner opera
The Ring of the Nibelung. Creative folks are still thinking up engaging ways to involve children in the beauty and hilarity of opera.

If you love the field you are in and if you have some imagination, there’s always a way to inspire even the youngest children with your enthusiasm.

Michael Andor Brodeur writes about one recent example at the Washington Post.

“Like many a music lover of an age we needn’t get into here, my formative education in classical music and opera came straight from the masters: Bugs, Elmer, Porky. Bugs Bunny was my first Brünnhilde. (So I guess he introduced me to drag as well. Different story.)

“Looney Tunes, Merrie Melodies and Silly Symphonies taught my wee ears how to listen, how to synthesize the music in my imagination with color, movement, emotion and irony. It was like a crash-bang-boom course in how to read sound: The vastness of Wagner became suddenly legible in the context of wabbit-killing.
Kids today are a bit more hands-on, as I discovered during a recent session of ‘Opera Starts With Oh!,’ an opera education program for ages 3 to 7, run by the D.C. and NYC-based company Opera Lafayette. …

“Each installment I watched of ‘Opera Starts With Oh!’ — helmed by director, choreographer and teaching artist Emma Jaster and Opera Lafayette community engagement manager Ersian François — kept its grid of budding opera buffs rapt with an action-packed half-hour of activities, performances and assorted operatic antics.

“ ‘Opera Starts With Oh!’ originated in 2018 as an in-person program to accompany productions in progress, but in its Zoom-based incarnation, each themed installment [centers] on a visit from a guest artist and a simple lesson. …

“At a recent workshop, the Zoom grid filled up fast with small faces smooshed into the frame. It was easily the most entertaining Zoom meeting I’ve had since this whole thing started.

“Lucy and Phoebe were sporting matching unicorn horns and dancing in circles whenever music played. Theodor was paying attention but kept changing his background — first it was outer space, then it was a hedgehog. Gabriel, Massimo and Timothy all crammed attentively into one square.

“Jaster led a round of warm-up exercises (her 6-year-old Ellis popping in and out of view), Nero performed the Passacaille from Lully’s ‘Armide’ (a performance of which Opera Lafayette recorded in 2007) and François skillfully moderated a quick Q&A session (turns out kids are way better at the muting/unmuting thing than adults).

“By the end of it, Helen, who had been pretty quiet up to that point, politely raised her hand, unmuted, and let the group know: ‘I think I want to play the violin.’ …

“ ‘I didn’t get to attend my first opera until I was about 26 years old, particularly because it’s a pretty expensive endeavor to attend an opera,’ says Natalia Lopez-Hurst, mother of Gabriel, Massimo and Timothy. ‘So I wanted to start my kids early with the exposure. I feel like opera encompasses so many different forms of art … We use it as a steppingstone to teach them about art, as well as history, as well as geography.’

“For Jaster, the kinetic goals of the workshop are as important as the aesthetic ones.

“ ‘I’m a movement director and choreographer, that’s how I came to opera,’ says Jaster, ‘But I have a 5-year-old and I live and witness every day how much children need to move their bodies.’ …

“Thus, much of the unbound energy that animates an average ‘Opera Starts With Oh!’ is channeled into twirling, interpretive dance, vocal exercises and functional training (like ‘finger ripples’) for aspiring virtuosos. ..

“ ‘What’s a fun way to take what we’ve learned and make it something that these children will do and be engaged with beyond and outside of this 30 minutes?’ says Jaster. ‘As a parent, 30 minutes is not a lot of the time that I actually need to occupy from my child’s day. So the more the children can be inspired to take this along and then go and make their own performance for all of their stuffed animals — that’s where I want to be.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Taobao / JD.com.
Livestreaming has brought some Chinese farmers badly needed customers during the pandemic.

I originally heard this reassuring tale at the radio show called The World, which is great about covering news from around the world, not just the US. If you’d like to listen to the broadcast, click here.

As Karen Hao reported at MIT Technology Review, some Chinese farmers hurting from the Covid-19 lockdown have been saved by technology.

“A few years after Li Jinxing graduated from college, he returned to his rural hometown to become a flower farmer. The days were long but the routine familiar: rise early and tend to the blossoms in the morning; trim and package those in bloom during the afternoon; deliver the parcels, delicately stacked in trucks, to customers by late evening.

“Where the flowers ended up, Li was never quite sure. From his fields in Yunnan province, China, he sold them to national distributors who sold them to flower shops who sold them to end consumers. … It all threatened to come to an end with covid-19.

“Li, 27, remembers the exact moment he heard about the viral outbreak: it was past midnight on January 20, 2020. The Chinese New Year was only five days away, and he had spent the day harvesting flowers in preparation for the expected holiday bump in sales. As he swiped through Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, he saw a fleeting mention of the disease. Li wasn’t sure what to think. Wuhan was nearly 1,200 miles away — the problem felt distant and intangible. …

“But as lockdown protocols swept through the country, panic began to set in. The logistics company that Li relied on had shut down for the holidays, and now the drivers were stuck at home. Without any way to carry out deliveries, Li watched as his flowers plummeted in price and still couldn’t be sold. In the end, tens of thousands of blossoms waiting in storage spoiled. …

“Then, on February 11, he received a message from an old friend, Ao Fenzhen, the COO of a flower distribution company. JD.com, one of China’s largest online retailers, was offering to help farmers use live-streaming to reach consumers, she said. It would involve broadcasting a few hours of content each day on its app, JD Live, to show off different products and answer questions from potential buyers. The company would provide access to its delivery networks — one of the few that had survived the lockdown — and take a small percentage of sales. Did Li want to join in? …

“Both JD.com and Alibaba-owned Taobao … helped farmers and merchants set up online stores with expedited approvals and showed them how to design the content of their broadcasts. They made their apps more intuitive and used their logistics networks to ship the products directly from farm to home. …

‘Most farmers didn’t know how to live-stream; even fewer understood e-commerce,’ says Zhang Guowei, the head of JD Live.

“But the pressure of the crisis — and the unique scale of China’s consumer base — provided the necessary catalyst. … Growers who had once sold 90% of their products offline have now flipped to selling 90% online. Live-streaming has not only helped the industry weather the crisis — it’s forged an entirely new way of business that is likely to continue long after the pandemic is over.

“Li’s friend Ao had been with her family for the holiday when news of covid arrived. … It was through an ad that she learned of JD.com’s live-streaming initiative. She didn’t have any experience with the medium, but she also didn’t know what else to do. She contacted the company and messaged Li. He was onboard.

“The first week of live-streaming was largely a blur. Ao set up an online store for consumers to make their purchases, and prepared scripts for one to two hours of content per day. Li then used JD Live to broadcast from his fields. He gave a tour of where the flowers grew, showcased their characteristics, and explained how to care for them. Li worked even longer hours than before … but when he sold 100 orders on the first day, he knew they were on to something.

“Through JD’s initiative, Ao and Li also connected with live-stream influencers who offered to help them promote the flowers for free. The pair provided the expertise, teaching the influencers the properties of the flowers and how to arrange them. Once, an influencer’s broadcast surpassed 1 million viewers.

“More orders came flooding in, and Li began to gain his own following. At one point, he remembers, he barely had enough farmhands to fulfill the sales. … By the end of the harvesting season, he had sold several hundred thousand flowers. His and Ao’s businesses had survived.”

More at MIT Technology Review, here.

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2019-BI-School-graduation-by-Malcolm-GreenawayPhoto: Malcolm Greenaway
Gone are the graduation ceremonies of yesteryear.

Spurred on by a suggestion from Nancy Greenaway and by actor John Krasinski’s Some Good News (below), I poked around on the web to see what people were doing about class reunions and graduations this year — besides canceling them.

A group of women missing out on their 50th class reunion got together on a video call, dressed mostly as they would have been in person. Max Chesnes wrote about their reunion at Treasure Coast Palm in Florida.

“At 67, Mimi Kuriger prepped for her first ever Zoom video call the only way she knew how: ‘I wore my Barbara Bush pearls to hide my wrinkles,’ laughed the now-retired nurse living in Vero Beach.

“Kuriger is among the 92 graduates of Mount Saint Joseph Academy, an all-women school in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, who had been planning their 50th class reunion weekend for over a year. … But as is the case for most people around the world who have altered or cancelled travel in the midst of a global pandemic, the novel coronavirus shuttered their plans. …

“Instead of an in-person meetup, 25 women from Saint Joseph sipped from their glasses of wine and martinis (or several) and gathered virtually. …

‘We were all probably sitting in our pajama pants, but we were dressed to the nines up top,’ Kuriger said. …

“The online conversation ran for two hours and went on without a hitch, Kuriger said. Some ladies pulled out their 1970 yearbooks and pointed to pictures from five decades ago, while others brought up the academy’s nuns.

“The virtual meetup was nostalgic — and sometimes emotional — as everyone came together from the comfort of their own homes to reminisce.” More.

Meanwhile, there have been nontraditional graduation plans for many age groups, including drive-by celebrations for kindergartners.

Brown University will have a virtual graduation May 24 and a double in-person one next year for both the class of 2020 and the class of 2021.

UMass Amherst had wide range of speakers for this year’s virtual commencement, held May 8. They included sports stars, actors, politicians, and graduates like John Jacobs of Life Is Good.

Photo: UMass Amherst
UMass alumnus John Jacobs, cofounder of Life is Good, spoke from a social distance to UMass graduates during the online commencement.

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Jacobs told graduates, “I know it hasn’t been easy this year, but the resilience you’ve shown — that’s going to serve you well in the long haul. … If you’re feeling a little lost right now, we did too. The only way we learned was to try, and stumble, and adjust as we went along.” More.

Howard University in Washington also held an online ceremony, and although some would undoubtedly have preferred to hear their names read out in a crowd of people, graduate Anna Sumner reported pure joy to a local television station: “I feel like I’m on cloud nine right now. Even though I wasn’t there in body, I was definitely there in spirit. …

“I could imagine instead of being on the bleachers, for once actually being the one in the seats in my cap and gown. … It was bittersweet for sure though, and I try not to dwell on the negative aspect, but still just the recognition and the moment of victory. It was awesome.” More.

Pretty sure Anna has a bright future.

Meanwhile, students at Berkeley, preserving their reputation for being a bit “out there” are hosting a virtual Minecraft graduation on an exact replica of the campus, followed by a two-day virtual music festival that will be streamed on @twitch TV. (Follow at @blockeleyofficial on Instagram.) More here.

Now, Friends, set aside 25 minutes or so to watch this graduation ceremony from the John Krasinski YouTube show called Some Good News. It was amazing. And be sure to hang on after it appears to be over and the credits start to roll so you can hear National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recite her graduation poem.

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I’m looking forward to the farmers market season, and I’m not the only one. More and more consumers are demanding really fresh food. Fortunately, farmers are increasingly creative about getting that fresh food to consumers.

Now farmers markets are going online. I learned about this via the Christian Science Monitor, which points to an article by Katherine Gustafson for YES! magazine.

Gustafson writes that small producers are using the Internet more.

“Smart use of the Web,” she writes, “can shift the focus of food retail away from industrial suppliers and toward those in the position to offer on-demand delivery of the freshest food around. …

“One example I found particularly inspiring was the Farmers Fresh Market program run by the Foothills Connect Business and Technology Center in Rutherfordton, N.C.

“The organization created a proprietary online system to allow individuals and businesses in nearby cities to order fresh produce from growers local to Rutherfordton. In many cases, the growers pick the food the same day the buyers receive it.”

What’s not to love? Read more.

Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/file

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I would like to tell you about Woophy, the international photo-sharing site. One of many great things about Woophy is its home page, which features a map of the world with each photo’s location. Do click on it.

I have uploaded photos to Woophy off and on since first reading about it in the Wall Street Journal. (That was when I was still reading the WSJ, which used to be full of great articles. I was one of the 170 people who cancelled their subscriptions the day Rupert Murdoch bought the paper. I know this because the WSJ wrote the next day that 170 subscribers out of 1.7 milion had cancelled.)

Woophy has always been managed by unpaid volunteers, and in recent years they struggled to keep up with the work. Loyalists worldwide helped out. Now Woophy has crossed a threshold and has partnered with a travel company. I’m glad because I would like to see it survive. I particularly enjoyed getting comments from far-away places whenever I posted a picture.

Here’s Wikipedia’s description: “Woophy (World of photography) is a photo sharing website and an online community where members can put their photos on a world map. Founded in 2005 by Joris van Hoytema, Hoyte van Hoytema and Marcel Geenevasen, the site has over 39,300 members and contains around a million photos from over 43,000 cities and villages in the world. Most of the uploaded pictures are from surroundings, buildings, nature and problems in the world. Woophy also has an active forum where photographers discuss their photos in a critical way. Woophy now has a finance deal with Eurobookings.com which should enable it to survive through the use of advertising.”

Woophians are planning a meeting in Madrid next spring. See photos of a previous Woophy forum (with music):

 

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