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Long Time Passing

first-prize winner, 1893         Herald-Examiner Collection, L.A. Public Library
Where have all the flowers gone at this time of year? A look at the Rose Parade's not-so-very-humble beginnings (think exclusive social club) and how and why it opened up to the rest of us:

As the Moon Pie Drops

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and New York's famous glitter ball has inspired many pretenders to the New Year's Eve throne. You won't believe what some communities are "dropping" as the countdown to 2014 reaches 1 (slideshow):

South Sudan 101

Since its birth as a separate country in July 2011, I've posted a few times about South Sudan (,, Now, of course, we know that the country that started out with such hope is dealing with the same challenges as so many others. Why? And what, if anything, is being done to put an end to the strife and the misery of its people? Q&A:

A Poem for the New Year

Suzanne Britton/
This poem seems to me to be as good a way as any to welcome in the new year ~ with recognition and admission of the darker moments of our past and courage and hope for healing light in our future. (And when I say "our," I mean the world's.) It's by English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), whose most famous novels include Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. In all, he published about a thousand poems and described himself as a poet "who holds that if way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst."
 The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
   When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
   The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
   Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
   Had sought their household fires.

For Your Listening Pleasure


There's nothing quite like a good, well-played tune to lighten the load, get the blood circulating and the face smiling. So whether you need it at this particular moment or not, here it is: a little acoustic delight ~ Finnegan's Romp, by Christopher Beeson ~ courtesy of Fandray. And you're welcome (audio):

Sounds of the Womb

To quote Shakespeare's Hamlet, "What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!" The more we learn about babies, the more we realize how little we know about what they know. The latest installment in the saga proves that fetuses can distinguish and remember songs and words. Yes, really:

Family Affair

"No violence and no traffics and no bus stops, just lovely people and coconut trees and white sand and blue ocean" is how one resident describes life on Palmerston Island, some 2,000 miles northeast of New Zealand. Fifty-nine of the island's 62 inhabitants are descended from one man, a William Marsters, who was born in Leicestershire, England, around 1831 and moved to the island with his Polynesian wife and her two (female) cousins in 1863 (story, video):

Unsaid But Understood

Writer Tanya Frank composes a love letter of sorts to her father-in-law, the tough, traditional ex-Marine airplane builder and novelist whose hospice care she is helping to oversee:

Hue, Only Better

Anything we can do to get ourselves moving is a good thing. In that light, perhaps figuring out your personality type can help you zero in on which workouts have the best chance of keeping you going. Your answers to this questionnaire will place you in a color category, which in turn suggests certain types of workouts (note that the first website link in the story doesn't work; the "8colors" one does and, at least in my situation, is pretty right-on):

To Teach a Child

This is fantastic, and what's more, anyone who's worked with children knows it's true. Learning is fun; it's something we humans do naturally. There is absolutely no reason (except politics and adults' perceived convenience) it should ever be seen as work or something boring. For more on the forward-thinking subject of the following excerpt, see his TED talk at Added plus is what I hope is the beginning of new opportunities for the children of the slums of India (see;postID=2047269564968908623;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=postname). This excerpt comes from

In today's encore selection—from Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think 
by Peter H. Diamandia and Steven Kotler. A creative approach to education:
    "In 1999 the Indian physicist Sugata Mitra got interested in education. He knew there were places in the world without schools and places in the world where good teachers didn't want to teach. What could be done for kids living in those spots was his question. Self-directed learning was one pos­sible solution, but were kids living in slums capable of all that much self-direction?
   "At the time, Mitra was head of research and development for NIIT Technologies, a top computer software and development company in New Delhi, India. His posh twenty-first-century office abutted an urban slum but was kept separate by a tall brick wall. So Mitra designed a simple exper­iment. He cut a hole in the wall and installed a computer and a track pad, with the screen and the pad facing into the slum. He did it in such a way that theft was not a problem, then connected the computer to the Internet, added a web browser, and walked away.
   "The kids who lived in the slums could not speak English, did not know how to use a computer, and had no knowledge of the Internet, but they were curious. Within minutes,

Quantum Connections

Martyn Dade-Robertson
Trust an architect to come up with a way of making the ethereal a little more solid and visible. Martyn Dade-Robertson created maps ~ more like artwork, really ~ showing the links between websites. He explains: "The images show web pages—or any object on a website with its own URL—as nodes, and the hyperlink relationships between them as links" (slideshow):

Cold Catchers

Koudis/Photodisc/Getty Images
Here's something to be aware of (OK ~ "of which to be aware"! ...), especially at this time of year. from

It is possible to catch a cold through your eyes, because the eye ducts are located closely to the nasal cavity and throat. When a person with a cold coughs or sneezes, particles of infected mucus make their way into the air and can land on surfaces that are commonly touched, such as doorknobs or counter tops. If your hand touches an infected surface and then your eyes, the virus is able to make its way through the eye ducts and down into the nasal cavity and throat, where it can cause an infection that

To Walk 100 Million Years

Gilbert Gates
Inspired by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and patterned after a Christian pilgrimage in northern Spain (a rare combination, that!), the Ancestor's Trail hike, now in its fourth year, takes participants on a 14-mile trek through the history of life. And if you can't make it to England for the next one, in August, you might try for the shorter one scheduled for outside of Toronto in June (story, slideshow):

Working Out the New Year

Muscle tracking, bodyweight training, workout happy hours, and integrated, wearable tech are among the fitness-related trends Outside magazine predicts we'll be using and/or hearing more about in 2014 (slideshow):

Bambi in Palestine

Walt Disney's Bambi, this writer contends, completely alters the deep meaning of the original, which was written by a Zionist in 1920s Austria:

Your Dad's Diet

A study from McGill University in Canada seems to show that what a prospective father eats prior to conception is just as important as what an expectant mother consumes. The study was conducted on mice and focused on the vitamin B9, or folate. “We were very surprised to see that there was an almost 30 percent increase in birth defects in the litters sired by fathers whose levels of folates were insufficient,” explained one of the researchers involved in the study:

Holiday Spirits

Our son and his wonderful girlfriend are all about homemade. One of the gifts they gave us was a bottle of eierlikör, a totally yummy ~ and strong! ~ German version of eggnog. It's the perfect holiday beverage (I'm thinking New Year's Eve now), but you have to hold yourself to just a few sips, and that's not easy! (It helps if you use cute little teeny tiny glasses like the ones we found in my mom's kitchen.)
   Just about everyone who makes it has a different recipe. There are also the raw and cooked versions. As I don't know which recipe they used (and my boy's not getting back to me ... !), I found one online that looks good:

The Two Maos

An interview with Sidney Rittenberg, an American who lived in China for 35 of its most turbulent years, starting in 1944, and knew Chairman Mao Zedong. Mao was two people, he says, the one before power and the one after. Among the other interesting things he recounts about the man is that he wanted to maintain good relations with the United States. Perhaps, Rittenberg says, if we had played to that wish, we could have avoided the Korean and Vietnam wars:

Just Because: 'Babbitt'

From the moment in high school when I read his Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) has been one of my all-time favorite writers. But even more than Main Street, I think, I admire his follow-up to it, Babbitt, which came out two years later, in 1922. When you start reading it, I'm confident, you'll understand why. Both are satires of American small-town life, and Lewis was one of the first, if not the first, writer to dare to explode the myth of it as being idyllic. He was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he did in 1930. Here's the way Babbitt begins:

chapter 1

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully office buildings.
   The mist took pity on the fretted structures of earlier generations: the Post Office with its shingle-tortured mansard, the red brick minarets of hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden tenements colored like mud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but the clean towers were thrusting them from the business center, and on the farther hills were shining new houses, homes—they seemed—for laughter and tranquility.
   Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiseless engine. These people in evening clothes were returning from an all-night rehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic adventure considerably illuminated by champagne, crimson

This Little Light of Mine

screen shot

It used to be so easy, but have you been to the bulb aisle at the local hardware store recently? Incandescent, halogen, LED, CFL, daylight, soft white, watts, lumens ... here's what we need to know about lighting our world (infographic):

Back to the Future

Werner Von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, Loyola Marymount University Library
The story of how Los Angeles lost its growing rail transportation system ~ its trains, red cars, yellow cars ~ and became a concrete freeway jungle is well-known. The story of how it's finally working to get it back is, too. Fortunately, some of the old lines, depots, and tunnels can still be rehabilitated, and while that's going on, it's always fun to remember the way it was (stories, lots of great historical photographs): and
   A Los Angeles rail lover has taken it upon himself to visit all our Metro stops, current and proposed, and share his findings with us (story, links to others in the series):

East End

Cockney funerals have always been unique and lavish affairs, what with the plume-topped horses and all. As more and more immigrants have settled in the area and it has grown more diverse, an ongoing exchange of customs has reshaped the proceedings both in London's East End and in the immigrants' hometowns. One funeral parlor has managed to stay alive by changing with the times (video):
   Mary Poppins's friend Bert aside, just what is a cockney, anyway? And with the huge influx of immigrants and the changing face and dialects of the city, where have all the cockneys gone? Is it all just mockney now?:
   A quick lesson in the dying art of cockney rhyming slang (story, audio):

Another Reason To Smile

(as if you needed one!) from

Smiling could prevent signs of aging by engaging the facial muscles that contribute to wrinkles if weakened, research suggests. Collagen fiber, a protein found in skin, contributes to the elasticity of skin, but the amount of it decreases as a person ages and causes loose skin and wrinkles. Performing smiling exercises is thought to strengthen the muscles that become weaker over time as the skin loses elasticity, which could result in a firmer looking appearance. When a person smiles, it engages the eye muscles and causes tiny crinkles in the corners of the eyes, so it is recommended to

A Tangled Website

Inquiring minds want to know: Why did our government hire a Canadian firm ~ one with a spotty record on creating websites ~ to build the site for what was meant to be the president's pièce de résistance? According to this investigative article, the blame can be divided almost equally between the government and the company itself. And, one can extrapolate, 100% to business as usual:

Christmas, Noël, Navidad, РОЖДЕСТВО, کرسمس

the Christmas Cup competition, Barcelona                                                 AFP
Christmas around the world (slideshow):
and prayers in Pakistan                                                                       Reuters

Merry and Bright Once Again

screen shot
Scandal and financial problems closed down the famous Harlem Boys and Girls Choir in 2007. Now the alumni have joined voices and forces to resuscitate the group. Their goal is to give new generations of grade-school kids an outlet for their talent and hope for their future (story, video):

The Nose That Glows

So, apparently, reindeers' noses can look red sometimes ~ and even seem bright ~ and there's a scientific reason for it!:
   And here's the story of how the most famous reindeer, Rudolph, was born. His creator and he shared a few characteristics, foremost among them being determination (story, audio, copy of the original book):

The Final Frontier

Andromeda ESA/Herschel/PACS & SPIRE Consortium, O. Krause, HSC, H. Linz
 Between technology and the human imagination, the possibilities are pretty much limitless. Here's proof, in the form of some of the best space pictures of 2013 (lots of huge photos with detailed descriptions):

A Dubious Distinction

Natlia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images
Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was born in a village in western Siberia in 1919, one of 18 children, only 8 of whom survived. If his name sounds familiar, it's because in 1947, he invented the weapon that bears his name, the Kalashnikov assault rifle, otherwise known as the AK47. Like most people who've had a hand in creating destructive things, he claimed that the uses to which it were put were not his fault. Kalashnikov died on Dec. 23 at age 94, but this particular article is from four years ago ~ it has more great information about him than most of the obits I saw:

Talk the Talk

This 25-question survey is mostly based on the Harvard Dialect Survey, of 2002. It pinpointed me very accurately as coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Part of what's fascinating about it is that there are indeed some things for which I have no name, and apparently, neither do many others:

Up From the Ashes

virtual-reality model of the Villa of the Papyri                   Mantha Zarmakoupi
Pompeii is famous for having been buried under the ash of Mount Vesuvius, but it was not the only city to succumb to that fate. Herculaneum also was destroyed when the volcano erupted. While Pompeii is best known for the mummified remains of its citizens, Herculaneum was home to some of the grandest vacation villas, including the Villa of the Papyri. In this villa was a library of about 2,000 scrolls, which, like the Pompeiians, were at once destroyed and preserved by the volcano. Previous attempts to unroll them were ill-fated, but modern technology may at last help us learn what is in those scrolls that remain, while more lie waiting to be found:


The New Yorker has always been known for its great covers, among other things. Their latest ranks up there with the best of them, IMHO.

Fountain of Youth?

Scientists have found a key to reversing the aging process in mice, and it has to do with the communication between the mitochondria and their nucleus. A molecule called NAD helps in the process, but the amount of it declines with age. There is, however, a molecule that increases the levels of NADs, and a week after this was injected into 22-month-old mice, their muscles exhibited the characteristics of those of 6-month-old mice:


Taking the old watch-ring a step further, you can now wear your phone on your finger. Sort of. This is a ring that connects to your phone and has a display, so you can wear it like a digital watch but also be alerted to calls, updates, etc., and use it as a remote control:
   Every time I see something like this, I wonder how it might affect the body. I mean, that's a certain amount of electricity and electromagnetism focused in one area. We used to hear a lot about electromagnetism, especially when people started using cell phones so much. Now, many of our homes and public places are filled with devices that are connected wirelessly. If you look it up, you'll find that most of the cautions about this are on sites that could easily be dismissed by some as "touchy-feely" (or some such adjective). The thing to remember, though, is that much of what we now consider to be common knowledge and that is accepted as fact about our health was once derided by "the authorities that be." Without advocating ~ because I really don't know but am trying to keep an open mind ~ here's an article that discusses the issue:

Masters in Art

Some people are so creative it just takes my breath away. I came upon one such talented individual at a crafts fair last weekend. Debra Weiss ~ whose oldest daughter, Hillery Sproatt, is equally brilliant ( ~ transforms textiles into the most wonderful creations, from clothing to accessories and wall hangings and more. She sews, knits, weaves, crochets, she designs both clothing and cloth patterns and combines colors and composition, shapes and fabric into inspired works of art:

Windows to the Imagination

Galeries Lafayette
Who besides me remembers the joy and awe of looking at the Christmas displays in department store windows? I have to say, it's one of the treasured memories of my San Francisco childhood (a related and not so treasured one being when I touched the fake snow in one of them and got teensy glass slivers stuck in my finger. What was that stuff?) Anyway, I'm happy to report that the colorful, fantastical tradition continues ~ and it's not just for Christmas anymore (slideshow):

To Live and Die in the U.S.

Not to be too much of a downer in this season (or anytime), but ... here's an interesting and little-known finding from a report by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine: “For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high income countries.” And that's across the socioeconomic board. "Rich Americans die earlier than rich people in other countries. College-educated people die earlier than college-educated people in other countries,” says the director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. What is perhaps more surprising is that we are also getting sicker and at a younger age. So what's to blame? As one would suspect, there are many theories:


too much?                           Zaraterez/Instagram
I have admitted to being a Candy Crush addict ( and will now share a little story that includes a warning. I was on Level 103 recently when I got a new iPhone, courtesy of my tech-loving honey. When I transferred all my apps, I found myself back at the beginning of the game. Imagine, if you will, the despair, the desolation! I'm now on 43. If there is any good news here, it's this: Once you've paid your $.99 for each next level, you
don't have to pay for that level again. And another story. Turns out it's a great way to meet people when traveling. On the Paris Metro last summer, I had an immediate conversation starter with several people who were playing, and my guess is the phenom is pretty worldwide. Apparently, 500 million have installed the game. So how was it created, and what makes it so addictive?:

Teddy Saves Christmas

screen shot
When Teddy and his mom found a discarded USPS package on the street, the 10-year-old just knew there had to be a way to get it to its intended recipient. It was, he explained, "obviously a Christmas present for an infant," but the address and tracking number had been torn off. He set to work on his laptop. Three hours later, success! "We can all say that we like the feeling of when we receive, but I think it's a better feeling when you give someone something," Teddy said (story, video):

The Rule of Lawlessness

masked gang member in San Pedro Sula prison                       Esteban Felix/AP
The gangs own the Chamelecon barrio of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and if you don't want to live by their rules, you'd better get out ~ fast. Even if you do, chances are good you'll wind up in the list of names on page 74 of the local tabloid (story, slideshow):,0,5251038.htmlstory#axzz2nlPHb95R

As the Earth Turns

© Danilo Pivato
Winter Solstice, when we in the Northern Hemisphere have the longest night and those in the Southern Hemisphere enjoy the longest day of the year, is Dec. 21. From this point, Northern Hemisphere days will get longer, and Southern Hemisphere days will grow correspondingly shorter. Learn all about it here:

Birds of a Feather Count Together

Nancy Brandt
You can sign up to be part of the 114th Annual Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, which is taking place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. What a fun thing to do with your children or your honey and help bird conservation in the process!:

Supporting the Needs of the Parents

SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) is starting an online support group for parents. Like the in-person groups, it will be based on the book A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children, by Webb, Gore, Amend, and DeVries, and will meet once a week for eight weeks:

The Obvious Headline

Andrew Myers
Artist Andrew Myers creates portraits and other art pieces using screws and paint (lots of pix):

A Flurry of Photos

How cold was it? It was so cold that ...                         Thomas J. Abercrombie
National Geographic has put together a selection of its vintage photographs of winter around the States (slideshow):

Refashioning Fashion

After 30 years in the rag trade (aka the textile industry), Italian Giusy Bettoni founded C.L.A.S.S. in 2007. Her goal, she explains, is "to help develop and promote the most innovative sustainable fabric possible." To that end, her company showcases a large array of fabrics that fall into one of three categories: Natural and Organic, Repurposed and Recycled, and Innovative Renewables. One fabric that can be said to belong in two of those is called New Life. It is made totally from bottles collected in Italy that are transformed mechanically, not with chemicals, into a polymer:

Act Your Age, Not Your Shoe Size

That old insult came floating back to me through the ether as I took this "test" that purported to determine my mental age. Bogus or not (I get so stuck when there's no "none of the above," "all of the above," or "that depends ... " option), these things are always kind of fun. Mine is, apparently and disturbingly, "the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything"*:

Of Candy Canes and Norway Spruce

the first-ever Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, 1931!                                                             AP
The record number of lights lit simultaneously on a Christmas tree is 194,672, which was set in Belgium in 2010. (Don't know how big the tree was.) Every year, 1.76 billion candy canes are made in the U.S. And here are some more facts with which to entertain and baffle your family and friends at the dinner table ~ or anywhere else, for that matter (infographic):
   Of course, the tree at Rockefeller Center (a Norway Spruce that, you might be interested to know, drinks about 90 gallons of water a day) comes with its own set of facts:

It's a Map, Map, Map, Map World

screen shot
Meet the man behind Google Maps' Street View camera as he takes it down the Colorado River in another step in the company's quest to map the world:

The Cast That Grew Up

Those who loved the Harry Potter series (books, movies, audiobooks, even the website) as much as I did/do might be interested in seeing how the rest of the younger cast members (i.e., other than the three main actors) have grown up and what they're doing now. And P.S., let me just say, Neville Longbottom, wow! (slideshow):

Different Strokes

I post this poem (from Poem-A-Day) mostly to share my amazement at how radically different people's reactions to the same stimulus can be. First, here's the poem:

They Call This
by C.K. Williams

A young mother on a motor scooter stopped at a traffic light, her little son perched on the ledge between her legs; she in a gleaming helmet, he in a replica of it, smaller, but the same color and just as shiny. His visor is swung shut, hers is open.
   As I pull up beside them on my bike, the mother is leaning over to embrace the child, whispering something in his ear, and I'm shaken, truly shaken, by the wish, the need, to have those slim strong arms contain me in their sanctuary of affection.
   Though they call this regression, though that implies a going back to some other

Who's Playing Now?

The safe-but-boring playground has struck in the EU as well.                                       Mail Online
This is a real bugaboo of mine. I'm just thankful that my son was on the edge of not needing a playground anymore when all the boring equipment started replacing the old stuff. I still remember when our area got a new playground, replacing the great side-by-side younger kids' and older kids' equipment. We were all excited, and when we got there, my boy ran to it. It was colorful, I'll give it that. He ran through it once, and back to me. There was disappointment and confusion on his little face as he told me it wasn't fun, and we never went back. After that, there wasn't anything around our area for kids older than about 3. Fortunately for us, that didn't happen as much in Northern California, so whenever we went up to visit my mom, we were able to enjoy all the fun stuff up there. from

A heightened focus on safety might be detrimental to children’s development because it could cause them to be more anxious and less likely to take risks later in life. Many psychologists believe that removing playground equipment, such as tall jungle gyms, that has been deemed unsafe can actually make children more likely to have phobias of