All posts by K.L. Allendoerfer

I am a neuroscientist, educator, geocacher, Unitarian-Universalist, amateur violinist, and parent. I have always been fascinated by how people's brains learn, and especially why this process is easier and more fun for some brains than others. This led me to get a PhD in Neuroscience, work in biotech, and then become a science educator and writer.

Blogging Break

It’s September 1 and looking back, I see I haven’t blogged for an entire month, since August 1. I have started a new teaching job and it is taking all of my time right now.

I heartily dislike being this busy and I’m hoping things will settle down as I find a groove.

But until then I’m taking a hiatus from blogging. I estimate it will last about a month, and I will revisit in October. Enjoy the fall, it is one of my favorite times of year, and I hope the season brings you much happiness!

Leavesinthepark
A walk to the Underwood Playground

 

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Thursday Doors: More Little Free Libraries

Since putting up my own Little Free Library a few months ago, I have made it a project to visit others, both local and out of town.

My library has a geocache, and this month I have gotten extra visitors looking for clues for the geocaching “Mystery at the Museum” puzzle. I also put a geocache in a local friend’s Library that she made out of an old newspaper box. Here’s the door to that one:

01TakeaBookLeaveaBook

I started inline skating again recently. I originally learned to use inline skates in graduate school, the last time I lived in California, and I dug my old roller blades out of the garage with the intent of getting some exercise around the neighborhood and reliving old times. Those skates were unfortunately so old that the plastic cracked and the skates were unusable. Undaunted, I bought new ones and went out skating several days last week. While skating, I found another neighborhood LFL with nice blue doors. You can see my shadow taking the picture in the lower left corner.

 

Some LFLs are close to elementary schools and are well-stocked with kids’ books behind their doors (or not):

 

And some LFL Stewards really go all out, decorating not just their libraries but the areas around them. There are benches, chairs, solar panels, statues, flowers, signs, and paths around these libraries.

San Jose has some other great LFLs too:

 

This last one doesn’t have a door at all, but I’m adding it into this post anyway because I think it’s a cool idea. The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton airport has its own book exchange too, where you can pick up a book for the upcoming flight, or leave one that you’ve finished reading.

ABEAirport

I’ve used LFLs for Thursday Doors before–LFL Stewards are very creative!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

Qigong

I did qigong for the first time last night. I have made Tuesday my reblog day, using this day to explore other blogs and discover something new. So this next morning after the class, I went out and searched for blogs about qigong–and there are a lot. I chose this one to reblog because 1. it’s not a video and 2. the images and words evoked what I experienced. Looking forward to the fall, and towards the need for self-care as a first year teacher, I think there is a place for qigong practice in my life.

Writing into the Light

stagnant energy
accumulated in excess
breathed out as gray smoke

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July #WATWB: American Heroes

We are the World LogoThe “We Are the World Blogfest,” posted on or around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. There are many oases of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world.

I have not managed to do a #WATWB post for two months, but this month’s was easy. It is a straightforward story of 4 heroic young American men, who saved a child’s life. The story appeared in the Washington Post as “A 6-year-old was swept out to sea, and a group of brothers dove in after her.” The unfortunate girl was riding a pink flamingo raft, and no lifeguard responded to her father’s cries when he saw her being swept out to sea. The father then put on a life vest and swam out after her himself, but was not a strong enough swimmer. Four visiting American young men effected a rescue, swimming out to save the girl first, and then her father.

I rode a raft in the ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina when I was about 10. I was a decent swimmer for my age, but reading the story, I realized this could have happened to me. And I especially felt for the poor father, who was in danger of losing his daughter, and tried his best to go after her, but his best wasn’t good enough. If not for the heroic American tourists, the day could have ended in a double tragedy.

Every year in the summer, this message bears repeating: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Familiarize yourself with water safety and with the real symptoms of drowning. My daughter saved her little brother in a pool when she was about 8 and he was about 4. I was on the other side of the pool from them, and he slipped off a ledge where he had been standing and went under. She reached down and pulled him out.

Sign up to join us and be visited on the last weekend of the month when you post your article. Click here to enter your link on this Linky Tools list. #WATWB cohosts for this month are:  Shilpa GargSimon Falk , Damyanti BiswasLizbeth Hartz and Eric Lahti. Please link to them in your WATWB posts and go say hi!

Plastic-Free Life Redux: A Story of Independence

For my reblog Tuesday, I’m sharing this blog from Pam Lazos, author, lawyer, and environmentalist, about her efforts to reduce plastic in her life. Wegman’s deserves kudos for what they are doing; hopefully other store chains will follow suit!

Green Life Blue Water

[4th of July fireworks over Lancaster]

Plastic-Free Life Redux: A Story of Independence

A couple months ago I sent a letter to the four biggest local grocery stores in my area, espousing the benefits of removing single-use plastic packaging from their myriad array of fresh vegetables. I wasn’t asking them to literally change their whole operating strategy, but to just quit wrapping things that don’t need it in plastic, and to provide reusable bags for the veggies we may want to buy loose, but not too loose; we don’t want them rolling around in our carts and we don’t want to have to put them in paper and contribute to further deforestation of the planet since decimating old growth forests may be even worse than disposing of single-use plastics.

Before I tell you what happened, let me just say that I read a completely unnerving statistic the other day, that…

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Our brains appear uniquely tuned for musical pitch

The human brain appears to be unique in how its auditory cortex responds to musical pitch. I’d be curious to see how other animals, not just monkeys, respond to music. Like, why does my cat always run out of the room when she sees the violin being taken out of the case?

Scents of Science

In the eternal search for understanding what makes us human, scientists found that our brains are more sensitive to pitch, the harmonic sounds we hear when listening to music, than our evolutionary relative the macaque monkey. The study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, highlights the promise of Sound Health, a joint project between the NIH and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that aims to understand the role of music in health.

“We found that a certain region of our brains has a stronger preference for sounds with pitch than macaque monkey brains,” said Bevil Conway, Ph.D., investigator in the NIH’s Intramural Research Program and a senior author of the study published in Nature Neuroscience. “The results raise the possibility that these sounds, which are embedded in speech and music, may have shaped the basic organization of the human brain.”

The study started…

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Thursday Doors on Saturday: St Petersburg

I’ve been working on an old scrapbook. It is a record of a trip we took in 2016 to the Baltic Sea. This was really a nice trip, and I’ve had the scrapbook materials, including pictures, sitting around for a couple of years in the living room on the bottom shelf of the coffee table. In a push to organize the house and get rid of piles and extraneous junk, I’ve decided to complete the book. And since we’re not going anywhere fancy in person this summer (unless you count my upcoming teacher training in Chandler Arizona), it’s been nice to relive this previous trip through pictures.

I did blog about the trip a little bit, and I even did what you’re supposed to do in the blogosphere: let people know that I was away (hey, I was new). But it took place before I was participating in Thursday Doors, so I didn’t take any pictures of doors specifically for this challenge. Still, this is the trip that got me my very first Thursday Door. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were others.

I’ll start here with the city of St. Petersburg. The stop in St. Petersburg was my first and only time in Russia so far. And the city seemed too good to be real. It was kind of like a Disney city, complete with opening the door to Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage

Cinderella

And to the ballroom where she met the prince.

CatherineInside

Behind the gates of an enormous palace!

CatherineGate

The churches and cathedrals also have doors.

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood:

SpilledBloodStP

St. Isaac’s Cathedral:

StIsaac

And, of course, the Hermitage museum:

There were also familiar sites, in Russian. Over the door of the Nevsky Inn, does this logo look familiar?

SubwayStP

In this case I’ve limited my pictures to those with doors, but even then there’s a good sampling. Doors make good subjects!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

A first look at the Greta Gerwig adaptation of “Little Women,” coming out in Christmas 2019

Last year was a big year for Little Women, its 150th anniversary. But the book as we know it today was published in two parts, and this year is the anniversary of part II! And, there will be a new movie, which looks promising. I have to admit, though, that my favorite version of Little Women will probably always be the one in my own head!

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Great article with lots of pictures. I think the movie looks promising but I remain cautious after the Masterpiece version. What do you think?

Exclusive First Look: Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan’s Little Women

from Vanity Fair

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Musical Monday: Chamber Music

This week I am going to chamber music camp with my 16-yo son, a cellist, and a pre-formed group of friends as a quartet.  This “camp” is not really a camp. It’s in a church, not the woods, and it is run by my teacher and her colleagues. Nobody stays overnight. We view that as a feature rather than a bug, but not everyone would. And I am at least temporarily returned to my roots as a violinist. No viola this week!

Another thing that is different about this camp is that it mixes adults and kids. This is convenient for me because I can go with my son. My quartet-mates are all retired, so I am not the oldest person there, but I am in the top half. For the introductions, the teacher asked what school we all went to as one of the line items. Unlike the other adults, I actually had a school, since I’ll be teaching at one next year. Surprisingly there was even a student from my school in the group. She plays a wind instrument, so I didn’t work with her directly, and didn’t remember her well, but she did remember me helping out the music teacher a couple of times last year.

My son is working on the first movement of Beethoven’s quartet Op. 18, No 4. I played it a couple of years ago and still remember the experience as a high point, and I saw the original manuscripts in Prague this spring.

And I’m working on the first movement of the Florence Price string quartet in G. I played the 2nd movement earlier this year and wanted to tackle the first also. There are only 2 movements in this quartet. The first is even less often played than the second, and there are only a couple of YouTube recordings available. Our coach is learning the music along with us!

The coaching sessions went by very quickly. I wasn’t ready to be done yet, and could have gone on for at least another couple of hours! I think the recordings that are available go too fast. We won’t be able to achieve those tempos in a week, and I don’t think I’d even want to. I need time to hear the unique harmonies.

And this post is a bit of an experiment too. Can I actually write something concise and not take an inordinate amount of time doing it, when I should be practicing? Yes, yes I can . . .

 

 

 

 

Decline, declined

orchids.jpg
April 2017

My orchid plant has been blooming for more than 3 months now. I received it at a housewarming party in 2015 not long after we moved to CA. After the party it lost its flowers and didn’t bloom again for almost 2 years.

After those flowers were lost, I discovered that orchids without flowers can get pretty funny-looking. So I almost threw it out. Again.

And again, another 2 years later, I was suddenly surprised with a richness of blooms. I didn’t use the support sticks this time. By the time I realized that the blooms were happening, it was too late.

AprilOrchid
April 2019

And then, as July 4th rolled around, I saw this. First to bloom, first to wilt.

Orchid
July 2019

At the same time, I saw this article: Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner than You Think, by Arthur C Brooks.  It’s making the rounds.

I’m starting a new career, back to work full-time this year, headed to teacher training in a couple of weeks. This is not the kind of thing I want to be reading. Cue the curmudgeonly grumbles about annoying clickbait headlines . . . But in fact, this article is worth reading in spite of the incendiary headline. Reading it was almost a relief: a rehash of an old, tired narrative, narrowly focused on a narrow skill set and narrow demographic.

Back when I was in graduate school this crap was what young male physicists liked to torture themselves with: if they hadn’t made their Nobel-winning discovery by the time they were 30, they were washed up and might as well throw in the towel. And sure, I guess privileged white extroverted males who have a certain type of high-profile executive career in western neoliberal economies may often follow such a life trajectory. But I think it can be different, and more complicated, for other types of people and other types of careers and economies.

Let’s take science, since there seems to be a lot of fretting about it among graduate students (who really have other things to fret about). I have been fortunate to know and know of some wonderful woman scientists. For 6 years I worked as a project manager for Dr. Susan Lindquist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge. She was one of the most creative and collaborative scientists of her generation, and a winner of the National Medal of Science. Somewhat famously absent-minded, she was more famously able to see patterns and make connections that others could not. She established new fields of inquiry in her 50s and was in the prime of her career, running a lab the size of a small biotech company, when she passed away from cancer in 2016. At the time many people remarked that she was “too young” to have passed away, and that her life was too short. I understand and agree with these sentiments, yet Lindquist was 67 when she died, well into Brooks’ alleged “decline” phase. 

Or, let’s consider Rita Levi-Montalcini, discoverer of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a molecule that I did my PhD thesis on. Born in Turin Italy in 1909 and having spent her young adulthood fleeing Nazi persecution, Levi-Montalcini did her seminal work on NGF in her 40s, with Viktor Hamburger. She won a Nobel Prize in 1986, founded the European Brain Research Institute in 2002 and went on to serve as Senator for Life in the Italian government until she passed away at the youthful age of 103. We are all fortunate that these scientists didn’t give up when they hadn’t made it at 30. At the very least, maybe the the lives of women scientists, like the lives women authors, need to be written differently.

I’m not the only one to have found this part of Brooks’ article’s scope and message irritating and limited. For an alternate view, check out Chris Farrell’s article in Forbes. Instead, I think the “decline” that Brooks writes about is more an indictment of our values as a society and of the way it is set up than a real decline in anything that is actually important in people themselves. Brooks himself makes a big deal about processing speed. He says: “if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.” 

When I read that, I had a lot of questions, the main ones being:  “what kind of analytical capabilities are we talking about here?” and “do *most* professions really require this, or is that some kind of bias on the part of the author?”

I will admit here that  I am biased. I’ve had slow, or at least inconsistent, processing speed all my life, and have suffered for it at the hands of perfectionists and their expectations. Particularly in social situations and with things I only hear rather than see, it has always taken me time to understand what I am taking in. I fit the definition of introvert that is in vogue these days: an observer who needs to think before acting.  But it’s not, and never has been, age-related.

And happily, it’s not worse for me in middle-age, because now more people seem to be in the same boat. Introverts are having a Quiet Revolution. Other people are finally admitting out-loud the value of electronic reminders, habits, routines, and other coping strategies. Other people are having to give up a dangerous over-reliance on working memory to run their lives. Other people are acknowledging the costs of toxic perfectionism. To them I say, come in, the water’s fine. It’s really quite freeing to not have your ego so completely tied up in your ability to rattle off random factoids from memory or to quickly process a complicated schedule without looking at a calendar. We all benefit from slowing down and reflecting, and there is more than one Quiet Revolution underway.

That said, I thought the advice Brooks gives in his article about teaching, sharing knowledge, and lifting other people up, was pretty good. Rather than a “decline,” I think what he is writing about is a shift in values as we get older towards a more sustainable and livable way of life. And you don’t have to be older to behave that way. Some younger people figure it out sooner–young people can make great teachers too. 

MayOrchid
May 2019

And as for the orchid: when these blooms are gone, there is no way I’m throwing it out. I know better now.

montalcini

It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain
Rita Levi-Montalcini