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.

Thursday Doors: Mural

I started a new full-time job last week. I’ve been too busy with it to blog about it in detail–too busy to blog at all, in fact. But I wanted to get started again with this week’s Thursday Doors.

Behind the school where I work, there is an astroturf “lawn” and a basketball court. There are also some picnic tables for the students to eat lunch. And a door.

sciencemuraldoor

Students painted this mural, with names of famous cultural figures, next to the back door last year. I like how they included two genders and several nationalities. I spend a lot of time looking at this mural when I’m supervising student lunch.

I have showed a school, with murals, in Thursday Doors before. That school was a more typical California public school, with a lot of separate buildings.

treepainting

My new school is different. It is located in a former office building in San Jose. Architecturally it is unusual for a school too, with a lot of windows but not much in the way of athletic facilities. These students are more interested in science than sports anyway.

sciencemuraltable

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 and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog

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Book Review: In Numina by Assaph Mehr

In Numina (Stories of Togas Daggers and Magic, #2)In Numina by Assaph Mehr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have not read the first volume in this series, Murder in Absentia, and it was not necessary to have done so to enjoy the second one. This book’s strengths are world building and the seamless integration of the world into the mystery plot. I also got the sense that the characters are becoming more well-rounded as the series progresses.

My knowledge of Roman culture is superficial, and so I found the world of Egretia to be fascinating, from the Roman Numerals that number the chapters, to the sporting and debate contests, to the theology of the Numina themselves. I suspect a classicist might be bothered by the liberties taken with magic in Egretia the way I am by silly neuroscience in science fiction, but for the intelligent lay reader, the author’s research presents a pleasing and believable world. The magic fits well with the materials and knowledge available to its inhabitants. And I loved that the climax of the book came at a trial with a famous orator showing off his skills.

Unfortunately, for me, the plot took a little too long to get going. I picked the book up and put it down several times before I really got into it. Felix and his sidekick-and-sometime-love-interest, Aemilia, spend too much time investigating haunted houses in which nothing much happens except that the reader is given a detailed description of the truly gross and horrifying demise of the former occupants. I think that for such scenes, less would be more, and I found it somewhat difficult to suspend my disbelief that there wouldn’t be more swift and serious consequences–both legal and social–for a landlord whose tenants died such gruesome, unexplained deaths.

So in these early sections of the book I found the romantic subplots a bit more interesting than the main plot, in particular Felix’s relationship with Cornelia. I was a bit surprised to learn in the bonus material that Cornelia, a widow and Aemilia’s mother, was only a few years older than Felix himself. The love triangle between Felix, Cornelia, and Aemilia was something new that I haven’t seen much of in fantasy or anywhere else.

I was glad that the female characters were not simply ciphers or cliches, but I still felt that they could have had more depth. Felix was a decent narrator and came across as thoughtful and level-headed, but his voice was a little generic. He was neither a relentlessly logical Sherlock Holmes nor as introspective or passionate as I might have liked. He seemed only intermittently capable of strong feelings, and I wondered about the origins of his ability to compartmentalize them. The allusions to his lost love, Helena, are tantalizing but very incomplete. Perhaps here is where I would have benefitted from reading the first book the most. Overall this is a well-done series with an intriguing protagonist. I am interested in reading more!
View all my reviews

Thursday Doors: Fierce Cat

Early in the morning, before sunup, there was a crazy ruckus at our back door, the one that leads out onto the back deck. Sadie, our cat, was yowling and hissing.

BackDoor

Then she attacked at something she could see through the glass door. There, on the other side, barely visible behind the reflection of the room lights, is her foe slinking away.

BlackCat

Note: this is not Sadie’s reflection. She is a tabby/Siamese mix. This is a neighborhood black cat with white feet. I haven’t been able to get a good look at it or picture of it yet.

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 and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog

 

 

 

Mundane Monday: Reflection

It’s the last Monday of 2018! And it’s not so Mundane, since it’s New Year’s Eve. It’s approaching midnight on the East Coast, the ball is dropping. Here I have 3 more hours. I may or may not make it until then. I’m pretty tired and my eyes are feeling dry and sandy.

This week’s theme for the Mundane Monday Challenge is appropriate for this time of year: Reflection. I am starting a new full-time job in January. I will blog more about the exciting changes this will bring to my New Year when I have the mental energy to do it justice. But right now I am reflecting on how my life is going to change in mundane, daily ways after I start working full-time again.

Reflection
Power Lines, Smoky Sky

I took this picture one day in early November of this year. It was also during the weeks of terrible air quality in the SF Bay Area during the Camp Fire. I was driving home from one of the schools where I worked, and I stopped to find a geocache in a park near the water, as I did many days for my daily geocaching streak. I have been finding at least one geocache a day, every day, since December 31, 2015. Some of these cache stops in parks on the way home from school have been beautiful. This one was too, in a way. But it was also dystopian and strange. I hope it isn’t the new normal for California.

The air is much better now, but I still had a rough day today. Just before Christmas, my husband and I decided to do a 12-days-of-Christmas geocaching challenge and today was day 10. This means we had to find 10 caches today for this challenge. And, rather than being fun, it was a pain in the neck. I’m not going to stop the challenge now that I’m so close to completing it, but I am ending my streak in two weeks, and days like today have convinced me that it’s definitely time for it to end. No regrets!

I am also not making any New Year’s resolutions, other than to survive the transition back to full-time work. Earlier in the year I took Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz and I found out that I’m a Rebel. Rebels resist expectations, inner and outer alike. (Rebels are also the smallest category, apparently, so I’m feeling overlooked and in the minority.) With respect to resolutions, Rubin has this to say about Rebels:

Rebels generally don’t bind themselves in advance, so a New Year’s resolution might not appeal to them. They want to do what they want, in their own way, in their own time — not because they promised themselves they’d do it.

And I have to say, this sounds a lot like me. If I make a resolution, I may be less likely to do whatever it is, not more. And then she goes on:

On the other hand, some Rebels love the challenge of a New Year’s resolution: “My family thinks I can’t give up sugar for a year? Well, watch me!” or “Starting January 1, I’m going to work on my novel, and I’m going to finish by December 31st.”

BINGO, again. Why did I start this geocaching streak in the first place? I started it because I thought my husband, a serious cacher who was once ranked #10 in Massachusetts, thought I couldn’t do it. But now I’ve been doing it even longer than he has. And I will probably even miss it a little bit when it’s over.

I am celebrating the end of the streak in 2 weeks with a geocaching event at a donut shop. A couple of people have already written to congratulate me, and one mentioned that his streak had become a crushing burden by its end. I’d rather quit while I’m ahead: I’ll make an intentional decision to end the streak on my own terms, surrounded by friendly faces and donuts.

Thursday Doors: Year in Review

This will be the last Thursday Doors post of 2018. Norm is encouraging us to recap our year in doors. I have been recapping my trip each week as I post a new set of doors, so I will gather all the trip postings together here:

European Trip 2018, Thursday Doors Posts

ThroughTheGate

December 13, 2018: More Brussels

November 29, 2018: Brussels, Part II

November 22, 2018: Grand Place, Brussels

November 1, 2018: Belgian Beer and Chocolate

October 27, 2018: Dutch Whimsy

October 18, 2018: Nordrhein-Westfalen

October 11, 2018: Landschaftspark

September 21, 2018: Pattensen

September 6, 2018: Birdhouse Cache

August 30, 2018: Achtung, Baby!

August 16, 2018: Ku’Damm

August 9, 2018: Berliner Dom

July 20, 2018: Berlin Walk

June 13, 2018: Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

June 7, 2018: Germany

I have 15 Thursday Doors posts from this trip already, and it’s barely half done. I wasn’t kidding when I got home and said I had Thursday Doors for the rest of the year from the trip. I can keep going until the next trip!

In fact, earlier in the year, before I left for Europe, I was still blogging posts from my 2017 Asian trip on Thursday Doors, such as these.

Asian Trip 2017, Thursday Doors Posts

14ZhujiajiaoRed

Seoul Walk

Downtown Seoul

Changdeokgung Palace

Hutong

Beijing City Wall

Palace Museum in the Forbidden City

Chinese Coke

Great Wall Shopping

Shanghai, Xintiandi

Shanghai, the Bund

Zhujiajiao, water town, Part 1Part 2Part 3

Lamps

Tokyo National Museum

While travel posts are fun, and I like looking at everyone’s from around the world, I also enjoy the posts that just show a little something from daily life, like my new Little Free Library, or the prosaic stretch of El Camino Real that winds through the town where I live.

I’d like to wish everyone Happy Holidays, with a picture of the door to our old house, and our dear departed snowman!

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 and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog

Thursday Doors: More Brussels

I thought I was done with Brussels for Thursday Doors, but I’m not!

GrandPlaceSign

Our last night there we went back to the Grand Place and I took some more door pictures. These are of the Guild Halls and the Town Hall. For most of these, I liked what’s over the door as much or more than the door itself.

The Guild Halls:

This looks more like a church than a Town Hall. And this particular door is 3 in 1:

IMG_3896

I don’t have a lot to say about these doors. They speak for themselves.

IMG_3899

I was there in the summer, but just for fun, and because it’s Christmas time, I’m going to show this video of the Grand Place lit up for Christmas. It’s not Mountain View . . . but what a show! Enjoy!

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 and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog

ThroughTheGate

Follow my European trip with this and previous posts:

November 29, 2018: Brussels, Part II

November 22, 2018: Grand Place, Brussels

November 1, 2018: Belgian Beer and Chocolate

October 27, 2018: Dutch Whimsy

October 18, 2018: Nordrhein-Westfalen

October 11, 2018: Landschaftspark

September 21, 2018: Pattensen

September 6, 2018: Birdhouse Cache

August 30, 2018: Achtung, Baby!

August 16, 2018: Ku’Damm

August 9, 2018: Berliner Dom

July 20, 2018: Berlin Walk

June 13, 2018: Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

June 7, 2018: Germany

WATWB – One Man’s Trash…

On Tuesdays I am reblogging some of my favorite authors. I am finished with the Little Women anthology author series and now I want to highlight my friend PJ Lazos from “Green Life, Blue Water,” another We Are the World Blogger. “How about taking stock of everything you desire and finding a way to acquire it that results in a smaller carbon footprint. The planet and future generations will thank you for your efforts.”

Green Life Blue Water

One Man’s Trash

There’s an old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and we know that’s true, otherwise flea markets, yard sales and antique stores would not enjoy the popularity they do, but trash or treasure, the benefits of reuse and recycling are grand, and Craigslist has the statistics to prove it.  In fact, areas where Craigslist is active have seen a decline in “the volume of consumer-generated waste” of between 3 and 5 percent.”  Clearly, Craigslist is a forerunner of a circular economy where “the goods of today become the products of tomorrow.”

Imagine if we reduced our waste stream to such an extent that we didn’t need landfills anymore.  That kind of pie-in-the-sky thinking may get you laughed out of a boardroom, but there’s money in recycling and an entirely new business model developing around circular economies and upcycling.  One of my favorite EPA slogans…

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Mundane Monday: Making a Move

Today’s Mundane Monday blogging prompt is “Making a Move.” On Dr KO’s blog, the move involves a cat.

I tried the new Word Press editor last night on my blog. Change is inevitable: even if it ain’t broke, people still try to fix it. So I was planning to “make a move” to the new editor. Use blocks! Paragraphs! Pictures! Galleries! It’ll be so easy, and my blogging efficiency and posting frequency will skyrocket!

Epic fail.

The problem for me centered on the picture galleries and the captions. They don’t work on iphones or ipads (at least). If you put your pictures into a gallery on the phone while you are waiting for a long intermission to finish, when you get back to the computer to finish up the post, the computer doesn’t recognize the pictures as a gallery at all and turns those gallery blocks into lists.  In list mode, rather than being under the pictures, the captions were to one side. And there were weird, annoying bullet points next to the text. The placement of the pictures wasn’t right either.

So I re-made all the galleries in the new editor and published the post. It looked fine to me. Then I got an email from a friend. On his ipad, my blog looked like this, with the pictures STILL messed up.

BlogFail
New editor gallery block fail

So I went back to the classic editor. The blog looks fine now.  I hope. I’m not making that move yet. But please read the blog–I worked hard on it! Thanks to these editorial snafus, I didn’t get it published until very late, when most people east of me had already gone to bed.

When I first read this prompt, “making a move,” I actually thought of something different, however: a physical move. I am working on my holiday letter, which always puts me in a retrospective mood. I scroll back through most of the current year’s pictures, and sometimes those from previous years too. Three years ago, we got ready to make one of the biggest moves of our lives.

This is our realtor’s gift of flowers and a balloon, congratulating us on our new house (set in front of the door of the old house):

Congratulations

And our cars, on a truck ready to move across the country:

carsonatruck

And our empty house:

emptyhouse

This post about the move, “Gandalf’s Knock,” is still, more than three years later, my most-viewed post.

Am I glad we moved? Yes. But more on that another time . . .

 

 

“Little Women” Holiday Tea Party and Author Talk

 

00LW150Presentation

Yesterday I gave a talk about Little Women at the Mountain View Public Library. It was similar to my presentations about geocaching and Geocaching GPS a couple of years ago.

The librarian was also a fan of Little Women as a child, and she organized the tea party and made the lovely flyer. I set my childhood copy of the book, and my Madame Alexander Jo March doll (in red), there on the table. And I dressed up like a character from the book too: long brown skirt, high collar with a brooch, lace sweater, hair up. (What does it say about my wardrobe that I had all those pieces easily available in my closet?) This is what I talked about.

The 150th Anniversary

Little Women 150th Anniversary, Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Volume I was published in September of 1868, and volume II, originally called Good Wives, was published in 1869. Nowadays they are usually combined into 1 volume and published that way. Louisa wrote the first part–402 pages–in less than 6 weeks. Good Wives especially was written at the request of her publisher and readers. They all wanted to know who the girls would marry. Louisa herself wasn’t particularly interested in this: she said it was better to be an elderly spinster and paddle your own canoe. And she purposely disappointed all the Jo and Laurie shippers and made Jo what she called a “funny match.”

Many modern women writers claim to have been inspired by Little Women and its unforgettable protagonist, Jo March. Among them are J.K. Rowling, Simone deBeauvoir, Nora Ephron, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Zadie Smith, Gloria Steinem, and Ursula K LeGuin.  Singer-songwriter and punk rocker Patti Smith wrote

There are some moments within literature when a new character is born, one who sits at the summit with others, emblematic of an age, or steps ahead of it. There have been many high-spirited characters before Jo March, but none like her, who wrote, remained herself. Creating Jo at a time when women had not yet won the right to vote was an unflinching move. She was an activist by example. And standing apart to extend a sister’s hand, she has always been there to greet maverick girls like myself, with a toss of her cropped hair and a playful wink to say come along. To guide us, provide encouragement, lay her footprints on a path she beckons us to follow.

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott was a writer, Unitarian, feminist, and abolitionist living in Concord Massachusetts. She hobnobbed with the Transcendentalists and had a crush on Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, when women were given school, tax, and bond suffrage in 1879 in Massachusetts.

As many of us know, Little Women was largely autobiographical. Like Jo, Louisa wrote, published, and supported her family with what she called “blood and thunder tales”–gothic thrillers with names like “Pauline’s Passion and Punishment” and “The Abbot’s Ghost or Maurice Treherne’s Temptation.” She wrote under the androgynous pseudonym AM Barnard.

But when asked by her publisher Thomas Niles to write a book for girls, she acquiesced, writing in her journal: “Marmee, Anna, and May all approve my plan. So I plod away, though I don’t enjoy this sort of thing.”

Bronson Alcott and Fruitlands

Louisa’s father, Bronson Alcott, was an idealist, philosopher, progressive educator, and man ahead of his time. He was not, however, a practical man, a farmer, or someone who knew how to put food on the table. When Louisa was 10, Bronson moved the family to Fruitlands, a utopian community based on Transcendentalist principles that he founded with Charles Lane in Harvard Massachusetts. This community had high ideals–for example, they eschewed cotton clothing, because cotton was picked by slaves, and they were abolitionists. But Fruitlands lasted only about 6 months. The men were more interested in talking about the Oversoul than bringing in the harvest, and the women and children couldn’t do all the work themselves. Louisa later wrote about her Fruitlands experience in the satirical short story, Transcendental Wild Oats.  Because of Bronson’s inability to make money, the Alcott family was often poor. Louisa’s writing career was a passion born of necessity. 

Orchard House

When the book was first published, it  was extensively pirated, and now it is in the public domain, but it is estimated that more than ten million copies were sold, not including abridged editions. It has been through 100+ editions and been translated into more than 50 languages. Her publisher persuaded Louisa to take a royalty rather than a flat fee, and as a result, the book and its sequels supported her and her relatives, plus some of her relatives’ relatives, for the rest of their lives.

Little Women and I

So what about me and Little Women?  I had a Jo doll, whose head and legs I had to reattach to bring her to the library. I was pretty into playing with dolls back then. I didn’t play mother and baby much though; I used dolls to act out stories. Little Women was one of those stories, and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were another. Some of my dolls had an elected government, with Chrissy, a tall leggy redhead whose hair grew when you pushed a button on her belly, at the top. It was like a girls’school or a women’s college: girls did everything.

I received the Illustrated Junior Library Edition of Little Women as a gift. I read and enjoyed the book as a tween, and my mother also read it to me. One of the things about this book that has stayed with me since childhood is the image on the cover: the family gathered around the piano singing. Even though I’m not much of a singer, I am a musician. I play the violin and viola. My daughter played a number of different instruments growing up and my son plays the cello. I’ve always felt that was the highest purpose in music, not performance or musical skill or putting in your 1000 hours, but to bring people together.

15susan-reading-little-women
Susan Bailey reading Little Women

When I started playing the violin and viola again after a long break, I started blogging at violinist.com.  I wrote about reading Little Women to my daughter, and my blog was noticed by Susan W Bailey, author of the blog Louisa May Alcott is my passion, who contacted me. I started reading and following her blog, and there I found out about the anthology, Alcott’s Imaginary Heroes, edited by Merry Gordon and Marnae Kelley at Pink Umbrella Books

As they explain in this interview, Gordon and Kelley believe that Little Women is a pivotal book for many women, one that they return to in different phases of life and learn something new each time. “I’m delighted to be part of it,” says Gordon of the anthology, “and to connect with a community of readers who are as passionate about the book as I am.” 

Finding the Googleplex Beautiful

I reworked the ideas from my violinist dot com blog and submitted them as an essay called “Finding the Palace Beautiful.” As part of the publicity for the anthology, the publisher asked the authors to send a picture of themselves reading Little Women next to a local landmark. I chose the Googleplex.

One hundred and fifty years later, is Little Women still relevant?

Louisa's Gravesite
Louisa May Alcott’s grave on Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord MA. Fans pay tribute by leaving pens at the site. Photo courtesy of Richard Ragan.

When I told my writers’ group that I would be doing this reading,  one guy said that he tried but he couldn’t get past the first chapter of Little Women. And some people claim, not without justification, that it’s not really a feminist novel. Everyone gets married off. Ambitions get smaller. Beth dies from her own self-sacrifice. And Jo marries Professor Bhaer, a man who deprecates her writing. Tween and teen girls these days read dramatic tales with kickass heroines like The Hunger Games and Divergent and The Hate U Give.  Is there still space for a book about four flawed sisters in which nothing much really happens?

For me the relevance of Little Women 150 years later is captured well in Joan Acocella’s New Yorker article of August 2018, called “How Little Women Got Big”.  Acocella argues that Jo had to marry Friedrich Bhaer, a poor immigrant Professor, because Jo, unlike her rich neighbor Laurie, thinks hard about things and fights (her) way through them in darkness.

Not surprisingly,  since like Jo I moved to New York and married a German, I’m “team Friedrich” not “team Laurie.” But even without that personal analogy, Jo’s marriage to Professor Bhaer isn’t just a funny match to me. It is a marriage of true minds and intellectual equals. Jo asks him to sing, “Kennst du das Land,” a favorite song that at first meant to him Germany, his country of birth, but later meant to both of them a purer, higher vision of home and love. The book’s ending is Louisa’s transcendentalist love letter and her philosophical masterpiece.

Thursday Doors: Birthday Library

For my birthday this year, I got my own Little Free Library. I’ve wanted one for almost as long as I knew that they existed, but I had been a little intimidated by the cost or by the thought of having to build one myself. Then I was also not sure about how to put it up in the yard. It seemed like a lot of effort.

But I really like these little libraries, and I’ve included a few in past Thursday Doors posts, for example here.

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This library sits outside the UU church of Palo Alto, which I have attended a few times. There is another outside Brewer Island Elementary School (where I taught about photosynthesis this morning), painted blue like the school.

And I recently found a geocache in this Little Free Library in Redwood City, in a neighborhood near Roy Cloud Elementary, where I am teaching tomorrow. It kind of looks like an elf lives there.

ElfLibrary

I wish I’d been more systematic about taking pictures of all the libraries I’ve found, especially the ones where I’ve found geocaches.

Because finally, I am going to have my own! I got an unfinished one for my birthday. Right now it is still sitting on the floor in the front entryway, next to the shoe rack.

LFLUnfinished

But it is pretty close to being ready to go. And, because this is Thursday Doors, notice the nice doors on it! My husband ordered it from LittleFreeLibrary.org. The post came the next day. It is extremely tall (I include some of the room furnishings for scale):

LFLPost

I’d like to paint it with some kind of music theme, or space/sci-fi theme. But the picture hasn’t quite crystallized yet. And it looks like I will have to dig quite a deep hole for that post!

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 and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time), on the linky list at Norm 2.0’s blog