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
And to the ballroom where she met the prince.
Behind the gates of an enormous palace!
The churches and cathedrals also have doors.
Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood:
St. Isaac’s Cathedral:
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?
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.
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.
And then, as July 4th rolled around, I saw this. First to bloom, first to wilt.
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.
And as for the orchid: when these blooms are gone, there is no way I’m throwing it out. I know better now.
It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain
I have had my Little Free Library up for a few months now. I had been wanting one for a long time, and I think that the impetus of going back to work, teaching, and having published some books (with small presses), is actually what got me there. I’ve been putting copies of my published work in the LFL, and happily, three of those books have been taken! The others come and go. I haven’t yet figured out what are the most popular. There are some kids who live in the neighborhood who have been enjoying my teenagers’ old board books. It’s a much better fate for them than a box in the garage!
What I generally do these days when I start a new project is to join a Facebook group or two, connected to the project. (Well, who am I kidding, it’s usually more than two. Ask the twelve science teaching groups I’ve joined in the past several months!) This one is no exception. The members of Little Free Library Stewards don’t mess around. They have events: grand openings, readings, canned food drives, story hours, bookmark-making parties . . . and their libraries even have their own Facebook pages!
I can’t say that I’m that active. I started a full-time teaching job in January and have only recently been able to catch my breath. My blogging activities have slowed down a lot.
But in any case, I was able to decorate my LFL a little bit for Independence Day. This little flag was one that I think we got back in Cambridge MA when my daughter was a toddler. Or it might have come from the Memorial Day parade she marched in as a Girl Scout.
I was also able to decorate my front doorway in CA, for the first time. I bought this flag holder a couple of years ago and only recently got around to installing it, in what feels like the same burst of energy that got me through the LFL installation.
This is the same flag that traveled from Massachusetts, where it adorned our house every Memorial Day, Flag Day, and 4th of July since ~2007. It has been in the closet for almost 4 years, but got to fly yesterday.
We’re often traveling at this time of year and spending the fourth in another city or even another country. This is my favorite blog about one of those trips, to visit my parents in Western New York. But this year was different: we rode our bikes to Crittenden Hill in Mountain View and took a position overlooking Shoreline Amphitheater, where the San Francisco Symphony was playing a tribute to the moon landing.
We had a nice view of the sunset, the parking lot, some planes, and a waxing crescent moon. They turn off the floodlights 10 minutes before the fireworks start. And from here, viewers can see other celebrations up and down the SF Peninsula. Little balls of fire in the distance.
I brought along a few chemiluminescent bracelets, unused leftovers from a long-ago birthday party or Halloween.
Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Chemical energy turns into light and sound energy, every year.
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 couple of years ago, I had several posts associated with driving my daughter to college at Willamette University. That drive took several days because we stopped to admire Mt. Shasta or to sample the sights in interesting little towns along the way. She was a new driver then, having passed her test only a couple weeks before we left, and we split the driving about 50/50.
We made the same drive again this year, for a different reason. She moved off campus for her second two years, and she wanted to take the cat, Sadie, to live with her.
I’m also giving my daughter my old car, a 2012 baby blue Mazda 5. She learned to drive in that car, and feels comfortable in it. The magnet I bought for the rear hatch door fell off sometime ago, but the car fits in here. It will be useful to have a minivan to carry stuff around.
She drove the whole way from California this time. I got to doze off in the passenger seat.
Sadie the cat did better than we expected. We were concerned that she might meow her head off for 10 hours, making the trip unpleasant for all 3 of us. But the vet gave her a pill, and, mildly sedated, she spent most of the time sleeping in her carrier. Occasionally she meowed, but just enough to let us know she was still there.
At the pet-friendly Motel 6 we opened the door to her cat carrier to let her out, but she didn’t venture far. She wasn’t crazy about the trip in general, and is glad to have gotten here!
And the final door for this post is the door to their new home:
An interesting green, newly painted. It’s a charming little house. Now it just needs some furniture!
Thursday Doorsis a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I find it a fun way to focus and curate my many, many travel photos!
It’s spring, and the season for concerts. One of the orchestras that I joined when I moved to California, the South Bay Philharmonic (SBP), turned 10 years old this spring. Formerly known as the Hewlett-Packard Symphony, it is now an independent group, with a few members remaining from the old HP days. (I don’t work for HP, so I’m happy about the transition).
One of my favorite things about playing in the SBP is the opportunity to play chamber music at a high level. With SBP chamber music, I’ve explored classics of the repertoire including the Dvorak “American” viola Quintet and Schubert’s famous Cello Quintet and “Death and the Maiden” Quartet. For this concert, we tried something new, a movement from the Florence Price String Quartet in G.
Florence Price is not as well-known as Dvorak or Schubert. She was an African-American composer who lived in the first half of the 20th century. She passed away suddenly in 1953 and in the confusion surrounding her death, many of her manuscripts were lost, only to be rediscovered in 2009 in an abandoned house that had once been Price’s summer home.
I traveled to Sacramento in March to hear Er-Gene Kahng play Price’s violin concerto #2. I also talked with Kahng about the Price string quartets, and obtained the sheet music for the String Quartet in G. This recording is of the Second Movement, the Andante Moderato. Like the Dvorak quintet, it has two contrasting sections, in this case a lyrical opening and a jazzy middle. Like the concerto, it is sunnier than I expected, and the lyrical section evokes the beauty of the South.
Foiled by Carey Fessler is an enjoyable, fast-paced middle grade novel. Set in the 1947 at the time of the Roswell incident in New Mexico, it reminded me of stories from my own youth, in particular “Escape from Witch Mountain,” which also had two school-age kids on the run from government agents and hints of flying saucers, aliens, and magical mind-reading powers.
The plot is basically a road trip, as two young friends, Kate and Billy, come into possession of a piece of magic foil that enables them to read other people’s thoughts. It is soon revealed that this foil came from aliens who crash-landed at Roswell, and a government agent named Falco wants to recover the foil and hush up everyone who saw or heard about it. Kate and Billy take matters into their own hands and run away to Kate’s grandfather’s house out in the Arizona desert. The action never lets up, and the kids manage to repeatedly outsmart and outrun the cartoonish Falco.
Rather than making it a buddy book aimed solely at boys, Fessler gives us a strong, resourceful heroine in tomboyish Kate. Strong girl protagonists are not particularly remarkable these days, and I enjoyed that aspect of the book. But this treatment felt a little anachronistic set in 1947. As a Roswell skeptic, I also found that aspect of the story to be somewhat dated. And I admit to being annoyed at how the adults were portrayed—or not portrayed, as the case may be. They were mostly absent like Kate and Billy’s parents, in need of rescue like Grandpa Clyde, or bumbling idiots like Falco. This too reminded me of cartoons I used to watch on Saturday morning, in which the villain yells as he is led away in handcuffs, “I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”
But as I read, I realized that this old-fashioned quality is both the book’s weakness and its strength. In my interactions with 21st century tweens, I find them to be more street-smart and savvy than either Kate or Billy, at least in their imaginative lives. I suspect that kids who have found the Horcruxes with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who have destroyed the Death Star and gone to the dark side with Anakin and Luke, who have slain vampires with Buffy, who have survived Camp Half-blood, who are really from Wakanda, and who build and occupy their own fantasy worlds with Minecraft and Fortnite, are going to find Kate and Billy’s sojourn a little bit white bread and tame, even if it does involve flying an airplane by yourself.
These same kids, however, could be pleasantly surprised if they temporarily put their digital pleasures aside in favor of the analog, tactile excitement of the journey described in this book. The protagonists survive by their own wits and manage to accomplish their goals. Kate’s relationship with her grandfather is sweet, as is her loyalty to her parents and Billy. Her life of fishing and stargazing evokes a simpler, more optimistic time when anything was possible.
The Mundane Monday blog challenge has run its course, and I am grateful to Trablogger and Dr K Ottaway for running it the past few years. Thank you for your dedication! It has been fun and lent a modicum of discipline to my blogging efforts.
Rather than taking over this challenge myself, though, I’ve decided to make a new one called Music Monday. I blog about music a lot anyway, and it’s a natural fit. There are no real rules, just try to take a music theme and run with it. Post a YouTube video if you would like! I will summarize and link back to them next week.
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Many of us violinists, violists, and cellists have played quartets from Beethoven’s Op. 18. These quartets are “early Beethoven,” composed in Vienna while the string quartet as an art form was relatively fresh, and in the classical spirit of Haydn and Mozart. They are more technically accessible than the “late” Op. 130s, which overwhelmed even some of the best musicians of Beethoven’s time.
I inherited the set of sheet music to Op.18, all 6 quartets, years ago from a player in my old orchestra in Massachusetts. Yellowing and with bent corners, these venerable parts always seemed appropriate to my learning this venerable old music. And then there was the curious phrase written across the top.
I’ve been learning German for most of my life but I still didn’t recognize a lot of these words at first. A “Fürst” is not a title that translates easily, and Lobkowitz sounds vaguely like “lobster” (or like Wolowitz, as in Howard). I got distracted by those things and by the fact that “gewidmet” was an completely unfamiliar verb too, rather than just figuring it out from the context like a normal person. So, who was Prince Lobkowitz, anyway, and why should we care? I found out on a recent visit to Prague.
The 7th Prince Lobkowicz (1772-1816) was Joseph František Maximilian, the Duke of Raudnitz (now Roudnice nad Labem in Czechia).
This Prince Lobkowicz (also spelled Lobkowitz) was well known for his love of music. He was an accomplished violinist, cellist, and bass singer. He also hired musicians for a private orchestra and put on performances at his family’s Palais Lobkowitz in Vienna. A relative said of him that he was “kindhearted as a child and the most foolish music enthusiast. He played music from dusk to dawn and spent a fortune on musicians. Innumerable musicians gathered in his house, whom he treated regally.”
He and Beethoven met as young men and were peers and perhaps even friends. The Prince paid Beethoven a stipend and encouraged him to compose as he saw fit, rather than commissioning specific pieces, as most patrons of the era did. Under Lobkowicz’s patronage, Beethoven composed all of the Op. 18 string quartets.
Even more importantly for western classical music, Beethoven also composed several symphonies under Lobkowicz’s patronage. Beethoven famously planned to dedicate his Symphony No. 3, the Eroica, to his hero Napoleon. When Napoleon declared himself Emperor, however, Beethoven became disillusioned and angry, and instead dedicated the symphony to Lobkowicz. The Eroica premiered in the Lobkowicz family palace in 1804, played by their private orchestra and conducted by Beethoven, before its public premiere in 1805.
Beethoven’s symphonies 4,5, and 6 were also composed and premiered under Lobkowicz’s patronage. The first performance editions of these pieces too are exhibited in the Lobkowicz Palace museum, which opened to the public in 2007 after the 1989 revolution allowed the return of the Lobkowicz family property (for the second time).
Symphony No. 4
Symphony No. 5
I dragged my traveling companions to this museum in order to see these artifacts; my friends aren’t musicians and wouldn’t have gone without my suggestion. I may have mentioned a few times that the Eroica is my favorite symphony. I’ve played it 3 times, the first going all the way back to my senior year of high school in the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra. But even so, I was unprepared for the emotional reaction; the pages blurred and I blinked back tears.
Living in the 21st century United States, we tend to take a dim view of royalty. We fought a revolution to throw out a king and have been happy to be rid of him for almost two-and-a-half centuries. But I would still like to take a moment here to praise Prince Lobkowicz. Under the constraints of the political system of his time, he was a forward thinking and generous ruler. He identified in Ludwig van Beethoven a talented person, supported him, and trusted him with the independence to create greatness.
We will never know how many other talents, bright and shining as Beethoven’s, may have languished and shriveled because they never got the support they needed to thrive, were never heard in a room of their own. Like Judith Shakespeare, they lie buried at some cross-roads where the omnibuses now stop.
As much as everyone wants to be Beethoven in this story, most of us are more like Lobkowicz–if we’re lucky. Most of us are not royalty, musical, political, or otherwise. But all players who make a serious and sincere attempt to learn this music are performing the same essential, sacred duty: bringing the music to life.
My performance, with the South Bay Philharmonic Chamber Players, of Op. 18 No. 4, Mvt. 1
This book could be titled “Another Inconvenient Truth,” because it takes as a starting point what most polemical environmentalist literature does not: that we humans need fossil fuels, factories, manufacturing, and chemicals–even toxic ones. We also need corporations and jobs. The author accepts that these aspects of our lives are not going away, at least not in the absence of the environmental crash/catastrophe we are desperately trying to avoid. Once that foundation has been laid, the rest of the book can be built on it. The result is a largely even-handed discussion of what the built environment is made of, how it got that way, and a clear-eyed look at what steps might be taken to make the whole enterprise more sustainable, allowing humans to tread more lightly on the earth.
The author, Julia LF Goldstein, has a PhD in materials science and is a trained engineer and award-winning technical writer. This background molds her prose for better and worse. Her explanation of why and how the air has gotten cleaner since the 1970s is well-written, clear, and easy for the educated lay person to follow, as are her explanations of why and how it can be difficult to remove toxins from the environment. I hadn’t known the scope of the e-waste recycling problem until reading this book either, and I’m now giving myself two cheers for keeping my old cell phone a while longer.
This book also provides an interesting early-2019 snapshot of new companies and new technologies at work. Some of these new technologies are fascinating, and seem to be right out of science fiction. There is the sonic generator technology used by Ronin8, that uses underwater sound waves to sort materials by density. There is EcoSheep, a company selling a sheep oil lubricant that works better than petroleum-based competitors. And there is Mighty-O donuts, an almost zero-waste vegan donut shop. Reading about these companies gives me hope that entrepreneurship will indeed be a large part of the sustainability solution.
The writing is still quite technical, however, and is somewhat lacking in the areas of storytelling and reader engagement. To address this, Goldstein occasionally throws in an anecdote or two from her own experience. For example, she spends a few pages comparing the different kinds of tennis racquets she has owned, some made of carbon fiber. She also describes the milk she has purchased in glass bottles from a Seattle-area delivery service as delicious. Anecdotes like these can help to humanize her for the reader, as it did me, but they may backfire if the reader doesn’t share her biases or demographic. Millennials reading it might end up feeling lectured by their mother or teacher. People who can’t afford carbon fiber tennis racquets or milk delivery may feel condescended to. Environmental activists may be impatient with the incremental and halfway progress that these measures will bring about. And as someone who has studied molecular biology and genetic engineering, even I thought that her willingness to imply that the controversial agricultural weed killer Roundup is a public health menace on a par with Radium or Tobacco was unnecessarily hyperbolic. But that there is something there to annoy people on multiple sides of the political landscape probably only means that she has gotten the tone about right.
Goldstein makes extensive use of interviews of CEOs and founders of companies who are implementing green policies. This is an inspired idea, and these interviews are promising for reader engagement. But here too, more vivid language would be helpful. Instead of being written in a standard book or magazine interview format, with an introduction, questions from the author, and answers from the interviewee in his or her own voice interleaved, the interviews are summarized in their entirety in several paragraphs of the author’s workmanlike technical prose. I found this format confusing enough that I didn’t even realize that I was reading the first “interview” before I was halfway through it.
The exception is the interview with Smokey Peck, of Interwest Paper in Salt Lake City UT. His interview comes the closest to the type of interview I would expect to continue reading in a magazine. Although it is not written in his voice, the interview provides several stories of Smokey overcoming obstacles or making prescient decisions; for example he has been ahead of the curve on inventory control for years, and he convinced a resistant Utah state representative to support curbside recycling. Smokey also provides the author with some well-chosen quotes and his is the only name I remembered while writing this review without having to look it up.
The other interview subjects are similarly well-chosen to illustrate the author’s points; I only wish she had fleshed the subjects out a bit more and given them more of their own authentic voices. I believe this would help further humanize these business leaders and give a face to the corporations that remain anonymous and all-too-easy to scapegoat.
I will end this review by saying that I think every American adult should read this book, and that more authors should write even-handed, non-hyperbolic books like this one. Material Value is occasionally slow going, but overall it is a refreshing and practical antidote to the polarized sound bites that dominate so much of our political discourse about climate and sustainability.
In 2009 Todd H. Bol created the first Little Free Library book exchange and placed it in his Hudson, Wisconsin, front yard in tribute to his mother, who had been a teacher. Ten years later, his idea has snowballed into a worldwide book-sharing movement. There are now more than 80,000 Little Free Libraries in all 50 states and 90+ countries, from Argentina to Zambia. Sadly, Todd passed away last year at the age of 62. This article remembers him and the movement he started: “A Tiny Library that Changed the World.”
In addition to mine, which we bought from the LFL organization, painted, and installed ourselves, here are some pictures of other Little Free Libraries around or near my home. The orange one to the right belongs to a friend of mine. They can be made out of repurposed furniture or containers, or built from scratch!
This is part 1 of a series of doors in Prague, Czechia. I don’t know yet how many installments there will be in this series because, to my surprise, I think that Prague has the most interesting doors of any city I have been to so far.
The owners of these doors make the inside more interesting than the outside, and then leave them open to show it off. Especially when food is involved.
From these doors I learned about a Czech pastry called trdelnik.
While these are quite common in Prague, they are originally called kurtsoskalacs and come from Szekely Land, Transylvania. There are big models of the pastries hanging over the doors in Prague, even as the interiors of the doors advertise additional treats.
The following door caught my eye because of the word “Unitaria.” I wondered if it had to do with the Unitarian church in Prague. But probably not, because there is also a Blacklight theater in the building, which is what you get when you google it. The Unitarian congregation in Prague is located elsewhere.
Finally, this was my favorite of the painted interior doors, a souvenir and trinket shop with whimsical representations of the city itself.
ThursdayDoors 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 ThursdayDoors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.