Art on Everyday Things

2013 12 s IMG_6065.jpg

Today I’m noticing the elements of visual appeal that have little relationship to products….but are nevertheless pervasive on just about everything we buy. Thing like the pattern and color of a tissue box;

2013 12 s IMG_6066.jpg

Bags from specialty shops for museums,

2013 12 s IMG_6085.jpg

Parks or

2013 12 s IMG_6067.jpg


2013 12 s IMG_6078.jpg

Packaging for sugar substitute,

Dark Chocolates,

2013 12 s IMG_6080.jpg

Butter beans or

Paper towels.

Is the art factor in our purchase? Not for me….but I appreciate that it is there. It is one of those things that can be a pleasant surprise….and worth a little celebration.

Staying Warm when it’s Cold Outside

It is cold most days in Maryland this time of year - so all my strategies for staying warm are being applied.


Our house is pretty well insulated and the windows are double paned….but we keep our thermostat adjusted for comfort assuming we are dressed for the season.

  • Layers of clothing - My favorite clothes this time of year are pants with a long sleeved sweatshirt or tunic sweater….or a lighter weight top and a fleece vest/cardigan. I keep a cardigan in the coolest room of the house (first floor, vaulted ceiling, North West side of the house….it’s nippy in the early morning!).
  • Socks or Slippers - I prefer not to wear shoes in the house so I wear thick socks…and sometimes Isotoner slippers. When my feet are comfortably warm, the rest of me feels warm too! (In the summer, I find that when I go barefoot so that my feet are cooler….I feel cooler overall…so it works both ways for me.)
  • Hot tea or chocolate - Anything hot to drink is warming. My favorite I hot tea having never developed the taste for coffee and deciding that hot chocolate I too laden with calories to have more than a cup each day. I have a large mug that I take with me just about everywhere in the house on really cold days.
  • Homemade Soup - Soup is the salad of winter. I make a homemade soup for at least one meal on every cold day. That means buying kale (I buy a large pre-washed bag of leaves and put it in the freezer, taking out just the amount I need for a meal. It tears very easily when it is frozen) instead of lettuce and getting creative about other ingredients from the produce section (onion, peppers, butternut squash, mushrooms, carrots), canned goods (beans, diced tomatoes) and frozen foods (cauliflower, broccoli, peas, corn). Sometimes I use bouillon and sometimes I simply stir in some water thinned roasted garlic hummus with stir fried veggies to make ‘chunky’ soup.
  • Sunny windows - Take a lesson from cats - enjoy sitting in the sunshine coming through a window on a cold winter’s day. I have my favorite places to catch the sun and I have started opening drapery on sunny days to let the sun warm rooms. They become the warmest places in the house!
  • Upper flours - The top floor of our house is always the warmest (warm air rises!) so I arrange my day to spend most of my day there - looking out from my office into the winter forest or in front of a sunny window.

Venturing outside

Getting outdoors when it is very cold is often unavoidable. The strategy is to dress appropriately and minimize the time exposed.

  • Coat - I have two coats that I wear for different activities. One is large enough that I can put a heavy hooded fleece under it. I wear it for when I need to shovel the driveway. The other coat is longer - not as good for working but better for walking.
  • Boots - My favorite shoes this winter have been my hiking boots. They have thick soles and lots of padding. They also are waterproof for those days when there is a cold rain or slush.
  • Hat and scarf - Hats and scarves can give warmth and color. I tend to only wear them when I am not wearing my hooded fleece.
  • Gloves  - Gloves are another story. I have a very warm pair of gloves, heavily padded, that I use or shoveling snow or other outside work. They are too cumbersome for driving so I have lined Isotoner gloves that I wear for errands. The challenge is to always take the time to put on gloves even when I am going to be out for a short period of time. It is surprising how fast the hands get cold and the skin becomes overly dry.

Here’s wishing you warmth on a winter’s day!

US Botanic Garden - December 2013 - Part I

2013 12 h IMG_5507.jpg

The US Botanic Garden conservatory displays model trains and models of buildings from natural materials during the holidays. This year the buildings included “World’s Fair” models as well as the usual Washington DC buildings.

We arrived just as the building opened at 10 on a rainy Saturday morning - and there was a line to see the display in the East Gallery. We had umbrellas and the line moved - not rapidly but never standing still. There were a lot of children that could hardly contain their excitement to see the exhibit and then once they were inside, the motion of the trains - the stops and starts, the whirring buy, one train that lost one of its cars but kept going - brought delighted giggles.

Some of my favorite models were the Lincoln Memorial

2013 12 h IMG_5586.jpg

The White House with a swing set!

 And the Botanical Garden Conservatory

Enjoys some of the other sights of the special exhibit in the slide show below!

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 28, 2013

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Short Cycle Efficacy Trials Key to Personalized Learning - How can the myriad of education applications and blended learning models be evaluated?  This article describes some attempts. Hopefully we finally will achieve the focus of efficacy for the individual learner rather than the technology or educational administration.

4 Frighteningly Ambitious Education Experiments for 2014 - There are lots of experiments that I’ve been reading about lately (prompted by some recent Coursera courses). These four caught my attention because they emphasize that many boundaries we one assumed have been softened or even breached by technology. So now - we have some alternatives that have never been available before. All the more reason to figure out how to do ‘short cycle efficacy trials’ (see previous gleaning).

Frogcicle - I’d heard about some frogs being able to survive freezing…this is a video that shows that happening.

A Dingo Ate Australia - The article portrays the dingo, Australia’s only native dog species, from multiple perspectives.

Petrified Life - Time lapse video of the American Southwest…well worth the 5.5 minutes to watch.

The Most Incredible Historical Discoveries of 2013 - It’s the time of year that we get a lot of ‘best of’ lists. It does seem that 2013 had quite a few rather surprising historical discoveries. History is not as well defined as we sometimes assume!

Greenland Ice Stores Liquid Water Year-Round - Water evidently stays liquid in the space around the ice particles in an aquifer that covers 27,000 square miles. A team drilling core samples in southeast Greenland was surprised when they came up with liquid water (from 33 feet in one hole and 82 feet in another). The air temperature at the time was minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Another article on the same topic is here.

The 100 essential websites - How many of these do you know about already? I always take a browse through lists like this - and sometimes discover a something worthwhile!

Waiting in the Wings - Mining collections (butterflies, plants and birds) to determine changes over the 19th and 20th century as individual species - and in relationship with other species. Not everything in the food web changes at the same rate.

These are the most beautiful libraries we've ever seen - I am reading more electronically these days but there is still something very appealing about rooms full of books. 

Around our (Maryland) Yard in December 2013

Earlier in December we had snow but my walk around the yard for this post was on a cold, sunny day later in the month. I decided to focus on the bark of the trees.

When we first moved to our house about 20 years ago, the young oak tree still had a smooth trunk. Now It is ridged - a mature tree.

The cherry tree has developed knobs and scars.

The young sycamore has bark beginning to peal this winter. It won’t become a ‘ghost’ tree quite yet but maybe next winter there will be more of the white inner bark showing after the leaves fly away.

The last picture is not bark - it the tulip poplar in winter, with the dry seeds flying away from the treetop every time the winter wind blows. 

The Day after Christmas 2013

What is your usual activity for the day after Christmas? I am realizing that I do have a few traditions for this day.

I write thank you notes. This year they are all e-mails rather than cards send through snail mail.

I shop after Christmas sales. This year I am steering clear of wrapping paper and Christmas cards - but will pick up dark chocolate and nuts if the clearance price is good. If the holiday patterned ziplocks are priced less than the regular ones, I’ll do that too. I’m looking for sheets too - sometimes those sales are so good that there are none left by the time I get to store. I’m not an early bird shopper after Christmas.

I begin eating the leftovers. It happens every year: more food is prepared than can actually be eaten on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

I pick up around the house. This mostly consists of packing away gift bags and recycling wrapping paper. In past years I’ve packed up tissue paper along with the gift bags but this year it too is going into the recycling bin. Sometimes there are still presents unwrapped the previous day that need to be stowed….increasing the ‘stuff’ we’ve accumulated.

By the end of the day after Christmas the house still looks festive and the lights still glow on the tree - and we are enjoying the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Ten Days of Little Celebrations - December 2013

Over a year ago I posted about finding something to celebrate each day. It’s an easy thing for me to do and the habit of writing it down reminds me to be grateful for these and a myriad of other things in my life. This month has been full of ‘little celebrations;’ here are my top 10 for December 2013.

Quite a few this month involved food - but I celebrated them for different reasons:

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Icing was celebrated because the first one I bought did not have cream cheese icing (I did not suspect beforehand that Red Velvet Cake could have any other kind of icing!) and because is brought back memories of teen aged birthdays when my mother made the cake for my birthday. Oh - and I like the way it looks too!

Roasted Garlic Hummus as Stir Fry Sauce was celebrated because it was a serendipity experiment that worked! I needed something to give punch to a veggie stir fry and the hummus worked very well - stirred in just before serving.

Cranberry Orange Bread bought from the grocery store bakery was a treat to have with hot chocolate to celebrate being warm inside on a cold winter’s day - bought with a coupon and tasting so good I ate the whole round loaf in just two days.

Beans in Cherry Crumble Bars were celebrated because they were a pleasant surprise. The recipe was one I saw on the web and almost didn’t try!

Popcorn with Pumpkin Seed Oil was a celebration because it was healthier that store bought microwave popcorn (I popped kernels in a paper lunch sack in the microwave) and because the oil turned the corn a pleasant green color.

Another group of celebrations involved fund raising activities for non-profits:

Conservancy Holiday Sale was a celebration that combined food, happy people, and a good cause.

The lights at Brookside Gardens are a traditional part of our December celebrations. We always pay to park and enjoy the lights at least once during the season.

Weather prompts 2 more celebrations:

2013 12 snow day1.jpg

Declaring a Snow Day is always a celebration. It probably started when I was in school, went almost dormant until I had my daughter. She reinforced it; my husband and/or I always took a vacation day when the schools closed for snow. Now - I find myself celebrating a snow day at home even when I am the only one at home!

A warming trend is worth celebrating in December. When we walked around Brookside in the early evening it was in the mid-60s rather than the mid-20s as it would have been a week earlier. Yes - it did feel strange to be wearing a sweater rather than bundled up in coat, scarf, hat, and gloves ---- but it is a comfortable strangeness that I celebrated.

And finally - I celebrated all the build-up to the last week of the 2013.

Christmas Stuff - Part 4 - 2013

Previous posts about Christmas stuff have included food, ornaments, and wrapping paper. Today, for the day before Christmas, the topic is cards.

I enjoy sending and receiving cards during the holidays. They are an opportunity to stay in touch once a year with acquaintances made throughout life. I display cards received in past years standing up on the mantle, under clear plastic on our breakfast area table, attached to all the metal doors (including the refrigerator) in the house with magnets, and clipped to door sized scrunchies with small clothes pins. Over the years, there has been quite an accumulation and I now have more cards than places to display them.

In the past I’ve always sent cards - occasionally with a letter inside or a short note on the white space inside the card. Next year I am considering a switch to a color-printer produced family picture with short message on paper with a border - sent out in business sized envelopes.

Cards also are ‘stuff’ in the sense that there are a lot of holiday cards that have come into the house as gifts from charities soliciting donations. I hadn’t quite noticed how many of them there were until the past week or so. I’m bundling them up to put in the pile of stuff to donate! 

Brookside Lights - December 2013

Brookside Gardens is having their ‘Garden of Lights’ display through January 5th. We went this past weekend while the weather was balmy (in the 60s). There was a crowd but we managed to get a parking place before the lots filled up. The lights include lots of flowers







Some insects (praying mantis and butterfly are pictured but there was a bee hive and ants too)

A rainbow with intermittent rain clouds and lightning

A giraffe (and other animals like lions, pigs, frogs, peacocks and turtles)

Imaginary beings (the one pictured looks like a crazy bird to me…there is also a sea serpent with baby sea serpent too)

And outlines of trees with lights.

In the conservatory there is a model train display which I posted about earlier (here). The model of the ‘facilities’ below was one of additions to that display this year!

Zooming - December 2013

The ‘zooming’ post for December includes pieces of Florida pictures (the first 5) and then pictures from Brookside (outdoors and inside the conservatory).

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 21, 2013

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Radiation Physicist Beautifully Colorizes X-Ray Images of Nature - The color adds to the images - making them much more art-like.

Important Bird Areas - An interactive US map that shows areas marked as of global, continental, or state importance. Zoom in or enter an address to see detail in a particular location.

Behind the Headline: Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up - A summary article prompted by a recent story in New York Times about gifted students. Follow the links to dig deeper into the story.

An Optical Illusion You'll Swear Is Moving. It Isn't. - Watch the video….and read the explanation.

23 Women CEOs Running Fortune 500 Firms - A list published by the Associated Press. I would be interesting to know how the number of women CEOs running Fortune 500 firms has changed over the past decades. In 2009, it was 15. The first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company was Catharine Graham of the Washington Post in 1972.

Fake it ’til you become it: Amy Cuddy’s power poses, visualized - My daughter was the first to tell me about ‘power poses.’ If you haven’t heard about them before - take a look at the Infographic in the article and/or follow the links for details.

Architectural Breakthroughs that Changed the World - It’s always interesting to see what gets selected for posts like this….and the suggestions for additions in the comments section are worth a look too.

Worth a Watch: Climate Change - the state of the science - A 4 minute film produced with UN funding and based on the IPCC 5th Assessment Report.

Redefining What It Means to be a Successful School - Measuring schools through the lens of student outcomes rather than compliance models

Mapping 400,000 Hours of U.S. TV News - Which areas of the world do we hear and see on the news frequently….which areas are almost never ‘in the news.’ From an analysis of the Internet Archive’s television news research service collection.

10 Elements of Next-Generation Higher Education - It seems like the changes are coming quickly to higher education. Some are technology enabled….others are forced by the change in perspective to view outcomes rather than just the traditional examination/compliance model to determine the quality of education.

Census Bureau Introduces New Interactive Mapping Tool along with Latest American Community Survey Statistics - Take a look at the Census Explorer. It is easier to look at a county or state level rather than an address. The measures that can be selected are: total population, 65 and over, foreign born, high school graduate or more, bachelor’s degree or more, in labor force, owner occupied, and median household income.

3 Free eBooks - December 2013

It’s time again for the monthly post about eBooks that are freely available on the Internet. The three below are my favorites for December 2013.

2013 12 ebook1.jpg

Zeller, Hannah. Wild Flowers of the Holy Land. London: James Nisbet and Co.1876. Available from Internet Archive here. I was taking a Coursera course about the fall and rise of Jerusalem when I happened upon this book. It seemed to fit my mood - thinking about that area of the world. How many of these flowers that grew wild there in the 1876 are still growing wild?

2013 12 ebook2.jpg

UNESCO. Egyptian Wall Paintings from Tombs and Temples. New York: The New American Library of World Literature, Inc. 1962. Available from the Internet Archive here. This book is recent enough that the images are color photographs. Many of the photographs are famous images but others were new to me and interested me more - particularly the ones that were show in the place they were originally found rather than in a museum.

2013 12 ebook3.jpg

Dimirov, Bojidar. Bulgaria - Illustrated History. Sofia, Bulgaria: BORINA Publishing House. 1994. Available from the Internet Archive here. I enjoyed both the older aspects of the history and the landscape illustrations in this book. The stratigraphic chart on page 10 shows periods of ancient material culture in the land that became Bulgaria. A portion of the chart is shown to the left.

Christmas Stuff - Part 3 - 2013

Wrapping paper has accumulated in the Christmas stuff over the years. It's as much a part of Christmas as food and ornaments.

There was a stash of wrapping paper a previous owner had left in a house we moved into 30 years ago. I bought paper from fund raisers when my daughter was in elementary school about 15 years ago. Sometimes I couldn’t resist paper on sale after Christmas. My willpower has improved in the past 5 years so I have NOT bought more paper - but the number of rolls has not gone down either. I have tended to use gift bags - recycled year after year - rather than wrapping boxes. This year I am determined to use up paper….and maybe box up some or all that is left to donate to charity.

Aside from wrapping larger boxes rather than using a gift bag - I have a few other ideas for the paper.

  • I have started using the smaller pieces of paper to wrap very small boxes (that are empty) and stash them in a small sleigh that sits by the tree. There is some nostalgia about wrapping paper and bows that this satisfies and it can be packed away for years to come as part of our normal decorations for the holiday rather than actual gifts.
  • The island in the kitchen would look good with a runner of paper down the center.
  • The mantle could be decorated with a cut paper garland - maybe a snowflake pattern.

Or maybe I can just wait until we move from the house and leave the stash of paper for the next owner.

Bald Eagles in Florida - November 2013

The bald eagles at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge are birds the come back when the heat of summer is gone. They arrive earlier than many of the other winter birds. The best viewing of the eagles with their nest is actually on the bus tour of the Kennedy Space Center rather than areas accessible in the wildlife refuge although there are some favorite snags in the refuge - just barely within viewing distance from the road - where the eagles like to survey their territory.

I can remember the first time I saw a bald eagle. It was about 24 years ago and at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The bird flew overhead as I held by baby daughter as we looked up from the visitor center parking lot.

Even though there are more bald eagles in the world now than 24 years ago, it’s still a ‘little celebration’ any time I see one!

Christmas Stuff - Part 2 - 2013

Food is Christmas ‘stuff’ as much as ornaments on the tree. Every December there are foods that stand out. Some are new for the year and some are part of the family tradition. Here are the December 2013 special foods for my Christmas.

2013 12 IMG_5941.jpg

Red Velvet Cake - The food with the most tradition this year. My mother use to make it from scratch. Now I buy it at the grocery store - making sure that it had cream cheese icing (not the icing that is mostly butter).

Pumpkin Ginger Scones - The food that is new this year and destined to become part of the tradition. I’ve already modified it to use butternut squash in place of the pumpkin!

Cranberry orange relish with plain yogurt - The food that joined the tradition a few years ago. It had good color, is healthy compared to so much Christmas fare, and has a welcome tangy taste.

Kale - The food that I started experimenting with last fall but only decided belonged in my refrigerator when winter weather got serious. I include it in every soup and stir fry I make! It is loaded with good nutrition - and lends a green color to winter meals. I buy a large bag of pre-washed Kale and keep it in the freezer. It crunches easily into small pieces when it is still frozen and cooks up the same as fresh when used in soups and stir fries!

Popcorn with pumpkin seed oil - The food that will go beyond Christmas now that I’ve learned to make it. I pop the corn in a paper bag in the microwave. No more not-good-for-you additives from the packaged microwave popcorn! And then drizzle it with pumpkin seed oil which turns a nice green color on the white corn… and white for the season. Add some apple slices for nutritional balance and to achieve the full Christmas color scheme!

Becoming 60 - Part IV

Through the end of the year - I’m writing one post a month about my thoughts on becoming 60. The theme for this month is my perception of conflict and happiness at this point in my life.


I’ve read that many of us become less confrontational as we get older; there is a tendency to avoid conflict as much as possible. When I was in elementary school, I remember going on a family vacation and my grandparents agreeing with everything, always saying ‘whatever you want’ in response to a question about their preference. It was so different than my parents or my sisters or my own response to such questions that I noticed it and the episode stands out with clarity in my mind now. My grandparents would have been around 60 at the time. Why did they let everyone else decide what they wanted to do?

  • Maybe they had decided that being on vacation with family was all that mattered - that what we actually did was of much lesser importance and it was really true that any of the choices would be equally enjoyable to them.
  • Maybe they did have a preference but did not feel strongly enough about it to articulate it. All the choices were acceptable to them so they opted to let others choose.
  • Maybe they felt overwhelmed by the choices - the place was new to them and they simply could not be comfortable choosing.

I never asked my grandparents about it later and they may not have even remembered the time as significant as it was in perception. I know that now that I am becoming 60 that I still make a lot of choices as I interact with other people but I also find myself being equally satisfied with several alternatives so it makes it easier for close relationships to move along with no conflict.

I am less tolerant of people that are very confrontational or are passive aggressive confrontational (seemingly agree, avoiding confrontation, and then do something completely different). During my career I was adept at diffusing conflicts of this type but I never enjoyed it. Not having to tolerate certain types of conflict may be the aspect of being post-career that I savor the most!


A lot has been said about happiness - about how to measure it, about how people strive for happiness. At 60, what I want is not just ‘happiness’ - I want

  • Meaning to living
  • Comfort
  • Good health
  • Satisfaction
  • New things to learn and experience
  • Close family relationships
  • Ability to contribute toward a better world
  • Multiple paths into the future

There is probably more I will add to the list over time. I notice now that the things I put on the list are of longer duration than ‘happiness.’ Perhaps any emotion is too fleeting to be a goal. What if the only way we could achieve it 100% of the time was through modifying ourselves in some way….and would we still be human if we did?

Earlier posts:

Part I theme: The future looks bright

Part II theme: An interlude to choose the best for the rest of my life

Part III: Pleasures 

Broken Shells - Florida November 2013

My favorite beach activity is picking up shells. Most of the time they are broken pieces of a form that sheltered a life in the sea. Sometimes they are lying on top of the sand and sometimes they bring a sand in their curves when I pick them up. It was too cool to want to wash them off in the waves in November so there was more sand than usual with the shells in my bag.

I always like to image the part of the shell that is missing - to complete the curves.

Sometimes it is as easy as imagining a mirror image that could complete the half into a whole.

Gleanings of the Week Ending December 14, 2013

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Hummingbird Metabolism Unique in Burning Glucose, Fructose Equally - It takes a lot of energy for these small birds to live as they do!

The Use of Social Media in School - Infographic. Learn some ways Facebook, Pinterest, Blogger, and Twitter are being used in the classroom.

Estrogen: Not Just Produced by Ovaries - The brain can produce and release estrogen! So what does this mean for the hormone over the course of a lifetime?

Elephant Foster Mom: A Conversation with Daphne Sheldrick - It takes a tremendous amount of effort to raise orphaned elephant babies.

Man Walks All Day to Create Massive Snow Patterns - Art for the season!

Useful Infographic on Picking Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables - Sometimes we are so used to finding things in the grocery store all year round that we forget about the season. Cherries and pomegranates are the ones I notice that are only available during their season but almost everything has a season.

World Builder - This video was referenced in a Coursera course on Digital Culture. It is somewhat futuristic but not too far into the future….and thought provoking about technology, relationships, and cognition.

Supervolcanoes Discovered in Utah: Evidence of Some of the Largest Eruptions in Earth's History - Active 30 million years ago in southern Utah. The remains of supervolcanoes are not high cones; at their hear is a large collapse. The ‘Utah’ in this headline was what first caught my attention; I’m still gleaning items that are near our October vacation!

Incredibly Elaborate Illustrations by Victo Ngai - These illustrations are worth at least 1000 words!

Birth date popularity - An interactive data visualization of US births between 1973 and 1999. Move the cursor over the wheel to find how your birthday ranks. September 16 is ranked 1 (9 months from the end-of-year holiday season).

Sandhill Cranes in Florida - November 2013

Sometimes spectacular birds are sighted in unlikely places. About an hour after we saw wood storks near the MacDonald’s parking lot before we got to Orlando, we saw Sandhill Cranes in the cell phone lot where we pulled in to wait for my daughter’s plane to arrive.

They did not seem bothered by the cars driving slowly and parking or pulling out. There was a mother with a young child walking in the parking lot. Neither the birds or the people made any sudden move; a comfortable distance was maintained.

These are large birds and their different postures can make them appear very different. Compare the three birds in the two images below. They are the same three birds!

Brookside Gardens - December 2013

Brookside Gardens is the place for an evening walk through garden themed lights in December. I was there on a cold but sunny day when snow was still on the ground. The conservatory was lush with tropical plants (star fruit, bird of paradise, poinsettias, and bananas) and the model train display.

Outside, the dragon of lights looked relatively tame in the brightness of day and snow clung to the evergreens - and on some of the artificial flowers created with lights. There was a black squirrel sorting through the leaf litter. The Children’s Garden was cherry with colored lights on the white picket fence - but it was too cold to stay for long. There were very few people in the outdoors of the garden and the ones that were moved quickly along the path. It was a day for a brisk walk - or none at all.