I hope you will find things among my random thoughts that resonate with you and yours. I'd love to read your reactions in the Comments, and I'll be sure to visit you in return. Best regards, Mary

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Zeppelin: Graf, Aircraft Carrier, Dirigible and Led

What a strange foursome!  How did they get together?

First came Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, 1838 - 1917. 

Often known simply as Graf Zeppelin, the count (Graf) was a German general who later founded the Zeppelin Airship Company. He served in the Prussian engineering corps, then as a general staff officer in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. He did reconnaissance in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871 and had various other assignments until retiring from the military in 1890.

He was also involved in our Civil War as an "observer" for the northern troops in 1863, and he participated with Russians and Indians in an expedition to the source of the Mississippi. But perhaps his most important activities in this country were his visits to our balloon camps. He made his first ascent at St Paul, Minnesota, and a life-long interest in aeronautics was born.

The Rise and Fall of Rigid Airships

The count first mentioned an idea for large dirigibles in his diary on March 25, 1874, and in 1891 when he retired he began testing materials and engineering concepts. Despite engineering and test issues, logistics, and political hurdles, work continued. Finally, on July 2, 1900, the first successful flight of LZ1 took place in southern Germany. Several more models were built and progress was relatively steady, but Zeppelin's relationship with the military was poor, so he turned to commercial airships in order to capitalize on the growing public enthusiasm. By 1914,  37,250 people had flown safely with his German Aviation Association. 

Due to the commercial success of airships, "zeppelin" entered vernacular speech as the name for rigid airships. Both the LZ 127 (the Graf Zeppelin) which eventually circled the world,  and the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II were named for him.

The LZ 130 was the twin to the LZ 129 Hindenburg which in 1937 met a fate so terrible that it put an end to the "zeppelin era".

World War II: the German Aircraft Carrier Graf Zeppelin 

The only carrier launched by Germany in World War II was named for the count. It was launched December 8, 1938, but it was never completed or operational.

Led Zeppelin, The Band

There are several stories about how the band got its name, but one thing is certain: the count's granddaughter, Countess Eva von Zeppelin, once threatened to sue the band for using it. One story seems plausible: the band originally was known as The New Yardbirds. But when a newspaper article proclaimed that it would "go down like a lead zeppelin" the name stuck except for the spelling. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yerkes Observatory

Operated by the University of Chicago at Williams Bay, Wisconsin

One of many astronomical observatories throughout the world, it claims to be "the birthplace of modern astrophysics". Completed in 1895 with a lens diameter of 40 inches, the Yerkes remains to this day the largest achromatic refracting telescope used for scientific purposes.

The 40-inch Diameter Refracting Telescope

                                         1897 Photo                                              2006 Photo


In addition to its distinction as the largest it may also be the one with the most colorful history. It was financed by a known criminal, Charles Tyson Yerkes. Astronomer George Ellery Hale convinced the convicted but wealthy embezzler to finance the telescope, regardless of cost, providing that it be the world's largest. Which, indeed, it was. And so it bears his name. 

Monday, April 28, 2014


Just for fun, here is some of what I found when I googled Xanadu:

It's a Place,  a Fine Art Gallery, a Movie, a Song . . . all inspired by an ancient ruin, details on the ...

UNESCO World Heritage list at Xanadu Site Ruins

Located in what is now Inner Mongolia, Xanadu was the cool summer home of the khan of that era. It included both a beautiful marble palace and one made of strong cane, along with a vast and beautiful park where the khan enjoyed riding. In 1872 a Britain with the Legation in Beijing visited the site and found blocks of marble, tiles and other artifacts. But by 1990 everything was gone, probably used by locals in building their town. Only some art now remains in the walls of that town, Dolon Nor.

The name became famous in our times with the revival of the poem Kubla Khan by the English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Written it in 1797 while he was apparently under the influence of opium, it praises the city built during the period 1252-1256. It was visited in 1275 by Marco Polo who later (1298-99) dictated a description of it in glowing detail. In 1369 it was occupied and burned by an enemy, and then abandoned for several hundred years.

Picture Gallery:  UNESCO's details and pictures of remains at the site.

"Resource for collectors, designers, builders, and corporations for procuring the highest quality art ..."

Xanadu:  1980 Romantic Musical Fantasy Film. 
A musical based on the film also opened on Broadway in 2007. 
I don't recall either of these. If any readers do their comments will be welcomed. 


Oilvia Newton John sings "Xanadu".  I wonder how the khan would have liked this!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Wild West

Beloved mythology of the US, the Wild West period is more fiction than truth. It's a story of conquest and survival, promise and disappointment, creation and destruction, and always clashes between differing cultures and species. As David Murdoch said, "No other nation has taken a time and place from its past and produced a construct of the imagination equal to America’s creation of the West."1

All of that is controversial and complex, continually researched, updated and disputed. But there is one perspective that all agree on: the west in its pristine and wild state was bountiful and beautiful. And happily there are parts of it that remain unchanged to this day.

As AtoZ Challenge draws to a close I'd like to share with you some pictures of that still "wild west". I have visited these sites but without a camera, so I rely on Getty Images and the professionals to capture them for you. They bring wonderful memories to life for me and probably for some of you. If you have not stood in these places perhaps you will be inspired to take "the trip of a lifetime".

Bryce Canyon

Monument Valley

Colorado in Spring Bloom

Great Sand Dunes of Colorado

Rocky Mountains and River in Montana

1 From Wikipedia:  Murdoch, David (2001). The American West: The Invention of a MythUniversity of Nevada Press. p. vii.ISBN 978-0874173697

Friday, April 25, 2014

Victoria, Queen of England

When I moved into my 1893 Victorian house I began to feel a kinship with Queen Victoria.
(For more about that house and living in it visit Mary in Michigan.)

Engraving From 1873

The Queen in her Robes of State

Queen Victoria Lived From 1819 Until 1901, ruling  as Queen Of England From 1837 Until 1901. That means she ruled the country for 63 years, beginning when she was 18 years old and continuing until she died in 1901 at the age of 82. Amazing!

What sort of person was she? How did she manage to remain in that position for so long, surviving wars, assasination attempts, and domestic intrigue at a time when women generally had no standing as citizens or even as people in their own right? And from 1876 she also served as Empress of India. 

The answers could lead to many hours of research, so here are a few facts just for fun: 
  • She was an only child, reared by a single mother. And she herself became a single mother. 
  • She stood barely 5 feet tall, but developed a girth of perhaps 50 inches over the years.  
  • Her tutor and mentor was Lord Melbourne, who also was her first prime minister. 
  • In 1840 she married Albert, Prince of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to whom she proposed.
  • She and Albert had 9 children, 4 boys and 5 girls. 
  • She was a hemophilia carrier and passed the condition to her son Leopold who died at 31. 
  • Two of her daughters were hemophilia carriers. They passed it to Spanish, German and Russian royal families. 
  • When Albert died in 1861 she went into seclusion for many years, neglecting royal duties. 
  • By the mid 1870's she began to participate more actively again.
  • By her Golden Jubilee in 1887 she had fully returned to her earlier popularity. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014


An imaginary place where life is perfect. Each person's would be unique. What would yours look like?

Here's what the site of mine might look like:

More important, how would it feel? What would I do each day? Who would share my utopia with me? Each person would answer those questions differently.

Look the word up and you'll find descriptions of peaceful societies or communities governed by rules that treat all members fairly, often with communal living arrangements. This wistful notion has roots in the lost Garden of Eden and the Golden Age of Greek mythology, and is reinvented in every period when men dream of a different and better life. Sometimes in various countries they even try to create it.

Keep reading and learn of American "utopian communities" that failed. I have visited the remnants of several: a Shaker village in Massachusetts, the Amana colonies in Iowa, and New Harmony, Indiana. Most are now gone or museum sites, some on the National Historic Register.

But a new effort is under way. In August, 2013, the Huffington Post published an artricle describing nine "alternative modes of living" which are open to new members:  9 Utopias That Really Exist

They are located in several countries with six in continental US, one in Hawaii, a group of 25 "elevated structures" in Costa Rica, and the incredible modernistic city New Songdon in South Korea on Incheon Bay. It is built from scratch, like Dubai, and scheduled for completion in 2015! It's a "far cry" from any in the past, but Who Knows? Maybe this one will succeed:

Flickr: Nicolette_Mastangelo                  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


When I was a girl in the late '40s and early '50s that was something one did by car, train, bus and rarely airplane. It was usually "how you got somewhere" to visit friends or family, or perhaps on business. Then something happened, and today it is an "activity". Like shopping. When I was a girl you "went shopping" when you needed something. Now it's the favorite activity of many women I know, and virtually all the younger women in my family.

For me shopping is still a chore to be avoided unless I desperately need something, and then to get it over with as soon as possible. I do not like it. Travel, on the other hand, has become a passion. When I was a girl I loved "travelogues"of places I could never hope to visit. Now I can visit any place I like, and I do. It's a luxury and pure pleasure.

I still go by car anywhere in the US because I like the freedom of having little or no schedule. When I retired I spent two and a half years touring the US and parts of Mexico in a motor home, towing a small car and carrying a bicycle. (All my belongings were in storage, and an accountant paid my bills.) At every stop I stayed until the options for exploring were exhausted or until I lost interest. When I got to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I liked it so much I stayed for five years!

Later I went on several trips with a small tour company to places in the US, Canada, and Switzerland, utilizing planes, ships, trains, and buses. I traveled the ocean by freighter, stopping in several South American countries and transitting the Panama Canal twice, once at night, once during the day. I toured New Zealand by going around the South Island by ship, visiting a few islands as we went, and stopping in various ports to explore by bus and afoot.

I spent time in England with friends who live north of London, traveled in Russia by waterway between Moscow and St Petersburg stopping at many places between. I spent a few days in Sydney, Australia, after the New Zealand trip. I took a Mediterraean cruise based on travel from port to port at night and tours on land during the day. We spent time Spain, France, Italy, and several major Islands.

                                                      Nova Scotia - one of my favorite places                                   
                                         Halifax Dock                             Halifax Train Station                                    

I haven't decided where to go next. It may be Alaska, the only state I have not visited. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sierra Nevada (aka What's in a Name?)

In Spanish the word sierra can refer either to "mountain range" or to "saw". That double meaning is known as "disambiguation" (a new word for me), but let's not go there! We are interested in a mountain range, and translate Sierra Nevada in the western US as the "Nevada Mountain Range".

But wait - we're not done. Nevada in Spanish means "snowfall" or "snow clad" in English. So the full meaning of Sierra Nevada is roughly "Snow-Covered Mountain Range". I think that is beautiful. (If Spanish-speaking readers are cringing I hope they will put a correction in the comments.)

That's the end of the cultural vocabulary lesson. I set out to write a little something about what I call the Sierra Nevadas but immediately ran into all that information. I share it with you because I feel that knowing the "back story" of anything adds a dimension.

So "without further ado" I introduce the Kiersarge Pinnacles of the Sierra Nevada, named for the 1861 Civil War vessel USS Kearsarge, which was named for Mt Kearsarge in New Hampshire. 

There are dozens of pictures showing the beauty of the range, but I was drawn to the one above for its eerie "other-worldly" feel. For geographical interest as well as beauty some examples are . . .

         Mt Whitney, highest peak in the range            and                    Yosemite Valley  

The mountain range encompasses a vast area of land, much of it owned by the Federal government. It includes 3 national parks and 2 national monuments, plus many towns and communities such as Carson City, South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, Grass Valley, Mammoth Lakes, Sonora, Nevada City, and Portola.

* * * * * * * * * *

Finally, a bit of geologic history:  20 million years ago there was major volcanic activity in this area. (Granite from that period is visible in places.) After millions of years, a crust began to form which tilted slowly westward. Rivers cut deep canyons on both sides, some of which filled with lava, and over time eroded to "table mountains".

Then the earth began cooling. Glaciers carved out U-shaped canyons, while the tilting or "uplift" never ceased. The result is two opposing forces of nature, invisible to us but forever reshaping the landscape. This uptilt makes an especially dramatic view on the eastern side as seen in the "Sierra Escarpment" below.  Measurable only with scientific instruments, the relentless movement is often responsible for today's earthquakes.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Getty Images has 82 pages of rainbows so the choice was hard but very enjoyable.  

When I lived in Santa Fe there was one in the western sky each day around 5 pm above Los Alamos in the Jemez Mountains. Sometimes there was a pair. But if you want to read something poetical about the beauty of a rainbow you're in the wrong place. My nature is more scientific, so here you'll get as brief an explanation as possible.

A "rainbow" occurs when sunlight shines on and interacts with drops of water. The keys are that . . .
  • Rain and sunshine must be in different parts of the sky, 
  • The observer is between the rain and the sunshine, and 
  • The angle of light hitting the raindrops is between 40 and 42 degrees. 
When those requirements are met each raindrop will be refracted to produce one color, slightly different from all the rest. Together those millions of raindrops produce a rainbow in its well-known cascading shades.  That's all there is to it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Growing Our Food: P Is For Peas

Growing Our Food: P Is For Peas - an AtoZ First

I just visited this interesting blog on AtoZ. It offers something I've not seen before: a way to post its address to my own blog. I tried it and this is the result.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


The feathered serpent of ancient Mexico was a main god in Mesoamerica for most of the 15th century. But when the first Spaniards arrived in 1519 their leader Hernan Cortes, in his shining armor and plumed helmet, looked like the Mexicans had imagined their god. So they revered him and welcomed his army, thus sealing the fate of their civilization. 

Here is how the ancient Aztecs carved Quetzalcoatl in stone.

This is how we imagine him today from descriptions the ancients left us.

Knowing the story of the god and the sad mistake by the ancient Mexicans I was eager to visit Chichen Itza when in Mexico to see the famous Mayan pyramid and surroundings. Despite a miserable ride in a bouncing bus and the relentless heat I was not disappointed: 

The history and myths are too long and complicated for this post. So if you are not familiar with them I suggest a little internet research. I guarantee you will enjoy the journey to ancient times and culture.

Wikipedia has a very nice summary to get you started:  Wikipedia on Quetzalcoatl  I recommend this because so many sites about this myth are meager or have copyright requirements. This one has lots of good information and splendid pictures.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Parliamentary Procedure or Prior Authorization - Your Choice


Did you know that many decisions about our public lives are made with the help of this complex set of rules? That's because most governing bodies have something called "bylaws" - from the US Congress to giant corporations, from state and city governments to school boards, charitable organizations and even volunteer groups. If fact, they couldn't get anything done without them because they set out the procedures or "rules of order" by which they run all their meetings.

Those "rules of order" are known as "parliamentary procedure". They describe in exhaustive detail how to discuss issues and take action, and as we all know "the devil is in the details"- hundreds and hundred of details in this case. The few people who know many of them and how to quickly look up the rest are called parliamentarians. They serve as consultants at many meetings and conferences, and at very important gatherings they are paid well.

Why did I choose this topic? Because I belong to an organization that studies parliamentary rules and how to use them. It also prepares members to become Registered Parliamentarians or even Professional Registered Parliamentarians, the highest level of certification.

The next question is "Why did I join"? To learn how to be a better contributor when I serve on a committee or a board. I am often in those situations and always realize I don't know enough about the procedure to do a good job. I have even refused leadership roles where I might have done some good because I felt so inadequate.

So when I moved to the Detroit area I reconnected with an old friend who belongs and she suggested I might like it. I took her advice, and after two years I have learned a lot but cannot say I have improved much. The body of knowledge is incredible, and I still feel like "a stranger in a strange land". I contribute to the group in support positions: I managed the purchase and sales of educational materials and maintain our webpage and Facebook page. I even set up a Twitter account. All that may be useful but it's just what I already know how to do. Plus, I enjoy these things and improve at them and I'm appreciated because few people want to take them on.

The surprising result: Although I have made little progress with parliamentary procedure I have made peace with who I am. I have learned to be content as one who "leads by supporting". Meanwhile I continue to work on becoming a parliamentarian. Perhaps I'll even find a new way to lead.


Here's an opportunity for some advocacy and/or activitism involvement. Remember my first post? Take a look if you are new here or need a refresher:  A is for Activisim and Advocacy

Now check out my lonely blog on Prior Authorization:  PA Issues  Notice the start date: August 2013. That was many months ago, and the only response is so suspect that I may delete it. The lack of interest is probably because I'm a novice blogger, which tells me I should upgrade my blogging skills if I want to make a difference as an advocate or activist. (That's why I joined AtoZ Challenge. )

Here's my suggestion for you:
  • If you have ever had to fight a Prior Authorization to get a prescription filled I'd love to have you share your experience on my blog.  
  • And if you would like to join me in trying to fight that system, let me know. 



Oligarchy: Government by a small group of people, 
usually wealthy. 

Now that is a broadly descriptive term!

By itself it is neither positive nor negative. It is simply a statement of fact - or is it? Start defining the words. Then compare them to our US Constitution and Bill of Rights, and you may start to wonder: Who has the real power? Is that good and lawful? Does it improve our lives?

Does the word just restate an old adage "Money talks."? It appears to buy public office, as in "Whoever can afford the most TV ads usually wins the election." That makes it a handy epithet in a political dog-fight. Or maybe it's more than that. Perhaps it describes a situation that needs to be changed.

Cartoonists have loved the word in the past, and the current political situation in the US seems to offer an opportunity to revive it.


Think about the word and the coming mid-term elections. Is there any relationship? And don't forget, the presidential race is just two years away with the incumbent ineligible for re-election. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Northville, My Home Town

This village of 2,500 people in sourthwest Michigan is located in huge Wayne County which also contains Detroit. Northville's first "land patent" is dated in 1823, placing it 30 miles from Detroit - a journey of three days. Now it takes a half hour for my son to drive from his Northville bakery to suppliers in Detroit.

Great Harvest Bakery Northville, my son's busines.

I moved here 3 years ago after 10 years of visiting from my home in Ohio. I could not resist the double lure of the town's old-fashioned charm and my growing family, so I found an 1893 house just ten minutes' walk from my son's bakery in the tiny "down-town".

Northville is in the northwest corner of Wayne County, the largest in Michigan. It covers 614 square miles, 2/3 the size of Luxembourg at 998 square miles. (It is larger than six other European countries including Vatican City.) It holds several townships, each containing other suburbs, as well as Detroit Metro Airport which covers 11 square miles according to the 2010 census - likely more today. 

For some wonderful tours of Detroit and the area click here: Video Tours  And for more personal views of Wayne County and some current issues you can visit another of my blogs: Mary in Michigan

To whet your appetite, here are some great stills:        


                      Part of Detroit's Reality Today: Ambassador Bridge to Canada       


International Freedom Festival, June 2008

I did not realize when I came to live here that my two feet would would be firmly planted in different eras, with 200 years between! Our news contains a jumble of information about Detroit's looming bankruptcy and related lack of public services, the auto industry's resurgence, third-world conditions in the "inner city", and exciting programs of the arts and culture. Not to mention weekly community events from concerts to marches to races, all usually with fireworks over the river.

It's a fascinating place to live, in the middle of "the action" yet as far from it as one can get. For details and pictures of some of it I invite you to visit my personal journal at MARY in Michigan

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Life does not last forever. It's a gift I took for granted when I was young, then struggled through during busy adult years. Now in retirement I am learning to appreciate it. I have tried many approaches and I found the right one just a few years ago. It is based on the style of meditation taught in Shambhala Buddhism, but it does not require that one embrace Buddhism itself.

When I stumbled onto this "practice" as it is called it seemed at once to be sensible and well suited to life in today's difficult and complex world. Instead of "study" I absorb guides for living called Slogans, focusing on one or more each day. It's a lifetime journey with no urgency and no expectation of reaching some goal. There is no punishment for failure nor limit to the times one can start over. It's a simple yet profound way to "get along with other people" as a prominent contemporary teacher puts it.

Another way I remind myself how to deal with life is to listen to this chant. It never fails to focus me when things get messy and I don't like myself, maybe because music is so important in my life.

If you have time to listen to even a part of this, do read the words - at least on the first few frames. It takes some effort because the print is fuzzy, but they are clear in later frames and bring the chant to life. They illustrate beautifully the "loving kindness" that is the meditation's goal.

Monday, April 14, 2014


Coming soon,
Spring, deer.
Green, hot, breeze.
Crimson, brown.


The reader will see that the pictures below are the same as those in the slide show above. That's because I'd like to know which sort of viewing you prefer. If you plan to leave a comment, please tell me your preference.  Thanks, Mary


Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Kremlin

My tour of Moscow's Kremlin was the highlight of my visit to Russia. That might not have been the case had it received broader publicity in the US media, but with only dark and dreary images in my mind I was unprepared for its brilliant beauty. The month was May and we were the first tourists of the season, so flowers were freshly in bloom and everything sparkled with sunshine and color. It was glorious!

The Kremlin is a heavily walled fortress whose origins date to 1147. Construction and expansion continued until the end of the fifteenth century when today's complex was completed.  

Because of its situation walled in on the hill it is hard get a picture of the Kremlin except from the air, but this one is pretty good. Look hard and you will see a section of wall running behind a small gold "onion dome" about 2/3 of the way down in the center. 

The picture below it is taken from outside that part of the wall looking up at it. A tall green steeple with a red star on top is in both pictures and will help you orient orient yourself. 

The view bellow is from outside the wall as we approached it in line, awaiting our tour. (Notice again the green steeple with the red star atop.) Of course we were there during the day, but it's a better angle to get a feeling for the wall.

From the Moskova River one gets a sense of the size of the complex, and again how colorful it is. And all around it is that wall. On the other side, out of sight, is Red Square. Also very colorful, and much smaller than it seems in pictures. I thought of those black and white news films years ago of apparently endless rows of Russian soldiers marching with row upon row of tanks. Surely there was not enough space for all that!

"The Moscow Kremlin, sometimes referred to as simply the Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the South), Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square (to the East) and the Alexander Garden (to the West). It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes five palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation."
 Getty Images. 

And finally, a look inside: "Standing in the center of the Kremlin in Moscow viewing the Cathedral of the Assumption and The Ivan the Great Bell Tower on a beautiful afternoon." Getty Images

Putin's flag was flying on the official residence as we strolled among the buildings and into these cool dim cathedrals. I fantasized him looking out the window at us, perhaps wondering what these Americans thought of his beautiful Kremlin.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jade, not Just for Jewelry

Most Beautiful and Perhaps most Versatile of All Minerals.

I love jade. I have just three pieces, a bangle (bracelet carved entirely from one piece of jade), an intricately carved pendant (very special gift) and one earring. They are my treasures and I hope to add to them one day. 

This plentiful, carvable substance is simply a rock, not just one ornamental rock but two silicate minerals: nephrite and jadeite. From there it gets complicated, but it's enough to know that jade in one form or another has been treasured and carved since prehistoric times. Its uses vary from ornaments to knives, bowls to animal figures, and there are even a few complete buildings made of jade. 

Although ancient jade relics are found on virtually every continent much of what we know about its early use comes from China. And despite this widespread appearance in earliest times Wikipedia has only sparse information about it. Other sources tell us that the history of jade in China goes back to the Neolithic period, about 5000 BC, where it became an integral part of the culture itself. It was valued not only for its beautiy but was likened to every possible virtue. That was detailed explicitly in teachings of Confcius and thus became a permanent part of the culture.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Yes, all those stones are jade. It's not just green. It is found in virtually every color possible.

Jade can be carved into the most intricate and delicate designs and figures imaginable.
Those below are from China.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Now that I understand the legality of using pictures from the internet I was disappointed to find that I could not share the best with you. 

So I recommend an internet tour of sites about jade in different countries. In addtion to fascinating information, I think you will enjoy seeing such finds as the primitive Pre-Columbian carvings from South America, delightfully sophisticated ones by Maoris in New Zealand, and surprisingly beautiful creations from Russia - including lots of skulls from Siberia. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


There's a lot going on with that little 3-letter word! This will be fun.

Let's start with frosting a cake or cookies, also known as "icing" them. (Can you tell I'm hungry?) I haven't had breakfast but picked up a coffe at the bakery. There I stoically bypassed those fresh, beautifully ICED cookies and cupcakes! sigh (That's the truth.) Gotta move along fast so I don't talk myself into heading back to the bakery. It's a lovely spring morning and a short walk - now wouldn't that be nice? NO!!

Colloquially, people often refer to putting something "on ICE" when they want to postpone it. It's easy to see where that probably comes from. Many things spoil if they aren't kept cool so I guess it's a metaphor. (If you're a a serious grammarian please correct me.)

And TV hitmen now refer to "ICING" a victim. That seems to be replacing "offing" which I preferred. Icing sounds so cold-blooded vs offing which seemed gentler and more polite. Maybe it's a matter of political correctness.

* * * * * * * 

Now let's consider the case of "DRY ICE".  For starters, it's not ice at all. It's the solid form of the gas carbon dioxide. It shares the main feature of "wet ice", the solid form of water, but that's about their only similarity: both preserve frozen foods and other products that must be kept cool or frozen. 

Dry ice can do many things that wet ice cannot, and it has a huge advantage: it leaves no residue when returning to its original state as a gas, while wet ice leaves water behind when it thaws. That's because carbon dioxide has no liquid state. It goes directly from solid (frozen) to gas. (Think of the ruinous floods that sometimes follow a spring thaw.) 

But wet ice has only a couple of minor advantages over dry ice: There's no risk of quick frostbite when handling wet ice as there is with dry ice. And the average person can easily produce and store ice cubes at home whereas dry ice must usually be purchased elsewhere from a producer or distributor. 

A few of the many uses for dry ice: 
  • Blast cleaning - major industrial use! 
  • Arrest and/or prevent insect activity in containers of grains and their products. 
  • Create fog via machines in theaters and other venues for dramatic effect. 
  • Capture mosquitoes, bedbugs and other pests. 
  • Loosen asphalt floor tiles for construction purposes. 
  • Various scientific lab procedures. 
Good news:  Space exploration has revealed that the polar caps on Mars are made entirely of dry ice!  
Serious Risk:  Great care should be taken when using dry ice to avoid frostbite on any exposed body surface as well as the risk of hypercapnia, a lung condition that can lead to death. 

* * * * * * *

Now for my favorite part of this post - sharing with you a breathtaking video of ice caves in Alaska's Mendenhall Glacier. Taken by drone just a few weeks ago, it portrays a journey that no human will ever take. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I love reading Haiku, and occasionally I write a bit of it. Like the one below:

Birth, birthday presents
Birthday past, birthday future
Birthday absent

That more or less lives up to the "rules" which are really broad guidelines. They explain the basic Haiku structure and stimulate creativity with simple suggestions. As I have come to understand it, the heart of Haiku is a brief and tightly woven word-play composed of the distillation, connection and contrast inherent in a single idea. To me a good one shines like a precious jewel and makes me think "yes". One that is not so good makes me frown and wonder.

Here's how it's done, distilled from sources I liked:

  • Length: 14 syllables maximum
  • Shape: 3 lines, the last line is often a "surprise" 
  • Subject: a poignant experience, observation, or feeling expressed in two contrasting ways
  • Seasonal reference: overt or implied
  • Implication: how the senses perceive the subject
  • Mode: show, don't tell or explain

For me it's a bit addictive, probably because I see it as a game and I love figuring out how to win. It's not the winning I like. It's uncovering the game behind the game, the secrets that enable one to control it or to win. (I realize what that tells you about me. But I think I have good qualities, too.) 

There you have it! It's deceptively simple. But if you are intrigued by the idea of unmasking the inscrutable just search the internet on Haiku or writing Haiku or anything similar and have some fun. 

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Returning to the top of the page I see that I didn't do very well. Some rainy day this summer, when A to Z is over and my yard is in good shape, I'll try to rewrite it. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


There are flower gardens, vegetable gardens, kitchen gardens, and truck gardens. We all know about flower, vegetable and kitchen gardens even if we aren't gardeners. But what grows in a "truck garden"? Surely not trucks.

Truck garden is just another name for a "market garden" where vegetables are grown to be sold locally, often in local "farmers' markets". Because freshness is a requirement and the produce is often perishable it is "trucked" to market as soon as possible after picking. Hence the nineteenth century name which is seldom heard these days. But the practice is alive and well, even growing in some places. Many of us still scurry down as early as possible on market days to get the best berries or veggies, knowing they'll be picked over if not completely gone by 9 or 10 a.m.

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I know very little about gardening of any kind, but that's my current project, which is why I included it in the challenge. It gives me a chance to articulate my ideas and research as I develop my hopes for this summer.

I call these "hopes, not "plans" because I called them plans last year and never got beyond the hoping stage. There are two areas behind my house where I want to plant something attractive that requires little care. Choosing the right plants was the purpose of yesterday's post on Flowers.

Behind my garage there is a 20 x 20 foot area that is lumpy, with buried concrete chunks and a lot of clay and weeds. It needs to be evened out and a layer of good dirt laid down. Farther back is another plot the same size on which stood a cottage until recently.


It was charming but unstable, and the cost to repair it was too high. Some buried trash remains to be removed and the whole area smoothed out. There's black dirt which will be fine for planting. 

Here's the back yard layout, not to scale but it gives a good sense of proportion. One plot for attention is between the Garage and "Ret wall" (retaining wall with a white picket fence on it). The other is below the label Retaining Wall on the layout where the cottage was.

Here is how the yard looked last summer with the cottage intact. The garage is on the left, white picket fence behind it on the retaining wall, labeled "Ret wall" in the layout above. The lower left area below the label "Retaining Wall" is where the cottage stood. (See it way in the back.) 

It's clear from the picture above that there is lots traditional gardening area which I do easily, but I can't add to it the preparation, planting and maintenance of the two new areas. They need to be "plowed" with something motorized, and the one between the garage and picket fence also needs a load of dirt laid. It's time to have that done and I think I have the man for the job. I hope to schedule him in the next few days and I'll report on that as a PS on this post.

Monday, April 7, 2014


This is the first of two posts on the topic of planting my back yard. Tomorrow's post describes the areas to be planted and plans for preparation. Today's post explores choices for planting 800 square feet in two plots, after the ground is prepared.

The first step was to find my "hardiness zone for flowers". That turned out to be 6a (south-east Michigan), but already judgment was called for. Our winters (like the one just past) can be fairly harsh and long, so I think hardier zone 5 plants would be better.

I always loved Cosmos and think they would look great in my two empty spaces:

But when I checked the zone it turns out they need a warmer climate. Plus, they are annuals, and I already have a lot to do so prefer perennials. But I also love Foxglove, Lupine, Salvia and Snapdragons. Wouldn't a group like this be grand?

Well, that might be overdoing it, but at least I have some suitable names to research in the greenhouse. 


Next I reviewed some types of ground cover for my zone. I have always admired ornamental grasses so they were the first. Some can grow to 4 feet, but 18 inches seems about right for me. That would be Pampas Grass, another of my favorites. And Miscanthus would be good, too.



I considered vines, but they are too flat and take too long to cover. But the plants below might work. They are flowering perennials that spread to hug the ground.


Very hardy perennials which also make great jam. Worth considering!

Such a lot to choose from and truly not much time.  Stay tuned - 

Suggestions are welcome in Comments below. Thanks for visiting and helping me think through this. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Everest, the Earth's Highest Mountain

This is the ultimate mountain, the nearest we can come to the heavens while keeping our feet firmly planted on the earth. Created 50 million years ago when India crashed into the Eurasian Plate, it is still growing. Yes, at 29,0235 feet above sea level (measured in 1953) it is still growing! 

Since 1852, when it was first identified as the world's highest mountain, there have been those who were obsessed with the idea of standing on its summit. In 1921 the forbidden kingdom of Tibet opened its borders to outsiders so climbing became possible, and in 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine lost their lives in what may have been a successful climb. But not until 1953 was there a recorded success by Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay.   

Everest's ancient Tibetan name is Chomolungma, or Qomolangma, meaning Goddess Mother of the World or Goddess the Third. Jamling Tenzing Norgay, son of Hillary's famous guide to the summit, describes the ways in which the mountain still gives meaning to the lives of the local people both spiritually and by providing the environmental elements which sustain them.

As you will learn later, travel is the ultimate variety for me. So would my ultimate trip be one to Earth's highest mountain? The "ultimate ultimate". Probably not. 

For me travel is about discovery and growth, delight in the unknown and unexpected, and the pleasure of seeing things through the eyes of those I meet along the way. I think a trip even to the foot of that mountain would be all about perseverance and endurance. I might not even make it that far. It's true that I would experience all the joys of travel I just listed, but it's a trip I would not anticipate with pleasure. Why? What is the difference? 

Perhaps the difference is the focus. Everest would always be the focus - before, during and after the trip. The focus would be intense, leaving room for little else and thereby narrowing my world-view. That's just a guess, but the idea seems to run contrary to the excitement I feel when I set out on an adventure. I feel relaxed, eager for whatever comes, savoring the lack of a plan. And that is the opposite of a life-threatening trip up the mountain which must be thoroughly planned and rehearsed. I'll enjoy pictures and fascinating prose! 

So what does draw people to make the journey or even the climb part-way up to Base Camp? Some are adventurers and this is a unique experience. Some are forever testing their own limits, and this is an incredible challenge. Some want to achieve recognition as the "first" of something - first woman, first Canadian, or whatever. For others it's a spiritual quest. And George Mallory, who died on his third attempt, said he climbed simply because it was there. 

If you are captivated by this great natural creation, you may enjoy the following: 

Incredible video of climbers at the top


Friday, April 4, 2014

Digging for Diamonds (and Information)

I have wanted to know more about diamonds ever since I saw the 2006 film Blood Diamonds. It's a movie well worth seeing if you are concerned about the human condition in other parts of the world. And you know I am if you have read my first post - A is for Activism and Advocacy.

As modern Americans our first thought when diamonds are mentioned is likely to be of jewelry. We may even be aware that because of their hardness they are used in industry for cutting and grinding. But that does it for me. So I was surprised to learn that we can document their use in India for religious icons as far back as 3,000 years and possibly 6,000 years!

Wikipedia has a huge amount of information about diamonds, starting with how nature creates them:
  • They are made from carbon-containing minerals ... 
  • ... under high pressure at a depth of 87 to 118 miles beneath the earth's surface. (Note: It is 3,818 miles from the earth's surface to its center.) 
  • The process takes 1 billion to 3.3 billion years. 
If that's not a show-stopper I don't know what is!

So how did those ancient Indians find them? Without history to tell us we can assume that volcanic eruptions brought them to the surface where they would ultimately have have been found by accident. We can guess that they might, then, have dug at those sites hoping to find more.

Mining diamonds continues to this day, with about half the annual production coming from Africa. Unfortunately the conditions there are brutal, resultng in humanitarian efforts to improve them. The film Blood Diamonds is a part of that ongoing effort.

Open-pit diamond mine in Kimberley, South Africa - the largest hole excavated by hand

About 57,300 pounds of diamonds are mined world-wide annually, only half of which are gem quality. But the remainder is not enough to meet industrial demand so we have learned to make them in a high-pressure high temperature process to fill that need! For at least fifty years we have been creating industrial grade varieties in laboratories, and recently even began manufacturing gem quality.

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"Digging" for this bit of information to share with you led me inevitably to unearth much more on the topic. (I'm not finished yet.) At the same time I also acquired a new skill which every blogger should know about: how to illustrate a post both legally and free. This article explains: 7-places-find-usable-images-online

I discovered that on Twitter which is fast becoming my favorite source of news and information. Until now I have either linked to articles and pictures on other sites (that's OK) or copy/pasted them into my posts (that's not OK unless I'm using my own writing or pictures). The picture above is my first free and legal image thanks to Getty Images, Free for online use - Search Royalty Free Images  That's 35 million pictures, nicely catalogued for easy topic hunting! I hope this will be helpful for you, too.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Culinary Historians

By now everyone has heard of Julia Child, that tall lady with a passion for food who brought French cuisine to American kitchens. I think she would have great fun with today's foodies. And she surely would have loved her 100th birthday party despite the Michigan heat of an August day in 2012. That was just one of many events regularly hosted by the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor (CHAA).

A cardboard Julia Child surveys the many dishes prepared in honor of her 100th birthday by the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. With a yellow 'Julia Child' rose.
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor

Until recently I had not heard of "culinary historians". Nor could I have imagined the passion such a calling could generate. That was before my introduction to CHAA. The program on my first visit was a lecture about The Egg! Did you know there are many similarities between human and chicken reproductive systems? That was just the first of many startling and fascinating facts presented that day. And our lecturer was so knowledgeable and entertaining that after the Q&A members followed him to his car with more questions!

There's even a blog written by an Atlanta nutritional anthropologist (another unusual field of study) - The Culinary Historian. Dig a little deeper and you will find whole sections in some libraries devoted to food preparation and consumption dating back as far as the Greeks and Romans. A fine example is our own University of Michigan Clements Library's archive. There a small and devoted volunteer staff works tirelessly to gather and catalog information relating to American culinary history, as well as presenting the occasional program.

And speaking of "the spice of life",  according to a recent lecture it was spices from the East that literally made life bearable for the Greeks and Romans. Theirs was a "fragrant" existence without plumbing or many other waste disposal conveniences that we take for granted. To counteract that situation they regularly dispatched fleets of ships and land-based caravans to the Orient to procure for them huge quantities of rich spices. This vast and steady traffic resulted in the creation of a whole system of enterprise and travel along routes still in use today.

FLASH  This just in, a new book compiled in part by going through Lincoln's grocery bills:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


B is also for buff, film buff that is. That's me.

The movie Brigadoon came out in 1954 when I was a freshman in college. It was based on the Alan Jay Lerner Broadway musical of the same name and featured a fine cast and many of Lerner & Loew's best songs. Dated as the film is by today's standards I still have fond memories of the story and music.

This is a whimsical love story set in a misty version of a long ago time. It plays to our desire for the unattainable, to remain forever young and in love. No wonder it was so popular in that post-Korea era!

Because I studied German literature I noticed a similarity to the German story Germelshausen by Gerstacker. That, in turn, was based on the ancient tale of a town that falls under an evil enchantment and disappears, reappearing for just one day each century. Like the town, the story keeps resurfacing, so we must be due for a new version. I can't wait to see how it is treated in today's idiom!

The obvious and comforting point here (for some!) is that however much civilization may "improve" us over the centuries, in our hearts we humans remain the same.

Several of the Brigadoon songs were long-runing hits in the day. My favorite is sung here by Frank Sinatra. We girls were all in love with him, and our mothers were convinced that all that "swooning" and screaming was terribly unhealthy for us. (Adolescent females then were pretty much like today's.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Activism and Advocacy

You'll propbably agree that this is a heavy opener for a blog about the "spice of life". If you dropped in to be titillated I apologize! In the future I'll take a lighter hand, but this is a day for reflection. It's a day to contemplate my own good fortune compared to the lives of so many others, and to ponder ways I might make a difference for some of those others.

I find it hard to be playful when 239 people on a 777 airplane are lost over the ocean, when Syria has become a nation of refugees, and the Central African Republic is a literal death camp. Equally distressing is awareness of the plight of many right here in Wayne County, Michigan, USA.

The differences between my life and theirs keep nagging me, urging me to seek ways to address that difference. That's where Activism and Advocacy come in. I won't spend a lot of time "word-smithing", but I need some tools to help me find ways to be involved. Advocacy is aligning oneself with an issue or idea, then working within its structure to raise awareness and work toward improvement. Activism is more "impatient. It usually operates outside an established structure to initiate steps toward quick change, often in confrontational ways.

As an experienced "organization person" I'm looking for a suitable advocacy group. I know my capabilities and limitations, so when I find something that appeals to me I'll know where I might fit in.

The Devil is in the Details  Important aspects of the "right" organization:
  • It will probably be a non-profit, perhaps an NGO (non-governmental organization). 
  • There will be lots of "grunt work" where I can start with little training.  
  • There may be some pay, however small. (I don't know if that is possible.) Volunteering is noble, but after contributing hundreds of hours since "retiring" I know that burnout and lack of respect are inevitable no matter how good the cause.  Even a little pay would make up for the loss of personal time and inevitable failures.  
For practical advice I reviewed  Everything You Need to Know About Working for a Non-Profit.

Ready, Set, Go . . . 

That's my plan. I am searching the internet for suitable groups and I'll report to you under various letters in this blog. Whatever else I post you can be sure I'll be working on this project "in background".

Oh, yes - if you have any suggestions for me to look into please put them into comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

I'll see you later,