Saturday, May 20, 2017

Raising strong women and my father's contribution to that

I sometimes wonder if my father knew what he was doing when he sat at the dinner table together with me after dinner, discussing the world news and debating with me about different topics of interest. I was a teenager at that time, in high school, and we did much of the same in our history and sociology classes. So it only felt natural to extend this behavior to the home arena. It was considered a sign of intelligence to be interested in society, in politics, in the life around you. It was considered a sign of intelligence to have a reasoned opinion about some of the important events that were happening around us, and important to impart that opinion in a reasonable manner. I credit my father with teaching me that it was important to use your brain, to use logic, to use reason, in order to argue and debate with others. He was no fan of the bully approach, and would probably have coined the phrase ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ if it hadn’t already been coined before him. He was a great reader, as I’ve written about in this blog before. An intelligent man, an intellectual, a peace-loving man who was uncomfortable with raw conflict. He had served in WWII and lived to tell about it. I know he was proud to have served his country, but he was no war-monger. When the Watergate scandal broke, he and I watched the drama unfold on TV and watched the Watergate hearings (1973-74) together. We discussed it all, from all sides. His requirement for discussions and debates was that we used logic and reason, not just feelings, to present our opinions. He was not the kind of man that tolerated utterances such as ‘he’s an asshole’ or ‘what a jerk’ as interesting contributions to a discussion, even though we both might have felt that way about certain politicians at the time. And so I learned from him that discussion, debate and even arguments had their place in daily life. Conflict and differences of opinion were part of life; it was how you handled them that mattered. He was not perfect, and even he at times could opine about his feelings rather than his thoughts on certain matters. Then I reminded him of what he had taught us. He was not afraid to tell me when my arguments didn’t hold water, and that infuriated me, enough so that I could storm away from the dining room table, but I retreated and did my homework and came back stronger the next time. He wanted facts, logic, reason and a civil manner on top of it all. God love him for it. He helped to create strong, independent-thinking, and rational women (me and my sister) who are proud of their intelligence and talents. I think he did that because he knew what we would face in the world. I wish he was still alive, because I know he would have discussed the role of women with me now, in 2017, and how terrible it is that the current president and his cronies want to return women to a time when their opinions and wishes did not matter. He would have been appalled at the language that the president uses about women, and appalled that the world had come to this point where women were reduced to objects, to be abused and attacked, bullied and mocked. He would have deplored the state of the world in 2017.

I bring up my father because I believe the world needs more men like him. He was ahead of his time, in so many ways. He was one of the first men I knew who would absolutely have preferred to spend more time with his children and less time at the office. He had a good career as chief technical librarian for a number of companies, but he never brought his work home with him. He never spent evenings immersed in work projects that could wait until the next day. He never complained about how busy he was or how little time he had for everything. He was a family man and he made time for his family. His evenings were spent talking to us about the world, helping us with homework, and testing us in preparation for exams the next day. He and my mother bought me my first microscope set at one of the science fairs in our local grammar school. My father would patiently sit with me as we looked at slides of amoebas and diatoms together. He was as interested as I was in the natural world, but he could not keep up with me once I immersed myself in science as a career. But he was proud of me and proud of my endeavors. He called me at work once to tell me that he loved me, and I never forgot that. He would clip out articles from the newspaper and send them to me (my mother did the same)—science-related and literature-related. Because after science, it is world literature that interests me. That is in my genes from both my parents. My father was interested and involved in our lives and God bless him for it. If your father is the first man who teaches you about men, I’m glad that he was the man who taught me what a good man is. I used to tell him he was cute, and that made him happy—he would smile that little smile he had (my mother said he had a particular way of pursing his lips). I never left my parents’ house without telling them that I loved them. Because I knew that my father could disappear from my life at any moment due to his poor health. Unfortunately, I made my mistakes when it came to choosing men to share my life with, as have many others. A failed first marriage was the result. Even then, my father was supportive. I remember walking around our neighborhood, he with his cane to steady himself after a stroke he had had, and we talked about my unhappy marriage and what to do about it. He and I both knew that it would never improve. He understood what it would cost me to divorce my first husband, and he understood that my life would never be the same. Sadly, he didn’t live to witness my divorce nor did he get the chance to meet my current husband. But I know that he wished (and wishes) me well, in that universe of parallel lives where he lives now, perhaps as a healthy man. I hope so. I do know that he is still a loving one. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Very good article by New York Daily News writer Linda Stasi

Brainiac Miss USA Kara McCullough says some really idiotic things  by Linda Stasi

Very good article by Linda Stasi of The New York Daily News about nuclear scientist Kara McCullough who just became the winner of the Miss USA pageant. A pageant I care nothing about, just for the record; I agree with Ms. Stasi--an outdated pageant, part of the dinosaur era that should soon become extinct.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My photo of the Vikersund ski jumping hill was used on a Polish sports website

I found out recently that my photo of the Vikersund ski jumping hill was used on a Polish sports website. They even credited the photographer, me, which is not always the case. So I thank them for that and for using the photo. After all, I make my photography public and available for use, and it's a matter of trust--that you trust and hope that the people who use your photos will credit you. I make a special point out of doing so when I refer to or use other's photos.

Every now and then it's nice to see that some of the things you pour your heart and soul into, like my writing and photography, get noticed. Good karma. Thanks, universe!

Some reflections on the status of women on Mother's Day

I have been preoccupied with balance between the sexes since I was a teenager, with an atmosphere of mutual respect and love as the foundation of a relationship. Over forty years later, I don’t see much of it in modern society and I find that immensely disappointing. I watched the women in my mother’s generation raise their children and live within the constraints of the times they lived in (1950s-1960s). Most of them did not work outside the home, and the few that did (in my neighborhood) were considered to be unusual. There always had to be an excuse for why they worked—they needed extra money to help with the mortgage, or they needed to supplement their husband’s income if he was sick or on disability, etc. In addition, many of them took care of parents and other family members who were old or sick, respectively (unpaid work). Rarely was it considered that a woman, a wife, a mother, would want to work because she enjoyed working, because she wanted to put her education to use, because she wanted to contribute to progress in society in this way, because she wanted to give something back in the form of her intelligence, diligence and hard work. It was not considered that she might want to be a part of the process, might want to make a difference, and might want to matter. Wanting to work, to pursue a career had and has nothing to do with wanting to abandon her role as a wife and mother. It had and has to do with honoring herself and her unique talents.

I write this today, on Mother’s Day (in the USA), because I find it astounding that women haven’t come further in the USA than they have when it comes to childcare and working outside the home. I find it astounding that Europe is light-years ahead of the USA when it comes to federally-funded childcare centers. I find it astounding that we are still arguing about the importance of providing childcare for women in 2017 in the USA. I find it astounding that women still find that they need to defend themselves when they have children and want to work, whether part-time or full-time. It is not that they cannot work, no, there are jobs for them. Of course there are jobs for them; this is 2017. But there is still a limited support system in place to make it easier for them to do those jobs. So most of the women I know who raised their children during the past thirty years worked part-time or relied on family members to help them juggle it all. The few wealthy ones found nannies that they relied on while they pursued their careers. I am not going to argue for or against working full-time or pursuing a career for women who have children. I believe that feminism gives us the possibility of choice, and each person must choose wisely and live with her choice. But if women choose to work, then they should not be subjected to the subtle critical judgment that still exists—that she is a bad mother for wanting to leave her children and be part of the workplace. You might say that I am wrong, that this is not the case. But it is. Just take a look at the current president surrounded by his cronies who want to return the USA to a time when women had little or no say in society and in their relationships. They are white men of privilege who view women and children as their possessions and their trophies. Many of them behave like hypocritical banal evil men, not unlike many of the men in Hitler’s regime, who were married with their family lives intact while they broke up Jewish families and destroyed their lives. These men spout the importance of family values while doing exactly the opposite—they do what they want, when they want, and how they want. They promote a culture of attacks against women, they bully women, they diminish women (think Trump’s behavior toward most women he dislikes)--in short, they do not respect women, no matter what they say. They are not nice men. Some of them have been accused of spousal abuse (e.g. Steve Bannon So these are not men you would want your daughters to marry. These are men who purport to know what is best for women and children. These are men interested only in power, control, money and prestige; they cannot really love their wives or their children, because real love is not about controlling others or using them as trophies. If you are interested in controlling others, you do not love them. These kinds of men I simply cannot abide. I want nothing to do with them. I do not believe in dialoguing with them, because you will simply be shouted down, squished under their thumbs, bullied, diminished, disrespected, told you are stupid, dismissed, ignored, frozen out (in the workplace), told you are ‘too emotional’, too difficult. The list of abusive terms and behaviors is endless. These men should teach a course—How to keep women down. Even in the church, women’s roles are limited; men rule the roost. It simply has become boring to consider that old men in funny hats in Rome are telling us how to live our lives. While I respect the current Pope for his kindness and compassion for others, I have little use for the hierarchy of the church. I am more preoccupied with having a personal relationship with Christ. I remember back in the 1980s when I was young and foolish and didn’t grasp the depth of men’s power in the world, that I argued with a priest about the phrasing “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…..” There was so much emphasis on the first part of this statement when I was growing up, that wives should obey their husbands. I argued with the priest that the latter part of the statement was just as important, and that I had no interest in obeying a husband unless he loved me as Christ loved the church. That put an end to that discussion, since most men simply cannot hold a candle to Christ. I guess I could have been considered a smart-ass at that time; I say now—good. More power to me. But after a lifetime of fighting injustice toward women in the workplace, and there is plenty of it, I am tired. I am leaving it over to the next generation. You’ll find me in my garden now.

It is astounding that in 2017 that women are still subject to abusive behavior publicly and privately. I applaud the women who stand up against these men, who fight them, who challenge them, who sue them, who take them to court (e.g. for spousal abuse), who call out their behaviors. I applaud the women who do all these things while raising their families, working full-time, and taking care of aging parents. I applaud the women I know today, on Mother’s Day, because without them, the world would simply not be a place worth living in. But I believe that the time has come to take another route toward changing the world. I believe that women should turn their backs on the type of world many of these men stand for. They should not marry them, they should not have children with them, and they should ignore them. I hope the younger generation of women will find it in their power to defeat these kinds of men. I will support them even if I cannot lead them. I cannot wait for these dinosaurs to die out. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Stormy by Classics IV

There were two songs running through my head today; one I've already posted--Ship of Fools by World Party (for obvious reasons, given the current political farce in the USA that cannot lead to anywhere good). The other is Stormy by Classics IV (from 1968), also for obvious reasons, given that the weather in the middle of May resembles more like what one would see in mid-November. It even snowed today, to complete the dismal picture. I know the song is not about the weather, but it just popped into my head and the weather was the reason, especially one line of the lyrics "Bring back that sunny day". Please, weather gods, bring back the warm sun. Snow and chilly temperatures in mid-May don't do anything for me (or for anyone, for that matter). Or for the plants in my garden.

A relevant song for our times--Ship of Fools by World Party

Who knew? That a song from 1986 would foreshadow so much of what is happening in our world today, over thirty years later. It's a great song with such relevant lyrics, that I'm including here.

Ship of Fools   by World Party   (written by Karl Wallinger)

We're setting sail to the place on the map
from which no one has ever returned
Drawn by the promise of the joker and the fool
by the light of the crosses that burned.
Drawn by the promise of the women and the lace
and the gold and the cotton and pearls
It's the place where they keep all the darkness you need.
You sail away from the light of the world on this trip, baby.
You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You will pay tomorrow

Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools. No, no
Oh, save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
I want to run and hide right now

Avarice and greed are gonna drive you over the endless sea
They will leave you drifting in the shallows
or drowning in the oceans of history
Traveling the world, you're in search of no good
but I'm sure you'll build your Sodom like you knew you would
Using all the good people for your galley slaves
as you're little boat struggles through the warning waves, but you don't pay

You will pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow
You're gonna pay tomorrow

Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Save me. Save me from tomorrow
I don't want to sail with this ship of fools
Where's it comin' from?
Where's it goin' to now?
It's just a It's just a ship of fools

All aboard....

Friday, May 5, 2017

Peace is a garden

My idea of peace is a garden. My garden. It's not a secret garden, hidden behind a wall covered in ivy that conceals a hidden door. It is a community garden and we have each been allotted our own parcel of land. But it's what you do with that land that makes it 'your' garden. And if you like, you can make it as private or as open as you like. The community garden itself is contained within high fences with locks on the entrance gates; if we didn't have the fences and locked gates, you can bet there would be nightly visitors that would break in and steal what they could to make some small money (the gypsies have been accused of this). There were several break-ins during the past few months that are attributed to them. But there is no hard evidence of such. It's best not to store valuable items in the garden in order to discourage thieves.

You might think that having to worry about petty theft detracts from the overall experience of having the garden. You'd be wrong. I look forward to visiting my garden each day. It soothes my soul like nothing else. Abstinence is a good word to describe how it feels when I cannot go there on a daily basis--either too much to do at work or some other activity that takes priority. Up to now, it's fine that I haven't been there each day. But now that all the seeds are planted and the sown areas need water, I will be going there each afternoon or evening to water the planted areas. I cannot wait until I start to see growth. I planted tomatoes in large pots in the greenhouse, and small green seedlings are already starting to make their appearance. I feel responsible for them, that nothing happens to them. I also planted artichoke seeds in a container in the greenhouse, and am quite eager to see if they grow well. The greenhouse is nice and warm, but the daytime temperature can be quite high with the doors and windows closed. The temperature can be adjusted by opening the window to let in some cooler air. That will be quite useful and probably a frequent thing come summer.

I was in the garden during a late afternoon this past week. The sun was shining and it was probably close to about 5 pm. Still a lot of sunlight and warmth. I took some photos, and one in particular caught my eye. It's a lovely shot of the greenhouse, the garden, the lovely red tulips in the background, and the lovely yellow daffodils--a soothing combination of colors; in short, one of those lucky photos. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

This year's garden project--a greenhouse

I decided last year that I wanted to buy a greenhouse for the garden, and that setting it up would be this year's garden project. Our community garden allows greenhouses, but no larger than 3.4 square meters (about 37 square feet). Luckily, Plantasjen sold one that was exactly this size: ( It is now finished--assembled and functional. And yes, it was a project, a labor-intensive one, and one that I could not have accomplished without my husband's help, who patiently put most of it together, with my assistance. I thought there would be a lot more swearing during the whole process, but there wasn't. But would we do this again? Probably not. Some tips for those of you who might like to do the same: assembling a greenhouse requires two people; a good amount of time, say at least two to three days (unless you're pros--the manual is optimistic about the length of time it should take); it should be assembled on a sunny, non-windy, non-rainy day; it needs to be placed on level ground (a concrete foundation is recommended by many online garden sites, but we did not do this); and finally, the greenhouse has to be anchored in place so that a strong wind doesn't blow it away, as it doesn't weigh very much (at least if the windows and door panes are made of polycarbonate and not of glass, like ours). I am exploring different options for anchoring it, but at present have settled on large flat heavy stones that I have placed strategically on the stainless steel foundation framework inside the greenhouse. I also purchased and assembled two different bench/shelf systems from IKEA (the HINDÖ series: is a potting workbench with two drawers for holding tools and other useful objects, and one is a 3-shelf bench to place plants on. Both were fairly easy to assemble, and both can be bolted to the stainless steel framework of the greenhouse (another contribution to weighting it down). They are sturdy and well-made; each of them weighs circa 13 kg (28 lbs) . I also bought weed matting from Vida XL ( to cover the soil floor in order to keep weed growth down. We'll see if it does the trick.

I will say that it is nice to step into the warm greenhouse on a chilly blustery day. It seems to me already that it will provide the perfect conditions for growing plants from seed as well as for protecting plants that are very sensitive to temperature changes. It will be interesting to see how things develop this year. In any case, here are some photos of the greenhouse and the IKEA benches.

the measured area for the greenhouse

the walls are up

three-shelve plant bench


the finished greenhouse (weed matting not put down yet)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Questions I have for those who appoint leaders

  • Why is it that so many current leaders seem to have risen to the level of their incompetence?
  • Why are cowardice, silence in the face of tangible problems, and lack of honesty rewarded with appointments to key leadership positions?
  • Why are employees who tell the truth, give feedback, and inform about potential problems often pushed to the side, ignored or frozen out of the leadership pack?
  • Why is it necessary to resort to embarrassing lazy incompetent leaders in front of others in order to get them to do their jobs and to take responsibility?
  • Why is it necessary in 2017 to have to explain to leadership that infrastructure is important? That without a well-functioning IT infrastructure, you may as well work at home where the IT infrastructure is optimal (of course it is—you cannot keep up in society without updating your computers, software, phones, TVs). That without an annual stipend from one’s workplace to purchase consumables, little will get done because there is no money to buy necessary items.
  • Why is it necessary in 2017 to have to explain to research leadership that technical positions (research assistants) are alpha and omega in terms of getting things done in the lab? Why isn’t this a given, that a research group has automatic access to a full-time permanently-employed technician? Does leadership really think that senior research personnel are going to do all the lab work themselves, do all the procedures required for research projects, summarize all the data, perform statistical analyses, write articles, write grants, review others’ articles for journals (for free), review grants for national and international funding agencies (often for free or for a nominal payment), attend a plethora of (mostly pointless) meetings, act as mentors for PhD and Masters students, teach junior personnel, hold lectures, travel to conferences, etc.? Excuse me for saying so, but if they think this, they are just plain stupid. I have a colleague (over fifty years old) who told me that some of her worst work weeks have involved attending eighteen hours’ worth of meetings (that works out to almost 2.5 days a week devoted to meetings). It stands to reason that she will not have any time whatsoever to do routine work or lab work. 
  • Why is it considered ok for leadership to not inform employees about important matters, but not ok if employees ignore the regulations stating that they must file periodic progress reports and account for every penny they spend?
  • How did it get to the point where a research career can end literally overnight when funding dries up, and more to the point, who thinks this is a good system or a good approach? Many of those careers belong to highly-competent and efficient scientists who just don’t happen to be doing trendy research. 
  • How can one honestly encourage young people to stay in academic research when the prospect of them attaining a permanent research job/steady funding/tenure is slim to none? Is it ok to essentially lie to them, to tell them that it will work out for them (it won’t in most cases)? 
  • And finally: why do we older scientists even entertain the possibility that we have a snowball's chance in hell of getting research funding? Of writing a fundable grant? If I have learned anything these past five years, it’s that even though I managed to write good grant applications that got me external funding to work as a post-doc and junior scientist during a ten-year period from 1999-2008, that’s not good enough anymore. And it will never be good enough. The past does not count. Realism is what counts. Luckily I have a permanent staff scientist position so I cannot be fired because I am older, but there is no funding for consumables. It's a strange situation to be in. But I now focus on other things that give me satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. None of them have to do with my career. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Oslo at its prettiest

I walked home from downtown Oslo this past Saturday (after marching in the March for Science--Oslo), and walked a route that took me past Gamle Aker church. It was a lovely day, if a bit chilly, but the sun was shining and I took a few photos. Enjoy!

Gamle Aker church

Scilla siberica blue flower (Siberian squill or wood squill) 

Vår Frelsers gravlund (Our Savior's graveyard)


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter, spring, and resurrection

It's April 16th, Easter Sunday, and hard to believe spring began about a month ago. The temperature in Oslo today is no higher than about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and during the night it was below freezing. It is supposed to remain cold like this for the next week or so. And that's put a dent in some of my plans for the garden. It's been too cold to spend a lot of time there (I'm usually there for three or four hours when I first set out to do some work), although I have been there several days this past week to clean up a bit more and to check on the tulips and crocuses I planted last fall. They have poked their heads up but it's been slow going. I just hope that the berry bushes that have begun to sprout new leaves won't be affected by the freezing cold.

There is nothing to be done about the weather. It never behaves as you would like it to. A month ago the temperature was closer to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and it was a warm sun that shone down on those of us working in the garden. I have used this past week (I took the entire Easter week off) to do other things--finish my Norwegian and American taxes, clean the house, wash curtains and blankets--in other words--tasks that I never have the time for when I am working full-time. So that's been good. I have no problem filling my time. There is still a list of chores to be done.

I have also spent some time reading the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, and must admit that I've really enjoyed reading this account of the early days of the new church with Simon Peter as its head. As I've read it, I've consulted the National Geographic magazine issue Jesus and the Origins of Christianity (,
specifically the maps showing the places that both Jesus and the Apostles frequented, in order to get a feel for how things 'looked' at that time. I'm glad to have finally run across publications that present the history of the early church. It has given me a new perspective on how things that we take for granted came about. I got a taste of this in college in one of the theology courses I took, where we spent part of the semester studying the evolution of the early church and the various movements that sprang up within it, all competing for power and authority.

We celebrate the resurrection of Christ at Easter time. It is no coincidence that Easter and spring are coupled together. The resurrection of life in nature--trees, flowers, bushes--is a miracle that happens each year. Even if you were not a spiritual person, you'd have to marvel at the beauty of this occurrence each year. As I grow older, it is the natural world I feel more drawn to, and less to the world of commerce and work. I suppose if I looked hard enough at the latter, I would find something that would trigger a spiritual awakening. But I find that to be too much work; frankly speaking, most of the work world has little to do with spirituality and the quest for a better self. It mostly has to do with competition, power, prestige, and greed (it makes me laugh when I realize that you could be the top leader in a department during your work life, but when you retire and have been gone for some years, no one will really remember you--new generations overtake the old--that is the way of work life and more people should remember that in their manic craze to get to the top and to stay there). It is easier in nature to see what God intended for our lives, especially where the miracles of life and rebirth are concerned. The rebirth in nature shows us that we can be reborn each year as well; it is never too late to start anew. It is comforting to know that there is a resurrection of life each year, around this time, and that we can count on that in the years to come.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Really really good song--Weight of Love by The Black Keys

The intro of this song brought to mind Pink Floyd.....but this group has a sound all their own. Great song......

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A hint of spring

The past few weeks have given us a hint of spring. As always, when that happens, people take for granted that the warm weather will continue, and that spring is finally here. But that is almost never the case. The warm weather does not continue; as an example, the weather predicted for this coming weekend is rain mixed with some snow, or possibly sleet. I'm guessing that Oslo will see mostly rain, but that temperatures will be chilly. A far cry from a week ago this past Sunday, when temperatures were around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with the crazy weather is that I become irritated that it goes back to being chilly. It's a reminder of just how long the winter season really is--November, December, January, February and March. Almost half the year--too long, especially when I'm eager to get started in the garden. I worked in the garden this past Sunday cleaning up and using up some of the compost soil. I placed it on one of the planting beds and mixed it into the soil from before. I will do the same for the other two planting beds this coming weekend if the weather holds. I noticed that the rhubarb stalks are starting to poke their heads through the topsoil, as are the tulips and crocuses, and the Chinese rose tree is starting to bloom. The snowdrops still look lovely. So it's just to hope that spring arrives soon, and with it, a strong sun. I'm so tired of gray skies and more gray skies and chilly weather.

Here are three photos from this past Sunday's garden visit. Enjoy......

Rhubarb starting to come up

Chinese rose tree starting to bloom


Monday, March 27, 2017

Back to the garden II

As promised, some photos from yesterday's visit to the garden, and the layout of the garden as I've planned it for this year.......

space for a small greenhouse

Snowdrops blooming

a raked garden ready for planting

my plan for the garden layout

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Back to the garden

I thought of the title for this post earlier today, because today was the first official day that I returned to my allotment garden in the Egebergløkka community garden. Back to the garden reminded me of the song Woodstock by Crosby Stills Nash & Young, not for any other reason than that the lyrics include a line 'And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden'. Just goes to show you what kind of associations your brain will make if you let it. But I understand wanting and needing to get myself back to the garden. I've been dreaming of it the entire winter.

I did a lot of work today to prepare the garden for this year's planting. It helped that the temperature was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, making it that much easier to be outdoors working and enjoying the lovely weather. I spent most of the afternoon raking leaves and dead grass, removing dead plants, and putting all of it into black garbage bags. I realized how much I miss pure physical work that doesn't give you much time to think about the myriad of things that cause distress and anxiety. My friend at work says that gardening is my form of meditation. I think she's right. I have no need to sit still and meditate; I immerse myself in the necessary work of the garden and find peace. I have already measured out the area I need to install a greenhouse and marked it with stones, and am waiting for the annual board meeting that will hopefully approve the purchase of standard-size greenhouses by individual gardeners. I also need to buy a new garden hose, so I've been looking around for a good one.

I took some photos of the first flowers to show their faces in the garden this year. The Norwegians call them 'snøklokke'; in English they're called snowdrops--

Galanthus (snowdrop; Greek gála "milk", ánthos "flower") is a small genus of about 20 species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell shaped flower with six petal-like (petaloid) tepals in two circles (whorls). The smaller inner petals have green markings........Most species flower in winter, before the vernal equinox (20 or 21 March in the Northern Hemisphere), but some flower in early spring and late autumn. 

The birds were also out in force today, chirping happily with each other. There were several butterflies as well, and a big furry bumblebee. Seeing them all made me happy. The world seems to be as it should be--all is right with the world--when nature is happy and content. Then I am happy too.

Tomorrow I will post some photos of the garden, and my layout for the garden for those of you who are interested in seeing how I am planning it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Birds, wild animals and food and reflections on Cities (Planet Earth II)

I have been reflecting on the tendency of nature to get used to getting their food from humans. Specifically, I am thinking about the birds that sit on our balcony railing each morning, waiting for us to enter the kitchen. They ‘sense’ when we get up in the morning (don’t ask me how); I’m not sure when they arrive. I do know that they sit out there and wait, occasionally cocking their heads to see if we have entered the kitchen. They make their presence known—and that they are waiting for their daily sunflower seed handouts. I have fed them throughout the winter months, but now that spring is here, most of the birds have disappeared. I assume that they understand that they can now find food on their own. But there is one pigeon who still shows up each morning—the lone bird waiting for his ration of seeds. I am still feeding him, while wondering at the same time how long he will continue to come to us for food. Because some animals and birds get used to the handouts and perhaps no longer feel the need to find their own food. I don’t know how old this bird is, but perhaps he is older and simply tired of trying to find food on his own each day. If that is the case, I will continue to give him food. Because I know that one day he may not come back, and it could be because he has become sick or has died. I hope it will be because he has decided to not depend on us for food anymore, at least not until next winter. I do know that it would be so easy to train him, to tame him. Perhaps one day I will try to do that—when I have the time to do so and the time to follow up. I have a friend at work, an older man from Eritrea, who has done just that, with many pigeons. He told me recently that he wants to write a book about how to train pigeons, because he wants his children to carry on his work after he is gone.

One of David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II episodes, Cities, dealt with the topic of how wild animals and birds have adjusted to city life, because food is plentiful and they don’t have to spend hours scrounging for a meal. There are the hyenas in Ethiopia, who enter the city of Harar each night to receive meat from the butcher shops and city dwellers who are not afraid of them. Those were amazing scenes, but also scary ones to witness. There are the leopards in Mumbai, India who hunt the pigs and small animals on the city outskirts and in the parks by night, where humans walk. There are the monkeys in Singapore that steal fruit and vegetables from the city produce markets. There are the peregrine falcons in New York City who feed on the numerous city pigeons. And so on. Many of these animals and birds are not afraid of humans or the masses of humans in cities, and that is a good thing from the standpoint of their getting more than enough food to eat. It is a bad thing for us if some of the carnivores decide to add humans to their menu. In any case, it is interesting to observe the wild animal and bird world (from the safety of our living room couches) and to marvel at how well they adapt to the growth/expansion of cities and to the loss of their natural habitats. That is not always a good thing. I would prefer that wild creatures remain in the wild, for their sakes and for ours, but mostly theirs.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A beautiful song by Moby

Heard this song recently after not having heard it for a while--same effect on me. I love these kinds of songs--moody, reflective--both the music and lyrics. I love songs that make you feel and think about what you are feeling.

And here are the lyrics:

by Richard Melville Hall

In my dreams I'm dying all the time,
Then I wake it's kaleidoscopic mind
I never meant to hurt you,
I never meant to lie
So this is goodbye,
This is goodbye

Tell the truth, You've never wanted me
Tell me

In my dreams I'm jealous all the time,
When I wake I'm going out of my mind
Going out of my mind

Why I loved La La Land

If you haven’t seen La La Land, the movie musical that won and lost the Oscar for best picture in the space of a few minutes (it was mistakenly announced as Best Picture at the Oscar awards), see it. It was nominated in fourteen Oscar categories, and won ten of them ( The Oscar fiasco is quickly forgotten when you slip into the world that La La Land creates. I am not a real movie musical fan—it’s not my favorite genre—but if more of these kinds of musicals are made in the coming years, I may become one. The songs in this film are lovely, catchy, bittersweet and memorable. There is an air of respect in the movie that is rare these days. It was a refreshing change to experience that level of respect for nearly everything in a film--respect for the genre, for the actors, for the plot, for jazz music, for acting, for individual dreams, for good manners, for courtship and good old-fashioned romance (more important than one often likes to admit), for serious conversations, and overall for the art of movie-making. That art is on display in full force in this movie—stylish lovely sets, historical references to the Hollywood of a bygone era and to a Los Angeles of a bygone era as well. It’s a dreamy, dreamlike film in some respects that has its feet firmly planted on the ground in most respects. Boy meets girl, they don’t get together right away, and then they do. Both are talented individuals who have big dreams, and whose pursuits of those dreams unite them in a common cause. They love each other and they want the other to succeed. And when the other doubts himself or herself, they are there to remind them of the bigger picture, the goal, the big dream. They are there to remind them to never give up. Neither of them do. I loved pretty much everything about this movie. It evoked just the right amount of nostalgia for a (presumably) more innocent time, the longing for a time in one’s life when everything was still new and untested, when love was new, when conversations between people mattered as a way of getting to know them. It illustrated the importance of striving tirelessly to achieve your dreams regardless of the outcome (not always a happy ending), of not compromising or settling for the job that gives you the most money, of believing in yourself even when everything seems to be falling apart around you or when the voice of reason is telling you to give in and settle for less. Along the way, we are treated to acting that tugs at your heartstrings (Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were wonderful together and singly) and a story that reminds you of that time in your life when dreams and love were new and your future, largely unknown and somewhat daunting, was ahead of you. There were some really good dance numbers and some memorable songs. I found myself humming one of the songs (the one that Ryan Gosling whistles when he is walking out on the pier) on the way out of the movie theater. The director, Damien Chazelle, makes it clear that the typical Hollywood happy ending as depicted in the fantasy sequence at the end of the film is not always the ending in real life for those who achieve their dreams. Boy and girl don’t always ride off into the sunset together. We need that reminder, even though we are rooting for the couple to be together against all odds. Sometimes we experience a love when we are young that transcends us and our real lives, and we are not ready for it. Or it may simply serve another purpose—to bring out the best in ourselves and to help us achieve our dreams—and that kind of love is to be cherished for a lifetime. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Out of the blue

And so, out of the blue, one day before the sixteenth anniversary of my mother’s death, I received a message request on Facebook from a person I did not know. That person turned out to be my first cousin Robert, the son of my mother’s sister, Mildred, both of whom I had never met as a child. In the space of a few days, I have discovered my mother’s side of the family (a side that we had little to no contact with growing up), thanks to Robert, who has done extensive searching to create a family tree. His tremendous work organizing it has paid off. It is extremely interesting to see how large my mother’s family actually was. Her mother had five children by her first husband (who died), and then five by her second husband. Robert led me to Victoria, another first cousin, who is the daughter of my mother’s brother Joseph. The family spread beyond Brooklyn where they grew up, to New Jersey, Indiana and Maryland. Among the things I have discovered is that heart disease does not just run in my father’s family, but also in my mother’s, as many of her brothers and sisters (and father and mother) passed away due to heart conditions, strokes or kidney disease. It explains why my mother was so focused on eating healthily (little fat, few sugary desserts) and on remaining thin her entire life. It has not escaped me that I got to know that Robert existed one day before the anniversary of my mother’s death. I’d like to think that this was her way of communicating with me, perhaps to let me know that all of the secrecy and untold tales of her family are secret no longer. They are the stories of another era, when society’s constraints and rules were harsh and when there was little tolerance for lives lived outside of those constraints and rules. I understand my mother so much better now for having met Robert, and I am grateful that this opportunity was given to us.