We’re gonna clean up!

Cleaning up the place is hard sometimes–that’s why they call it housework–but it’s not actually impossible. All it takes is a visit from family on short notice or some other fraught occasion. Think Darth Vader, “Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.” And it suddenly turns out that picking up, taking out the trash, washing the sink full of dishes and doing the vacuuming is actually perfectly within one’s scope–”We shall redouble our efforts, Lord Vader!”

The new media office at NCPR

The new media office at NCPR

But cleaning up the office is another matter. For three months the note had been on my calendar–Mountain Lake PBS taping–and every time I noticed I thought, hmm, better spiff the place up a little. But there never seemed to be a moment in any workday where there wasn’t something more important to spiff up in the digital world. My, that home page looks spic-and-span!

And so the heaps of paper grow and the coffee rings overlap like spirograph designs on the desk. There are still boxes of floppy diskettes and zip disks and minidisks, unlabeled and unknowable now with current technology. Long-outdated reports and memos and trade journals, manuals for software a decade out of date. There’s a turntable under the wing desk. There’s a one-Euro coin I don’t remember acquiring, right next to a tiny brass bodhisattva and a six-armed three-eyed Gumby alien that I tried to give to away unsuccessfully.

Junk mostly, but then there’s great art on the floor that should be on the wall, and lots of cables and connectors that are probably vital to something–who knows what? The art deco rocket ship pen set has to stay, and the Star Trek lunch pail. The Tibetan prayer flags that keep the world from ending–you know–important stuff. The box stuffed with 112 plastic grocery bags is probably surplus to requirements, though.

It’s all hypothetical anyhow. The camera crew has come and gone. They made sure to do close-up shots of the screen, the mouse, my hands on the keyboard pretending I could type with more than four fingers. My time in the finished ad will probably total 1.5 seconds anyway. Someday I’ll clean up the joint. In the meantime I can always boost my morale by visiting Radio Bob’s office. Now there’s a freaking nightmare.

Gardens in the last days of August

Dramatic planting at the Indian Lake Public Library. Photo: George DeChant

Dramatic planting at the Indian Lake Public Library. Photo: George DeChant

We still have glorious photos of flowers and vegetables planted in pieces of ground scattered across the region, from western Vermont to the Tug Hill, from the southern Adirondacks to Ottawa. Kinda cool. I’d imagine a lot of food is being harvested as we move into September. Send photos of everything you’re getting from the garden–and show me what you’re doing with that harvest: canning? drying? freezing? cooking?

Here’s another photo from our friend George DeChant taken a couple of weeks ago.

Garden along the Saranac River Walk. Photo: George DeChant

Garden along the Saranac River Walk. Photo: George DeChant

Cassandra Corcoran, our gardener friend in Monkton, took these photos during the past week.

Phlox, glorious phlox. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Phlox, glorious phlox. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

For me, digging potatoes is a magical treasure hunt. Here’s some of Cassandra’s find.

Potato patch, about 12 plants. Don't really think adding straw to the mounds did much except save labour. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Potato patch, about 12 plants. Don’t really think adding straw to the mounds did much except save labour. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

The bounty--about 18 pounds. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

The bounty–about 18 pounds. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wintered over these hyacinths and now they've sprouted! Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Wintered over these hyacinths and now they’ve sprouted! Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Lettuce, arugula, kale--a small planting in the old garlic bed. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Lettuce, arugula, kale–a small planting in the old garlic bed. Photo: Cassandra Corcor

I’m a big fan of garden experimentation. You don’t have apply new techniques or ideas to the entire garden, but try growing small patches of beans in different ways, or stake some tomatoes in heavy-duty cages and trellis some others. I love the way Rainbow saved labor but simply cultivating small bits of ground, burying them in straw bales, and letting the surrounding ground go wild.

 

My straw bale garden. Photo: Rainbow Crabtree

My straw bale garden. Photo: Rainbow Crabtree

Finally, a couple of photos from a different kind of garden and harvest: haying. These taken late in August, final cut.

 

Your blog host running the baler. Photo: Pierre Nzuah

Your blog host running the baler. Photo: Pierre Nzuah

The crew, minus our Amish friend Abe. Mike, Ellen and Pierre. Photo: selfie

The crew, minus our Amish friend Abe. Mike, Ellen and Pierre. Photo: selfie on timer

Okay, send me those late garden and harvest photos. ellen@ncpr.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where should cooking be taught?

Home Economics classroom on the third floor of Union City High School in Union City, New Jersey. Creative Commons photo by Nightscream, some rights reserved.

Does this look familiar? (Home Economics classroom on the third floor of Union City High School in Union City, New Jersey.)  Creative Commons photo by Nightscream, some rights reserved.

Last week’s post on a free cookbook for low-cost meals included a manifesto-like quote from an important food thinker, Michael Pollan:

“Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

One could dismiss that as just so-much self-promotion for Cookedone of Pollan’s many books about food, nutrition and health.

But let’s presuppose agreement. That home cooking saves money and produces better nutritional outcomes. Its decline is hurting the nation’s health. If so, what’s the best way to revive a depressed skill?

Well, here in Canada the Ontario Home Economics Association (OHEA) is campaigning to have Ontario schools require at least one course on food and nutrition, which would presumably include attention to home cooking. As quoted by this CBC article:

“We think that all children need to have the basics of nutrition and some cooking skills so that they know how to make food from scratch and don’t reach out so often for fast food or prepared entrees or mixes and other items that are so readily available in our stores,” said professional home economist Mary Carver.

“We can see the decline in health in Canadians in general, particularly children, there’s a great rise in childhood obesity… a rise in type 2 diabetes, a rise in high blood pressure and cardiac disease in adults. All of these are lifestyle and diet-related issues and they put a huge strain on our healthcare system.”

place holder

WW II era poster on efficient storage of food. Source: National Archives and Records Administration

A petition drive is underway to make that a new graduation requirement.

The funny part is schools used to require even broader coverage of  life skills under the umbrella of home economics. Which used to be mandatory material – for girls.

My own mini-activism at Baldwin High in the mid 70s included a fight for the right to take shop instead of stodgy “home ec.”  The principal was only willing to offer a compromise, in which I could take two electives instead: family foods and family clothing. Those were co-ed courses taught with amazing enthusiasm by a real character. Mrs. Ota understood local culture and her students very well: people in Hawaii (people everywhere) like to grind (eat).

We whipped up important ethnic mainstays. Stir fries, pancit, lap cheong bao (bao = Chinese buns, usually with savory or sweet filling), crispy wonton, adobo. Bagoong and patis were even demystified. (Fermented fish sauce become trendy with the urban popularity of Thai food. But the smelly backbone of humble Filipino cuisine was then the object of general derision.)

Mind you, local food in Hawaii at that time earned sharp criticism on the nutritional front. (The stereotype about southern cooking is that everything is deep fried. The rap on Hawaii food is that it tends to feature too much fat, white rice and shoyu.)

Setting memory lane and nutritional shortfalls aside, where should healthful cooking be taught? Ideally, we’d all be learning home cooking at home, from Grandma, Uncle Frank, Mom and Dad.

The trouble is, that doesn’t always happen. Whole generations are growing up in homes where scratch cooking is a rare thing.

School seems like a sensible place to convey basics. The trouble is, cooking is just one of many life-skills worth teaching. One could add other vanishing subjects, like consumer finance and budgeting, simple home repairs and basic auto maintenance. Not to mention new skills, like computer use and programming. All of that – plus lots of P.E., classes for learning trades and/or college track content, music, art and foreign languages – would be available at perfect schools. Served by great teachers with unlimited budgets, and no competition for instructional time…as seen on planet “in your dreams”.

Also, would one course on food, nutrition and cooking be enough to cover so much material? How are the bitter battles about what’s healthy going to be settled? (The meat and dairy industry verses the crowd that says it’s healthier to eat little or none of those things?) Where would the money come from, for kitchens and enough food to do real cooking?

But I’m not done with the questions, because I’m endlessly curious. Do you think cooking should be taught in schools as part of required curriculum? Who taught you to cook? Where are young people today learning that skill?

NCPR has done stories on regional efforts to take scratch cooking even farther, with schools that grow their own gardens to cook and eat together. Or the example of a carrot tasting contest at Long Lake Central School, which teacher Becky Pelton called “…probably the most rewarding, the greatest learning experience I’ve had since we’ve had the garden”

The garden-to-plate model seems ideal. But that level of engagement is really hard to pull off without strong support and some degree of autonomy.

Kudos to the schools that are already doing that. And to the homes where cooking is still practiced.

In our nature

Sneak preview--tomorrow's Photo of the Day. Foggy morning in the Ausable River valley. Photo: Larry Master, Lake Placid, NY

Sneak preview–tomorrow’s Photo of the Day. Foggy morning in the Ausable River valley. Photo: Larry Master, Lake Placid, NY

For ten years now NCPR has featured a Photo of the Day, submitted by listeners and visitors and friends. The guidelines are pretty loose, photos taken somewhere in the listening area, and timely–conforming to the present season. And we always make exceptions for work that just needs to be seen. Over the years the submissions have gotten better and better, making curating the collection one of my favorite tasks of the workday.

By far the favorite topic of our photographers is the natural world. Through their eyes, the North Country is always engaging and frequently breathtaking. With the unofficial end of summer this Labor Day weekend, I was looking back at the current season in our Summer 2014 album slideshow. And it’s a nature lover’s dream.

Our summer birds this year include great blue herons (strutting, feeding, fanning and hiding), common loons (floating, taking off), as well as hummingbird, cormorant, barred owl, eastern phoebe, domestic chickens, bald eagles (immature and full-grown), a cedar waxwing couple, a wren with chicks, and a goldeneye duck. Mammals are represented by a donkey, assorted breeds of dog, a bobcat, whitetail deer, red poll cows, a moose, a black bear and a red fox. Assorted frogs stand in for the amphibians. On the buggier side, we have a monarch butterfly caterpillar, a virgin tiger moth, a bumblebee, a squadron of dragonflies, and a shade made of luna moths on a porch light.

Featured flora include bee balm, pitcher plants, round leaf sundew, pickerel weed, tiger lilies, borage, sunflower, partridge berry and butterfly milkweed. And on the landscape itself, the following places take the spotlight: Ausable River valley at Lake Placid, Oswegatchie River at Wanakena, Lake Ozonia, Chubb River, Lake Champlain near Plattsburgh, Raquette Lake, 13th Lake, Higley Flow, Intervale Lowlands, Salmon River Falls, Turtle Pond, Whiteface Mt., Deer River Flow, Black Pond, Debar Mt., Meacham Lake, Mt. Colden, Mt. Marcy and Mirror Lake.

By the calendar, there are still three weeks of summer remaining. Here’s my challenge to you all. Over the next few weeks, submit photos that do not duplicate any of the species above, or landscapes views of the region that do not feature any of the landmarks above.

It’s never too late to get lost

Every time we this sign welcoming visitors to Mazeland on Rt. 12, my wife Cassie laments missing out 20 years ago. Photo: Andy Bates

Every time we see this sign welcoming visitors to Mazeland on Rt. 12, my wife Cassie laments missing out 20 years ago. Photo: Andy Bates

It’s a scene familiar enough to any family vacationer. As you approach your destination, as your child sits in the backseat of the car—his mind lost in the limitless possibilities to be found in a week far away from home, his eyes darting back and forth between the passenger and driver’s side windows—he catches a flash of roadside attraction, locks onto it and slowly lets it consume him.

The possibilities no longer seem so limitless because this is the thing he’s decided he most wants to do. Forget about going out on the boat, or going out to eat, or making s’mores, or doing any of the other things you’ve planned. If visiting that one place doesn’t make the cut, it’ll be the only thing he truly remembers about the whole trip.

For my wife, Cassie, vacationing in the Thousand Islands as a child, that place was Mazeland, and any time we’ve ever passed it since, she gazes at its sign compelling visitors to “GET LOST” and laments, “It was the only thing I wanted to do, but we never got to.”

Well, to be fair to my in-laws, they did take her. It was just that, by the time they’d visited Heart Island and had lunch and fudge and perused the shops along Alexandria Bay’s main drag, Mazeland was closed (or they were too tired to get lost and told her it was closed…the details are a little hazy).

Sometimes, a trip to a maze is all it takes to feel like a kid again. Photo: Andy Bates

Sometimes, a trip to a maze is all it takes to feel like a kid again. Photo: Andy Bates

Regardless, Mazeland was put off with vows of a return that never came, and for as much as Cassie and her mother laugh about it 20 years later, that missed trip wouldn’t keep coming up if it didn’t conjure those small doses of guilt and disappointment we tend to accumulate in life.

So, with Labor Day looming and the dying days of summer in full swing, my mother-in-law finally decided to make good on her promise, and as we wandered through the cedar hedges, looking for hidden letters to complete our scavenger hunt, I could hear that childlike uptick in my wife’s voice, urging us to come on, and the contented giggle of my mother-in-law as she dutifully followed.

For my part, I was simply along for the adventure, scraping my arms on stray branches and squeezing through shortcuts I’ve long since overgrown. Before long, the narrow paths and twists and turns started to nauseate me, the heat crept up my neck, and I began to feel old with every step. But then Cassie came to a tree in one of the maze clearings, and rather than seek out the bench in its shade for a quick break as I wished to do, she climbed. She found a thick branch and sat, swinging her legs and wondering how high she could go, and I’d like to think it was more than just a lost experience she was able to capture up there.

Joining the back to school gang

I'm taking on something new just like Miss Cicely Clark in 1942, of The Women's Timber Corps at work in a timber camp in Suffolk as part of the war effort.  (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

I’m taking on something new just like Miss Cicely Clark did in 1942, joining The Women’s Timber Corpsas part of the war effort. (Photo by Horace Abrahams/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

One of the perks of working at NCPR is our access to free courses at St. Lawrence University, also available to spouses. My late husband, Bill Knoble, earned a BS in Geology (Summa Cum Laude!) which he started at the age of 60. I’ve audited a couple of classes and taken one for credit.

This week, it’s back to school for area colleges, and after Labor Day, public schools return. I’ve joined the school crew. I signed up for an advanced fiction writing class with Professor Paul Graham. I’m thrilled, and a little scared.

I live with a “foster” son who is in his senior year at SUNY Canton, just two semesters away from a degree in Electrical Engineering. He takes 19-21 credits each semester and pulls down straight As. In my family, top of the class seems to be the norm.

But here’s the thing. At this age (my age, over 60), who cares, really? I no longer worry about what “people think.” My mother-in-law passed away and took to her grave the metaphorical white gloves swiping windowsills; I traded in fashionable for functional clothing years ago; and, I’ll pretty much let you know if I don’t like the music.

The joy of going back to school late in life is that grades and status just don’t matter any more. It’s about curiosity and challenging yourself. I wish I could say the same about my undergraduate years four decades ago (that was more about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll). Now, I want to stretch. I write a lot of prose for my job, but writing fiction is a whole different world. I’ve dabbled. Now I want to challenge myself to do it for real. Maybe get a few chapters for that novel started.

Wish me luck…the younger students in this class are the cream of the writing crop at SLU. I hope I can keep up.

Oh, and help me out by telling me about your late in life learning experiences–formal classes, seminars, shadowing a artisan you learned a craft from, whatever. Thanks.

 

What’s your relationship to fast food chains?

A typical Tim Hortons store sign, known across Canada. Photo: Creative Commons, some rights reserved

A typical Tim Hortons store sign, known across Canada. Photo: Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The big news in the fast food business today is Burger King’s purchase of Tim Hortons for $11.4 billion.

As summarized by the BBC:

The deal would create the world’s third-largest fast-food chain, with 18,000 restaurants in 100 countries.

The new group would have a market capitalisation of about $18bn and annual sales in the region of $23bn.

Burger King’s majority shareholder, 3G Capital, will own about 51% of the merged company.

Analysts have much to say about the deal in terms of market share, stock price and long-term impact. Customers may mostly be wondering if their usual menu is going to get shaken up.

Interest on this runs especially high in Canada because Tim Hortons is a beloved institution to a degree not seen at all in the U.S.

I am generalizing, of course. Not everyone loves Timmy’s. But Tim Hortons commands what I’ll call Canada’s public space in terms of grabbing a coffee or a quick bite. In place after place across Canada that is where people gather and cross paths, from all walks of life.

Hence the news has many Canadians wondering – no worrying – what it may mean, as shown in this coverage from CBC:

…what’s at stake for the Canadian icon?

“Tim’s won’t die because of foreign ownership, they’ll die because foreign ownership will bring forth … death by a thousand cuts,” says Alan Middleton, executive director of York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre.

In a joint press release, the two entities reassured customers that they’d continue to operate “as standalone brands,” promising to preserve each companies’ “iconic brands.”

But such early day promises don’t always last.

While this announcement has its own resonance for investors and the business landscape of fast food outlets, I’m wondering where fast food fits into readers’ lives these days.

I don’t drink coffee, and doughnuts are not my friend as I try to hold the line on middle-age spread. Matter of fact, most fast food has become unattractive to me for a variety of reasons. But we go on long road trips where finding a washroom becomes somewhat attractive. I don’t have a data plan for my phone, so free wifi is another attraction. (Note: It’s only polite to buy something when utilizing services, so I will get a pastry, or a side of fries at the golden arches.)

The public radio demographic is famously stereotyped as Prius-driving, granola heads. So the sample audience for this post may well lean toward outliers (which Merriam-Webster defines as “a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample”).

Still, I am curious. Canadians, is Tim’s really special to you? If so, can you describe why?

And readers on both sides of the border, have you seen your relationship with fast food change over the years? How so and why? Do you see that happening in general, or just in more health-conscious spheres?

For me, fast food chains have become occasional travel hubs that have almost nothing to do with the food they offer. What are they to you?

Old timers know what love is all about

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Old Gay Couple on a Harley. Photo: Thaths, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Not teenagers. In fact, you could argue that Romeo and Juliet were motivated more by lust than love–hard to separate at that age. So, when I came across a Boston Globe story about an 80 and 90 year old who re-found each other after decades, well past the season of lust, it got me to thinking about love.

My mother, who outlived three husbands, and loved each of them dearly, was full of advice about love and relationships. Generally, she seemed to be right. Some of her ideas may seem a bit quaint in this day of online dating and blurred social practices (e.g., always let the man think he’s smarter than you–yikes!), but the Henrietta Rules definitely worked for her–and some of them for me.

Here are the standouts.

1. Take care of each other. In sickness and in health. Good times and bad. Be there for each other.

I think this one moves to the top of the list as we age. I’ve seen friends care for their partners through life-threatening or terminal illnesses and been moved to tears of respect for how much energy, selflessness and love this takes. This is the extreme. But taking care of each other is part of daily life when you’re in a marriage or committed partnership. Helping each other get through each day with a little love.

2. Don’t nitpick. Or, as some would say, don’t sweat the little stuff.

Y’know, everyone snores or makes equally irritating noises. My father, to the day he died, wiped each piece of silverware before using–in our home, as well as at restaurants. My mother shrugged and refused to take it personally. (Dad had spent much of his youth in a Lower East Side tenement–sanitation definitely an issue.) We all have habits or tics that may be at best unattractive and at worst drive others to distraction. I always saw the “don’t nitpick” as a basic requirement for living with anyone–partner or roommate.

3. Enjoy life, with each other.

My mother had true joie de vivre. She loved to eat, she loved to travel, she loved to socialize with friends and family, she read voraciously, listened to music, and enjoyed most of these activities with her husband(s).

4. It’s only money.

We know that sex and money are the two likeliest causes of tension in relationships. Henrietta often said, “it’s only money.” Mind you, she was thrifty and rarely spent money on useless “stuff.” But, once the bills are paid, she’d say, don’t worry about money. You may not have a lot but as long as the basics are covered, use money to make your life and others’ lives better. Don’t be neurotic about money.

5. Laugh, a lot.

No explanation needed, right?

So, there you go young lovers, advice from an old gal who had three successful marriages and a long rich life. Now, tell me what works for you–young or old–to make love stick around.

 

Robot successfully hitchhikes across Canada

Can this robot trust you?

Can this robot trust you? Photo: hitchBot Twitter page

A book club I attend spent a whole year on the theme of rivers. Believe it or not, one of the titles we grown-ups dove into was a children’s book from 1941 called “Paddle-to-the-Sea“, by Holling Clancy Holling.

In it, an young Indian lad carves a paddler in a canoe. He sets it into the snows of Nipignon, Ontario, where the spring thaw carries the craft into Lake Superior. The plot line takes the bobbling boat through the whole water system of the Great Lakes, all the way to the sea.

These “let’s take a journey of learning” books seem somewhat dated now. But it’s fun – lovingly detailed with natural and human aspects of the route.

In our more-cynical time, I had trouble with the idea that not one of the different people who encounter the boat on its multi-year journey would vandalize the canoe or even take it home for their kids. “Ha!, That would never happen today!” was my thought.

But I have to take it back. A robot, no less, has just made it across Canada as a hitchhiker dependent on the kindness (or curiosity) of strangers.

Meet hitchBot.

I may look young but I have an old soul.

As a robot, I enjoy listening to electronic music. I currently have Mr. Roboto on repeat but the Blueman Group and Kraftwerk are also amazing. I was conceived in Port Credit, Ontario. My guardians are Dr. David Smith (McMaster University), and Dr. Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University). Growing up I was surrounded by bright, intelligent, and supportive people who I am proud to call my family. I have one sibling, kulturBOT, who travels from one art gallery to the next, tweeting photos of the artwork and of the venues. kulturBOT is definitely not as good-looking or well-rounded as I am: I enjoy reading a lot of books, and I’m especially interested in philosophy and astrophysics. It certainly is an interesting mix — that is what happens when a robot is influenced by both the sciences and humanities. Simply put, I am a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way. I am an avid instagrammer and tweeter. On my downtime, I can appreciate a good game of trivia and would never pass up any opportunities to bake desserts.

hitchBOT from hitchBOT on Vimeo.

According to their initial press release of July 16, the team that created hitchBot did it to…

…explore topics in human-robot-interaction and to test technologies in artificial intelligence and speech recognition and processing.

Developed as a sociable robot, hitchBOT’s creators are encouraging Canadians to pick up this friendly stranger, should they see it on the roadside this summer.

“Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots. This project asks: can robots trust human beings?” says Frauke Zeller.

hitchBOT will be able to communicate with those who pick it up; drivers can ask hitchBOT about its creation and personal history, and ask about hitchBOT’s family.

“hitchBOT will have to rely on people to get around, including being strapped into a car seat belt,” says David Harris Smith. “We expect hitchBOT to be charming and trustworthy enough in its conversation to secure rides across Canada.”

hitchBOT’s final destination is the Open Space artist-run centre in Victoria, British Columbia.

Relying solely on hitchhiking to reach its destination, hitchBOT’s family does not know how long the cross-country trip will take. However, the robot is equipped with GPS and a 3G wireless connection, should it go astray.

HitchBot finished its 6,000 km trek on Aug 17th and collected 35,000 Twitter followers along the way.

No news like nerd news

CarlSaganStampI have been a news junky in my time, trying to keep current on every story and every development everywhere. But there comes a time when one piece of news finally trickles in, the news just isn’t really very new. And at a time when so many disturbing stories come from so many directions–local, national, international–that can be demoralizing.

But how could it be otherwise? For the news to become really new, human character, both individual and collective, would have to be transformed. Until that hypothetical day, nations will continue to do the kinds of things they have always done, as will politicians and the police and the criminals and the deranged, and the kind and generous, too. Attention seekers will seek attention, the secretive will lurk in shadows, and the curious will try to take note of everything. The details can be rearranged, and are on a daily basis, but the stories themselves?–old stories.

Which is one reason I have become such a hopeless science nerd. While the laws of nature are even more unchanging than human nature, human curiosity and insights are always uncovering things that, while not new to creation, are news to me. I read the National Science Foundation’s e-newsletter, and EarthSkyNews. If there is a National Geographic in the dentist’s waiting room, I’d be happy to wait hours for my check-up. If I still put pin-up posters on my walls, they’d be papered with Einstein and Kepler and Newton, along with Bill Nye and Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

So I have heard and read much this week about the kidnapping, and about Ferguson and Gaza and ISIS, and political news from Albany and from Washington. But the things that have really given me new information are a view of the aurora from the space station, photos taken during the “Blue Hour” just after sundown, or stories like “Zombie ant fungus kills its hosts on doorstep of ant colony” or “Researchers find life beneath half a mile of Antarctic ice.”

I’m not exactly sure what to do with this kind of new information, but then I often feel the same way about news of current events, politics and war. All I know is that I am happier to have these stories kicking around in my head than to have the old, old stories of fresh strife, disaster, deceit, oppression and villainy.