Category: Personal

Pic of the day

Flower power Beijing
Click to enlarge — Flower Power goes viral in BeijingKim Kyung-Hoon

On the bustling streets of Beijing, nature is taking over – in people’s hair. Plastic hairpins of green clover and multi-coloured flowers are peeking out of hairdos, male and female alike.

Sheepdog guardians keep this colony of Fairy Penguins safe

Click to enlargeJJ Harrison

They’ve been our best friends for centuries, and in more recent years, dogs have proved they can also be our allies in conservation, from sniffing out endangered species to fighting wildlife crime. One place where they’ve notched up a major conservation victory is on a small island off the Australian coast, where a colony of tiny penguins has been brought back from the brink – a success story that’s now inspired a multimillion-dollar movie that opens in the country this week.

Middle Island, a rocky outcrop off the coast of Victoria, is best known for its avian inhabitants: it’s home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Just 33 centimetres tall (13 inches), the little penguin – or fairy penguin, if you prefer (of course you do!) – tips the scales at only around one kilogram.

While the birds spend most of their lives at sea, they do come ashore when breeding season rolls round – and that’s where Middle Island’s residents began running into trouble. The few hundred metres that separate the island from the mainland are not much of an obstacle for hungry foxes who proved quite capable of crossing the distance at low tide for the promise of an easy penguin meal.

With the predators picking off the defenceless birds, populations began to plummet dangerously: by 2005, what was once a colony numbering in the hundreds had been left with fewer than ten survivors.

Enter “Oddball”. The maremma sheepdog was initially bought by a mainland farmer whose chickens were being targeted by the very same enemy. “I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head. I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot,” the farmer, Allan Marsh, told ABC last year.

Marsh decided to get a dog of his own, and Oddball soon proved to be a pro at keeping foxes away from the farm. After a series of fortunate events, the sheepdog ended up on Middle Island, where wildlife officials hoped her chicken-guarding skills could work to keep the penguins safe too

Oddball first set paw on Middle Island in 2006, when the penguin colony was on the verge of total collapse. Since then, other maremmas have followed in her footsteps, and the Middle Island Maremma Project has proved a major conservation success. Fox attacks have stopped entirely and penguin numbers have been recovering, with around 180 birds at last count.

Click to enlarge

Conservation success + dogs = enough to make my heart happy for quite a spell.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Zero-tolerance madness in Washington school

Webster’s defines “tag” as “a game in which the player who is it chases others and tries to touch one of them who then becomes it.” Wikipedia explains that the game, also known in Britain as “it, tip you’re it” is “a playground game that involves one or more players chasing other players in an attempt to ‘tag’ or touch them, usually with their hands.”

So is the game of “tag” still “tag” if tagging is banned?

That is the question for the Mercer County School District in Washington state and for some unhappy parents.

It all started with a social media report earlier this week when a group of parents, responding to what they had heard was a ban on the game of tag in elementary schools, formed a group called “Support ‘tag’ at Recess.”

It was their impression that there was indeed a ban and the word soon spread to the news media…

Sounds like a ban to me

“The Mercer Island School District and school teams have recently revisited expectations for student behavior to address student safety. This means while at play, especially during recess and unstructured time, students are expected to keep their hands to themselves. The rationale behind this is to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students…”

Thursday the school district attempted to clarify. What it really has in mind, said a statement, was a “new form of tag-like running games to minimize the issues of ‘you were tagged/no I wasn’t’ or ‘the tag was too hard and felt more like a hit.’ Tag is not banned,” it insisted. “We plan to support our elementary students with new games and alternatives that still involve running and exercising.”

Running. Exercising. But no mention of touching, however, raising the question of how a child can become “it” without being touched.

RTFA. It goes on and on, here and there. The object is central to what I’ve been watching happen to education in America since the 1950’s. How to educate our children is now grounded in becoming a vaguely Freudian assembly for the purpose of group therapy.

I can understand any portion of our alienated society trying to come to grips with stupidity, grand illusions, imperial arrogance, bigotry, misogyny, the whole ball of bullshit our culture is capable of. Replacing education with touchy-feely fear and trembling aids nothing more than ignorance.

9/11 rescue dog celebrates her 16th birthday in NYC

Click to enlargeBretagne is the last living rescue dog who worked at the World Trade Center

A rescue dog that flew to New York for the 9/11 recovery effort returned last month to celebrate her 16th birthday.

The golden retriever named Bretagne traveled from Cypress, Texas, with her owner, Denise Corliss, after the 2001 terror attacks. They worked with dozens of other dogs and humans to find victims in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Her Aug. 22 return for a birthday bash was sponsored by BarkPost, a New York-based website devoted to all things canine.

The daylong celebration included a dog friendly cake, a ride in a vintage taxi and a trip to a dog run.

BarkPost creative producer Lara Hartle says Bretagne’s favorite part was the cake…

Good dog.

Shameless plug – sort of – for a resort in our neck of the prairie

Wendi Gelfound

Opening on Aug. 17, Sunrise Springs Integrative Wellness Resort, a 52-room spa resort in Santa Fe, focuses on “nature bathing,” the opportunity to dwell in nature as a stress reducer and energy booster.Daily activities include yoga, meditation, Native American rituals, therapeutic gardening and animal interactions such as chicken therapy, which is presented as a soothing activity that involves stroking a bird’s feathers.

An on-site greenhouse and kitchen garden will serve as showcases for gardening lessons and food sources for the restaurant. Guests are encouraged to unplug from their digital devices. They can seek health consultations with staff doctors and specialists in both Eastern and Western medicine.

“At Sunrise Springs, we encourage our guests to unplug, tune-in and actively engage in their lives,” said David Hans, a psychologist and the resort’s executive director, in a news release. Rates start at $675 per person per day, single occupancy, with a two-night minimum stay, including meals and activities.

Sunrise Springs has been one or another kind of destination for the decades I’ve lived in New Mexico. My wife and I had some delightful meals there in previous incarnations.

We feel no urgency to visit a wellness resort. If anything, we kind of count Lot 4, here, as achieving most of the same functions – though I haven’t done any “nature bathing” or poultry petting since I spent summers on my grandparents’ farm when I was a kid.

Eating alone is a very American thing

In 1985, The New York Times published a snippet of comforting news for self-conscious solo eaters. “Dining alone,” the newspaper reassured readers, “is no longer viewed as odd.” At the time, eating spaghetti and meatballs by yourself wasn’t exactly the norm. A second article, which ran only seven months later in the Times, chronicled the stigma of solo dinners.

Thirty years later, thanks to a range of social and cultural trends, eating alone has become less of an occasional exercise than a fact of life. Nearly half of all meals and snacks are now eaten in solitude, according to a new report by industry trade association the Food Marketing Institute. The frequency varies by meal — people are more likely to eat breakfast by themselves than lunch or dinner — but the popularity of solo dining is, no doubt, on the rise, and has been for some time…

Indeed, a 1999 survey found that the number of people who ate alone at least part of the time tripled between the 1960s and 1990s. By 2006, nearly 60 percent of Americans regularly ate on their own, according to the American Time Use Survey. Today, that number is even higher.

Breakfast has undergone the most significant transformation. Roughly 53 percent of all breakfasts are now eaten alone, whether at home, in the car, or at one’s desk, according to the latest report.

Lunch meanwhile is nearly as lonely these days. Some 45 percent of midday meals are had alone, according to the report.

Dinner is the only meal that is still largely communal. Roughly three quarters of all suppers are still eaten with others today. But even that is changing…

One of the clearest reasons for the shift is something that has been happening to American households, gradually, for decades: They have been getting smaller. Over the more than 40-year span between 1970 and 2012, the percentage of households that contained a single person grew from 17 percent to 27 percent, according to Census Bureau data.

“Only 13 percent of households had one person in them in the 1960s,” said Seifer, who credits marriage and family trends with the rise of the single person American household. “People are either delaying marriage or putting off the formation of families after they get married more and more these days.”

People are also eating alone because they’re pressed for time.

But for all the hoopla about braving the restaurant world alone, the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners being eaten without companions these days aren’t happening at fancy eateries or fast food chains. Most of them, in fact, are being eaten in the comfort of one’s home. What that has meant so far is more delivery, which has been a boon for services like Seamless, and prepared foods, like Trader Joes’ Indian meals, which are selling exceptionally well.

The food industry understands this, which is why restaurants across the country have signed up to delivery services in droves, and, in part, why companies like Maple, a delivery-only restaurant based in New York City, exist.

Work stresses and scheduling are part of the equation – in households with couples. The years my wife and I were both working demanded separate breakfasts. She left for work a couple hours earlier than I. Retirement for me made it easier for the two of us – and now that she’s retired, as well, we’ve managed to build a new schedule that allows for “convening” even when we’re not sharing the same tastes.

The “take-it-home” meals for one are a phenomenon we noticed a decade ago when we were silly enough to think we could afford to shop at Whole Foods. The space they dedicate to attractive take-out was a real surprise. We see the same process on a smaller scale at Sprouts – and just as much dedicated display space at our local Trader Joe’s.

Nothing we ever sample, of course. We both happen to be good cooks.

Egg freezing as the latest choice in family planning

For decades, “family planning” was synonymous with contraception. The Guttmacher Institute — a prominent reproductive health think tank — stated that “controlling family timing and size can be a key to unlocking opportunities for economic success, education, and equality” for women. In fact, their most recent analysis concluded that effective contraception has contributed to increasing women’s earning power and narrowing the gender pay gap.

Whether for these reasons or not, studies have consistently demonstrated that many women are choosing to delay childbearing. The age of first birth for women in developed countries is now approaching 28 and the birth rate in the USA is at an all time low…it is important that more women become aware of the potential benefit of oocyte freezing. In a recent study called “Baby Budgeting,” one research group described this technique of freezing/storing eggs as a “technologic bridge” from a woman’s reproductive prime to her preferred conception age.

Today egg freezing has made it possible for women to truly “plan their family” by storing eggs for later use. The first successful pregnancy from frozen eggs was reported in 1986. But for decades the process remained very inefficient, requiring about 100 eggs for each successful pregnancy. Therefore, the procedure was considered experimental and primarily offered to women that were faced with chemotherapy, radiation, or other fertility-robbing treatments used to treat serious illnesses. But with the development of more effective techniques for freezing eggs; success rates in many centers using frozen eggs is nearly as good as it is with using fresh eggs.

As a result of this improvement in pregnancy rates, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine lifted the “experimental” label from egg freezing and began supporting its use for social (rather than medical) reasons

For practical reasons, the process of creating a fertility plan should involve consideration of a woman’s current age, how many children she would like to have, and her ovarian reserve. Existing guidelines suggest that if a woman is in good health, younger than 31 with a normal ovarian reserve, she should wait and reevaluate her situation every one to three years. At the other end of the spectrum, if a woman is more than 38, she should consult with a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist to discuss her options.

The wider the range of choices available to a woman, the better. This doesn’t mean choices get easier – but, the ability to choose, to decide when or whether she has a pregnancy, offers a broader look at the life she wants to build.

After the atomic blast — the Wider Image

The Atomic Bomb Dome preserves one of the only structures left standing in Hiroshima after the world’s first nuclear attack 70 years ago. It’s now a World Heritage Site.

Reuters offers one of their great visual galleries – of the atomic blasts, then – and what lives there, now. From the Wider Image.