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2016-12-31 05:51 pm

Some good things



The year just passed hasn't been all doom and gloom, has it?

After all, it gave us a wonderful white rainbow!

And even though floods in Australia have been horrible, the huge rainfall led to beautiful waterfalls off Uluru and a wakeboarding Santa.

Also, the year offered up a clever riding cow. That's a cow that's being ridden, not a cow riding something else. Although that might have been good, too.

A Rothschild's giraffe baby was born on Boxing Day and a bald eagle chick hatched on New Year's Eve. Both my dogs pricked their ears up when they heard the eagle noises...

Bison or American buffalo were returned to Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, over 130 years after they were wiped out from the area.
And China banned the sale and processing of ivory!

In statistical news, slightly fewer people died in wars in 2016, and no new wars broke out, according to a report from the University of Hamburg (unfortunately I couldn't find the original report - but I'm not starting a new conflict - not me).

Happy new year!
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2016-08-12 11:44 am
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Bird words

I have learned several new bird words recently.

According to this sad report on the Dunsapie Loch swans Sally and Sid, a female swan is called a pen and a male swan is called a cob. I'm not entirely sure how you tell the difference, though. Is the male swan the one that's attacking you?

In news from the Highlands, it transpires that gannet chicks are called guga. They either taste like salty goose, somewhere between kipper and steak, a mix of rotten leather and fishy beef, or anchovy paste topped with high-strength cod liver oil. Yum!

And finally, the local name for the Great Skua in Orkney is bonxie. I heard it described as being able to "bonk" puffins out of the air and eat them before they hit the sea. Less gruesomely, the word seems to basically mean "dumpy bird".

Not birdspotting, but wordspotting!
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2016-05-09 02:40 pm
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Going Dutch

The saleswoman at the garden centre was shocked and doubtful when I said I'd carry the bag of compost home on my bike. "Well, if you're sure..." she said anxiously after I'd told her about my bike's fabulous rack. Having a mishap after such confident assertions would have been embarassing, so I made sure I picked a bag without a hole in it and strapped it on. Wheeling off with 50 litres of compost at the back and a proud hydrangea in my basket, I imagined I looked quite Dutch. They are the ones that carry everything on their bikes, right?

It was in this frame of mind that I spotted my first pro-EU display in someone's front window. A cute and rather discreet garland of EU flags. The display was not in my village. The other display I've seen, which is, has much more of a pro-Brexit attitude.

This is the second time I'm the specator to an EU debate. The first one was in Norway in 1994, when I was too young to vote. It's interesting to compare the two. In the UK today, it seems to me that campaigners are talking mostly about economic issues, whereas most people have actually made up their mind pretty firmly already and mainly for emotional reasons. Either you hate the EU and think it's holding us back, or love it and therefore think we can't live without it.

In Norway there was a huge emphasis on the "Union" part of the EU, with the understanding that having fought hard and long to leave a previous union with Sweden (and now we're supposed to join a union with the Swedes and sundry other Europeans?!?!?!). The no camp won the referendum, which may of course also have had a teensy bit to do with the buoyant economy. And fish. Norwegians are precious about their fish.

There's less anti-union talk in the United Kingdom, not surprisingly. The no camp here seems to be really into the issue of immigration. Well, let me just point out that Norway, as an EEA partner, has had plenty of the same immigration that Brexiters so loathe. Also, now that the economy's less buoyant, many immigrants are leaving again. Seriously, immigrants are a good sign, it means there's hope in a country.

If I had a say and thought it would help, I'd vote against the unaccountable multinational companies that are taking over transport, cleaning and who knows what other services everywhere, from smaller local companies. Guess what? They're both in Norway and in the UK, and I doubt any single referendum's going to solve it. And I had another look at that hydrangea. Turns out it was grown in the Netherlands. It's globalizaaaaation... and it's here.
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2016-04-25 06:29 pm
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Follow the recipe!

My daughter's just started cooking at school, and I'm so excited. We've been doing things at home as well, but I'm the kind of person who minds if there's flour all over the ceiling or cooking oil all over the floor and, well, it ends up with me doing most of the cooking in the end. She's a mean cake decorator, though!

Still, quite a bit of thought must have gone into making these recipes that are simple for kids to make; healthy, of course, yet also tasty for all those little tastebuds. So far they've been making salads, next time they'll be frying things.

In a fit of inspiration after all this - by which I mean the measuring and cutting of the ingredients that we have to do first at home - I agreed to try a new muffin recipe from a magazine together with lil'Miss Moo. It involved old bananas and butternut squash, things which we always have in abundant supply and often lack inspiration to cook and/or eat. For once, I followed every step of the recipe, measuring and stirring just so. It's actually quite relaxing, I must admit, more so than consulting a couple and mashing them all up to make a meal. Still, it didn't go quite to plan. At the last hurdle I fell and managed to burn the muffins. Fortunately, a great cake decorator was at hand.
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2015-12-02 05:12 pm
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Two birds

Here are two stories about birds.

Wisdom the Albatross has returned to Midway. Apparently this is the oldest wild bird we know about. And she's still laying eggs, putting many a chicken to shame. I wish albatrosses a long life, and many happy eggs.

Odin the Eagle has fled. In this bittersweet tale, a golden eagle made a bid for freedom whilst holidaying with his owner in Scotland. The owner has not given up hope of getting him back, but remains realistic: "If he has not had too much food he would come down to me, but if he's full of food he would not bother."

It's awful to lose a cherished pet, of course, but one part of me can't help saying "Fly, Odin, fly!" and hoping he manages out there in the wild.
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2014-11-11 05:05 pm
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Timing

There are a lot of deadlines in this gardening lark. There are certain times which are good for sowing, taking cuttings, cutting back, and for moving plants. I'm starting to get the hang of things, but still, several strongly anticipated windows did pass me by in the last growing year.

Now I've got moving trees on the agenda. No, not Ents - there are various self-sown trees I'd like to tidy up a bit. So off I go on the net to see which time is suitable for these particular types of tree. Turns out it's winter/early spring, so all I've got to do now is remember then. Sooow easy.

I also came across this facinating story about moving an enormous oak tree. How wonderful that they managed to do that rather than felling it! And that there's now expertise and machinery for performing such feats.
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2014-11-06 01:27 pm
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Burger rights now!

Absentmindedly listening to news in slow German to improve my dismal German and thoguht I heard something about a "Burger movement". Is that anything like a sausage movement, I wondered - after all, this is Germany. But wait. Burger means something else in German. Citizen movement. Right.
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2014-08-25 03:37 pm
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Ambulatorium

It's such a treat to come across a nice new word in the course of one's days, in this case in a podcast visiting some old building or another. Either I wasn't paying attention, or every other piece of information was washed away by the coolness of the word "ambulatorium". Apparently that's "ambulatory" in Engish, but don't worry, Latin Wikipedia's got it covered.

This thing is a place to walk around a central room - in a European context, the cloister. What struck me (as I've just been to India) is that they've got the same kind of corridorish things in Hindu temples, to walk around the idol room. I doubt they're called ambulatories, though.
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2014-08-24 06:17 am
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6 impossible things before breakfast

There will be no more flying from now on - not for me, not for the longest time. The last 3 international trips I’ve done have not been of my choosing, so now I choose not to go anywhere for a very long time. I’m becoming rooted, increasingly averse to leaving my pets, my plants and my plans for this and that.

As I crossed several timezones on this last trip, I’ve had serious jetlag. It was worse going east, of course, lying awake and desperate to sleep in the darkest hours of the night. But even going back I seem to have been somewhat stuck. The first proper night I fell asleep early in the night and woke up at 2 am. The second night I got up at 4, and now I’ve progressed to 5. That’s when dawn begins, so that’s acceptable.

Insomnia sucks, but if you’ve gotten a little rest, you can actually do things. After a trip I usually feel energized and observant, ready to deal with stuff. I’m cleaning, planning, looking at rugs to cover up tatty carpets, out in the garden as soon as the sun rises, cooking Chinese from an intimidating cookbook for brunch. Was that six things? They’re not impossible. Only sleep is, for now.
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2014-05-22 10:25 am
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Where be dragons?

I've been anjoying the bizarre Welsh comedy show Here Be Dragons, although it should perhaps be sued for false advertising as there's not a single dragon in it. I seem to recall a Dragon Cafe, though.

Speaking of dragons turning into things...

Read more... )
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2014-05-10 07:58 am
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How to raise interest

This infographic on gothic novels is quite funny, and also made me want to dive into the old, castley stuff. I mostly know gothic from later pastiches or parodies. "Northanger Abbey" comes to mind. One filmed version had longish extracts from such novels, which really added to the story.

Oh, and "Noah"'s being banned, in one way or the other, here and there. Nearly makes me want to see it. But I doubt it's as good as "Life of Brian".

Speaking of raising... I came across this crowdfunding book-publishing thingy, Unbound. Intriguing, although it seems you can only be a wonderful funder, not a regular old buyer. I'm not quite sure I'd want to pay £10 for an ebook. And I'm not interested in having my name in the back.
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2014-05-04 01:20 pm

Learning literacy on a tablet

I'd heard in passing about a place in Ethiopia where children basically learned to read on their own, using tablets containing learning apps. I found out more in this storyfrom 2012 and this one from 2013. Children in two remote villages, with little or no exposure to any writing, figured out how to spell English (and hack tablets) in a short period of time, without any outside input. I'm not sure how far they've been proven to go with this method, but it's certainly interesting. I was also wondering why they went for English rather than the children's native language (Oromo), but one researcher has some good answers: The software doesn't exist in Oromo, and the parents prefer their children to learn English.

Closer to home, my daugther's taken to writing long, illustrated stories involving My Little Ponies on her beloved tablet. She's using autocomplete a good bit, which helps her to insert apostrophes (but not to distinguish "there" and "they're") and hopefully become familiar with the spellings of longer words. Today, she needed help to spell "ginormous". I helped her with the beginning, then watched in amazement as the spellchecker helpfully finished the whole thing for her. That's some wordlist they've got there!

Anyway, this is not the first time tablets have been used to improve literacy. But the Sumerians used round ones...
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2014-05-01 10:25 am
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Lord, have Murphy

Never admit to the universe that you don't have very much on your plate at the moment. It will quickly ladle out stuff for you to deal with. And even though these were all tiny things to do, as I get stressed if I've got more than one thing going on at a time, I got stressed. Basically, I want nothing much to be going on, most of the time.

Anyway, the birthday meal preparation, the overdue library books, the suit shopping and the meeting are out of the way, now all I need to do is transcribe some interviews. These are quite interesting, actually, with high school students describing how they manage their learning. One of them had figured out how to do a prioritised task list by himself. That could never have been me.

I was reminded of how library technology has changed in relation to the olden days recently. Lo and behold, when I was at the library their entire computer system had died and they had to do things the old way. Except they've obviously gotten rid of those little cards they used to keep in the books and therefore had to write down each book number by hand. Luckily the librarians still had their stamping skills.
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2014-04-25 09:03 am
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Lambing season interrupted by shock camel arrival!

BBC York/North Yorkshire.

At first I thought it was a crazy cross between camelid and sheep, but it turns out this was a completely normal camel calf (calf?) born to a camel mum, albeit one kept without a male. Then I thought it might be a case of delayed implantation, where the mother had hung on to the fertilised embryo without it developing for a long time. Turns out the farmer has only had the camel for a little over a year, though, and camel pregnancies can last 13 to 14 months.

So basically, it's a story about a newborn camel. But it's very cute!
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2014-04-23 06:51 pm
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Happy Dragon Redemption Day!

Dragon hug by dolanhThe traditional way to mark St George's Day in England, at least among journalusts*, seems to be discussing why, or how, it's celeberated*. Obviously, I'm on the dragon's side. But I thought I'd try something celebratory this year -- such as defeating evil.

I'm talking about nettles. Stinging nettles that hide in the tall grass, then suddenly, as you're innocently gathering foodstuffs for bunnies, or walking around barefoot, or possibly doing handstands, they leap in the way only plants can. Nettles are rather a useful sort of plants, apparently, which can be used for their fibres, as a fertilizer, or to make all sorts of food and drink (within limits**) -- yet people rarely sing their praises. In fact, I doubt these plants are coveted anywhere, even where they're most exotic and difficult to grow.

So today I put on my fightin' rubber gloves and went out to face the beast. A few hours later and they've been boiled, blended and seasoned beyond recognition. Washed down with a good English ale as suggested by the Beeb, I think that's a suitable way to mark the day of the George. It's either that, or hug a dragon.

* All typos intentionally left in.
** Nettle tea will always seem a bit like grass tea.
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2014-04-19 04:38 pm
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Take a bow

Great, I had to Google the title to re-find my journal.

So. I rather enjoy reading books in pairs -- as in, two books in a row (or in parallel) about sisterhood, dragons, China or what have you. Although I adjust my reading for this sort of thing, it's even nice when it happens by chance.

For a bit of light holiday reading, I got humorous chicklit India Knight's "My Life on a Plate" out of the library. Then, at the cottage we rented in Scotland, I found "Buddha Da" by Anne Donovan, a novel in Glaswegian about a family man grasping for enlightenment. What I had not expected here was a parallel -- the main girl characters in each book were fans of Madonna.

So, erh, happy Easter, what?
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2011-07-29 03:43 pm

The names and the roses

Words failed me after the Norwegian terror attacks last Friday. How do you respond to such meaningless violence with anything that doesn't sound useless or overblown?

Norway's leading politicians first showed us how, by consistently refusing to aportion blame and rather focusing on how the society could respond: By fighting for its democratic values. Survivors from the island spoke with unbelievable strength when they again and again vowed to respond with love rather than hatred to the actions that killed their friends. And these sentiments filtered through to the population at large. Norwegians created Internet support groups; numerous ones for the victims and their loved ones, but also for the killer's family and defence lawyer. Representatives of rightwing politics said they'd have to reconsider their rhetoric, while politicians from the left said they shouldn't be blamed for what happened. When Muslim leaders were interviewed they said they were sorry that Muslims had been accused (and some abused) of being behind the attack, but chose to rather focus on the victims.

The tragedy truly struck all of Norway: Representatives from every county attended the youth camp on Utøya. In the aftermath, almost every local paper carries an interview with someone who experienced the killing or who lost a loved one to it. Everyone didn't know someone who was lost, but they knew they easily could have.

And all of Norway responded. Members of the attacked youth party returned to their home towns and continued their show of strength by appealing for more love and more democracy. Other youth parties gathered ranks behind them. Youngsters and older people joined various parties and voluntary organisations, one of which was also hit by the atrocity, in droves.

Himmel, storting og roser. Photo by Mats Lindh (fiskfisk on flickr)
Roses became a symbol for the sorrow felt over all the deaths and resistance against terror. Public places, symbols of the state and memorial spots were carpeted with flowers, candles and greetings to the dead after people throughout the country had marched in protest against the atrocities. Roses and other flowers became so much sought after that florists cut them off potted plants and sold them. They made a huge profit; this profit they've vowed to donate to charity. The authorities, in turn, have temporarily abolished import duties on roses.

In one town, a man with the same last name as the killer organised the local march. And "his" name is being subjected to a silent boycott. The prime minister avoids saying it during appearances, preferring to focus on the victims. Norwegian tweeters created the first post-tragedy joke out of misspelling or remodelling the name, to things like Arnold Bingo Bumpling. And on the news the names of the victims, their ages and hometowns were recited in something which sounded like a solemn remembrance ceremony.

Significant symbolical events keep happening: Leading imams came to the main memorial service held in Oslo cathedral; bishops and politicians came to memorial services held in mosques. The first funeral, held today for eighteen-year old girl who originally fled to Norway from Iraq, was a joint Muslim and Christian ceremony. Hours before she was killed, Bano Rashid had lent a former prime minister, the one the killer referred to as the "murderer of the nation", her boots. I wish that my nation will remain big enough to fill them.
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2011-07-17 08:08 pm
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dino, dino, do

for work purposes*, i'm perusing the Dinosaurs in art category on Wikimedia Commons, and i'm struck by a thought: Dinosaur art tends to be mostly models or drawings. Where are the oil paintings of the old lizards, eh? Reveal yourselves!

i do find it quite impressive that little german Bedheim has a dinosaur in their coat of arms, though.


*"Mum, are you going to make me a dinosaur like we saw in the book?"
"...erh..."
"Mum, are you going to make me a dinosaur like we saw in the book?"
"...oh, all right, then."
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2011-07-01 12:09 pm

children broaden the mind

if i hadn't had a child who insists on getting "pictures OUT of the computer!" and is heaivly into numbers, dragons, dolls and dogs, i wouldn't have realised how much hilarious cuteness there is on the interent. try searching for color in numbers pictures, for instance. a search for paper dolls (and shortly afterwards, paper dogs) gave me Frida Kahlo and Marilyn Monroe, a cat, a terrier and a skeleton. the last one had to be printed out three times and became pink, red and "rainbow-coloured". yes, indeed. her favourite thing at the moment are skeletons.
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2011-04-11 08:47 pm
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travel by proxy

i just visited Australia, Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Chennai! through my husband, that is, who went on a research trip there and back again. i must say it's an incredibly comfortable way of travelling, especially considering his plane had a nervous breakdown which had him sit in it at the airport for seven long hours and delayed his journey mightily. but he did see some pretty amazing sights, such as a kookaburra sitting in an old, old tree.

tv presenters always talk about "going on a journey" to discover the origins of science, the universe or everything, their family roots, where to get the best burger in birmingham or well, any old purpose. i've been going on a journey right here in my home, experiencing the life of a single parent (not easy, even when you're not also going out to work), ferrying my daughter to and from her school. i have explored the fascinating easter rites of an english primary school, which involves parents buying hats and hat-decorating equipment so that children can make decorative easter bonnets, teachers dressing up as rabbits, and a healthy doze of choklit easter eggs -- and i have travelled to the deepest recesses of my soul and dredged up a sort of cook from there. gee, i'm glad that's over.