The Suitcase Lady


June 19, 2018, 8:58 pm

I was reading my New Yorker magazine the other morning after breakfast…….no, amend that to say, I was reading the cartoons in the New Yorker when I came across this gem.

I glanced up laughing and the first thing I saw was Sasha who strategically had placed herself in a patch of sunlight.

Our domestic cats, Felis sylvestris, are all descendants of small desert cats from Egypt and the Middle East. Like the Egyptians who domesticated them, they are sun worshipers.

With a normal body temperature of 101.5, they can tolerate temperatures up to 124 degrees. Cats do not sense heat the same way we do which explains why we have banned candles from our house and occasionally have to pull a cat back a bit from the fireplace.

Our lovely tortoiseshell cat, Sousa, has a unique way of heating herself. In winter our girl eschews the patch of sunlight in favor of a more direct warming method. She perfectly aligns her body over the furnace vent on the floor. With paws tucked and tail curled around her, she can sleep for hours while the rest of us notice a distinct drop in the room’s temperature. She’s a heat sink.

Last month we noticed that Sousa had abandoned her heat register in favor of a big rectangle of sunlight. She is a far superior predictor of up coming summer weather than any calendar date.

Happy Summer Solstice.

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June 12, 2018, 7:03 pm

A grocery store in the Netherlands just made news by introducing an aisle of diverse food items all of which are free of plastic packaging. This got me thinking about plastic. It also made me wish I could shop in that store.

Plastic has an interesting history. Elephants probably escaped extinction because of its invention. In the late 1800’s, billiards was all the rage and billiard balls as well as all piano keys were made from ivory. The invention of a plastic called cellulose at that time spared many elephant lives.

bakelite jewelry

In 1907, the first fully-synthetic, commercially successful plastic was invented by a Belgian-American named Leo Hendrik Baekeland. He named it Bakelite which is much easier to say than its chemical name polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride.

World War II was the catalyst that made plastic go viral. Rubber was scarce and a substitutes had to be used. Every GI got a plastic, formerly rubber, comb in his hygiene kit. Parts for military vehicles and planes, ropes, insulators and multiple other wartime uses of plastic caused its production to increase 300%.

After the war ended, the plastic factories turned to making plastics for the booming consumer goods sector. Tupperware was invented in 1946. A flood of plastic products and packaging soon took over every corner of the marketplace.

Now, in 2018, the world is literally being chocked with plastics almost all of which take 500 years to decompose in a landfill. Oceans, lakes and landfills have become plastic storage sites. Yet, technology exists to burn plastic to create electricity. European countries are doing this safely and successfully. New types of plastics are also being invented that decompose more rapidly. Unfortunately, an industry that generates trillions of dollars in sales will not change quickly.

Despite my best efforts, I still find myself drowning in plastic. Peanut butter doesn’t come in glass jars nor shampoo in glass bottles. Even major parts of my car are plastic.

The other day at the grocery store I bought three items. “Don’t give me a plastic bag,” I said to the check out person,”I’ll just put them in my purse.” He looked at me like I was crazy. Fortunately, I’m not. I’m just fond of my planet.

Consider this sobering fact from a 2017 study in the journal Science Advances. Of the roughly 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics produced worldwide since the 1950s, about 6.3 billion have been thrown away.

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June 5, 2018, 10:27 pm

My local school district is one of the poorest in the state. But we are rich in outstanding educators plus one huge physical asset. We have a school forest.

Given as a gift in 1955 by a wealthy family, the Rahr Memorial School Forest now consists of almost 300 acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The land includes mixed forests, pines, sand dunes, fields, a swamp, a pond and a rocky, fossil-strewn beach. In other words, it’s an incredible treasure. All students in our district from kindergarten through senior high visit frequently for environmental education.

That is how I found myself on a school bus last week with 50 first graders, their teachers plus several volunteers like myself. I am happy to report that our kids do not have nature deficit disorder. On the contrary, they were all overjoyed to be going back to “their” forest.

Arriving at the woods, we broke up into three groups and began a round robin of three carefully planned activities. My group started by solving a nature mystery presented by the school forest coordinator. “Who do you think made the strange designs in these pieces of wood I found in our forest?”, she asked while passing out the wood and large magnifying glasses. After observation, the kids presented their hypothesizes. Several students guessed “insects” which turned out to be correct. Our teacher then explained the life cycle of the engraver beetle.

Next, one of our first grade teachers began her presentation by dividing the kids into small groups and giving each group a hula hoop. They were told to put the hoop down on a spot of sandy soil at the forest edge and search for bugs and other creepy crawlies in their circle. The kids loved this arthropod treasure hunt and shrieked with joy whenever they unearthed June bugs or other specimens. They could view and share their finds by putting them in clear plastic jars with magnifying glass lids. At the end of the session, all the creatures were released.

The last adventure was in a pine and hemlock forest where all the fallen trees and leaf litter is left to decompose. The children each got a plastic spoon and were instructed to GENTLY dig in the rotting logs and leaves to discover who lived there. And here is where one student found the best discovery of the day, a beautiful, little, three inch long salamander.

All this focused observation and field work culminated with play time in a gigantic sand dune, literally a bowl of sand near the lake. The exuberant kids would have stayed there happily until nightfall.

At the end of this day, I had only one thought…..if only every child in America could have a school forest or nature center like ours and dynamic teachers to interpret it.

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June 2, 2018, 11:24 am

I just found out that my cousin Peter, a photographer, visited The Bread Festival in 2006. Here are four of his photos to go along with Tuesday’s blog.

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May 29, 2018, 9:52 pm

It’s no secret that I love bread. No day goes by in our house that bread in some form is not consumed. Life without bread would be decidedly crummy.

So it is not surprising that I keep up with bread news, most of which is supplied by France, a nation of bread connoisseurs.

For the last 23 years, the French have staged a Fete du Pain or Bread Festival. This year it was held for ten days, May 5 to May 16, and was in Paris…..directly in front of Notre Dame.

Part of the festivities was a baking contest to determine the Best French Tradition baguette. Contestants had a maximum of six hours to bake 40 French Tradition baguettes in front of an audience. Bread is codified by law in France, and the bakers     had to meet the standards laid out in Article 2 of Decree Number 993-1074. A jury of six professionals graded the loaves on six points: look, crust, flavor, crumb, chewing and taste.

This year’s winner was Mahmoud M’seddi, whose father, also a baker, was an immigrant from Tunisia. Last year’s winner also was the son of a Tunisian immigrant and a baker with Senegalese origins has been a two-time winner.

In this year’s contest, half of all the contestants were from immigrant families. Bakery work is hard labor with long hours, and many native Frenchmen and women no longer want such a demanding job.

Anne Hidalgo, the current Paris mayor who was born in Spain, sums up the situation with these words,” Not only do the immigrants not take bread from our mouths, they put bread in.” Take that, National Front.

Her words ring true in America as well. Our meat, fruit, vegetable and dairy products are all supplied to us via immigrant labor. We need to respectfully say thank you to these people who do the work we shun.

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