Sunday, March 25, 2018

bach and nicolai

i read an inspiring article in the wall street journal today over coffee titled "a song of spiritual awakening" by mene ukeuberuwa.

in his 1731 cantata "wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme", johann sebastian bach finished a composition by a predecessor, the hymnist and preacher philipp nicolai.  in both its tune and its text, the cantata (known in english as "sleepers awake")  describes the ultimate feast:  the fulfillment of all human hope.

musically, nicolai belonged to the last generation of meistersingers, german musicians with rigorous training in poetry, harmony, and vocal performance who were quickly being replaced by the orchestras and organs of the emerging baroque style.

what captured my attention was not only this teamwork between composers, but the fact that nicolai began this work of hope in 1598 while the bubonic plague was ravaging his hometown of unna, claiming the life of one of his top music students.  nicolai channeled his grief into this piece which urges people to await the fulfillment of hope at a diving wedding feast, drawn from biblical parable.

bach leaves this message intact and adds adaptive verses from old and new testament divine love poetry.  through duets for baritone and soprano (representing the roles of God and the human soul) there is foreshadowing here on earth of the feast and joy yet to come; a message of hope just beyond the horizon.

clean bandit

i discovered, quite by accident, a band i really love.  sorting through random cds at the library, i came across a cover design i liked by a group i'd never heard of.  playing it in my car, i immediately loved their blend of electronics and strings. 

three weeks later, still listening non-stop to the cd, i found out that they were actually coming to portland on their US tour, so i bought a ticket, only to discover they had to cancel their tour (the drummer needs foot surgery, it seems, alas).

since i like to see the bright side of things, this just means i'll have to go to the UK to see them!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

we can print that

some of my friends have had to move recently, which led us into a discussion about affordable housing.  then i came across this article of a 3D printed home!  this has huge ramifications, it seems to me, in terms of global economy and homelessness.

click on the following link to learn more:  3D printed house

first day of spring

happy first day of spring, everyone!

springy things i've enjoyed lately include:  playing on the playground and swinging with small children, puddle stomping, hiking in the hail/sun/rain/sun, getting my bike out and on the road, drinking an iced latte, remembering i have sandals and wearing them (except not in the hail/sun/rain/sun), buying new sandals (i love shoes, i'm shallow that way!), taking time to watch clouds, gathering with my neighbors, collecting beautifully colored eggs from the hens, trying new things, and making colorful art.

what are you loving about spring so far?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


today is a good day because i learned a completely new word!  petrichor, noun, "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a period of warm, dry weather."

etymology?  it comes from the greek word petra, meaning "stone" and ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in greek mythology.

not only is it fun to smell, but it's fun to say; here's to petrichor and puddle-stomps!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

living splashes of paint

as i write this from the nature haven of my friends' home, a stellar jay is stealing not only my attention but the sunflower seeds from the rest of the avian menagerie.  i like to sit in front of the picture window, better than any nature show on tv, and watch the feeding unfold.

at least two hummingbirds live here and alternate between the syrup, rarely perching at the same time.  juncos, sparrows, starlings, finches; the occasional squirrel...and, coffee in hand, i learned something new from an article my bird-loving pals left for me on the kitchen counter.

it's from the paper column "every day physics:  by helen czerski; the color war of blue jays and cardinals".  czerski teaches me about the science behind these beautiful birds. 

red, like the brilliantly throated hummingbird, is visible to me because of pigment, a molecule that absorbs some colors and reflects others.  a red pigment molecule will absorb the blues, greens, and yellows so that only the red is reflected back to our eyes.  the absorption happens because of the structure of the molecule. 

birds use pigments called carotenoids, which are common in many leaves and seeds, and tend to be reds, oranges and yellows.  birds can't make these pigments, no animal can, and so they get them from their diet.  a red bird is a living splash of paint, having transferred the pigment to its feathers.

pigments, however, never turn a bird blue.  the color of blue in a jay, for example, comes from the architecture of the protein keratin that make up its feathers.  the outer layer of keratin is full of tiny air pockets and, as light waves flood in, they bounce off the boundaries between air and protein.

blue light waves are short and, when they meet another blue light wave, they line up to reinforce each other which is why we see iridescence in feathers from every angle.  blue light is the only light that escapes intact and, in the case of feathers, is called structural color.

(green parrots, snakes and frogs use both pigment and structural color) 

who knew science could be so beautiful?

the glass universe

if you have read or seen the movie "hidden figures", this book seems to me to be along those lines.  "the glass universe:  how the ladies of the harvard observatory took the measure of the stars" by dava sobel chronicles how the women went from "human computers" to pioneers of discovering the galaxy.

sobel, a longtime science reporter, has also authored "longitude", "galileo's daughter", and "the planets".

an paragraph from the inside flap, "...elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs...this is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe." 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

the (recovered) art of correspondence

i hesitate to call letter-writing a "lost" art, because i think the pendulum of technology is once again swinging in favor of putting pen to paper.  and it can be beautiful and fun to draw pictures of things you at other times may snap a picture of and include in a text message.

as a child i loved to collect stickers, which has translated into a grown-up version of seeing what the new *stamps are at the post office.  (yes, i am that person who cares which design she gets, although i try to make friends with my local postal clerks and make my decision quickly if there is a line behind me.)

what are some of the best pieces of snail mail you've ever received and why?  it can be so fun when, expecting the usual bills and junk mail, a beautiful envelope tumbles out of the mailbox.  why not make someone's day...

*you may already know this, but i happily discovered that when "forever" is written on a stamp, it means that it is good for a first class letter literally forever, regardless of an increase in postage costs.