Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Our Only Home - Book Notes

I recently read Our Only Home by Dalai Lama and Franz Alt. It's a short book so it's a quick read. It is set up in an interview format with Franz Alt asking questions and Dalai Lama answering them. 

One question that stood out was, "You suggest planting trees for the future and for peace. Why is that so important?" 

Dalai Lama answered, "Trees have been our companions through history and they remain important today. They purify the air for living beings to breathe. Their shade provides a refreshing place to rest and serves as a place for insects and birds to live. They contribute to timely rainfall, which nourishes crops and livestock and balances the climate. They create an attractive landscape, pleasing to the eye and calming for the mind, and continually replenish their surroundings. Properly managed, they are also a source of economic prosperity. 

"When the environment becomes damaged and polluted, oceans and lakes lose their cool and soothing qualities, so the creatures depending on them are disturbed. The decline of vegetation and forest cover causes the earth's bounty to decline. Rain no longer falls when required, the soil dries and erodes, and forest fires rage. We all suffer the consequences, whether we are ants in the jungle or human beings in cities."

He spoke more about how trees fit into the context of Buddhism and how Tibetan monasteries in Tibet and India have been cultivating tree plantations over the past few decades.

"The longing for nature and green is ingrained in us. Human beings love green so much that they plant more and more trees in our cities and towns, and even trees on the roofs. When you spend time in the forest and hear birds singing, you feel good inside. The healing power of forests is becoming increasingly important. When we are surrounded by artificial things, it's harder to be peaceful. It's as if we begin to be artificial; we develop hypocrisy, suspicion, and distrust. In that state it's hard to develop genuine, warmhearted friendship. 

"We all feel the need to be surrounded by life. We need life around us that grows, flourishes and thrives....We all love our technology. But our relationship with plants and nature is inextricably very old and very deep."

In another answer about nature, Dalai Lama said, "Nature is sacred to us. Nature is our true home. We humans come from nature. We can live without religion, but not without nature. Therefore, I say that environmental ethics are more important than religion. If we keep destroying nature as we are doing today, we will not survive."

He also addressed intensive animal husbandry. "We humans can live largely without or with little meat. And above all without animal suffering - in particular in our modern world, where we have many alternatives, especially fruits and vegetables....Intensive animal husbandry has serious consequences not only for animals, but also for man's health, the soil, insects and the air." 

He continued, "Many consumers want to reduce meat consumption in order to protect the climate, but also to alleviate animal suffering caused by factory farming."

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln - Book Notes

Recently, I read The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln - A Treasury of Quotations, Anecdotes, and Observations by James Humes. 

The quotes were divided by subject which made it easy to understand the context in which the quote was said. There were many things that Abraham Lincoln said that I had not heard before. Some include:

- I say "try" - if we never try, we shall never succeed.

- Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it - the real thing is the tree.

- He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help.

- All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother.

- When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.

- I shall meet with some terrible end. 

- Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.

- I always assume my audiences are wiser than I am, and I say the most sensible thing I can to them and I never found that they did not understand me.

- Don't shoot too high [when public speaking]. Aim low and the common people will understand you. 

- If we could know first where we are and whither we are tending we could better judge what to do and how to do it. 

- The pioneer in any movement is not generally the best man to carry that movement to a successful issue. It was so in the old times: Moses began the emancipation of the Jews, but didn't take Israel to the Promised Land after all. He had to make way for Joshua to complete the work.

- If we cannot give freedom to every creature, let us do nothing that will impose slavery upon any other creature. 

- Wealth is a superfluity of things we don't need.

Another section of the book was devoted to different things that related to Lincoln's life or appearance - such as his beard or hat, or actions or situations that he was in. Some of the information about Abraham Lincoln that I found interesting included:

- Lincoln, unlike contemporary politicians, employed no speechwriter. 

- Lincoln's humility was rooted in an awareness of his and any man's limitations.

- If the log cabin birth and violent death frame his life, the warm colors of his honesty and humanity constitute the picture. 

- Lincoln's silk stovepipe hat was part of his office. It served as his desk when he would jot notes on its flat top and also his file drawer where he would keep his datebook, checkbook, and letters. When he would think of an idea, he would scribble it on a piece of paper and then insert it in the hatband. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Skunk - Outdoor Hour Challenge

The girls and I used to do the Outdoor Hour Challenge when they were younger. With this being the last year of homeschooling Olivia, I wanted to do some remaining nature studies that we had not had the opportunity to do yet. This week, we focused on skunks. 

Watch excerpts from a Nature program about skunks: PBS Nature Skunk. This is a 30-second preview to the program. After that we watched "Skunk Spray Chemistry" which we found fascinating. We learned that:
- A skunk spray ingredient has an interesting characteristic. It will ignite and is highly flammable. 
- The spray has a thiol in it which is a sulfur-based compound that is found in garlic and onions. 
- In high concentrations, the compound will cause people to vomit. 

Look at photos from a field trip to Fawn de Rosa where there was a skunk

We talked about the field trip, and being able to see and touch the skunk up close.

Olivia was clearly intrigued by the little skunk.

It was such a great experience to be able to touch a skunk - something we would never have been able to do elsewhere.

September 26, 2015

Read pages 245-247 in the Handbook of Nature Study

Some of the interesting facts from this book include:
- A fully grown skunk is about two feet long; and its body is covered with long, shining, rather coarse hair. 
- The tail is very large and bushy.
- The fur is sometimes entirely black, but most often has a white patch on the back of the neck, with two stripes extending down the back and along the sides to the tail. The face also has a white stripe.
- Its front legs and very much shorter than its hind legs, which gives it a very peculiar gait.
- Its forefeet are armed with long, strong claws, with which it digs its burrow.
- Sometimes it makes its home in an abandoned woodchuck's hole or under a barn.
- The skunk is very neat about its own nest.
- It belongs to the same family as the mink and weasel, which also give off a disagreeable odor when angry. 
- The odor from the spray can be smelled for half a mile downwind.
- Because this discharge is so disagreeable to all other creatures, the skunk's intelligence has not become so highly developed as has that of some animals. It has not been obliged to rely upon its cunning to escape its enemies and has therefore never developed either fear or cleverness.
- The skunk's food consists largely of fruits and berries, insects, mice, snakes, frogs, and other small animals. It also destroys the eggs and young of birds that nest upon the ground. 
- When skunks burrow beneath barns, they completely rid the place of mice. 

Look at the New Hampshire PBS NatureWorks information about skunks. This handout had a lot of good information that Olivia cut and paste into her nature journal.

Read Stories 22 (An Independent Family) in The Burgess Animal Book for Children. Some facts that were integrated into the story are:
- Weasels, minks, otters, and badgers are all related to skunks.
- The "scent gun" is never used unless a skunk feels it is in danger.
- Skunks eat beetles, grubs, grasshoppers, crickets, mice, and frogs. 
- Skunks don't go into the winter chamber of their home until after the first snowfall.
- They have between 6-10 babies each year.
- The mother skunk is the only one around when the babies are born. However, the father rejoins them when they start walking. 
- In the southwest United States, there is a hognose skunk.
- When skunks are angry, they will growl and stamp the ground with their front paws.
- Owls don't mind the skunk's scent, so they are are an enemy of the skunk. 

During 10-15 minutes of outdoor time, keep an eye out for signs of mammals - such as animal tracks. Take photos or make a mental note of how they looked. 

In Minnesota, we typically do not see skunks. Every once in a while we smell if a skunk has been hit on the road. However, it is very rare. In the past 26 years that we have lived at our farm, I think I've smelled a skunk under five times - mostly on the county roads near us. Only one of those times did I smell the skunk (or skunks) on our farm and the smell lingered for days. We had no idea where the skunk (or skunks) was living or hiding. 

Olivia with a stuffed skunk/taxidermy at Lake Shetek State Park.
June 9, 2012

Create a page in a nature study book about what was learned about skunks. 

Olivia did a nature study on March 22, 2013. Her nature journal page is here:

Her new nature journal page that was done in February 2022, is here: 

Olivia used the notebooking page (the first image) from Notebooking Fairy

Additional resources for this challenge:

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Raccoons - Outdoor Hour Challenge

This week, Olivia and I focused on studying raccoons for our nature study. We used some of the ideas from the Outdoor Hour Challenge that were posted back in 2009, but never did at that time. We also added some of our own activities.

Watch videos about raccoons.

We watched this one - Raccoons: Amazing Animals. Raccoons are opportunistic omnivores. They have very sensitive paws. There are seven species of raccoons, and most live between 2-5 years. That's such a short life!

We also watched this one - Raccoon demonstrates problem-solving skills. Rascal, the raccoon, shows how it can remember how to open a variety of locks to get through three compartments to receive treats and eventually leave the plexiglass tunnel. 

We also watched Raccoon Nation and some of the short clips from the episode. The "First Night Out" one was interesting as a mother and her young raccoons went out and about. As dawn approaches, they need to find a hiding spot for the day. We learned that raccoons can collapse their backs to fit into smaller quarters. 

Also on Raccoon Nation was "Filming Raccoons is Hard" which shows the difficulties of getting videos and pictures of raccoons at night. 

Read from the Handbook of Nature Study.

“None other of our little brothers of the forest has such a mischievous countenance as the coon. The black patch across the face and surrounding the eyes like large goggles, and the black line extending from the long, inquisitive nose directly up the forehead give the coon’s face an anxious expression; and the keenness of the big, beady, black eyes and the alert, “sassy” looking, broadly triangular ears, convince one that the anxiety depicted in the face is anxiety lest something that should not be done be left undone; and I am sure that anyone who has had experience with pet coons will aver that their acts do not belie their looks.”
                                                        -Handbook of Nature Study, pages 247-248

Read pages 247-250 in the Handbook of Nature Study about the raccoon. 

“The raccoon lives in hollow trees or caves along the banks of streams. It sleeps during the day and seeks its food at night. It sleeps during the winter.”

Do supplemental reading in The Burgess Animal Book for Children by reading Story 31

This story is called Bobby Coon and integrates facts about raccoons into the story. We learned some facts about raccoons including:
- they are nocturnal animals. 
- they are wasteful eaters, especially when it comes to corn in cornfields.
- they are related to the bear family. 
- the hindfoot shows the whole foot - including the heel and toes. It resembles a bear's footprint, but on a smaller scale.
- they eat eggs, young chickens, anything with flesh, fish, frogs, fruit, nuts, and insects.
- they like to wash their food before eating it.
- they give birth to more than one baby at a time.
- after the first snowfall, they typically hibernate in hollow trees.
- they can climb trees and move from treetop to treetop, if they are close together.
- they are most closely related to animal that is known by many different names: the Bassaris, the Civet Cat, the Coon Cat, or Cacomixtile. This animal lives in the far Southwest or the mountains of the West. This is what they look like: 

Neither Olivia nor I had ever heard of the Bassaris, so reading this children's story was worthwhile. We learned something new.

Learn some facts about raccoons on the Adirondack Ecological Center's website.

The AEC has interesting facts about raccoons that we enjoyed reading.

Spend 10-15 minutes outdoors on a nature walk. 

Raccoons hibernate in the winter so there will be little chance of actually observing one this week. Instead, look for any animal tracks in the snow or mud. Keep your eyes out for any mammal that comes your way this week.

We didn't do the nature walk because we knew that there would be no raccoons. It's easier for us to see them on the trail cam. 

This is Olivia's nature journal page: 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

The Moon in Fact and Fancy - Book Notes

Somehow the book The Moon in Fact and Fancy by Alfred Slote got on my list of books that I wanted to read...or maybe it was a book I wanted the girls to read. At any rate, this book was published in 1967 and is a combination of science and folklore stories. The chapters alternate - with one being focused on science and the next on folklore and then going back to science. It's a nice change of pace.

The folktales are from Africa, Burma, the Philippines, South America, Scandinavia, India, and the South Pacific. Each one has a different focus, such as the origin and phases of the moon; tides; and the eclipses of the moon.

The chapters on science focus on the same topics as the folktales, but provides the scientific information - rather than a fictional story.

There were some interesting facts in the book that I learned:

- the trip of the moon around the earth always takes about four weeks.

- While the moon always takes about four weeks for its trip around the earth, it moves at different speeds during its trip. This is because the moon, as well as the planets, moves in an elliptical orbit. In this orbit the moon moves faster when it is closer to earth, and slows down as it moves away from earth. This increase and decrease in speed is caused by an increase and decrease of the earth's gravitational attraction.

- A total eclipse of the moon can last as long as four hours, and at least half the world may see it at the same time. 

Hold a quarter out at varying distances while looking 
at a person or object across the room. 
Depending on the distance, 
the object will be blocked (just like an eclipse). 
This was part of the unit study on the moon, 
solar system, and space 
(after reading the Magic Treehouse book called "Midnight on the Moon").

- Solar eclipses...occur at least twice a year and sometimes as often as five times a year. A total solar eclipse is not often seen by many people. New York City, for example, had a total solar eclipse in 1925 and is not due for another one until 2144.

Olivia taking photos of the eclipse of the sun.

I was surprised that this photo of the eclipse of the sun turned out.

- There is no atmosphere to hold the traces of previous warmth or cold and make changes gradual. In the height of the lunar day the moon explorer may see his space suit thermometer shoot up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit - perhaps even 300 degrees - far above the boiling point of water! Two weeks later, for the lunar day is two weeks long, the lunar night will switch on and the moon explorer's thermometer will plunge sharply to 240 degrees below zero.

- Craters are almost everywhere, from an inch in diameter on up. Scientists now believe there are millions of craters on the moon, ranging in size from about 180 miles across down to an inch or so across.

- Young craters are more circular than old craters.

- The Straight Wall is a fracture in the lunar crust. It looks like a huge step in a staircase with no other steps below or above. It is about 70 miles long and a thousand feet high.

Friday, February 4, 2022

My Favorite Photos - January 2022

 As I look back on January, it was a full month. The first four days were spent quarantining since we needed to get Sophia off to Thailand for a semester-long study abroad program. She had to have a negative COVID test to board the international flight going from San Francisco to Doha (Qatar) to Bangkok, and then another one from Bangkok to Chaing Mai. The quarantining paid off: she had two negative tests!

So, on January 1st, instead of our usual out-to-eat-Chinese-meal to celebrate the start of the New Year, we made food at home to enjoy. Nothing was from scratch...all frozen food that was prepared...yet it was surprisingly good. 

On the 4th, we said "goodbye" to Sophia at the airport at about 7:20 a.m. Sophia was eager and excited to go on her trip. Although we are excited for her, it will be a long 117 days until she returns.

I was seeing a lot of cardinals at the beginning of the month - especially around the anniversary of my dad's death (January 5, 2012 - 10 years this year).

The female cardinals were close by the males. 

Also saw, for the first time, a purple finch! They are rather big birds - much bigger than I thought.

The purple finch isn't nearly as big as the male pheasants that are running around the front yard. Their feathers are so brilliant and beautiful!

The weather that produces frost isn't something I enjoy. Yet, I do like the delicate frost crystals on the glass.

We celebrated Olivia's 19th birthday on the 18th. Hard to believe she's already 19 and that next year she'll be in her 20s. Time goes by way too fast.

We've had so many different types of cake with Sophia's birthday only 20 days before Olivia's birthday. She chose brownies - triple chocolate - with 19 candles. 

There were so many candles on the cake that they couldn't be blown out in one breath. 

Towards the end of the month, Olivia played two pieces while I recorded them, for the music scholarship application. It would be nice if she received that. It's a four-year scholarship offered through the college.

On the 22nd, I led a session at the Lions MidWinter Convention for making shoe kits for Sole Hope. Each grouping represents a pair of shoes for a toddler. The shoe kits are shipped to Uganda where a seamstress and cobbler sewing them and then attach them to a sole made from a used tire. On the top, they are fastened by elastic. They're a cut pair of shoes - made from blue jeans that would have either been thrown away here in the United States. 

The children receive a free pair of shoes because they had jiggers (microscopic insects that burrow into one's skin and lay eggs. The eggs can grow thousands of times their size). The jiggers are first removed by using a sharp razor and cutting hundreds - if not thousands - of times into the feet to remove the eggs. Jiggers are so painful that kids stop playing and going to school, and adults stop working and being able to provide for their families. It's a good project. I'm glad we were able to make 16 shoe kits for children. It will change their lives.

Olivia and I went on a nature walk around the farm to see if we could spot any tracks. In the west pasture, where the horses used to be, we could only rabbit and pheasant tracks. 

As we were walking near the little forest area, we spotted a hawk flying above us.

We saw deer beds near the evergreen trees in the little forest.

There is a grove of trees near the west side of the property. They provide a nice shelter for small wildlife and a windbreak for larger animals. 

Winding our way back to the house, we came across a set of tracks that looks like rabbit tracks. However, there is something dragging - maybe a leg that had been injured? We do have a rabbit that is living on our farm who has a bad back leg - either injured or crippled. Maybe it was that one. 

Towards the end of the month, I saw an American Chipping Sparrow. I like its little brown cap.


The squirrels have been eating the corn I put out for them. I like their cute little paws.

I saw a female dark-eyed junco. The males are a dark black whereas the females are gray.

A nuthatch was waiting its turn for the suet. 

On Friday, January 28th, we went to Stillwater to see the large ice sculptures. People from all over the world came to Stillwater, Minnesota, to create large-scale designs from snow. They were really impressive.

They were all at least 7-8 feet tall.

All were very impressive in terms of what can be done with snow. 

On the final weekend of January, Olivia and I taught at a 4-H Winter Workshop Day. One of the classes I taught related to food. The girls made French toast in the shape of hearts (for an early-Valentine's Day meal), and covered it with powdered sugar. They also could top the French toast with strawberry butter which was really good. 

They also made fruit skewers with three types of fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, and pineapple) cut into the small heart shapes. The fruit could be dipped into a yogurt fruit dip. 

During the second class session, Olivia taught about photography - one of the things she loves doing. The youth had a lot of questions for her which she enjoyed answering. 

The final class was one I taught about making birdfeeders. It was an idea I saw on Pinterest that was supposed to be affordable and use natural materials. It ended up being rather expensive because of the grapevine wreaths (either $6 or close to $10 per wreath depending on the size). The splatter guards - which are under the grapevine wreaths - were two for $8.88. Twine, suet, and birdseed were the only other things I needed to purchase. (Thankfully, 4-H reimburses me.)

What was free was the selection of native plant materials and pine cones for embellishing the grapevine wreaths. I collected these items from the trees and shrubs around our farm. There also was a suet-covered pinecone hanging from the center of the birdfeeder. 

This is the last 4-H Winter Workshop that I'll be doing since Olivia will be in college next January. This marked the end of more than a decade of either participating and/or teaching at this annual event.