Archive for December, 2008

Chariots of Fire

Heh heh heh heh. My friend Aaron uploaded this video to his YouTube site. It’s an excerpt of a really old home video from the 80’s. My siblings and I are performing Chariots of Fire. Long before Janet Jackson had her wardrobe malfunction, we experienced an organ malfunction. The little boy who was entrusted to play one note repeatedly is my brother Jay. The man pictured on the motorcycle is my maternal grandfather. The bossy girl in the leotard….well…uh…that would be me.


December 12, 2008 at 12:08 am 2 comments

Sex and the NEMO Science Center

Early on in our Netherlands trip, Ryan Somma and I noted the credit card receipts didn’t have a line item for “Tip”. Solution? We started carrying around cash so we were able to leave an extra 20% to our wait staff. So it turns out there is a reason the credit card receipts were different. There was already a service charge automatically added to the bill! That was probably the most expensive cultural difference we ran across. Zwarte Piet was definitely the most perplexing cultural difference. The cultural difference that was most interesting… and inspiring… is the open attitude towards sex.

And I’m not talking about the famous Red Light District with the sex shops, the peep shows and the window ladies. I’m talking about what you can see in the NEMO Science Center— the children’s museum.

The exhibits were not squeamish about nudity and did not shy away from the topic of sex. On the nudity front, you could see it throughout the museum. One of the many optical illusions on display asked viewers if they could see lovers or dolphins. A great “Bizarre and Beautiful” exhibit displayed photographs to show how beauty varies from culture to culture.

What do you see? Dolphins or lovers? (If you have trouble spotting the dolphins click on the picture to see Flickr notes)

Bizarre and Beautiful Display

Another exhibit allowed you to press a button and see how different hormones and proteins sounded if they were translated to music. Next to each item there was a representation so you could see what you were playing. So say for example you were playing the DNA of a mosquito. Next to the button was a mosquito. One of the musical scores was the “Human Sex Hormone”. For that representation, they simply put two naked dolls on top of each other.

Human Sex Hormone

And then we got to the third floor which featured more detailed exhibits geared towards teenagers. They had a display demonstrating sexual positions.

Sexual Position Displays at the NEMO Science Center

They had multiple displays on contraceptives, including novelty condoms.

Novelty condoms at the NEMO Science Center

The museum is a hands-on museum. What kind of hands on display can you do with sex? Hmm…How about allowing two children to move giant tongues to simulate a French Kiss?

Hands on display for French Kissing

A cartoon movie explaining the changes of puberty featured a confused cartoon boy ejaculating.

The befuddled cartoon boy on the left is ejaculating. Obviously he hadn’t visited the NEMO Science Center when he was younger.

They even had a booth were you could put on headphones and watch snippets from Beautiful Agony, a site which captures the human orgasm… from the neck up.

Explanation of “The Little Death” with still shots from Beautiful Agony

With so much talk about sex, surely the teenagers must be running wild in the Netherlands. It’s got to be worse than any invasive species– their teen birth rate must be through the roof!

NOPE! According to a 2001 Unicef report, their births per 1000 women, ages 15-19 was 6.2. Ours– 52.1, over 8 times as much.

Oh gawd, silly me. Of course! The reason their birth rate is so low is there are more abortions!

NOPE! Their teen abortion rate per 1000 women, ages 15 – 19 was 3.9. Ours — 30.2. That’s 7 times higher.

United States
Births per 1000, women ages 15-19 52.1 6.2
Abortions per 1000, women ages 15-19 30.2 3.9

Numbers from a 2001 Unicef Report

As a recap:

Easy and encouraged access to information to make knowledgeable decisions.
Less teen births.
Less teen abortions.

What exactly is the drawback here?

I may have my doubts and reservations about the Dutch’s Zwarte Piet, but not their attitute towards sex. I left the NEMO Science Center with a great respect for their culture.

Additional Reading
Sex Education: Why the British Should Go Dutch published November 28, 2008
Let’s Talk About Sex – Op-Ed Piece from the New York Times, published September 6, 2008

December 11, 2008 at 8:00 am 6 comments

Hertford Tree Memorial

When my grandmother passed away in 2000, her friends got together and planted a pink dogwood tree in Occoquan’s Mamie Davis Park in her memory. What a wonderful, wonderful way to remember a special person and add a little more beauty into this world.

Not too far from my new home, the town of Hertford, North Carolina has embraced that same concept. Adjacent to the Perquiman County Library, they have allotted land to be a Memorial Tree Park. A dedicated space where friends and family have planted trees in memory of loved ones.

Hertford Memorial Tree Park

Each tree in the park is accompanied by a sign with the name of who the tree is in memory of. If you are actively working on improving your tree identification skills like me, then you will be just as thrilled as I was to see the species labeled as well. Your very own cheat sheet!

White Dogwood in Memory of Dorothy White Barbee

Weeping Cherry

Red Oak in Memory of Addie Nixon Jones

Japanese Cherry

Although most of the trees were deciduous, there were some evergreens in the mix. In fact some of the hollies are flourishing so much, they are starting to obscure their purpose.

Flourishing Holly

The most popular trees were by far White Dogwoods. Cherry trees were second. Do you know what that means?!? The Hertford Memorial Tree Park is going to be so very lovely in the spring with all the blossoms.

I can’t wait!

More pictures of the Hertford Memorial Tree Park can be found on my Flickr site.

Hertford Memorial Tree Park

Directions from Elizabeth City, NC
Take 17 South about 14 miles
Turn right at 17 BR/New Hope Road/NC-37
Turn right on Market Street
The Memorial Tree Park is on Market Street between E Academy and W Academy Streets

P.S. In the future, if one is ever inspired to plant a tree in memory of me– I make a humble, prehumous suggestion of a Blight Resistant American Chestnut. We should have those by then!

P.S.S. Yeah, yeah, maybe I don’t love Rhododendrons as much as I thought!

December 10, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Merchant’s Millpond State Park

On Saturday, the dogs and I got to spend a precious hour at the Merchant’s Millpond State Park. The park was a little further away than I expected and I was attending a free Planetarium/Laser show at Elizabeth City State University (highly recommend– it was awesome!) at five PM, so I didn’t have much time to explore.

But this park doesn’t need long to make a good impression. It is GORGEOUS. And get this– I had it all to myself! Just like my December rollerblade last year in Evansville, Indiana, I was surprised to be the only one out and about. Yes, it is December. But it was still sunny… and the park was still stunning. And actually, I highly suspect this particular park is going to be beautiful year round (The future season compares can put that to the test).

Like Blacksburg’s Falls Ridge, the Merchant’s Millpond State park was made possible by a private donation and the help of the Nature Conservancy. The park is a mixture of coastal pond and southern swamp ecosystems and features plenty of bald cypress trees, mistletoe and dangling Spanish moss.

Fall Leaves and Bald Cypress Trees

Log Reflections at Merchant’s Millpond State Park

Bald Cypress Knees and Trees

More Bald Cypress Trees

Bald Cypress Trees with Spanish Moss

The dogs and I started our journey on a white-blazed trail. On the Appalachian Trail, we have hiked hundreds of miles guided by white blazes. It was interesting to be following the familiar color…with very different views than the mountains of Southwest Virginia.

Familiar white switchback blazes…with very different views

There is one property of the terrain, I’ll need to adjust to. Those darn Bald Cypress knees!!! Henry walks so low to the ground, his leash keeps getting tangled.

Gah! Leashed beagles and bald cypress knees are highly frustrating!

The park currently has over 3,250 acres, 9 miles of hiking trails and canoe rentals to further explore Lassiter Swamp. I barely scratched the surface! I will definitely have to make a return trip and I definitely don’t have to wait for winter to pass.

When you hike in the “off-season”, there are some advantages. You don’t have to worry about crowds. You don’t have to worry about ticks or snakes. And in this particular park, you don’t have to worry about alligators.

That’s right. One last thing! Merchant’s Millpond State Park has alligators.

Yikes! Yet another reason I need to keep Henry from getting tangled on Bald Cypress Knees! (Photo by VA-Tree Hugger)

More pictures of my December trip to Merchant’s Millpond State Park are available on my Flickr site.

December 9, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Nature Taking Over: Richmond

When you think of nature, Richmond, Virginia isn’t exactly the first place that comes to mind. But last summer after the Gogol Bordello concert, I did spend a day exploring the town. I took the Canal Walk about 1.25 miles down to Belle Isle for some hiking. Along the way, I saw plenty of nature. In fact, I saw a lot of cases where nature was taking back over!

James River and Hollywood Cemetery from Belle Isle

Nature Taking Over! A tree finds a way to grow on Belle Isle

Nature Taking Over! Look through this old valve and you see a tree growing

Nature Taking Over! Virginia Creeper spreading over an old dam

Nature is even taking over this cross in a more populated area. If you look closely, plants are growing on the rocks

A tree is finding a way to grow on bricks on the Canal Walk

Ah, I love witnessing nature’s persistence. You go, Mother Earth!

More pictures of the Richmond Canal Walk and Belle Isle can be found on my Flickr site.

December 8, 2008 at 8:00 am 4 comments

Cookie Decorating 2008

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, my family has a tradition of making and decorating Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving. This year may have been the year my mother has been waiting for. Instead of bloody amputees, BEOTCH Christmas trees or the army of butts we saw in 2007, we actually had an impressive inventory of “nice” cookies. Pretty butterflies, unicorns and ice cream cone cookies outnumbered the typical designs.

This year’s cookies featured butterflies instead of butts!

More pleasantly themed cookies

But, of course, we did have some unique appearances sneak in- DNA, Hydrogen Atoms, geek bunnies, monsters and a Kurt Cobain Cookie.

Monster Bunny, DNA, Hydrogen Atom

Kurt Cobain Cookie– with cigarette!

I tried to make an AT Logo and an American Chestnut Leaf, but both of those ventures didn’t come out well, particular the leaf. When it cooked, the cookie expanded and all my great American Chestnut teeth plumped up and rounded out.  So after the oven had its way, I was left with a Chestnut Oak Leaf instead.

Meh. An attempt at an AT Christmas Cookie

2008 was one of our more heavily attended cookie decoratings. This year we had Aaron, Meagan, Jay, Jacqueline, Mom, myself, Carolyn, Ryan Somma, Kipp, Stacy, Louise, Jenn (the bridesmaid I got to escort!), Christina and I think our youngest attendee to date– Oliver!

Stacy, Christina and Louise cut cookies

Meagan, Ryan, Mom, Me, Christina, Stacy, Louise (Photo by ae) – Note if you look at the large version, you can see I have icing on my face!

Louise, Stacy, Kipp decorating cookies

My brother prepares to decorate…by wearing latex gloves!

The youngest attendee – Oliver (shortly before Sunny stole his cookie)

As always, I enjoyed our annual cookie decorating event and I particularly enjoyed ingesting our lovely handiwork.

Additional Pictures
My Cookie Decorating Pictures
Aaron’s Cookie Decorating Pictures

December 7, 2008 at 8:28 pm 4 comments

links for 2008-12-05

December 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm Leave a comment

Need Nature Quotes?

Do you find yourself in need of some nature quotes? Well, then, I can hook you up! Just go to the Library of Congress and look up!

The Library of Congress – A One-Stop Shop for Great Quotes

I visited the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress last October. The interior of the building is memorizing. Not only is it downright gorgeous and appealing to the eye, but it is appealing to the intellect as well. Along the walls and the ceilings they have incorporated a number of quotes. I was pleased with how many focused on nature. Here are two of my favorites.

“Tongues in Trees, Books in the Running Brooks, Sermons in Stone and Good in Everything”

The quote comes from Act II of Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.

“In Nature, All Is Useful, All is Beautiful”

This is a snippet of a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

In nature, all is useful, all is beautiful. It is therefore beautiful, because it is alive, moving, reproductive; it is therefore useful, because it is symmetrical and fair. Beauty will not come at the call of a legislature, nor will it repeat in England or America its history in Greece. It will come, as always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and earnest men.

With all that knowledge just on its walls, it is no wonder the Library of Congress inspired a unit of measurement for information.

More pictures of my visit to the Library of Congress can be found on my Flickr site.

December 4, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

links for 2008-12-03

  • An awesome story about a *BLIND* hiker who finished the AT this past year. What is particularly impressive is the help he got from strangers, impromptu hiking partners who helped him along the way.

    When asked why he hiked the mountains when he wouldn't even be able to say the views, he said he was able to appreciate the trail in his own way.

    “I heard the snow crushed underfoot, felt the wind against my skin, felt the sun on my face and enjoyed the sheer silence of it all.”

    (Hat tip, Brian V!)

December 3, 2008 at 2:30 pm 2 comments

I See Extinct Things… in Amsterdam!

Thanks to the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens, I got to view more species that were once thought to be extinct.

Dawn Redwood (aka Water Fir)

In 1941, a Japanese paleo-botanist found fossil specimens that were similar both to Sequoias and Bald Cypresses, but had opposite leaves instead of the expected alternating leaves. This prompted the creation of a new genus, Metasequoia. Since the last appearance of trees with those properties was a whooping 1.5 million years ago, they were assumed extinct. But, three years later, a strand of unknown trees surfaced in China. Lo and behold, they were Metasequoias.

Water fir/Dawn Redwood in Amsterdam Botanical Gardens

Today the original forest still houses 5000 of the “living fossil”. In addition, the tree is planted widely. The tree in the Botanical Gardens was planted from the first seeds to arrive in Amsterdam in 1947. It is a source of national pride in China and marketed as an ornamental in the U.S.

The plantings that intrigue me the most, however, are in my new home state, North Carolina. Hidden away in the Sauraton Mountains, a Dawn Redwood preserve is in the works. In 2007, they had over 300 Dawn Redwoods flourishing on the site, some as tall as 50 feet. The Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwood Preserve hopes to open to the public in 2035 where visitors can experience what a metasequoia forest looked like 50-100 million years ago.

I think I will pencil in Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwood Preserve as my birthday hike in 2035. I’ll be turning 60. Anyone else in?

Wollemi Pine

Like the Coelacanths, we encountered plenty of fossils of this tree. In 1994, a National Park and Wildlife Services officer in Australia found some peculiar trees. Upon investigation, they turned out to be trees we saw no trace of for 2 million years.

With less than 100 adult trees existing in the wild and fossils dating back to 90 million years ago, the Wollemi Pine is one of the world’s oldest AND rarest trees.

Wollemi Pine in Amsterdam Botanical Gardens

It is considered Critically Endangered, but like the Dawn Redwood, it’s being planted extensively and can be purchased to grow in the U.S. In fact, if you get your orders in by December 15th, you can have your own Wollemi Pine by Christmas time!

More pictures of the Amsterdam Botanical Gardens can be found on my Flickr site.

December 3, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

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