Nature’s micro structures

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge from The Daily Post is for the topic:

STRUCTURE

Here’s the prompt the good people at The Daily Post offered:

Today, take a moment to notice the structure of everyday things around you. Note the lines, freckles, and tiny hairs on your arm, and imagine the biological blueprint that created them. See the bricks of a building, and realize that they were individually placed there by another person. Then, share with us a photo of the structure of something wonderful. We’re eager to see details through your lens.

There are examples of structure all around us.  I am fascinated by the intricate way things fit together and work in conjunction with each other.  I marvel at architectural structure and the process of building but my focus today went to the natural environment. With so much on offer I could not settle on one image, nor do the several below fully sate my curiosity.

Looking into the micro structures of life

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The spaces we inhabit are extensions of us

“Houses are like the human beings that inhabit them.”
— Victor Hugo

I have owned only two houses in my life. The first for seventeen years. It was heart wrenching to leave having inhabited the space for so long, seen my children grow there and begun my married life there. It was my first really grown up thing to own.

It flooded you see. After a huge renovation that transformed the house it was inundated with filthy flood waters in 2011. While others left the area, part of our house was still habitable but changed. The sense of peace and tranquility we’d established felt sullied. Each time the rains came, panic rose in my chest. Would we flood again?

So having loved that space and the surrounding area we made the difficult decision to leave. Four years on, I feel really comfortable and settled. I inhabit a new space. A large, open, light space. On a hill. Each nook and cranny of this space reflects our personalities. It’s comfortable and convenient, close to the city and facilities yet tucked away from the hustle and bustle with a forest close by.

Now, my beloved and I find ourselves at a new juncture of our lives. Nearing retirement, with a moderate debt still in play. We have discussed ways to become financially independent. One solution is to downsize. My anxiety levels rise at the thought. I feel like I belong here. There are so many positive reasons to stay. There are so many features of where we live we couldn’t find elsewhere for a fraction of the price.

We’re at a crossroad.

I know it’s only a house we inhabit and that it’s the people you are with that make life full and worthwhile. I do know that. I also like comfort and beauty and space. It is more than just the house too.  One becomes settled in a place, part of the landscape, especially when that landscape appeals to the senses, as the river did (before it flooded) and the forest now does.

There is another element in our mix. Do we stay in this city, my beloved’s hometown, or do we move to a much-loved holiday destination in the Blue Mountains? Crossing state borders as well as a new threshold.

Why is it so hard to make these decisions about a material possession? Well, I think it’s because, for me at least, my home is my safe place. My retreat from the world and a place I can craft to express myself. A house is not just a place to inhabit but a place that creatively reflects who we are. Location too plays a role, as mentioned earlier. Where we live is as much an extension of us, or we become and extension of it, as much as the house itself.

What is special about the place you inhabit?

Ooze

The vile, fetid sludge oozes like a toxic vapour from every pore. The noxious cocktail of disheartened discontentment is an infection that oozes like pus from a boil. Once lanced virile, vibrant positivity radiates in its stead.

It’s Monday


Wake up. It’s dawn.
The birds are rousing.
It’s time to meditate, to enjoy the freedom of a morning walk, in the still quiet landscape.

Shoes off, shower running, dress for the day
Eat breakfast, grab lunch
It’s 7am and the trance begins.

Leave sanctuary behind,
Join the queues
Locate a car park
Slump into the lift, with the other drones.
Computer on.

Trance is in full swing

The fog is thick
Meetings endured
Briefs written.
Where is the colour?

Hark! The signal to depart.
Escape
Freedom

The trance is broken; for now.

The Recital

Recite: repeat aloud or declaim (a poem or passage) from memory before an audience.

I have committed many things to memory over time—poems, prayers, proverbs and the like. Prayers were recited in church of a Sunday, proverbs to make me look clever and poetry —well, that’s another matter.

The poetry recital occurred just once, at an eisteddfod in front of a panel of bespectacled and aging adjudicators.  The stage was long, deep and bare.  The hall, cavernous.  The crowd, mostly parents whose children were far more talented than anyone else could hope to be, were hostile behind their plastered smiles and deceiving nods of encouragement.

Across the boards I trod to the place marked with a cross.  Centre stage in my pretty brown velvet skirt and apricot satin top. Hands held below the sternum, fingers clasped gently. I began.

Daffodowndilly

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
“Winter is dead.”

A.A Milne

Puzzling over puzzles

It’s always the small pieces that make the big picture.

There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.  

Deepak Chopra

I love puzzles.  Crosswords, logic puzzles, find a words and Sudoku. At the moment I am in the midst of an intense affair with jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaws have long been a favourite holiday pastime. When we’ve gone away to the beach, the mountains or even stayed at home over the Christmas New Year period there has always been a large puzzle set up on a table for all to enjoy.

A few months ago I found a box of ten puzzles in a secondhand store. They were different sizes; 250, 300, 500, 750 and 1000 pieces. I took to completing the smaller puzzles over a weekend, often completing one in a few hours. The impulse became so strong I set up the 1000 piece puzzle and worked on it in the spare moments over a fortnight. The bug had bitten. I dug out previously purchased and untried puzzles. Once completed, I scoured the secondhand stores for more. My craving became so strong I realized I couldn’t budget for the demand so I began swapping puzzles with other avid solvers and it got me thinking about where jigsaw puzzles began.

I imagine John Spilsbury, a mapmaker in the mid 1700’s, was so enamored with the wonder the world offered and so insightful, to realise young children needed to develop the capacity to place themselves in the world, that he created a very clever educational tool. He pasted a map of the word onto thin wood and cut it into pieces to teach children about geography. Voila, the first jigsaw puzzle.

Very soon these early ‘dissected maps’ evolved as other entrepreneurs realized the scope of jigsaw puzzles and added historical scenes to be reassembled for educational purposes. Wooden puzzles are still a popular toy gifted to young children today to teach about shape, improve dexterity and aid in building vocabulary. My son had several as an infant and he too is a keen puzzler.

The humble jigsaw puzzle has evolved from an educational tool for children into a source of enjoyment for both adults and children. The early puzzles for adults were truly tricky though. There were no interlocking pieces as today, simply pieces cut along colour lines with no picture on the box to guide construction.

A decade ago there was a huge craze for Murder Mystery dinner parties. Well, I was delighted to discover this set-up began in the 1900’s with weekend puzzle parties held by wealthy puzzlers at their country homes.

During the Great Depression puzzles for adults were a great source of distraction and accomplishment with sales reaching an astounding 10 million a week in 1933. Clever unemployed craftsmen cut jigsaws at home and sold or rented them in local neighborhoods.

Soon after the cheaper, less expensive cardboard puzzles began to be mass-produced making puzzles more widely available. But the fun didn’t stop there. A quirky concept, I would love to participate in, saw the emergence of a weekly jigsaw puzzle. The 25-cent puzzle of the week was sold on news stands and, naturally, people rushed to buy them.

Manufacturing techniques were perfected in the 1950’s and standard puzzles haven’t changed much since except perhaps in picture quality. A jigsaw puzzle of a 1000 or more pieces with an engaging scene is my preference. Though I have recently completed a beautiful 3D puzzle of Neuschwanstein Castle (an absolute delight as I remembered walking its perimeter several years ago) and a couple of holographic puzzles (very hard on the eyes but good fun) as well as some Impossibles were a single image is repeated with little distinction. I recently discovered a new form of What if puzzle, where what you see on the box is not the puzzle you solve. I am keen to try one.

My curiosity about the history of the humble jigsaw has now been sated but not my appetite for puzzles themselves.

Anyone care to swap?

 

 

 

 

For peace of mind, focus on the small spaces in-between

Image

The simple things bring lasting pleasure

Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.
Liz Vassey

Pausing the monkey mind was once a major priority for me. The constant chatter was deafening and debilitating. A wise woman shared with me a strategy; focus on the silence between the Oms in meditation.  It worked.  Those tiny spaces, for a breath, between the rhythmic chanting allowed my mind to rest and I eventually turned down and tuned out the monkey mind.

Today I see a great need to soothe nervous tension and anxiety, whether caused by work related stress or the result of too many responsibilities and expectations.  A great many people are being pulled into the eddy of chronic psychological dis-ease. Without discounting the support of professionals there may be a way we can help ourselves to resurface and recreate a more joyful life, using a similar strategy as described above. Instead, the attention would be on the small moments of joy between the larger grey periods.  Leader in the field of positive-psychology Marty Seligman, found that by consciously focusing our attention on what we want more of in life we increase our chance of getting it.  So turn your attention away from what you don’t want and see the things you do.  This is tough when you feel overwhelmed, on edge, lacking energy or can’t leave the house. So start small.

A posy of home-grown flowers from a friend, watching birds and animals in the wild (substitute garden), the soft ache of used muscles at the end of a long walk. These things bring me joy. As do following the path of a balloon as it rises into the sky until it is no longer visible or spotting a brightly coloured bush flower in a sea of green undergrowth as well as taking a moment to appreciate the magic of a giant tree soaring overhead while feeling the texture of its bark.  Filling the house with warm and soothing aromas on a cold, wet afternoon while baking cookies and brewing chai tea, the sound of a child’s laughter,  a smile from a stranger. These are the pauses in between.

Peace can be ours. We can rebuild joyful lives and it need cost nothing. Harmony can be restored. These things can be ours if we appreciate the many small moments in life. The first step is to notice. Notice where you focus most of your attention and refocus it if necessary.

Good fences make good neighbours

old_wooden_fence-2

There, by the starlit fences the wanderer halts and hears my soul that lingers sighing about the glimmering weirs.       A.E Housman

I wasn’t keen on a new fence and I wasn’t on board with the design or the height. Though I lament I can’t fault the workmanship or the expediency with which it was built. I have no quarrel there. Now this fence has been constructed I recall thoughts I had in Berlin where I started thinking about the concept of walls and barriers; to segregate and mark territory, to keep some within and some out. I recall too when I stood on the Great Wall of China and traipsed along Hadrian’s Wall and had similar thoughts. I realise, these structures are walls and not to be confused with fences which are made of lighter weight materials and usually for different purposes.  Nevertheless, a fence is a barrier. Plain and simple.

I’ve mix feelings about this new wall of ours. I can’t help agreeing with Frost who, communicates in his poem Mending Wall that a fence is unnecessary and unfriendly.  Though others would no doubt side with his neighbour who believes “Good fences make good neighbours.”  I can’t see my neighbours anymore. I like them. I’d have been glad not to see the previous neighbours but alas no fence would have stopped their repugnant reverberations from drifting across the top in the wee hours.

“A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it.”  Oh, Baer, too true. Though if I can’t see them I can’t smile at them. Our old, decrepit fence was low enough for me to hurdle which was fortuitous on a number of occasions:  one night to check on the elderly lady adjacent to my property during an electrical blackout and on another, leaping the fence enabled me to help a neighbour after she fell in her garden.  There are times jumping fences is acceptable.

“To be fenced in is to be withheld.” – Kurt Tippett I hear you. I feel hemmed in. I liked the openness between yards, the view to the forest unimpeded by barriers or blockades. Now this timber wall confronts me each and everyday and I immediately feel enclosed.

Fences are not new. We humans have a long history of fence building and of erecting barriers for all manner and purposes. The moat was a type of fence.  I could just about live with a moat, I think, though I’d have to brush up on my long jumping skills.  As I become accustomed to the new boundary around my home I’ll leave you with some interesting fence trivia.

  • Hedge fencing and topiary fencing is one of the earliest forms of fencing ever recorded and were first used for enclosing cereal crops.
  • Military areas, zoos and industrial plants are required by law to have appropriate fencing.
  • In 1873, barbed wire fencing was invented at the De Kalb County Fair in Illinois.
  • Strangely, Marilyn Monroe was quoted as saying ‘A women’s dress should be like a barbed wire fence: serving it’s purpose without obstructing the view’. (The analogy is a harsh one in my mind.)
  • The ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ in Western Australia was more than 3000 kilometres long.
  • The ‘Dingo Fence’, also in Australia, is the longest fence on earth at 5,600 kilometres.
  • A fence hidden in a ditch is called a Ha-ha.
  • There is a tiny town called Fence in Aurora County in Wisconsin, USA.

My letter to you

My spelling wasn't great but I was only 10. Is that a reasonable excuse?

My spelling wasn’t great but I was only 10. Is that a reasonable excuse?

“In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives.” – Anatole Broyard

Dear Reader,

I miss letter writing.  Actually, what I miss is receiving letters. The thrill of opening the letter box and finding a missive, addressed to me from a loved one, is now just a beautiful memory, a lost joy.  As a child and young adolescent I took great delight in this now old-fashioned communique.  My grandmother and I, separated by distance, closed the miles between us through our regular handwritten correspondence.  This was a time when our household did not have a telephone and weekend phone calls were made at the local phone box.  Our family of five crammed in the booth, each vying for their two minutes to hear our grandparents soothing and loving tones before the coins ran out.  This was a time before email and Skype and Snapchat.

Our letters did not contain acronyms, shortened or abbreviated phrases as is common with forms of messaging today. My handwriting, now decrepit through lack of use, was easy to read, the pen felt good in my hand as it glided across pretty stationery, of which I had a great stash.  Pretty stationery of matching letter paper and envelopes was always a gratefully received gift.

I’ve read a great many books and seem some film recently where letter writing was a significant means of communication, informing confidantes of discoveries, expeditions and life in general.  Our understating of the past has been gleaned from lengthy and detailed letters. In fact, the history of the letter weaves a beautiful passage through the ages.

The material on which and with which letters were written has progressed from the use of tree leaves and folded bark, to papyrus, cotton and paper. Writing implements from bone, reeds and quills to modern-day pen offer a fascinating study. For a long time letters were folded and sealed by wax, no lick and go glue strips on envelopes then.  In fact, no envelopes at all. The stamped letter in an envelope came into being much later, in the reign of Queen Victoria in 1840. Postal services too have seen many changes through the ages. Modern cities and advancements in courier services have improved the lag between writing and delivery of the letter.  No longer are letters passed on by footed couriers, chariot or coach.

In all of this fascinating history the single most intriguing point for me is where the first letter originated.  That, I guess we will never know, though by luck and good fortune we can trace the origin of the first recorded handwritten letter. It was crafted by a woman, a Queen from Persia no less.  This small fact teased the recesses of my mind; I had to research who Queen Atossa was, who wrote this letter around 500 BC.  What was she like? What prompted her to write? What was the content of her letter and to whom did she send it?

Letter writing might be old-fashioned now, though I notice researchers are encouraging the act of putting pen to paper and citing the benefits to both writer and receiver.   Letters communicate an emotional closeness that is often lost in email, texts and the like.  The thrill of receiving a letter is beyond words.  It lifts the spirits and lightens the mood. We have to concentrate, be deliberate and mindful when writing a letter.  No backspacing or deleting, no automatic spell check or thesaurus. We are forced to preserve or improve our long-lost art of handwriting. Letters are a lovely way to enclose little mementos, heightening the personal connection.

On several occasions I have written little messages and tucked them into my husband’s luggage when he travels away or in his lunchbox to discover and remind him of how much he is loved. A handwritten and posted message expressing thanks for a dinner invitation or thoughtful gesture is so much nicer than a text.  Letters leave a legacy.  My much-loved bundle of letters between my grandmother and I tell a story spanning years that may, at some point in the future, be of interest to our descendants adding some depth and form to the lives of otherwise intangible names on the family tree.

Here’s to bringing back the waning art of handwritten letters.

With kind regards,

Shannyn