World Awake

We rose early. At 5:30 the world was quiet, not just because of the hour but because a heavy blanket of grey fog covered the neighborhood. Houses across the street loomed in the haze, their trees mere outlines. 

The fog is almost gone now but the grey sky remains, a low ceiling that dampens sound. The birds don’t mind. A family of grackles is flitting from back yard to front, jays and finches and robins visit for a bath, and a pair of mourning doves make themselves at home on the stonework. The plants don’t mind either. Yellow tickseed flowers stand open and bright yellow even without the sun. And now, a slight breeze whispers through the maple leaves. 

The wider world awakes.

* * *

If you’ve ever had writers’ block you’ll know that it is, hmm, not fun. In my experience, getting past it requires taking a step back and reassessing your project, your goals, and your self. It can also help to understand what kind of block you’re dealing with. For that, Charlie Jane Anders has some advice:

The 10 Types of Writers’ Block (and How to Overcome Them)

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the terrifying mystique of Writer’s Block, it’s better to take it apart and understand it — and then conquer it. Here are 10 types of Writer’s Block and how to overcome each type.

* * *

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

Too Cool

My father’s mother baked from scratch, but she always had a container of Cool Whip in the fridge when we came to visit. Did she always stock it? I don’t know, but it was a special treat for us.

I don’t buy it for myself but even now the taste of Cool Whip reminds me of hot summers and warm smiles.

Last week, I whipped up a bit of cream to go with fresh strawberries from a farm down the road. I usually add a bit of Grand Marnier but this time, I decided to try a slight twist. 

It turns out that heavy whipping cream plus vanilla, sugar and a dollop of sour cream creates a thick whipped topping that tastes a lot like Cool Whip. Not as it is, necessarily, but as I remember it. Fun, flavorful, special.

Let’s call it Cool Whip for adults. All of the memories, none of the additives.

Thanks, Grandma.

* * *

Photo by Tangerine Newt on Unsplash

Shared Wisdom

Not everyone who is old is wise. Not everyone who is wise is old. But it is true that for many of us, age equals experience which equals at least some measure of perspective. There is a reason elders are respected in many societies. 

The written word has many benefits, not least that it allows such wisdom to be widely shared. For the past several birthdays, the maverick, artist, futurist and professional optimist Kevin Kelly has made it a point to aggregate advice he wishes he had known. Then, through the magic of the internet, he shares that advice with the world. 

“I am extremely optimistic about the future – despite reading the news.”

— Kevin Kelly (I’ll have what he’s having)

Does every suggestion work for me? No, but that’s ok. As he says, “Half the skill of being educated is learning what you can ignore.”

* * *

The Technium: 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known

• The advantage of a ridiculously ambitious goal is that it sets the bar very high so even in failure it may be a success measured by the ordinary.

• A great way to understand yourself is to seriously reflect on everything you find irritating in others.

The Technium: 99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice

• That thing that made you weird as a kid could make you great as an adult — if you don’t lose it.

The Technium: 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice

• Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

* * *

Photo by Chirag Saini on Unsplash

The Jen Ratio

I came across this short little video and thought it was lovely. And while the coincidentally-named concept of “Jen” is not about me, I’ll try to live up to it all the same.

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

― Henry James

* * *

* * *

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Always Tomorrow

The problem with writing a daily blog with a bright-side bent is that not all days are bright. Some days the news is not what you’d hope. And what to say about a society that, despite the wishes of the majority, is on its way to becoming a Margaret Atwood reality show?

But, as I remind myself, there is always tomorrow.

“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” 

― Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792 (died 1797 of childbed fever)

* * *

Photo by Vincent Ledvina on Unsplash

Stand Here

“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.

Maya Angelou

* * *

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Summer Time

Note: I wrote this post two days ago but for whatever reason it did not go out for the Solstice on the 21st. Apologies to all the Druids out there!

Happy Summer Solstice!

“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

* * *

Photo by John Mccann on Unsplash

Good Afternoon

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”

― Henry James

* * *

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Mysteries Solved

I attended the sort of progressive high school that allowed students to create their own classes. I decided to study the practical applications of plants, specifically their uses in food, textiles and medicine.

Basically, I cooked, dyed wool and made diluted poisons. Typical high school stuff.

I learned a lot about my local plants during that semester. What I’m not always great at is identifying new plants. That’s why I downloaded a plant identifier app. I won’t suggest the one I use because it’s just ok, full of tech walls designed to shunt you away from free options and toward a purchase, but I’ve charted a path around those barriers and can get the information I want.

That said, I’ve learned that iOS 15 users* already have a free alternative.

* * *

The feature is called Visual Look Up and once you know it’s there, it’s easy to use. It works for plants but also other subjects like landmarks, art and animals.

Today I learned you can identify plants and flowers using just your iPhone camera

Just open up a photo or screenshot in the Photos app and look for the blue “i” icon underneath. If it has a little sparkly ring around it, then iOS has found something in the photo it can identify using machine learning. Tap the icon, then click “Look Up” and it’ll try and dredge up some useful information.

Is it perfect? Not in my (admittedly limited) experience, but it is surprisingly good. My father-in-law sent me a picture of a mystery flower that had appeared (quite mysteriously!) next to his pond. Despite living in the area for decades he had never seen the plant before. Did I know what it was?

I did, in fact, have a pretty good guess. It looked an awful lot like a native plant Mr Man and I bought when we first moved into the house, the Blue Flag Iris. I ran the image through my app to be sure, and it helpfully appended “Northern” to the name. Points for me, but confirmation is always nice.

After discovering Visual Look Up I tested it on the same photo. It got me to “Iris” but without additional specifics. (To be fair, when I took a quick snapshot of the clearer image below and ran Look Up, it identified the plant as a Blue Flag Iris. Points for it.)

So next time you discover something mysterious that you don’t mind sharing with the tech giant in your pocket, try out this feature.

For a free option covering multiple life and other forms?** Recommended.

* * *

* Those in the US, Australia, Canada, UK, Singapore, Indonesia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Mexico, for now. Not an iPhone user? I haven’t tried it, but Google Lens has similar functionality and works for both iOS and Android.

** But does it work on aliens?

* * *