Inspiration! Hug it out.

Advice to remember from the folks at Grist: everyone needs a hug!

I know the winter gift-giving season officially ends tonight (I'm pretty sure all the holidays included in "happy holidays" are done by tonight or tomorrow), but that doesn't mean it's not useful to remember that everyone loves a hug! Especially the T-Rex. Nuzzle right in below those fierce jaws to reach her stubby lil' arms and give her a hug.

Cute! Raccoon Cat

Once again I did some cat sitting, and once again the main thing I did was sit around taking pictures of my friends' cat. Isn't he pretty with his long raccoon tail?

Learning! Are Microwaves Actually Killing Us?

I am one of those annoying people who doesn't have a microwave.  It's half tiny kitchen-syndrome, and half believing-the-hype-about-subtle-poisons.  I figure that until I have the time to look up all the research, or maybe run a properly-controlled experiment myself, I should just abstain.  Besides, food usually tastes better when it's not microwaved, and I don't miss it.  However, I've always meant to look into it.

First of all, this is in no way definitive research.  This is google, for pete's sake, so let's take it with a grain of salt.  Here is what I have uncovered from both sides of the debate:

Hypothesis: Microwaves are dangerous.

Argument #1: Burns

Early on people realized that when foods are heated in a microwave, they become what we call "superheated", where the container doesn't seem too hot, but the food is scalding.  It can also suddenly explode when disturbed after microwaving.  This is because the microwave heats liquids so quickly, they don't turn to steam and the steam gets trapped inside the liquid instead.  Because of this, you are never, ever supposed to microwave milk or formula for a baby in the bottle, because you won't necessarily be able to tell how hot it is.  Don't burn your baby!

The burning issue has been replicated, and has reached the level of something that is "just known" to most people.  

Argument #2: Blood Transfusions that Kill

Apparently in 1991 a woman was given a blood transfusion that had been warmed in the microwave and then died.  The only possible explanation, of course, is that the microwave altered the blood in some way and it killed her.  Not that she was already sick or there was already something going on with that blood.  The article describing this event also says that blood transfusions are microwaved all the time, and we don't hear about people dying from them all the time, so this isolated incident might not be great evidence.

Argument #3: A "Scientific Experiment"

There has been one experiment, that is cited on all claims of the dangers of microwaves, by a man named Hans Hertel where he and 7 other participants (red flag alert: scientists are never participants in their own experiments) holed themselves away in a hotel for 8 weeks eating a rotating diet of raw vegetables, conventionally cooked vegetables, and microwaved vegetables.  Same with milk.  Blood samples were taken before eating and then at regular intervals after eating.  The claim is that after consuming microwaved foods the men saw an increase of "bad" cholesterol, as well as a decrease in white blood cells and cells that demonstrated the initial stages of cancerous developments.

Unfortunately, the study was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, the sample size was eight, the researcher participated, the raw data was never shared, no one ever got sick, and the study has never been replicated.

Argument #4: The Plant Study

Another infamous study is the child's science experiment watering plants, where microwaved water kills the plant.  Here is an article responding to this experiment, including a proper, blind study attempting (and failing) to replicate the results.

Argument #5: Vitamin Loss

There's no real evidence I've found of this, but people argue that microwaving reduces the vitamins in foods.  The first consideration here is that some vitamins break down in any heat, like Vitamin C, so microwaving is not the exception.  Replicated studies, however, show that microwaves do not do any more damage than conventional cooking.

How Microwaves Actually Work

People talk a lot about microwaves getting radiation into your food, or leaking radiation into your home.  Microwaves are a low frequency wave on the electromagnetic spectrum, above radio waves and below visible light.  They are not powerful enough to transfer radioactivity to other substances, while they do carry radiation.

When applied in intense doses, what microwaves do is cause polarized molecules to rotate, and the friction creates heat, which warms your food.

If you are like me and didn't take more than the minimum requirements for sciences, that might sound a bit scary.  Further reading, however, has informed me that it might actually be safer than other forms of heating food.

You see, the argument that microwaves change the molecular make up of food doesn't really hold, because all cooking has the potential to do this.  For example, when frying meats, the high temperature can cause hydrocyclic amines (HCAs) to form, which have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals.


I can only conclude from my brief googling that I have been silly.

It seems that there are two potential dangers to microwaved foods: one, that they will be too hot and burn me.  The second is that they might contain elements of a plastic container, if they were microwaved in one.  This isn't so much because microwaves are terrible, but because plastic breaks down really easily and can leech into food.  You wouldn't cook with plastic in the oven, don't do it in a microwave.  Especially those flimsy little Ziplock containers.

Inspiration! The Paintings of Chagall

Chagall has been coming up in my life lately, and it's making me want to take steps to make sure he comes up in my life all the time.  I don't know what it is about his work, but it just freaking transports me!

Cute! Incognito Cat

Bet you can't find the cat I this picture. Bet you're just wondering,"what's cute about a paper bag?" And sighing loudly in your mind.

Singalong! O Come O Come Emmanuel

I have always had a special love for the traditional Christmas songs, and since we're still coming up on the big day, I feel entirely justified posting another yule-related singalong.  To keep my hip edge (ha!) though, I present you with Sufjan Stevens' version of O Come O Come Emmanuel.  Not quite as epic as it could be, but still dang beautiful. Oh, and it's worth noting that this is technically more of an advent song than a Christmas song, if you're into that kind of thing.

by Sufjan Stevens

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Learning! Your parents have more sex than you.

Despite all the Tindering, sexting, full-frontal nudity on TV, and acceptance of every kink under the sun, it turns out that this generation is having less actual sex than those that came before.  And we're generally enjoying it less.  Ouch.

The reasons given: stress, depression, and anxiety.

There's more to the story, of course, but what a juicy headline!  Check out the details in this article in The Guardian.

Inspiration! The Thief of Joy

Beautiful beautiful hand-drawn typographic quotes by Sean Tulgetske remind us of good things.  Like the fact that envy is a thief - of joy and anything else good.

Cute! Piano Cat

Expect so many pictures of Gertie on my piano.  BECAUSE I NOW HAVE A PIANO!!!  Isn't it a gem?  It was my family piano growing up and I just love it.

Singalong! All I Want for Christmas is You

This appears to be one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time.  Pretty much every time it comes on I perk up, clutch my hand to my heart, and start singing alone with an excess of emotion.  Oh Mariah, how do you do what you do?

Mariah Carey

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you, yeah.

I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
And I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree

I don't need to hang my stocking
There upon the fireplace
Santa Claus won't make me happy
With a toy on Christmas Day

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

Oh, I won't ask for much this Christmas
I won't even wish for snow
And I'm just gonna keep on waiting
Underneath the mistletoe

I won't make a list and send it
To the North Pole for Saint Nick
I won't even stay awake to
Hear those magic reindeer click

'Cause I just want you here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
What more can I do?
Baby, all I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

Oh, all the lights are shining
So brightly everywhere
And the sound of children's
Laughter fills the air

And everyone is singing
I hear those sleigh bells ringing
Santa, won't you bring me the one I really need?
Won't you please bring my baby to me?

Oh, I don't want a lot for Christmas
This is all I'm asking for
I just want to see my baby
Standing right outside my door

Oh, I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
Baby, all I want for Christmas is you
You, baby

All I want for Christmas is you, baby

Learning! Kwanzaa 101

'Tis the season for "holiday greetings", and in my office the other day we all realized that none of us knew anything about Kwanzaa. So I did a quick google search to rectify the situation, and I figured there might be more people out there embarrassed to admit that they don't know about the origins or practices of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa is a celebration of African heritage in African-American culture from December 26-January 1. It was first celebrated in 1966-67 and was started by Maulana Karenga (professor of African Studies). Originally an African-American holiday, it has spread throughout other nations with African diaspora and was intended to help African Americans reconnect with their African heritage. It was also originally intended to be an alternative to Christmas, until Karenga realized that a lot of practicing Christians still wanted to take part in the festival.

A few more fun facts:

Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" (fruits of the harvest)

There are seven principles of Kwanzaa:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

1.6% of Americans celebrate Kwanzaa (about 4.7 million people!)

Celebration includes decorating one's home with African art and kinaras (a candle holder symbolic of African roots), wearing kaftans and eating fresh fruits. The week-long celebration ends in gift-giving and some delicious food.

Check out the Official Kwanzaa Website for more information!

Singalong! I'll Be There for You by The Remembrandts

I just moved into a new place and went through a few harrowing days without internet.  Since my go-to background noise while puttering around the house (or, say, slogging through the incessant job of unpacking and setting up a home) is streaming some kind of TV show on Netflix, I had to revert to the olden days and crack open a DVD box set.  Luckily I have an old enough laptop that it has a DVD drive and never got rid of my DVDs!  I launched in with Friends and just watched Ross and Rachel finally get together for the first(ish) time and have been listening to the Rememrandts intro song a lot.  It's actually pretty solid!  The lyrics are lovely and uplifting and perfectly captures the weird reality of suddenly being old enough to be an adult but not feeling adult at all.  Plus, it's always funny to listen to a song made famous off a TV show and then get all weirded out when they go into the second verse.

by The Remembrandts

So no one told you life was gonna be this way
Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's D.O.A.
It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year, but

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

You're still in bed at ten and work began at eight
You've burned your breakfast, so far things are going great
Your mother warned you there'd be days like these
But she didn't tell you when the world has brought you down to your knees and

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

No one could ever know me
No one could ever see me
Seems you're the only one who knows what it's like to be me
Someone to face the day with, make it through all the rest with
Someone I'll always laugh with
Even at my worst, I'm best with you, Yeah!

It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year

I'll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I'll be there for you
(Like I've been there before)
I'll be there for you
('Cause you're there for me too)

Learning! "Mean Girls" are actually boys

Another psych study came out recently that gets filed into the "counterintuitive" folder: looks like boys are actually more likely to engage in social bullying than girls.  Most people assume and accept that boys will beat each other up (and then forget about whatever was bothering them in the first place) and girls will slowly destroy someone's life through spreading rumours and excluding each other.

A longitudinal study at the University of Georgia, however, followed boys and girls through middle and high school and found that boys were actually more likely to engage in this kind of behaviour than girls.

The point of this isn't that boys are worse than girls, but that we've been focusing a lot of resources on getting girls to stop doing these mean things, and not paying any attention to the boys.  Time to get them into the picture!

Source: Science Daily

Inspiration! Everything Worth Doing

What? I am inspired by a Seth Godin quote? That never happens!

"Everything worth doing is done to excess, poorly, immorally, inefficiently, by someone. But that doesn't change the fact that the very same thing done right is worth doing."
-Seth Godin

Cute! The Cat Packs Herself

I moved this weekend! Gertie really got into the packing spirit and jumped right into one of the boxes.