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Snapshot: Hoorn

The great thing about a cruise like this is that we see places we would otherwise miss.

Hoorn (pronounced ”horn”, as in Cape Horn, which was named by Dutch navigator Willem Schouten in 1616 in honor of his birthplace) is a charming and historic harbor town in North Holland.

In the 1600s, it was a prosperous trade center for the Dutch East India Company, as evidenced by elegant merchant houses and the Hoofdtoren, the magnificent watchtower overlooking the harbor that was built in 1532, with its clock added in 1651.

Modern shops, restaurants, and sailboats mingle comfortably with centuries-old architecture and barges. We would love to come back!

Snapshot: Amsterdam

We arrive in Amsterdam a day before we embark on our Viking Cruise through The Netherlands and Belgium, and check into our wonderful hotel De L’Europe. The hotel is an easy walk to the Museumplein, the square that’s home to the three major museums, the Rijksmuseum (famed for its collection of Dutch Masters including Rembrandt, Vermeer and Jan Steen), the Stedelijk, featuring works by Picasso, Matisse, Rauschenberg and Warhol, among many others, and the Van Gogh Museum.

But much of the art is the city itself, with its 16th and 17th century brick houses lining the streets and canals.

One of the best ways to explore the city is by boat
Bikes are everywhere, and they can come at you from any direction!
The newly restored Rijksmuseum is glorious
Our pre- and post-cruise hotel
The view from the room is not too shabby!
The gorgeous marble bathroom
En route to dinner

Tulip Time

“Oh to be in Holland now the tulips are in bloom” (with apologies to Robert Browning)! We’ve just returned from a relaxing two weeks in The Netherlands and Belgium and I was eager to post photos except that my computer died over the weekend😩!!! Ah technology— can’t live with it/can’t live without it. Fingers crossed the iPad keeps functioning.

The shots below are from the glorious Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam.

Annual indoor tulip extravaganza
Keukenhof in bloom


I also learned a great trick for keeping tulips from getting all droopy. For years I’ve used the old method of adding copper pennies to the vase, but this works better:

When you bring your flowers home, do not unwrap them. Simply place the wrapped tulips in a container of cool room temperature water and leave them to ”acclimate” for 2 hours. After they’ve rested, you can unwrap the flowers, trim the stems about 1/2” on the diagonal, and transfer to a vase.

On day 5, mine are still upright. Happy Spring, everyone!

A Brief Vacation

Greetings, dear readers, from The Netherlands, where my Dear Husband and I are attempting to escape world events with a delightful Viking cruise. My own photos to follow, but so far we have spent time in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, and other locations. Also, I just finished reading Dear Mrs. Bird, about life in WWII-era London; charming and recommended, but all too evocative of a troubling time.

How are all of you coping? Resilience? Denial? Resolute Optimism?

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Fake It ‘Til You Make It (wardrobe edition)

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

A quick refresher on how to add or subtract pounds/kilos visually

COLOR

Light colors make you look larger. Darker colors make you look smaller. Use them to call attention to areas you want to highlight or minimize.

SHAPE

Garments that are boxy and shapeless add weight, though we tend to hope they disguise extra pounds. Longer lengths, such as a jacket that falls below the hips, elongate your silhouette.

FIT

Avoid squeezing into anything too tight. One size up will be more comfortable as well as more flattering. If you want to add curves this principle still applies; too-tight clothing will only emphasize your shape.

FABRIC

It’s no surprise that thick, bulky fabrics (I’m looking at you, teddy bear coats!) add literal inches.

DESIGN

Single-breasted jackets have less fabric around the mid-section than double-breasted ones do. And the additional buttons on a double-breasted style call attention to the bust and belly, especially if they’re metallic.

VERTICAL vs HORIZONTAL

Vertical lines elongate; horizontals widen. This is not just about actual stripes; a contrast-color belt creates a horizontal, as does an outfit with multiple hem lengths. If you love horizontal stripes, as I do, add a long solid-color cardigan to minimize the pattern and create a vertical line.

For the leanest look, stay within one color palette (including shoes) and add visual interest and/or color with jewelry or a scarf near the face.

Today’s Resolution

Instead of obsessing about gas prices, Omicron, the stock market, our excruciatingly slow home renovation, losing those pandemic pounds, and all the other anxieties keeping me from a good night’s sleep, I will remember that I am not fighting or fleeing for my life.

May all our collective prayers for peace in Ukraine be answered.

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Good News Monday: Start Wining!

Admittedly, it’s pretty difficult these days to think of any good news. My brain is consumed with thoughts of Ukraine, as I’m sure yours is as well.

But if drinking a little wine is helping the world seem a little less terrifying, apparently there’s a health benefit as well. Read on, and sip with impunity.

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Having a glass of wine with dinner may help you avoid diabetes, study says

by Study Finds

NEW ORLEANS — Enjoy a glass of vino with your meal every now and again? Turns out you might be doing your body good. Researchers from Tulane University report that drinking wine with dinner could help stave off diabetes.

Compounds in grape skin combat the metabolic disease by reducing blood sugar levels, say scientists. But drinking beer or liquor with food increases the risk.

The finding is based on data from 312,000 British residents who describe themselves as regular drinkers. Those who had a glass of wine or two — particularly red — at mealtimes were 14 percent less likely to develop the metabolic disease over the next decade.

“Drinking moderate amounts of wine with meals may prevent Type 2 diabetes if you do not have another health condition that may be negatively affected by moderate alcohol consumption and in consultation with your doctor,” says lead author Dr. Hao Ma, a biostatistical analyst at the Tulane University Obesity Research Center, in a statement.

Good news for wine drinkers

Wine is rich in healthy plant chemicals including resveratrol, which acts like an antioxidant. Red varieties are particularly abundant in the compound.

“The effects of alcohol consumption on health have been described as a double-edged sword because of its apparent abilities to cut deeply in either direction – harmful or helpful, depending on how it is consumed,” says Ma. “Previous studies have focused on how much people drink and have had mixed results. Very few studies have focused on other drinking details, such as the timing of alcohol intake.”

Moderate drinking is defined as a small glass of wine (150ml) or other alcoholic beverage daily for women, and up to two for men.

“Clinical trials have also found that moderate drinking may have some health benefits, including on glucose metabolism,” adds Ma. “However, it remains unclear whether glucose metabolism benefits translate into a reduction of type 2 diabetes. In our study, we sought to determine if the association between alcohol intake and risk of type 2 diabetes might differ by the timing of alcohol intake with respect to meals.”

The participants were tracked for about eleven years on average. They did not have diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or cancer at the outset. Their average age 56, slightly more than half were women and 95 percent were white. Those who reduced alcohol consumption due to illness, doctor’s advice or pregnancy were excluded.

During the follow-up period about 8,600 developed Type 2 diabetes. Those who drank with their meal — rather than without eating food — cut their risk by 14 percent. The potential benefit was evident only among the former group. Specific times were not collected. It was also mainly among those who drank wine rather than other types of alcohol.

Alcohol still raises risks of many other conditions

While the finding is good news for wine lovers, researchers still say consuming alcohol is best in moderation. That’s because it’s also linked to high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, liver disease, depression, suicide, accidents, alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The risks increase as the amount of alcohol an individual drinks rises. For some cancers and other health conditions, the risk increases even at very low levels of alcohol consumption – less than one drink daily.

The American Heart Association and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults who do not drink alcohol should not start. Among those who drink alcohol regularly, they should talk with their doctors about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation.

Some people should not drink at all, including women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, people under the age of 21 and people with certain health conditions.

Professor Robert Eckel, of the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the study, says the relationship between alcohol and Type 2 diabetes remains controversial. Eckel is a former president of the American Heart Association. “These data suggest that it is not the alcohol with meals but other ingredients in wine, perhaps antioxidants, that may be the factor in potentially reducing new-onset type 2 diabetes,” he notes. “While the type of wine, red versus white, needs to be defined, and validation of these findings and mechanisms of benefit are needed, the results suggest that if you are consuming alcohol with meals, wine may be a better choice.”

The study was presented at the American Heart Association Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle & Cardiometabolic Health Conference in Chicago.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

The Fine Art of Not Meddling

Do any of you watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? One of the current storylines reminded me of a long-forgotten (subconsciously buried?) episode in my own life.

In the show, Joel’s interfering mother keeps trying to set him up with a “nice, appropriate, Jewish girl”, while he is secretly dating medical student Mei Lin, whose parents are the landlords of his Chinatown nightclub.

Flashback.

It was the 70s. I was in my early twenties, living in Manhattan, and had been seriously dating a Canadian artist for about a year who was not remotely Jewish and therefore not even borderline acceptable to my parents as a potential suitor despite his charm and talent.

My mother– never the most open-minded of people — opposed him sight unseen and started a campaign to “help” me come to my senses. This mostly took the form of not-so-subtle hints and comments. Then, one day, she learned that a neighbor’s father was in the hospital and his doctor was single and Jewish. Jackpot! My mother, never having met the man herself and knowing nothing else about him, told her neighbor to give the doctor my phone number — needless to say without my permission — even though she knew I was in a relationship.

I was livid. But it wasn’t the poor guy’s fault, so when he called I agreed to meet him for coffee.

Was he Prince Charming? Not in the least. I found him unattractive, timid, too old, and boring, and we had nothing in common except the same religion. I daresay he was not drawn to me either.

Ultimately, the artist and I broke up — for reasons having nothing to do with our families. But I’d learned my lesson: Keep my private life private unless I wanted to endure a boatload more unsolicited advice.

As a parent, I know it’s hard to see our kids making choices we feel are wrong for them. But unless their latest love interest is a criminal mastermind or serial killer, it seems wise to stay out of their relationships unless they ask for our opinions.

Who knows? With a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, they might even listen.

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Flower Power

Until last month, your strongest association with the sunflower might have been Van Gogh, who painted their exuberant brightness in Provence. I had no idea it was Ukraine’s national flower, did you?

These days, the sunflower has become a symbol of resistance for Ukrainians, their allies, and their supporters. In London, sunflowers line barricades at the Russian embassy. Yard signs decorated with sunflowers and the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag adorn yards in the US. Protesters worldwide hold them in their hands, wear them in their lapels, or pin them to their clothes.

How a national flower became a symbol of protest

(Adapted from an article on salon.com)

A person holds sunflowers and a Ukrainian flag as members of the Ukrainian community protest at Place du Canada in Montreal, Quebec, on February 27, 2022. - Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have fled their country since Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed a full-scale invasion on Thursday. (ANDREJ IVANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Sunflowers are widely adored in Ukraine, but the newfound meaning behind them arose after a viral video showcased the sheer courage of one Ukrainian civilian.

The origins of sunflowers in Ukraine

Sunflowers were cultivated in North America around 3000 BC and introduced to Eastern Europe around the 1500s. Tsar Peter the Great is credited for the popular cultivation of the plant in the 18th century, according to the National Sunflower Association. The “sunny” cultivars found a new home in Ukraine and flourished in the country’s hot-dry climate and nutrient-dense soil.

In folklore, the flowers were believed to protect “the wearer against evil spirits, bad fortune, and illness,” according to the Russian Flora Blog.  

The sunflower became further embedded in Ukraine’s identity when the Church didn’t ban its oil for Lent. During the early 19th century, sunflowers were mass-produced across the country, primarily for consumption. Sunflower seeds fried in oil and coated with salt were — and still are — a popular snack along with halwa, a soft confection made with the plant’s seed and oil.

Others tout the flowers’ scientific properties. According to the Athens Science Observer, sunflowers are “a hyperaccumulator of dangerous heavy metals,” which means they can draw out metal toxins from the soil and clear up environmental contamination. Shortly after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, sunflowers were widely grown to extract cesium-137 and strontium-90, the two most common toxins found at the site. 

In 1996, top defense officials from the U.S., Russia, and Ukraine scattered sunflower seeds in a field at the Pervomaysk missile base in southern Ukraine to mark the country’s complete nuclear disarmament. 

“It is altogether fitting that we plant sunflowers here at Pervomaysk to symbolize the hope we all feel at seeing the sun shine through again,” said Defense Secretary William J. Perry that day.

Seeds to a gunfight: that viral video

On Feb. 24, sunflowers entered the world’s consciousness thanks to a video first posted by Ukraine World. In the brief clip, a Ukrainian woman is seen challenging a heavily armed Russian soldier, insisting he pocket a handful of sunflower seeds so that they’ll grow when he’s killed on Ukrainian terrain. 

According to translations provided by BBC News, the woman is told to go away after she asked the soldier who he was. She doesn’t stop there however and asks the soldier if he is Russian, to which he replies with a simple “yes.”

“So what the f**k are you doing here?” she asks furiously. The soldier dismisses her question once again.

“You are occupants, you are fascists!” she says. “What the f**k are you doing on our land with all these guns? Take these seeds and put them in your pockets, so at least sunflowers will grow when you all lie down here.”

The soldier warns her to not escalate the situation.

“What situation? Guys, guys. Put the sunflower seeds in your pockets, please,” she repeated. “You will lie down here with the seeds. You came to my land. Do you understand? You are occupiers. You are enemies. And from this moment, you are cursed. I’m telling you.”

Good News Monday: And Now For Something Completely Frivolous

Ukraine. Omicron. Climate change. Can we ever catch a break from the sad, the sordid, the violent, the vain, the completely unnecessary and utterly preventable death and destruction?

Amid all the serious issues to worry and obsess about, I’ve found a few bright spots in my weekly perusal of the news, courtesy of The Week:

  1. An English bulldog, missing for five years, turned up in a Tennessee shelter, a thousand miles from her home in New York. She was identified by a microchip and happily reunited with her grateful and astonished owner.
  2. A young woman in Denver, CO, was watching some children playing on a frozen pond when she saw the ice crack. She dashed out of her apartment to pull the kids out. Then the ice broke, plunging her into the frigid depths. Treading water, the heroic 23-year-old held an unconscious six-year old girl above the water until help arrived, and all survived.
  3. And from the sublime to the ridiculous: It seems that a man in New York has filed a $6 billion class-action suit against the New York Giants and Jets for playing their home games in New Jersey. He claims that millions of New York football fans have suffered “mental and emotional damage”, depression, sadness and anxiety.

To maintain my own sanity, I’m focusing on long walks, hot baths, watching comedies, baking, planning vacations, and re-organizing my closet. How are you coping, dear readers?

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