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Good News Monday: Fiction Isn’t Rotting Teen Brains After All

Researchers at University College London’s Institute of Education recently reported that teens who read novels rather than non-fiction are six months ahead of their peers in reading skills.

After analyzing data from 250,000 teens in 35 Western countries, they concluded that the 15-year-olds had significantly stronger reading skills than those who read non-fiction, magazines, comics, or newspapers for pleasure. The lead researcher pointed out that fiction requires a person to focus on long, continuous text, which improves not only reading skills but learning to avoid distractions.

This apparently holds true even when a novel is poorly written.

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Lechyd Da!

First stop of the day: Cilgerran Castle, a 13th-century ruined castle located in Cilgerran, Pembrokeshire, Wales, near Cardigan. According to Wikipedia, the first castle on the site was thought to be built by Gerald of Windsor around 1110–1115, and it changed hands several times over the following century between English and Welsh forces.

No one’s here today so we roam at leisure, wondering if there are any ghosts.

Croeso! Welcome to Aberystwyth!IMG-0529

Before we explore, we check in to our hotel.

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The Conrah Hotel (originally named Ffosrhydgaled, aka “ditch”!) is a beautiful Edwardian mansion, constructed circa 1850 on the site of a farmstead, stables, outhouses and watermill.

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Following a devastating fire in 1911, it is reported that the owner, a Mr. Davies, spent considerable time arguing with his insurance company over where the new house should be built. Davies wished to demolish what was left of the house and re-erect the property in a more elevated position to improve his view, whereas the insurance company refused to allow this due to the increased cost of re-siting the property. Needless to say, the insurers won and the property was rebuilt on the same site.

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I’d kill for this stained glass.

It remained a private home until 1967, when new owners Constance and Ronald Alfred Hughes converted it to a hotel. The couple had made their money locally, manufacturing ‘Conrah’ vases, table settings and similar items from pressed metals (“Co” for Constance + Ronald’s initials RAH), hence the name change.

Gardens and public assembly rooms first attracted wealthy travelers, and in 1800 a new bathhouse provided “respectable visitors” the opportunity to bathe in heated seawater.  Within a few years, bathing machines offered the chance to venture into the sea itself, and guesthouses sprang up to cater to an increasing number of tourists.
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This shop could be owned by one of my husband’s many Welsh relatives of the same name.

The pier was built in 1865 and by the early 1900’s Aberystwyth boasted a large pavilion, railway, theatres, cinemas and concert halls.  By the 1950’s, it was well established as a seaside holiday destination.
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Dinner tonight is with DH’s cousins, who are warm and welcoming. The husband is an ardent Welsh nationalist, so we keep the Brexit discussion short. (Luckily, we don’t have a dog in this fight.)
We learn that a popular toast is “Lechyd da” (Le-chid-ya), which is easier for me to remember than “lloniannau”, or “cheers”.  The pronunciation is close to the Hebrew toast “L’chaim” (“to life”), which supports a theory that the lost tribes of Israel wound up in Wales.
The following morning, we head off to Bath.  I love this bridge — very Hermès, non?!
IMG-0552 (1)Arriving in Bath, our 17th century hotel (Paradise House) looks unimpressive from the outside, and parking in its tiny driveway is precarious, but it’s quite lovely inside. We’re treated to a delicious tea while the room is readied. Would definitely stay here again!
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The town center is an easy walk from the Paradise.  Bath is known for its natural hot springs and 18th-century Georgian architecture. Many of the buildings feature local honey-gold stone, including Bath Abbey, famed for its large stained-glass windows, fan-vaulting, and tower.
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The museum at the site of the original Roman-era Baths includes The Great Bath, statues (a later addition) and a temple.
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There’s a lot to see but we have only one day, so we concentrate on the Baths, a long walk to get a sense of the town, and the Jane Austen museum.

The Baths are well worth the trip, with wonderful depictions of Roman life “back in the day” and many artifacts.

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The Austen museum, however, is kind of a bust — costumed guides tell you about her family history (Austen didn’t spend a lot of time in Bath, as it turns out) but this is best visited by the true enthusiast.

Our stroll takes us to the Royal Crescent, very glamorous.

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And I loved this wonderful old-timey chemist’s shop.

IMG-0591 (1).JPGWe wrap up the day with an excellent meal at Clayton’s Kitchen. Linguine with crab is fresh and delicious.

Tomorrow it’s back to Devon, where we’ll make a major decision….

Mid-October, 2018.

On to Wales, Land of Few Vowels

Scenes from Week Two of our monthlong saga. We’re still in Devon…

IMG-0421 (2)But on the agenda: a visit to DH’s cousins in Aberystwyth (with an indulgent hotel stay en route), and a stopover in Bath on the return trip.

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Friendly cows welcome us to Molleston.

Early in the week, we explore Lynmouth’s picturesque harbor, more villages, and Exmoor National Park.

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IMG-0419.JPGWe stop in Ilfracombe, notable for its controversial Damien Hirst “Verity” statue which depicts both her pregnant exterior and interior. Erected in 2012, the statue looms over the harbor and is on loan to the town for 20 years. Many residents are counting the days until it’s removed. Are you a fan?

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Our drive back to Peppercombe takes us through more villages — one where a thatched roof is being repaired.

And of course we see mehhhnnnny sheep!

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(They never fail to amuse.)

Mid-week, it’s off to Wales. You know you’ve arrived when highway signs are in both English and Welsh and towns have romantic-sounding names such as  Dyffryn Arth and Llansantffraed.

Useful phrases: ARAF (Slow), CYFLEUSTERAU CYHOEDDUS (public conveniences) and CERDDWYR EDRYCHWCH I R CHWITH (pedestrians look right).

The first night, we stay at The Grove-Narberth, which is nothing short of fabulous. Beautiful setting and a wonderful restaurant.

IMG-0505.JPGNaturally, they grow their own herbs and veggies.

Dinner is delish, beginning with amuse-bouches in the bar while we wait for our table.

Desserts are pretty, too.

We stagger to our charming room, complete with fireplace, and nod off. Oh, it is SO nice to be in a hotel!

Early-mid October, 2018.

Good News Monday: Monotony Helps People Lose Weight.

Well, maybe.  The general idea is that eating the same thing every day emphasizes food as nutrition, not entertainment.  When meals are less exciting, we’re less likely to overeat.

The caveat: mix it up to avoid both nutritional deficiencies and bingeing when the boredom gets to be too much.

Here’s an interesting POV on the subject: https://www.healthline.com/health/eating-the-same-thing-pros-and-cons

 

Good News Monday: An Easy Way to Reduce Bloating

We all know that sodium (salt) causes water retention: think how bloated we feel after overindulging in soda, chips, or peanuts — even if we didn’t devour the entire bag. (Who, me?!)

But did you know that increasing potassium intake can help? I didn’t. Potassium has a diuretic effect that counteracts sodium. And it’s abundant in foods such as spinach, watercress, broccoli, bananas, papaya and strawberries.

p.s., If you’re making a fruit smoothie with those bananas or strawberries, use 2% Greek yogurt instead of a fat-free version. The extra fat slows the absorption of sugar, which helps keep it from being stored as body fat.

 

A Month Abroad, Part 1

It was a great plan.  And, as with so many great plans, things didn’t go exactly as expected.

This all started a year ago, when DH and I decided to explore spending an extended vacation in the UK, Brexit notwithstanding. We’d rent a place with a kitchen so we wouldn’t be dependent on restaurant meals; we’d see friends in London; we’d have a home base from which to explore; and best of all, we’d have direct flights between Austin and London.

We choose Devon, as it’s one part of England neither of us has fully explored, and make our bookings.

Not having a crystal ball, we don’t know that we’ll actually be in Oregon come October since the new house we’re building in Austin won’t be ready until January.  This means we now have to fly to Austin in order to catch our “direct” flight, and of course do the same upon returning. Not to mention the additional cost of hotels, etc.

No matter. We’ve rented a cute little National Trust cottage in Devon (Coastal Cottage #3, which sounds picturesque), described as “cozy” (which turns out to be code for “minuscule”); we have a car with GPS; what can go wrong?

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DAY 1

First clue: the three cottages are at the end of a literal long and winding road: rutted, unpaved, narrow, rocky, passable by only one vehicle at a time and our rental car pretty much takes up the entire width of it. If someone is coming in when you’re going out, one of you has to back up a quarter mile. This will get old pretty damn quickly. As will unlocking the entry gate’s padlock in pouring rain.

Pros: The cottage is nicely equipped with pots and pans, washer-dryer, and a reasonably comfy bed.

Cons: The TV doesn’t work.  There is no Internet. There is no mobile connection so cell phones don’t work either. There is, however, a phone box outside that you can unlock with a key. But let’s say you break your leg falling down the treacherous winding stairs connecting the bedroom and sitting room, and you cannot crawl outside to get to the phone?!? This place is really remote. It is also cold and clammy and there is a fireplace, but we’ll soon discover that when it is warm enough downstairs, it is boiling hot in the bedroom — and not in a good way.

The sun is shining so we head off to explore Peppercombe Beach, which is a short hike.

IMG_0292Beautiful, but the beach is all rocks.

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Pro: We can get Internet service at the closest pub. A pint was never so tempting!

A FEW HIGHLIGHTS OF WEEK ONE

We are intrepid! We are undaunted! We can’t wait to get out of the cottage! We gamely set out to explore Devon and Cornwall — rain and shine.  Some favorite places:

PORT ISAAC (The”Port Wenn” of Doc Martin) is very pretty, despite heavy rain and wind that’s blowing my umbrella inside out. That’s why there are so few photos. Watch the show to see it at its best!

On the way home, we discover Camel Valley vineyard (Cornwall’s largest vineyard), where the tasting room manager is very hospitable and gives us generous pours since we’re the only people to stop by on this rather dreary day.

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THE EDEN PROJECT

One word: incredible.

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The Eden Project, an educational charity, is designed to raise awareness of changes in our environment.

The visitor site in Cornwall, nestled in a huge crater, features a group of massive Biomes, stunningly planted to replicate select environments along with natural inhabitants such as native birds. It houses the largest rainforest in “captivity” and serves as a backdrop to striking contemporary gardens, concerts and year-round events.

CLOVELLY 

Worth a visit if you’re in the area, the village is privately owned and no cars are allowed, owing to its extremely steep cliffside location.  Supplies are delivered on pallets dragged up and down the hill — or on donkeys!

ARLINGTON COURT

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A beautiful stately home built in the 1820s, Arlington Court features carriages, extensive grounds to explore, fancy furniture, and typical crap that rich Victorians used to collect, such as vast quantities of ordinary-looking shells, all lovingly displayed on velvet trays.

I’m particularly fond of the grand staircase…

and the estate’s sheep.

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OUR LOCAL.  It’s not the closest pub, but it’s very welcoming, has good food, and we can sit for an hour checking e-mail with free WiFi and nobody giving us the stinkeye.

IMG_0693Cheers!

First week of October, 2018.

Good News Monday: A Bus That Drives Down Pollution

It’s only a prototype, but the future of city air is looking a lot brighter. The bus is equipped with an air filter that absorbs over 99% of pollution particles and emits purified air as it travels.

The jury’s still out on how many buses a city could afford to buy in order to make a dent, but solving both traffic congestion and nasal congestion? That’s a clean sweep!