The Science of Summer

sciencesummerIf I ever have a few minutes of idle speculation, it’ll come during a lazy hazy day of summer, when I’m either playing hooky on the beach or enjoying an early morning walk.

And since it’s summer, my questions tend to run along the lines of: Whatever happened to watermelon seeds? How do they make fireworks explode into those fancy shapes? Any chance of us catching a great meteor shower this year?

Below, the answers to those and other commonly-asked summertime puzzles. At least we think they're commonly asked!

How in the world can you make a firework explode in the shape of a smiley face (above)?

To figure this out, it helps to know a bit about how fireworks are constructed. They’re pretty simple: a bunch of “stars” are packed into a shell along with explosives.

The stars are simply pellets that, depending on the chemicals they’re coated with, burn in different colors. (Stars appear to be two different colors, consecutively, when they’re coated in two different chemicals—the color of the outer coating shows first, and when it’s burned through, you see the results of the second chemical coating burning up. Think of a gobsmacker).

Read more: The Science of Summer

How to Fake Your Way Through the World Cup

caxirolaI’m not a sports fan. While I appreciate the skill and artistry that goes into playing, say, baseball, basketball, tennis and ice hockey, I just can’t muster any enthusiasm over who wins and who loses.

But even I recognize that this year’s World Cup is a bigger deal than in other years, particularly because Team U.S.A. has been playing so well. The U.S. plays Germany on Thursday. The New Yorker warns employers to expect “a sudden drop in productivity that will occur at noon E.S.T. on Thursday, when the game kicks off. If your boss gives you a hard time for streaming the game, or for sneaking out to the nearest bar, tell him or her to get a life. It’s the World Cup, damn it, and, these days, we Americans play our part in it.”

If you, like me, aren’t up to speed on the World Cup but still want to be part of all the fun, here are some talking points to help you fake it.  

1. Who, what. The World Cup is a tournament established in 1930 among members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. The ruling body for the sport is called FIFA. The World Cup has been played every four years, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was postponed because of World War II. The current champion is Spain, which won the 2010 tournament held in South Africa.

2. The numbers. This is the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup,  running from June 12 to July 13. The games feature 32 teams, with 736 players, competing in 64 matches. Those games are being played at 12 stadiums across Brazil. The biggest stadium in Brazil is the Estádio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, which seats 76,804 spectators. As for how teams qualify to advance to the final games, I’ll let others explain what goes into all that.

3. Brazil! This is the second time Brazil has hosted the tournament (the first time was in 1950). So far, Brazil has won the most World Cups – five . Brazil is also hosting the games in 2016. The national Brazilian team is called the Seleção, which means “the selection.” Brazil is also home to Pelé, considered by many to be the best player of all time.  

Read more: How to Fake Your Way Through the World Cup

Let it Go: 10 Reasons I've Learned to Love Frozen

I don’t have anything against princesses, personally. It’s just that they don’t do anything. Find me a princess who has some decent adventures, I tell my kids, and I’m there. Til then, I’ll stick with Dora. Her voice may be irritating, but at least she gets to hitch rides on condors and pal around with a monkey.

Then came Frozen. My younger daughter has only seen snippets of the movie, but she is obsessed with the theme song, to which she knows only two lines. “Let it go!” she yells, having little to no concept of pitch. “Let, itgo!... Le….etit gooo! Letit goo….oh!”.

She delivers the closer with a determination that only a three-year-old can muster: “The code nebber boddered me anyway!”

Despite this, I’m learning to love Frozen. Maybe because no one’s asked me to buy Disney’s official Elsa dress—at $239—to fit a three-year old. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t my kid’s Frozen lunchbox that recently went missing from daycare. Or maybe it’s because my older daughter is so unimpressed with Elsa and Anna, the sisters who are Frozen’s main characters, that when first she hears “Letit Go!” she starts belting out another of the movie’s songs. Only she changes the lyrics so they’re about eating a snowman rather than building one. She’s very creative.

Here are 10 other reasons there’s a princess movie I can finally get behind.

Read more: Let it Go: 10 Reasons I've Learned to Love Frozen

5 Beautiful Crafts to Welcome Spring

It takes only the slightest bit of spring weather to temporarily turn me into a raving optimist. I don't get optimistic about politics, business, or my personal finances. No, my optimism is even more divorced from reality than all that: I get optimistic about my free time. For a brief moment each year, I believe that the amount of free time I will have will magically morph from "none" to "some."

And when I think I have free time, I start to daydream about making beautiful crafts for myself, my family and my home. During college, I had a job as a seamstress at a costume shop that made (we used to say "built") costumes for two theater companies. I've become a decent knitter. I did crewel work as a kid. So it's not inconceivable that, given materials, patience, and time, I might make something pretty decent. 

I'm not looking for fun stuff to do with the kids or to replicate the days of Holly Hobbie. In an ideal world, my home would be filled with unique handcrafted items with a slightly cool, modern edge.

Like these.


This cross stitch sampler comes courtesy of Alicia Paulson, whose aesthetic is beautiful (think of a Paris-in-the-1920s palette) but very different from mine. In this design she combines that aesthetic with a more modern sensibility by using black fabric, and I love it. Of course, I'd also probably go blind trying to do counted cross stitch on black. For those of you more intrepid than I, the pattern is available here.

This pattern, from The Purl Bee, is designed as a cowl. I love the different-but-related stitch patterns, as well as the color choices. In a wool/cotton blend, I think this would make a great shawl for those cool evenings at the beach. (In my imagination, I not only have enough time to knit large ambitious projects, but apparently I am also able to spend many evenings at the beach. Nice.)

These mitts come from the book Stitch Mountain, produced by Laura Zander of Jimmy Beans Wool as part of her company's efforts to sponsor the U.S. Ski Team. I know it seems nuts to be starting a pair of mitts on the edge of spring, but here's where my dormant realism creeps in: At the rate I knit, I'll have these done just in time for next winter. 


Japanese sashiko embroidery, in the traditional indigo and white, always looks so fresh and crisp to me. The example above is just part of a sampler available on Etsy, but there are tons of other traditional motifs. While it looks simple, there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways to handle every turn, crossing, and intersection, which is a bit much for me. The saving grace is that most kits come with the design printed on the cotton, in an ink that washes out. 

As for the quilt above, that too is courtesy of The Purl Bee. (They are geniuses over there, I swear). I have never quilted before, but that pattern looks simple enough, and beautiful enough, that part of me is tempted to try. Of course I'd want to make the quilt big enough to serve as a bedspread, which means adding some serious difficulty points.

The one craft project I'm likely to finish is not nearly so impressive as any of these, but it's easy and it's a crowd-pleaser. All you need are some white ceramic mugs and some Sharpies. Use the Sharpies to decorate the outside of the mugs however you want, staying away from the rim and the top inch or so. Then bake the mugs in the oven for about half an hour at 350 degrees, give them plenty of time to cool, and the Sharpie designs will bake on and become permanent. (Some colors will darken a bit as they bake.)

I'll probably be doing this with my kids the next time my husband is on a business trip. I think my mug will say "Mom's Hot Chocolate. Don't Touch." Deep down, it's still winter around here. -- Kimberly Weisul

March 26, 2014

Missed our last issue? Here you go:
We're Declaring Spring, Whatever the Calendar Says

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Making Stuff
Playing With Fire
Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?

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Running for My Life

runningFor as long as I can remember, I’ve been a runner. When I was young, I ran for the pure joy of movement. As a tweener and teenager, I ran after field hockey balls, lacrosse balls, soccer balls and tennis balls. I was decent but no star. Still, I loved playing team sports and continued even after college. In my late 20s and throughout my 30s, running became a “thing” I did. I ran after work, on the weekends and participated in random road races including San Francisco’s famed “Bay to Breakers.”

Between relationships, a long run over the Golden Gate Bridge and back was a good way to fill up an open and empty Saturday.

In my 40s, after I had my children, running morphed from an individual activity into a social event. I joined the “Dirt Girls,” so called because we run trails and do weights, stair repeats, sprints and other fun tortures on trails all over Mt. Tam for an hour and a half Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings. I love my fellow Dirt Girls and our relentlessly energetic and fearless leader Lisa Escabar. For 10 years, we’ve been out on the mountain, rain or shine.

Now that I'm (only slightly) past 50, running has taken on even more significance. Today, I run not just for fun and friendship, I'm literally running for my life.The latest in exercise science, as reported over the past year or so in the New York Times Well column, says that running -- or exercise in general -- can slow the impact of aging on both body and brain and keep them healthy and functional. These reports keep me going because I do want a larger hippocampus and a longer life.

Here’s an overview of what running can do for you.

Read more: Running for My Life

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True Love