Friday Links: Cute Kittens, Mistaken Maples, and Siberian Hermits

Happy Imbolc or St Brighid’s Day, the awakening of the land to the coming spring. The days are getting longer and lighter! My friend Waverly has a great blog post about this part of the wheel of the year.

Credit: Flickr / Merlijn Hoek

The Power of Cute: New research has revealed that looking at cute images of baby animals doesn’t just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but can actually improve your work performance and help you concentrate. With her endless love of all things cute and cuddly, Claire’s going to end up a Zen master!

Hobbit Legalese: One lawyer provides an incredibly detailed analysis of Bilbo’s contract with the dwarves.

The Influence of Austen: A recent study has found that Jane Austen, author of “Pride and Prejudice, “ and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of “Ivanhoe,” had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.

Canadian Bill Features Norway Maple: Canada’s launched a new twenty dollar bill, featuring a maple leaf. But according to Canadian botany professor Julian Starr, “This could not be confused with a native species of Canada. It basically looks like a Norway maple.”


How Much Do Cats Kill?  Cute or not, new research indicates that they kill a lot, a fact that is written up in very different styles by The Oatmeal, by Nature, by The New York Times.

Best of 2012 Journalism: The Byliner has pulled together their list of the top 102 pieces of journalism from last year. Many great reads on this list.

Natalia-and-Agafia40 Years In The Siberian Forest: Speaking of compelling reads, this new story in Smithsonian is almost unbelievable: a single family, living in the woods of Siberia for 40 years without any contact with other humans. Their pots and metal implements wear out, yet they survive. One is there still.

More Cute:  Oh, you want a little more cute to improve your concentration? Well conveniently, our friend Trileigh Tucker, a fellow nature blogger and great photographer, just went to Antarctica and met these baby fur seals:



Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, and Mozart’s Birthday!

January 27th, 2013 is a big anniversary.  Time to celebrate! I plan to rise early and spend a few quiet hours curled up with a copy of Persusion (I’ve read P&P lately, and winter puts me in the mood for Captain Wentworth) while I listen to Mozart’s violin sonatas.

4208075159_39eded5c6c Austen is a strong alternative voice in this time of all-pervasive technology.  She reveals the true threads that hold society and community together, and the actions that rent them.  She teaches us manners, of course, but also how to duck them when necessary, in favor of something wilder.  We typically turn to the Brontes when we want to be windswept, but Miss Austen  knows her way through the wilderness (and the poultry yard);  it is a misconception that her characters spend their days wandering about the drawing room.  David Ehrenfeld notes that although she rarely comments on nature directly, “Nature in Jane Austen’s works is like nature in the Hebrew Bible:  it is there as a constant presence, it is an essential fact of life, and because of this it is rarely separated out for special comment.”  Time to read Austen again, and with a fresh ear.

Papageno statue in Bruges, Belgium

And Mozart!  In the classical music world Beethoven gets all the “wild man” credit, but Mozart spent his short life composing in a frenzy, running all over Vienna through sun and snow on foot, with tiny pointed shoes.  He felt the weather on his face and listened to the songs of birds.  When he wrote Die Zauberflute, the “everyman” appears in the shape of Papageno, a feathered bird-man.

An auspicious day, indeed!  How will you celebrate?


Radical De-Cluttering

The new year is a traditional time for cleaning out closets and drawers, clearing out the old, and making way for the new.  I want to make sure that the “new” for me is not new stuff, but a new level of simplicity, new avenues for happiness in daily life.  Some time ago I began a practice I call “radical de-cluttering.” cairnI started by going through all my closets and drawers, and giving away bags of stuff.  Clothes went to the local charity, books to our beloved Pegasus Book Exchange. After this initial cleansing, I began to follow the usual anti-clutter guideline that appears in magazines and on “simplicity” blogs:  whenever you acquire something, you give something similar away.  New shirt?  Out with an old piece of clothing.  New book?  Old book out. I quickly found that this was no challenge at all.

So I set a new rule for myself:  One in, two out.  Whenever I acquire something, I get rid of two things.

In my practice of radical de-cluttering, the things that come in and go out do not have to be the same thing.  I can buy a book, say, and give away a pair of shoes and a flower pot.  This allows me to re-dress imbalance, and to choose what I want to emphasize in my life (including a little joyful frivolity). Maybe I have too many hats, but could use a pair of garden clogs.  Maybe I have too many books, but don’t care! Maybe I want to keep more and more books, and less and less of everything else until eventually I live with nothing but a library and a teacup!

teaI make exceptions:  consumables such as food (obviously), but also other things that are regularly used up and replaced–office supplies, kitchen towels, socks. (This allows me a nice bit of room to cheat, since I am obsessed with office supplies, and I seem to let myself have as many notebooks and bottles of fountain pen ink as I want.)  Otherwise, in my calculus a thing is a thing.  I don’t care how big or how small it is, or how much it cost.  A car counts for one thing, a book of poetry counts for one thing, and I don’t make exceptions for gifts I receive, or fabulous thrift store finds.

One in, two out.  Even though I started by (I thought)  thoroughly doing away with the superfluous, I am amazed that after about a year, the one in/two out rule is still very easy to live by.  I am looking forward to it becoming difficult.  I am hoping, one day, to get to the point that  the material things I keep in my life are so well-chosen that I have to think deeply about any acquisition I make, to wonder, “Wow, if I really want this thing, then what will I give up?”  To have to truly measure need/desire/authenticity.  Maybe someday when I am aged and wise my possessions and my spirit will find themselves in perfect harmony–then maybe I’ll change to the one in/one out plan, or not bother to think about such things at all.

I love (to the point of obsession, really) the work of Lloyd Kahn, and have spent much of this month pouring over his newest volume, Tiny Homes:  Simple Shelter.  With my drastic need for privacy, and a daughter who plays cello, piano, guitar, and ukulele, I don’t envision us moving into a tiny home anytime soon.  The airiness of our old farmhouse feels simple in its own right.  But I do agree with Kahn’s feeling that everyone can find inspiration in the tiny shelter movement:  “You can get ideas here for simplifying your life, wherever you live.”

Want to join me in Radical De-Cluttering?  What other ways are you all simplifying in 2013?

Thank you for the CC-licensed photos: Flickr users Neil Bonnar (rocks) and Laurel Fan (tea).

Friday Links: Netherfield, Parisian Kale, Salted Chocolate, and Hay Hooks

Netherfield Ball +200: The BBC is staging a re-creating an entire Regency ball – to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride And Prejudice.
I have always been enamored of the mannered domesticity in Miss Austen’s novels.  In a 90-minute special, experts will re-stage the planning and rehearsals for an early 19th century ball, as well as looking back at the first-hand testimony of ball-goers of the time.  It will end with an authentic recreation based of the ball at Netherfield, a turning point in the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy.  Oh, please please!  Someone invite me!

KaleKale Comes To Paris: An American woman, Kristin Beddard, recently launched a movement to bring what  is often deemed the healthiest veggie in the world to her adoptive hometown, where it seems some Parisians believe that kale grows on trees.

Get Your Shit Together: The brainchild of Chanel Reynolds who lost her husband suddenly, the Get Your Shit Together website makes it easy to put your life, your data, your commitments, and your finances in one easy organized online place. I know I’m inspired. Just do it!

chocolatesmallHome Made Chocolate Bars: One of my favorite chefs, David Lebovitz, has posted a tutorial on his blog for making simple, delicious chocolate bars at home. And also Chocolate-Covered Salted Peanut Caramel Cups!

Urban Hay Hooks: Erik at Root Simple asks, “Are hay hooks the new urban hipster accessory?


The Tribe of Teenager

The other day Tom and I were on our way to pick Claire and her friend up from the local movie theater, where they’d seen “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” uggs We must have been 30 seconds late, because my phone dinged with a text:  Where r u?!  As we approached we spotted them standing in front of the theater, but it wasn’t until we pulled right up to the curb and were about to yell out the window for them to hop in that we realized, “That’s not Claire and Helen!”  It was two other 14-ish year old girls wearing black leggings, Ugg boots, hooded jackets, upswept ponytails, and holding phones.

Desmond Morris was a renowned animal ethologist for decades before turning to humans as his subject, and publishing The Naked Ape in 1967 (inspiration for a 1980s PBS series).  In his extensive study of human behavior, Morris explores the many biological activities that humans share with animals, including:  sex; the rearing of young; exploration and migration; finding food; the formation of groups, flocks and tribes; and the seeking of comfort.  Morris is intrigued by the ways these biological behaviors have shaped themselves to fit the parameters of modern human population centers, urban places, and technological interface. I was fascinated by his thoughts on the need for humans, and humans that are coming-of-age in particular, to conform to a group through clothing, jewelry, and even mode of communication.

When my independent-minded, free-spirited young daughter became a teenager, suddenly concerned with wearing the exact same clothes as everyone else and talking to her friends primarily via text-message, I felt like a failure.  Naomi Klein’s No Logo is coffee table reading in this house, and now my kid only wants to shop at Hollister.  Where did I go wrong?  Morris’s work re-frames this:  no, she’s not a mindless conformist zombie automaton.  She’s seeking–and finding–group identity, as humans her age have always done, through the culturally recognized adornments of the day.


Working to change the culture and construct more meaningful identifiers than those desirable by Claire’s peer group over time is an essential goal; but in the meantime, foisting my hippie ways on a teenager who has to go school every day might actually run counter to her positive psycho-biological development.  A positive feeling of peer security and belonging at this difficult age sets the stage for creative/artistic individuation in the later teenage years, and into adulthood.  Does this mean that I buy her every little conformist tidbit she thinks she wants?  Yeah, uh, no. But I do think more compassionately about what these things mean for kids her age.

For more on creating meaningful cultural identities from birth to death, I highly recommend Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul.  

[Apologies to all the commenters on this post:  we had a techno-glitch, and your comments were lost.]


Friday Links: Alcoholic Monkeys, Swedish Candles, and Procrastination

anne_of_green_gablesPublic Domain Class of 2013 The works of these authors go into the public domain this year across the European Union, Russia, Brazil, Israel, and other places with a sensible author’s life + 70 years copyright policy (not the USA…). Lucy Maude Montgomery!

Get Up And Move About The Cabin “Research published in separate medical journals this month adds to a growing scientific consensus that the more time someone spends sitting, especially in front of the television, the shorter and less robust his or her life may be.” – NY Times

vervetAlcoholic Monkeys These vervet monkeys in St Kitts have developed a taste for liquor (YouTube). Sneaky monkeys! (Tom reminded me that we had seen the same behavior by vervet monkeys in coastal Kenya, and have this photo to prove it.)

Authors Typing I love this Pinterest board of photos of authors and their typewriters.

Home Composting The NY Times devotes a large number of column inches to a funny article on home composters.

Swedish Candle Learn how to make one here, with a section of log and a chainsaw. Our friend Don introduced us to these. They make a great, self-contained bonfire, and you can even cook in a skillet or pot on top!

Swedish Candle

And just in time for the new year: The science of procrastination, and how to overcome it.

Previous Friday Links:

On Planners, Productivity, and Idle Pleasures

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here is my first confession of 2013:  I’m a planner geek-nerd-obsessive.  I love the tactile and aesthetic delights of a paper planner, as well as the practical benefits. Opening a new planner on January 1 is something I start looking forward to weeks before the calendar page actually flips.  I absolutely agree with Daven Allen (productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done, or “GTD” to his many disciples), who believes that if we are always trying to remember what we have to do (or want to do), and when we need to do it, then our brain will never be free to tend its higher purposes:  creative work, art, serenity.


For me, planning is not about “productivity” in the material sphere:  working more to make more money, to “get ahead,” or get more stuff.   It’s about making sure my precious days reflect my life priorities.  In addition to doing good professional work (writing, speaking, teaching), I also want to keep a harmonious household, and have time to focus on my family.

to doBeyond that, there are the “idle pleasures” that make us whole people.  For me, these include knitting and sewing, learning French, practicing violin, studying birds, and walking aimlessly through the woods.  A good planning system keeps me from frittering my days away mindlessly, and gives me a kind of creative productivity that allows more freedom and joy in my days.

For years, I’ve been pretty much in love with my Franklin-Covey planner, and after so much use the green leather binder that houses the planning pages has become worn and inviting. So for me it’s kind of a big deal that this year I’ve decided to “date other planners,” and am trying the Planner Pad, recommended to me by Waverly Fitzgerald, author of the meditative book, Slow Time:  Recovering the Natural Rhythm of Life (which I reviewed here).

Sorry, Planner Pad people–I covered the logo on the front of the pad with this sticker from the good folks at Microcosm.

The Planner Pad breaks through the simple linearity of most calendars.  You can find out all about it on their website, but essentially it works like this:  Each week appears on a two page spread.  The top third of these pages is divided into seven columns that you label as you choose–each column representing a particular project, role, goal, or theme in your life.  These can change week to week, as needed.

Possible labels I might use include:  Current Book Project, Tangled Nest, Speaking/Teaching, Household/Family, Meal Planning, Garden, Radiant Health, Craft/DIY, Personal, and perhaps a column for Dreams/Wild Imaginings (even hardcore GTD-ers have such a category, which they label “Someday/Maybe”).  I suppose “Other” would also be a useful category.

In each column, you record the most important things you want to accomplish, or anything else you want to remember to think about regarding that theme.  In the middle third of the pages, the columns are labeled Monday through Sunday, and in the blank lines underneath, you create your daily to-dos, drawn from the intentions written above.  The bottom third is for specific appointments and time-based scheduling.

This all seems more organic to me than a typical planner, and full of possibility for focusing more clearly on priorities, dreams, and intentions, rather than becoming lost in daily to-do lists.  There are also full-page month views, planning calendars for the coming three years, and plenty of blank pages for notes (these I’ve index-tabbed, and use for things like lists of books I want to read, films I want to see, gift ideas for friends and family, quotes and words I’d like to use in my writing, and a record of birds seen in my yard).


The Planner Pad ain’t pretty.  It comes in a rather clinical black or green, with a plain, executive look. In an attempt at aesthetics, they created a colorful “Seasons” version, which isn’t at all to my taste.  Even so, I find that with my colored inks, my post-it notes-to-self, and the images I always tape into my planner, this notebook is already starting to look quite Lyanda-ish.

I love handwritten missives, and always carry cards and stamps in the front pocket of my planners, so I can write a postcard or thank you in spare moments.

Poet Mary Oliver asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  What tools do you use in seeking an answer to this question?  As a planner nerd, I’d love to hear about them.

Happy Solstice (and End of the World)

Happy Solstice, dear readers!  Assuming the world doesn’t end today (or even if it does) I wish you all a peaceful, joyful season.

On the Summer Solstice (also our wedding anniversary) a couple of years ago, Tom, Claire, and I set out to climb the highest temple in the Mayan ruins at Tikal before sunrise.  We sat hushed above the silent jungle canopy, as the birds and animals slowly came to life with the growing light.

Dusk photo of Temple of the Jaguar at Tikal, taken by Tom when we were there on June 21, 2010.

I love this dark winter season, and the promise of light the Solstice brings (something we cling to here in Seattle, where darkness settles at about 4 p.m. these days–we are getting two more hours of darkness than our friends in L.A.!).  Solstices have long been a time for celebrating the connection and balance between light and dark, heaven and earth, inner and outer.

In this bustling time of year, “outer” takes care of itself.  In an effort to tend the “inner,” I’ll be leaving technology behind for a few days.  Maybe some of you will join me in letting go of unessential screen time, Facebook, and the blogosphere for a short while, in hopes of entering more wholly this season of darkness-into-light.  The Tangled Nest will resume after Epiphany, January 6.

Friday Links: Gingerbread Brownstones, Dangerous Dancing, and Ancient Trees

Cinema Bookstore: El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires is one of the most dramatic bookstores in the world, because the space was converted from an ornate cinema.

Natural Playgrounds: In Canada, some cities are building “natural playgrounds” that swap swings, slides and monkey bars for boulders, grassy hills and trees.

GingerbreadCosta Rica Bans Hunting: Our progressive Central American neighbors have become the first Latin American country to ban hunting for sport.

An Entire NY Block Out Of Gingerbread: Chef Renee Bauman and her friends have made an entire NYC block out of gingerbread, as a fundraiser for City Harvest.

Ladies of Manure: Need a 2013 calendar? Got a progressive attitude about night soil? Then look no further than the Ladies of Manure, a Kickstarter that will end on Sunday. (Via Root Simple)

Ladies of Poop

The Dangers of Gangnam Style: It’s the dance craze that has swept the nation – and our house, unfortunately, so I should probably warn Tom that Gangnam Style can be fatal to middle-aged men.


Earth’s oldest trees: Designer Michael Paukner has posted this great infographic of earth’s oldest tress.

Worlds Oldest Trees

You can read about (and see photos of) several of the individual trees in this article from the incredible Brain Pickings blog.

Old tree

Have a wonderful weekend!

Previous Friday Links:



Infographic: How To Build Our Backyard Chicken Coop

I am flattered that the author of a new chicken book called Henhouse has turned my humble coop-building instructions into this amazing infographic and posted it on This is a slightly simplified version of our coop, with no “chicken Guantanamo” cage underneath, or aviary around it. But after many years of use, this design has served us well and we still heartily endorse it for urban backyards.

Wonderful coop-building infographic by Timothy Sanders. Click to enlarge.

My coop-plans blog post remains very popular— if you have built this coop, or a version of it, I would love to see photos!