Monthly Archives: December 2022

Polar Bear Plunge

Today’s post is a plunge into Polar Bear pictures and facts.

Illustration by Margaret Chodos-Irvine from Hello Arctic!

Although polar bears are usually solitary, a group of polar bears is called a Celebration.

Papercut by Julie Paschkis

I plan to celebrate the new year by taking a quick plunge into Lake Washington – aka a Polar Bear Plunge.

A polar bear can swim for days at a time. It uses its big front paws as paddles and the back paws as a rudder.

Vintage poster painted by Nino Nanni

Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on earth.

Papercut by Julie Paschkis

They can smell prey from great distances.

Stencil by Julie Paschkis

They spend half of their life searching for food.

Illustration from the D’Aulaire’s Book of Animals

The D’Aulaire’s Book of Animals is an accordion book showing animals of the north and south. The front of the accordion is in color and shows the animals facing forward. The back is in black and white and shows the same animals from behind.

Polar bears have black skin. Their fur is hollow and it is not white – it is translucent. But it looks white because it reflects light.

Illustration by Kay Nielsen from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

The study of polar bears was instrumental in Darwin’s development of evolutionary theory. You can read about it here in the Public Domain Review.

Are you still hungry for more about polar bears? If so, please click this link to see lovely, lonely photos of bears in Siberia, taken by Dmitry Kokh.

Happy New Year to everyone as we plunge into 2023!

Please share in the comment section how you plan to mark the new year, or any random bear thoughts. Thank you.

Julie Paschkis

A Plate of Christmas Cookies, Kind Of…

My sweet neighbor sent over a plate of Christmas cookies the other day, via her 8-year old son, Henry (who is maybe a foot taller than the last time I talked with him in September as school opened) and her 5-year old daughter, Thea (ditto.) The kids, of course, are even more of a treat than the cookies.

I’m going to offer up my own little plate of “cookies” on Books Around the Table today – links to delicious articles I’ve read in the past month that I want to share. Think of them as gingerbread men, peppermint bark, Mexican wedding cookies, shortbread, chocolate chips, little reindeer and Santas and mittens – sugar cookies with red and green frosting and white piping. Enjoy!

Have you seen the New York Times announcement of “Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2022”? I like a lot of them this year — they seem kid-oriented, lots of fun. I went immediately to my library to check them out – and a couple of them are so popular right now that I’m on a waiting list to get them. That’s a good sign, isn’t it? My favorites of the books I found on the shelf and brought home were Yellow Dog Blues, written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Chris Raschka, and Telling Stories Wrong by Gianni Rodari, illustrated by Beatrice Alemagna. The latter will make kids hoot with laughter. I’d love to be at a read-aloud of that with kids in stitches. Here’s the link:

from Telling Stories Wrong
Cover of Yellow Dog Blues

“An Awe Walk Might Do Wonders for Your Well-Being” – nothing better than fresh air to get you out of the doldrums, clear your head, remind you there’s a lovely world out there, make you feel creative. Here’s the link:

Do you know the work of the South Korean author-illustrator Baek Heena? She won the 2020 Astrid Lingdgren Award but her prize ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic. The citation about her work says, “With exquisite feeling for materials, looks and gestures, Baek Heena’s filmic picture books stage stories about solitude and solidarity. In her evocative miniature worlds, cloud bread and sorbet moons, animals, bath fairies and people converge. Her work is a doorway to the marvelous: sensuous, dizzying, and sharp.” If your local library doesn’t have any of her books, urge them to purchase a few. Here’s the link to the announcement about her prize:

And here is the general Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award page, with the 2021 and 2022 winners – Jean-Claude Mourlevat and Eva Lindstrom:

Baek Heena with some of the figures she uses to illustrate her picture books.

“A Fast-Growing Network of Conservative Groups Is Fueling a Surge in Book Bans” – disturbing news. Here’s the link:

Tsundoku: That’s the Japanese word for a stack(s) of books you’ve purchased but haven’t read. It comes from the words  tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books). I have a few stacks, to say the least. And here is a wonderful article from Big Think about how important these stacks are when it comes to reminding us that we don’t know everything!

Here is what Maria Popova at Brain Pickings has to say about Umberto Eco’s definition of the “anti-library”: (actually, it’s a review of the book Black Swan by Nassim Taleb, about Eco’s idea.)

If you want to read about more “untranslatable words” like “tsundoku,” take a look at Lost in Translation: An Iluustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders.

That’s it for my little plate of holiday “cookies.” Hope you’ve found them delicious, too. Wishing you all the joys of the season!

Musing on the Muse

What’s your muse like?

Here’s Shakespeare on the subject: “O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”

And here’s Stephen King: “My muse is here. It’s a she. Scruffy little mutt has been around for years, and how I love her, fleas and all.”

I’m not sure what my muse is like. I think perhaps it’s a scholarly girl with big glasses reading in an easy chair, glancing up once in awhile to send me a smile.

I wrote this post over seven years ago and thought it was worth updating and posting again. Although I’m not sure my muse is this bespectacled girl anymore. Maybe more like an amorphous cloud with flashes of lightning?

Whoever or whatever your muse is, chances are you struggle like all creative people to tap into its powers. Sometimes the words and images flow, sometimes it’s like that Disney ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” where the pirates keep trying unsuccessfully to lure a mutt to bring them the jailer’s keys.

In the meantime, science has renamed the muse our “subconscious” and discovered some interesting things about that “scruffy little mutt.” For one thing, our muse may not necessarily visit from above as a rare gift from the gods, but could be built into us.

Take a look at these two images for a second.

donkey sunflower.009

According to David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, odds are good that as you look your brain is beginning to construct a narrative, a story, a reason why these two images go together. And it isn’t too hard to start to imagine how these two images could be joined into a story, but according to Linden you will automatically start figuring out a narrative even if I show you this.

rhino teeth.010

No matter how improbable, your brain wants to make a connection. Linden says you can’t help it. It’s what comes naturally. Linden believes the brain is hard-wired to tell stories. It’s a subconscious function that automatically kicks in as we work to make sense of what’s happening around us. If we see a chimpanzee running past us in the jungle, it could be important for our survival to figure out what it’s running from. If we see a panther running by next–that’s one story. If we see a clown car next–that’s a lot less scary story (depending, of course, on how you feel about clowns).

Our brains are putting together a causal link: this is happening because that happened and that happened because of that other thing. And isn’t that the essence of story–connecting one action and to another exploring actions and their consequences?

Another interesting thing about our brain is it often seems to know things before we do. I can remember writing stories where I’d put in what seemed an incidental detail—the white rose on the dresser—in the beginning of a story only to discover that this seemingly arbitrary detail was perfect for my ending. It’s an experience familiar to many writers.

It’s as if some part of our brain knows our story before we do.

And according to science your brain literally does know things before you consciously do. In a study where participants were asked to solve a puzzle, scientists could tell before the participants consciously knew it that they had solved the puzzle. How? They could see that the brain started to form alpha waves. Sometimes they could predict as much as eight seconds ahead of the time that the participant was going to have the answer.

Human head silhouette

There are two types of brain waves associated with subconscious creativity. Alpha waves are a function of deep relaxation. In alpha, we begin to access the creativity-that lies just below our conscious awareness – it is the gateway, the entry-point that leads into deeper states of consciousness.

That deeper state of consciousness is signaled by theta waves.The theta wave state is also known as the twilight state something which we normally only experience fleetingly as we rise up out of sleep, or drift off to sleep, although theta waves are abundant in experienced meditators.

It’s these relaxed brain wave states that give us access to our unconscious thoughts and images. And there are ways to encourage them. For one thing, those alpha and theta waves like what Emily Dickenson calls it “reverie.”

You no longer need to feel guilty for staring off into space, doodling aimlessly or watching a fly crawl across the ceiling. Next time family or friends look at you accusingly as you sit there chewing on your pencil eraser with a dreamy look on your face, you can tell them it has been scientifically proven that you are working. Even Einstein agrees.

“Creativity is the residue of wasted time,” he said.

One last bit of science: it is still a bit speculative, but there’s a scientific theory that the human brain has a tendency to change its dominant wave frequency towards the frequency of a dominant external stimulus.

Basically what that means is that your brain waves will tend to fall in with a dominant rhythm in your environment: a drumbeat, a heart beat, the fall of your footsteps—they call it entrainment.

So the creative muse likes rhythmic activities: music, walking, chopping vegetables, riding along in a vehicle.

Beautiful women in the hammock on the beach

As Mozart said, “When I am traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that ideas flow best and most abundantly.”

The way I first heard it described years ago was “bed, bath and bus.” Do something mindless, repetitive and meditative. In other words, allow yourself to muse and maybe that mutt will bring you the keys.