Thursday, February 17, 2011


Yesterday was Science Fair Day at the high school. I always volunteer to be a judge because I love the enthusiasm of the students and the stories I collect. This yea, social media was the hot topic and psychology displays filled half the room. Choosing to go against the flow, I found a team that picked biology, health and medicine. Good choice!

Our thirteen exhibits included:

  • Proving that carbs delay hunger longer than sugar with two girls feeding 32 friends and family members breakfasts of Cocoa Puffs, Total, doughnuts, and eggs on succeeding days and then tracking their hunger levels at half hour intervals.

  • Showing that fingerprints aren't genetically linked - or at least not in the thirty pairs of familial and non-familial subjects a sophomore boy who wants to become a crime scene investigator rounded up.

  • Demonstrating roses stay fresh longer in solutions of bleach water and Sprite than in mixtures using the little packets provided by florists by two freshman friends whose mothers complained of having to throw out expensive flowers too soon.

Of course there were more "scientific" experiments in the collection but my favorite was a very weak display I didn't understand about acidosis. It was my favorite because of the real-world learning the students gained and the persistence they exhibited. Two young men who want to be doctors designed an experiment they couldn't perform with the limited equipment and materials in the high school lab (a sad commentary on the effects of budget cuts, but that's another story). In order to use the facilities at the local college, they needed to submit a proposal. To their surprise, the first one wasn't accepted. After two more attempts (and considerable learning about college expectations), they were successful in securing lab space and a graduate student mentor. Next they learned that real science takes time as the two hours they thought would be sufficient stretched to six, and eventually, eight hours. During that process they discovered how easy it is to contaminate substances or miss a measurement by a tiny fraction of a milligram. Because their final data was less than conclusive, they added more than a few assumptions to their final report - and got to rewrite it several times using only data they could personally substantiate. Their presentation described all these hurdles and helped them clearly decide what they want to do next year. In my book, that's a better reward than a blue ribbon.

May your new experiences this week also be rich learning experiences,

Mary Ann

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I’m crying as I type these words. It was the last phrase in the New York Times obituary for Mary Travers: “People say to us, ‘Oh, I grew up with you music,’ and we often say, ‘So did we.’” So did I – and so did my kids. When our family gathers, we sing “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, “If I Had a Hammer”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “I Know An Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly”…. The list could fill the page. Peter, Paul and Mary sounds filled our home from the time our oldest was born in 1962, through our year-long retreat to Montreal, to the backseat of the car as we celebrated our 50th anniversary.

Mary Traverse made long, straight hair sexy and not something to be ashamed of – and I grew up a little more. The trio sang freedom songs and stood proudly before thousands so I could raise my voice in protest without flinching – and I grew up a little more. They joked, and played with music, and taught me to laugh at myself – and I grew up a little more.

We have our original albums, some new tapes, and maybe even a CD, but I don’t need any of them. Today, I’ll mourn and remember and sing every single song that flows through my body as surely as blood and oxygen. I’ll change the words a bit, because that’s what our family does and because,

I “have” a song.
I’ll sing it in the morning,
I’ll sing it in the evening,
all over this land
I’ll sing out danger.
I’ll sing out a warning.
I’ll sing out love between my brothers and my sisters,
all over this land.

Won’t you sing with me?

Mary Ann

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Is he peeing or spitting on the radiator of the Cord Phaeton? Usually I can guess a word from its context, but The Women by T. C. Boyle requires a dictionary within easy reach. I know a Cord Phaeton is the Lamborghini of the ‘20s but I’m stumped by the micturating activity of the young man.

Many words in this engrossing story of four very different women caught up in the tempestuous life of Frank Lloyd Wright require a pause for a definition. Normally I’d put the book aside as too cumbersome for leisure reading. In the skillful hands of a master writer, however, these words add to the picture of both the times and the character of a man I only know by reputation. I continue my start-and-stop method of reading with a sense of adventure.

  • My alimentary tract (was) on the verge of a fatal dehiscence. What a vivid way of saying his stomach was about to burst like a fruit releasing seeds or a flower splitting open to discharge its pollen.
  • He felt a single savage deracination… I groan as my body is pulled out by the roots and my soul weeps as circumstances displace it from its natural environment. I understand what it means to be uprooted in a new way.
  • He loved to talk … level judgments and animadversions. I add a marvelous word to my vocabulary for times I want to disguise my hostile criticism.

When I read I was a young man of urban inclinations, lost in the middle of Wisconsin farm country, I know I’ll never master Twitter. I’m a woman of a different generation who chooses to micturate or urinate rather than piss.

May the new words you discover today, add to your enjoyment.

Mary Ann

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Magpies have a bad reputation. Remember Heckle and Jeckle, the two annoying magpies created by Terrytoons? In many children’s stories they are seen as chattering, pesky birds who steal rings, pull threads from raveling sweaters, and carry off other treasures to decorate their nests. One friend described them as “pack rats of the bird kingdom” when I asked her opinion on a tentative name for my blog. Unfortunately, these traits fit me to a T. My husband and our friends are often driven to extra handfuls of potato chips by my chattering and I do tend to save all manner of shiny bits and pieces to weave into the poems and stories I consider my nest.

Then I discovered a delightful English fairy tale called “The Magpie’s Nest”. Because the magpie was regarded by other birds as being the cleverest in building nests, she was asked to show them the tricks of her trade. A large crowd of feathered creatures gathered round as she took some mud and made sort of a round cake with it. That was enough information for the thrush who flew away with the idea and made her nest of clay. The magpie continued to demonstrate her techniques – and after each step another bird thought she knew what to do and left to create a structure in her own fashion. Meanwhile, the magpie concentrated keenly on her work without looking up. When at last she was finished, nobody was left. How discouraging! No one wanted or appreciated her years of experience so the magpie got angry and refused to ever tell the birds again how to build nests. And that’s why different birds build their nests differently.

All my life I’ve seen things a differently from other people and as I grow older, I enjoy the variety of those perspectives and opinions more and more. My magpie’s nest is complex and often messy but it’s beautiful in its own way. So is your tiny hummingbird’s home, your golden eagle’s aerie, and your swaying oriole’s hammock All are places where we nurture our young and return when we need a secluded, quiet place after they’ve flown away. All are built to fit the conditions in which we find ourselves. All make the world a more interesting place to live.

In the days ahead, I’ll convince the magpie to look again at her decision. I think I can convince her to share the shiny tinfoil, the magenta hair ribbon, the lost button, and maybe even a torn page from a book as she continues building her dwelling place. I hope you’ll share the raw materials of your life as we build an aviary like no one has ever seen before.

May you find exactly what you need to feather your nest today,

Mary Ann