FRESH BITS 4/24: Interesting Things to Do and Read

It’s Friday. Time for another FRESH BITS. This week, seven fresh things across a range of topics for you to read, do, or just think about, plus four bonuses. I hope they help you enjoy this weekend a little bit more.

Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long. – May Sarton

  1. Now is a good time to be more educated on food expiration dates. Are they critical? Can you go past them, and if so, by how much? This NYTimes article sheds some light on the subject. You may be surprised to learn why food products are dated.
  2. Hamlet as a Vlogger, uploading soliloquies as breakdowns? If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you may enjoy this modern adaptation of the classic on YouTube. (Free-use image via Google Images.)
  3. In honor of Earth Day, which happened earlier this week, think on this thought as we are experiencing the wonder of what happens when humans stop polluting the Earth:

    Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. – Native American proverb

  4. Escaping into nature is a great way to take your mind off you-know-what. There’s a ton of virtual tours out there, but this one on the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens’ Japanese Garden with cherry blossoms in full bloom is delightful. The virtual walk through takes 18 minutes and is full screen with sound. This historic garden, one of the country’s oldest surviving public Japanese gardens, is worth some virtual wandering.
  5. What better example of nature’s glory than in America’s own backyard and our National Parks. But, of course, we can’t actually visit any right now, so another virtual tour opportunity exists via the The Hidden World of the National Parks. Currently, nine are available and perhaps one is your favorite park you can revisit and rekindle memories, or another you’ve yet to see.
  6. I seem to be on a nature kick this week, but it was Earth Day earlier in the week so why not. The University of the Pacific scanned and made John Muir’s fascinating journals available. Some serious study opportunity for the scholar, but easier by clicking Switch View to see a descriptive link about each page spread.
  7. While Neil Gaiman, in his well-known Make Good Art commencement address, promotes making good art when times are bad, Austin Kleon has a twist on the concept (especially apt in these different times):  Make Bad Art, Too.

    “Good” can be a stifling word, a word that makes you hesitate and stare at a blank page and second-guess yourself and throw stuff in the trash. What’s important is to get your hands moving and let the images come. Whether it’s good or bad is beside the point. Just make something. – Austin Kleon



  1. What I’m reading this week: Diving into some neglected books by a favorite non-fiction brilliant mind, Rebecca Solnit. Starting back into Wanderlust:  A History of Walking. That’s something most of us can still do and is the primary outdoors therapy these days. New:  I’ll be linking to Book Depository going forward instead of Amazon. I buy most books from my local indie, but for broader reach and tapping UK/European published books, can’t beat Book Depository. Good prices, deep US (and other stock), and free U.S. shipping.
  2. What I’m watching this week: Back to an old fav, Time Team. Amazon Prime Video released more seasons/episodes, so back to my friends (I’ve watched them so much I feel they are that) the dirt diggers.
  3. What I’m listening to this week: I follow a few podcasts, but one daily listen that’s been a faithful companion for probably well over 30 years is The Writer’s Almanac. Don’t know how much longer Garrison Keilor will recored these, and perhaps they’ll go the way of Car Talk (repeat broadcasts after one of the hosts passed away). In the meantime, it’s a daily five-minute dipping into writers, writerly news, and a daily poem. Great way to start the day.
  4. Poem of the week is a healthy thing, because poetry can help us understand and cope better with so many things. Plus, a good one may just become a lifelong friend.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.

Meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.

Because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Jellaludin Rumi,  translation by Coleman Barks


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FRESH BITS 4/17: Interesting Things to Do and Read

Eight fresh things to read, do, or just think about, plus four bonuses. I hope they help you enjoy this weekend a little bit more.

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. – Lao Tzu

  1. How to Tell Your Husband You’re a Witch is, perhaps, an odd Covid-19 essay, but perhaps what we need now are more witches! Heaven knows we have too many devils right now, so having more good witches couldn’t hurt. Am I right?
  2. Libby is an app from which you can borrow digital reads from your library. I’ve been using Libby for several years, but what a perfect time now to expand your book options. Here our library’s been closed for over a month, and Libby’s helped fill that gap nicely.
  3. This is way more than cool:  EXPLORE lets you pick and watch live webcams from all over the world by type of place, wildlife, etc. I can remember watching one of these years ago of a hawk’s nest with eggs about to hatch. The wonder of seeing that live was amazing.
  4. I’ve loved Fran Liebowitz‘s writing and way of approaching life since I discovered her decades ago. If you’re a fan of New York City and of this great thinker/curmudgeon/social commenter who’s a refreshing holdover since the days of Dorothy Parker, then you’ll love this interview with her in The New Yorker magazine.
  5. This fascinating aerial study of Hong Kong’s fountains is both art and mesmerism combined into one. Good art is always captivating and this explores a way of seeing these designs in a form that’s impossible from the ground.
  6. If you’re a fan of classic, black & white movies, you’ll enjoy this excellent montage of bloopers. How many films and stars of the golden years of Hollywood can you recognize? And fun to know they knew all the same, choice cuss words!
  7. Are you a fan of the Moomin world by Tove Jansson? Here’s a fascinating The New Yorker article that’s a dive into the author, her world, and how those delightful characters came about.
  8. Sage and timely from James Clear  (and just about all of the rest of us who practice meditation and mindfulness). Try it. I imagine afterwards you’ll be a bit less stressed, more relaxed, and what’s two minutes right now when we all have loads of time on our hands?

    Can you sit still, do nothing, and breathe deeply for the next two minutes?”


  1. What I’m reading this week: Digging into more stoicism with what is generally acknowledged as an easy-slope, intro book: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. Like most of my stoic studies, about 80% is stuff I’ve been doing fo years naturally. Nice to learn, though, more of the history behind the stoics and fill in that other ~20%.
  2. What I’m watching this week: Working on getting into Amazon Prime’s Tales From the Loop, but not quite there yet. Too many surreal things going on in the real world to make fantasy/sci-fi seem like something different.
  3. What I’m listening to this week: My de-facto choice when doing a creative project (not fresh writing per se), or working the shop and order processing:  the 1857 Podcast:Two guys talking about analogue pursuits in a digital world – and a fair amount of nonsense too. Two guys, I should add, with delightful British and Irish accents. I could sit and listen to them read their grocery list and be enthralled.
  4. New feature: Poem of the week, because, you know, poetry can help us understand the foundations of our thinking and aid in healing. Plus, a good one may just become a lifelong friend.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

David Wagoner (1999)


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FRESH BITS 4/10: Interesting Things to Do and Read

Hope you enjoy today’s Fresh Bits: Eight juicy links to help you enjoy this weekend a three bonuses (my current read/watch/listen list).

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes–including you. – Anne Lamott

  1. Italy-based writer/artist Keri Smith started an inspiration per day creative prompt via her Exploration of the Day site, in part to help teachers with interesting student activities during the shut-in. Check out her recent ones (and you can subscribe if you scroll to the bottom). And…I didn’t click to the name at first, but she’s the author of a quite interesting (and niche) fav book of mine: The Wander Society.
  2. Some fun/timely comic art about staying inside and wondering too much. Will this ever end? Will there be a better future out there? Check out It’s Time to Start Talking to Yourself.
  3. I thought when I moved to the Midwest years ago I’d learned the last of the obscure weather phenomenon: thundersnow. Well…yesterday in Ann Arbor, after a few teasing days of 60 degree spring weather, we had graupel. What? Yup, a real thing. And now you know too. You’re welcome.
  4. Social distancing for, what, now three weeks or so? Wimpy, by comparison to this guy:  Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years of Social Distancing. Introverts Anonymous poster hero, most likely.
  5. Fountain pen lover? Since we have, ah, a bit of extra time on our hands, why not try ink mixing? Old post, but artist Jane Blundell has a lot of information about mixing inks, especially using De Atramentis inks ideally suited to this ink-stained rabbit hole.
  6. Those who love to travel are particularly gloomy right now. Armchair voyaging ain’t quite the same, but tough times call for clever workarounds. Like this article on Ancient Morocco and Berber ways, until your toes can get the chance again to feel some African sand in between them.
  7. Living long and enjoying life is anyone’s hope and dreams. But how? Maybe the Japanese way of ikigai (roughly translates to “your reason for living” but is more than that) could work for you. The science doesn’t lie; the ikigai-practicing residents of Okinawa have some of the highest concentration of centenarians on Earth. Ikigai intersects four elements together:  your passion, skills, how to earn a living, and what the world needs. Intrigued? Learn more about it here, or, of course, apply some Google-foo and chase it down.
  8. What an amazing time to have discovered Fresh Bits #8:  Blinkist: Weird name, amazing secret. Somewhat like a modern Cliffnotes, the service distills books into 15-minute reads or listens. There are so many non-fiction books out there I’d like to get the meat more quickly. Too often these authors spend, IMHO, way too much time name-dropping and countless stories selling the “why” of their topic. Blinkist is surprisingly deep across many topics (it’s not all business and self-help books). I’ve found their distillations to be on point with excellent, professionally recorded “blinks” as they’re called. And if you’re wondering, the answer is no:  this is not an affiliate link, just a happy user.
  9. What I’m reading this week: Escaping in a little medieval magic, murder, and mayhem at the moment (who couldn’t use a little of that?) via the late Dave Duncan’s Ironfoot, book 1 of his Enchanter General series. As usual, I stumbled onto this series by reading the last one (#3) before realizing how good it was and then subsequently ran down books #1 and #2.
  10. What I’m watching this week: Can’t seem to stop following Sir Tony Robinson through his various TV series. Found this one on Amazon Prime Video that should last me a good bit:  Walking Through History. Combine history with gorgeous British Isles natural scenery, local characters, a walking show, and Tony’s affable personality and it’s an enthralling series.
  11. What I’m listening to this week: I got SiriusXM with my new Subaru last fall and loved it, especially the Spa channel (think of the music you usually listen to when you’re getting a massage…ummm…another unfair victim of social distancing). Anyway, when I subscribed after the free trial, I also added the iPhone app. Realizing I was missing this channel since driving is a one-one-day-every-10-days 15-minute moment now, I remembered the app, and yup, it’s what I have on most of the time now, especially while creating.

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Fresh Bits 4/3: Interesting Things to Do and Read

Hope you enjoy today’s Fresh Bits: 11 juicy links to help you enjoy this weekend a bit more. Please comment and let me know what you think of this list. Also consider signing up at the right to follow and receive new post email notifications.

Each day is a new battle to say yes to what matters and say no to what doesn’t. Focus is a practice. – James Clear

  1. Good post on the value and distraction from having passion pursuits during times like now:  Why Hobbies (Still) Matter in the Midst of a Pandemic.
  2. How would you like to check out a digital book from a library of 1.4 million titles? And for free! You can at The National Emergency Library until June 30th. But please continue (or start) buying books online from your local, independent bookstore while they’re shuttered, else they may not be there when we return to roam freely.
  3. Okay, although some of you housebound DIY nerds may not be quite this desperate (yet), I still offer How to Make Bagpipes Out of Garbage Bags. Just don’t tell your neighbors I gave you this link.
  4. For you movie bingers, here’s a way to make even movies you’ve seen before a bit more interesting and film noir-ish:  In Praise of Watching Your Favorite Movies in Black & White.
  5. Actor Patrick Stewart reads a Shakespeare sonnet.
  6. Phoebe Reads a Mystery podcast, current one chapter a day of Agatha Christie’s first mystery, The Mysterious Affair at Styles
  7. Something only word lovers could embrace:  Overly Descriptive Color Palettes. Found this…a bit hypnotic to keep scanning the names and enjoying the word crafting.
  8. Reading a bit of Austin’s book every day and I’ve bought multiple copies in the past to gift to creative friends. I consider this a must-have bookshelf book, especially useful in these times if you write, draw, sketch, paint, or pursue any creative activity:  Keep Going by Austin Kleon.
  9. What I’m reading this week: Exercising both sides of the mind starting with the first installment, The Invisible Library of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, (after finishing the sixth last week). To offset that fun, fantasy world, still working through Ryan Holiday’s “The Obstacle is the Way,”  exploring Stoicism.
  10. What I’m watching this week: Still binging on BBC’s Time Team, and old series set in the UK. A team of archaeologists, led by Black Adder-famed British actor Tony Robinson, take on three-day explorations to resolve mysteries and answer historical questions. On Prime Video (but also elsewhere, like Acorn TV somewhat).
  11. What I’m listening to this week: As usual, when I need some background music of a calming or relaxing nature, I listen to Hearts of Space, either their weekly show or listening for hours to their Seasonal channel. Info here, if curious or interested.

Fresh Bits 3/27: Interesting Things to Do and Read

This is a new series I’m starting on Fridays for fresh bits of things to do over the weekend and beyond. Each Friday I’ll share collated interesting things to read or do found on other blogs, e-newsletters, and the like.

Signs of spring?

Today’s fresh bits include advice for the isolated-in-place, things to do with stationery stuff, creative distractions, reading ideas, and more.

  1. Soothing coloring therapy. The New York Academy of Medicine has a library of links to coloring pages and books from around the world.
  2. Fountain pen user? Nice list of things to do with your fountain pens during your stay-at-home period, courtesy of the Fountain Pen Love site.
  3. Have kids at home and want to draw with them? A guide on resources from Austin Kleon.
  4. Love books? Missing your in-person book club? Lots of virtual equivalents to previous social activities are popping up, and here’s one for book club lovers.
  5. Lovers of nature, creativity, and just plain intellectual thinking should subscribe to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings. Subscribe here, or just visit her site to wander for hours and days. Great stuff!
  6. Timely (rediscovered) wisdom from the acclaimed author and educator who eschewed technology, Neil Postman: How to Live the Rest of Your Life.
  7. Fascinating podcast out my usual zone but enjoying the author’s views and language/phrasing mastery. From the BBC description: “The award-winning and critically-acclaimed podcast from George the Poet delivers a fresh take on inner city life through a mix of storytelling, music and fiction.” Take a listen.
  8. What’s helping me cope the most with isolation and the why of it? Increasing my studying about stoicism. Good place to start is The Daily Stoic. Sensible thinking for nonsensical times.

See you next Friday with more Fresh Bits. Add your email at the right to get them (and other posts) automatically. Stay safe inside, stay six feet away, and take advantage of this unique time and circumstance to create and learn.