A Hundred Million Miracles

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Ever since I was around 12 years old and saw my first Broadway show, I have loved musicals.  The musicals written by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers are among the best in both stories and music.  One of their lesser known musicals,”Flower Drum Song” was first performed in 1958. It is a charming musical about the Chinese community in San Francisco.  “A Hundred Million Miracles” is  a staccato drum beat song and definitely not a good example of the talent of Richard Rodgers.  It’s the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein that shine.

My new story is a Middle Grade Sci-Fi Comedy entitled, “How Michael Saved the Bosites and Everybody Else.”  Its main message is that humans are destroying nature and causing global warming. Near the end of the story, Tier, the Director of Education, sings part of the song to Michael. He tells the protagonist, “If more people understood those words, we would not have to worry about nature being destroyed.”

The lyrics are probably the simplest ever written my Oscar Hammerstein, but they say much.  I hope you enjoy listing to this Original Broadway Cast recording of the song, and take a moment to appreciate all the wondrous things around you.


Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is Re-Opened after being Drained and Expanded

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Some people consider the Blue Lagoon to be a tourist trap.  I do not agree!  Yes, it is artificial in a land of natural wonders, but it is still a ton of fun to visit.





The following is from Iceland Magazine.

The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations has been re-opened after being closed to the public for two and a half weeks. On January 5 the lagoon was closed and emptied so that the lagoon could be expanded and improved. A new, greatly expanded and improved lagoon opened on January 21.

Two new coves were added and the lagoon expanded by more than 3,200 square meters (34,500 sq. feet). As well as expanding the lagoon itself a new refreshment stand and bar has been added in the lagoon.

The lagoon, its water and the silica which accumulates at the bottom of the lagoon are cleaned regularly with specially designed equipment. Margrét Stefánsdóttir at the Blue Lagoon explained to Iceland Magazine that even if this was the first time the lagoon was completely emptied since it was opened at its current location, the draining did not reveal any surprises at the bottom. “The entire body of water in the lagoon is renewed every 48 hours, and we also clean the lagoon regularly, so if anything has fallen to the bottom, for example jewelry, it is sucked up during that cleaning.”

However, she added that the cleaning did reveal how the lava in the lagoon had been covered with a solid white enamel. “It was pretty astonishing, white and beautiful.” Dagný Pétursdóttir, the manager of the Blue Lagoon, told Iceland Magazine the volume of the lagoon was expanded from 6 million liters (1.6 million gallons) of geothermal seawater to 9 million liters (2.4 million gallons): “We added two beautiful bays to the lagoon, and they look like they have always been there.”

Irish Blessings and Sayings

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After writing my story, “Aldar and the Leprechauns,” I couldn’t help being interested in Ireland.  I hope to travel there later this year.  I can almost feel a new story coming on.

The following link is to a video showing some lovely Irish scenes that shares a few of the charming blessings.



Watch: Fantastic drone video of a humpback whale jumping close to a whale-watching boat

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Seeing so many whales in one tour does however not have any thing to do with luck. According to operators of whale-watching boats in Akureyri this year has been unusually good in Eyjafjörður fjord. A likely explanation is that there is is more feed for the whales in the fjord than usual. In addition to more whales than usual, there are more seabirds.

Watch the video at: https://youtu.be/7gDpTuerZI8

Source: Icelandic Magazine

Astronomical Clock of Prague – Youtube video and history

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I recently returned from visiting Prague as well as several of the places that Aldar visits in his search for the Golem of Prague. http://www.aldarandthegolem.

To learn about the little elf’s adventure with the clock, check out the preview under the book title on the top menu.  The video I took of the clock is posted on youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhC2B2EPKqY

The following information about the clock is from http://www.prague.cz/astronomical-clock/

“Legend about clockmaster Hanus

The origin of the Astronomical Clock was misrepresented for centuries. It was believed, that the author was clockmaster Hanus, also called Jan of Ruze, who lived in the 15 th century. The story said that the clock was admired by many foreigners, but Hanus refused to show construction plans to anybody. When Prague Councillors found out that he was going to make another, even better clock, they became jealous and blinded him so he could not finish it. Later he allegedly damaged the astronomical clock in revenge, and nobody was able to repair it.

Real history of the Astronomical Clock

The real author of the clock was discovered in 1961 in an old document, which describes the astronomical dial and says it was made by Mikulas of Kadan in 1410. He probably cooperated with the astronomer and Charles University professor Jan Sindel.

The Astronomical Clock was repaired and improved by Jan Taborsky in the 16 th century. However, it became very faulty as time went by, and it was mostly out of order. It was even considered whether it should be liquidated in the 1780s. The clock soon stopped working for a long time.

The major repair was inevitable and it came in 1865. The clock was modernized and a new Calendar Dial was painted by Josef Manes. In 1945 the German army damaged the Astronomical Clock and some of the statues burned. They were replaced by replicas later, and the striking of the clock was changed from the Old Czech Time to the Central European Time.

The Astronomical Clock consists of the windows with apostles at the top, the Astronomical Dial, which is the oldest part, the Calendar Dial underneath and various sculptures around.

Figures of Apostles

The wooden figures of apostles with their attributes appear in the windows every hour, while at the same time some of the sculptures begin to move: the Death holds its hourglass and beckons to the Turkish man sculpture, which shakes its head in response. There is Vanity portrayed as a man with a mirror and Miserliness as a man with a moneybag, shaking a stick. The other statues, that don´t move, are an Astronomer, a Chronicler, a Philosopher and an Angel. When the apostles finish their journey, the golden cockerel at the top crows and quivers its wings, the bell rings and the clock chimes the hour.

Astronomical Dial

The Astronomical Dial shows the medieval perception of the Universe: the Earth is the center. The blue part of the dial represents the sky above the horizon, the brown part the sky below it. There are Latin words ORTVS (east) and OCCASVS (west) written above the horizon, andAVRORA (dawn) and CPEPVSCVLVM (twilight) below. There is a Zodiac ring, which represents the stars in the sky and it moves according to it. The two clock hands bear the signs of the Sun and the Moon.
There are three circles on the dial, showing different time: the outer circle with Schwabacher numerals shows the Old Czech Time (“Italian Time”), the circle with Roman numbers shows the Central European Time and the inner circle with Arabic numerals shows the “Babylonian Time”: the length of an hour differs there according to the season – it is longer in the summer, shorter in the winter. The Prague Astronomical Clock is the only one in the world able to measure it. Furthermore, the little star by the zodiac ring shows the sidereal time.

Calendar Dial

The newest part of the clock is the Calendar Dial. There is the Prague Old Town symbol in the centre. The rotary outer circle describes every single day of the year, and the current date is indicated at the top. There are also medallions with zodiac signs and with pictures depicting every month.”


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Auroras and Star Trails over Iceland
Image Credit & Copyright: Vincent Brady

Explanation: It was one of the quietest nights of aurora in weeks. Even so, in northern- Iceland during last November, faint auroras lit up the sky every clear night. The featured 360-degree panorama is the digital fusion of four wide-angle cameras each simultaneously taking 101 shots over 42 minutes. In the foreground is serene Lake Myvatn dotted with picturesque rock formations left over from ancient lava flows. Low green auroras sweep across the sky above showing impressive complexity near the horizon. Stars far in the distance appear to show unusual trails — as the Earth turned — because early exposures were artificially faded.

This photo was found on the apod.nasa.gov. If you are interested in some really cool astronomy photos, it is a great site to follow.

Did the Vikings Bring Native Americans Back to Iceland?

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American Indian Sailed to Europe With Vikings?
Centuries before Columbus, a Viking-Indian child may have been born in Iceland.
By Traci Watson, for National Geographic News

Five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged to Europe with Vikings, according to a provocative new DNA study.

Analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans. (Get the basics on genetics.)

This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, the study authors theorize. (Related: “Vikings’ Barbaric Bad Rap Beginning to Fade.”)

Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so (regional map).

The idea that a Native American woman sailed from North America to Iceland during that period of settlement and exploration provides the best explanation for the Icelanders’ variant, the research team says.

“We know that Vikings sailed to the Americas,” said Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and the University of Iceland, who co-wrote the study with his student Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and colleagues. “So all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them.

“Although it’s maybe interesting and surprising, it’s not all that incredible,” Helgason added. “The alternative explanations to me are less likely”—for example the idea that the genetic trait might exist independently, undiscovered, in a few Europeans.

The study authors themselves admit the case is far from closed. But University of Illinois geneticist Ripan Malhi—an expert in ethnic DNA differences who wasn’t part of the project—agreed that the report holds “strong genetic evidence for pre-Columbian contact of people in Iceland with Native Americans.”

(Related: “Fifty-One Headless Vikings in English Execution Pit Confirmed.”)

Dating the DNA Signature

Through genealogical research, the study team concluded that the Icelanders who carry the Native American variation are all from four specific lineages, descended from four women born in the early 1700s.
Those four lineages, in turn, likely descended from a single woman with Native American DNA who must have been born no later than 1700, according to study co-author Ebenesersdóttir.

The genealogical records for the four lineages are incomplete before about 1700, but history and genetics suggest the Native American DNA arrived on the European island centuries before then, study co-author Helgason said.

He pointed out that Iceland was very isolated from the outside world in the centuries leading up to 1700, so it’s unlikely that a Native American got to the island during that period.

As further evidence, he noted that—though the Icelanders share a distinct version of the variation—at least one lineage’s variation has mutated in a way that would likely have taken centuries to occur, the researchers say.

This unique signature suggests that, in Helgason’s words, the Native American DNA arrived in Iceland at least “several hundred years” before 1700.

(Related: “Preserving Native America’s Vanishing Languages.”)

DNA Evidence Fragmented

Despite the evidence, for now it’s nearly impossible to prove a direct, thousand-year-old genetic link between Native Americans and Icelanders.

For starters, no living Native American group carries the exact genetic variation found in the Icelandic families.

But of the many known scattered versions that are related to the Icelandic variant, 95 percent are found in Native Americans. Some East Asians, whose ancestors are thought to have been the first Americans, carry a similar genetic pattern, though.

The Inuit, often called Eskimos, carry no version of the variant—a crucial detail, given that Greenland has a native Inuit population.

Helgason speculates that the precise Icelandic variation may have come from a Native American people that died out after the arrival of Europeans.

It’s possible, he added, that the DNA variation actually came from mainland Europe, which had infrequent contact with Iceland in the centuries preceding 1700. But this would depend on a European, past or present, carrying the variation, which so far has never been found.

(See pictures of Native American lands in National Geographic magazine.)

History Not Much Help?

Complicating matters, the historical record contains no evidence that Icelandic Vikings might have taken a Native American woman back home to their European island, scholars say.

“It makes no sense to me,” said archaeologist and historian Hans Gulløv of the Greenland Research Centre in Copenhagen.

For one thing, experts say, nothing in excavations or the Icelandic sagas—thought to be rooted in fact but not entirely reliable—suggests a personal alliance of the kind reported in the new study, published online November 10 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
(See “‘Sagas’ Portray Iceland’s Viking History.”)

The Saga of Erik the Red does tell of four Skraeling boys—the Norse term for the American Indians—who were captured by an Icelandic expedition and taken back to Greenland, said Birgitta Wallace, an emeritus archaeologist for Parks Canada who has written extensively about the Norse.

But Icelanders spent little time in North America, and their relations with the people they found living there seem to have been mostly hostile, she said. The stories “talk in not very flattering terms about [Native Americans’] looks,” Wallace said.

One saga, she added, tells of explorers “who found some sleeping natives—and they just killed them.”

(Related: “Viking Weapon Recycling Site Found in England.”)

Time to Rewrite Viking History?

“What we have is a big mystery,” study co-author Helgason admitted.

It won’t be solved, he said, until the DNA pattern’s origins are nailed down, perhaps through the study of ancient DNA—for example, if an ancient Native American bone is found with DNA closely matching the Icelandic variant.

But at least one skeptic suggests it’s a mystery worth pursuing.

“I have no historical sources telling me” that Vikings took Native Americans home, said Gulløv, the historian. But often when new data is uncovered, he added, “we have to write history anew.”

Jews in Iceland

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Chabad has been attempting to make some inroads in organization of the Jewish community. Its first Seder in 2011 was attended by over 50 people.  Sadly in 2015, only 13 attended. The following article might be of interest:

Iceland’s few Jews grapple with faith

With no synagogue, no rabbi, and a majority of marriages interfaith, Jews in Iceland find unique ways of keeping tradition alive.

By | Aug. 6, 2013 | 4:35 PM | 14

Iceland has no synagogue, no rabbis, no Jewish community center or organized structure. In fact, Judaism is not even one of Iceland’s state-recognized religions.

Still, Iceland has about 100 Jews who call this North Atlantic island home. And last year, roughly 50 of them gathered in a hall downtown on Erev Rosh Hashanah for services — a proportion of prayer attendance that rabbis in many other countries would give their left arms to achieve.

This coming Jewish New Year, traditional Ashkenazi food will be served once again. And once again, if they are lucky, attendees that night may see the aurora borealis, in all its green glory, dance across the sky, as they did on Erev Rosh Hashanah 5773.

A rabbi will also be on hand, something relatively new for Iceland. Though he remains based in the United States, Rabbi Berel Pewzner of Chabad, the Brooklyn-based Hasidic group, visits regularly and is into the third year of his tenure here.

It was in 2011 that Pewzner came to Iceland to help develop the small Jewish community. He presided that year over the first kosher Passover Seder ever held in Iceland, and more than 50 people attended that event, too. The rabbi decided to return for Yom Kippur and came back again in 2012.

“I’ve always been fascinated with Jewish life in remote and unique locations around the globe,” Pewzner told the Forward. “I have traveled to quite a number of countries, with the purpose of connecting with the Jewish communities living there…. So when I came across Iceland, a country that seemed to have few Jews, but a vibrant model of modern Jewish community, I was intrigued.”

Jews are relatively new to Iceland. The first observant Jew settled in Iceland in 1906, according to records. Fritz Heymann Nathan started one of Iceland’s most successful businesses at the time, Nathan & Olsen, a food distributor, after arriving from Denmark. He stayed for 11 years before returning there.

It wasn’t until 1940 that the first Jewish congregation was established on Iceland’s soil, when Jewish soldiers from Britain were stationed there. The arrival of American forces in 1941 brought more Jews to the country, with roughly 2,000 Jewish soldiers based in Iceland by the end of World War II.

Jewish numbers fluctuated over the decades until the United States Army left Iceland in 2006.

Prior to that, Iceland’s government had a troubled history with Jews. In the 1930s, when Jews were trying to flee Germany, and Iceland was still affiliated with Denmark — though formally sovereign — the government refused to open its doors, following Denmark’s lead. Furthermore, most of the small number of Jews who were already on its shores were deported.

Today, Iceland’s Jewish community comes from around the world. There are no native Icelandic Jews to speak of. The Jews who reside in Iceland came, at least initially, to study, to work or because of marriage to an Icelander.

So, what’s it like to live in Iceland as a Jew today? Most of the Jews who reside in Iceland come from secular backgrounds, and the community’s identity does not lie in religion. Indeed, most of the Jews here today are in interfaith marriages. Many in the community, however, are interested in retaining a connection to their Jewish heritage.

“Overall my experience living here as a foreigner has been great,” Jovana Alkalaj said. “Being from Serbia and being Jewish, both somewhat controversial, have never been an issue for anyone I have met [in Iceland].”

But Alkalaj’s connection to the community is a cultural one.

“Jews in Serbia have been through a lot, including my late grandparents, and I do identify with them and what they went through,” she said. “I am a member of the Jewish community in Serbia, as well, and have taken a year’s worth of Hebrew classes. Being Jewish is more of a personal statement in honor of my family and what they went through, and a sign of identification with other people whose families suffered the same way.”

Alkalaj, who moved to Iceland in 2010, is married to an Icelander.

Roughly 80 percent of Iceland’s residents are members of the Lutheran Church, which is state funded, as are several smaller religious communities that have chosen to register with the government. So far, the Jewish community has chosen not to do so.

One woman who came to Iceland from America to live with her Icelandic husband, said such demographics take their toll. She and her husband have one child, who has been baptized.

“There have been some sacrifices on my part, but that is something that I had to accept when I moved to Iceland,” said the woman, who spoke only on condition of anonymity to retain her privacy. “In many ways I did lose my Jewish identity. But it was a choice.”

Others in the community do practice their Judaism, though not in a traditional sense, to keep tradition alive.

Julian Burgos, a marine biologist who grew up in Ecuador, considers himself a secular humanistic Jew. “But I do practice,” said Burgos, who has lived here for four years with his wife, a nonpracticing Catholic. “At home we celebrate the Sabbath and the holidays, albeit from a humanistic, not theistic, point of view… The Jewish people have always also included the apikorsim, those who do not accept the dominant rabbinic religion, and I guess I am one of those.”

Like other community members, Burgos says he has never experienced anti-Semitism in Iceland. Israel, and the politics that come with it, however, is a very different issue. Politically, many Icelanders are quick to criticize the Israeli government, and Iceland’s previous government came out strongly against Israel at times.

“Many Icelanders are very upset with Israel because of the occupation of the Palestinians,” Burgos said. “Sadly, in some cases people cannot distinguish between the actions of the Israeli government or the settlers, and they blame ‘the Jews’ in general.”

During the most recent conflict in Gaza, in November 2012, Burgos said, some comments in the media and in the social networks against Israel and the Jews “were virulent.”

Össur Skarphéðinsson who was at that time Iceland’s foreign affairs minister, criticized Israel’s military incursion into Gaza, taken after rockets from Gaza landed on Israeli soil. Skarphéðinsson called Israel’s response “tragic and unequal.” Ögmundur Jónasson, then Iceland’s interior minister, opined that Icelanders should protest the attacks. And they did.

The protests took place in front of the U.S. embassy last year, with roughly 1,000 people attending.

When confronted with such protests, Burgos himself feels conflicted. “Even though I am Jewish and I love Israel, or perhaps because of it, I am also very upset with the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and the intransigence of the Israeli government,” he said. “At the same time, you do not see people complaining, for example, about the situation in Syria. So there is a particular focus on Israel.”

Iceland’s closest tie to Israel, however, lies in a personal relationship. In 2003, Iceland’s president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, married Israel-born Dorrit Moussaieff — bringing yet one more Jew to Iceland and to an interfaith marriage with an Icelandic native. While Moussaieff is secular and has lived in London since age 13, she was born in Jerusalem’s old Bukharian Quarter and is the great-granddaughter of Shlomo Moussaieff, one of the quarter’s well-known founders. Some in the community have credited her with bringing positive publicity to Iceland’s Jewish community, though she herself has never reached out to the community directly.

Still, the tie has not necessarily helped burnish Israel’s image. During a private visit to the land of her birth in 2006, the Icelandic first lady was taken out of line at passport control and denied permission to leave the country after a three-day stay because she did not have an Israeli passport. An immigration officer refused to accept her British passport, noting that Israeli law requires all citizens to arrive and leave the country using an Israeli passport only.

According to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the president’s wife was allowed to leave only after one and a half hours, culminating in a shouting match between Moussaieff and the female border patrol officer.

“This is about to become a serious diplomatic incident,” Moussaieff reportedly said. “This is why everyone hates Jews.”

In an interview afterward with Iceland’s national broadcasting authority, Moussaieff did not deny the comment. “I lost my temper,” she said. “I couldn’t say anything else… At that point, [the immigration officer] didn’t know that I was married to Ólafur. And I said something like: ‘How can you do this to the first lady of another country? I’m not your possession.’”

The immigration officer’s response, according to Moussaieff, was: “I couldn’t care less who you are. I’ve never heard of Iceland, and the people there don’t interest me at all.”

New neurobiological research shows that bullying can be linked to biological changes

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Bullying Gets Under Your Skin: Health Effects of Bullying on Children and Youth

Post date: 

April 21, 2015


Tracy Vaillancourt Ph.D., Professor and Canada Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa, and Elizabeth Edgerton, M.D., Health Resources and Services Administration

Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Studies suggest that this type of peer victimization is a pervasive issue — 28% of children and youth reported being bullied at school during the 2011 school year. Research since the 1990s shows that children who are bullied are more likely than their peers to develop mental and physical health problems. Now, new neurobiological research shows the negative effects of bullying on the physical health, mental health, and overall well-being of children and youth.

Genetics research, neuroimaging studies, and studies of the stress response system reveal harmful biological changes associated with bullying. For instance, studies show bullying causes depression in children and youth. Researchers have tried to explain this bullying-health link by examining the role of the body’s stress response system. These studies suggest that bullying impacts the body’s stress response system and that these changes can be risk factors for poorer health. Researchers are now examining specific genetic vulnerabilities that may place a person at risk for later health impairment and disease risk factors, such as poorer immune function. These studies suggest that peer victimization seems to “get under the skin” and that exposure to peer abuse affects the developing stress response and expression of genes, which places children and youth at greater risk for poorer health outcomes.

This emerging body of neurobiological research was recently highlighted at the April 2014 Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) working session, “Building Capacity to Reduce Bullying and Its Impact on Youth Across the Lifecourse.” The two-day workshop, sponsored by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) brought together experts from across the field of bullying prevention to explore the impacts of bullying and research-based prevention strategies. Experts highlighted studies documenting the biological risk markers and harmful changes associated with bullying were highlighted throughout the workshop.

However, far more research is needed to understand the complex relationship between bullying, health outcomes, and neurobiology. A deeper understanding of the neurobiology of peer victimization could help explain why some children and youth become ill as a consequence of bullying, while others do not. It is well-documented that factors such as family life, school climate, gender, and temperament can impact health outcomes of bullying. However, much less attention has been paid to how a person’s biology may also affect health outcomes of bullying or to how the experience of being humiliated by peers on a consistent basis may alter gene expression in such a way that health problems ensue. Recognizing the “invisible scars” bullying can leave is an important step in promoting positive well-being for youth through adolescence and into adulthood.

Tracy Vaillancourt is a Canada Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa where she is cross-appointed as a full professor in the Faculty of Education (counselling program) and in the School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences. Elizabeth Edgerton is the Director of the Division of Child, Adolescent and Family Health at the Health Resources and Services Administration.