Category Archives: Education

Bitcoin

BigSon and I went to recent Hackathon at the University of Bedfordshire. It was a well organised event to showcase the new IBM LinuxOne which is a blockchain computational platform. We came away from that event enthused about the idea of blockchains and the most famous application to date, Bitcoin. Below is his write up on the cryptocurrency after reading Mastering Bitcoin by .

What is Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a digital currency that is decentralised (no governing body) that is built upon the blockchain and uses a proof of work system called mining. Bitcoin can be used to buy anything from anyone that has a Bitcoin wallet and address. There is a set number of Bitcoins that will ever be in circulation (about 21 million) that is embedded in the software so it can never be exceeded.

History of Bitcoin

The idea for Bitcoin came from an unknown person by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto (not real name). He posted the idea on a popular digital currency blog. It was launched in 2009 and became very popular partly thanks to the bank crisis. The largest Bitcoin transaction ever was worth 150 million dollars.

Getting Started

To get a Bitcoin wallet you must download an application from the Bitcoin website and install it. There are different Bitcoin wallets, the main ones are phone and desktop wallet. Phone wallets are for small transactions and do not contain the full blockchain and for purchases using small amounts of money. Desktop wallets usually contain the full blockchain and can process small and large payments. They are safer to use. To get your first Bitcoin you can get some from a friend or buy some from a Bitcoin coin seller.

Bitcoin Transactions

Bitcoin transactions are made through the internet on a peer-to-peer system, which means that there are no middle men. The payment is made to the address of the receiver. After the payment is made it is put in unconfirmed transaction pool. The privacy of both participants is kept by encrypting their address and keys. The smallest possible payment is 1 Satoshi (1 millionth of a Bitcoin). It is impossible to get a smaller transaction because it is the smallest Bitcoin unit.

Bitcoin Mining

Bitcoin mining is an essential part of Bitcoin; it is a way of verifying transactions by putting them in blocks and then into the blockchain. To mine Bitcoin you need a powerful mining computing device like ASICS. The device first groups all the transactions possible into the new candidate block. The first transaction it puts in is the miner’s reward which is about 12.5 Bitcoin in 2016. It will then put in the most important transactions determined by how old and how much is the transaction. After it has made the candidate block it must find a hash that is lower than the target, the set of numbers that identifies the block. If it finds the right hash it will post the block to the network and all the nodes (wallets) will verify it and it will become a valid block. After it is verified the nodes will add it to their blockchain, if it is invalid it will be rejected and the network will wait for a valid block to arrive.

Bitcoin Blocks

Bitcoin blocks contain a list of transactions that were processed through the network. Once the transaction has been made the money is sent to the receiver but it is not confirmed. It is confirmed when the transaction is put in a block that is then verified. For large transactions, it is advised to wait for at least 6 blocks to be confirmed before considering your transaction valid. For very large transactions you should wait at least a day before considering it valid.

Blockchain

The blockchain is a public ledger in Bitcoin that keeps all the transactions ever made. The transactions are kept in blocks that are kept in chronological order. The blockchain goes back all the way to the first ever Bitcoin transaction, the Genesis block created by Satoshi Nakamoto. Inside the Genesis block there are no transactions but an encrypted message from Satoshi Nakamoto “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks”. Satoshi Nakamoto put this text in the place of the transactions that usually contains the miners reward. Blockchain is not unique to Bitcoin, it is used in other currencies and applications.

Bitcoin security

Security in Bitcoin is kept by encrypting the user keys and addresses. Security is also kept because there is no central bank or government at the centre keeping all the users’ money.  A government or bank is a point of failure because all the money is in one place which makes it easy to steal. With Bitcoin, the user’s Bitcoins are kept in their wallet with a public ledger of all the transactions ever made. This makes it harder for hackers to steal the money, because they would need to hack individual accounts which is not always fruitful. The way a user keeps the keys to their account is by keeping them in cold storage (see below) or online hardware wallets, data files. Hardware wallets are tamper proof and are a relatively safe way of keeping your Bitcoins and keys. Data files are not the best way to keep Bitcoin keys because they can be lost in computer crashes and full reboots and never be recovered. Cold storage is keeping your encrypted Bitcoin keys on pieces of paper in a safe or hidden place. Cold storage is one of the safest ways of keeping your Bitcoin keys.

There are two different types of Bitcoin keys: private keys and public keys. Private keys are kept in cold storage and are only kept by the wallet owner. Private keys are usually encrypted for safety and then put on cold storage. Public keys are derived from the encrypted versions of private keys. The public key is generated by encrypting the encrypted private key again. The public key is what is visible to all users of Bitcoin and is what the money is sent to.

Because we are newbies to this technologies and are willing to learn as much as we can about it, we are happy to take comments on what is written above. We welcome corrections and also questions which will guide our learning.

Thanks for reading and again, feel free to comment.

Długa Historia Tkaniny z Pokrzywy

Tkaniny z pokrzywy były od dawna produkowane przez ludzi, którzy odkryli, że jest to świetne źródło włókien już tysiące lat temu. Ale historia pokrzywy nie jest tak odległa jak by się mogło wydawać, ponieważ tkaniny z włókien pokrzywy robimy aż do dzisiaj. Ta bardzo parząca roślina znów wychodzi z zakamarków historii jako ekologiczne i odnawialne źródło włókien do produkcji tkanin.

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Już starożytni Egipcjanie zawijali mumie w tkaninę ramie, która należy do tej samej rodziny co pokrzywa. Pokrzywa występująca w Europie (Uriotica Dioica), była wykorzystywana przez Wikingów i plemiona Słowian w Centralnej Europie. W pochówku mężczyzny z Epoki Brązu, który został odkryty w Danii, archeolodzy znaleźli liczącą 3000 lat tkaninę z pokrzywy. Prochy mężczyzny zostały zawinięte w pokrzywową tkaninę przed umieszczeniem w urnie z brązu. Co jest interesujące, pokrzywa nie jest rośliną występującą naturalnie na tych obszarach Danii i po dalszych analizach naukowcy ustalili, że pokrzywa z której zrobiono tkaninę pochodziła z terenów dzisiejszej Austrii. Potwierdza to teorię, ze tkaniny z pokrzywy była szczególnym i cennym materiałem, który był przedmiotem wymiany handlowej a nawet symbolem statusu.

Odkrycie tak pradawnej tkaniny jest bardzo rzadkie, bowiem by tkaniny mogły zostać zachowane przez wieki, wymagają one specjalnych warunków, jak na przykład: środowisko wodne czy zwęglenie. To unikalne znalezisko z Danii, dało dowód na to, że pomimo tego iż ludzie uprawiali już len na ubrania, wciąż bardzo cenili i wykorzystywali dziko rosnącą pokrzywę.  Być może dlatego, że z pokrzywy można pozyskać włókna prawie tak delikatne jak czysty jedwab, więc był to materiał dość luksusowy.

Poza luksusowymi właściwościami tkaniny z pokrzywy, trzeba też pamiętać o innym, bardzo ważnym dla naszych przodków, atrybucie tej rośliny. Słowianie i Wikingowie wierzyli, że pokrzywa ma właściwości magiczne. W Letnie Przesilenie, Słowianie wieszali kępy pokrzywy we wejściach, aby chroniła ich i plony przed złymi mocami. Wierzono też, że pokrzywa ma moc rozganiania burz, wiec była ona palona na polach, aby jej dym rozpędził burzowe chmury. Wobec tego nie dziwi, że tkanina z pokrzywy była wtedy wyjątkowym, szczególnego przeznaczenia materiałem.

Pokrzywa oczywiście była też znana jako roślina lecznicza. Przykładowo pokrzywa była stosowana przy krwawieniach czy zainfekowanych ranach, by wspomnieć tylko kilka zastosowań (za Hipokratesem). Jak widać jest to roślina o wielu zastosowaniach, więc nasi przodkowie sprytnie korzystali z pokrzywy która rośnie tak swobodnie i obficie prawie wszędzie. Włókna pokrzywy były używane też przez rybaków, którzy pletli z niej sieci i liny. Jej włókna są bowiem bardzo mocne, wodoodporne i nie gniją tak szybko jak sieci z innych włókien. Na Kamczatce, na przykład, włókna pokrzywowe były cenione przez rybaków ze względu na lekkość i wodoodporność – pokrzywa była jedynym źródłem takich włókien dostępnym dla ludności na tych terenach. Inny przykład: na dawnych terenach Polski z włókien pokrzywy wyplatano sita do przesiewania mąki czy przecedzania miodu.

Na rynku można obecnie znaleźć włókna i materiały wytworzone z pokrzywy pozyskiwanej w Himalajach, w Nepalu (Girardinia diversifolia), która rośnie do wysokości nawet 3 metrów. Nasza pokrzywa europejska była popularna aż do czasu wyparcia przez tańszą bawełnę i jedwab. Ale w Polsce, tkaniny z pokrzywy były powszechnie używane aż do XVII wieku – od  XII wieku najwiecej tkanin wyrabiano właśnie z pokrzywy. Fakt, że tkanina z pokrzywy jest o wiele delikatniejsza w dotyku niż len czy konopie, sprawił że z takiej tkaniny chętniej szyto koszule czy bieliznę. Istotne było też to, że pokrzywa była o wiele tańsza od jedwabiu, na który stać było tylko ludzi zamożnych.

Już wcześniej wspomniałam, że włókna pokrzywy były też popularne w Skandynawii, włókna pokrzywy znaleziono we wraku statku Wikingów, być może stosowano ją do wyplatania sieci. W XVIII w Skandynawii nastąpił duży powrót pokrzywy jako surowca włókienniczego. Z włókien lokalnej pokrzywy jak i importowanego ramie, tkano luksusowe tkaniny na suknie. Udało mi się znaleźć bardzo interesujący zapis z 1813 roku, o kobiecie z Feyn w Danii, która z tkaniny z pokrzywy uszyła 21 łokci obrusów i tkaniny obiciowej. W kolejnym roku, z 2 kamieni pokrzywy (wagowo około 12kg) udało jej się zrobić 12 chusteczek, 20 metrów tkaniny obrusowej i 14 metrów tkaniny obiciowej. Jest to prawdziwy i dość imponujący zapis tego jak wiele można wytworzyć z naszej skromnej pokrzywy.

camira nettleW Wielkiej Brytanii znany jest termin “Scotch cloth” – tkanina szkocka, pod tą nazwą kryje się tkanina pokrzywowa. Włókna z pokrzywy były popularne w Szkocji przez stulecia. XIX-wieczny szkocki poeta Thomas Campbell pisał: “In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept on nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought the nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen”. Co pozwoliłam sobie przetłumaczyć na potrzeby artykułu: “W Szkocji jadałem pokrzywy, spałem na pokrzywach i jadałem na obrusach z pokrzywy. Łodygi pokrzywy są równie dobrym źródłem włókien na tkaniny jak len. Moja matka mówiła, że pokrzywa jest bardziej wytrzymała niż jakiekolwiek inne włókna lniane”. To bardzo piękny i miły hołd dla tej parzącej, niby zwyczajnej rośliny.

Jest też więcej interesujących dowodów na to, ze pokrzywa była uważana za roślinę niezwyczajną. Być może pamiętacie starą baśń tak pięknie opisaną przez Jana Christiana Andersena, Dzikie Łabędzie, o dziewczynie która utkała koszule z parzącej pokrzywy by uratować swoich 11 braci przemienionych w łabędzie. Całkiem naturalne wydaje się, że ludzie nazywali magią to, że tak parząca roślina jak pokrzywa potrafi dawać tak miękkie i jedwabiste włókna.

Wróćmy jednak do rzeczywistości i zajrzyjmy do nie tak odległej historii. Tkanina z europejskiej pokrzywy powróciła w czasie Pierwszej Wojny Światowej w Niemczech. Zapasy bawełny się  skończyły a ze względu na to że Wielka Brytania dominowała na morzach, sprowadzenie bawełny było prawie niemożliwe, więc Niemcy zmuszeni byli znaleźć inne dostępne źródło materiałów odpowiednich do uszycia mundurów. Według dostępnych informacji, Niemcy wykorzystali włókna pokrzywy nie tylko do produkcji mundurów, ale rownież do szycia worków na piasek. Wspomina się również, że Niemcy wykorzystywali tez barwnik pozyskiwany z pokrzywy.

IMG_20160102_124400Sprzedawane w sklepach włókna z pokrzywy to  wyłącznie włókna z pokrzywy himalajskiej. Włókno tej pokrzywy nazywane jest przez miejscową ludność Allo. Włókno i tkanina z Allo są produkowane metodami tradycyjnymi przez miejscową ludność, wspieraną przez ruch Fair Trade. Prowadzone są badania nad uprawą pokrzywy europejskiej pod produkcję włókien i tkanin, ale do dziś nie mam informacji o żadnym producencie włókien z naszej pokrzywy. Oczywiście, wyzwaniem jest uprawa na polach i zbiór pokrzywy na wiekszą skalę, aby takie przedsięwzięcie miało również sens ekonomiczny. Ze względu na rosnące zainteresowanie odnawialnymi źródłami włókien, do tego pozyskiwanymi lokalnie, w przeciwieństwie do bawełny, która jest rośliną bardzo obciążającą środowisko naturalne, uważam że już niedługo nasza europejska pokrzywa powróci do nas jako tkanina, a nie tylko pospolity a jak niezwykły chwast.

The Mito Principle

In my early years I was a car guy. I subscribed to Road and Track and every month I will get the magazine with the news and views of the latest cars. That publication had terrific writers and besides the cars to ogle at, the reading was always a delight.IMG_7688
At that time, like most, I dreamt of owning the latest cars and my dreams will be updated each and every month. My favourites back then were the Cizeta Moroder, Ferrari Testarossa and the Porsche 959. All stratospherically priced vehicles. If wishes were horses, I would have ridden.
As the years passed, my philosophy on owning things started to change. It became less of idealising objects and more of a sense of enjoying the beauty and utility of them. I expect if I can easily afford something, I am happy to own it, if possible. Still now I check the number of things I acquire because I am losing patience with being surrounded by stuff.
A couple years ago, at my first job away from home, I was prompted to get a second car to avoid having the family running up and down the motorway to drop me off on weekends. A buddy at work wanted to trade in a Saab Aero for a Land Rover so I ended up with a two litre turbo that ran like a thief. I enjoyed the long commute home on the big roads, swiping through the long bends and feeling the taught suspension balancing the car through the curves.
I changed jobs and then worked on the other side of London, the busy side, close to Heathrow Airport. There the quick acceleration worked against me on one particular evening when I got two speeding tickets from the Variable Speed cameras. I was nothing short of furious.
Those cameras have been hell in driving along that road, you have to keep your eye on the speed notices all the time toIMG_7693 avoid a loud PAX! That evening I lapsed and while under no danger, I was ticketed, twice
The Saab was already ten years old and starting to demand expensive repairs so I decided to get rid of it and set a new criteria for a replacement.
The new car must be under the tax band, slow to accelerate and cheap to run. With my parameters set, I started my search. I got a good price for the Saab and that served as a downpayment for the next car.
I found an Alfa Romeo Mito for sale that matched all that I wanted in a car. It was less than a litre in engine size and had many modern comforts that the Saab lacked. I got it for a song because the owner was pressed to migrate and to my surprise the car drove beautifully. It is a joy in the lanes! I took it through the Chilterns one weekend soon after I got it and it was one of the best country drives I ever had. The car is nimble and enjoys being thrown into corners where it just sticks to the line you carve from the steering wheel. Fun, fun, fun!
There is no doubt it is slow. You do get a quick take off from a standing start and that is exciting at traffic lights but by the time you hit 30mph, you are chugging along. It is very hard to break a speed limit in this car. Just what I wanted.IMG_7694
Recently the notice came for me to renew the road tax. I immediately got online and the process was one of clicking three buttons in quick succession without any exchange of money. Super!
Then there was the renewal of the insurance; which at £300 for the year makes me feel like the cat that got the cream.
I am somewhat smug about this entire episode but in standing aside, I will like to take from it some principles that might help me in other areas.
First was, I made a list of what attributes I was looking for. At that point it did not matter what make or model, just what qualities were important to me.
I then looked for a vehicle that was the closest match to that list. When the ad for the car came up, I already knew it was the one I wanted. I was able to move swiftly, without much hesitation and acquire it.
Those two points seem to form an approach I can expend in other circumstances. First decide on the qualities you want to work with and secondly when you find them, move promptly and confidently.

Nettle’s Long Story

“If they would eat nettles in March, and drink Mugwort in May, 
So many fine maidens would not go to the clay.” – Funeral Song of a Scottish Mermaid. 

IMG_20160422_123345Using nettle for clothing is not anything new, as humans discovered it is a excellent source of fibre  millennia ago. And it is not long distant history as it may seem, because we still use nettle fibres to make fabric. It is beautiful that this prickly plant is coming out from the shadows of history again and being considered as one of sustainable sources of fibres.

Ancient Egyptians wrapped mummies in ramie cloth, made of plant fibres from the nettle family. European nettle (Uriotica Dioica) was used by Vikings and Slavic tribes in the Central Europe alike. In the Bronze Age burial of an important man in Denmark, archaeologist discovered that the nearly 3000 years old cloth that bones were wrapped in before placing in bronze urn, was made of nettle. The nettle does not grow in Denmark and in further analysis, it turned out this nettle was from Austria region of Europe. It is evident that nettle cloth was considered a special, expensive material, traded in Europe and something of a status symbol.

It is unusual to find ancient cloth, unless it got luckily preserved in favourable conditions like being water logged or carbonised for example. Therefore, such a rare find like this from Denmark, confirms that despite already growing flax for cloth production, people still were using wild nettles, because it gives fibres as fine as raw silk and has that luxury touch.

Regardless of its luxurious properties as a fabric, it was not the only reason for nettle being so venerated. It was considered to be a magical plant by the Slavic and Vikings alike. At the Summer Solstice, Slavic tribes used to hang bunches of it in doorways to protect agains demons or protect crops on their fields. Nettle was also believed to keep away thunderstorms, so it was often burnt as the smoke was meant to scare away stormy clouds. Hence, cloth made of nettle must have been considered a protective, revered material to adorn oneself.

To top it up, nettle was known for medicinal uses as well; used to treat bleeding or infected wounds to cite a few, as mentioned in Hippocrates texts. There were plenty of benefits for a plant growing spontaneously in ditches or woods and our ancestors were no fools in exploiting the plant.

Nettle fibres were long used to produce ropes or nets as it has a very good strength and is water resistant and does not rot easily. In Kamchatka, fishermen were using it for netting, because it was so light and water resistant, truly being the only fibrous plant available for them to feed such needs. In Central Europe, people used nettle fibres to make sieves for flour sifting.

The newly rediscovered nettle yarns available on the market now are sourced in Nepal, from a giant nettle (Girardinia diversifolia), growing to the impressive height of 3 metres at least. Though European nettle was widely used for a very long time until cheaper cotton and silk took over. In Poland, nettle textiles were very popular until the 17th century. Actually since the 12th century, the nettle was used there in large quantities to make fabrics. It was due to its delicacy to skin that nettle was beating flax or hemp as a cloth of choice for next to skin clothing. Also nettle was much cheaper than silk which was only affordable for people of means.

Nettle was also used in Scandinavia. It was found in a Viking ship, so possibly nettle was used for nets. In 18th century Scandinavia, nettle fabric returned and local nettle fibres along with imported ramie were used to produce finely woven dresses. I came across a record from 1813 of a woman form Feyn in Denmark, who had woven 21 ells (24 metres) of linen and ticking from nettle. The following year, she had turned 2 stones of nettle fibres into 12 pocket handkerchieves, 20 metres of checked linen and 14 metres of bed ticking. That is an impressive, real account of what used to be made of European nettle.camira nettle

In Britain, there is a term “Scotch cloth” that refers to a fabric made of nettle. Nettle was popular in Scotland for many centuries. Thomas Campbell, 19th century poet, wrote: “In Scotland, I have eaten nettles, I have slept on nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought the nettle cloth more durable than any other species of linen”. It is a beautiful tribute to that prickly plant.

There is more evidence of nettle being considered to have magical qualities. You must remember Hans Christian Andersen fairytale about a girl who wove nettle shirts to bring back her 11 brothers who were turned into swans. Obviously, turning the prickly plant into silky smooth cloth was like a magic for people.

Coming back to the real world and more recent history, nettle made a comeback again during WWI in Germany. There the cotton supplies dried up as the British Empire ruled the seas and sourcing cotton from overseas was nearly impossible. Germans had to find another sustainable source of cloth suitable to sew uniforms for soldiers. It is said that nettle was used for that purpose as well as to make sandbags. It is mentioned that Germans used dye made of nettle as well.

IMG_20160102_124400Nowadays, you can find ready to weave nettle fibre easily online but all of them are made of the aforementioned Himalayan giant nettle. This fibre is also known as Allo. Fibre and cloth are produced in a traditional way in Nepal locally boosted by fair trade initiatives. There is ongoing research into growing European nettle for fabric production, but for now I have no knowledge of any producer of European nettle fibre. One challenge being the set up of large scale farms to grow and harvest the crop. With growing interest into sustainable and local alternatives to cotton, which is heavy on the environment, I believe it is just a matter of time for European nettle to come back.

Cazabon at Belmont

Belmont is a neighbourhood, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad, bordering the Queen’s Park Savannah, the large central park located at the north end of the city. Belmont is a collection of tight lanes with houses pressed close to their front gates. It is a great place to live and be close to all that the capital city has to offer including the national Carnival that precedes Lent.

IMG_20160409_213656Belmont House in Kent, England, is the home of the Harris family. The third Lord Harris was the governor of Trinidad and Tobago between 1846 to 1853. In Port of Spain today there is Lord Harris Square and in San Fernando, the second largest city, there is Harris Promenade. He was married to a Trinidadian and their son later became a famous cricket captain of England.

I learned of Belmont House through some research done by Mrs FTF on a painter I mentioned to her some years ago, Jean Michel Cazabon. Cazabon is considered one of Trinidad’s first internationally known artists. I’ve always admired his landscapes and I had a book showcasing his work when I lived in Trinidad. It turns out that Lord Harris was a patron of the artist and owned a sizable collection of his work. Many of those pieces are now kept at Belmont House.

With the daughter in Warsaw for two weeks, we took the four-seater Mito for a round trip through Kent. There was a tour of Belmont House early in the afternoon and we were unusually on time after taking the long way around London on the M25 via Gatwick Airport. It was my silent protest to the Dartcharge and a chance to see rarely visited areas of Kent. The rain made the drive slow but the views were great as many parts of the road ran along high valley sides.

We made an impromptu stop at the Beacon restaurant. Everyone was cramped from being curled up the last two hours. The building is located atop the side of a valley that was at the time of our arrival shrouded in mist. The interior was beautiful and as we had the place to ourselves, we all enjoyed walking around taking in the paintings and other design features. The snack was tasty although it was the smallest machiato I ever had. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the view across the valley was truly restful.IMG_20160409_125140

Belmont House was cold so we kept our coats on and with Little One on my back we followed the group tour around the house. It was a tiny group and the entire exercise had an intimate air. The house is small as stately homes go and we appreciated this because we had had enough after an hour, the length of the tour. The group knew from the start we were there to see the paintings so when we got to the room with the largest collection, everyone stopped and insisted I go in first.

A full set of water colours were on display in the master bedroom. Very delicate, very beautiful. To see these views of the island in the late 19th century always creates a sense of nostalgia, especially when you recognise a location. I was allowed to stay back and take in the collection if I wanted to. I declined as I knew there were more in other rooms and the guide was very knowledgeable. I did not want to miss a tidbit.

Downstairs, just off the main entrance hall where the last Lord Harris was known to have his afternoon tea, was the best piece, View of Port of Spain from the East

March and Winter End

The whole of March we just couldn’t wait for Spring to arrive, it seemed to take ages this year to appear. We had a birthday celebration this month and we marked the beginning of Spring with “Topienie Marzanny”.

IMG_20160305_112637Early March, the daughter turned 7 and for this occasion she asked for a strawberry cake and small gathering of girlfriends. We have a local Polish shop selling very flavoursome frozen strawberries. I mixed them with mascarpone and Big Son sandwiched the cake with it and Daughter decorated the birthday cake herself. Girlie Wirlie was very proud of herself and we all enjoyed a glimpse of summer, but as it’s England, on that day it snowed again!

This year, we’ve made the effort to celebrate Spring Equinox. “Topienie Marzanny” is the Polish pagan tradition of saying farewell to Winter on the Spring Equinox with dropping Marzanna into the rivers, so it carries away Winter with it as it flows to the sea. Traditionally children would make a doll with straw, dress it up with scrap cloth or now tissue paper, make some hairdo or head gear, just letting the children’s creativity speak. Then you’d take the doll to the nearest stream or river. Sometimes the doll is set on fire before being dropped into water, but we gave it a skip due to H&S issues.IMG_20160305_135725

The day was sunny enough, the children quickly assembled the doll and adorned it with quite unruly hair made of golden, glossy tape secured with a staple. Girlie Wirlie threw it into river Lea which flows through a nearby village. It was quite quick affair so we hardly caught any photo of it. So that was it: out first Spring Equinox!IMG_20160320_153056

This month the children continued star gazing, with Big Son finishing an online course on the Night Sky: Orion and we all joined the local astronomical society one evening to observe the Moon and Saturn. We saw a close up of the Moon’s craters and a bit of Saturn’s rings which looked a lot like a small line across the planet.

The new telescope is still a fascinating tool to watch night skies or planes landing at the nearby airport. Big Son became very enthusiastic about astronomy, ticking off from the winter and spring sky maps planets he observed. He gets quite upset when cloudy nights prevent him from gazing the sky.

So here we are now, end of March, Easter done and my mother and sister who were here for Easter have now gone back home. I’m looking forward to the warmer days, more sun, more fun and new projects I’ll be putting my teeth in. I can truly say, we deserve to enjoy the Spring! So do you 🙂IMG_20160329_133425

Van Gogh Alive Exhibition

Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_ProjectLast weekend we spent in Warsaw, Poland, where we went to visit the multimedia exhibition on Van Gogh. The show is touring cities of the world for some time now. Of course, we took the chance to see it.

The show was a story of Van Gogh’s life and art, how entwined and inseparable they were. The story was told through his personal letters and paintings, starting with his Dutch childhood, how he decided to pursue painting, artistic choices, personal tragedies and struggles leading  up to his suicidal death. It was amazing to read his own words explaining what it meant for him to be a painter, his own outlook on life, learn how important it was that he was self taught artist, his ethos.

Multimedia display walks a visitor through Van Gogh’s early paintings, showcasing changes, giving a background of what was going on in his personal life. Then it moves onto a period in Paris where he joined the Impressionists.

Exhibition creators refer through his letters to his mental troubles leading to self imposed Van Gogh’s stay in asylum and showcasing the south France period paintings, fascination with stars and landscape. The display ends by bringing in events leading to his suicide. The show is accompanied by Van Gogh’s contemporary music (especially Erik Satie).

I found the exhibition was a good way to talk about Van Gogh, the artist and man as it could easily bring together a set of paintings and shoot at you with multiple screens and close ups entwined with his letters and sketches.

The most striking for me was the assembly of his auto-portraits, close ups when you cannot stop being pulled to Van Gogh’s eyes and noticing changes in his mental state in those wild, very evocative looks he gives. That was the best of the exhibition, the modern technology allowing such a connection.

Here’s a link for you to have a glimpse of the experience.

And here are my two favourite quotes by Van Gogh himself:

“At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky.”

Vincent van Gogh

“To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace”

Vincent van Gogh

Funnily, in Polish translation the fling notion was completely omitted!