Furoshiki: A 1300-Year-Old Answer to Plastic Bags

Talk about enjoying the box more than the present it contains.

When I was a kid, our family would occasionally receive gifts from my parents’ friends in Japan. What I remember most is not the presents themselves, but the intricate wrapping. These gifts were positively in lockdown, but no one had used anything so gauche as tape to secure them.

Instead, the gifts were sealed with wrapping paper that had been cleverly folded in the most unexpected ways. My skill at refolding the paper after the gifts had been extracted turned out to be good for absolutely nothing after the GPS in my phone replaced paper maps.

I had forgotten about these feats of wrapping until a bunch of reusable grocery bags fell on me as I opened my pantry door. (Yes, I’m that organized). Those bags are making me nuts, and there are alternatives. The folks at BlueAvocado make a side-carrying bag out of recycled everything that is surprisingly comfortable. The Europeans have their grocery bags of string, which I admit I once thought were ridiculous.

But the Japanese. They’ve got it down, and they’ve had it down for oh, about 1,300 years. Using a sequence of clever folds, called furoshiki, the Japanese have figured out how to carry just about everything using just a big square of silk or nylon. (Other fabrics work too, but it’s easier to negotiate the knots using silk or nylon).

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A *Third!* Helping of No-Calorie Comfort Food for the Brain

We’re well into summer and if, like me, you haven’t yet taken a vacation, it’s time for a break – a mental break, that is.

For me, that means turning to my no-calorie, comfort food alternative: online videos that shift my mood or rest my brain. As I’ve noted in two prior editions of no calorie comfort food for the brain (here and here), I watch these videos not because some are viral video darlings, but because they do what comfort food is supposed to do: Make me feel better.

Here are my summer 2014 picks, with length in minutes noted. Enjoy!

1. Simon’s Cat (1:41).  British animator Simon Tofield, interested in learning how to use Flash technology so he could put some of his creations online, ended up creating a charming series about a mischievous and intelligent cat. There are more than three dozen animations to choose from, but I recommend starting at the beginning with the first in the series, “Cat Man Do.” The cat tries to get Simon’s attention so it can be fed. Anyone who knows cats knows how good this is. Meoww.

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The Science of Summer

sciencesummerIf I ever have a few minutes of idle speculation, it’ll come during a lazy hazy day of summer, when I’m either playing hooky on the beach or enjoying an early morning walk.

And since it’s summer, my questions tend to run along the lines of: Whatever happened to watermelon seeds? How do they make fireworks explode into those fancy shapes? Any chance of us catching a great meteor shower this year?

Below, the answers to those and other commonly-asked summertime puzzles. At least we think they're commonly asked!

How in the world can you make a firework explode in the shape of a smiley face (above)?

To figure this out, it helps to know a bit about how fireworks are constructed. They’re pretty simple: a bunch of “stars” are packed into a shell along with explosives.

The stars are simply pellets that, depending on the chemicals they’re coated with, burn in different colors. (Stars appear to be two different colors, consecutively, when they’re coated in two different chemicals—the color of the outer coating shows first, and when it’s burned through, you see the results of the second chemical coating burning up. Think of a gobsmacker).

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How to Fake Your Way Through the World Cup

caxirolaI’m not a sports fan. While I appreciate the skill and artistry that goes into playing, say, baseball, basketball, tennis and ice hockey, I just can’t muster any enthusiasm over who wins and who loses.

But even I recognize that this year’s World Cup is a bigger deal than in other years, particularly because Team U.S.A. has been playing so well. The U.S. plays Germany on Thursday. The New Yorker warns employers to expect “a sudden drop in productivity that will occur at noon E.S.T. on Thursday, when the game kicks off. If your boss gives you a hard time for streaming the game, or for sneaking out to the nearest bar, tell him or her to get a life. It’s the World Cup, damn it, and, these days, we Americans play our part in it.”

If you, like me, aren’t up to speed on the World Cup but still want to be part of all the fun, here are some talking points to help you fake it.  

1. Who, what. The World Cup is a tournament established in 1930 among members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. The ruling body for the sport is called FIFA. The World Cup has been played every four years, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was postponed because of World War II. The current champion is Spain, which won the 2010 tournament held in South Africa.

2. The numbers. This is the 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup,  running from June 12 to July 13. The games feature 32 teams, with 736 players, competing in 64 matches. Those games are being played at 12 stadiums across Brazil. The biggest stadium in Brazil is the Estádio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, which seats 76,804 spectators. As for how teams qualify to advance to the final games, I’ll let others explain what goes into all that.

3. Brazil! This is the second time Brazil has hosted the tournament (the first time was in 1950). So far, Brazil has won the most World Cups – five . Brazil is also hosting the games in 2016. The national Brazilian team is called the Seleção, which means “the selection.” Brazil is also home to Pelé, considered by many to be the best player of all time.  

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Let it Go: 10 Reasons I've Learned to Love Frozen

I don’t have anything against princesses, personally. It’s just that they don’t do anything. Find me a princess who has some decent adventures, I tell my kids, and I’m there. Til then, I’ll stick with Dora. Her voice may be irritating, but at least she gets to hitch rides on condors and pal around with a monkey.

Then came Frozen. My younger daughter has only seen snippets of the movie, but she is obsessed with the theme song, to which she knows only two lines. “Let it go!” she yells, having little to no concept of pitch. “Let, itgo!... Le….etit gooo! Letit goo….oh!”.

She delivers the closer with a determination that only a three-year-old can muster: “The code nebber boddered me anyway!”

Despite this, I’m learning to love Frozen. Maybe because no one’s asked me to buy Disney’s official Elsa dress—at $239—to fit a three-year old. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t my kid’s Frozen lunchbox that recently went missing from daycare. Or maybe it’s because my older daughter is so unimpressed with Elsa and Anna, the sisters who are Frozen’s main characters, that when first she hears “Letit Go!” she starts belting out another of the movie’s songs. Only she changes the lyrics so they’re about eating a snowman rather than building one. She’s very creative.

Here are 10 other reasons there’s a princess movie I can finally get behind.

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