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Living a LearningLife

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LearningLife takes a not-so-"crumby" peek into the lives of two outstanding YA fiction authors

What happens when you take two successful authors (and LearningLife instructors) and put them in a room with an intrepid interviewer? Chaos? Hilarity? Thoughtful conversation? A Brit-Lit-slinging, metaphor-mixing steel-cage match?

As it turns out...a little bit of all of that. (Well, minus the steel-cage match--all parties involved maintained a civil demeanor, and nary a wall was climbed, nor a chair thrown.)

Geoff Herbach, author of the Stupid Fast series (Stupid Fast, Nothing Special, and I'm With Stupid), is a past recipient of the Minnesota Book Award. His Stupid Fast books have been named the year's best by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, Booklist, and numerous state library associations.

Also a Minnesota Book Award honoree, Julie Schumacher is the author of The Body Is Water, an ALA Notable Book of the Year, as well as a short story collection and five novels for younger readers, including Grass Angel; The Book of One Hundred Truths; Black Box; and The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls.
Geoff and Julie 2.JPG
The pair will each lead a session of the upcoming book-club-style short course, Sweet Summer: The Books of Our Youth (An Intergenerational Book Club). The course, which begins June 30, is a tribute to those books that captured our imaginations when we were young--and never quite left us, even as we grew old(er). Schumacher and Herbach will helm discussions about their own favored books of days gone by: The Secret Garden (Schumacher) and The Catcher in the Rye (Herbach).

In a unique twist, participants in the book club are encouraged to share the experience with a young person--be they a daughter or son, niece or nephew, grandchild, or friend--and bring them along to join in the conversation (tuition-free).

This month Herbach and Schumacher sat down for a roundtable talk with LearningLife e-news about a little bit of everything--from the course itself to their lives as writers to what, exactly, a moldy VW bus smells like.

U of M researcher Dr. Lucy Dunne helps hi-tech devices move beyond wrist GPS units and into functional fashion

It wasn't long ago that things like smartphones and portable GPS devices were the stuff of uber-spy-legends like Mission Impossible, Inspector Gadget, and James Bond. But now, however, they are ubiquitous--you can slip more than 1,500 radio stations from all over the world in your pocket to take with you on your walk, or strap on a Garmin virtual running buddy no bigger than a wristwatch that will track your vital signs, chart your course, and offer you advice (or friendly competition) when you drift outside of your desired pace range.

But what about wearable technology that goes beyond the (now everyday) electronic gadgets? What about gloves that can serve as "eyes" for a firefighter in a smoky room? Or a vest that alerts you to posture problems as you sit at your desk at work? Or even a knee brace that can "talk" to your orthopedic surgeon...while doing double duty as a fashion accessory?

Five, four, three, two, one bits of garden greenery wisdom from Master Gardener and LearningLife instructor Julie Weisenhorn.

She started out with Mad Men...and now she's got a Green Thumb.

U of M Extension educator and Master Gardener emerita Julie Weisenhorn didn't have "roots" in horticulture--she began her career in marketing and advertising, in fact. It wasn't until she and her husband bought their first home and all the greenery that came with it that she became interested in landscape gardening.

"Our house had been owned by Cary George--the curator at the time for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis--and as he was walking me around the property, I began to think to myself, 'Oh boy. I better figure out what's going on here, because I'm going to have a responsibility to keep this up!'"

Julie Weisenhorn.jpgIt didn't take long before Weisenhorn discovered that not only was she capable of taking care of all those plants, she had a natural affinity for it. And then, responsibility turned into hobby turned into...new career. "I found I really enjoyed figuring out what worked and what didn't, learning new things, trying things, so eventually I enrolled in the Master Gardener program. Which got me turned on to teaching others."

Each and every day, people throughout the world make decisions about how to clothe themselves. Even those who wear nothing (or next to nothing) are still making choices about how they will appear to others. And the phrase "clothes make the man (or woman)" didn't spring from nowhere, of course.Nixonette.jpeg.jpeg

In many ways, how we present ourselves reveals much more than we might think about our cultures, our generations, our individual selves, and more. Beyond the simple act of wearing clothing, how individuals cleanse themselves, choose adornments, or modify their body also all tell a visual story.

So what does that "visible self" tell the world? Are you thinking about getting a tattoo and wonder what others might think of it? Are you puzzled or disgusted because a family member has one? Why are television shows such as Project Runway, The Swan, Dancing with the Stars, and What Not to Wear popular? Does what you wear make a difference in how you feel or how you are perceived by others?

...or, what bug sex, blue-eyed babies, and a big glass of milk can teach us about human evolution and its role in our present and our future

True confession: when you are a writer, sometimes you get an assignment that makes you hold your head and groan. Which is pretty much what I did when I heard the word "paleofantasy." The idea of paleo-anything made me want to weep tears of done-to-death.

But then, however, I sat down with Dr. Marlene Zuk, author of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live and instructor for the upcoming short course Paleofantasy: Our Evolutionary Past and Future (Feb. 25), and realized that every once in a while, those initial assumptions about an assignment are wrong.

Marlene.JPGFor one, this "paleo-" topic has nothing to do with telling me how horrible my diet is or how I should give up jogging and take up some sort of activity where I sling a 80-pound, oddly shaped basket of lead around my waist and do wind sprints because it's more like the cavemen's form of exercise.

"It isn't a diet book," she says. "And it's not going to be a 'diet' course. It's not a how-to guide for eating, exercise, parenting, or anything like that--despite what the people who write online reviews without reading the book would have you think," she continues with a smile.

Unique program demonstrates how investing in our relationships with animals can help restore what is often lost in a technology-driven world

She soothes ragged nerves at Boynton Health Services on the Minneapolis campus. She calms pre-finals anxiety and provides a well-deserved study break at the Magrath Library in St. Paul. She cultivates a fanatical following on Twitter.

No, she's not a doctor, professor, or celebrity advice guru. She's Woodstock, a registered therapy chicken, and she's here to rekindle people's connection to the natural world.tanya and woodstock.jpg

Woodstock, along with several canine, feline, and even lagomorphic friends, is a part of the Animal-Assisted Interactions (AAI) program at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, which offers therapeutic human-animal connections.

AAI is a part of a larger movement, Nature-Based Therapeutics (NBT), which focuses on the healing power of nature through interactions with plants, animals, and natural landscapes, and will be the focus of the upcoming LearningLife Saturday Morning Seminar, Natural Connections: Understanding Our Relationships with Animals. (Feb. 22).

Living a Bee-utiful Life

McKnight Professor Marla Spivak shares five, four, three, two, one important facts about everyone's favorite Apoidea

Gloria Gaynor has nothing on the humble honey bee. The busy little creature is part of the superfamily Apoidea--a grouping of nearly 20,000 species of bees making up seven to nine subfamilies. Found on every continent except Antarctica, in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants, bees have survived as a species for more than 50 million years.Honeybee apis mellifera

But now, honey bee populations around the world are disappearing at alarming rates, victims of "Colony Collapse Disorder."

McKnight Professor of Entymology and MacArthur Genius Fellow Marla Spivak is at the forefront of crucial bee research that may help keep the insect on the map...and many of our most popular foods and goods on supermarket shelves.


We might have the evidence, says LearningLife instructor James Norwood, but are we asking the right questions?

Let's get this one thing straight, right off the bat--the "C" word that often goes hand-in-hand with many discussions surrounding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (that's "conspiracy," in case you were wondering), will not appear in this story.

At least not in information coming from James Norwood, retired U of M humanities professor and instructor for the upcoming LearningLife course The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: An Event That Changed History (begins Oct. 24; also featured in the Sept. 19 Fall Sampler).

JFK limo.pngThe mystery surrounding that fateful day in November isn't an Area-51-esque result of some secret shadow organization conspiracy, he says, but here are plenty of other "C" words involved: controversy, conflict, confusion...

Grandpa John Tells All

Ruminations, contemplations, and other cool stuff from LearningLife "super student" John Harris.

Sit down with John Harris for a couple of hours, and you'd best be prepared to talk about...well, just about anything. World travel. Linguistics. Who really wrote Shakespeare's plays. Photography. Homeschooling. Horses. Books (and books of every stripe, from high literature to pop detective fiction...even some chick lit, "it's really just a good thriller novel, once you skip over some of the romancy bits"). Current events. Medicine. Wikileaks. Wikipedia. Celebrities. Politics. The relative merits of a mountain vacation over a beach one. Interest rates and the recession. Ayn Rand...

John Harris Small.jpgIt's not surprising, given his history, that this dedicated LearningLife veteran is a veritable walking "Wikipedia Game." He credits his parents with instilling in him both an insatiable curiosity and desire to learn, as well as a sense of wanderlust that has taken him (literally) around the world.

Born in Lawrence, Kansas in 1933, Harris grew up in Missouri ("Missour-uh"), graduated from high school in California, and attended college in Colorado. Then, he took a break, traveled the globe, returned to California, and for most of the last fifty-plus years, has made a home in Minnesota. Through it all, he has always looked for new ideas to explore. "I suppose you could call me a perennial student," he says.

It's "all aboard," as LearningLife takes a scenic tour of Minnesota's most iconic and historical railways

4-38 2719 & ore train.jpgThey say "a penny saved is a penny earned," but for LearningLife instructor Steve Glischinski, that "penny saved" earned him a career to go with it.

"My dad was frugal. Or..." laughs Glischinski, "cheap."

"I grew up in the Highland Park neighborhood [in St. Paul], and back then, garbage service was something like $1 a month. He didn't want to pay that much, and discovered that if you took the garbage down to the Pig's Eye landfill yourself, it was only 50 cents.

"So, every Saturday, we'd get in the car, go drop off the trash, and then since the landfill was right near the Milwaukee Road railroad yard, he'd take my brother and me over to watch the trains."

As a result of these Saturday morning family outings, Father and Brother Glischinski developed a lifelong interest in trains. Young Steven Glischinski developed... "an obsession. My wife would call it an obsession."

More than 45 years after that first train yard visit Glischinski is still immersed in the railway culture. He just published his seventh book on the subject, Minnesota Railroads: A Photographic History, 1940-2012 (University of Minnesota Press), he is a regular contributor and correspondent for Trains Magazine and Trains.com, and this summer, he will be leading the LearningLife day-long immersion, All Aboard: A Colorful History of Railroads in Minnesota (Aug. 7).