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Living a LearningLife

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Bird is the Word

...or, how of one of the great American success stories is right in our own backyard.

If you're looking for an epic adventure story filled with oohs and ahs, the best one going, says Amber Burnette, isn't one filmed in Hollywood and playing on the big screen...but rather one taking place much closer to home--in part, at the U of M's Raptor Center.

Burnette, an environmental educator and program associate at the Center, is talking about the rise and fall--and rise again--of the peregrine falcon.

falcon_nighttime.jpg"You need a parental warning sticker on how cool peregrines are...and how cool the story of their recovery is," she says. "It's the best summer blockbuster story ever told. More exciting than The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. Drama, intrigue, action, heartbreak, triumph...and, of course, the Average Joe being the one who saves the day. And The Raptor Center has been a big part of it with the peregrine reintroduction program."

It might sound like hyperbole, but Burnette's description is an accurate one.

The History of Here

Five, Four, Three, Two, One with author/artist/columnist/historian (and LearningLife instructor!) Andy Sturdevant

For nearly three years now, Andy Sturdevant's MinnPost  column The Stroll has taken readers on quite the tour--in and around the neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as out into suburbs both big and small (admit it, you've never heard of Nininger Township, either) for an illustrated tour of the world around us.The Stroll.JPG

From over-sexed mannequins to Utopian visionaries and pet cemeteries to cobblestone alleys, Sturdevant has written about, drawn, and photographed just about every hidden esotericism the area has to offer (or so you'd think...yet every week, he's back with more).

This month, the author/artist/columnist/historian (but not tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy) serves as our own private guide to the hidden side of Twin Cities life as he joins "Living a LearningLife" for another edition of Five, Four, Three, Two, One.

 Without further ado, let's fall in step with our intrepid guide...

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...