Sunday, December 31, 2017

Consider these Cosmic Miracles


“It takes one second for light to circle the Earth seven times.”


No matter how many times I read this one sentence, no matter how many times I whisper the words, it always stops me in my tracks. My mind comes up against the idea and it makes me smile. If that one wondrous statement is true, then so too are so many other "everyday miracles," a term I hear during Shabbat services on Saturday morning at my temple.

These cosmic miracles can be so comforting.


Our sun is one of at least 100 billions stars, just in our galaxy – the Milky Way. And there are at least 100 billion other galaxies in the universe, each one with its own billion stars. There are more stars than grains of sand on all of the beaches on Earth.


If you were traveling at the speed of light, which is 186,000 miles per second, it would take you 100,000 years to cross just the Milky Way.


If the sun were as tall as a six-foot tree, then Earth would be the size of an olive.


The universe -- which is expanding -- is believed to be fourteen billion years old, at which time it was just one point in space.

When something happens that bothers me, or I’m just feeling kind of glum, I try to remember even one of these wildly amazing facts. Somehow it always helps me to get back on track. We spend our days immersed in our lives, and so often we get caught up thinking we are so important and that everything we do matters so much. But when you start to try to comprehend the gargantuan universe – everything takes on a whole new perspective. 

I am thinking about these facts today as I mull over the past year, and look forward to tomorrow.   It throws so much light and energy into the meditation.


About 10,000 light-years away in a constellation called Aquila, there is a cloud of alcohol with a diameter 1,000 times larger than our solar system. The amount of ethyl alcohol present in the cloud is equivalent to 400 septillion (that’s 400, followed by 24 additional zeros) drinks.

Think about that tonight when you are toasting the New Year with a drink in your hand.

And one more


A human body, or any object on the Earth, is never at rest. Even when you’re asleep in bed, you’re moving pretty fast. Our Milky Way Galaxy is rotating at 225 kilometers per second, and hurling through the cosmos at an estimated 305 kilometers per second. Add those figures together, and we are racing through space at about 530 kilometers, or 330 miles per second. So in one minute’s time, we’ve  traveled almost 20,000 kilometers, or more than 12,000 miles.

Consider the distance you are traveling as you read this sentence!

For more mind benders, check out these other sites:

Mental floss

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Art from the Heart

By Jeff Blum

My Aunt Rosel died at 89 in October.  My mother’s younger and only sister, she had shocked her parents by marrying someone “out of town.”  She lived almost her entire adult life in one house in Lynchburg, VA, where she became a civic, Democratic, education and Jewish community leader.  She also was an inveterate maker of crafts and preserver of family history; her widower, Uncle Elliot, was a business and political leader who also did delightful watercolors.

On the morning of her funeral, restless, I took an early walk through downtown Lynchburg.  Like most older industrial cities, Lynchburg has the usual mix of urban decay and a little bit of new, artsy growth – something Ro worked hard to create.  

Lynchburg is in a steep valley of the James River in the Piedmont of Central Virginia.  Looking downhill and away from the sun, I saw a huge cascade of mist coming off the river – first picture.  But then looking toward the rising sun, second picture, I saw a stunning view that immediately said to me, “there’s Ro, ascending to heaven [admittedly a highly unlikely prospect for a lifelong, practicing Jew].”  

Over the next month, I worked in my studio class with my teacher, Anne Chandra, 

Anne pushes me toward abstraction – she’s had me do works in the styles of Kandinsky and Rothko, or to take a piece of a famous painting, rotate it, and create something from that.   The Ro picture profits from some of the technical skills she’s helped me toward – like mixing wet colors on the canvass with my finger, and using zinc white to create translucence. 

The painting below is one of the first that I’ve been able to do in which the feeling, more than the scene, drove the concept.  It represents a breakthrough for me – it expresses me more than just about anything else I’ve done.  I’m thrilled that it will hang in her son Steve’s house.  

Jeff Blum, a lifelong community organizer, took up painting upon retiring from his last full-time job, seeking an activity to share with his mother.  Working mainly in acrylic and watercolor, he is currently focused on abstracted realism.