Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Bold, New Direction for Mystic Seaport | Mystic Seaport

A Bold, New Direction for Mystic Seaport | Mystic Seaport

A Bold, New Direction for Mystic Seaport

Staff and volunteers joined Mystic Seaport Museum President Steve White Tuesday morning for the unveiling of the Museum's new logo and branding. May 1, 2018. Photo by Andy Price/Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic, Conn. (May 1, 2018) — Mystic Seaport announced today the launch of its new brand identity, with the introduction of the addition of Museum to its name and a redesigned logo, website, and large-scale ad campaign. The launch is a key element of the Museum's strategic plan to expand the reach and relevance of the Museum by positioning itself as a more modern and relevant cultural center that strives to inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience. The opening of the Thompson Exhibition Building in 2016 signified the first step in that direction and will showcase the recently launched Era of Exhibitions programs.

"Today's audiences value the community that a museum creates," said Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport Museum. "By restoring the word 'Museum' to our name, we celebrate and showcase history while making a space for people to talk and think about issues that matter to them. Museums are contemporary centers of community and discourse and we are updating our identity to reflect that role."

The organization's new logo, in the color nautical orange, presents a sharp, bold visual identity in a shape that references the planks of a ship with the cascade of stacked vertical text representing waves approaching shore.

"This new direction signifies the commitment of the Museum's Board of Trustees to connect with, and inspire, the broadest possible communities, and to communicate the freshness and relevance of the Museum's programs and exhibitions," said J. Barclay Collins, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Mystic Seaport Museum.

Mystic Seaport Museum's new tagline, "Radical Craft.  Get Into It." will anchor its new advertising campaign debuting this month. It is an action-oriented statement that shines the light on the Museum as a place that celebrates immersive experiences, craft and the evolution of seafaring innovation that was radical in its time. The ad campaign will feature the outstanding imagery created by the Museum's photography staff.

Carbone Smolan Agency, an independent design-led branding agency that has worked with organizations such as Musee de Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, and Christies served as the agency of record for the Museum's rebrand and launch.

"We love working on museums because we understand that arts and culture are the lifeblood of a community. We were thrilled to be invited to partner with such a wildly interesting institution on their bold journey," said David Mowers, executive director of Strategy at Carbone Smolan Agency.

About Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic Seaport Museum, founded in 1929, is the nation's leading maritime museum. In addition to providing a multitude of immersive experiences, the Museum also houses a collection of more than two million artifacts that include more than 500 historic vessels and one of the largest collections of maritime photography.  The iconic Thompson Exhibition Building is a state-of-the-art exhibition gallery that will host the upcoming Science, Myth, and Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga and The Vikings Begin: Treasures from Uppsala University, Sweden installations on May 19, 2018. Mystic Seaport Museum is located one mile south of Exit 90 off I-95 in Mystic, CT. For more information, please visit  and follow Mystic Seaport Museum on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

Posted in Press Releases on April 30, 2018.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Fire Retardant Chemicals Are Contaminating Drinking Water

Fire Retardant Chemicals Are Contaminating Drinking Water

9 in 10 Americans Have Flame Retardant Chemicals in Their System

By Dr. Mercola

Flame retardant chemicals have been identified as one of 17 high priority chemical groups that should be avoided to .1,2 In the environment, these chemicals are also poisoning pets and wildlife. Yet despite their significant health risks, they continue being used — ostensibly because they save lives in case of fire.

However, researchers and firefighters alike say flame retardant chemicals actually cause more harm than good, as the fire suppression they provide is minuscule at best,3 while releasing toxic fumes when they burn — toxins that may be more far more likely to kill you than the fire itself.

In addition to that, the chemicals do not remain inertly bonded within the foam or upholstery until or unless a fire actually occurs. They escape in the form of dust, making their way into everything from babies' mouths to breast milk and water supplies.

Research4 published in 2015 found Tris phosphate and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) in every single dust sample collected from American homes; 91 percent of urine samples from the residents contained metabolites of Tris phosphate, and 83 percent of residents had metabolites of TPHP.

Other tests have shown 90 percent of Americans have flame retardant chemicals in their bodies, and many have six or more types in their system.5 Eighty percent of children's products tested6 have also been found to contain flame retardant chemicals, including nursing pillows, baby carriers and sleeping wedges, which can have significant health ramifications.

As noted by Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,7 these chemicals can alter a child's developing reproductive system and nervous system, and have been shown to reduce IQ.8,9 For example, children born of women exposed to high levels of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) during pregnancy have an average of 4.5 points lower IQ.10,11 Such children are also more prone to hyperactivity disorders.

Firefighters Are at High Risk

About half of U.S. firefighters believe cancer is the greatest occupational health risk they face.12 Indeed, California female firefighters aged 40 to 50 are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than the national average. A major reason for this is because of the high levels of dioxins and furans firefighters are exposed to when flame-retardant chemicals burn.

What many fail to realize is that an object treated with flame retardant chemicals can indeed still catch fire — it's merely retarded by seconds — and when it does go up in flames it will emit much higher levels of toxic carbon monoxide, soot and smoke than an untreated object. Ironically, these three things are more likely to kill you than a burn might, which means flame-retardant chemicals may actually make fires deadlier when you're caught in them.

According to the chemical industry, fire-retardant furniture provide a fifteenfold increase in escape time in the case of a fire. This claim came from a study using powerful, NASA-style flame retardants, which provided an extra 15 seconds of escape time. But this is not the same type of chemical used in most furniture. Tests have shown that the most widely used flame-retardant chemicals actually provide no meaningful benefit in case of a fire, while increasingthe amounts of toxic chemicals in the smoke.

The Role of Big Tobacco and Chemical Industry Front Groups

In 2013, I wrote about the deceptive campaigns13 that led to the proliferation of fire retardant chemicals. Big Tobacco played a key role in this development. Flame retardant chemicals were developed in the 1970s, a time when 40 percent of Americans smoked and cigarettes were a major cause of house fires. The tobacco industry, under increasing pressure to make fire-safe cigarettes, resisted the push for self-extinguishing cigarettes and instead created an industry front group called the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

The group pushed for federal standards for fire retardant furniture and, in 1975, California became the first state to enact such fire standards (Technical Bulletin 117).

Another front group called Citizens for Fire Safety — which is actually a front group trade association for manufacturers of flame retardant chemicals, not a coalition of concerned citizens — has fought to protect the chemical industry from legislation that might cut into business, and has helped expand the commercial use of flame retardant chemicals into an ever-greater number of products besides furniture.

What's worse, while the original fire standard specified that any chemical used had to be proven safe for human health, politicians removed this requirement, and the law went into effect without this requirement. The end result is now becoming increasingly obvious, as fire retardant chemicals are becoming an environmental pollutant of tremendous concern.

Firefighting Foam Is Contaminating Drinking Water

Sharon Lerner, a reporting fellow at The Investigative Fund and an investigative journalist for The Intercept and other major media outlets, has written extensively about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS14 (two of the most well-known ones of which are PFOA and PFOS) and the industry's attempts to cover up the damage. At the time of this writing, The Intercept has published 16 parts of Lerner's ongoing series,15 which began in 2015. 

Part 1516 addresses the U.S. military's affinity for toxic flame retardants, despite the fact that billions of dollars are now being spent trying to clean up drinking water contaminated by firefighting foam used on military installations. Setting the scene, Lerner writes, in part:

"About an hour north of Seattle at the northern edge of Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is quiet, forested, and, in Bob Farnsworth's neighborhood, idyllic. In the 22 years he's lived on Whidbey, where he served as a command master chief at the Naval Air Base, Farnsworth, 61, has regularly crabbed and fished for salmon and enjoyed fruit from his own trees …  

But last February, he discovered a toxic side to the Navy's presence in his life: His well, which he had used to water his fruit trees, cook, and fill his children's and grandchildren's glasses over the years, tested positive for three chemicals that had apparently seeped in from foam used for firefighting on the base.

One chemical, PFOS, was present at 3,800 parts per trillion, more than 54 times a safety standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 … The realization that he and his wife had been exposed to the chemicals, which have been linked to prostate cancer and thyroid diseases, cast the struggles they have had over the past years with these very diseases in a new light. 'I don't know what was related,' he said."

Known Toxins Replaced With Lesser-Known Ones

A similar situation is playing out near hundreds of military bases around the U.S., where PFAS chemicals have leached through the ground, contaminating surrounding groundwater. In addition to prostate cancer and thyroid problems, these chemicals have been linked to other types of cancer as well, including kidney, testicular and bladder cancer, as well as immune dysfunction, reproductive problems and hormone disruption.

Considering the public health threat posed by PFAS contamination, courtesy of firefighting foam, you'd think the U.S. government would take proactive measures to eliminate the use of these toxic chemicals. After all, other countries are using PFAS-free firefighting foam, and it works just as well. Alas, this is not happening. Lerner explains:17

"[E]ven as the Army, Navy, and Air Force have begun the slow process of addressing the contamination, which is expected to cost upwards of $2 billion, the Department of Defense isn't abandoning this line of chemicals. While some of the precise formulations that caused the contamination are off the table, the U.S. military is in the midst of an expensive effort to replace older foam with a newer formulation that contains only slightly tweaked versions of the same problematic compounds …

Some of the studies showing the dangers of these persistent chemicals came from the manufacturers themselves … The new foam contains no PFOS and 'little or no PFOA,' according to an Air Force press release.18 Instead, it uses the closely related molecules that pose many of the same dangers …"

Military Specifications Require Inclusion of Fluorinated Chemicals

As it turns out, the reason why one dangerous type of firefighting chemicals is simply replaced by another, very similar one, is because military specifications require the inclusion of fluorinated surfactants, which make the foam easier to spread. As explained by Lerner, the foam "creates a thin layer over the surface of the fuel that smothers the flames and prevents the release of vapor that could otherwise reignite."

When, in the early 2000s, the EPA started urging the military to replace PFAS-containing firefighting foam due to health and environmental concerns, the foam and surfactant manufacturers created the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition — an organization aimed at defending the use of PFAS. DuPont and Dynax were among the founding members of this organization, which presented its case not only before military branches but also the EPA.

"Their messages were reassuring: The chemicals used to replace PFOS were safe for human health and the environment, and AFFF [aqueous film forming foam] was the only way to safely protect military personnel from fires," Lerner writes. Meanwhile, evidence19 suggests fluorinated surfactants, such as those used in AFFF, are "among the most environmentally persistent substances ever."

In the end, the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition was successful in its attempts to get AFFF excluded from the EPA's regulatory process, and the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force were free to continue using AFFF. Even when evidence emerged showing other PFAS were just as harmful as PFOA, the EPA never reassessed the military's use of AFFF.

Are You Drinking PFAS-Contaminated Water?

As noted by Lerner, incomplete data makes it very difficult to ascertain how widespread the PFAS-contamination might be, but drinking water near at least 46 military installations in the U.S. have been found to contain PFOA and/or PFOS at levels exceeding 70 parts per trillion (ppt), which is the EPA's health advisory level for drinking water.20 According to Lerner:

"Many more people are exposed to the chemicals at levels below that 70 ppt threshold. And, judging from the health-based levels that states have set since the EPA set its level last year, even these lower levels may pose health threats.

New Jersey is moving forward with setting 14 ppt as its drinking water standard for PFOA, just one-fifth of the EPA's number, and recommended 13 ppt for PFOS. Vermont and Minnesota have either set or proposed safety levels for both chemicals that are lower than the EPA's.

And in December, a Michigan state legislator proposed the lowest standard yet for PFAS molecules: 5 ppt. Historically, chemical safety thresholds tend to drop over time as research mounts."

Health concerns are not limited to PFOA and PFOS though. Many other PFAS chemicals21 — such as PFHxS, PFHpA, PFBA and PFBS — have been detected both in drinking water and people's blood, yet the military is only attempting to clean up PFOA and PFOS contamination. (In all, studies have found as many as 700 different PFAS compounds at sites where firefighting foam is used.)

The military also is not providing clean drinking water to residents in affected areas unless their water contains more than 70 ppt of PFOA and/or PFOS specifically. For example, Neal Sims, another resident of Whidbey Island, does not receive bottled water, even though the four PFAS found in his tap water total more than 80 ppt. The reason for this is because his combined PFOA/PFOS level is "only" 30 ppt.

Meanwhile, European regulators took action against PFHxS last year,22 and some U.S. states have already set levels for PFBA and PFBS in drinking water.23 Making matters worse, some of these shorter-chained replacement PFAS chemicals such as PFHxS are more difficult to filter out24 than PFOA and PFOS, requiring more frequent filter replacement to ensure they're being removed.

According to the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition, PFAS-free foam has not been adopted by the defense industry for the fact that it doesn't work as well as AFFF. However, the difference in performance is very small and, with practice, firefighters would likely be able to apply the material quicker to meet fire suppression specs.

Without EPA pressure to replace PFAS in firefighting foam, there's also no sense of urgency to provide additional funding to find less toxic alternatives. Lobbying to keep the chemicals in play also slows down the process. And then there's the fact that fluorine-free foams "cannot meet specifications" for the simple fact that the standard still requires the inclusion of fluorinated surfactants.  

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants

While the Department of Defense needs to address its role in contaminating drinking water with toxic firefighting chemicals, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family. Most homes have many items that contain these hazardous class of chemicals, so water contamination is not your only potential threat. Among the basics: As you replace items around your home, select items that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool and cotton.

Also look for organic and "green" building materials, carpeting, baby items and upholstery, which will be free from these toxic chemicals and help reduce your overall exposure. This is by far the easiest route, as manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use to make their products comply with fire safety regulations.

Your mattress, for example, may be soaked in toxic flame retardants, but you will not find the chemicals listed on the label. That said, below are some additional guidelines to consider that can help reduce your exposure to flame retardants:

If you live anywhere near a military installation or fire department fire-training area, consider getting your tap water tested for PFAS and other toxic contaminants. Water testing is a prudent step no matter where you live these days, as is filtering your water, as there are literally hundreds of potential water contaminants that can harm your health.

Polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, such as upholstered furniture, mattresses and pillows, are likely to contain PBDEs, another common class of fire retardant chemicals, so inspect them carefully and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down.

Also avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure. If in doubt, you can have a sample of your polyurethane foam cushions tested for free by scientists at Duke University's Superfund Research Center. This is particularly useful for items you already have around your home, as it will help you determine which harmful products need replacing.

Older carpet padding is another major source of flame-retardant PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) guide25 to PBDEs contains even more details about products in which these toxic chemicals might be lurking.

Your mattress may be of greatest concern since you spend a large amount of your life sleeping on it. Besides PBDEs, other flame-retardant chemicals currently approved for use in mattresses include boric acid, a toxic respiratory irritant used to kill roaches; antimony, a metal that may be more toxic than mercury; and formaldehyde, which causes cancer.

To avoid this toxic exposure, I recommend looking for a mattress made of either 100 percent organic wool, cotton or flannel (all of which tend to be naturally flame-resistant) or Kevlar fibers, the material they make bullet-proof vests out of, which is sufficient to pass the fire safety standards.

There are a number of good options on the market. I've also put together an assortment of wool and silk bedding, including organic cotton and wool mattresses you can choose from when it comes time to replace your mattress, pillows and comforters with chemical-free versions.

You probably also have older sources of the PBDEs known as Deca in your home, and these are so toxic they are banned in several states. Deca PBDEs can be found in electronics like TVs, cellphones, kitchen appliances, fans, toner cartridges and more. It's a good idea to wash your hands after handling such items, especially before eating, and at the very least be sure you don't let infants mouth any of these items.

PBDEs are often found in household dust, so clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and/or a wet mop often.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

5 Awesome 3D Model Makers to Get Any Beginner 3D Designer Hooked

5 Awesome Beginner's 3D Design Programs

3D printing your creations with Shapeways is easy, but designing your 3D models can get a little bit tricky.

Fret not! We've compiled a list of five design software that are used extensively in the 3D printing world which you can start using today, regardless of your skill or budget. Without further ado, here's a quick rundown of the software that's ready for to make your 3D printing dreams come true.

TinkerCAD offers simple step-by-step lessons to get you started in 3D!

Learn as You Go

TinkerCAD is one of the easiest and most accessible programs out there. With a simple and easy-to-use interface, using TinkerCAD makes 3D modeling simple and fun. Pre-existing shapes are available for you to use, and you can import your own 3D files. Just make an Autodesk account, and you're ready to go.

Another great feature is its in-program tutorial, which quickly teaches you the basics of the program while also offering projects that you can tinker around with – and ultimately print with us to give you a better understanding of 3D modeling.

Good to Edit, Maybe not Create

Pre-existing assets comprise the bulk of the models you can use, which limits the amount of intricacy your models can have if composing them entirely in the program. However, its free import feature does allow you to make edits to an image you bring in yourself, something several other free online programs in the field do not allow.

SketchUp: Powerful Browser-Based Software

Good with Experience

SketchUp is a 3D modeling program known for its applications architectural design, but it doesn't stop there! SketchUp is a powerful software used for visualization and planning in a variety of industries spanning architecture, interior design, urban planning, engineering, and construction.

One of the benefits to using SketchUp is it's extremely intuitive layout, making it friendly for first time users and is definitely considered to be one of the easiest CAD programs to use out there.

Free From Scratch

SketchUp is the freemium version of the software with SketchUp Pro is the paid one (one time payment) which supports features like importing and exporting CAD files as well as vector images, and opens up the full list of features in the toolset. This license also allows subscribers to collaborate on projects through the cloud, so it's perfect for remote teams. We recommend users to upgrade to SketchUp Pro for more advanced users who are in a higher institution or a professional setting.

Sculptris: Free 3D Modeling from the Makers of Zbrush

Zombie Wolverine by Kazuya Matsumura on ArtStation, created in Sculptris

The Cool Little Brother

Everyone who's at least somewhat familiar with 3D sculpting has heard of ZBrush. The program's creators, Pixologic, have made a really cool and free program available by the name of Sculptris. You can create an organic model with this program simply and quickly, and then upload the model to another program to get it printed.

Less Resource Intensive

Sculptris is a simple program with a few key features for creating your sculptures. However, as shown above, they can still create amazing models, possibly just needing a paint job after the model is finally 3D printed. Thankfully, this program does not use up as much horsepower as other, more powerful 3D sculpting programs out there (like ZBrush), so if you have those, this is a great way to get your model roughed out.

A Little Too Simple

For all of its strengths, Sculptris still lacks the power to fully render 3D models like a fully-fleshed-out program a la ZBrush could. However, for absolutely nothing out of pocket, it's a great place to start your model or edit a simple one.

3D Slash: Pixelate Your 3D Model!

Blocks, Blocks, Everywhere

When most of us think about the wonders of 3D printing, we don't necessarily think about how well it can replicate the pixelated graphics of our early childhood video games. Think again with Legos and Minecraft inspirational creations in our marketplace, the possibilities are endless. That's where 3D Slash comes in. You can upload your own 3D model file, and then the program literally breaks down the model into building blocks for you to toy with as if it were a pixelated image.

Great for That Retro Vibe

Following a simple building-block concept creates a retro feeling and definitely made our collective nerd hearts skipped a beat when we saw our projects transformed into pixel art before our eyes. While 3D Slash is definitely bursting at the seams with charm and Web 2.0 appeal, there's probably not a lot in here to appease those who are looking to create more complex 3D models. The brick-by-brick building feature the program uses feels tedious and inaccurate when dealing with larger-scale models. All in all, 3D Slash has a super intuitive interface and is highly recommended for 3D stylist beginners.

Ultimaker's Cura:  Prep Your Model for 3D Printing

Catches Mistakes

Nothing is more heartbreaking than your first 3D model turning to spaghetti because you missed a minute detail. Overlooking little flaws in your model happens to the best modelers out there. That's why programs like Ultimaker's Cura exist. It essentially proofreads your model, getting it ready for a 3D printer.

Tiny Layer After Tiny Layer

A 3D printer sinters hundreds of thousands of tiny layers of material in its time, and a program that has created a 3D model does not take those layers into account. However, slicing programs like Cura do. They break the model down into those tiny layers and allow for modification to the model's internal structure to make things easier on the printer. Cura also lets you know of any problems you might have with your model before printing, so you can take it back to edit if something comes up.

Until next time, happy printing!


Monday, June 04, 2018

The Heights of Machu Picchu, by J.M. White | Parabola Essay

The Heights of Machu Picchu, by J.M. White | Parabola Essay

The Heights of Machu Picchu, by J.M. White

Photograph by J.M. White

Machu Picchu is one of the most spectacularly beautiful sites on earth. It is an ancient Inca ceremonial center perched on top of a narrow ridge surrounded by snowcapped mountains. The flat part of the ridge where they built Machu Picchu is only fourteen acres wide, but the space is filled with some of the most incredible Inca stonework ever created. It had been deserted after the Spanish conquest, but the Spanish had either not known it was there or, if they did, they never made a concerted effort to destroy it, so it remained hidden, overgrown by the jungle until an enterprising young archaeologist named Hiram Bingham managed to happen upon it in 1911.  Like the discovery of Troy or the excavations in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the discovery of Machu Picchu is one of the extraordinary stories in the annals of archaeology. It is the premier Inca ceremonial center hidden on a high mountain ridge deep in the Andes jungle, unknown to anyone except the Indians who lived in the area. They, however, were very aware of it and when Bingham came looking for ancient ruins, there were farmers cultivating the main plaza and the terraces at Machu Picchu.

Much like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, it is a city of temples made of exquisite stonework buried in the jungle for hundreds of years. The Incas built it on the narrow ridge between two high mountain peaks in a giant horseshoe bend of the Urubamba River. The city is divided into two principal areas: the temples and the palaces. There are two main palaces: one for the Emperor and the other for the women of the court and the High Priests. These are located across the plaza from each other. There are seven temples in the city: the greatest is the Temple of the Sun; past that are the Temple of the Hitching Post, the Temple of Three Windows, the Temple of the Condor, the Temple of the Moon, and the Temple of the Pachamama Stone. The temples are made of Inca stonework of the highest order.

The train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful in the world. As the train approaches Machu Picchu, the Urubamba valley gets narrower and narrower until it is little more than a rushing river gorge with luxurious jungle growth draped from the trees over the railway. Orchids and bromeliads hang from the trees. The mountains are incredibly steep and sheer. But, from time to time, the view opens up and there are snow-capped mountains in the distance with glaciers nestled in their folds like streams of ice moving down the high mountain valleys. The Urubamba River roars down from the mountains with great force and in some places the water hits boulders to create fountains that erupt geyser-like into the air. Every few miles there are Inca terraces along the mountainsides and ancient ruins perched on the mountains. There is amazing beauty in every direction. In about three hours the train arrives in Agua Calientes, the little town at the base of the mountain where Machu Picchu sits.

Ruben Orrellano had agreed to be our guide for the day in Machu Picchu. Ruben is a Ph.D. archaeologist, born and raised in Cusco. He had been the head archaeologist at Machu Picchu for three years and discovered over forty outlying sites in the surrounding terrain, as well as being an expert in the religious practices of the Inca tradition. There could not be a better person to show us around. We had met on a previous trip and I stayed in touch and asked if he would join Susan and I for this visit to Machu Picchu.

Rueben took us up the mountain and along a narrow path around a mountain ledge and suddenly Machu Picchu came into view. It is a stunning sight, an awesome vista of heart-stopping beauty. This is the vantage point where you can overlook the entire city, where the iconic photos you see of Machu Picchu are taken. The city is laid out in front of you with mountain peaks on all sides. The main part of the city has a large stone wall protecting it. Rueben lead us up to the wall and stopped. As we were standing in the shade of the wall, ready to enter the city, I looked up into the clear blue cloudless noon-day sky and saw a complete rainbow around the sun. I had never seen anything like it, and pointed it out as we all gazed at it in amazement.

Once inside the city walls, Ruben took us across the plaza through a complex of buildings into a large room that has two stone cylinders carved out of the bedrock of the floor. They are about four inches tall and fifteen inches wide with a lip about a quarter inch tall around the top-edge. They were full of rain water when we first came upon them. Bingham thought they were mortars where the women ground corn and he took a famous picture of a young boy holding a pestle in one of them, but Ruben pointed out that mortars were hollowed out in a concave manner and these have perfectly flat bottoms. He said these were used as reflective mirrors for watching the sky, that the room was an observatory where, by comparing the images in the two cylinders, the ancient astronomers made calculations charting the movement of the stars, planets, sun and moon.

Then he instructed us to stand where we could see the sun reflected in the shallow pool of water. I shifted around until I had the gleaming light of the sun reflected in the center of the pool. As I stared at the reflection, I noticed there was a perfect circle of smaller suns reflected over and over around the outer lip in a radiant parhelion of gem-like points of light. After a moment of concentration Ruben told us to close our eyes, as I closed my eyes my vision filled with a deep bright red color field. He then asked what colors we were seeing and we each reported a different color. He said that in the Andean traditions there is a color spectrum that runs through the body and each part of the body is associated with a color. He asked us each a few questions and then diagnosed us based on the colors we experienced. He said the color we saw indicated the part of our body where we might experience health issues. It was a marvelous room with an esoteric technology uniting the above and the below, reflecting outward to the distant stars and inward to the inner state of the body.

Then Reuben took us to an enclosed plaza at the far end of the city where the Pachamama stone stands. It is a magnificent slab of stone over fifteen feet tall and is the most striking example of the many mirror stones that are found all around Machu Picchu. They are special stones erected by the Inca in such a way that they stand out against the horizon, reproducing in silhouette the outline of the mountain peaks in the distance, echoing an eidetic contour of the distant horizon. They served as shrines to the mountain gods. The mountains were considered living beings and the echo stones were a part of their worship. Ruben had us stand across the plaza and told us to focus on the top edge of the stone; I looked at it and traced the outline with my eyes, concentrated my attention, and watched as the mountains in the background went out of focus. Ruben went over to the stone and at one end of it–where it slopes down to meet the ground–he rubbed his hand along the top edge and said, "Look here, look here." As he said that I saw a blue line appear along the top of the stone like a deep blue neon light. Then I squinted my eyes and the blue light ran the entire length of the stone, a beautiful deep blue, not the blue of the sky but a more psychedelic neon blue like an aura radiating from the stone, a visionary moment, produced by nothing more than a shaman saying, "Look here, look here."

Photograph by J.M. White

From there we worked our way back along the plaza and climbed a steep little hill to a place called The Hitching Post of the Sun. It is a little temple complex on a knoll that overlooks the plaza. The top of the knoll has been carved down into the bedrock and there is one of the most unusual ancient monuments I have seen. It is a nearly square pillar of stone about two feet tall carved out of a table or altar that forms its base, which itself is carved from the bedrock. Rueben approaches the stone with a bottle of water scented with flower essences. He held the bottle with his thumb over the top and then slung the bottle out, releasing the pressure on his thumb so a fine mist of the scented water sprayed out from the bottle. He circled the pillar of stone and sprayed a mist of the water on all sides of it. I asked what it represents or how it was used and he said that the pillar isn't really a gnomon in the sense of casting a shadow that marks the time of day like on a sundial, but rather is a marker stone that was used to sight alignments of the sun, moon, and planets as they appear above the horizon and to track their movements as a calendric device. Using the sighting stone, the Incas could follow the cycles of movement of the sun and moon and planets as they moved along the horizon. In this way they created their calendars and measured time.

Then we came down from the knoll and into another temple complex called the Temple of the Three Windows. It is in a building made with monumental stones, each stone in the wall raising questions about how they moved stones that large and how they worked them to fit together seamlessly. On the west side of the temple there is a wall with three large windows, each identical in shape and size, looking out across the plaza toward the palace of the consorts. Rueben says the windows are a cosmogram and that the cosmology of the Inca had an upper world, a lower world and a middle world and these three windows are designed to look out into each of these worlds. Outside the third window, which is the window on the upper world, Bingham discovered a huge pile of pottery shards as if they had been throwing pottery out that window for some reason. I discussed with Rueben the idea that this room was used for funerary rituals and that the soul of the deceased was ritually placed in a piece of pottery and then, by breaking the pot out the window on the upper world, the priests were releasing the person's soul and sending that person along the pathway to the upper world. There is a magnificent view out of these windows onto the plaza and I have seen it many times in books about Machu Picchu. Rueben says there was never a roof on this building and in the center of the main room by the windows is a stone that is carved into a set of steps coming up from either side to meet in the center. He shows us how the stone creates a shadow so that the image of the stone and its shadow form an Andean cross.

He led us out of the temple along a path and up a set of steps that are cut out of the bedrock. Machu Picchu requires a lot of walking up and down steps. At the top of the steps he takes us into the palace of the Emperor. The doorway into the palace complex is setback in a series of recesses that lead to the door. It is made of beautiful carved stones that are identical in shape and size except for the door mantles, which are solid stone stretching across the top of the magnificent doorway. He quickly shows us around a few of the rooms and then into a small enclosure, which he says never had a roof and was a golden garden like the one by the Temple of the Sun at Cusco.

Then he led us back out the main door and we emerge at the top of the ridge. The old Inca waterway enters the city at this point. I had read that Bingham had it cleaned out and repaired and that it immediately started carrying water to the city. This is the first place that the water fills a basin where it can be caught in a pot or bowl. The water then flows out of the basin and through a beautifully carved channel in the stone down the hill to another basin, and from there on it goes downward into a series of basins where the people could catch their water as the spouts at each basin create ideal places to hold a pot to gather water. The first channel is between the Temple of the Sun and the Emperor's palace, so it is obvious that the Emperor gets the first use of the water. The priests used it to wash the offering made at the temple and the Emperor used it for his household needs.

Later that afternoon a light rain started to fall. Reuben said that it would make the fountains run so we went back to the fountains and traced the sixteen fountains as they progress down the hillside from the Sun Temple to the Temple of the Condor. Sure enough with the drizzle of rain the channel that carries the water into the city filled and as we stood at the first of the fountains the water was spouting out and filling the stone basin carved out of the bedrock, almost like a kitchen sink. We followed the flow of the water as it progressed down the hillside through the sixteen fountains, each with its own spout and its own basin where the people could get water. I imagined that each fountain was designated for a separate purpose lost to us in the haze of time. The rain began to soften and fade. I was conscious of a mysterious past, of all the years that had soaked into these stones. I could sense the arid scent of time itself, the slow fluttering of calendar pages in the wind, this place a montage of time's flight. I felt almost intrusive, as if I was kicking through the ill-gotten gains of an ancient empire.

The Temple of the Sun is made of stone blocks that are gleaming white and all carved into the same size and shape. There is something like mica in the stone so that each stone glimmers with points of light in the sunlight. The temple is built on top of a large boulder and the walls of the temple come up from the edges of the exposed stone and wrap around the rock so that the main wall is curved, closing back in on itself where it leaves enough room for a doorway. The inside of the temple is exposed stone and it is marked with a rope and a sign that says "No Trespassing" so we are not allowed inside the room. It is the only place that has been off limits so far in our tour. Bingham reported that the stone of the floor of the temple was covered in a layer of ashes and there were marks on the stone which he attributed to years of fires being built on that spot. So it appears that offerings to the sun were burned in the temple in olden times.

Then Ruben leads us across the outside of the building and down a set of steps to the base of the large boulder that is the foundation of the temple and, as we round the boulder, we come to the entrance of a small cave that is directly under the floor of the temple. At the entrance to the cave there is a white stone that has been carved into a stair step design and next to that is some of the most beautiful Inca stonework I have seen. It is laid into the natural stone face and assumes the organic shape of the mountainside. Reuben says this cave was used to keep the mummies of the previous Emperors and that the Incas would bring them out on important occasions to join the reigning Emperor to observe the ceremonies. He says elaborate food would be prepared and placed in front of them and that the priest would talk to them, tell them the state of affairs of the empire, and ask them for guidance. The food given to them was then burned in the temple to send to the upper realm.

Reuben then walked us through an area of narrow streets and small rooms lined up one beside the other with several rows of them cascading down the mountainside. Some of the walls sagged and buckled, in danger of imminent collapse. The houses tenanted only by whatever ghosts still dreamed here.  He said this was the housing for the laborers who were required to be here. He explained that everyone was required to give ninety days of labor each year to the Emperor. Each village was organized into groups of ten and each group had to do the farm labor for the village; on top of that you had to give your ninety days to the Emperor, which could be in the form of road building, working in a quarry cutting stone, serving in a construction crew building a temple or a palace, or working in an agricultural crew cultivating food for the Emperor. He said the people who lived in these buildings used them only to sleep and have sex. He said all other activity took place in the plazas in common with everyone else and they basically lived outside.

Then he led us around a steep hillside and past some areas where archaeologists were currently excavating new parts of the complex. I asked how much of what we could see at Machu Picchu was reconstructed and he said over fifty percent. He said it wasn't hard to reconstruct because for the most part the stones were all there and could be reassembled to rebuild the walls. He took us along a path around the lower edge of the ridge and we were well below the level of the plaza when we came to a little cave. The Incas had carved a little window from inside the cave to look out at the mountain peaks along the horizon. He had us look through the window from a certain spot in the cave and said the window was designed to cast a beam of light whose movement on the wall was used as a calendar to measure the time it took for the sun to move from north to south along the horizon.

Photograph by J.M. White

Reuben was catching the last train back to Cusco so it was time for him to leave. After we bid him farewell we planned to climb the peak of Huayna Picchu where we could look down over Machu Picchu. It is described in the guide books as one of the most spectacular views in the Western Hemisphere. Huayna Picchu shoots up at the far end of the complex and looms above the city. At the far end of the plaza, just past the Pachamama stone, there is a gate and a little building where you have to sign in to take the trail to the top. It is amazing to look up at the peak and think there is a trail that leads to the top. The mountain looks like a sheer rock face jutting up to the peak although parts of it are covered with jungle. Near the top there are terraces and a building that looks to be hanging on the side of the mountain. The trail leads nearly straight up the mountainside with occasional twists and switchbacks, and from time to time you could look down and see the city of Machu Picchu down below. From this perspective we could see that the little knoll where the Hitching Post to the Sun is located has been terraced so that it is a pyramid of terraces that lead up to the Intiwayan stone. The pyramid is formed out of the natural contour of the land and looked incredibly dramatic. From the ground level in the main plaza it is impossible to recognize the pyramid and it just looks like a couple of terraces below the temple area.

We stopped frequently to rest; not only was Machu Picchu laid out in stunning detail below us, but in places you could see straight down to the Urubamba River valley. The entire mountainside on both sides of Machu Picchu had been terraced for agricultural purposes and from this height we could see the terraces falling away on both sides. They have analyzed soil samples to figure out what the Inca were growing in the terraces and it turned out to be flowers; it must have been an beautiful sight when the terraces were filled with brightly-colored flowers, all in bloom.

It is well over a thousand feet from the river to the ridge where Machu Picchu sits and another thousand feet from Machu Picchu to the top of Huayna Picchu. The Inca steps go straight up like a ladder. After over an hour of climbing we came to an area where the mountainside had been terraced with stone walls retaining narrow terraces. There are ancient stone steps beside the terraces and they seemed to go for hundreds of feet before we finally came to what we thought was the top. The trail leads right to the door of a stone building made with beautiful Inca stonework, two stories high, with no roof on it now.

When we passed through the building we could see on the other side that we weren't quite at the top and had to scramble up a bunch of boulders and up a rock face with a rope to help climb. After a few more boulders, we were finally at the very top. On the uppermost boulder there is a small flat seat carved out of the rock. From here you can look down over the entire complex of Machu Picchu, down into the river valley which circles the peak and out over an amazing array of mountain peaks running off into the distance in every direction. We were amazed to find other people already there; we found a seat on one of the boulders and stayed about an hour. The view is spectacular in every direction. There wasn't a lot of chatter among the people; the setting and the view are so awe-inspiring that it is breathtaking, frightening in a way, and the common chatter of daily conversation just doesn't seem relevant. I took out my little bag of coca leaves and tossed a few of them into the wind as an offering to the surrounding mountains. The wind immediately caught them and took them away.

Coming down off the mountain was by far the most frightening, even terrifying, climbing experience of my life. As we went down the narrow stone steps I had to look down to see where to place my foot for the next step and, at certain places, as I was looking down two thousand feet to the river valley. It was unnerving and difficult to keep my focus on the steps and not look down into the depths of the valley. I moved very slowly and we gradually worked our way down the mountain.

At the bottom of the mountain the trail led into the plaza of the Pachamama stone. We found a stone wall with a great view of the plaza and sat down to take a break. I pulled out my notebook and while we rested for a few minutes I wrote:

sitting among the heights of Machu Picchu, the muddy Urubamba roars below, Machu Picchu, a city of temples, where seven roads converge into the gateway of the sun to the city of light with architectural designs of nearly crystalline perfection, with a technology of stonework unparalleled in the ancient world, the stones shaped and fitted, cut with bronze chisels and pecked into the perfect form to fit unmortared, so tightly that each stone seamlessly joins the next; Machu Picchu, the city blossomed and then hid itself under the cloud jungle, a mysterious city of vast structures of geometric precision, a cloud shrouded cathedral, a city shrine to gods nearly forgotten, surviving disguised as Christian saints in the high communities of the Quechua. Machu Picchu, what is it that speaks through these stones? From these elevated heights the surface of life, so pointless and chaotic, comes into unseen perspectives, the life of the city, the life of its people, the life of its religion, go through birth, growth, decay and death, wheels inside of wheels turning in the never ending effort to impose order on the cycles of nature. The edifice of this city stands as a futile tribute to the impossible attempt to halt the ravages of time, and even this will give way when the jungle and the mountain once again reclaim their stones. ♦

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Bauer, Brian S., Astronomy and Empire in the Ancient Andes, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, 1995

Bernand, Carmen, The Incas: People of the Sun, Harry M. Abrams, NYC, 1994

Bingham, Hiram, Lost City of the Incas: The Story of Machu Picchu and its Builders, Athenaeum, NY, 1970

Burger, R.L., Salazar, Lucy C. Editors, The 1912 Yale Peruvian Scientific Expedition Collections from Machu Picchu: Human and Animal Remains, Yale University Publications in Anthropology, Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, Connecticut, 2003 

de la Vega, Garcilaso, The Inca: The Royal Commentaries of the Inca, Avon Books, NY, 1961

de Santillana, Giorgio and von Dechen, Hertha, Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge and its Transmission through Myth, David R. Godine, Publishers, Inc, Jafrey, NH, 1977

Kelley, David H. and Milone, Eugene F., Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclopedic Survey of Archaeoastronomy, Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. NY, 2005

Kendall, Ann, Everyday Life of the Incas, B. T. Batsford, Ltd. London, 1973

Salazar, Fernando E., Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Tampu S.R.L., 2003

Sullivan, William, The Secret of the Incas: Myth, Astronomy and the War Against Time, Broadway Books, NYC, 1997

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate Chips

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate Chips

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies with White Chocolate

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Try these chewy oatmeal cranberry cookie with white chocolate, and get ready to meet your new favorite cookie recipe! This easy cookie is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and the perfect dessert for cookouts, potluck parties, and game day gatherings!

Oatmeal Cookies with Cranberries


Every year when football season rolls around, my hometown comes together and shows some support for our favorite football team. I'll admit, I'm no football aficionado. I have an attention span that lasts about as long as my three-year-old daughter's, but never-the-less, I sure do love football season. You see, during football season, us Southern ladies, we bake.

My favorite carb-y dessert to show up and show out with has always been cookies. But, not just any cookie — the really good kind. The kind that keeps friends coming back again and again. The kind that reel in the praises. The kind that are perfectly chewy, yet somehow still melt in your mouth. Sweet with just a little touch of tart, and just the right amount of salt. To be more specific, I'm talking about these oatmeal cranberry cookies with white chocolate chips.


Making homemade cookies from scratch is not complicated at all. I divide pretty much all of my baked good recipe ingredients into three categories: The dry ingredients, the wet ingredients, and the add-ins. Let's start with the add-in's since it's the most exciting part.

Oatmeal Cookies with Cranberries


These oatmeal cookies are loaded with (you guessed it!) oats! But, that's not all, as I mentioned earlier, they're also speckled with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. The sweetness of the white chocolate plays along perfectly with the tart cranberries, and it is a combination I've found my guests can never get enough of. These cookies have flown off the platter every single time I've ever served them.

Before we can get the dough mixing, the dry ingredients should first be mixed. The dry ingredients consist of all-purpose flour, cinnamon, a combination of both baking powder and soda, and fine sea salt. Note that baking powder and baking soda are not interchangeable ingredients, and using a salt other than the one specified will affect the end-result of your cookie. The dry ingredients are whisked together and set aside, and it's time to get to mixing up those wet ingredients.

The wet ingredients for our oatmeal cranberry cookies are unsalted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. One more little note here: If a recipe calls for unsalted butter, you should never sub in salted butter. It's very likely your cookies will be far too salty. So! Now we know what ingredients we're using, let's talk about how to put it all together.


Once your dry ingredients have been mixed and set aside, you could use either a handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment to start mixing up your wet ingredients. You first want to cream the butter and the sugar. This is an important step, and it should not be rushed. Creaming the butter with the sugar will ensure not only that your ingredients are properly mixed, but also helps to aerate the butter, making for a fluffier, more pleasing texture in the end.

After the butter and sugar are properly combined, add the eggs (mixing well after each addition), then the vanilla, followed by the dry ingredients. Dry ingredients should always be mixed into cookie dough on a fairly low speed as to not overdevelop the gluten. Lastly, in goes our favorite part — the oats, cranberries, and white chocolate chips.

Oatmeal Cookies with Cranberries

All that's left is to bake them and eat them. Nothing tough about that.

My hometown just so happens to host none other than my alma mater, Texas A&M University.  And in true Aggie spirit, these oatmeal cranberry cookies are decked out with speckles of white and maroon, our college colors. Some cookies were just meant to be. So, not only have these little lovelies dressed the part, they are a full-on touchdown dessert.

They are the perfect cookie to ring in football season, or really, any party for that matter. A soft and chewy oatmeal cookie loaded with cranberries and white chocolate. Well, I think it's safe to say that's enough to make any gal love football season right there. And, while these cookies may be decked out in my alma mater's colors, they would be well-received on any table, by any crowd. That is my personal guarantee. Please, enjoy.

Aggie Oatmeal Cookies

A chewy oatmeal cranberry cookie with white chocolate and cinnamon.

Course: Dessert

Cuisine: American

Servings: 24 Cookies

Calories: 194 kcal

Author: Kelly Anthony



  1. Preheat oven to 350° and have ready baking sheets lined with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

  2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt and whisk until evenly mixed.

  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium-high speed until thoroughly mixed. Mix in eggs one at a time, and add the vanilla. Alternatively, use a large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.

  4. With the mixer on low, gradually incorporate the flour mixture, followed by the oats and then chocolate chips and cranberries.

  5. Roll 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough into little rounds, and space on the cookies sheet at least 2 inches apart. The cookies will spread. Bake for 14-16 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, serve and enjoy.

  6. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Nutrition Facts

Aggie Oatmeal Cookies

Amount Per Serving

Calories 194 Calories from Fat 72

% Daily Value*

Total Fat 8g 12%

Saturated Fat 4g 20%

Cholesterol 28mg 9%

Sodium 158mg 7%

Potassium 77mg 2%

Total Carbohydrates 28g 9%

Sugars 19g

Protein 2g 4%

Vitamin A 3.6%

Calcium 4%

Iron 4.1%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

oatmeal cranberry cookies