Why is yawning contagious?

imagesApril 18, 2014 – Yawning is a force so powerful, that if we see it, we often copy it. It is not something we physically transmit to another person, like a germ that gives you a cold, for example. Yet, we repeat the pattern as if to follow the old adage, “money see, monkey do”.

The experts at discovery.com explain that yawning is contagious because of the “ancient, deep, and subconscious roots of empathy and social bonding. It is a primal instinct that bonds us together” much like contagious laugher or crying. This seems as logical, although newer research from Duke University found little evidence to back up this theory.

Not a lot is known about why we yawn, but here is what we do know: There are two types of yawns, contagious, which occurs when someone sees another person yawn and spontaneous, which occurs more often when someone is bored or tired.

Fetuses begin spontaneous yawning in the womb at about 11 weeks, and scientists recently dispelled the myth that people yawn to receive more oxygen. Many species of animals yawn spontaneously, while only humans, chimpanzees, and possibly dogs according to Japanese research, yawn contagiously. It has also been proven that yawning becomes contagious by age four, and that kids with autism are less likely to catch yawns than other kids.

Were you able to make it through this blog post without yawning? Perhaps not, as even reading about yawning is enough to make it contagious. I’ve yawned a few times while writing it, too.

It all seems simple enough yet yawning is a complex behavior that may never be explained. We have to accept it as just one of those things.

Ten things I like about spring

32506459389d31d2156e6f452d26ec78April 16, 2014
– After a cruel winter, it is a pleasure to welcome spring. Here are 10 things I adore about the season:

10. Longer days – What a joy it is to drive home from work and still experience daylight.

9. Warmer temperatures – Spring is perfect “no utility” weather. There is no need for heat or air-conditioning.

8. Taking photos – Everywhere you go looks like a picture postcard. Fresh blooms are enough to make any amateur photographer look like a pro.

7. Birds singing – Even the sound of birds chirping in the morning is a true pleasure.

6. Dining alfresco – I love sitting at outdoor restaurants and cafes in the city on spring days. It is great for the soul and for people watching.

5. Spring cleaning – Is it crazy that I love to clean in the spring? It makes me feel lighter to get rid of stuff we do not use.

4. Shopping at the farmer’s market – We have our pick of plenty of options in southeastern Pennsylvania, which gives us access to the best fresh produce around.

3. Cherry blossoms and azaleas – I like flowers, but never have I gone completely bonkers over them. I do enjoy spring blooms like cherry blossoms and azaleas, though. They are short-lived and much appreciated.

2. Sandals and open toe shoes – To get my feet in shape for the sandal season, I used a Pure Pedi foot peel. I was skeptical, but it worked wonders. Like a snake, I shed a lot of skin on my feet (and that was a little gross). However, I love the baby soft skin underneath.

1. Open windows – Yes, open windows are my most favorite thing about the season. There is nothing better than letting the fresh air in and watching the curtains flutter in the breeze.

The streets of Philadelphia, part 6

April 14, 2014 – Over the past five weeks, we covered a lot of territory and visited the neighborhoods in Rittenhouse and FairmountOld City and Elfreth’s AlleyUniversity City and Powelton Village, Fishtown and Queen Village, and Chestnut Hill and Manayunk.

Today, in our last part of the series, we’ll take a closer look at South Philadelphia and the Italian Market area, and Northeast Philadelphia, where a working farm sits among the crowded residential streets.

South Philadelphia

The heart and soul of Philadelphia’s southern region is the Italian Market that runs along 9th Street. I drove to the heart of Little Italy where the streets are narrow and there’s not a Starbuck’s, Walgreens or Olive Garden in site.

As one of the oldest and largest working markets in the U.S., the Italian Market is still predominantly Italian, but also includes some items from other cultures.

Photo source: visitphilly.com

Photo source: visitphilly.com


From fresh produce, cheese, pasta, baked goods, seafood, and Italian Water Ice, to antique shops, herbal shops, jewelry and more, Philadelphia’s Italian Market has something for everyone.

pasta shop

There are also a variety of excellent Italian restaurants and pizza shops, and of course, the famous Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks at the southern end.

Photo source: Bergheimfollies.blogspot.com

Photo source: Bergheimfollies.blogspot.com

Photo cource: Phillymagazine.com

Photo source: Phillymagazine.com

Philadelphia’s 9th Street Italian Market is off the beaten path as far as city attractions go, but if you’re looking for a unique way to spend an afternoon and a lot of good food, it’s worth the trip.

Northeast Philadelphia

Large urban cities and farming rarely go hand in hand, but in Philadelphia, it is part of the culture in the Northeast section of the city.

Fox Chase Farm, located at 8500 Pine Road, is closed to the public, except during public events.


 The farm, complete with plenty of livestock, sits on 112 acres near Pennypack Creek.


The farm has existed at this location for over 200 years, and has been known by various names.


Friends of Fox Chase Farm, an all-volunteer group with over 400 member families, keeps the farm working. In 2005, the farm was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

full view

While Fox Chase Farm is a working farm on grand scale proportions, there are smaller urban centers and agriculture projects in Philadelphia that grow local produce. These centers are scattered throughout Philadelphia, in Kensington, North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and other areas of the city. Additionally, there is the Walter Biddle Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences in Northwest Philadelphia (Roxborough) that trains students to be future farmers.

Don’t bother me, I’m French

SiTWayXnljxx944mSENlkMUpo1_500April 11, 2014 – Whoever said life isn’t fair may have been referring the new law in France that makes it illegal for employees to work after 6 p.m. You read that right: the French not only manage to achieve that illusive work/life balance with ease, but they also signed it into law to guarantee it.

These same world citizens already have it good with their mandated 35 hour work week, full lunch breaks during the day, and the generous amount of vacation time they receive. Not to mention the croissants and champagne.

The new law officially forbids employees from viewing any work-related materials after 6 p.m. on their computer, laptop, tablet, or Smartphone. Sounds like they are pretty serious about this. Surely there will be penalties incurred by companies who break this law, but will it also affect employees individually if they choose to work late? How will they monitor such activities? The honor system?

This law will force companies in other countries conducting business in France to change their practice, as well. The company I work for has offices in Paris, and our workday is already cut short due to the time difference. This law makes that window even smaller.

Not that I am against a country that mandates its citizens enjoy life a little more; in fact, I’m rather envious. It’s commonly stated that Europeans work to live and Americans live to work. In the U.S. it is often one’s career that defines them, where in Europe, they see the benefit of family and play time.

In the U.S., it was the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that gave us the five-day, 40 hour work week, a concept strongly suggested by Henry Ford. It was the automaker’s way of looking out for and retaining good employees during the industrial era, when factories had to work round the clock.

If we’re keeping score, it looks like France pulled into the lead. Chalk one up for a country that shares a mix of capitalism and socialism.

Flash fiction: April Showers

imagesApril 9, 2014 –  The raincoat did little to keep her dry. She hadn’t bothered with an umbrella; rain hit from all sides rendering it useless. Perhaps the storm would wash away the fear that clung to her like ivy growing around an old tree. Giving in, she let the rain wash over her.


The above is part of a WordPress Daily Challenge to write a complete story with no more or no less than 50 words, which proved more difficult than I expected.



The streets of Philadelphia, part 5

April 7, 2014 — In the past weeks, we visited the streets of Rittenhouse and Fairmount, Old City and Elfreth’s Alley, University City and Powelton Village, and Fishtown and Queen Village. Today, we’ll venture to Chestnut Hill and Manayunk.

Chestnut Hill

Chestnut Hill sits in Northwest Philadelphia, bounded by Northwestern Avenue to the west, Stenton Avenue to the northeast and the Mount Airy neighborhood to the southeast.

The neighborhood is well-known as one of the more affluent sections of Philadelphia. It offers plenty of 19th and early 20th century residences designed by prominent Philadelphia architects.


The train stations in Chestnut Hill pay homage to the days gone by.



The main road through Chestnut Hill is Germantown Avenue. It’s a playground of unique shops, restaurants and pubs for visitors and residents looking for something special.

Germantown Ave

Chestnut Hill draws an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 gardeners and art lovers each year during the annual Home and Garden Festival, when over 150 home and garden vendors, artists, and craftsmen display their wares. This year’s event is scheduled for May 4.


Manayunk is also located in the northwestern section of Philadelphia, on the banks of the Schuylkill River. William Penn and the Lenape Indians referred to the Schuylkill River as “Manaiung”, their word for “river”. The word was altered to Manayunk and adopted as the area’s name.

Historically, Manayunk was a working class community. In recent years, however, the neighborhood has been gentrified, and the population has shifted to younger upper middle class professionals and families. The nightlife in Manayunk draws visitors from all over the Delaware Valley. Main Street is the place to be if you want to have a good time.

mana main street

mana main street 2

The neighborhood was named a National Historic District in 1983.

mana main street 3

It is often said that the girls in Manayunk have nice legs because they walk along streets that could rival San Francisco when it comes to steep inclines.

manayunk hill

Next week, we’ll wrap up the series with the streets of South Philadelphia, and the Greater Northeast.

The difference between faith and hope

imagesApril 4, 2014 – My son and I — an agnostic and a believer respectively – have a recurring conversation regarding the existence of God. It always comes down to faith, which I have, and he does not.

How I can believe in something with no facts to back it up? he asks. As a scientific thinker, he believes it’s an appropriate question, but he questions everything and always has. It’s the way his mind works. My response that I have faith and I don’t have to see to believe does not make sense to him.

I told him that since he cannot prove God doesn’t exist, his belief is based on faith, too. That kept him quiet for a few seconds, and then he shot back and said that it isn’t faith that makes him question God’s existence. It’s the opposite. He can’t prove it, yet there is some scientific evidence to back up his beliefs. Faith believes with no proof.

Although I respect his opinion and admire his passion, I still have faith.

Is the word faith always associated with the belief in God or a religion? Surely not, but when he asks me to give him another example where I have faith outside of God that is not based on proof, I rack my brain trying to come up with an answer. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and I have faith that he will do the right thing, I say. He explains that the sun rises every morning, so there is evidence to back up the claim, and that it is not faith that I have in him, but rather hope. I raised him in a certain way, and I hope he does the right thing.

The word hypothesis then comes to mind. After all, every great scientist had to have faith at the onset that his or her hypothesis would eventually be substantiated by fact. Again, he says, the scientist merely has hope that it will be proven. After all, some evidence exists that led to the experiment in the first place.

Is there a difference between faith and hope? At first glance, they appear to mean the same thing. If you think about it, however, you’ll be reminded that faith is a “in the now” thing, while hope looks towards the future. Hope is a desire for something to come and faith is based on beliefs that can’t be proven. In addition, with hope, there may be doubt. With faith, doubt does not exist. Faith is also often preceded by the word “blind”.

Most likely, I’ll never sway my son to have faith, and he’ll never convince me that having faith is a negative thing, but I can hope he changes his mind. Though their differences may seem to have blurred lines at times, I need both in my life, and I have to be OK that he does not. However, if I ever do come up with another example of faith, he’ll be the first to know.