Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grave New World

I remember, I must admit vaguely, my feelings when reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley  years ago.  I remember it was depressing and intriguing.  I actually do not remember the specifics of the novel other than the frightening cultural and technological challenges it portrayed.  Now I have decided to re-read it along with the two additional ones that followed the first to see if I still feel the same way.  I am thinking it will have certain relevance to today's challenges. 

Innovation and change, both cultural and technological, are inevitable waves that rock our ship of fate.  We cannot stop inventing new things that make life better and easier.  How great the invention of computers/internet that opened the world to us from our desktop.  We can read articles and watch videos and communicate from all types of places.  But with this new access comes dross that wastes precious time (cats playing the piano), inaccurate facts (talking heads with statistics that are selective), lies (propaganda from companies with nasty objectives), bad habits (simple answers to complex questions) and things we do not want innocent minds of children to see until they have fully formed.  For the more conservative, the outside world is a direct threat to their beliefs and lifestyle.  I remember arguing with an Iranian boy I dated back in college over our Western culture having too much influence on his people.  His primary complaint was that Iranians were now eating at tables instead of on the ground on carpets that way they had traditionally done.  His view:  this was due to bad Western influence.  I cannot imagine how apoplectic such conservative groups are today when faced with the Internet.  Change and exposure to something challenging over which they have no control is terrifying to them.

I am in the middle of reading Smithsonian's May magazine issue with the theme "The Future is Here."  Smithsonian is one of the best lay magazines published today.  I usually end up reading it cover to cover and have subscribed for years. 

One article discusses the life of American-Egyptian journalist-activist Mona Eltahawy, who risks life and limb literally, to take on the mission of democratizing Egypt.  In case you do not follow current events, Egypt's dictatorship which was crushed in the "Arab spring"  was replaced in an election by the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. "In other words, meet the new boss, same as the old boss, only worse because you helped get the new boss his job."  The future for Egypt is now very tenuous except for brave activists such as Mona and brave comedians such as Bassem Youssef (the middle eastern version of Jon Stewart).   But revolution, itself, has taken on a new form and new tools.

Another article in the Smithsonian discusses the tremendous breakthroughs being made with microbial science.  Infants that died within weeks due to a deficiency of unidentified bacteria in their guts may soon be saved, not by some fancy new bacteria or identity of a single pathogen, but by a better understanding of the dance between all of the microbial community in our body.  Our body has ten trillion of our own cells, but also plays host to another 100 trillion cells .  We are only 10% human by cell count.  Researches are finding that along with the pro on antibiotics there are some serious cons when antibiotics kill off bacteria in the very young.  "Infants exposed to antibiotics in the first six months of life are 22 percent more likely to be overweight as toddlers than unexposed infants."  "A lack of normal gut microbes early in  life disturbs the central nervous system...and may permanently alter serotonin levels in the adult brain."  "Just giving enough food to starving children may not permanently fix their malnutrition unless they also have the 'right' digestive micro-organisms..."  I cannot leave this paragraph without mentioning about one treatment for ulcers where a combination of healthy excrement from one person is injected into the sick person.  Seriously!  With each pro there is a con.

Finally, there is an article on the amazing technology of 3-D printers which not only print plastic toys and odd stuff, but also can print parts to cars and appliances which may render huge warehouses with shelves of various parts obsolete.  You may be able to hang on to that oven for a longer time, because the replacement part can be made far into the future.  This technology is also printing body part structures and adding cell growth media so that soon we may be able to print organs the way we print cat photos and no one has to wait for organ replacement!  Your daughter may be able to design and order custom shoes for the prom that no one else has.  You may be able to replace precious broken China in a very reasonable time.  BUT as a con, any idiot may soon be able to print his own gun and any revolutionary may be able to create a weapon of mass destruction on his kitchen counter much more easily,

It is a grave new world and while at this time in my life I find such challenges a bit overwhelming, I also admit that I am going to miss not seeing it in the decades ahead.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

No Sweat

For those who follow my blog (all others will just have to catch up), I did go out and buy an 'off-the-rack' dress for the wedding.  I spent more than I wanted to but did not splurge outrageously although one woman's splurge is another man's golf allowance for the week.  I actually had little choice in style or cost, because after hitting 4 major department stores and two expensive dress boutiques, I found only two dresses in the right size, in a decent color and with a style that wouldn't leave them laughing.  That whole experience I will save for another post when it is far enough in the back of my memory and I can try to make it sound funny rather than pitiful.  Anyway, I got a dress that I liked if not loved.  I left it for alterations, so no photo.

But, this post is not really about the dress.  It is about my health.  I have had a 'small' (small meaning I am about 5 pounds from being declared overweight) weight problem since I was in my late 40's and it has gotten larger...to overdo a pun.  I exercise sporadically, I try to watch what I eat, but I never seem to make the scale number or dress size budge.  (The few men who read this blog are now clicking elsewhere.)

I have never joined a weight group as they are too inconvenient for me.  I do not buy those weight meals because I understand portion control and nutrition very well, thank you.   I eat a reasonably balanced diet and avoid desserts most times. (While I do not give up wine or chocolate I control them tightly.)  But I decided to begin tracking what I am eating and doing so that I can make sure I am not kidding myself.  I logged onto WebMD which has charts that track your fitness burns along with your food consumption.  It is not super easy to use, but reasonable enough for someone who wants a basic outline on what they are doing to reach a goal and it is free.

I set my goal as the loss of one pound a week.  That is not a crazy goal and it was something I was sure that I could achieve.  WebMD suggested a daily consumption of 1,381 calories to achieve this goal for my age and weight.  That is not much in calorie intake, but if you exercise or do other physical activity that will compensate for more food that you eat and WebMD follows that.  Below is my second week's charts...food and physical fitness with caloric tracking in the first chart and fitness in the second.  I cannot access the first week (I guess because this is free), but it was almost identical to this week's work.  Please note that only one day did I go over my daily goal in caloric consumption---I ate a piece of lemon cream pie at a meeting.  My fitness activities include elliptical, free weights, yoga, walking, heavy gardening, etc.  I do these fairly vigorously, for instance, on the elliptical I will run 3.20 miles in about 35 minutes and I do this three times a week.  My hand weights are 10 pounds each. That is not bad for a woman past her mid-60s.  I am keeping well below my goals when I combined the physical activity with my food consumption.  Wednesday I folded laundry but was sitting that afternoon so did not include it.

For the past two weeks since I began this detailed look at my lifestyle,  I have been afraid to weigh myself but became brave yesterday because I have been really good according to these charts!  Guess what?  I GAINED two pounds!  Do NOT appease me by telling me this is just muscle.  I am really discouraged for now, but not giving up.  I will work hard for another month, and then see how I feel and weigh.  (What is even more discouraging  is hubby goes off his feed for a few days and immediately loses 5 pounds!)  Yeah, I know this story is an oldie...but it is mine for now and I am sticking to it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Caught Up

I have gotten all my "stuff" correctly scheduled and am lucky enough to have a few days in between each major activity to sit and read, or cook, or daydream before hurrying out once again.

I have also had time to ponder the blogs that I read instead of hurrying through them in order to be sure I do not miss anything.  As a result, I have noticed that some of "my" bloggers are a little low in spirit.  Some come right out and write about it, while others are more enigmatic about some struggle they or a loved one is having.  Deaths in the family, job losses, fights with relatives on Facebook, and serious health problems are all written about or maybe hinted at depending on whether the writer is bold or shy.  This is where Blogger falls short in a way.  We can get something off our chest and feel a sense of relief, but does it help when we return to the real world?  We can take some good advice from the wisdom of individuals in the general blogdom, but does that truly help?  For some of us perhaps, but I really wish I could look the writer in the eye and put my arm on their shoulder and bring them something sweet and decadent and just sit until the conversation could flow.  I would not have any fancy answers or successful suggestions, but I would have real concern to convey and a love of man(woman)kind to share and let them know how important they are in the grand scheme of things. 

We all are in this rocky boat, and some get more seasick than others, and that is when it really is hard to hang on tightly.  If you are one of those please note that I have a sincere and loving look on my face right now and I am reaching out to place my hand on yours until the seas calm, even if they do so only ever-so-briefly.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Years ago, during the time that both my husband and I were working full time, we kept our community oriented  activities linked with our children's activities.  Whenever we participated in a bake sale or white elephant money raising activity it was usually tied to the soccer team or brownie scouts or some school event or for early years the church.  We operated within a small circle of parents and therefore knew almost everyone at the event.

Now we are no longer working full time and are able to devote more time to slowly becoming involved in this new (to us) small community through various volunteer activities and events.  We are slowly beginning to feel that we are no longer the newcomers.

Yesterday we spent seven hours on our feet promoting a children's community garden by getting children to plant a lettuce or broccoli plant in our demo garden as they attended a Green Earth Day exposition.  If this garden is not destroyed by a freak storm, eaten to the ground by Bambi, or some other unpredictable event, we hope to be able to harvest food throughout the season for a nearby food pantry.  Summer camp students will also be linked to the garden during their week at the art garden and learn and help.  As you can see above, the spring break school children have already decorated the stunning white oak that we obtained to make the boxes.

Many of the children were eager to plant their vegetable which we allowed them to mark with a 'name tag.'   They were encouraged to come by and visit their plant throughout the month.  Some of these families are military families and not able to garden as they would like, so we are hoping we gave them some ideas and allowed their children some fun.

Over 90 children helped us plant these vegetable beds.  At the end of the day, after we had planted the few plants that were left, loaded the remaining flats of lettuce into the car and checked to make sure all our hand tools were loaded, a well dressed handsome 60-year-old with a mustache stopped by the beds.   He greeted us by our name and praised our garden work.  Hubby greeted him back and the talk flowed back and forth for some time on gardening and the seasons and eventually descriptions of the pros and cons in each of our yards.

When he left I turned to Hubby and asked:  "Who was that?"

Hubby responded,  "I don't know!"

"Well, he knows us!"  I said, "I thought he might be that guy at the scientists club that had asked you to speak."

Hubby replied, "Yeah, so did I, but when he said he lived down by the point, I knew it wasn't that fellow because that guy lives near the cliffs."

I must admit that I am much more used to people NOT knowing who I am.  I hope that this is not going to happen habitually, yet something very similar happened at a talk we went to just a few nights ago.  The couple who sat behind us and recognized us had to introduce themselves in context (two months ago an evening dinner at a mutual friend's house) and then the light bulb went on over my head.  I hate being that type of person...old and doddery!  I have become the cliche which I cringed at seeing in others.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Whip Lash

As a liberal (whose heart does not bleed for everything) I was extremely disappointed that, with surveys supporting a move to more data and regulation on gun sales and ownership, since anyone can get a gun in this country, the Senate (Democrats and Republicans) were cowards and did not pass this very minimal bill.  Former Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, whose writing is more eloquent than her speech-making these days due to a violent gun act gave us an inside look at what she knew had happened here. 

Yes, I agree this is one small plug  in the dike holding back the flood of violence in this country and we also need to move strongly on better mental health care, better mental health identification and reducing our addiction to violence in our culture and entertainment.  And no one is going to take away the guns of an honest citizen anymore than they take away the cars of drivers that don't drink and drive.

But we have to start somewhere in turning our country around and this bi-partisan bill seemed to have a chance.

What happened?  Go here and you will understand.

Just how much do you love YOUR country?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

People Watching

I have spent much of my life people watching, wondering what they were thinking, what they were planning to do, where they were headed, why on earth they dressed like that?  People watching, because as someone who loves stories I get intrigued by the people who ARE the stories.  I make up stories about them, or they perform actions that tell me a story.  The photo below is blurred because I may have been a little self-conscious taking it as I walked by.

Stereotypical, perhaps.  Someone from your neighborhood?  Lets us pause and get a closer more focused look.

This is my belated April Fool's post.  Do you get it?  If you look closely, you must.

Friday, April 12, 2013


On the island of Yeonpyeong, Myong Ok gathered together the last of her mini vegetable dolls...the radish head girl with the purple turban and put it into her already full school backpack.  Her mother was hurrying her out the front door, handing her a scarf and loading a suitcase into the small car that would take them to the boat and to her grandmother's house in Incheon. The mornings were still cold and Myong Ok pulled her coat close to her neck.  When she asked her mother when they would be coming back home, her mother looked for an answer in her shoes and then shook her head to indicate she did not know.  The little girl had left her home like this years ago when North Korea made threats, but she had been younger at that time and did not remember it well.  Her scarf was whipped by the early cold spring wind across her face and she stumbled on a crack in the road as she reached for the door to the car.

Today was Elizabeth's eighteenth birthday.  Her stepfather was stringing balloons across the front porch for her party that afternoon when he shouted something that made Elizabeth turn.  She ran to the door and her eyes followed his to black shiny river that was coming down the street toward their yard.  She could smell something like old rubber tires and it burned the back of her throat.  While she watched the black river cover her sidewalk she heard her father calling 911 and trying to describe the scene of rushing oil.  By mid-afternoon they were packing their suitcases as were all of their neighbors, calling relatives and friends to cancel the party and moving to a Holiday Inn near the Mayflower Quik Mart.  Dinner was sandwiches and soda from the Quick Mart and dessert was her birthday cake which they had packed for the trip.  It was shared by relatives and friends that had come to commiserate.  Elizabeth asked when they would be heading back home and her father shrugged his shoulders in dismay.

Walking slowly and carefully with his cane, Babur padlocks the front door and then the metal gate and slowly drops the keys along with the key to the paddock for his three cows into a neighbor's hand.  He is leaving his mountain home at this early hour before the sunrise to escape frightening airstrikes from U.S. drones which they called benghai or "buzzing flies" targeting militants near his home in the remote mountains of Afghanistan.  Babur turned to the American journalist who was asking him questions and said that you cannot see them but the buzzing sound goes on and on and then the bombing sounds begin.  When the journalist asked when he would return home again, he sighed and shook his head.

Strong winds were whipping hair all around Alicia's head as she threw another garbage bag of clothes into the back of the pick-up truck.  She held a cell phone tight to one ear trying to keep her voice as calm as possible while she described to her husband the awfulness of the fire that had eaten the McDonald's house at the end of the street.  There were sirens screaming in the background competing with the noise of the helicopter overhead and men in fire gear yelling at her and her neighbors to get going.  Fire engines blocked half of the end of the street.  Smoke filled the air making her cough at the end of each sentence.  She turned and her son held up his baseball mitt and ball for her.  She had screamed at him twice to get into the cab of the truck, and this time she swooped him into one hand as she struggled with her phone in the other.  She asked her husband how long it would take to recover their losses if the fire got as far as their house, but there was no answer because her phone went dead.

(All of these are fictionalized accounts of actual news I read this week.)

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Bone Weary

I am so bone tired.  I completed all the tasks resulting from my recent trip only to fall (spring?) into the tons of yard work.  It is my own fault that I have three landscape beds, three flower beds, one herb bed and the azalea bed out by the gate, all needing weeding and mulching.  It is my own fault that I have headed up the volunteer group to manage the native flower beds and rain garden at the museum resulting in two hours of work every Tuesday and hours of work in the evening managing email lists and coordinating project ideas! 

It is my own fault that I married a man who takes on more projects then letters in the alphabet and I have to back him up building and planting raised vegetable beds at the artists garden in town where they are going to grow food for the food pantries in the county.  We are in the county with the 15th or 16th or 27th(?) highest median income in the United States, and yet, 25% of our kids are on the school supplemental food program.  These are children of the working poor...not the homeless.  Most food pantries do not get as much fresh produce as they should.  Some cannot store it because they have no refrigeration.  Most of these pantries are run by the churches in the county.

I have a bridal shower coming up the next month which I must attend as it is for my son's future wife, and I have not even purchased a gift!  I have to think about a dress for the wedding in early July, only three months away.  I am told I should have been shopping already.  I pulled a lovely very simple navy blue floor length cocktail dress from my closet.  It has been worn only once, and I don't remember where.  I am thinking, if I can squeeze into it....do I dare wear that?  Shopping centers are over an hour from me.

Mother of the Groom???

I have a deck that needs soapy hand washing and rattan patio furniture that needs washing AND painting.  I finally broke down and admitted that I cannot wash my windows this year.  I am calling someone in.  I have no time!

But for now a shower and a good book are all I can envision after this post.  Can you believe that tomorrow it is supposed to be in the high 80's.  Pardon my French but what the h**l happened to spring?  We only get four days of spring this year??  Yes, this post is more for me than you.  It is a personal journal post, something I can look back on in years to come and wonder why I was complaining so much.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

All You Need is Time (and Money)

Having access to the Internet can be a very expensive luxury.  Fortunately, in America, we still have public libraries that allow free access on their banks of computers.  But in most libraries, this free access is limited to 30 minutes.  Most people in our libraries that sit before computers are working hard at job hunting, finishing research for a school paper, checking their email or reading the sports sections of newspapers.  These activities are all well and good, but I have found there is so much more.  Because I am retired and have 'unlimited' access to the Internet, I can pause and write that I am in awe of all that is available in greater depth to those with both energy and time.

On Monday I can start a free Yale course on Environmental Politics and Law, or Game Theory, or France Since 1871 and feed my attention deficit disorder.
On Tuesday I can listen to Anne Sexton read her poem "Wanting to Die" and try to understand the mental anguish of depression which she makes sound like cocaine addiction.
On Wednesday I link to Twitter and try to find time to follow the Paris Review which might come in handy at my next cocktail party...if I ever went to cocktail parties!
On Thursday I can review the New York Times section Dealbook and follow all the resulting links and get more terrified at the lack of control I have over my financial future.
On Friday I can have some fun and check out award winning photographs here and here and get both inspired and depressed.
On Saturday I can spend time emailing friends, making fun of them on Facebook or blogging away with you all.

And I haven't even mentioned the Ted Talks, the free Master Writing Class, the Cornell bird watch cameras and all the online tours of the worlds museums that await me!  It is like sitting down at one of those groaning tables of food in a Harry Potter movie, but it can easily become an addiction.

By Sunday, if my head has not exploded, I must re-enter the tactile world and take a walk or weed the garden or head outside and listen to church bells and bird songs.

This is a world that my parents could never have imagined when they purchased their first TV.  It does make me pause and wonder how much more open and "interactive" the world will be for my grandchildren.

Friday, April 05, 2013

I have Issues

  • Most Fruit
  • Coconut
  • Nuts
  • Avocados
  • Fresh Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Corn (on the cob only)
  • Olives

When I am planning meals for my family, the above are just a few of the items that I try to leave out of meals unless I put them in their own bowls for others to add as they wish.  All of the above items are foods that my children's spouse and future spouse will not eat.  (I am not even going to list the foods that one cannot feed to grandchildren as this would make this post way too long.)  As I will eat anything that does not move...actually I HAVE eaten things that move, but that was a bet I took after too much saki , perhaps to be included in a future post.  I am not as sympathetic to picky eaters as I might be.  I am weary with those.  Food is the gift of gods and all should be eaten with gusto and relish.  People are starving in this world, and therefore, I have little patience with picky eaters.  Yes, I know there are things you do not like to eat,  just don't tell me and eat around my food after I prepare and serve my gourmet meal.  I will avoid talking religion and politics...and you can pretend you like my food!!  Of course, it goes without mentioning that food allergies are exempt from this post.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

It is a puzzle.

Today is a beautiful sunny morning that will climb in warmth to the low 50's.  Daffodils are glowing yellow and speedwell has scattered purple blossoms across the spring dark green of its leaves.

Yesterday I finished ALL the laundry, sorted a weeks worth of mail with bills, watered my in-house plants, filled bird feeders, handled a travel problem for my husband, compiled a list of future errands, and should be sitting and smiling today with a review of my accomplishments.

Yet I am feeling as if life is a scattered carpet of puzzle pieces this morning.  I cannot start to put them together because I know that some of the key pieces are missing.  I feel overwhelmed a bit and discouraged a bit and just plain unmotivated today.  How incongruous with the spring sunshine!  It is a puzzle.