Thursday, December 29, 2011


Yesterday would have been the 100th birthday of the well-loved author and humorist Sam Levenson.  It is also two days until we begin a new year, and one of Levenson’s sayings is appropriate for the season: “Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.” Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  Have you thought about them yet?  They have a lot to do with temptation and the resistance to it.              

I’ve known few people who actually kept their New Year’s resolutions. Have you known any? Not that my halo is on too tight – I’ve never kept any other resolutions – but, along with my husband who did it too, I gave up smoking over thirty years ago. Oh, I was tempted more than once to start again, but something kept me from back sliding. (Oscar Wilde once said “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it,” but he was an extreme example of too much giving in.)  Our resolution to stop smoking was a wise one. Our health is probably better for it, we probably smell nicer to the world, and just think of all the money we’ve saved over the years.

Though many of us don’t make any these days, I suppose it’s not a bad idea to make New Year’s resolutions. If we are tempted and we give into it, at least we can say we tried. As seniors we’ve probably got so many new years past, and relative few new years ahead, that it’s probably a case of “been there, done that”. If we haven’t given up the smoking or the drinking, or haven’t lost the excess weight, it will take a major health crisis, not the New Year, to shake us out of our habits.

I’m telling myself that I’ve gotten this far in life, so from now on I’d like, cliché though it may be, quality over quantity.  I know, I know: I’d probably have more of both if I mended some of my ways, but I’m so set in them it will take that major health crisis to jolt me.  I’ll let you know if it happens.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


"Is this bacteria I see before me?"
 Louis Pasteur - not!

December is Hand-washing Awareness Month, and I have my own Germ Theory: aside from the really germy places and things in this world, we’re all better off exchanging germs and becoming immune to them.  We can’t escape germs. We’ve got to deal with them according to their threat potential. *
I sigh when I see a shopper sanitize the shopping cart handle at the super market, then go blithely on and touch all the items in the store.  She’s got her own germs on her hands - I didn’t see her sanitize them - and will spread them around the store. She’ll pick up the donations of others, and then she’ll bring them home to her pantry. 
Once upon a plane trip, I saw an unaccompanied youngster enjoy every bite of her bagged lunch. Then, dutiful little girl, she got out the sanitizer and de-germed her hands. Wrong way ‘round child!
The little girl aside, I sometimes think that these sanitizing souls are assiduous in their endeavors only when they are in a place where, consciously or not, they think that they might be seen and judged.  It is certain that once a bit of internally-applied alcohol takes effect, no one washes their hands while circulating at a cocktail party - although the rule for hors d’oeuvres is ”you touch it, you eat it”. Just think of all the hands you might shake, all the germs you might attract.  Do you care? Of course not: it’s a party!  

I’m not advocating the complete abandonment of sanitizing hands. It’s flu season, thus the main reason for this month’s observance. Sanitizing hands is de rigueur in many medical offices, especially those where you sign in using a palm scanner. This is logical. What better place to catch a bug than in a medical venue - some hospitals are notorious. The last time my husband was in the hospital, I was pleased to observe the regular use of the contents of the ubiquitous sanitizer dispensers by the doctors and staff there.

As I did my early-morning water walking in the pool, I look over and can see them in the gym: those fastidious folks who carefully sanitize the equipment handles before they even begin to work out. Turns out that this is the wise thing to do because the truth is that gyms, with all the sweat and moisture there, have become some of the germiest places around - and they’re not just ordinary germs: Fungi to cause things like athlete‘s foot, viruses for colds and flu, and really nasty bacteria like MRSA. Just push open the door to exit the gym and there are those germs awaiting you.


What I am advocating is heightened awareness and heightened combat with those really germy places and things: gyms, hospitals, rest rooms, packaged meats, kids’ diapers or runny noses - you know where and what. I am advocating a bit less paranoia, a bit less of the Howard Hughes hazmat mentality, and a bit more common sense elsewhere. Yes, be conscious of where you are and what you might touch with those germy hands.

The best advice is to remember your Mom’s words: “keep your fingers out of your mouth”, “don’t rub your eyes”, “wash your hands after you go potty”, or “dinner’s ready - go wash your hands. ”   You know the drill.

  * January 2012 - I was just made aware of this excellent article: The 10 Dirtiest Places in Your Home.   Full of common sense and good advice, it is an excellent tutorial. You can find it at   Go read it and heed it - You know the drill!

Sunday, December 11, 2011



I am of the personal opinion that the Norwegians are the greatest explorers who ever lived.  Much can be said for any explorers such as the Spanish and Portuguese explorers, or for the 15th Century Chinese, but the Norwegians took the cold and nasty routes. Picture the Vikings in their open longboats in the North Atlantic; picture Tor Heyerdahl out on a raft like Kon Tiki or a flimsy, sinking reed boat like the Ra; picture Roald Amundsen on the way to the South Pole.

When the ill-fated British explorer Robert Scott arrived at the South Pole only to find that he had been beaten to the prize by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team who had reached the pole the previous month, he said “Great God! This is an awful place.” “It’s a place that wants you dead,” said Robert Swan, the environmentalist who walked Scott’s route in 1985.

Orville and Wilbur Wright had their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in December 1903, just eight years before Amundsen’s trek. Amundsen couldn’t wait until that mode of transportation was perfected, so he took his men and his dogs, sleds and skis, and proper Eskimo clothing and supplies, and, after setting up forward supply bases, headed south from the Ross Ice Shelf.  The first attempt failed because of extreme cold weather. 70 below zero is a bit extreme.  The second attempt began on October 19.  They took just under two months, covering about 800 miles, to reach the pole on December 14.  This trip was no picnic.  They got caught in a blizzard, suffered from frostbite, and had to eat some of their dogs, although this last had been part of the plan.
In his book, The South Pole, Amundsen wrote: "I may say that this is the greatest factor -- the way in which the expedition is equipped -- the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order -- luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck."  Amundsen had planned properly, Scott had not.

Things have certainly changed in Antarctica over the last hundred years.  Once a pristine place just for penguins, it is now an important scientific outpost and a bit of a tourist attraction. Most of the thousands of tourists to Antarctica arrive by cruise ship and do not venture beyond the coast.  The penguins and ice bergs are their main attractions.  This year the tourist numbers will spike because of the anniversaries of Amundsen’s and Scott’s arrivals.   The aptly-named Amundsen-Scott Research Station, manned by 50 scientists year-round, and about 150 more in their summer, is run at the South Pole by the National Science Foundation. The studies there include biology, glaciology, meteorology, geology and a lot of other -ologies. They are not too happy about all the hundreds of people who are arriving on their door step to commemorate the hundredth anniversaries of Amundsen’s and Scott’s arrivals.   Beyond accepting letters that will go out with a South Pole postmark, they have little or no provision for tourists or adventurers, especially those who run into trouble.   

Today’s scientists can fly, in the right weather, right to the South Pole or wherever on the continent their stations might be. This year’s special tourists will pay tens of thousands of dollars to get to this “awful place”. Some folks will take catered, gourmet flights to the pole. Some want to be dropped off a degree or two away so they can ski in.  Amundsen and Scott took the overland route, and this year’s adventurers will be able to do the same. There will be several different ski races, endurance races, over Amundsen’s and Scott’s routes. The competitors will be equipped with everything from the latest extreme-weather clothing and shelters to GPS devices. Of course it is comforting to note that there will be airplanes on hand if anyone needs to be evacuated. Too bad this wasn’t an option for Scott and his team.