Friday, April 27, 2012


“The more we discover about the circuitry of the brain, the more we tip away from accusations of indulgence, lack of motivation, and poor discipline—and toward the details of biology. The shift from blame to science reflects our modern understanding that our perceptions and behaviors are steered by deeply embedded neural programs.”

So now I know why I am as I am: the above quote from an article in The Atlantic, “the Brain on Trial”, tells me that my brain’s circuitry is wired a certain way: my way. I suppose I am fortunate that my brain isn’t wired to make me a sneak thief or a murderer, or even on a milder basis, a gossip or hypochondriac.  Now I know what happens when I stand in front of the refrigerator looking for a snack: intellectually I know I should shut the door because I really don’t need the snack, but my circuitry overrides it all and I go ahead and eat. “I can’t help myself.”  Well, I could, but I rarely do.  For such a relatively smart person, this is really dumb.

They call this a brainbow, and it shows
nerve activity
These latest discoveries about our biological makeup are opening up a huge can of worms.  We’d think that intellectually, likely taught as youngsters, criminals would know right from wrong. What they know and how they behave are two different things – but should they be punished for how they act?  How their brains are wired?  The worlds of medicine, law, and ethics are going to have to hash this out. 

Until these recent discoveries, criminals were criminals and were punished according to the law.  Now, much like with the insanity defense, it will be a question of the criminal’s wired state of mind. No more: “he’s depraved on accounta he’s deprived.”  It’ll be “he’s depraved on accounta he’s not wired too tight.”  The wiring’s the thing.

Yes, I know this is a Phrenology bust, but even though it 's
about the outside of the head, not the inside, I'd never seen
such a thing before I visited Historic Brattonsville. I've been
saving this photo for quite a while. Today is the day to use it.
In the near future there may be laws not for pre-marital blood tests, but pre-marital mental tests. They say that DNA testing may be able to tell us a child’s future proclivities - that’s one of my favorite fancy words for habitual tendencies or inclinations.  Another can of worms: what will society do when confronted by evidence that a child may grow up to be, shall we say, anti-social?  Hoo-boy! 

So now that I know I think the way I do because it’s the way I’m wired, boy would I like to get inside and rewire some other folks brains.  Unfortunately I can’t do that, so I’ll just have to be more understanding about the less-than-lovely traits of others. I’ll just have to say “Poor dear, she really can’t help herself. She’s wired that way.”  And I guess they’ll say that about me too!

…while googling for brain-wiring illustrations to accompany this essay I came upon The Connectome: A New Way to Think About What Makes You You, also in The Atlantic. I first read that to be connect-to-me, and actually it does connect to me.  The article gets into a little more serious stuff than I wanted to cover in my light essay, but it is quite intriguing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I once had a book of Chinese Fairy Tales, and one tale was of The Princess of Wisteria Wood. The illustrations were just beautiful. Since then I've love wisteria - can't really say I love the scent, but I love the flower and the colors.  Just today I learned that the Japanese have a wisteria festival,  fuji matsuri, that follows the cherry blossom festival, sakura matsuri.

Check Garden Design for more about wisteria and this wisteria tunnel, and check my blog for my piece on the Cherry Blossom Festival.  For you gardeners, the Garden Design website looks like an interesting find.  I'm finding so many wonderful websites and blogs these days. As it is with books: so many blogs, so little time!

Friday, April 20, 2012


"Long ago in Africa, it is said, some of the people knew magic that enabled them to fly. But when they were brought to America as slaves, they forgot the magic. All but one old man. When he could tolerate no longer the suffering of his people, he whispered the magic words and, one by one and then in flocks, the slaves rose up and flew to freedom"                                                 
             From the cover of The People Could Fly, by Virginia Hamilton.

Have you read the book with this cover?  I bought it for one of my grandchildren almost twenty years ago, and when I first saw the cover it stopped me in my tracks. You see, in my dreams I’d always been able to fly – not like Superman, but just like that. I’d just rise up and go. I know there were a few dream instances where I was cleverly avoiding something bad, but usually I just rose up and flew.  No magic words, I just flew.

One vivid dream I’ve always remembered – as best one can remember a dream – was of flying along in the high vaulting of a cathedral, swatting with my furled, black umbrella at all the huge, nasty, jeering crows that were threatening to smash the stained-glass windows. I suppose I remember this one because I know I told a few people about it.  It was weird!

I flew high for years, over the rooftops, coming down only when I was very sick with a neuritis that numbed me from my toes on up.  My dreams seem to have reflected my symbolically grounded state.  Ah, but though I couldn’t rise up, I could always skim the ground lickety-split* through the remembered but always mutating towns that are the regular landscape of my dreams. I could glide up and down staircases by just breezing my hand over the banister. I could negotiate up or down, hand-over-hand, many scaffold-like dream constructions.  Still can.

In the last few years I’ve risen up a bit again. Here and there it’s just a few feet. Only a few times have I been above the treetops.  I love to watch those aerial travel programs like the Smithsonian’s current series Aerial America, or the series Baltic Coasts on HD Net.  Perhaps seeing all that aerial activity has raised my dream prospect – in more than one sense of the word. Perhaps in my old age I should take up hang-gliding and get high for real.  Perhaps…

*If it is still available to view, watch the lovely, Academy Award nominated short Luminaris to see how I skimmed the ground. Did they get this idea from my dreams? Thanks db for telling me about the film.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


(With apologies to any of my regular readers who are not SCCL homeowners.)

Active Adult communities are a rare breed.  Having such a community with an HOA makes it even rarer – and scarier.  ‘Active Adults’ is a euphemism for ‘Seniors’.  Seniors, by virtue of their accumulation of years, have become, in my opinion, either wise or cantankerous. (With a curmudgeon here or there who is, I hope, a bit of both.) We’ve all got strong opinions.

The Sun City Carolina Lakes active adults are getting restless. It’s been over six years since the first homeowners moved in, and in those six years employees of the builder, Pulte Homes, have constituted the Board of the Home Owners Association.  When the first homeowners signed on here they agreed and signed on many dotted lines to allow that to happen, thinking, in those days of rapid home sales, that the community would be built out in about five years.  We all know that didn’t happen. Along the way we even allowed the builder to add to the number of houses to be built. Home sales slumped and the reverberations of that were felt nationwide. So it now looks like the builder will call the shots for at least another five years.

We could start wearing t-shits like this.
Not that the burdens here, namely the rules and regulations, are getting too outlandish – not like it was for our country’s founding fathers – but the phrase “taxation without representation” springs to mind.  We’ve been dutifully paying our association dues for months and years on end, and we’ve still no say in what happens here.  Not that we’d change much – though I’m sure there are several wish lists out there – but of late we’re beginning to sense a much too paternal attitude toward the homeowners. Let me simplify that: we feel, I feel, we’re being treated like children.

I’d love to know what the builder thinks a homeowner-directed HOA board would enact that would jeopardize home sales. Would we do away with those only symbolic electronic gates at some – only some – of our entrances?  Would we put in perennials instead of the costly annuals changed each season? Would we curtail the parade of construction vehicles on our too narrow streets? Maybe so. Ultimately, were I them, I’d be thinking it was time to turn things over to the homeowners lest prospective buyers, who might get a chance to question folks who live here, find out just how the place is really run. 

It’s time for the tail to stop wagging the dog.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I took this picture at Refugio Beach State Park in Santa Barbara, California.  I think this young boy was on his knees praying that his Mom wouldn't beat the tar out of him - or off of him as the case would be.

We were driving north on US 101 when the lure of the beautiful beach was to strong to ignore. I wanted to dip my toes in the Pacific once again, so I took off my sandals and waded in. Big mistake!  There are tar globules everywhere in the sand.  I've since learned that this is common to beaches in that area. At our hotel that night it took me what seemed like eons to get off the tar. What a mess.  At least my good sandals weren't covered in the stuff. I can only imagine the horror on the face of this boy's Mom when he finished his romp in the surf.  I hope she had gallons of turpentine handy.

Friday, April 13, 2012


I've got to put the Curmudgeon
label on this one

Just this morning I noticed that I’d better wash one of the shelves on the door of my refrigerator.  I suppose I should wash the whole fridge more often than I do.  I know I’ve written before that for years my Mother cleaned her fridge every Thursday – every Thursday!  She also had a regular schedule for washing the kitchen floors, doing the bathrooms top to bottom, washing whatever walls weren’t wall-papered, doing all the drapes and curtains, not to mention the regular dusting and vacuuming, making the beds, and doing the cooking and laundry. Whew! I’m exhausted just writing about it, but this is just what most women did years ago. You might see it as a decline in standards, but I see it as an increase in choices. 

The lifestyle choices we have today have made a hash of centuries of status quo.  Over the years the fashions changed, new worlds were discovered, wars were waged, but men’s and women’s roles in society, how they lived and how they worshiped, were pretty fixed. Not today! The decrease in church attendance can be attributed to more choices for what to do on a Sunday morning. Choices for what to do on a weekday, from furthering their education to getting a bit of retail therapy, have lead women out of the house, and into whatever they want to do. I’m all for not cleaning my fridge every Thursday and going to a museum instead.

All this is well and good, but I’ve never seen gals as busy as some of these young Moms. Were I a Mom today, I might think that yesteryear-housewife’s schedule serene. Where today’s choices have opened up, so have choices for the children’s schooling and pastimes. And this means the Moms are constantly on the go, bringing the kids hither and yon. And the wide open choices also lead to multiple family cars, and a garage packed with sports equipment for the whole family. And the whole family is rarely together because they’ve got so many choices of what to do, and meals have be fast food eaten on the run. And all of this stuff leads to packed credit card balances, AND, I’d guess indigestion at an early age.

All of this leads me to a word I only recently heard: lagom. The Swedish live by this word that means ‘just enough.’ The Swedish, and probably much of the rest of the world, generally believe that all of us Americans want to be Number One, the best, and have the best and the most of everything. I’d say that not all of us want that, but relatively few Americans would care to live by ‘lagom’. Look at any fashion, family, or ‘shelter’ magazine and you are exhorted to get with the times and update everything from your wardrobe to your décor to your kitchen dishes, and to make sure your kids are germ free and equipped with the latest in toys and technology. If you like to keep up with the Joneses you go out and buy, buy, buy, and soon your stuff has stuff. * 

And, and, and, and… my thoughts on all this excess seem to go round and round. Where will it all end?

I've got a great collection of the best of my favorite Sunday comics.
This one is "Rose is Rose" from April 1, 1990. 
I don't know if I'd say 'mediocrity', but 'lagom' would be apt.

Again I quote Aristotle - or whoever it was:
"The wise man achieves balance by reducing his needs to the level of his possessions."

* if your stuff has stuff see my blog entry here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


When lilacs last in my dooryard bloomed it was over five years ago at our house in upstate New York.  I've not seen any since we moved to South Carolina. They don't care for these warmer climes. Today I found big bunches of them at Trader Joe's and I am in heaven. I got white and purple ones, and they are sending the most wonderful fragrance throughout the house. My spring is complete.  Thanks to Google for the picture above - the one below is mine, taken at Hancock Shaker Village, which was about eight miles from where we lived.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

did you ever have one of those days...

I took this picture years ago at Hancock Shaker Village.
I knew it would come in handy one day. Today's the day.
...where you felt like a chicken running around aimlessly?  Today I can't think of any pithy sayings, words of wisdom, or bon mots except this: "One day I shall burst my bud of calm and blossom into hysteria." And considering that I carelessly wiped out my first attempt at this post, these words from The Lady's Not for Burning are particularly apt.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Oslo, Norway of course, one of my favorite cities

I’ve loved maps since I was about 9 years old, and in the fourth grade. We had to draw a map of the old Lincoln Highway, section by section, taped one to the other, and learn all about the areas it traversed. I can still see those eight by eight inch squares, pasted one to the next, until I had a long, fan-folded map snaking from Times Square to San Francisco. I wish I’d save it.  I can remember our sixth-grade study of South America and the map we had to make of its countries and products. Making maps was one of the things I liked best about grade school.

As I’ve mentioned before, when I was around 10 years old I sensed a difference in Jamaicas. I was born in a hospital in Jamaica, New York, but I’d heard of an island called Jamaica. I needed to find out what was going on there. It was then that I became interested in more than just the Lincoln Highway, and was introduced to what has become one of my favorite references: a world atlas. I’ve had several updated versions of them over the years. An atlas is one of the few books I can’t order on line. I have to go to the books store and look at the latest selection to be sure it’s one I like. There’s no describing how I make my selection – one of the available editions will just ‘speak’ to me.

My latest atlas
A new, huge volume now sits leaning against a floor lamp right by my rocking chair and I refer to it frequently. It is especially helpful for finding answers to geographical clues in my favorite NY Times crossword puzzles.  Yes, if I’m really stumped I look up the answers – how else can you learn? My motto is “when in doubt check it out.” 

Unless they are rare volumes of historical maps, worthy of a high estimated value on Antiques Roadshow, old, outdated atlases don’t seem to have much value beyond filling bookshelves or being used as sinkers. Libraries certainly don’t want them. It just about killed me to have to trash my last atlas. Even the recyclers wouldn’t take it unless I ripped off the covers and recycled just the paper. If anyone has suggestions for what to do with old atlases I’d love to hear them.

Europe around 1595.  Not easy to read - then or now.

What does have value is a good, individual historic map.  Early in the 1980’s, an antique-dealer neighbor of friends of ours in England suggested that we invest in antique maps.  For one reason and another we never acted on his advice.  Would that we could have: lately, antique maps have become collectors’ darling$. 

When we go driving I’m the navigator.  I’ve navigated us all across this country – and England and other European countries as well.  I like to do the job because I love to read the maps.  Some maps I’ve used, like the Ordnance Survey maps of England loaned to us for our travels there, or the Michelin maps of France, are on a very large scale, something like 6 inches to a mile.  You can’t get lost using those – well, you can if the driver is going too fast (oh #@%&, turn around, we just missed the cut-off to Stonehenge!) or if you’re absorbed in studying other bits on the map and lose your place and objective on the map, or if you’re fascinated by the scenery and forget the map altogether.  Done that!

Nice Côte d'Azur Airport.  It's easy to get lost here if you don't have a map.
Been there - done that!

My latest navigating tool is Google Maps.  I crank it up before a trip and have an aerial look at where we’re going.  I even get down to ground level for a look at the critical turns and junctions. (I’ve also used Google Maps to look at places I used to live or have visited. 
Things have certainly changed in my old neighborhoods!)

I love my atlas, I love maps: celestial maps, world maps, country maps, road maps, subway maps, airport maps, tourist and visitor maps to streets and attractions, even our SCCL handy-dandy neighborhood maps.  It’s nice to know where I’m at.

The London Underground - The Tube.  I've an old map of this system in the form of a large, square scarf.
An earlier map of this system became the model for other cities' subway maps.

Monday, April 2, 2012


I've learned.... That it's those small daily happenings
that make life so spectacular.    

...some of the wisdom of Andy Rooney