Thursday, August 30, 2012


One of my earliest school memories was the mid-morning milk break. At that time in the mid 1940’s milk was 2¢ a day, and I remember bringing my weekly dime to school wrapped in a hankie pinned to my uniform.  What brings me to the topic at hand is that after our not-too-cold carton of milk was finished and cleared away (paper straws and not-too-cold milk still remind me of those days) we had to put our heads down on our desks, pillowed on our arms, and take a little nap. Ten minutes maybe? I suppose it was a break for the nun. I don’t remember if I actually slept – who would? – but I do remember studying the dents and scratches on my wooden desktop.

Do you think that might have been the origin of the power nap?

I am incapable of taking a “Power Nap”. If I go in to nap I’ll sleep for two hours. I love napping, but a two hour nap can interfere with my night’s sleep.  I usually go to bed early; it’s safer and healthier if I go to bed around eight when my husband does.  He can sleep for twelve hours or more but I usually get up early - maybe 5:30 or 6.  Here’s my problem, and the reason for it is probably known to nutritionists or behaviorists: if I stay up later than he I’ll snack like crazy, yet when I get up early I can grab just a of coffee and I’m good almost indefinitely. I guess it’s all in how I’m wired.*


*See Haywire


Tuesday, August 28, 2012


As many of you are aware, I am a great fan of Queen Elizabeth II.  (I'm counting down the days for her to beat Queen Victoria at the reigning game.)  Many of you are also aware that I am a curmudgeon and I delight in collecting pictures of curmudgeonly people or people sporting curmudgeonly looks. Well, I've found another picture for my collection, thanks to my discovery of Janelle McCulloch's A Library of Design.  This gal has a great blog and a great sense of humor.  I don't know who takes credit for snapping this particular picture, but I am indebted to them and to Janelle.   I think the picture adds a certain je ne sait quoi to my collection.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Though I was in data processing back in the late 60’s when the “tiny minded” computer was as big as a refrigerator, I still have to keep that hard copy “just in case”. I was going through and organizing the files of essays I’ve written and I found slotted just behind them, a folder I’ve had for years, a folder titled “Guides to Life!”  - note that exclamation point.  Perhaps I marked it that way to signal to anyone in the future who’d have to go through and clean out my files: “This is some good stuff.” 

The oldest article, Lessons from Aunt Grace, dates back to a Reader’s Digest from 1984. The wonderful essay, written by Nardi Reeder Campion, and later included in a compendium of life lessons called Chicken Soup for the Single’s Soul, was a lesson in how to conduct a simple, fulfilling life. 


The latest article, by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is from Time magazine in 2010, and is “an essay exclusively adapted for Time from his new memoir.”  He was writing about the American Presidents he’s known and about our country. The one line I thought outstanding was this one about the American ideal, our optimism and achievement: “There is always one…test of a nation’s position: Are people trying to get into it, or to get out of it? I think we know the answer to that in America’s case, and that ideal is the reason.”  Wonderful comment, don’t you think?

In these past few years, unlike with my own works that I’ve got to safeguard on paper – talk about an obsession! – I’ve also amassed a larger, but maybe less selective and less important group of articles bookmarked on line. To paraphrase the saying about books: so many articles, so much information for an information junkie; so little time.”

The printed articles I’ve collected – I counted them, there are only a dozen in the folder – are on such subjects as nice ways to say no, choosing the right words to help you help others, how to write effective letters, and how one woman shed her shame and obsession about her body. (I really related to that one.)

At this point, the most interesting to me of those saved articles is one from Woman’s Day in 1994 titled “Little Griefs.”  If you’re a regular follower of this blog you might have read the essay I called “Smashing”.  That one concerned big griefs and big beefs.  Little griefs, this old article says, also deserve rituals: perhaps not the big deals required for a death or a divorce, but small, personally designed ceremonies.

Such rituals, whether or not they have an audience, and usually they don’t, provide comfort and solace when little griefs, like the death of a pet, the loss of a treasured item, or even having your feelings hurt, strike home. “Feelings need acknowledgement, and will pester us when we give them their due.”  The old rhyme of “Sticks and stones may break my bones…” can be wrong: names can harm people.  Having a personal ritual to help dispel little griefs is an excellent idea.  Wouldn’t it be a nice idea to work with a child on their own grief-dispelling ritual? That’s something you could give them to help carry them all through life. 
I just may work on a little ritual of my own.



Friday, August 17, 2012

DIGNITY - My Definition

This past week I came upon the following article by Emily Wilkinson:
Dignity Defined What is it, exactly, and do we know it when we see it?  You may want to read the article here first.

Though the article doesn’t mention the title, she is reviewing a book, Dignity:It’s History and Meaning, by Harvard professor Michael Rosen. She says, truly, that “in the aesthetic sense of the word, ours is not a particularly dignified age.”  I’ll say it’s not! The book concerns dignity as it relates to our thinking and laws, to our definitions of human rights. It seeks to define and reconcile the divergent definitions and usages of the word dignity. I must admit that I have no inclination to do more than skim the book, but the article’s title, Dignity Defined, struck a chord relating to dignity and the lack thereof in our society. I’m not qualified to define dignity, yet I know the lack of it when I see it.

Consider the thirty-something mother, dashing out at the last minute, late on a Sunday afternoon, to catch the late mass at the Catholic Church. She’s dressed in a floaty top and cut off, ragged, short shorts, and is going only because lack of regular attendance will mean an increase in her children’s tuition at the church school.  Some would say “at least she’s going to church.” Some would decry her lack of dignity. Cringing on the inside, I stood by and watched her leave and I didn't say a word.  Shame on me?!

Consider the elderly man in a Florida restaurant, lazily slouching in a straight chair in the lobby.  His legs are spread, he’s wearing shorts but no underwear, and his parts are hanging out.  Are you getting a visual? Dignity?
Though he might like to be considered a dignified older gentleman, he left his dignity in his dictionary. Some would dismiss the incident as the failings of an old man, some would stare, some would laugh. (We didn’t know what to do! As we sat at our table he was right in our line of sight. We were distracted when our lunches arrived – after that, to our relief, he was gone.)

Consider two of my pet Pet Peeves: The wearing of flag-printed clothing and the wearing of religious symbols as fashion jewelry.  I can go along with a t-shirt with a flag printed on it, but not a t-shirt, or any other clothing, that looks like it was made from a flag, it’s a fine distinction, but my mind understands it.  The same thing for any other type of stylized flags, our own Stars and Stripes, or any other country’s, when used as clothing.  The Editor of Offbeat Earth would agree with me.

This guy should know better. 
Picture from Offbeat Earth via Google Images 

As to jewelry: eons ago for the Christmas family get-together, one of my nephews showed up wearing silvery dangling crosses in his pierced ears. Pierced ears I could maybe condone, but the dangling crosses were too much. I let him know that I thought the wearing of such things was no way to let the world know he was a Roman Catholic. To this day he probably thinks I’m a reactionary wacko, but to me a cross or medal or other religious symbol, worn hanging around the neck as has been traditional for centuries, is the only acceptable way to let the world know what you are.  I’m not sure if these two peeves are concerned more with respect than with dignity, but there you have it.  Perhaps it is this: they are dignified symbols that are worthy of our respect. I am a googling nut!  I checked out the Images section for 'cross earrings' - there are pictures galore so the practice must be widespread.  Does this make them dignified? Not on you life.

Dignity can’t be legislated, awarded or bestowed.  It has to be earned, one has to be worthy of it, one has to embody it.  Domine non sum dingus – Lord I am not worthy.  Dignitat is the Latin for worth or worthiness. Our word dignity stems from this root, but we’ve come to use the two words differently. One may be dignified, but is he worthy? It seems to me that somewhere along the line ‘they’, my favorite people, picked up dignity in place of value or worthiness.  They talk about the dignity of human life – that’s a bit of a stretch, though it can be said that human life has value or worth.  Wilkinson writes about the “semantic slipperiness” of dignity. Many current word meanings have strayed far from their origins.  If they got back to the core meaning of the word dignity, the worthiness or value of an entity, and let go of the empty definition that has evolved, there’d be less difficulty.  

Just check Google Images for Dignity and you'll see photos that
run the gamut from beautiful to almost obscene.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I couldn’t start the day without a small celebration of the 100th birthday of Julia Child. Jacques Pépin has written a wonderful piece about her for the New York Times.  I wrote an essay in May, and you may remember that they are two of my favorite chefs.

I will always be indebted to Julia Child for the great idea she had. She didn’t like being able to see the back of her refrigerator as she went into her kitchen, so she had a bookcase built there to house her cookbooks and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and to hide the coils. I did the very same thing, with shelves for our Britannica, in our new house – this was in 1976! – because you would have been able to see the side of the refrigerator, coils, dust and all, as you came in the front door.  I always thought this one of the cleverest bits of decorating inspiration I’d ever encountered. I still have the well-illustrated article, from a May 1976 New York Times Magazine, about “The Kitchen Julia Built”. Her kitchen was, as the article said, a model of “practicality, chic, warmth and fun.” 

Julia's kitchen circa 1976

The Julia Child kitchen now at the Smithsonian is the updated one devised in the 90’s to accommodate the taping of her television shows. I couldn’t locate a good shot of the bookcase on Google Images so I scanned in the one from the article.  I wish I had a picture from my own kitchen in that house – three houses ago! – that bookcase was very handy. 

Friday, August 10, 2012


                                                                              ...OR NOT TO BE

A week or so ago a savvy friend asked my opinion of this: the 2045 Initiative. (You may want to begin here or, better here, where they give the idea in a nutshell: “Human immortality could be possible by 2045, say Russian scientists.”)  She asked me a simple question: “Who’s in?”

My quick, first thought was that Anne McCaffrey must have been some kind of Jules Verne or Robert Heinlein because she came up with brainships decades ago – that’s where Zen Hugs came from: you can’t give the ‘brain’ a hug. (I found the illustraiton above when I googled images for Zen Hugs. It's kind of nebulously apt.)

A quick answer to “who’s in?” - 1. not me! I’ve don’t nothing in my life that needs continuation – except to be able to read more books. And I’ve lots to do When I Get to Heaven. I’d like to see such continuation of ‘life’ be subject to a consensus of the public: we might not want some of the rich to be able to go on doing certain things they may be doing now. One never knows.
And - 2. Bill Gates? nah. Warren Buffet? I doubt it. So who do you think is in?

When I read the blurb on Dmitry Iskov’s address to the members of the Forbes Richest List – he’s pitching his ideas to the very wealthy, asking them to fund the research - this bit struck me: It is only when we have to part with life do we realize just how much we have not done, that we have not had enough time to do what we really wanted or to address something we’ve done wrong.  Perhaps some of the elite do feel they’d like to do what they’ve not been able to do, or address something they’ve done wrong.  I really don’t think many of them, with rare exception, have lead lives that contributed greatly to anything – other than their bank balances.  Now, I’d really like to see the elite contribute to the preservation of the brain of someone like Stephen Hawking.

What would happen to the remainder of the population if only the elite could afford to become ‘immortal’? Would they (I say ‘they’ because I won’t be around to see it) – would the rest become slaves caregivers to these ‘borgs’? (that's my idea of them – thank you Star Trek) Or would the rest of them just go on as they do today, not really thinking about the elite, except in those moments when they wish their bank balances were larger? Perhaps one day everyone will be ‘borged’.  That would certainly do it for population control.  I remember waaaay back when only the wealthy few had calculators (there went the slide rule!) or the then-clunky cell phones – now they’re ubiquitous. Will it be the same with such immortality?

From The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality.

How will they connect up all the wires?
Will they even want to connect them all?
What would you not connect?
I’d say this is beyond the borgs: the goal is to transfer not the brain, but the consciousness.  Good luck to them in trying to locate and transfer consciousness.  I’ve been interested in “brain things” since I was in high school. The story: my father was injured during the Battle of the Bulge and the injury resulted in a cerebral cortical atrophy, where the covering of the brain shrunk and brain tissue was lost. The kicker: during his last days the medicos at the Brooklyn V.A. Hospital gave him a battery of intelligence tests. You must remember that this impressed me greatly during my teen years:  he scored “in the upper brackets of human intelligence.” Their words, not mine. They autopsied him after his death and were astounded because there was little brain tissue left. So where, they wanted to know, and I want to know, where was consciousness, intelligence, or memory?  They related all this to my mother, and she, wanting us to be well informed, told the three of us kids – and we’ve been interested in “brain things” ever since.

When I think about all this – and I assure you my thoughts go off in many directions – I wonder: Iskov may have the science, but will he have the legislation to handle the results? As with new discoveries about the brain’s wiring, as I’ve written in Haywire, a “brain thing”, 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.”

An Avatar, as they are calling these ultimate future beings, will have no human body, no ‘in actu corpus’ or even a ‘corpus delicti’, so will they get phantom pains, can they fall in love, can they have orgasms, can they be arrested, can they be ‘killed’?  

Inquiring minds – no pun intended – want to know. I think therefore I am – what if all that’s left of me is the thinking part – am I “I am” still?

It does seem like something out of science fiction, and it does seem too early in the path of human evolution for this to be possible. As a race, as a species, we’ve a lot to settle before we become mere consciousness embodied in a hologram. They call it a “new model for human development” - and people are worried about genetically-engineered foods?  Some of us had better start worrying about Avatar 2045.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I lead a mindless life

Not having the privilege or the capacity to read others’ minds, I wonder if there are any out there like mine.  I’m fairly well read, and my readings, most of them fiction, lead me to believe that many children and adolescents actively think about their lives. I really don’t think I ever did that. Though as a child I was happy, content, and felt secure, sometimes I think I led a mindless life. It was many decades ago, but I think I’d surely have had an inkling, somewhere later in my life, that I thought about my parents situation, about any of my relatives, about where I lived, my schools, my teachers, or about what I wanted to do when I grew up.
I never felt “depraved on account I’m deprived.”  Ha! I even remember when funds were scarce and my Mom couldn’t get new gym sneakers for me, she darned the holes in the old ones with maroon thread - my school colors, maroon-and-white-dynamite! I thought it was great, and I think I started a minor fad.

Sometimes I think I lead a fairly mindless, passive life even now. A dear friend recently recommended I have a look at two blogs Winter with Zoe and Green Elephant, by Natalia Singer.  In Winter with Zoe, under “Why 108 days?” I read this: What I was looking for when I came home was the same thing I look for when I travel: moments when I am fully present, a quality of mindfulness in which I am happy to be where I am and can invest in this place and this chunk of time, however briefly, with my full powers of alertness and concentration.

It struck me that I don’t think I’ve ever invested a place or chunk of time with my full powers of alertness and concentration.  I know that my brother has done this.  He has what he calls “Kodak Moments” where he mindfully stops and recognizes that where he is, what he’s doing and seeing is special. I’ve done that only once that I remember, and that was when I was awed to be standing in front of Michelangelo’s tomb in the Santa Croce in Florence. 

The “thinking” times in my life were such rare occurrences that I really can remember them.  I do remember coming out of church one Christmas Day. I was absolutely appalled at the change in the language of the gospel, where baby Jesus was laid in a crib, not in a manger. It made me think of the change in the Beatitudes: “Happy are…”  The Happytudes, I called them. (I think this is my own coined word.  I googled it, just to check, and they kept sending in ‘habitude’ – completely different. My Spell Check doesn’t like it either.) Well good grief! The poor or the meek are not going to be happy, but the surely would be blessed.  And there’s even the change to the 23rd psalm: why did they change it to verdant pastures?  Every child knows green, but it will be a while before they know verdant.  To me it was all change for change’s sake, and I was livid.  Leaving church, I ran into the aunt of one of my friends and I started to rant.  Poor lady, she probably still thinks I’m a nut.

I do remember sitting by the mail box holding the letter saying that I would not be going back to my college.  I felt I was getting a fine education in nothing useful, perhaps because I still didn’t know what I wanted to be. Perhaps I never thought too much about it, so I was opting out. Just a week later my ‘job’ did find me: a neighbor told my Mother of the opening at the bank, and I was in banking and computers until I retired.  See that? I didn’t even have to think about it.

I must have given thought to breaking off a marriage I almost made.  The banns had been announced, but something told me it was wrong. It dawned on me that I loved him, but I didn’t like him anymore.  I wrote a bit about this in my post on tipping – a thing he refused to do. Of course I must have given thought to the man I did marry: thirty-eight years later we’re still going strong.

Friday, August 3, 2012


                             ...THE STATE OF THE POSTAL SERVICE

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On this day, August 3rd, four hundred and eighty-five years ago in 1527, the first known letter was sent from this side of the pond to the other, from the new world to the old, from Master John Rut to Henry VIII.  The King of England had sent Rut as commander of an expedition to North America to search for a passage to Asia.  There’s not much more to be found on line to say who carried the letter to Henry or even how long it took to get to him, but postal service has improved over the years.  It improved, certainly, but these days it’s showing definite signs of decline. That postal rates would rise, as everything does these days, is understandable, but I don’t understand the state of the service itself.

I say the postal service should decline to carry junk mail. Period, case closed. When bulk mail rates were initiated I’m guessing the postal authorities, probably thinking of mass mailings of bank statements and utility bills, couldn’t have foreseen the glut of junk to come. I can’t begin to fathom the economics of it all, but if they carried only first class and special mail, surely they could cut down on carriers.  I’ve got a recycling bin I regularly fill with junk mail.  Back at the end of March, on the day on which I was writing this essay, we got a package, weighing over 4½ pounds, from Restoration Hardware.  Where, I ask, did they get my name and address? The package contained three catalogs, the contents of the slimmest of which were duplicated in the largest one.  Not only did our carrier have to try to jam all this into our box along with the rest of the (mostly junk) mail, but she had a huge pile of them to be delivered that day. Where did our 4½ pounds of paper go? Right into the recycling bin, of course! Many days – perhaps four out of six – our carrier could have passed our house all together, and her round would have been finished earlier. We all get less mail these days, even at Christmas, because of e-mail, online banking, e-cards, blogs, and (dumb) social networking.

In these days of the internet it‘s easy to get sales information, fliers, and discount deals on line. Advertisers, like Restoration Hardware, should be encouraged to go green, conserve paper, ink, and money, and use the on-line resource they’re probably already paying for. Yes, I know that would cost jobs for the printers. Yes, I know that would cost jobs for the folks who produce the fliers and catalogs. Yes, I know, it would mean postal carriers would be laid off.  Yes, I know!  The ramifications are many and various.  But it still irks me that our carrier has to handle all that junk.

and I am unanimous in this!