Head in the Cloud

Head in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look UpHead in the Cloud: Why Knowing Things Still Matters When Facts Are So Easy to Look Up by William Poundstone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this book was not a page-turner, it was interesting enough that I finished it by reading a few pages every night. The author is a statistician and poll taker whose premise is that people who know more make more money, are happier, are more likely to succeed, etc. By using random questions in large samples of people, he is able to compare their answers with other seemingly unrelated facts about their lives. It is an interesting way to statistically confirm what we probably already infer.

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Finding Your Voice

Well into my seventh decade, I realize that finding my voice is a lifetime quest down the path I am traveling. Once again my search has emerged to a conscious level.

A little over two years ago, after I finally retired from defining myself in the work force, I sought another outlet for continuing this trek. I happened upon SeniorNet, an all-volunteer organization which connects those over 50 with the ever-changing digital world. Instructors and coaches lead two-hour classes of sixteen participants for up to 8 weeks on a variety of topics using sixteen personal computers with an overhead projector for the instructor.

I have coached in such diverse classes, as Genealogy, Using Gmail and Picasa, Making Your Own Greeting Cards, Android Phone, and Borrow Books without Going to the Library. And recently I have found myself teaching a Facebook class. All of this has made me keenly aware of the need and the diversity that we have in finding our own voice and sharing it with others.

I will soon be teaching a two week course on Blogging if enough people are interested. So, once again, I am grappling with how to help others, as well as myself, connect to the world.

For me, my voice does not have to be heard or read by minions. And, although I do not mind sharing with others, I am primarily talking to myself–sorting out my thoughts and recording events and things that are important to me. As with life, it is a work in progress.

I am using my website to help me.

Follow Your Star

Tapestry with red and white stripes, stars on a blue fieldDuring this contentious election season, I have taken some solace in contemplating a small tapestry I wove some years ago. It visually sorts out for me some of the multidimensional aspects of our present situation. When I created it, I called it “Follow Your Star”, which seems as appropriate now as it was then.

Not being particularly gifted with creating original designs, I based it on a depiction of a Chinese lattice from a book I have had for many years called Chinese Lattice Designs (a 1974 edition of a 1937 work call A Grammar of Chinese Lattice). I started from the very beginning when I created this. I bought a fleece at the Monterey Wool Show, washed, carded and spun the fleece into yarn, dyed the yarn into various shades of reds and blues, and wove it into this small tapestry. It, like our lives in the U.S., was a journey.

I did not set out to create something patriotic, but rather something universal. Of course, the wavy red and white stripes and multi-sized stars on a blue background evoke an immediate suggestion of America. But the various shades of the reds and the blues suggest the variety in our country. And the stars—some large, some small—travel in varying directions. To me it is a tapestry that embodies both freedom and diversity .

And it started with an idea from the ancient Chinese.

A drawing of lattice work.

Chinese lattice work design

The Long Summer

The Long Summer: How Climate Changed CivilizationThe Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization by Brian M. Fagan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We are intrinsically enmeshed with the weather.

This book takes us on a trip through the history of the world through the eyes of everyman. It is an amazing journey. It compels us to live with humans starting with the Cro-Magnons of 18,000 years ago as they emerged from their caves to hunt beasts and gather wild berries. We follow our ancestors through the Ice Age, through climate warming and cooling, through droughts and deluges, as they encountered abundance and starvation, as they moved with the changes, developed houses, villages and cities. This is not an imaginary journey. It is documented with astonishing accuracy from ice core samples taken from Greenland to the Antarctic, pollen samples, artifacts, tree rings, isotopes found in bones and teeth, from every facet on scientific study.

The scope of this book does not lend itself to a quick read. A few pages a night left my mind reeling. But I looked forward to continuing this slow trek through time night after night. It has made me more human. The world has been shaped by the weather. And it will continue to be. How will it affect future generations? I would love to arrange for a visit in 1,000 or 10,000 years to see.

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American Mojo: Lost and Found

American Mojo: Lost and FoundAmerican Mojo: Lost and Found by Peter D. Kiernan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This journey starts at the opposite pole of the political rhetoric besieging us today. It explores every aspect of today’s middle class without partisanship and with a depth of economic insight and education that has left me giddy. Kiernan looks at the whole scene like a visitor from space might view it, focusing on and exploring interactions that have stretched my vision both nationally and internationally and pulled my focus in many directions. His knowledge sometimes made my brain reel. I could only fully digest a few pages a day. But I could not stop reading and I was compelled to pick up where I had left off on the following day. Occasionally his prose overwhelmed his erudition but, like a challenging college course, I found this book both stimulating and fascinating.

Box of Saratoga Chocolates

‘Tis the Season: the Gift-giving Dilemma

I was recently asked a compelling question about an upcoming feast for family and friends. “Are you going to give us (please do!) some direction about gift-giving at this shindig?”

Ah, the gift dilemma!

The holiday season is here once again. It involves Christmas, birthdays, and the ever-present expectation that everything will be perfect. Here are my thoughts (and my husband asked me to say he shares them).

A little history:

In my family, in my childhood, Christmas involved giving gifts to children. Adults did not exchange gifts. Both my parents were raised from an early age by single widowed mothers. Money was tight but no one thought they were “poor”. It was a gift for them to be able to do something special for their children. Despite their circumstances at least one of my grandmothers, if not both, tithed and gave money to the poor.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression and learned to fend for themselves. My father attended the university by working nights as a janitor at the telephone company and joining the National Guard. My mother had no chance of going to college (nor did any of her three brothers) until two of her high school teachers, single sisters who lived together, paid her way. When my parents married, they immediately started saving so their children could someday attend college and have a good life.

My brother and I grew up having a carefree childhood. We did not want for anything, but learned we could not necessarily have everything we wanted right then and there. We lived in Iowa where there were lakes and ponds that froze over in the winter where people could ice skate. I had a pair of black hockey skates that had come into my life somehow so I could skate with my friends. (I was not a natural.) But I wanted a pair of white figure skates like some of my friends had. My wish was not granted, and I was gently reminded that  worldly goods were not the most important thing in life and friends don’t judge friends by the color of their skates. It was a good lesson.

Later I was married in the same town where both my future husband and I had lived most of our lives. Our parents knew many of the people in the town. My hope was to have a small wedding. I planned to make my own dress, a short one I could possibly wear later. This was not to be. So I borrowed a dress from a friend who had married the year before. Many people from the town who I knew only slightly attended. I particularly remember receiving a gift from a woman who I thought of as rich. It was a square cut-glass candy dish with a lid on a pedestal with red glass trim. I am sure it was expensive. I was at a loss with what to do with it as it did not fit my personality or lifestyle at all. I am sure it gave her pleasure to give it to us. It lived on a shelf in my parents’ basement for several years until I found the courage to give it away. For my second wedding, I had a chance to make my own dress.

Fast forward to the present:

I have an abundance of riches, with the perfect amount of food, clothing and shelter. There are many that do not. For me the best gift would be for everyone to have a life with an abundance of riches, whatever that might mean to them. I know that giving gifts is a joy. A gift to others is the best gift for me. So if someone wishes to give me a gift, it can take the form of giving a donation to organizations that help others.

I am not a shopper. My gift to others is a donation to their favorite nonprofit or money that they can use to acquire anything that gives them joy. I do not wish to guess what that is. If I give a donation in their honor, I get a tax deduction; but if I give them the cash with which they can make a donation, they get the tax deduction and it becomes a double gift.

Occasionally I happen on an idea for something that someone would like. I will joyfully buy it as a gift. (Saratoga Chocolates comes to mind.) They are beautiful, delicious, and support a local woman who personally makes them by hand in the village. I am not against gifts, but I personally want them to give joy to both the giver and the receiver.

A long answer to a short question.