Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mud, death, blessings and streaming

It is nearly impossible to count or even recognize what gifts and assets we possess.  We watched a nature video on PBS called "Kalahari: The Great Thirstland".  Water holes in the Kalahari desert suffer long droughts.  Some web pages say that what we saw was episode 2 of season 22.  

Parts of the Kalahari were very dry, to the point that herds of zebra could drink at one site but the nearest thing to eat was an all-day trek away.  Walk to eat, eat, walk to drink, drink - over and over. The animals could tell where water had been and was still fairly near the surface.  They pawed with their hooves until they had dug down to a little water.  But it was a very challenging situation.

Some of the water holes were mud.  We watched as some animals trooped into the mud and could not get out.  A foal was caught in the mud and struggled wretchedly.  It looked as though he didn't have the strength to get out but he did make it.  However, by that time, the herd had moved on.  This baby was left behind and was terrified and disoriented.  In the clip below, you can see him try to get adopted by a bull elephant nearby but is rejected.

He hears members of the herd calling to him and finds them but since he is covered with mud, they don't find him acceptable.  He is the wrong color, the wrong scent and unrecognizable.  Beyond the end of the clip, in the full episode, he is shown trying to get close to his mother and othersa but they keep trotting away.  All he needs is a waterfall or a hosing down but they are not available.  Then, a little rain does fall and he is cleaned off, saving his life, making him acceptable to parent, protect and associate with.

The program certainly made clear to me how iffy life is, how many tools and opportunities humans have that most animals don't.

In searching for a good link to the entire episode, I looked at many possibilities but was never successful.  Just as with books, the situation of what is available where is in flux these days.  The computer still seems to most powerful and versatile tool for finding tv and movies, which may be for sale by places like Amazon, streamable from Amazon, Netflix, HuluPlus, Vudu and many other sites.  I imagine better search tools and better databases of what there is will be constructed eventually but right now, things are messy and sketchy.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Mood work

Ever plan on selling your car?  You already know that if it is kept in good shape, it will last longer or fetch a better price than it is isn't.  And, of course, sources such as the excellent  The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds continuously pile up evidence of the value of exercise of all kinds for keeping the ol' bod, including the brain, in better shape. Generally, we brush our teeth, we vacuum our rugs and we change the van's oil.  So, what is wrong with our moods?  Don't they deserve maintenance and updating, too?  After all, a bad mood can wipe out motivation, damage a relationship, prevent a day's accomplishment.

Sure, check for apps that can help you clearly see what mood has arisen.

But you can do a lot with pen and paper and avoid usage bills. Just try each day at bedtime to list 3 good things that have happened that day.  After you have done that for 60 or so days, try adding one more tool.  Pick one of these from Prof. Barbara Fredrickson's "Positivity"
awe and
and try to think of something in your day that inspired that feeling.  Fredrickson is at the U. of North Carolina Chapel Hill P.E.P. Lab where they study positive emotions, and their causes and effects.

Among many well-educated critical thinkers, there seems to be the idea that working on one's thinking or happiness or mental habits is pointless or Pollyanna-ish.  The general idea is love and serve others and get your mind off yourself.  Not a bad strategy at all but a great deal of careful work in psychology labs, neuroscience and brain scans along with contributions from the world's contemplative and meditative traditions and religious masters is amassing impressive insights into personal improvement and greater happiness at all ages and in any physical condition.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

World is changing

The older of my great-granddaughters is four.  She recently began a kindergarten for 4 year olds..  It is held in the same room where our older greatgrandson attended kindergarten 8 years ago.  

A generous soul gave funds for the remodeling of the rooms the children use.  We stopped and peeked at the adorables as they trooped in this morning.  Our star saw us, took a few seconds to reorient her thinking to very old, old people that she actually knew staring in at her and smiling and waving. The teacher remembers us and came to the door to greet us.  

We complimented her on the remodeling and she said it was indeed very nice but still not complete.  One of the remaining tasks is the iPads.  They do have them but the apps haven't been downloaded yet.  

I hope you got that: the FOUR YEAR OLDS are waiting for their apps.  What apps do YOU have?  What is an app, anyhow?  You may know that "app" is a shortening of "application", another word for what some of us call a "program", more or less self-contained code that makes a computer or smartphone or other device such as a tablet like an iPad, do something.  There are over 300,000 apps for the iPhone and more than 60,000 for the iPad tablet, not even including those inside a college, university, company or other specific organization.  

I guess by some measures the iPhone and the iPad are the most successful commercial ventures in history.  Lynn just told me about hearing of "text neck", a skeletal condition that teens and others can develop from steadily keeping the head down and the eye on a small screen held in one hand down in front of the body.  That older grandchild is still in elementary school but he attended the kindergarten back in those primitive ages of few smartphones and no iPad/tablets.

Apps are not confined to Apple products, of course.  The competition is not asleep nor stupid and the biggest competitor is the Android line from Google and companies dealing with Google. I asked my 30-something granddaughter why she wanted a Kindle Fire and she immediately said,"I want to play Angry Birds!".  That is a runaway best seller video game that now comes in several forms.  According to the Finnish company that designs and sells the game, "players log more than 5 million hours of game time each day"!!  How is our world going to prosper with that going on?  Just answer me that!

Ok, here's a clue: the Khan Academy.  Individual adults and curious children, motivated students, home-bound people, immigrants, those who were deprived of an education by war or upheaval or poverty are trooping to the free Khan website, to learn and learn and learn.  So, after defeating the nasty pigs and helping the angry birds survive, an enterprising 4 or 6 or 10 or 70 year old, can slip over to Khan and learn finance or calculus or some other valuable subject in less time and with more pleasure than you or I ever had.
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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just looking, thank you

We learned in psychophysics that great strides were made in understanding the ear and hearing by von Békésy.  He was such an impressive scientist that someone asked the Hungarian Nobel prize winner how he did it.  He answered,"I open up ze ear und I look inzide und I write down vat I zee."  That simple act: noting accurately what we see, not what we thought we would see, not what Mommy said to see, not what we want to see but what we actually see is fundamental throughout our lives in all our activities.

Internally, sitting with our emotions, feeling the fear, tasting the enthusiasm, loving the cheer, cherishing our affections and those offered us, we can see what is going on in us.  Once clearly seen, our various states can be understood and accepted.  Seeing clearly and noting, actually making notes, brief or extensive, of what we see tends to clarify our inner landscape.  We start to get a map of the territory.

Externally, looking fully enables us to see the beauty, pathos, drama, and complexity of our lives and the experiences of others.  We can see the beauty of our bodies, our foods, our technology - the complicated gifts and burdens we all enjoy or face.  The hilarious and completely unpredictable events and sequences, when noted and appreciated, are a feast of humor in themselves.  

When we see clearly, things fall into place.  Life can be understood, accepted and appreciated, including the bumps in the road.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Another beginning

I collect examples of times in life when the best strategy is "starting over".  An ancient Greek noted that you can't step into the same river twice, since the river's contents change between your steps.  Since every part of our lives is a flow, change is continuous.  So, we can't really start over completely because we have those previous tries in our history, our experience, when trying again. Still, the concept is fun to keep an eye on, watching where it pops up.

I have never played a round of golf but some of the terms are heard more generally.  I have heard of a "mulligan", which a web page says is a 2nd drive (chance?) granted on the first tee only.  It is more common for me to hear a cry of "Do-over", meaning "don't let's count that try, let me begin again".  

One important way of "doing over" involves the Hindu-Arabic system of counting and writing numerals that we all use.  Most of us are born with ten fingers so we create names and symbols for the numbers of 1 to 9 and then we say "Again" and start over.  When we get to ten tens, we start over.  When we want, we can draw a circle, maybe mentally, around what we have and say,"One". Then, we get to start again, for Two. This way of counting results in sets of sets of sets, etc., like the famous Russian dolls.  Much like saying "Today is the first day of the rest of my life."

Computers and related devices are famous for being "fixed" or enhanced or cleaned up by being restarted.  Most operating systems even have a built-in choice to restart the machine although I like a real re-start, where I shut down, wait at least 20 seconds and start up.  These jokes I first read in the 1990's, make fun of the need to re-start.  But it is an easy and powerful help.

The most helpful advice I have run into, and it is based on science, is Prochaska and others' book "Changing for Good".  The book focuses on quitting smoking but that is merely the example used.  It presents good evidence that trying and failing is a good predictor of trying and succeeding.  Of course, each attempt at something needs to be genuine.  Sometimes a rest between attempts, partly for consideration of modifications that might be part of the next try, will help.  It is a fine line: am I simply unsuited to be a top-notch NBA player or must I simply keep trying?  Beating a dead horse will get me nowhere but authentic beginnings may.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lynn's pictures from Door County

Lynn took many pictures and selected these as the best ones.
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Fattening fun

We spent some days in Door County, the peninsula on eastern Wisconsin that separates Green Bay from Lake Michigan.  We figure we have traveled there about 15 times.  (The strip is actually separated from the mainline at Sturgeon Bay but it looks like a peninsula and so we call it that.)

There are two sides to the strip of land, the active side and the quieter side.  The main communities that catch the tourist's eye on the active side are Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Ephraim, Sister Bay, Ellison Bay and Gill's Rock.  These are small towns of about 300 permanent residents but can be filled to overflowing in tourist seasons of summer and fall.  The summer heat has passed and the leaves are not quite turned yet so things are quieter.  

We did manage with the room's microwave to use dinner leftovers for breakfast but otherwise we ate all our meals out.  Too many days of that and we start to feel stuffed so last night we ate appetizers, soups and salad for dinner.  We had a cheerful and graceful waitress and talked with her a little about her background.  We were surprised to see her in a different town at a different restaurant today.  We asked if she had a relative who waited tables in the other place.  "That was me!"  Some young people have multiple jobs.

Muffins with a little butter amount to a large quantity of calories.  It is surprising how much work in walking or jogging or biking it takes to burn the calories equal to one meal.  The general idea of calories being all that matters is being rethought but they are still basic and tempting and delicious foods can still pack on a great deal that is very, very difficult to remove.  Pack on what?  You know, the F word!

The first time we traveled to Door County, more than 40 years ago, I was struck by its similarity to scenic places in New England, where I worked several summers and where we have traveled at important times in our lives.  Quaint little villages, always near water and usually positioned to make the most of the scene.  The towns and scenes were like that then and they still are. I feel there is a difference between the heritage of New England and the more salient one of Door County's Scandinavian culture.

Lynn often gets drawn to any park or nature area or wildlife viewing or preservation area.  There are too many to visit and know them all, especially with a husband whose motto is "Seen one waterfall, seen them all."  However, Lynn is listening to "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" in the car and I am enjoying it at least as much the second time through.  Between Rachel Joyce's exquisitely sensitive writing (a little boy's emotional moment is "splinteringly tender" for Harold) and comments I am picking up in Ezra Bayda "Beyond Happiness: The Zen Way to True Contentment", I am working on going to things Mrs. Kirby wants to visit more often and with more enthusiasm.  

So, we walked some of the trails of The Ridges Sanctuary, 1600 acres put aside in 1935.  That place is on the quiet side of peninsula, where Bailey's Harbor and Jacksonport are the towns.  We didn't seen any wildlife but found some interesting plants and mushrooms.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Unexpected Post: Quote of the Week | The Dream of Constant Okayness from Pema Chodron

This American grandmother has been a light to many for years.  If you aren't familiar with her, you will benefit from reading or listening to her.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pema Chödrön Heart Advice <>
Date: Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 7:52 AM
Subject: Quote of the Week | The Dream of Constant Okayness

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Learn More | Books and Audio | The Pema Chödrön Foundation

September 19, 2012


It's not impermanence per se, or even knowing we're going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it's our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it's called suffering. But when we can completely let go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that's called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom—freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.

Of Interest to Readers

The Pocket Pema Chodron

We're pleased to announce the release of Pema Chödrön's new book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. It'll be in stores on October 9, but it's available now from, and if you order from us we'll also send a free copy of The Pocket Pema Chödrön, a treasury of 108 selections from Pema's best-selling books.


Book cover

Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, pages 6–7.

Read More

Teachings by Pema Chödrön, from works published by Shambhala Publications. Photo by ©Andrea Roth.

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Shambhala Publications | 300 Massachusetts Ave | Boston | MA | 888.424.2329

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Not like when I was a kid

Broadcast tv seems to be headed toward extinction.  Steaming from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Hulu Plus, Vudu and the tv broadcasting companies such as ABC, CBS (down 1 screenful) and NBC are making many shows available in a downloadable or streamable format.  TV shows like "White Collar" and "Perception" come up on less traditional tv stations such as TNT.  HBO, Showtime, and similar organizations make some of their own shows.  So, 55 million people tuning in to a given network all one time is getting less common.  This fractures the audience and makes making super-big dollars more difficult.  However, in the long run, more good viewing seems likely.

Book sales are also in flux.  We can still go to a bookstore and buy a book of paper pages.  But we can download a book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and from Google, as well as an increasing number of private sites.  J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Pottermore site for the sale of ebooks in more than 20 formats is a good example.  You and I can put our own manuscripts on Amazon's site for sale, although getting them noticed is itself a big undertaking.

Even borrowing books is changing fast.  It is not a simple thing to stay aware of the various ways I can get a book to read without buying it.  There is a Kindle loaning program, allowing one borrowed book a month.  I can rent some books at very reduced prices.  My local public library and some university libraries loan books for free or nominal prices.

And, of course, telephoning is also changing formats radically.  We still have a landline but many of our friends do not.  People use Google Talk or Skype to converse by voice using their computers.  I still haven't been on Twitter but the very short 140 character limit is extremely popular with people, especially young people and those without the time or inclination to say much.  I can send a Google Voice text message "Lunch at Harry"s 1:00 tomorrow?" and my friend returns "K" and with very little time or revelation, lunch is arranged.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Body, form and sex

Which body? When? - "My body" used to be small enough to fit in a baby carriage and weigh much less.  By the time, I die, I may be lots heavier than I am now, I could be lighter but it is certain that my body will weigh much more than it did at my birth.  Which body was truly (a dangerous word) mine?  When was my body?

Made by sex, making more with sex - My body was put into its present time sensitive form by my daddy and my mommy. Parts of their bodies were mixed in my mother, like those glues that come in two tubes and don't work until the contents are mixed.

"Sex in Human Loving" - the title of a wonderful1970 book written by the psychiatrist Eric Berne for sale on Kindle for $7. Super witty, humane, and understanding mind explores sex in our lives. Just recently available as ebook but I loved the book when I read it decades ago.  It is a great pleasure to read it again.

Being 'there" all along but mixed by Dad and Mom into cake format for 6 or so decades and then crumbling - it's elementary, no?  If parts of my Dad and my Mom were mixed to grow the early version of this body, doesn't it stand to reason that parts of me were in them before the mixing?  Where did those parts come from?  Must be the parents of each of my parents, huh?  But the parts that made my parents from my grandparents' bodies must have been in those grandparent bodies before the mixing for my parents was performed, no?  But where did those parts come from?  You can see signs of a path to Adam and Eve, to Darwin,to hominids, to early life, to algae and bacteria up ahead.

For life, women are the key: mixing bowls, nurturers, long-lived - sure men can be heroic.  Many of them can be depended on to participate in the mixing but all along, it is the females.  Remember that Walter Ong quote in Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness , his survey of what life for human males is like?  "The female always wins because of her greater quiet." (Chinese).  Remember, winning can take many different forms, such as who gets to bear the children, who gets to raise them and who lives long enough to be around when the children have children, who has the energy and interest to participate meaningfully in the grandchildren's lives?

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Learning about English from John McWhorter

McWhorter is a professor of linguistics and author of quite a few books.  He is a Black-American and has several books on Black English.

A major point he pounds is that everyone tends to feel that the language habits they learned as a child are the ones that seem right and correct.  He distinguishes between formal ways of writing and talking and informal ones but he also stresses that the most complex languages tend to be those spoken by small groups and large group languages such as Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish and English tend to get simplified.  Not so much, according to what I have learned so far, from any tendency to be easier but more from the number of adults who first learn the language as adults.  

He stresses that children easily and automatically do mental and mouth things that adults cannot do.  He says up to about the age of 12 or 14, human brains pick up sounds and usage and vocabulary in ways and to extents that adults can't and don't.  If a language is a major one, there will be adults who learn it as adults.  Such a language is an "exoteric" one, as opposed to an "esoteric"one, nearly all speakers of which learned the language as children.  

There are 6,000 languages in the world so the big five named above are in the tiny minority as far as numbers of speakers.  The great majority are esoteric, and most we have never heard of, such as Ket and Navaho and Berik.  

One of the odd things I learned is that about the time of Isaac Newton, writing was done in Latin.  I know of Walter Ong's work on Latin as the language of educated people in the past but I never before got the idea that if you are going to write something, it will be in Latin.  Latin was the code (in certain areas) for writing, even while speaking was done in English.  Talk about bother!  Another whole vocabulary, spelling, and usage to write, in addition to all that to speak.  No wonder, not as much writing was done.  No wonder writing was a specialized craft like watchmaking or pottery.  No wonder Richard Lanham in "Style: An Anti-Textbook" emphasizes that as the ability and practice of writing spreads, we are entering a new world.  (I know, we are always entering a new world and the world is always changing in multiple ways each durned minute, too many for a mortal to grasp or understand.)  

Still, the great majority of people can speak in some language and therefore have the chance to benefit from talking with others but only about 80% can write in any language.  That is worldwide.  In parts of Africa and Asia, close to 50% of the women are illiterate and that is only after strenuous efforts to improve literacy.  Besides literacy is usually concentrated on as reading but it is writing that expands the mind, extends the view and serves as a greater voice.

McWhorter brings up some interesting points about pronouns, which he says are often a highly changing section of language:

"Now look at "Me and Billy went to the store." Many people who object to "Billy and me went" do not mind "Me and Billy went." Perhaps this is because "I and Billy went to the store" is a complete train wreck of a sentence, even though it is technically correct.

"Thus, we cannot condemn in the logical sense a sentence like "Billy and me went to the store", despite what we have been taught. A lot of what we were taught was based on Robert Lowth and his idea that English should look like Latin. [McWhorter makes clear that Lowth was not the only one pushing for particular uses and they sometimes had rational, if limited, reasons, in addition to their upbringing and habits.]

"What we were taught was valuable in that the world is not going to change instantly. In public settings, "Billy and me went" will still be seen as informal and will not be acceptable English."

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sympathizing with my mind

It is tiring.  Boring, too.  Hefting back open my mind over and over in an attempt to stay accessible to possibilities.  I read John Tukey and everything he wrote enriches my life.  I read John Kemeny and new vistas open up.  I can't avoid remembering the sources of insight, the authors that have helped me grow.  So, it is only natural that past experiences have given me both guidance but also prejudice in the matter of where to look for ideas that ring true.  But people, me and others, change.  No one hits a home run all the time.

Sometimes, my favorite authors may write things that don't help.  They may confuse or err.  I try to stay alert to those times when another voice, sometimes one I have rejected several times before, have a message I need, one that this time clarifies, gives perspective, shows the way.  

One of my favorite words is "counterintuitive".  Some things are counterintuitive.  Trying threading a pipe into a socket when the two have left-handed threads.  Try using your mouse in the opposite hand.  Try driving in Britain on the left-hand side of the road or just getting in the car to drive only to find the steering wheel on the opposite side of the car. Sometimes, what feels right isn't, what ought to be is wrong.  

Wray Herbert in On Second Thought:

Constant switching can be perilous, in everything from financial matters to romantic judgments, so we have become averse to hopping around. But this powerful urge for steadiness can also lock us into a bad choice. Just imagine Carruthers' ski party standing out there on the slope, chatting with the members of the other ski party. At this point, they could have made the decision to turn around and go home. Perhaps the snowpack seemed too unstable, or a certain gully looked worrisome. The skiers were no doubt taking in all this information, but they were not deliberating the pros and cons with their full mental powers because they had really already made their choice. The heuristic mind doesn't like to second-guess itself once it has momentum, and these skiers already had two hours of trekking invested in this decision. It would have taken a lot of mental effort to process all the logical arguments for turning around and going home. So they didn't. They stuck to their plan because they were cognitively biased toward going ahead rather than switching gears. They were stubborn, but not in the way we commonly use the word to mean an obstinate attitude. Their brains were being stubborn, in the most fundamental way, right down in the neurons. We default hundreds of times a day, simply because it's effortful to switch plans. We stay in relationships that are going nowhere simply because it's easier than getting out. We buy the same brand of car our father did and hesitate to rearrange our stock portfolio. And we uncritically defer to others who make decisions for us—policy makers, who make rules and laws based on the assumption that we will act consistently rather than question.

Herbert, Wray (2010-09-14). On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits (pp. 6-7). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Audiobooks, Great Courses, movies, tv shows

Many tv's can be connected to a computer in such a way that the screen of the computer monitor shows up on the tv, a good arrangement for group viewing.  Any computer can show movies and play sound (mp3) files directly.   Movies and sound can also be copied to DVD and CD formats although doing so is getting old in today's world of streaming (sending in real time to watch as it streams in) and the cloud (the name for storage of files on a company's computer, such as Google, Apple and Amazon.)

Movies (better ones in bold, all are at least pretty good)
The Help
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Merry Christmas
Something the Lord Made
The Young Victoria
Letters to Juliet
Taking Chance
Sliding Doors
Leap Year
The Blind Side
Taking Woodstock
Temple Grandin
On a Clear Day
Little Women
Dan in Real Life
Captain Abu Raed
The Jane Austen Book Club
The Men Who Stare at Goats
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The Answer Man
Saint Ralph
The Butterfly
The Reading Room
Return to Me
A Rather English Marriage
The Constant Gardener
The Soloist
Goodnight, Mister Tom

Long Time Favorites

Strangers in Good Company

Enchanted April

The Russians Are Coming!

In the Spirit

Ruthless People

Shirley Valentine

Cold Comfort Farm

My Cousin Vinny

Love Potion No.9

TV shows (better ones in bold, often better to watch on Amazon and Netflix since they don't take so much time)

Dharma and Greg




Foyle's War

Grey's Anatomy

The Guardian

Drop Dead Diva

Rosemary and Thyme

Great Courses from The Teaching Company
Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths of Language Usage
Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft
Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition
Why Evil Exists
Thinking like an Economist: A Guide to Rational Decision Maki...
Francis of Assisi
Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt
Mr. Lincoln: The Life of Abraham Lincoln
Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida

We take many of suggestions of "Movies for Grown-ups" articles, from AARP.  Our friend uses "Rotten Tomatoes" for his choices.

Audiobooks are important to us, too.  We get ours from, now part of Amazon.  We download both audio Great Courses and audiobooks from Audible and listen on our iPods.  I very highly recommend the audiobook "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce.  I wrote a review with as high a recommendation as I could think of.

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