Sunday, August 31, 2014

Some notable books

I read "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" by Rachel Held Evans.  She is a good writer and has other books to her credit.  I am pretty far from sharing all her religious ideas and affiliations but I do respect the intelligence and care she puts into her exploration of trying to follow all the Biblical precepts that a woman is advised to.  She had a different project for each month of a year, including spending the night in a tent when she was menstruating and therefore "unclean".  She seems to have an equally Christian and flexible husband who is very supportive.

I am slowly getting through "Healing at the Speed of Sound" by Campbell and Doman, inspired by reading "The Universal Sense" (which is about hearing and sound) and my subsequent following Seth Horowitz, PhD on Twitter.  Horowitz is a sound and neurology scientist and has alerted me to the presence and influence of sound, especially music.

"Our Inner Ape" by Frans de Waal is a surprising book.  I don't think of myself and my family and friends as primates but as I listen to de Waal, it is clear that much of what I do each day is dictated by a nervous system and biology that is quite similar to that of the chimpanzees and the bonobos and the capuchin monkeys.  We arrange for reproduction and sex a little differently in that we use pair-bonding (couples falling in love) much more that the other branches of the primates.

"I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You" by Courtney Maum is a novel about an English artist and a French woman lawyer.  It is well written but it was the title that drew me in originally.  I enjoy visiting the upper middle class atmosphere of her family's home and customs but I get a little impatient with the two of them and their families sometimes.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Noise, sin and the American west

We flew to Las Vegas, a city of half a million in a metro area of just about 2 million.  I had only been there once, thirty years before.  I had young daughters then and we had camped all the way.  This time, we stayed in a downtown casino and got to know the place a little more from the angle for which it is famous: commercialization of sex, all sorts of noise - all at high volume and general confusion.  The contrast between all of that and the quiet of the south rim of the Grand Canyon at dawn is almost too strong to bear.

Getting home, we received the mail the post office held for us in two main batches: periodicals and letters.  About 75% of the mail is ads, mostly for charities.  Lynn is the charity officer of the family and works hard to strip out junk, and overly solicitous organizations no matter how noble their aim. I like the fast, brutal approach from our mailbox straight to recycling but she feels better examining each piece, even if just a glance at the outside.

When I see several issues of magazines in a pile, I zip through them, turning pages at a fast pace.  Once in a while, there is an article that makes me pause.  In Time, I saw an article on the dangers of too much sitting.  This is a subject of strong interest to me and one that has been steadily rising in the media.  I showed that article to Lynn, who is working on cropping and sprucing up 1000 pictures of our trip.  She is also unpacking and doing two weeks of laundry.  When she saw the article, she said,"Tell me what it says".  I said,"Don't sit".  

That is what we are dealing with these days. We are engulfed in dozens of choices, often all excellent.  Much like those super cafeterias, where there are dozens of totally delicious dishes that I face with an expanding waistline. We have limited time and personal energy to read, learn, travel, to live and often just want the basics. What does it say?  Just give me the essence, if there even is one.

Going out west is being immersed in struggle, obstacles and the basic will to keep going at a task.  The pioneers, the immigrants, were all faced with ignorance, trickery, disaster and very hard living.  Whether it is in the casinos and their mixture of booze, flashing lights, and baggy eyes staring from blank faces, or on the endless acres of scattered plants that know how to wrestle a life from heat and drought among rocks of subtle colors, you can see struggle and grim determination.

It is inspiring to see the streets and stores in places that two hundred years ago there was only sand.  It is inspiring to see plants, and animals, and people with stamina for living and appreciation of life.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Friday, August 29, 2014

Lynn on "The last day"

Here is Lynn's last letter, sent after our trip to Zion national park, which is one of my favorites.  The night before Zion we had a tour of a few casinos, not for gambling but for gawking.  I gawked and enjoyed it.  Our tour included a real wedding performed by a real Elvis impersonator.

What a good day we had today! Another early start: 7:30 am. We are usually up by 6:00, but it  takes longer to be ready to go out when you have to have breakfast in a restaurant first. (On this trip our luggage usually needed to be ready at least an hour before we had to leave. That means being dressed, teeth brushed, backpacks packed, and nothing left behind. )

The trip from Las Vegas to Zion National Park took about 4 hours, including a break for buying groceries for lunch. The scenery on the trip was very good most of the way, but we've seen so much wonderful scenery on this trip that I don't think anyone took pictures on the way.

Most of what one sees at Zion is from the bottom of the canyon, while several parks we visited were from the top looking down. The rocks are huge, with surfaces ranging from smooth to jumbled. Everyone was deeply impressed as we drove in, but the rocks towered so much that you could barely take pictures of them.

A shuttle drives you around from place to place in the park. We chose to go to the northernmost stop, the Temple of Sinawava, and walk to the end of the trail, where the canyon narrowed a lot. The Virgin River flowed through the canyon with a surprising amount of muddy water for this time of year. Turns out they had a flash flood last night. Trails and roads had a good wash of mud on them. The rains we had been having have covered huge areas.  But today was sunny and the high was only about 80, with a good breeze. Perfect. We enjoyed our hike very much, but were ready to stop at its end.

These rocks are about 1,000 higher than the elevation where we were standing. They're actually pretty reddish. Below them, the trees are actually big, tall trees, although they look like shrubs.

One thing that has surprised us is at almost everywhere we've gone is how many people are from foreign countries. Walking around, especially in the national parks, you hear people speaking in many languages, and English is not the language spoken by the majority of people.

On the way back to Las Vegas Kristina sat with me most of the way. We played Crazy 8 and then she played some games on my iPad. When we arrived at the hotel she was very upset about the idea of never seeing me again, so Bill and I both went to the pool and went on the water slide with her. I swam with Kristina and her mother Jan, Bill talked with the grandmother Laverne. A fun evening.

A shuttle to the airport will pick us up at 11:35 am tomorrow. Our flight is at 2:15, and we're scheduled to land in Appleton at 7:47-- about a 3 and a half hour flight. (We're on Pacific time here.) Dinner before we drive home.

If you have been reading these, thanks. It's been fun to write them.

Love, Lynn

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Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Lynn on "A lot of hours"

We got up at 4:15 today to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon. It wasn't spectacular because it was cloudy, but it was interesting to see the shapes take form. I was surprised that my camera, when allowed to decide on the shutter speed, saw more than my eyes could see.

We spent a large part of the day in the bus going back to Las Vegas. We had to wait for a few people to finish a helicopter ride over the canyon. We stopped in Seligman for a break, and it was a real waste of time in my opinion. It's on Route 66, and the whole town seems like a poorly done parody of the 1950s. But I guess some people liked it. The scenery was not terribly interesting all day except when we passed the Hoover Dam.

We had lunch at a Golden Corral. Not my favorite. Most of the day Kristina sat with me, and she got really silly. Finally I told her I had to take a nap. Which I did.

We are at The Golden Nugget again. In the evening we took a tour of the Strip. We saw a real wedding in the middle of a highway, under the old Welcome to Las Vegas sign. We saw Elvis, looking old and grumpy. We went to Bellagio, where they have the world's largest chocolate fountain, a fancy glass ceiling, an indoor conservatory and and outdoor water and light show. Next was the Venetian and after that I got tired enuf by all the lights and things to see and crowds of people, I was very glad to get back to our room.

Except for early morning, I took no pix today. Tomorrow is our last day.

Goodnight.  Lynn

Lynn on" A long Sunday"

This really doesn't seem like Sunday. Not even if your family went for a ride on Sunday afternoons. We started at 7:45 this morning and arrived at 5:45. We have passed many kinds of beautiful scenery and have been up and down to lots of different elevations, up to over 8,000 feet. This picture was from fairly early in the morning. I can't add others taken later, due to mechanical difficulties. I'll have to wait until we get home to send some of our best pix.

We stopped in Hanksville, UT for two things. One was to pick up cinnamon rolls that we ordered yesterday. We were told they were big, and they were. Each one was about 7" in diameter. I'm not crazy about cinnamon rolls, and the taste of this one didn't change my opinion. But it was a good excuse for a rest and socializing. The other reason to stop was to see the gas station called Hollow Mountain. The shop part, including the rest rooms, are in a big rock. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all rock.

Capitol Reef National Park has many-colored rocks that we drove between. You could only the see the tops of the biggest ones through the glass ceiling of the bus, we were so close to them. This park also has areas where fruit trees grow. At one stop we saw petroglyphs. The picnic area has grass and trees. Since we sit at the back of the bus, by the time we got out, all the picnic tables were taken, so we ate our lunch sitting on the grass under a tree. Between that and absolutely perfect weather, it was heavenly.

On all the previous picnics on this trip animals come to beg for food, different kinds of animals each time--squirrels, chipmunks, Stellar's jays. Today it was a deer. We don't feed them though; our tour director says that many people feeding them kills them, because they don't learn to fend for themselves and they die in winter.

About 3 hours after we left Capitol Reef we got to Bryce Canyon National Park. While driving we saw lots  of animals: bison, cows (some right on the road), sheep, prairie dogs, horses, and more.

I was so tired of being in the bus and seeing so much scenery I had little enthusiasm for yet another park. And then I walked up to the rim. All I could say was WOW! This is the most unusual place we've seen, and it is unbelievably beautiful. (It kind of reminded me of Gaudi's cathedral in Barcelona.) I got up the courage to walk down to a platform two switchbacks down from the fenced rim trail. For a person unafraid of heights it was insignificant, but for me it was an extremely brave feat.

Our tour guide had us smell the bark of a ponderosa pine. It smelled like vanilla to us. It's an accelerant that is heat activated, so when a fire comes, it causes the fire to flash up the tree, saving the heart of the tree.

We spent the night in Bryce Canyon. Not the park. The town, population I dunno, maybe 100. It got into the 40s during the night.

This evening we went to a cowboy humor and music show, and had dinner there too. The food wasn't all that good, but we had silly fun. And Bill and I waltzed together. Nice way to end the day.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


We got up early, ate breakfast in the room, got all our stuff ready for the day, and went out to catch the bus to take those interested for an early morning hike. But it was raining pretty hard, with lightning, so no hike today. Since most of this trip has been on the bus, that was disappointing. But it made sense. Nothing else was planned until 10.

So we went to the laundromat and washed a batch of clothes. Then I took a nap to catch up from a too short night's sleep.

Our picnic at Dead Horse State Park was cold. We were at 6080 feet, it was cloudy and windy and 59 degrees. I was wearing shorts, t shirt, and a long sleeved shirt. (The weatherman lied to me.) after we ate we took pictures. It was beautiful scenery made more beautiful by clouds below us. Utah calls this place the Grand Canyon of Utah. It fits.

There is a family on this trip--a 9 year old girl, her mother, and her grandmother. I brought my cribbage board on this trip and started teaching Kristina how to play today. Her addition is not as good as my 4 and 6 year old great-grandchildren, but she's getting the game and enjoying it.

We got back from our chilly trip to Canyonland National Park today before 4. (The high today was 64, which is quite rare for this part of the country at this time of year.) More beautiful scenery and more roads at high elevations. Getting into the park is a section of road they call "the neck."  This bit of road has several thousand foot drop offs on both sides.

The bus that we are using now is the same bus that our friends Don and Char were on last year. Our driver misses the bus he had, as this one has controls in different places than what he is used to.

There is an optional trip down the river tonight which we aren't going on, so we have an evening to ourselves. It will be nice to be on our own.

​(see Lynn's attached picture)​

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wow! What a day! (Arches)

It took us most of the morning to drive from Salt Lake City to Moab, UT. On the way we took an unplanned stop because somewhere in the mountains, far from anywhere, the check engine light came on, on the bus. The company just bought this bus for about $700,000; this trip is the first time it has been used. Brian, our driver, has taken really good care of it--I mentioned that before. He called the company and they said to just keep using it and the light may go out. It hasn't. So tomorrow someone will bring us a different bus from Las Vegas and drive this one to the company they bought it from in Detroit. Since we spent hours on narrow, winding, 1,000-feet-up roads, I feel lucky that we are okay.

After lunch in Moab, we spent the afternoon in Arches National Park. It has beautiful scenery. Just beautiful. Just about everyone was blown away by it. This is far from the best pic I took today, but I could get it in here. The others are on my camera.

When it rains in this very dry part of country, the water runs off instead of being absorbed by the baked hard ground, and so it runs off and does all sorts of damage, such as washing out roads. It started to rain when we were at one spot, so we all ran to the bus.. Bill took out his hearing aids so he wouldn't get them wet, but when we got on the bus, he couldn't find one. I got out and scoured the ground where he walked. Two other people came to help me and we went a second time. Still no luck, so we gave up. In the meantime it stopped raining where we were. Everyone on the bus felt bad, and then he found it in a pocket he had already checked. Cheers all around.

I did a good bit of hiking today at the arches and walking around town.  I'm pooped.


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Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Salt Lake City

Subject: Salt Lake City

Wendover UT is not a pretty town. Lots of trailers and tiny houses with a lot of trash around. The landscape, which is  barren (only brown rocks and dirt--no discernible vegetation) is hard to see because the view of it is hidden by shabby looking signs and businesses. I took a walk and heard dogs barking everywhere, although they weren't loose. So leaving Wendover was not a sadness.

Shortly after we left, we got to the Bonneville Salt Flats. That was pretty interesting-- very flat and white. We were told it is better than blacktop for reaching speeds of over 600 mph, the record speed there so far. It was cloudy and threatening to rain; it did rain last time we were here, but we only got a sprinkle today, despite flood warnings. Our bus driver was quite concerned about us tracking salt into his brand new bus, so we had to promise not to step in the salt or even on unpaved ground. He watched us, too.

As we drove on, we passed mountains, rocks, and the Great Salt Lake. But we didn't stop again until we got to the state Capitol. In Salt Lake City, we stopped near Temple Square. We had lunch, and then a woman on the trip and I took a tour of the Beehive House, where Brigham Young (thought of almost as reverently as God around here) lived with his wife and children. Bill wasn't interested, and he made a good choice. It was a short tour of rather ordinary content. Our tour guides were 2 Morman Chinese women, quite young, who spoke limited English but were quite devout.

One more stop was made at the Brigham Young Interpretive Center. This was set up as an old town, with guides dressed in period costume and buildings and shops depicting older crafts. We took a little train ride, and while we waited, 3 young people, also dressed in period costume, entertained us with music--singing, fiddle, and banjo. That was fun.

And finally to the hotel, but just briefly. We went on a tour of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, dinner in the rooftop restaurant of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, and then we sat through a rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with orchestra. That was spectacular, in my opinion. Having sung in choruses and choirs all those years myself, I really appreciated the sound of over 300 voices going over and over the hard parts of wonderful music and then singing it perfectly all the way through.

All the while we spent there, we didn't get converted to LDS, though.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Lynn Monday - Yosemite

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Lynn Kirby
Date: Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 6:00 PM

We got an early start today. Breakfast and suitcases out for pickup at 6:30, leave at 7:30. We got to Yosemite valley about 11, but the drive there was absolutely spectacular scenery. In fact, the scenery was spectacular for hours and hours. Cliffs, rocks, trees, meadows, lakes, valleys. I probably took over a hundred pictures.

The Kirby family went to Yosemite in 1976. I remember some of the views and being scared of heights. I was probably scared of the driving too. On this trip we are in the back of the bus, so I can't see where we're going. I can only see out the side windows. Our bus driver is great and has a lot of experience. I trust him.  Today I was able to really look at the scenery. First, I could look at it only through my camera, but it was too big and too beautiful to miss, and so I had to look through the window. We didn't fall off the cliffs we were on, after all.

To get out of the park we had to go over one of the only 3 passes over the Sierras, the highest one. We went over another one two days ago, and we avoided the Donner Pass. Today we got up over 9,000 feet; the elevation did make us fall asleep off and on, but the scenery woke us up again.

After we left Yosemite, we stopped at Mono Basin, another place to take lots of pictures. And now at 5:47, we are at Carson City, still on the road to Sparks, near Reno, where we will spend two nights. So we should be on the road for about another hour. It was a long day (and a shorter message.)

Love, Lynn

Sent from my iPad

Sunday, August 17, 2014

This is Fresno, it must be Sunday


This morning we were in Bakersfield, CA. As we drove away, we realized that we could barely see the mountains to the east, the mountains to which we had just spent the day to the east of, yesterday. The tops of the mountains were just a faintly darker color than the sky. Turns out that this valley has some of the most polluted air of the country. It is surrounded by two mountain ranges, and it's hot, so there is an upper air inversion most of the time. In the winter, when it's a bit cooler, the air is a little better, but it's a big problem year round.

The area is the source of many fruits and nuts. They grow apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, citrus, berries, almonds, pistachios and more around here. Even corn, which I thought belonged to the midwest.  In fact, 13% of the nation's agricultural products come from here.

The undeveloped land is brown and scrubby, with cactus and tumbleweed and many types of trees that I don't recognize. Most of the greens are a greyish green.

We visited two national parks today, sort of: Kings Canyon and Sequoia. I say "sort of" because we really only went to  a very small part of either. The drive there was pretty and thrilling, if you get a thrill from driving on a fairly narrow winding road hundreds of feet above things about 20 feet to your right. Or you could just close your eyes. Actually I didn't do too badly. I seem to be a little less afraid than I have been in the past.

The reason we went to such a small part of the parks is twofold. First, there are no roads to most of the land in these parks. The vast majority of the parks is for wilderness hikers. The other reason is that the major road through the parks is so twisted and has such sharp turns that large vehicles, such as our bus, are not allowed to go there.

But we did see some of it. We had lunch at a picnic area called Big Stump because it has a big stump of an old sequoia tree.  It has a huge diameter, maybe 25 feet or more. We went to a place we could walk and saw the biggest known sequoia tree, named General Grant. I think it is 167 feet tall and the diameter of its base is 40.3 feet. That may have been the largest, but there are a lot of really big ones in the area. You can even walk through one that has fallen and hollowed out over the years, without stooping.  I did find walking around there very tiring. I had to keep stopping to rest a bit. I think it was because i am used to walking on flat ground, and this was pretty hilly. But also, we were at about 6,000 feet above sea level, and since at home we are at about 350 feet, that is a big change.

There is a difference between sequoias and redwoods. The sequoias are a lot fatter around, and redwoods are a lot taller, like about 100 feet taller. The sequoias grow inland, and their needles are in large clumps around the tree, with large sections of the trunk showing. Redwoods grow along the coast and their needles, although very high from the ground, grow in a shape more like a Christmas tree.

After we left the park we drove to Fresno. We stopped at a local fruit stand, but the fruit needed a couple of days on the kitchen counter to fully ripen, so I didn't buy any.

Our guide told us some things about Fresno. It is just about the geographical center of California. A bank in Fresno introduced a new concept in credit cards, and their card turned into Visa over the years. Fresno had the first modern landfill, the type where they add dirt over additions to the garbage--sort of a composting idea. They used that landfill from 1937-1987.

And so we have had dinner and are about conked out.

Tomorrow will be a long day.

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Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Death Valley

Lynn's 3rd message: Death Valley

Before I start, i should say that I have a lot of pictures, but I don't know how to use this computer, so they'll probably have to wait until we get home. I am finding just writing this message quite challenging.

We left Vegas 7:45 and our first stop was a grocery store to go to the bathroom and buy food (in that order). 

Today we were scheduled to go to Death Valley but only if the temperature would be under 115. The reason for that is that the bus would overheat on the climb out of the park and we would be stranded in the heat and in a place where there is no cell phone service. But the forecast was for only 110, so we were going. I was pretty pumped about getting there. 

We got to Death Valley National Park about 10, and we stopped at an overlook for pictures. It felt pretty hot, but it was only in the upper 90's. A little later we stopped at Furnace Creek, which was at a lower elevation, and so it was hotter there. The lower the elevation, the hotter it is, and Death Valley is a few hundred feet below sea level. Getting out of it one has to climb 2 - 3,000 feet. 

We stayed at  Furnace Creek about an hour and a half for lunch and sightseeing. The restaurant was so crowded and service so slow, I worried about having time to view the remains of the borax mining they did there in the 1880s. But I did get to go outside, and as soon as I did, I wanted to go back in. It was 112, and no, I mean NO shade. I took a quick picture or two and got back in the bus. One more stop was at the Sand Dunes. I got out to take a few pictures (not many people did), and the bus driver told me to empty my shoes before getting back on the bus. They were actually pretty full. 

Death Valley's geology is interesting--sedimentary rocks and sands moved around by shifts of tectonic plates, wind, and volcanic activity in the past. There are many colors in the rocks and many different sorts of rock formations. The vegetation changes as you go from place to place; there is very little at the lower points of the park, mostly a few stunted Joshua trees and what is probably tumbleweed. Most of the wildlife is nocturnal (smart of them!) so we saw none. I heard a sound that may have been a very unmusical bird and saw one buzzard circling in the sky. Mostly what we saw was rocks, sand, and mountains with many subtle colors--white, green, black, red, yellow.

I'm glad we went there, but I don't think I'll ever return. After we left we were headed to Bakersfield, CA, but the shortest route we could have taken had a road that had been washed out by rain (it's so dry here, when it does rain it floods). So we drove north along the eastern side of Owens Lake. The water from that lake is all but gone--it looks more like a plain than a lake. Its water was used for years by Los Angeles, and a moratorium has recently been called on that. Now there are just what appeared from a distance to be just puddles.

We stopped in Lone Pine, CA for a look at Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, just 85 miles from the lowest point (in Death Valley). It was hot there, too, but a sign in the visitor's center said that today's temps were: Lone Pine 93, Mount Whitney 54, Mammoth Lakes 78, and Furnace Creek 112. The high today in Bakersfield was 99. I'm appreciating Wisconsin.

Much of the way to Bakersfield we passed miles and miles and miles of wind farms, and in the area of Tehachapi, miles and miles of trains all standing still. We did a lot of speculating about that on the bus.

Our motel tonight is a Hampton Inn, which is nice but far different than The Golden Nugget, and the best restaurant nearby is Denny's. We had a good dinner and now we're resting up for tomorrow's adventures.

Love, Lynn ( or

Lynn on our trip 2

Lynn message 2
A full day in Las Vegas, but without a car, we stayed within a few blocks of our hotel, The Golden Nugget, which is in the downtown area. We learned why this hotel has it's name. It owns and has on display the worlds largest gold nugget. It's about 15 by 12 by 6 inches at its largest parts. It was discovered in 1980 sort of by accident. It was buried vertically with the top of it, which is very small, only 2" below ground, behind a barn. Wonder how it affected the farmer. Did it change his life?

We walked in the morning before it got too hot. I wore a dress, which is what people did last time I was in this city, about 30 years ago. No more. A normal dress that covers one's knees and torso attracted attention. In fact, one person asked if I was from England. I think the less you wear, the less attention you get, because it is the norm. But I don't think you can blame the skimpy attire on the heat exclusively, as this has always been known as Sin City.

We were surprised to see an ABC store, because the last time we saw them was in Hawaii. They were on just about every block there, but we had no idea there were any on the mainland. This one really did seem just like the ones in Hawaii in merchandise and layout. Cool!

Not counting the casino and gambling machines at every turn, the pool is a big feature. In the center is a 750,000 ( or is it 75,000?) gallon tank filled with all sorts of very big fish and sharks. A water slide goes right through the tank. I couldn't resist. Unfortunately, in the slide the water goes into your eyes so fully you can't keep them open. I was disappointed to miss the sight of the fish, but it was still fun.

Fremont Street. There is a metal canopy over the whole street for 3 blocks. It is made of strips of metal that overlap but don't touch. Surprisingly, it is shaded by the strips and it's air conditioned in that area, which is pleasant. (It went up to 102 outside.) Pleasant, but it can't be very environmentally responsible. There are all sorts of sights on this street, including almost totally naked women who will let you take their picture for a fee. We were wondering if we could do the same and make a few extra bucks.

At night there was a light show on the Fremont Street ceiling. We went but we left immediately, as it was one of those events that attempts to convince people they're having fun by making it deafeningly loud. It was painfully loud.

Did we gamble? What do you think?

Lynn on our trip

We spent the day working around the house and yard. We left for Appleton about 3:30, and our trip didn't have a very auspicious start. First, a car right in front of us on  the bridge over the Fox River began to burn and couldn't really pull over. Heavy traffic in both lanes made getting past him tricky, but we did eventually. Then we got lost, and would still be lost if I hadn't brought my iPad for directions.  on our way back over the bridge,there was a huge traffic tie up due to that disabled car having caused an accident. Police every where, etc.

We found the Olive Garden for dinner. As we made a left turn into the place, on a left turn arrow, a car that had been going to make a right turn on red stopped to give us the right of way and the car behind him ran into him. In the restaurant our seat was right across from  family with a screeching kid. He did settle down, but the whole restaurant was quite noisy. Our meal was quite slow in coming because we ordered whole wheat noodles and they had to go buy some before they cooked them, i think. We did get free desserts because of the long wait.

> We got to the airport in plenty of time for our 8:27 take off. The bar ( no walls) was open and heavily inhabited by  a group traveling together, all quite excited, drunker by the minute, and LOUD. Turns out they were going on our plane, which was about a half hour late in boarding and taking off. The boarding clerk told them they had to settle down before he would let them board, and they did.

The flight was smooth and quiet enough, although i think one of the pilots was sick because he went into the bathroom about 15 times, each time quite close to the previous time. I decided I didn't have to go bad enough to go in there. We landed in Vegas at about 10:30 their time, 12:30 in Wisconsin. We got to our hotel about midnight (Vegas time) and got all balled up checking in. Trying to find the checkin desk was tricky, and while walking we learned that smoking is allowed in public places in Vegas, and loud music, lots of booze, gambling, and sex are part of the culture. (On the way to our hotel, we passed the Erotic Heritage Museum.) We spent a lot of time walking back and forth in our hotel trying to find our room, 3120, which was either on the third floor, room 120, or the 31st floor, room 20. It was the former, and miles from the elevator. We got to bed and fell asleep immediately.

More after some sleep and further adventures. But i can say that i look forward to leaving Vegas tomorrow morning!

Love, Bill and Lynn

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Skipping the hard parts

I thought the Adam Sadler movie "Click" was surprisingly  helpful.  The  hero  has too many remote controls in his life: tv, heating and cooling, So, he goes to Bed, Bath and Beyond.  In the back of the store is the Beyond desk where he buys a universal remote control.  He is very surprised to find that the remote mutes his wife and his boss and he uses that feature whenever he feels that he doesn't want to hear what they are saying.  He finds that he can use the device to fast forward during an argument and get past it to a better, more congenial time in his marriage and his work.  After a while, he finds the price for that convenience: a drastically shortened life time, much of which he had fastforwarded through.

When I went to college, I questioned many aspects of the assumptions and procedures of teacher training.  Ok, I overquestioned and that attitude led to my doctoral studies in educational research. When I began, I gave too little weight to the political side of education and of improvement in education.  But here 45 years later, it doesn't seem that we have any wonderful new insights into improvements in schooling.  Much of what we know about doing schooling well was known 500 years ago.

Americans are often interested in being #1, in being the fastest and the best.  But the best overall educations for the entire lifespan seem to come from not trying too hard.  I just saw a headline about not trying too hard learning a 2nd language.  Today, I see a headline about not overdoing exercise.  Finland has been doing pretty well with education and I guess their schools give a 15 minute break each hour.

Sometimes, the hard part for moderns is accepting the timeouts, the pauses, the gap years, the slowness of maturation and the many seasons and experiences that are needed to build a happy, competent, well-balanced human being.  It doesn't work well to skip the hard parts or the slow parts or the challenging parts.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Consolations of education

There are many books, both the deep kind and the shallow, about education.  What makes a good one?  What good is an education, etc.etc.There was a popular book in the Middle Ages called The Consolations of Philosophy.  There could be one on the Consolations of Education.

it can be a big comfort to know that others have faced the same questions and difficulties that face us.  Should we let our parents arrange a marriage for us or should we arrange one for ourselves?  Should we enter a highly religious life or work in retail or repair cars or what?  Is our government mis-using its power?  Is technology dominating our lives?  Is science leading us all astray? How did we get here?  Why are we here?  Should we strive to be happy or good or both or what?

It can be fun and satisfying to get a handle on what the Bible, the ancients, the Middle Ages and the moderns have thought about such questions and their answers.  Just about any position you can imagine has been adopted by somebody.  How they lived and what they thought can be helpful when we are facing the same or similar questions.

I find modern computers and their offspring, such as electronic books very helpful in trying to get a feeling for any subject.  Some moderns I know like to start any research or learning project with Google.  The woman who runs the campus lab where I am a volunteer just told me that she needs help with Excel pivot tables.  Pivot tables!  Haven't heard those words for ten years.  I needed to refresh my knowledge.  I did what I always do, looked in Amazon Kindle books for something I could afford and could download in an instant.  Found a fine book.  Got a bit of a refresher and am on the way to being able to help.  

But while writing this post, I thought about YouTube.  A relative worked with YouTube videos to improve his ability on a soccer team.  Another used it to improve his guitar technique.  So, I thought why not check "pivot tables".  True, the topic is a specialized one, a way of slicing and dicing data with Excel.  But, Excel is very popular so it is really no surprise that there are many good videos about using Excel pivot tables waiting for me.

That is the way it is these days.  Worried about an aging parent?  Can't pay your tax bill?  Car won't start?  Check it out online.  Got bigger, vaguer worries?  What about your religion?  Fading ability to play the piano?  Check the problem online.  After a little while, doing so gets to be second nature and you check out things more quickly and easily.  You have more confidence.  You may even get to the point where you are referred to something you already know well.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Dear Dr. Harvey B. Aronson

Dear Dr. Harvey B. Aronson,

Please consider a second book following up on "Buddhist Practice on Western Ground".  Your book is a very fine survey of the differences  in social and personal thinking in the West, especially the USA, and that in the societies that created Buddhism.  The psychology of facing one's self and life directly and compassionately is so valuable that many Americans are interested in Buddhism.  Yet, they often need help in noticing the strands of American life and the particular life goals and hopes they have that may require special attention when one is weaving Buddhist ideas into one's way of living.  Your original clarifications in the areas of relationships and individuality are still quite relevant and powerful.  Besides that fact, they may be unique.  It is difficult for Americans to find tips on blending their lives and goals with the ideas of equanimity and acceptance of one's ways and that others.

It has been ten years since the publication of "Practice".  I am confident that amount of time is sufficient for you to have new insights and ways of expressing original ones. There indeed many valuable books for Americans to get help with using Buddhist insights but I often recommend yours to my friends since it gets right to the issues that may trip us Yanks up.  I have made this web page of quotes of your work that seem especially valuable.  I hope you consider creating another book.  I urged Shambhala to make your book available in Kindle form and it finally did.  I hope your book on Theravadan Love and Sympathy gets into that form, as well as any future books.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Too much!

G.  Washington dropped by the other day.  Yep, the father of our country.  He was in a grumpy mood.  I could understand it.  The guy went through a great deal during his normal lifetime and now it has been 282 years since he was born.  He actually never made into the 1800's.  So, naturally, he was a little confused by the way we do things now.  Mostly, he was disoriented.  Cars and motorized traffic?  Credit cards?  Electric lights?  What's electricity?

This is still the country he did so much for and the government still operates in ways that he felt familiar with.  The whole business of political campaigns was new, though.  The shameless promotion of a particular candidate, even by the actual person and not just friends and supporters, was a surprise.  G.W. departed this earth in 1799 and according to "What Hath God Wrought" by Daniel Walker Howe, by the presidential campaign of 1828, political smears and negative campaigning had gained a clear foothold.  And women!  Women running for office, right out in the open!  Amazing!

The acreage of the country as well as the size of the population set him back.  He had warned about foreign entanglements and of course, we are pretty tangled with other countries.  He said that if he could find a way to stay for a while, he wanted to learn more about US and world history in the last couple of centuries.  He wanted updating about modern methods of magic that seemed to have a great deal to do with this electricity stuff.  He was flummoxed by current longevity.  G.W. lived to be 67 and that was a good long life.  When he heard the current longevity record of 122 and some months, he was really amazed.

I think he was actually glad not to be here for too long.  Everything seemed to be a strain and another source of confusion.  We never did get to computers and the internet.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

watched over 100 million times

Our friend tickled Lynn among others with this video, which has been watched more than 100 million times: "How Animals Eat their Food".  I think the guy on the left deserves special recognition.

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Same old exciting thing

Karen Maezen Miller is an American Zen teacher and writer.  Her prose has strong effects on me.  Her most recent column mentions the freeing power of de-junking and cleaning.  De-junking and cleaning can be the same task you performed the last time you cleaned and de-junked.  But that is a little shortsighted.  Of course, if you really want to visit a friend or go on a picnic or shop or whittle a new whistle, any impediment from duties will be a bother.

The truth is that this day has never dawned before and it never will again.  This is the magic moment of the great NOW that Eckhart Tolle emphasizes.  This now has today's needs that have never been configured just the way they are today.  The dust on the mantle is new and has never been in the house before.  Take a look at "The Secret Life of Dust: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little Things" by Hannah Holmes.

You find that the dust in your house includes bits from another galaxy, for crying out loud.  Another galaxy!  You might want to worship that dust.  It began its journey before your grandmother was born!

Between the miracles all around you and all through you, there is too much for you to grasp.  Time for a nap.  Then, a walk.  It's all too much.  Might as well just soak it up.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Evolutionary stress

All animals have a drive to reproduce and we are no exception.  Frans de Waal makes clear that the other apes generally engage in reproductive activity more openly and more frequently than humans.  The chimpanzees have a male-dominated arrangement which means there is much competition to be the #1 guy.  The bonobos have a female-dominated arrangement which results in far more use of sexual sensations and stroking and much less aggression.

Much of the current situation in humans seems to be related to English Victorian attitudes, which both British people and American movies and other media helped to spread around the world.  But, I heard the boys in Italy want to get a motor scooter so they can travel to Sweden where the girls are more willing while the boys in Sweden want motors scooters to get to Italy where the girls are more willing.  I have my doubts that Italy and Sweden were all that affected by the Victorians.  My doubts are even stronger in relation to the Victorian influence on the Chinese and Japanese.  Blaming shame and blame for our sexual frustrations is nicely presented in "Sex at Dawn" by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá but criticisms of that work are presented in "Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn" by Lynn Saxon (here in PDF form).

I wondered about shame and sexual inhibition worldwide but de Waal gave me a different slant.  His hypothesis is that our species has been much more successful than either of the other two.  We use what de Waal call a "nuclear family" arrangement.  Despite sensitivity to the presence of the opposite sex everywhere we meet them, we have a natural tendency toward long term pair bonds.  The other species don't have that tendency.

But you can see how it all works out: boys and girls are told they can grow up, marry, have children if they want (while the grandparents often urge them to do so) and engage in any business or trade they find appealing.  So, my son and your daughter study accounting or wildlife.  Our maturing and schooling schedule manages to allow those two to meet at just the time their hormones and society are pushing them in the strongest way to mate and to marry.  To "settle down".  But we didn't raise no dummies.  The couple wants the bonding and pleasure of sex but no babies yet.  Ooops, nature is relentless and one way or another, a baby comes.  Meanwhile, co-workers of the opposite gender and the hospital orderly and the postman and her previous employer all continue to display their gender signs and one or the other of our kids may be pulled to start another pair bond.

Sure, we have taught them and nature has taught them and a million years of human evolution has taught them.  Unfortunately, some of the teachings conflict with each other.  Add in various admonitions, tendencies and projects from schooling and churching, from the media and personal reading.  The result can easily be a set of contradictory goals that cannot all be met.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

beautiful tree photos

Lynn just ran through these on Facebook and I thought they might help beautify your day.

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Sleep, "Sleep Genius", my brain and music

​​Both Lynn and I have been using the Sleep Genius app on our iPads, both for falling asleep at night and for napping.  Our two main senses, hearing and sight, are not usually been ranked equally.  Many people clearly feel that being blind would be an immediate and severe change while hearing less acutely would not be much loss.  I have written about the book by Seth Horowitz, PhD called "The Universal Sense".  The title refers to hearing, in us and other animals.  For a taste of Horowitz's writing, see this NYTimes article.

There are many apps for the iPad and for Android devices (phones and tablets that use the Google operating system called "Android").  The iPad more or less started the tablet rage and has been a very successful product.  There are quite a few apps that relate to sleep and relaxation.  "Sleep Genius" is the only one I have tried.  The text part of it advises to stick with the same time for bed at night and the same choice of sounds to listen to.  By now, I have listened to the first choice many times and I can see that my brain takes those sounds to be a signal to forget about the world and just turn off for a while.

Evidently, we humans tend to have four or five sleep cycles during a night's sleep, each lasting about 90 minutes.

"Sleep Genius" advises itself on its web site as the leading sleep app.  The site advertises connections to several other people besides Horowitz, including the author of "Healing at the Speed of Sound".  I read in "Healing from the Heart" that the well-known physician, Dr. Oz, had special musicians play at his house to assist his wife in getting rid of some pain.  I thought that was goofy but as time has gone by, I am more open to the possibility of being positively affected by sound.  I certainly accept the notion that me and my body will be encouraged by some words spoken by the doctor and discouraged by other ones.  I certainly can feel my emotion and spirit being lifted by the William Tell overture and some arias by Luciano Pavarotti.  I can feel my distaste for some of the thumping, screaming stuff played in the weight room I attend.

I am interested in sound and music therapy and I would not be surprised if the doctor tells me to listen to Abba acall him in the morning.  No wonder I am interested.  This is from the book "Healing at the Speed of Sound":
When my book The Mozart Effect was first published in 1997, much of our knowledge of sound's effects on the human mind, body, and spirit remained in the realm of the anecdotal and even the intuitive. We knew that college students who listened to Mozart's music did better on temporal/ spatial tests taken shortly after the listening experience. We had heard from numerous health-care professionals that listening to music appeared to increase patients' tolerance for pain and sped up their surgical recovery times, and that it even seemed to enhance premature infants ' growth rates in pediatric ICUs. We had seen how, in certain special programs in schools, drumming circles had a remarkable impact on troubled youth. Few thorough studies had been conducted to scientifically validate these reports or to explain how the results were achieved. Scientists had not yet traced the ways in which rhythm and sound have facilitated connection, communication, and community. Now, in the twenty-first century, that situation has changed.

Campbell, Don; Doman, Alex (2011-09-29). Healing at the Speed of Sound: How What We Hear Transforms Our Brains and Our Lives . Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gut bugs, again

I remain fascinated by the various forms of life in us and on us.  I have read that we have tiny critters all over us and quite a variety of them in our mouths and intestines.  We recently read of research results in Brain and Behavior that indicate there may be a link between having the right bugs in our digestive system and not having mental illness.  A year ago, for the first time ever, I received a prescription for an over-the-counter capsule of restorative doses of gut bugs to take along with an antibiotic. Previously, I had taken Culturelle capsules but this time, the pharmacist recommended Florajen 3, a new and especially powerful dose of all the better bugs.

The pediatric neurologist Martha Herbert has suspected gut bug deficiencies and wrong bugs in her search for the origin of autism.  I guess there is the possibility that missing some normal critters or having too many of the wrong kind can interfere with the proper extraction of the nutrients the body needs, especially before and close after birth.  Since so many kinds of organisms are involved and so little is known about the effects of each, much work remains.  Further, the combinations of various strains are extremely numerous so the effects of getting firm knowledge about the interactions of our meds, our foods and our gut bugs may take a while.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Primate behavior in them and in us

Somebody proposed that our group read and discuss "Our Inner Ape" by Frans de Waal.  I thought it was nutty.  I mean, c'mon!  Apes?  But, boy, was I off!  Listen to de Waal discuss observations of chimps, bonobos and many other primates, both in captivity and in the wild.  We humans do many of the same things, often with a slightly different twist but close enough to make clear that we are indeed primates.

Get in a fight over a female?  Check.  Show an interest and ability to reconcile after a fight? Check.  Patrol the group's territory, looking for strangers, intruders and kill them? Check. Females tend to shy away from aggression with males?  Check.  Females gang up on males that are overly persistent in their pursuits? Check.  Differ to elders? Check.

De Waal writes:

Like chimpanzees, people are strongly territorial and value the lives of those outside their group less than those within. It has been speculated that chimpanzees would not hesitate to use knives and guns if they had them, and similarly, preliterate people would probably not hesitate to escalate their conflicts if they had the technology. An anthropologist once told me about two Eipo-Papuan village heads in New Guinea who were taking their first trip on a little airplane. They were not afraid to board the plane, but made a puzzling request: they wanted the side door to remain open. They were warned that it was cold up in the sky and that, since they wore nothing but their traditional penis sheaths, they would freeze. The men didn't care. They wanted to bring along some heavy rocks, which, if the pilot would be so kind as to circle over the next village, they could shove through the open door and drop onto their enemies. In the evening, the anthropologist wrote in his diary that he had witnessed the invention of the bomb by neolithic man.

Just as college students scratch their heads during a tough exam, self-scratching in other primates indicates unease. If one takes notes on self-scratching, as some researchers have done, it turns out that both parties involved in a fight scratch themselves a lot, but stop after having been groomed by their opponent. We can surmise that they were worried about their relationship and reassured by the reunion.

Waal, Frans de (2006-08-01). Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are (pp. 136, 151). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Gesturing on a touchscreen

Our first computer was an Apple IIe and did not have a mouse.  The mouse came along with the Macintosh.  Now, most people in this country may be familiar with how to hold and use a mouse with a computer.  So, when I got my Mac Air a few months ago, I was quite surprised that there was no mouse with it. Then I read the booklet with it and found out that I could get a mouse but that the touch pad (trackpad), which was notably larger than what I had seen on most laptops, was actually made to allow various touches and finger maneuvers to enable control and communication without a mouse.  That was my first clue to the emerging world of gestures.

Gestures is a common word used these days to mean things one can do with the fingers to communicate or control a computer or tablet.  The most famous touch screen today is probably the one on a smart phone.  I heard that a "smartphone" is one with no (or very few) buttons to press, since the phone is smart enough to offer you a keyboard with all sorts of keys and buttons and other, additional buttons when needed.  A smart touchscreen can tell whether you stroked it right to left or left to right and whether you do so using one, two or three fingers in the stroke.

To get some idea of the complexity and richness that might someday be involved in communicating to a sensitive screen, put "iPad gestures" into Google and look over the first few results.  You might want to pay special attention to the image results since several charts show the array of finger and hand maneuvers that Apple and others are getting into.

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