“Hanging On or Giving Back?”

Every adult seems to have some kind of reevaluation in mid life. I have been fascinated by how that dynamic plays out in the lives of the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife Mackenzie Scott Bezos. When more money than Croesus fails to provide satisfaction, where do people go? In the case of Jeff, apparently into a teenage boy’s fantasy life of a “bombshell” girl friend, a yacht and a rocket trip into space. In Mackenzie’s case into marriage with the science teacher at her children’s school. The above photos highlight the remarriage of each.(The photo of Jeff is typical of the ones he posts. I didn’t pick a particularly “revealing” one.)

More telling to me, however, is how each Bezos has chosen to deal with what seems to most of us as an obscene fortune. (Probably every one of my readers contributed to the wealth.) Yes it came from a good idea, but it also resulted in a massive dislocation to society and came from questionable treatment of workers. But as of last year, Jeff has given away 1% of his fortune, mostly for space travel, and Mackenzie has given 18% to a wide variety of causes including housing and education. She says she intends to give the money away “until the vault is empty.”

As for settling the mid life struggle we usually face, Jeff apparently thinks happiness is out in space. Mackenzie seems content to improve life here on earth.

“The Harder They Fall”

A number of statues have been taken down around the United States as people question who ought to be commemorated in bronze and who should go on the scrap heap. I have been interested in this issue and picked up Alex von Tunzelmann’s Fallen Idols:Twelve Statues That Made History(2021) to know more about the phenomenon.

She begins each chapter with the name, location, date of erection and date of removal of the statue. She includes ones from around the world, including Hungary’s Joseph Stalin(up in 1951 down in 1956,) South Africa’s monument to Cecil Rhodes(up in 1934 down in 2015,) and Belgium’s King Leopold II(up in Kinshasa in 1928 down in 1966, but up in Brussels in 1926 and still there.)

Each chapter thoroughly outlines the circumstances surrounding both the placing and the dismantling of each statue. The same discussions seems to take place no matter the location of the tribute, and the author challenges each statement which favors leaving the statue in place. Exploring and refuting the arguments of “the erasure of history,” “the man of his time,” “the importance of law and order,” and “the slippery slope” defense, she ultimately concludes we should simply quit memorializing people in large public bronze objects.

Whether or not you agree with her final conclusion, the author will definitely have given you more than a pat answer to any question about a statue: whether it should go up or if it is time for it to come down.

“Wait Training”

Lately whenever a service provider takes longer than what seems like 30 seconds to get to me she apologizes for making me wait. Since I have usually been oblivious to any inconvenience, it makes me wonder why the apology seems necessary. Similarly if when I pull forward as a light turns green in the time it takes me to put pressure on the gas pedal the person behind me is honking his horn. Apparently I am supposed to be ready in an instant to tear off from the stop. ( I don’t do that because so many people are running stop lights lately that I have to make sure no one is racing through.)

I think that a many people in American society have never had any “wait training.” Growing up, I had numerous occasions to learn to wait. Waiting was considered a virtue best taught through numberless opportunities to practice it. A phrase much used in connection with this schooling was “hold your horses.”

Dinner was at a set time. The time was set by my mother, not by the four of us. “Dinner will be ready when it is ready” was the clue that we were going to have another chance to learn to wait. As the oldest I was constantly told to “wait for your brother” or “wait for your sister.” This was not negotiable nor was any other opportunity to wait. “Don’t rush me.” “Keep your britches on.” More lessons.

Charlie and I lived in a house with one bathroom and three girls who needed to use it. This was graduate level training, particularly for Charlie! “I’ll be out in a minute” rarely had any meaning when it was uttered by a teen age girl. Of course that same girl could be heard to moan “Let me in–I’m dying out here.”

As I look at the picture of my grumpy self shown above, I admit that I wasn’t happy about having to wait. But I didn’t complain. “Complaining won’t make any difference!”

“Is it Cabots or God?”

View from Cabot Hall in Cambridge 1966

With help from crowd sourcing used by Pete to assist me, I was able to find the statistics for each individual post I have written in the last five years. I wanted to see how many times my post from June 3, 2017, “The Cabots Speak Only to God” had been viewed. I was curious because when I check my views each week several show up every time for that one. It turns out that it has been looked at 1766 times! The next highest is 691, with a typical post getting between 50 and 100 views.

The question is WHY. Why on earth would a post about my time in my dormitory Cabot Hall keep getting readers four years on? There can’t be that many people interested in that dorm. I can only conclude that they are coming there after doing a search through blogs with a keyword “God” or “Cabot.” Now perhaps it is a search for Cabot, either the cheese or the explorer. But I suspect that it is actually a search for “God.” Not God per se(although maybe that happens too!) but mentions of God.

I assume that as soon as someone reads the actual post they are quickly aware that God is not the focus of the post. Neither of course are the Cabots, except for making fun of them.

Just wondering if any of you have similarly wondered about popular posts. If so, I would love to hear which ones top the list.

“Turning Up The Heat”

Yesterday morning I kept hearing an intermittent knocking sound which sounded like a woodpecker. Since the noise was coming from the basement, not an adjacent tree, Charlie went downstairs to find the source. The furnace was making the noise, and some tiny spot in my brain said “I bet it’s air.” The heating man came later that morning and confirmed that it was air.

How did I know this? I remembered some vestige of knowledge from my childhood about radiators. Sadly, I had forgotten the other bit from then that heard my mother saying she had to “bleed the radiators.” We have lived in this house for twenty years and, although we have a 1929 heating system which uses radiators, we have never “bled” them. The upstairs has always been chilly with very little heat coming from the radiators there, but we had never given it a second thought.

The worker began to “bleed” the radiators using the little key pictured above. Apparently there was so much air in the upstairs radiators that the technician had to go into the basement three different times to deal with an override setting when too much water was accumulating. He said he expected the upstairs would be much warmer and that we might need to partially close the radiators.

No kidding! I am now in my office which is even warmer than the dining room “office” gets with the door shut enclosing the thermostat. The bathroom is toasty. Our bedroom was so hot last night I threw off the covers. So adjust them we will. And let’s hope we don’t go another twenty years without thinking of”bleeding” the radiators!

“You Aren’t From Around Here!”

Pete’s comment about the correct pronunciation of Norwich when he looked up Rocky Neck State Part reminded me to return to a post I started before the chaos of war in the world. Because I cannot say any more than I already have on the subject of Ukraine and Russia, I return to the earlier writing.

One of the obvious marks of a new comer to an area is her way of saying a place name. In Oregon it was the word said as “or-ee-GONE’ instead of “or-ee-gun.” In a similar way, saying the “will-a-met River” ensures you weren’t raised near the “will-AM-it River.” A blogger in Cornwall made sure that I didn’t pronounce “Mousehole” the way it appears and wrote it is closer to “mowsel. But I don’t think anyone would think I was from Cornwall once they heard the ways I say ordinary words!

My favorite encounter with a completely unphonetic place name was the night my mother and I stayed in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. We had driven back from the Island of Skye on our return to London and needed a room for the night. After passing through Newton Stewart, we came to Kirkcudbright. In those days, before internet and cell phones, we just went into an inn to see if there was a room. We were fortunate to not only get a room but to also find ourselves in the middle of a wedding reception. My more proper mother thought we should stay away. My young adult self insisted we “crash” the party. We did and we were warmly welcomed to the fete.

It was at the party that we overheard the town name. It was so far removed from the phonetic rendering that we didn’t even realize at first what they were saying. But ever after when I see that name I remember that night, that wedding party and “cur-coo-bree.”

Sad to say in Connecticut they pronounce Norwich as “nor-witch” and have the poor sense to call the Thames River just the way the word looks, long “a” and all.

“The Long View”

Last Monday, a national holiday, the weather was a balmy 45 degrees and Charlie and I went to Rocky Neck State Park along Long Island Sound. Although not open to the full Atlantic Ocean, the Sound has beaches, tidal activity and much sea life including clams, oysters and fish. That day a few dozen other people were enjoying the “warm” weather. Since then we had 67 degree weather on Wednesday, 27 degree weather Thursday and awoke this morning to several inches of ice encrusted snow. Nothing boring about weather here.

We are trying to absorb the news of the war began by Putin against Ukraine. All sorts of Americans, many of whom I suspect would be hard pressed to identify Ukraine on a world map, have all sorts of ideas about how the United States should be responding. From our former President praising Putin’s strength to those condemning Biden’s supposed weakness to the usual band of isolationists and over to war mongers, news 24/7 can hardly contain the chatter. But everyone seems suddenly to be an expert.

I am not one. I have no solutions. I cringe as I see grandmothers like me with small children huddling in subway tunnels to escape bombs. I fear what may come next. Because I am a woman of faith I pray. It is not nothing. It is in fact the best use of my time. I pray that those in power can use that power for good. And I pray that Americans disavow themselves of the notion that strength and brute force are the same thing.

“A Band of Squalls”

Yesterday our phones began blaring in unison with the message that a band of squalls was minutes away from our home. I had been reading a new history of the Middle Ages and I had trouble differentiating a band of squalls from a band of Huns, a band of Vandals, or a band of Goths. After a minute I realized that it was warning of upcoming blinding snow arriving without much warning(save the insistent phone alert.)

Realizing that I was sitting in my chair, reading a book, with no intention of going anywhere, I determined that they were not as drastic a threat as my pounding heart produced by the alert would indicate. It wasn’t going to be a big bad wolf threatening to “blow the house down.” I settled down and wondered what would actually happen.

As the image above explains, they did come on a fierce gust of wind with a myriad of flakes blowing virtually horizontally, quickly covering the ground. Cars seemed to be driving by with no trouble, however. No power interruptions. No objects flying through the air. Really just a blast of snow leaving nearly as fast as it came.

I intend to silence my phone again. I suffered more from the alert than from the squall!

“My World View Expands

The older I get the more I realize how much there is that I don’t know. My education was, like most American children of the 1950’s, focused on the United States with occasional reference to Europe. We had to memorize world maps, but didn’t spend time learning about countries other than our own. My knowledge about China never got much deeper as I grew and continued to focus on Western history and Western literature.

My husband reads The Economist each week and suggested I look at their list of interesting books published in 2021. I was confronted with the opportunity to learn about many issues and places I was fairly ignorant about. I chose to read Invisible China largely because of its subtitle How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise. In my corner of the world China appears as a single thriving country threatening at any point to be the ascendant power in the world. I am stereotypically ignorant, I admit.

Written by a group of researchers who have studied rural China for decades, the book clearly describes serious problems there from poor education to poor health. They maintain that the vast, mainly rural, work force able to build infrastructure and man factories is unprepared for the work ahead as the structures are completed and factories move out of China to places such as Viet Nam. In addition the great disparity between men and women produces a challenge as large numbers of men become unemployed without purpose or family.

I knew so little about China that I didn’t realize that at birth a child is designated either rural or urban, a label that follows him throughout his life with serious implications for education. As urban kids are outpacing the world in science scores, rural kids are often suffering with health challenges, poorly educated teachers and low expectations. According to the book, 2/3 of the children in China are rural.

The book is fairly short, well documented and easy to read. If any of my readers are as clueless as I was about China I recommend it.

“I Jump On The Bandwagon”

I am rather hit and miss with fads. I bought a hula hoop as a kid and demanded a skort, but I never tried swallowing goldfish. In more recent years I have passed on Rubik’s cubes, Candy Crush and the Ice Bucket Challenge. However, in the last week, I have stumbled upon Wordle, the free daily on-line word puzzle.

In November 2021 the game had 90 users. Recently that number passed 3 million and the developer sold his game to The New York Times for a seven figure amount. What could account for such a meteoric rise in players? I had to find out, so I went to try it out for myself.

The game is blessedly simple. In six chances you try to figure out a five letter word. If the letter in your guess is incorrect it, and the corresponding spot on the keyboard, turn gray. If the letter is correct but in the wrong spot it turns yellow. If it is correct and in the right place it turns green. It took me about 10 minutes to learn it, most of the time spent not understanding I needed to press Enter after a guess.

What then is the appeal? Unlike many on-line games this one can’t suck you into an endless mindless playing rut. There is only one word a day. Once you solve it or don’t solve it you have a chance to return to your “regular” life. Solving a simple, free, concrete challenge is satisfying. Getting better as you remember which letters commonly combine takes you happily back to elementary school with its diphthongs and digraphs. (Don’t worry; they come pouring back.)

Free, fun and fast. What is not to like?