is nature a cure for technology overload?

I often wonder, and I’ve heard others express the same sentiment, what did I ever do without computers?! I can’t imagine my life without them. My grandchildren have never known what life was like without all this technology. Thomas loves computer games. Vimmy loves music videos and recently discovered Google, which led to an interesting discussion with her mother after a typical 7-year-old meltdown: Visiby upset, she shouted with all the venom she had in her, You’re not my mother! Her mother of course, who for the record really is her mother, wanted to know how she came up with that idea?  I know because I googled it! And it said you weren’t my real mother! Interesting. As I said, you can find just about anything by Googling, whether it’s in support of or against your argument.

When you see the lips of the person in the cars beside you in traffic are moving, in the old days you would have assumed they were singing along with the radio. These days, they’re more likely talking on their cell phones, sometimes dialing before they’ve left their parking spots.

We acquired our first computer in 1985, while our two daughters were still in the middle and high school. We still relied on the networks for TV entertainment, and we didn’t have internet service until years later after the girls were both in college. It was the antiquated dial-up and we were thrilled. Without web service, that first computer really amounted only to a glorified word processor, but it was handy for typing legible homework assignments without developing writer’s cramp, and it was faster. I was taking University courses myself at the time, trying to learn how to write my own stories, so that first computer got a fair amount of workout. All this without constant erasing and applying whiteout paint.

Nowadays I feel  as though I’m glued to the chair in front of my PC monitor too much of the time. I seem to need it for so many things that interest me these days. If I want to know side effects of my prescribed meds or need to nudge the old noodle to remember who won the Oscar for that movie, what was it called? I Google or Bing it, it’s there somewhere. I want to know how to make a Tomatilla sauce. That one, indeed several versions, plus millions more recipes pop up quickly. As my interest in shopping declines, I depend on online shopping. If it’s not found locally, order online where it’s often cheaper. You save not just fuel and wear and tear on your car and your feet, you may not pay taxes on it either, and it will be delivered to your front door in a week or 10 days time, often for free! One day, after a long bout in that chair, I decided I’d take the time to organize my travel photos, and it suddenly hit me. I’m tired of sitting in front of a monitor most of day. So I decided to put the brakes on, hence my general slowdown in regular blogging. I needed to spend more time getting back to things I used to be interested in–art, music, reading books, sewing, etc., reconnecting with the me that I was before personal computers.

I’m startled to realize I was one of the pioneers of my age-group to jump into this new technology in my early 50s. Most of my friends refused to bother with it.  Not for long. After 2012 I read somewhere, half of all retired persons (or senior citizens for lack of a better word) create, share, and exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. (I wonder what’s wrong with the other half). I still process words, I organize my digital photos, I blog in- between necessary old-fashioned household tasks, though my washer, dryer, and even the sewing machine, are computerized. When I can fit it in, not with any degree of regularity, I still blog as you can see, because–let’s face it–I’m addicted!

Hubby and I attended a lecture on Sunday about the current research of a University of Utah professor, David Strayer, with whom our son-in-law worked on a study about the effects of texting and talking on the cellphone while driving. Dr. Strayer suggests that a natural environment, like that in which our ancestors evolved, is associated with exposure to stimulus that elicits a gentle, soft fascination, (as opposed to the hard fascination of horns honking, telephones ringing, TVs and radios blaring) and is emotionally positive and low-arousing. The study suggests that exposure to nature engages in our brains a “default mode” of restful introspection implicit in the efficient task performance requiring frontal lobe function, while restoring cortex-mediated “executive processes” like selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking. In other words, taking a hike or getting out in nature–away from all of the technological distractions–might be useful in helping clear our minds, restoring and refreshing our creative juices to face real life in a real world.
Hubby’s and my generation, and to some degree that of our daughters, straddle the shift from traditional industry to that of the industrial revolution or technology brought to us through industrialization. We can remember what it was like before computers and social networking. Thus we can appreciate the way they expand the world for us, yet we can function without them. While most of us would be loath to be forced to, we know we could survive if necessary without them. Our grandchildren, however, have watched their parents and grandparents play with and use computers their whole lives, and now they’re making their own discoveries. What about them? It will change them, but how? What kind of social adults will they grow up to be? Will they know more, make more discoveries, be even more productive, than we were? In my mind, it’s the perfect time for studies like these. We should know  the implications of all this technological overload. And will reconnecting with nature prove to be–not a self centered diversion–but a necessary part of the preservation of the human species?
In closing, Dr. Strayer shared a video the research team found on YouTube, and I share it here with my readers. It runs a minute 26 seconds so it won’t take much time, and I’m sure you’ll find it entertaining, if not–as I do–a little disturbing. A perplexed one-year-old,  obviously already exposed to an iPad, is a little confused that her finger doesn’t work on that weird magazine “thingie” with pictures and words on it. Funny. And a little sad, too.

baby ducks “quack me up” – how about you?

How’s the weather treating you where you live? There are signs of spring here in my neighborhood–people are out walking, trees budding and blooming–the daffodils and hibiscus really putting on a show. In one day’s time we’ve gone from  rain, hail, snow–one or the other every single day–to pretty close to perfect this week. I complained loudly just as most people around me were doing, because we knew that much of the country was faring far worse! So I’m giving in. Rather than continuing my India travelogue today, I’ll be outside enjoying the sunshine while I get my flower beds cleaned up and ready for planting, while I try to resist the temptation to plant too early. You just can’t trust Mother Nature this time of year!

Another sign of spring are the number of videos that feature baby ducks are cropping up. If you think you’ve had weather-related problems, consider the plight of this mother duck as she leads her troop to water during a heavy wind. An adult duck typically weighs between 8 and 11 pounds, so their babies probably weigh mere ounces.

I’m throwing in this one just because I adore watching babies learn about the world. These little ducklings would like to learn to yo yo.

You can watch them both in just 68 seconds, but I’ll bet they’ll make you smile inside all day. Here’s wishing all of you a sunshiny day.

learning to unplug

Are you “plugged in” to technology–iPads, iPods, iPhones, laptops, PCs and Macs–for the majority of your day? Think about it before you answer. I became concerned about my own “plug-in” problems a couple of weekends back. It was the Sunday I decided to pull the plug on my computer. The decision started with a concern for my physical health. I was experiencing a lot of neck stress, headaches, and my fingers were feeling stiff. It had been only a little more than two months since my last RA infusion; I’d hoped to make it at least six months, the average length of time between symptoms, before needing another, but each patient reacts his own way so the rheumatologist asked me to call him if I felt a flare before six months. Since chemotherapy last year that left my veins uncooperative (or what the nurses called “shot to hell”) we were hoping for at least six months reprieve between needle stabs. The only way to know if my pain was the beginning of flareup, or simply too much time in front of the computer, as I’d begun to suspect, I decided to pull the plug for 24 hours.

The next day there was a slight difference, but still a lot of neck strain. Then Hubby noticed I was squinting and looking upward, straining to see the computer screen through my bifocal. I decided to pull out some old computer glasses I’d had made a few years ago to use with the computer. Voila, after only a day or two I felt the difference. Experiment successful. I was really happy that it wasn’t an arthritic flare after all. But after that Sunday unplug, I had become aware of another, potentially much more serious mental problem that might require more effort to fix.

It was a lot more complicated than just the time spent keeping up with this blog. There was all that time I spent reading and commenting on other blogs. Much of that part is good, I’ve decided, as it leaves me with a sense of connection with the world. All day long on unplug day, I kept thinking of things I wanted to do that required my PC. Answers. To all kinds of things! I’ve gotten in the habit of running to my PC for every little nonsensical thought or question that occurs to me. I click Google or Bing, insert a few keywords and bingo, I have access to everything I want or think I need to know. Medical symptoms. Recipes. Movie reviews. You name it. It’s all there and then some.

Remember in the old days you’d wake up in the middle of the night with this burning question–really serious stuff. The answer would come to you, you knew that, so after you worried with the question for awhile you’d eventually fall asleep again. If you were lucky, the answer floated into your consciousness the very next day, or maybe several days later. But I don’t remember a time when the answer didn’t come eventually. Alternately, you’d run into a friend or co-worker who might know. They either would or not. But it wasn’t that important anyway. In my class on the neurophysiology of the brain the following week, I asked the professor if google could be injurious to our brains and our ability to remember. She admitted she didn’t know, and that she worried a little about that herself. There just wasn’t enough research yet to know. Another student suggested that the harm may be offset somewhat by the work our brains have to do to come up with the right set of tag words to get answers, suggesting we were still assisting the plasticity of our brains to keep them working better as we age. That’s a little of why I blog. To keep reaching for the right word to convey to meaning in my communications, I reasoned, would be a good exercise for my bain.

Back to the Sunday experiment. It hit me at some point that day that I could use my lazy Sunday afternoon to scan recipes from a library loaned cookbook so I could try them at will and go ahead and return the book. But no! That would require plugging back in–to two machines, my scanner/printer setup AND the PC to store them in an electronic file. Couldn’t do that until tomorrow. When I actually started preparations for dinner, at some point I needed to be close to the kitchen to monitor things, but make that time go faster at the same time. My office is right across from the kitchen, so I’ve gotten into the habit of sitting at my computer with an ear to the kitchen and play online cards. Long story short, throughout the day I was drawn like a magnet over and over again to my computer. But Monday morning I felt triumphant! I’d managed to go a full 24 hours without plugging in, not even to check email.

Which brings me to the video below. Last night, Hubby and I attended a lecture/movie at a local college. The movie by a San Francisco filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, was entitled CONNECTED. It premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Using animation, archival film footage and much of her father’s writings, the movie explores the idea of how and why people are connected through technology. As in all of life, however, there’s always a balance to be achieved between the GOOD and NOT SO GOOD elements of every new discovery that impacts humanity.

Should you be interested in seeing CONNECTED, it’s available on video (to members) on Netflix. In the meantime, this 16 minute video interview with the filmmaker will give you many things to think about. Maybe you’ll have a clearer understanding, as I do, why we’re hearing “where does the time go” over and over again, even by young people. I understand that the majority of these YouTube sharings are rarely seen, but if you’ve ever wondered “where did my day go” or “is all this focus on technology good for me,” I think you’ll indulge me the nudge to watch. Maybe, like me, you’ll decide technology is good overall (perhaps, though the jury’s still out) but, maybe it’s good to unplug now and then.

colorful, spicy and healthful indian cooking

Over the years I have prepared Indian (or Indian-style) dishes, even developed a few of my own when I used to cook a lot. The past few years, I’ve been very reluctant and usually leave the Indian meals for Hubby to prepare. He does an admirable job, too, but I still have this innate desire to be able to whip up a fantastic Indian meal myself. I have a few good Indian cookbooks, and I’ve turned out some decent meals with the help of some of them, but what I’m missing in (most of) them, is technique. I didn’t grow up in India learning to cook at the knee of an Indian mother, so I’m short on technique as well as imagination.

So whenever a Wintersong reader (and blogger friend) left a comment suggesting some Indian recipes, I remembered a discovery I made months ago that renewed my hope in learning how to cook Indian dishes seat of the pants style, i.e., without recipes. I’m still working on it, and want to share my discovery with my readers. The video below is one of six of a series called Healthful Indian Cooking by Alamelu Vairavan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In it, Alamelu will show you how to prepare a typical Indian vegetarian meal of Lemon Rice, Eggplant Masala, and Lima Bean Poriyal. She also takes you shopping in an Indian grocery store to explain how different rices taste.

Here’s my tip of the day for you: don’t worry about trying to jot down the ingredients while you watch. At the end of each dish preparation, the ingredients are listed. Just pause the video and copy them down so you’ll be able to actually read it when you’re ready to try them yourself. Also, I’ve made a list of the other five episodes that I consider eye candy for foodies. If you enjoy #101, you’ll probably want to see the others as well. They’re all on YouTube, and each contains nutritional information and tips in choosing ingredients, and runs about 27 minutes.

#102: features a Raita (Cucumber/Tomato/Yogurt Salad), Garlic & Pepper Chicken, a colorful rice dish featuring vegetables.
#103: featuring Cauliflower Masala, Green Beans Poriyal, Black-eyed Peas Kulambu, plus a visit to a farmer’s market to choose vegetables.
#104: featuring Brussels Sprouts Kulambu, Roasted Potatoes, Turkey Podimas cooked with split peas and coconut, plus a tour of an Indian grocery to learn about spices used in Indian cooking.
#105: features Tuna Masala, a Carrot Sambhar, Chickpea & Mango Soondal, and tips of how to select the right kind of lentils at an Indian grocery.

Finally, I thought you might find this little-known fact–about me–a little interesting. It’s my Indian name. An Indian friend of ours since more than 40 years ago, Gangs, an Indian friend of ours at the time, decided I should have an Indian name. Since my real name was and is considered “old-fashioned” in the U.S., Gangs reasoned that I needed an “old-fashioned Indian” and came up with Alamelu. He claimed it was very old-fashioned. Years later, when Hubby and his three brothers were performing a ceremony of homage at the one-year anniversary of their father’s death, the Brahman priest asked for the names of the son’s wives. When it came time to provide mine, they were at a loss as how to translate Alice into Tamil, so Alamelu was substituted. Thus, my (unofficial) Indian name has been Alamelu for about 45 years. Now you understand how I was attracted to this video when it first came to my attention. Since the video Alamelu is actually younger than me, I surmise the name has enjoyed a resurgence as India, just as mine has (in various spellings) in this country.

a late christmas story

Not many weeks ago on a windy evening as we were hurrying to the entrance of the Broadway–to see  MORNING GLORY I believe–I saw the familiar face of a skinny man with shaggy beard and knitted stocking cap standing outside the theater holding a beat-up cello he sometimes plays if enough people are about for an audience. I’ve seen him many times before and wondered about him but was always in too much of a hurry and a little bit afraid to get involved.

Most people usually are in a hurry–trying to get to the theater on time, trying to get out of the rain or cold, and many pay him very little mind. Then there’s also that bad experience I had a few years ago when a mentally-unbalanced or drug-crazed homeless man in a wheelchair seemed to be chasing me down the street, haranguing me about the government’s bad treatment as I hurried to get away from him. I’m often reluctant to look directly at street people sometimes, I think, because there’s the thought that in different circumstances that might have been me. Had I not had the family I had, the advantages I’ve enjoyed, known the people I’ve known.

So there was that little man again, and how I was going to act this time? I hurried to catch up with Hubby–I was a good 8 or 10 steps behind him as he walked briskly ahead of me to secure a place in the line inside the entry door where the line was already snaking up the stairs. For some inexplicable reason though, instead of hurrying by, that night I paused and looked straight at this strange little man standing there alone with his cello, and without even thinking  about it I said something, can’t remember exactly what–probably some pleasantry about the weather–but it didn’t really matter because I smiled as I hurried on this time.

“You are a very kind lady,” he called after me.

Taken somewhat aback by his response, I remember shaking my head and saying “No, not really,” admittedly more to myself more than him.

Later, thinking back on it, I could still feel the warm feeling that always creeps in unbidden when you let your guard down just a little during those what I call serendipitous moments just being yourself.

When I opened the paper a day or two before Christmas I was gratified to finally have part of the mystery of that little encounter solved.

My street musician had a name after all. Eli Potash. He says he’s not that “good a musician” but “you know what I am? Good with my hands” and for 15 years he’s been playing his cello downtown, mostly for moviegoers outside the Broadway Cinemas. Sometimes he rests and warms up from the cold at a nearby bar where a local trio plays. That’s where he met the Daniel Day Trio, who sometimes play in the Red Door martini bar. From the Tribune feature story I read that the group had struck up a friendship with Potash and occasionally play with him, collecting donations from listeners. Day noticed the beat-up cello and remembered an old one of his that had been collecting dust a few years. One thing led to another–someone else donated labor to refurbish it, then the trio purchased a new instrument case for it from the donations because, as Day said, “He’s (Eli) somebody who could use some love and some care and some thought.”

And so it was that on another windy night not long passed, during the holiday festivities, they all played a rendition of Silent Night together in front of the Broadway. After they finished, they presented Potash with the new cello, all wrapped up in giftwrap. All this was caught on video by Sidewinder Media’s Rusty Sessions, and it’s been posted on YouTube. It’s not polished and slick, and it does lag in places, but it is a perfect example of the real spirit of Christmas, and it’s the Christmas story I was hoping to write. Here it is if you’d like to see it yourself. (At 11:21, it’s a bit long, but Eli’s Silent Night begins about 4 minutes in if your time is limited.)

the critters deck the halls

Twelve more shopping days until Christmas. My holidays are getting complicated more than I wish–trying to get things done for the holiday and travel at the same time is a huge challenge–the usual traditions, cookies, fruitcake, the holiday cards, shopping, etc. I didn’t need the additional complication of a rheumatoid arthritis flareup too, but got it all the same. (Someday I’ll try to explain how RA differs from Osteoarthritis, as the difference is dramatic.) My oncologist told me that the chemo treatment I received often inhibits RA for long periods. Alas, I only made it around seven months.

Since we’re trying to be prepared to leave the country, it’s become necessary to reinstate the RA treatments. We’re trying now to get the necessary insurance permissions as well–all before we leave. Once begun it should be reasonably easy. Two intravenous solution every six months at an interval of two weeks. That means I’ll need to have the first one accomplished by Christmas, with the second part done two weeks later, in order to make it in time for traveling.

Since it’s also an open enrollment period for Medicare, that points to additional delays as insurance companies are busy. Meanwhile the clock ticks down. Nothing to do but believe things will work out.

It’s pretty well accepted among health professionals that pets have a calming effect on a lot of people. I no longer have any pets, so I kinda use my backyard critters as substitutes, but I can’t invite them in to sleep on my lap like my cats (and my Bichon Charley) used to. So when I found this video featured on my Facebook page a short time ago, I watched it several times. And laughed and laughed. And felt better. So if the holiday flurry or a health related issue is beginning to get to you, do watch it. If you love animals, I guarantee you’ll love it. And it’ll only take two minutes and 46 seconds. I have a feeling I may need to watch it a lot next week.

a story for the times

I’m not a thief, but in the case of this video Grandma Henke posted a few days ago, well I just couldn’t help it. It’s a small girl, couldn’t be more than four years old, who is reading or re-telling the story of Jonah and the whale. I love it for the obvious and for a couple more reasons. Note the little dress she has on. It looks like a Polly Flinders dress (I used to dress both my girls in Polly Flinders–they hated it), and another thing, she reminded me of my oldest daughter, also a precocious reader/actress, when she was that age and wore glasses from the age of three. It runs a tad long at 7 minutes or so, but I think it’s so endearing it is well worth it. (She’s a little shy when she begins, but hold on, she gets into it very quickly.) Thank you Grandma Henke for sharing this and for your own funny stories.