Friday, March 23, 2018

Some good quotes from Phyllis Theroux

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation.

Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.

An enlightened person raises the level of the consciousness of the entire community.

Children are born with imaginations in mint condition, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Then life corrects for grandiosity.

Falling silent should be cultivated, the way the woods fall silent in the snow. Messages you can’t send any other way can be heard.

Every house has its own private cup of sorrow. 

Writing is a deeply spiritual act that can have a profound effect upon the practitioner.

Writing is not only a reflection of what one thinks and feels but a rope one weaves with words that can lower you below or hoist you above the surface of your life, enabling you to go deeper or higher than you would otherwise go. What excites me about his metaphor is that is makes writing much more than a lifesaving venture.

There were times, in the beginning, when I used my journal as a wailing wall, but I learned not to immortalize the darkness. Rereading it was counterproductive. What I needed was a place in which to collect the light.

Everything we are given or learn or possess in any real sense - - the ability to play Beethoven sonata, write books, understand the principles of physics – is intended for one thing: to draw us closer to our selves.

To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Some recommendations: a book--The Journal Keeper: A Memoir; a TV series--The Sinner; and a film--Thelma

Winter is a season that keeps me indoors a lot of the time. I miss my garden and being outdoors, so it ends up being a good opportunity to catch up on my reading, movie watching, and TV watching. The latter two have tended to merge into each other since the movie theaters here have reduced their offerings considerably. Going to the movies is not what it once was, sadly. I keep hoping that movie theaters will not disappear altogether, but you never know given the ease of streaming films on nearly any device you wish to use.

I am reading Phyllis Theroux’s The Journal Keeper: A Memoir at present; I am only a fourth of the way through it, but can wholeheartedly recommend it. This memoir is a collection of her reflections on: her life as a writer, writing, the joys and difficulties of being a writer, finances, life, love, friendship, and her mistakes, strengths, dreams and desires. They are all things to which I can relate. She lived with (and took care of) her nearly-blind mother until she passed away, so she understands the passage of time and the importance of living now and doing what it is we must do. She understands the idea of trying to be the best version of herself. She is honest, unflinching and clear about her progress, successes and failures, about her relationships with her mother, children, neighbors and friends. It is rare that I come across a voice that resonates with me, or better-put, resonates with that part of me that is facing many of the same challenges. I look forward to picking up her book again in the evening before I sleep; I look forward to hearing what she has to say. She could be a friend; she is at the very least someone I would truly enjoy getting to know.

I have also discovered The Sinner, a 2017 TV series starring Jessica Biel. She plays a young married woman with a child, and her life seems to be ordinary and reasonably happy. She and her husband seem to have a good relationship. They both work together at the same company run by her husband’s father. And then one day when she and her family are relaxing on the beach at a nearby lake, she suddenly and inexplicably stands up, knife in hand, and proceeds to stab to death the young man sitting at a distance in front of her. And then the story really begins, because we know she has murdered him. The question is why. And that why is a journey into her psyche, her family life before she married, her relationship with her terminally-ill sister, and her relationship with her parents (especially an over-religious mother). The policeman assigned to her case tries to dig into her past in an effort to find answers as to why she would murder someone for apparently no reason. We know of course that he will find out many things, and many of them are not pleasant. I’ll leave it at that, but suffice it to say that Jessica Biel owns the role of The Sinner—a woman whose present life is suddenly and without warning, ripped unmercifully apart by her past. It’s a gripping crime drama, but not one for those under sixteen, due to the often lurid subject matter and the sexual situations.  

And in the same vein (repressed young woman whose life takes a bizarre turn), we have Thelma, a 2017 film by the Norwegian director Joachim Trier. After seeing this film, I ask--what scares you? As a former horror movie aficionado, I find that as I get older, it’s not the blood and guts horror films that really scare me. The films that have the greatest impact on me, the ones that linger in my mind long after they’re over, the ones that scare me when I think back on them--are the films that create the suggestion of terror, of horror, of the supernatural. They’re the films that have an ominous cloud hanging over them, a cloud that creates paranoia and murkiness. They’re the films where nearly everything that happens has some sort of darker meaning. In Thelma, crows have a special meaning. Panic attacks similar to epileptic seizures have a special meaning. Thelma’s father and mother understand this. Is Thelma a witch? Has she inherited her grandmother's psychological disorder involving the ability to use psychokinesis to change situations that upset or anger her (think of the main protagonist in the 1976 film Carrie). Or is she just a disturbed young woman whose meeting with first love just happens to be a lesbian relationship, which throws her psyche into direct conflict with her repressive religious upbringing that both her parents have foisted upon her. What horrific secrets lie in her past to explain her present life? There are secrets, and there are unpleasant revelations that can only lead to one outcome—again, that the past rears its ugly head to upset the present, because the past cannot be repressed forever. Repressed feelings, if they cannot be normally expressed, find their way out in other ways. What will it take to free Thelma from her past? And what happens if she is freed from it? Eventually, she finds out, and the outcome is disturbing. Thelma is worth seeing; it’s a hard-to-define movie. Is it a psychological thriller or is it a horror film? I'd say it's both. It gives viewers chills down the spine, a sense of foreboding, an uncomfortable feeling, and a feeling of dread concerning (knowing) what comes next. Both Thelma and The Sinner excel in this regard.  


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Worth seeing--Timelapse of the Entire Universe

This video--Timelapse of the Entire Universe--is pretty incredible and worth seeing. Check it out here.

Wanting winter to end

This winter seems to be dragging on forever. I cannot wait for it to end. I cannot wait for spring to come, bringing with it sunshine, light, warmth, flowers, birds, garden life, and all the other nice things associated with spring and summer. Me, I’m no winter girl. I like living in a place with four seasons, but this year it feels like the only season has been winter, winter, and more winter. It’s been nonstop cold and snow since November, and this past summer was fairly lousy since it rained a lot. Enough already. Bring on the sunshine……

I suppose I shouldn’t complain, but I’m entitled to at least one negative comment before I return to the ‘Ok, this is how it is’ demeanor. There’s nothing to do about the weather, I know. My mother used to say that all the time, and she’s right. I don’t think I ever heard her complain about the weather. She went out walking in rain or sunshine, snow or sleet. She was a role model, but it’s tough to emulate her. Sometimes I wonder how she did it, how she stood it, without complaining. She so rarely complained.

I usually don’t mind winters. But when there is snow on the ground all the time, when the sidewalks are icy and treacherous, when the roads and bicycle paths are the only travel paths prioritized, then I get sick of it. I think I have a touch of cabin fever this year. Cabin fever “is an idiomatic term for a claustrophobic reaction that takes place when a person or group ends up in an isolated or solitary location, or stuck indoors in confined quarters for an extended period. Cabin fever describes the extreme irritability and restlessness a person may feel in these situations” (Wikipedia).

I can relate to the restlessness. I am used to being outdoors, to walking a lot, to working in my garden. I cannot do these things now. Walking here in Oslo is treacherous since many of the sidewalks are not cleared properly; this is true not only of this winter, but of past winters. No one picks up a shovel to clear a path for anyone. They all wait for the city officials to organize it. I think the city officials don’t give too much of a damn about how treacherous the sidewalks are. They care more about the fact that the bicycle paths are cleared, for the small number of people (mostly the Foodora bicyclists) who use these paths. Ah well. My consolation is that New York is not having a much better time; it too has had a record amount of snow, and another storm is predicted for the Hudson Valley this week. As is another storm for Oslo. Let winter be over soon, please.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Pigeon outside our kitchen window waiting to get fed

The pigeons wait for us to enter the kitchen each morning during the wintertime. They know we'll be putting out sunflower seeds and they can't wait to eat! Sometimes they'll peer in to see if we're there; other times they tap on the metal windowsill outside the window, letting us know that they're there and waiting. Birds rule.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Way to go, Dick’s Sporting Goods!

Thank you, Edward Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, for doing something that not one politician seems to have the guts to do—take a real stand against the idiocy that passes for gun control in America. You did so on February 28th, 2018, a day that should go down in American history as a turning point in the gun control war that has paralyzed politicians and polarized America. You got involved, you took a stand, you stood up for what’s right. You stated clearly that you were “deliberately steering your company directly into the storm over gun reform” and that you were “immediately ending sales of all assault-style rifles in your stores”. You also said that your store “would no longer sell high-capacity magazines and would also require any gun buyer to be at least 21, regardless of local laws” ( Way to go, Dick’s Sporting Goods! I applaud you. You stood up to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and showed up the politicians for the spineless wimps they really are (so many of them are in the NRA’s pockets).

Walmart followed your example later in the day. I applaud them as well, and the many companies who stood up to the NRA last week, publicly ending their relationships (discounts, etc.) with them.

The NRA has about 5 million members according to many of the online sites I checked for information about this organization. The population of the USA in 2017 was 324,459,463 people. Five million members is circa 1.5% of the entire population. So tell me why this group wields so much power over America’s politicians? They’re no more than a minuscule percentage of the entire population. But they hold the politicians firmly in the palms of their hands. It all boils down to money, as does nearly everything in this world. They buy the politicians, and the politicians don’t want to lose the campaign contributions and support they get from the NRA, so their stances on gun control are those that are foisted on them by the NRA. The NRA are excellent lobbyists for their cause, I’ll give them that. But beyond that, I see no reason for why their points of view should determine public policy on an issue as important as gun control.

I am not opposed to hunters owning a hunting rifle (think Winchester or Marlin models) if the owner uses it to hunt animals or for protection out in the wild. But I have zero understanding for why any hunter would need an assault-style rifle like an AR-15 (used in wartime) to kill a deer or an elk. I have zero understanding for why any hunter would defend the use of assault-style rifles against any animal. They were designed for use in wartime, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t care if you are sound in mind and body; you cannot in good conscience defend ownership of assault-style rifles for hunting. My take on it is that you buy one of these rifles knowing full well that you may use it on a human being. You may think this is what it takes to defend your house, property and family. I have a hard time trying to imagine how you think or why you defend these weapons for personal use, together with the NRA. All I know is that how you think has evolved into how many people apparently think these days in modern America. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution certainly did not have assault-style rifles in mind when it said that we as Americans have the right to bear arms (The Second Amendment reads: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed"). Let’s amend that Amendment to something that makes sense, not continue to support a misguided idea that owning and using such weapons are protected by law. Really, use your heads, use the common sense God gave you. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart finally did. Kudos to them. 

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Seasonal contrasts

Apropos my previous post, I'm a spring and summer person, and when you look at these photos, you'll understand why. I can't wait to get back to my garden (a plot in the Egebergløkka community garden). These photos are from last August, when the garden was in full bloom. There is nothing like it--warm sun, the greenery, the beauty, the peace. Summer cannot come too soon. I'm hoping for a sunny and hot summer.

A cold winter in Oslo this year

We are currently experiencing a cold spell—Arctic temperatures—making it difficult to be outdoors. This winter has been one of the longest on record (my record); it has dragged on and on, with snow one week followed by a quick thaw, then plunging temperatures that make roads and sidewalks icy, and then the snow starts all over again. This must be a record year for snowfall; I cannot remember this much snow in all the years I’ve lived here. I’m hoping this is an aberrant year and that next winter we’re back to ‘normal’, however that is defined. I actually have not had much cause for complaint; the winters in Oslo are not very different from those I left behind in NY. The main difference is the shorter days here and the intense darkness. It’s sometimes hard to adjust completely to that.

Winter does have its charms, and when the temperatures are not bitingly cold, I am outdoors walking and taking photos. I took these photos last week on one of my regular walks around St. Hanshaugen park.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

1970s style--I feel so bad by Kungs ft Ephemerals

When I first saw this video, I was intrigued. I like the song 'I feel so bad' by Kungs ft. Ephemerals. But I really like the video-- with the self-possessed and tough woman who makes her entrance--all eyes on her--and then proceeds to rob the men in the room of their wallets and jewelry. It reminded me of the film Jackie Brown from 1997. I'm not sure why, because the woman in the video doesn't look like Pam Grier's character Jackie Brown in the film. But she does look like another badass character that Pam Grier played--Coffy, from the 1973 film Coffy. In that film, which I have not seen, but for which I remember the posters advertising it, Pam Grier's hairstyle was an afro like the woman in the music video (google Pam Grier Coffy and check out some of the images--I won't post them here due to potential copyright infringement). And the clothing style in the music video is a 1970s disco look. So if the music video creators were going for the look of that era, they succeeded. And the song is pretty damn good too.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

One day soon, it’s bye bye Apple....

......Well, in the foreseeable future—when the batteries in my iPad and iPhone die. Both devices are slowing down; the iPad is older than the iPhone, so this is understandable. I haven’t had cause to complain until today, when suddenly my iPad was ‘forced’ to download and install the newest IOS software. Up until today I have managed to prevent the iPad from doing this, because I know that the newest software versions will only end up slowing down the device and rendering it obsolescent faster than if I don't install the upgrades. And it’s already slow, but I’m used to it. I’m fine with it because I mostly use my iPad to read Kindle books and to read emails/listen to music when I travel. When I turned it on today, I was unable to activate my device at all. I received the following error message instead:

Your iPad could not be activated because the activation server is temporarily unavailable. Try connecting your iPad to iTunes to activated it or try again in couple of minutes. If this problem persists, contact Apple support at

So I did what I normally do in such situations—got irritated, then googled ‘why can’t I activate my iPad?’ And wouldn’t you know, this is a problem for others too, and is connected to the installation of the newest IOS software, which I didn’t want and which I have prevented from being installed up to this point by always pressing the ‘Remind me later’ option when prompted to download the newest software. But for some unknown reason, it installed itself between Friday evening and this morning (the iPad was off during that whole time) and created a problem on which I used most of my afternoon—how to reactivate my iPad. Not nice, Apple. Could someone explain to me how this happened?

You ask, why don’t I want the new software? Well, it’s a well-known fact that Apple (and probably other companies) deal in ‘planned obsolescence’ as discussed in a recent article in Forbes:  Here’s the opening paragraph of this article:

Apple just got smacked with a class action lawsuit after the tech giant admitted it slowed down older iPhones. This act is also known as planned obsolescence. Wikipedia defines planned obsolescence (or built-in obsolescence) as: "in industrial design and economics is a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete (that is, unfashionable or no longer functional) after a certain period of time."

Here’s another article dealing with the same:; planned obsolescence forces us to buy new gadgets sooner than we want to. I don’t like this one bit. For the first, I don’t want to be buying new devices every other year. I’m not interested and I’m not that wealthy. Nor do I need to be cool by having the latest gadgets; I don’t care about this at all. I care more about the environment and about using things until they simply cannot be used anymore; we don’t need to pollute the world with lithium batteries year after year, when we don’t know how to deal with them at all.

So what did I learn from googling this problem about not being able to activate my device? I found the following website that discussed the problem and gave some solutions: I tried what was suggested there--connected my iPad to iTunes on my laptop and tried to ‘recover’ my iPad (updating that keeps the current setup). It didn’t work. So I had to opt for ‘restoring the factory defaults’, which essentially resets the entire iPad. This took a long time, with promptings along the way to type in different passwords and pass codes to this and that. Finally, I was able to activate my iPad, and what I ended up with was an iPad that had installed all the apps that are currently on my iPhone—in other words, way too many. But at least that was something—I didn’t have to download all the apps again from the app store. I deleted the apps I didn’t need on my iPad and opened my Kindle app. I had to download all the unread books again, and adjust the settings back to where I had them. Then I went to Music, and realized that I have to download all the songs in my library so that I can listen to them offline, like when I travel and there’s no wi-fi. I’m saving this job for another time. Something else I don’t understand; we buy these songs from Apple and yet they’re not ‘ours’. If I buy them and download them once to my music library, why aren’t they mine? This is amazingly and unnecessarily complicated.

I have no idea how these things are done on devices made by the other cell phone/tablet companies. They cannot be that much different. But it’s getting to the point where I prefer simplicity in all things. Why can’t Apple make it simple to use their devices, and leave it up to the individual user to decide whether he or she wants to install software that will in many cases deactivate their devices? We paid for them. Why can’t we decide when we want to upgrade them? At least on computers running Windows software, an upgrade doesn't result in the deactivation of the computer. Now I have new IOS software on an old iPad. Let’s see how long my ‘new’ old iPad survives. I’m betting not past summer, at which point I’m going to buy a cheap computer tablet (not an iPad), or simply a Kindle from Amazon.   

Our latest article published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Our article about a DNA repair protein (NUCKS1) and its expression in ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer was finally published in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. If you'd like to read the article and see what it is I do when I'm not writing this blog, check out the link here:

As always, the work that goes into a scientific article is a true group effort. So I thank all of my co-authors for helping to get it to this point. We'll be celebrating with some champagne one of these days. Congratulations are in order.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The wisdom of Ray Bradbury

I saw this on Twitter today and wanted to share it with you. It is so often true. Our minds, with all the worries, anxieties and compulsions, gets in the way of writing. We get in our own way; we block ourselves from being effective and productive. I am no exception. The happiest times I know as a writer are when I am writing unreservedly, letting the words flow out of me. I can go back and edit them later. The point is to get what I want to express, written down, so that the thoughts are not lost forever.

More Lincolns and less Trumps

There has always been contention and conflict in American politics. You need only watch Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's terrific movie from 2012, to see how the politicians of that time behaved toward each other, how they argued and fought with each other, and ultimately how making deals and utilizing their networks was what moved them toward consensus and solution. This was business as usual. Yes, the arguments were heated at times, feelings were hurt, and people didn't speak to each other. But they got over it and moved on. That doesn't seem to be happening now. If 2017 has taught us anything, it's that the behavior of the president and some congressmen is not business as usual. They seem to be in it for themselves, and to have forgotten about what's good for America. They want unquestioning loyalty to the president no matter how badly he behaves, and obedience to their whims and demands. We need better politicians, people who are truly interested in working to make society better for the people they represent, not for themselves. We need politicians who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, but who do so in a civilized manner, without crudely attacking others. Our job as non-politicians is to listen to what they have to say and to consider what it is they stand for and how they want to change America. Our job is to be actively engaged in protecting and caring for our society and our traditions, protecting what we stand for, protecting the values our country was founded on. Our job is not to be blindly loyal to any politician or dogma. Yes, America is my country and I am loyal to her, but I will object to all forms of abuse of power, whether nationally or internationally. Constructive criticism is also a part of being an actively-engaged citizen. Additionally, a civilized society respects quiet time, reflection and reasoning, and we need more politicians who appreciate these things. President Lincoln was a man who knew their value and who utilized them in his decision-making. We need more Lincolns and less Trumps.

The media cover every little thing that is said and done by politicians (among others), ad nauseum. I believe in the necessity of a free press. But I also believe in a citizen's right to privacy. It's not necessary to dissect every little thing about an individual. To dissect means to 'cut to pieces' and is usually done to a dead animal for scientific/medical purposes. Dissections of political figures are not necessary, at least not on a daily basis. The media dissect politicians and politics to a point where we cannot escape, no matter how hard we try. The constant unrelenting coverage is like a hungry animal that consumes us; the problem is is that it's never satisfied. Sometimes my reaction is to take a break from all the coverage, to seek silence and peace. Because silence and peace are what are needed to allow for reflection on the events of the world and how one might want to tackle them. It is ok to say that 'yes, I've had enough of the world's problems for one day', and to go for a long walk in nature. It's ok to want to start the day by feeding the birds, watching how they start their day. It's ok to start the day with a prayer of thanks for another day of life. It's ok to want to start the day with a peaceful soul. Because God knows that your half hour of reprieve won't last long. You will face spouses, friends, and colleagues who want nothing more than to discuss with you the latest political or world news: Trump, all the atrocities committed in the name of patriotism, why this, why that, the world is coming to an end, civilized society is coming to an end. My retort is that we need to seek refuge from the coming zombie apocalypse. That usually silences the fatalists. But who knows, that could be a relevant scenario in a few years--a genetically-engineered virus that spreads rapidly, infecting its victims and causing them to become 'anger zombies', similar to the zombies in the horror film '28 Days Later'.

This is what I don't want each day, at least when I first wake up. I don't want to start my day being bombarded with all of the bad news in the world. I want to say hello to the birds outside my kitchen window, to give them some food to start their day, to watch them for a few minutes. I want to make some coffee, putter around my kitchen in complete peace and quiet, ignoring the presence of the newspaper that will invade my day. I do read it, but I start with the comics, as they give me some fortitude to face the coming day. I need fortitude because our days are nothing short of frustrating and complicated. Bureaucracy, rules and regulations are the order of business. Our bosses and co-workers require our attention or interrupt us during the day with their concerns. Plans that have been discussed and agreed upon at multiple meetings are tossed aside in order to remake them in a new image. Our society is in constant upheaval, everywhere you turn. The seasons in nature do not change like this; the change is more orderly. Spring leads to summer leads to autumn. Autumn doesn't arrive and then suddenly decide that nature must return to July again. It would be a bizarre chain of events if such things happened in nature. But such bizarreness is almost the order of business now in the workplace and in politics.

I am looking for consistency and will never find it. I have accepted that now. I am looking for peace and quiet in a global society that has forgotten what peace and quiet are and why they are valuable for society. I am looking for manners, less aggression, more real feelings, more caring, more respect. I am looking for less egoism and more interest in the welfare of others. I wonder if we could all take a collective step backward and collectively breathe. Count to ten. Dig into our souls to find some patience, with ourselves and others. Be quiet. Be grateful. Stop forcing our ways of thinking down others' throats. Stop being aggressive. Stop being crude. Stop being Trump. For God's sake, start there.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Clear bike lanes and icy sidewalks in Oslo

Here's a suggestion to those co-op apartment complex owners and municipality leaders who don't clear snow and ice from the sidewalks in Oslo. Buy one of these--the Cub Cadet 3X 26 in. 357cc 3-Stage Electric Start Gas Snow Blower with Steel Chute, Power Steering and Heated Grips--see the link:

Why is it 3-stage? It clears snow, ice and slush--perfect for sidewalks. Cost? About 1000 USD. It would probably cost 50% more in Norway, but it would be worth checking out. A small investment that would help others and prevent people from not being able to work due to broken bones. In other words, a worthwhile investment.

We've often heard here that there is no bad weather, only bad attire. When you first hear this, it makes some sense. If it's bitter cold, you wear a heavy jacket with a hood to protect yourself. You wear gloves or maybe a hat. You wear boots when it snows. And so on. This is logical. You'd be foolish to be outdoors in freezing temperatures with a light jacket and no gloves or hat. But this statement is also extended to the icy/snowy sidewalk situation--you can wear plastic Scandinavian crampons ( over your boots to help you walk on the icy sidewalks. I have a pair that I stretch on over my boots. They do work, but they take some getting used to. I wouldn't want to walk long distances with them. I don't think they're the solution to the problem. Any way you look at it, clearing the sidewalks makes the most logical sense.

I'm including some photos of icy/snowy sidewalks and platforms that I took today on my way to and from one of the city hospitals. I walked about four miles today without falling and breaking any bones. But sometimes I feel like I'm eighty years old, inching my way along the sheet of ice that was once a sidewalk, gauging carefully where I can and cannot go. It's no fun.

Tube station platform covered in ice

Ramp covered in ice leading up to tube station

Sidewalk leading up to the main buildings of a city hospital 

sidewalk in Trondheimsveien that has been cleared

sidewalk further south in Trondheimsveien that is just a sheet of ice

even further south in Trondheimsveien showing the division between the sidewalk for pedestrians on the left--a sheet of ice, and the bike lane for cyclists on the right--nicely cleared
Ring 2 showing a clear bike lane and an icy sidewalk

Why isn’t it possible to shovel sidewalks in this city during the winter?

I have been down this road before, and written about this before. My pet peeve and one of the reasons I hate winter in this city. Normally I don’t mind winter and snow; I like the seasons and would probably miss winter if I moved to a warmer climate where there was no winter. But still I have to ask, why can’t this city take responsibility for clearing the sidewalks of snow during a snowy winter like this one? It’s not like we have this amount of snow all the time. So what’s the problem?

The municipality of Oslo has the responsibility for clearing the main roads (think highways and access roads to highways), and they do a good job of it. But it’s never clear whose responsibility it is to clear the sidewalks, and I see that this gets discussed ad nauseam each winter when there is a lot of snow, like this one. Some sidewalks are cleared, others are not. The reasons for this are never explained. I would think that the owners of co-op apartment complexes, of which there are a myriad of in this city, could arrange for snow removal, and by that, I mean continual snow removal. It doesn’t help to remove it once, throw down some gravel, and that’s the end of it. What happens is that it snows heavily with accumulation, some sidewalk snow gets removed but not all, then the temperatures get warmer and much of the snow turns to slush (at which point I would remove it but that doesn’t happen here), and then it gets colder and the slush turns to uneven ice that is difficult to walk on, even with gravel spread here and there. Old people don’t stand a chance in terms of getting out to shop or to run other errands. There has been a record number of broken arms and legs this year from all of the falls resulting from slipping on the ice, and it’s not just older people who dominate the statistics, it’s younger people as well. So that should tell you something. No one seems to care about what this costs society in terms of lost work days; if you are laid up with a broken leg or cannot use your good arm at work, then you are out on sick leave. To me, it would be more cost-effective to clear the sidewalks, and to make and enforce laws stating clearly who has the responsibility to do so. Fines should be heavy for all those who do not follow the law.

But the ridiculousness does not end here. The Green party in this country has been pushing for bike lanes on all the main roads, and they have gotten their way in this city. While I am a bicyclist and have been since I was a child, I resent the hard-handed approach to the way biking is forced down our throats now. Everyone should bike, year-round, according to the Green party. And here’s the kicker. Like the main roads, the bike lanes are also cleared of snow by the municipality. It’s a priority that they are cleared, while the sidewalks that parallel them are packed with snow and ice. Go figure. Walking is every bit as healthy for you as biking is. But clearing the sidewalks is not a priority, not even the sidewalks that lead to large city hospitals or in front of the entrances to different buildings at the city hospitals. Never mind the patients who are brought in by ambulance; what about the patient's family members who have to navigate these sidewalks on their way to visit? Or wouldn't you think that hospitals, of all places, would respect their employees enough to shovel the sidewalks? Snow removal is also null at the tube stations, where ice accumulates at the edge of the platforms, making it tricky business to board the trains. Ditto for the tram stations. I keep waiting for the news to announce that someone has slipped off the platforms in front of or under the trains. It amazes me that this nonsense about who has responsibility for what goes on year after year, and that nothing gets done about it.

So what do I see since the bike lanes are cleared and not the sidewalks? Pedestrians are walking in the bike lanes, a clear hazard to both pedestrians and bicyclists. Bicyclists are skidding on patches of ice here and there where the bike lanes are a bit icy, despite the bikes being outfitted with studded tires. I watched a female bicyclist last week skid in the bike lane, fall off her bike, and land smack in the middle of the main road. If there had been a bus or car driving on the main road at that time, she would have been immediately run over and crushed. I would have had zero chance to help her. This is idiotic to me. It can be difficult enough to drive a car on the main roads during winter-time; you can always run into a patch of ice or snow that suddenly makes driving difficult. Studded tires for cars are now discouraged (you must pay a fee to the municipality each time you drive a car with studded tires) due to the pollution they cause--dust from churning up the asphalt in addition to the fact that they destroy the asphalt roads. But studded tires for bikes are encouraged. Don't they churn up the asphalt as well? Go figure. I don’t see the point of pushing and prioritizing winter biking, but this is my opinion. I respect that others would want to do it, but as far as I’m concerned, they risk their lives. My major point with this post is that it would be so great to be able to walk outdoors during the winter in a big city without risking falling and breaking an arm, leg or hip. I wonder why prioritizing clearing the sidewalks is too much to ask.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Grace and Frankie—why I really like this show

I didn’t start watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix until recently. I have definitely noticed it and even wondered about it, since it’s gotten mostly good reviews from the critics. But a few weeks ago, I sat down and watched the first episode, and from then on I was hooked. For starters, it is truly an adult comedy series, as in not for children, and I welcome that in a youth-focused culture and media. I like shows with younger people and I watch a lot of them, so that’s not a problem. But there has been a real lack of intelligently-written shows for older adults. One of the creators/writers is Marta Kaufman, who was one of the two writers on Friends, a show that I’ve also been re-watching recently. The wonderful timing and delivery of lines on Friends made it the excellent show it was, in addition to excellent acting. The acting on Grace and Frankie is also top-notch; Jane Fonda (Grace), Lily Tomlin (Frankie), Martin Sheen (Robert) and Sam Waterston (Sol) are simply wonderful. After about five episodes in, it felt like they lived in my neighborhood and that I was running into them every day. The writing is intelligent and natural. This is how adults talk and interact, among themselves and with their grown children who have their own lives and problems. There is cursing, yelling, love and sex and everything in between. There is also pot smoking and dabbling in alternative highs courtesy of Frankie who is an aging hippie, artist, and life lover. I’m enjoying watching her interact with Grace who is her polar opposite—a private and reserved former career woman (now retired), who worries about getting older and about lack of order. It’s entirely plausible that this is how women who have been married for forty years might react to finding out that their husbands (law firm partners for many years) are gay and want to marry each other. So divorces ensue, and all parties try their best to be civilized about the upheaval in all their lives. What’s nice about the show is that there are no pat answers—love and life are messy. Getting older is difficult. Wanting to live out your life with someone you love may hurt someone else you love or thought you would love for the rest of your life. The adults apologize a lot for hurting each other; Sam Waterston’s character Sol seems especially conflicted by his need to change his life. He loves Robert but doesn’t want to hurt his ex-wife Frankie. And yet he does, time and again. Frankie is learning how to establish boundaries for how to deal with Sol going forward. Grace seems to have accepted that she and Robert were never really that close and she acknowledges her part in that; their relationship seemed to be cold and rote, whereas Sol and Frankie’s relationship seemed to be warm and vibrant. What’s interesting is that you don’t end up rooting for any one character. I like them all; each of them has their quirks, annoying habits, ways of talking, and ways of interacting, that are by turns funny, touching and memorable. I’ve already finished season 1 and am well into season 2. It’s a welcome change from all of the murder and crime series that leave you with very little other than strangely-concocted plots, sexually-perverted criminals, and weak conclusions--in other words, nothing memorable. Grace and Frankie is a show I will remember down the road. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Remembering my brother

It is three years ago today that my brother Raymond passed away. He is always in my thoughts. I hope his children remember what a great dad he was to them. I remember how close he and I were as teenagers and young adults, and how Manhattan was 'our' place where we met for lunch and dinner when I was in town. When we were in our twenties, we would get together with friends and all go dancing. Those were fun times and great memories. I will always remember his uncanny ability for imitating Mel Blanc, who did the voices of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Ray could do their voices as good as Mel Blanc. And I will remember the triathlons and interest in biking (my interest as well) that kept him fit and happy in his twenties. Our lives took separate paths once we both married, but we remained close and shared our thoughts on life, love and work. Whenever I see him in my mind's eye, it is as the vibrant and positive person he always was. So this poem is for him today.........

Do not stand at my grave and weep    by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge

I have been doing this Reading Challenge for several years now. This year my goal is to read twenty books, and so far I'm on track toward accomplishing that goal. I've read five books so far. If you want to keep track of my progress and see what books I'm reading, check out the widget on the right lower-hand side of the blog, under the Follow by Email widget.

If you read some of the same books, let me know and we can discuss our reactions here on this blog. I love to read and Goodreads is a great place to meet other readers and writers. Happy reading!

Warning signs

I just finished reading The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, a taut thriller about a young woman--Vanessa, her ex-husband Richard, and his new love--Emma. The story that unfolds is not at all what you might think it to be—the jealous ex-wife who makes life difficult for her ex and his new love. Rather, Vanessa tries to save Emma from making the same mistake she did. There are lots of reasons for that. The major reason is that Richard is a control freak (as is revealed gradually during the course of the story) with very disturbing character traits. I’d recommend reading the book, not only because it is a decent thriller and a page-turner filled with ‘palpable tension’, but because it brings up uncomfortable issues to which women should pay attention. Those issues should serve as major warning signs when deciding about the future of any romantic relationship.

Whenever I watch rom-com films, I am always surprised by the ‘couple stupidity’ that gets presented as part and parcel of modern relationships. For example, a man and a woman meet, he has his cushy job on Wall Street and is the wealthy bachelor, she is also a professional woman (journalist, artist, or photographer) with less money than he has. One assumes that the women being portrayed have a modicum of intelligence, such that things like the size of engagement rings and having a big house in the suburbs wouldn’t really matter all that much to them, especially in the 2010s. But in Hollywood films, they still do. And the women’s friends ooh and ah over the large diamond ring, or think it’s totally ok that the man purchases a house for him and his fiancé without consulting her. The fiancé has had no say in the matter, but her reaction (and her friends’ reactions) are always the same—oh how wonderful, generous, and thoughtful her soon-to-be husband is. And so on. I don’t know any couples like this in real life. None.

In real life, every woman I know who is married (and still married) went to look at the house/co-op/townhouse she and her husband eventually purchased--together with their husbands. The husbands did not purchase their homes without the wives present. Had any potential husband done this, I would have thought he was disrespectful of my wishes and feelings. I would have been angry about it and he would have heard about it in no uncertain terms. There is nothing about that type of ‘surprise’ that appeals to me in the least. I want to see for myself the house I might want to live in; I don’t want anyone making that decision for me. I want the decision to be a mutual one that is discussed mutually and respectfully.

So this type of behavior in a potential husband should ring many warning bells. If he doesn’t respect and value your opinion enough to go house-hunting together with you, he’s not worth marrying. Any man that insists that you wear your hair a certain way because he wants it that way, is also a man to avoid. Any man that solely uses his nickname for you that you do not like (e.g. in the book, Richard called Vanessa Nellie because she was nervous—think, nervous Nellie), is a man to avoid. Any situation where you have no say in what transpires, no control over your present and future life, is a situation to avoid like the plague. Any man who assumes that you will give up your career once you’re married is a man to avoid, no matter how rich or powerful he is or how well he can take care of you. Much better to be able to take care of yourself, and any chance I get, I tell young women that. Be independent and don’t base your financial security on your husband’s wealth or earning ability. Because somewhere down the road, you never know if he will decide that he wants a new life partner, and then you’re out, hoping for a decent divorce settlement from him. Any man who is unfriendly to your friends, or does not want you to see your closest friends once you’re married, is not worth marrying. Any man who buys you a dog or cat to keep you company, only to take it away from you at a later point (and lie about it—saying it ran away) because he didn’t like that you got too attached to it, is a man to run from. I mean, run, and never look back. None of these behaviors is love; none of these behaviors is indicative that you are loved and respected. These types of men are psychopaths—charming and abusive liars without an ounce of empathy for those whose lives they destroy. Why women would ever have children with these kinds of men is a wonder in itself.

But young women continue to marry the Richards of this world. I have empathy for these women, because it’s not always easy to navigate the murky world of love and romance, and we all make mistakes. I have made them too, because I believed that some men were worth trusting and believing in. How wrong I was. Many women believe men who are overly-romantic and attentive, who call at all hours under the pretense that they are worried about them, truly love them. Many women believe men who tell them that they hope that these women can save them from themselves. But there are two old sayings that are applicable here: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”, and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. I would much rather have my independence and freedom to control my own life and my decisions; I do not want to give the reigns to a man so that he can control me and what I do. I would much rather have one phone call a day from a caring husband rather than ten calls that to outsiders might signal caring, but that are really disguised attempts at stalking, control and lack of trust on the husband’s part.

There might be some women who are content with such constricted lives, but by and large, if one person has nearly complete control over how another person lives her or his life, it’s a situation waiting to explode at a later point. It takes a long time to understand how one might want to live one’s life, and how to deal with the opposite sex, and how to tackle all of the situations that arise during the romantic phase of one’s relationship. Navigating those choppy waters requires common sense, intelligence, and the support of good friends and family. Luckily, most of us have that support, and do not wish to discard it for the Richards of this world.