Monday, November 30, 2015

“I feel overwhelmed thinking of my Family’s Visit” by Guest Author Alison Poulsen PhD

When facing a family visit, people often have ambivalent feelings, wanting to make everyone happy, yet dreading the work and potential personal conflicts that loom ahead.

You may feel obligated to put everyone up at your house and prepare all the meals because you think that’s what is expected of you. While giving to others can be deeply fulfilling, it’s best to give at a level where you can do so wholeheartedly and lovingly rather than resentfully. You don’t want to slip into martyrdom.
Instead of succumbing to what you think is expected, decide what you are willing to do and state so up front.
If, for example, you are happy to prepare one meal, graciously invite everyone for that meal. “I invite you all for dinner on Friday night. On Saturday, we can go out,” or “You’re on your own.” “You can pick up your favorite breakfast groceries at the store down the street.”
People like to know what is expected in the way of itinerary, sleeping arrangements, kids’ rules, differing holiday traditions, and dogs. If you clarify expectations and don’t promise too much, you can be giving without becoming exasperated and resentful. When you communicate clearly ahead of time, people are less likely to be disappointed because they understand the game plan and your expectations.

Saying “No.”
If your relatives or friends tend to ignore your requests, hints, and desires, or are generally unpleasant, then there’s no need to accommodate them with meals or housing, unless you are willing and able to live up to Mother Theresa’s philosophy: “People are generally irrational, unreasonable and selfish. Love them anyway.”
You can say “no” while still communicating warm-heartedly. For example, “That’s not a good weekend for us to have visitors. We would love to see you though if you come into town. Call us and we’ll meet for coffee/a drink/lunch.”
by Guest Author Alison Poulsen PhD

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris — War & Peace

There was a time when a country had clear-cut allies and enemies. Today the enemy may be walking down our street and no one would know.

There was a time when we feared the atomic bomb and total destruction, and we carefully monitored countries with nuclear capabilities.  Today nuclear power has moved to the backseat, because anything can happen anywhere, anytime, simply with a gun you buy around the corner.

There was a time when we could savor the brief periods of a country’s peace. Today peace has become an illusion that can change in an instant.

Today hundreds of thousands of Syrians are inundating the Western World, 800,000 Syrians in Germany alone. Meanwhile ISIS, which Wikipedia defines as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, is spreading and increasing its terror.

“Allah Akbar,” meaning “God is great,” yesterday’s killers shouted in Paris. After all, the Quran commands, “When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks.” Verse 47:4.

Would a God put us on Earth just to kill each other?  I doubt it. Yet all religions, Christianity included, have fought endless wars in the name of their God.

The old Bard was so wise when he uttered four hundred years ago: “What fools these mortals be!”

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Pros and Cons of Condo Living

Buy a house or buy a condo?

During the last year or two, prices of homes have greatly increased, more so than the cost of condominiums. Not surprisingly, condos are starting to attract more attention.

Living in a condo has many benefits. You need not mow the lawn or worry about roof repairs. You may have access to amenities that otherwise you might not be able to afford, such as a pool or a hot tub, a tennis court or a clubhouse. You needn’t worry about packages or newspapers at your front door that might announce to the world that you’re away on vacation.

Yet condo living has disadvantages too.

Consider your family—do you have children who might enjoy playing in a yard and benefit from being able to be noisy without having condo residents complain? How soundproof are the condo’s walls, floors and ceilings to protect you from the noise of others? You may have neighbors above, below, on either side and across the hall from you. You may want to consider meeting your future neighbors before you sign the contract.

How about the dogs and cats you own? They may need a yard, unless you’re able and willing to walk them whenever necessary. Most condos have rules concerning animals. For obvious reasons, many associations won’t allow pets on Condo Common Grounds. This brings to mind that all condominiums have House Rules and CC&Rs that require careful study before you buy. You want to make sure that you can live with all Rules, Conditions and Restrictions. Because all violations are fined.

In some California cities, as in the fair City of Alameda, you may no longer smoke, not even on your balcony or inside your own Condo bedroom. The reason is that condominiums and apartments are considered community housing. Your cigarette smoke might affect other residents. In other words, cigarette smoking is viewed with hostility and therefore is strictly taboo.

It may surprise you that the majority of complaints that our condo manager receives are no longer about dogs but about some hapless neighbor, who is smoking. Of course, if you live in a separate, single-unit house, you can smoke as much as you desire, even in the City of Alameda. By the way, smoking fines are not cheap. Alameda City Law and our condo association are imposing a fine of $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second, and a hefty $500 fine for the third violation.

House Rules that regulate noise are vital for harmonious community living. It may mean No Noise after 10:00 pm or before 7:00 am in the morning — as for example no loud music, TV, or using a vacuum or washing machine. And of course no barking—barking is usually restricted throughout the day. But how do you explain that to your dog? Actually, shock collars and citronella spray work very well and don’t harm the dog if used appropriately.

Now to the financial aspect of owning a condo. To begin with, it may be less expensive to buy a condo. However, condos require the payment of monthly Dues. The association pays for upkeep, management, repairs, replacements, legal costs and amenities. Expect the dues to increase on an annual basis.

Occasionally, an association will levy an Assessment needed for the unexpected. However, unforeseen costs can also hit owners of houses.

Finally, ask yourself a personal question. Are you an outgoing person, who enjoys the close proximity of others, who smiles if the neighbor’s children laugh or scream, who manages to close his or her ears if the lonely dog above you barks or whines unhappily? Or are you a person who deeply treasures peace and quiet and cherishes the idea that your home is your castle?

The list of pros and cons is long. Weigh all aspects carefully; it is worthwhile to take the trouble.

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Europe's Future

Could European culture vanish into the mist?

Impossible. Europe abounds in culture. Its long history and its people of imagination, industry and creativity have fashioned a stunning diversity of art and architecture, thought and customs.  Its roots trace back to the ancient Greek and Romans, but also to the Muslim world that greatly advanced its science. Religion, too, shaped many of its customs, and so did the climate.  Customs in the frigid regions of the North differ vastly from those in the sunny South.

Could this change one day? Could Europe become an Islamic Continent? The Week cites persuasive facts. Muslims are streaming into Europe — 40,000 into Germany on one single weekend, 800,000 to 1.5 million more to come. When on a single day 9,380 asylum seekers crossed the border into Hungary, the country declared an emergency. The large numbers of refugees are simply overwhelming. Each and every one must be registered and provided with housing and food, medicine and money, education and support, likely for years to come. In addition, the birth rate for Muslims is one of the highest, while Europeans have one of the lowest.

Presently, most refugees are coming from Syria. But ethnic violence in many parts of the Middle East and Africa are bound to bring yet bigger waves of refugees. “Welcoming tens of thousands of asylum seekers is one thing; 10 million is another,” writes Walter Russell Mead in The Wall Street Journal.

Why is this an issue? Millions of Europeans have fled to America and become loyal citizens.

The difficulty may lie in the ability to integrate. When Europeans of diverse religions immigrated to this country, they were able to assimilate into the American culture. Europe and America have a constitutional secular government under the rule of law. A Muslim, however, is subject to Sharia law, which, according to Wikipedia, “is the basic Islamic legal system derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith.” It governs all aspects of a Muslim’s life, social, religious and political.

After World War II, when most German men had fallen or become invalids, thousands of Turks entered Germany to help rebuild the country. They remained in Germany and still live there today. Seventy years later very few have assimilated. They have formed their own communities, attend their own schools and mosques, practice Sharia law and maintain strict separation from their host country.

The Quran frowns upon believers who turn away from the Words of Allah. “O ye who believe, do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends,” it warns in verse 5:51, “they are allies only to each other.”  The word Islam originates from the Arabic islåm submission, from aslama submit to God.

In 1946, after a short period of French rule, modern Syria obtained its independence. Yet its history is long and colorful. Since pre-Roman times, Syria was populated by Arabs, Jews and Christians. Emperor Constantine had legalized conversion to Christianity in the fourth century when he moved his capital from Italy to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople.

Around the year 632, shortly after the death of Muhammad, during the great period of Arab expansion, the Muslim Caliph Abu Bakr conceived of an ingeniously idea to surprise and conquer the Byzantine army that protected Syria. He took a shortcut through the Arabian desert, marching his troops for two days without water—thus “unhinging” Syria’s defense.

For roughly seven hundred years prior to the Muslim conquest, Syria has been primarily under Roman rule.

Then in 634, Syria became part of the Turkish/Ottoman Empire, which lasted for 623 years. It was one of the largest empires ever, extending over 2 million square miles. It stretched over three continents and controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa. It ruled from 1299 to 1922.  

In many respects, so say historians, the Ottoman Empire was an Islamic successor to the East Roman or Byzantine Empire, which also had its capital in Constantinople and was one of the most powerful and long-lasting Empires, ruling over a thousand years.

Europe, an Islamic Continent? Something to think about.

Until next time,


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Struggle for Survival

Life is precarious. Seven minutes without breathing, and the end is at hand. Seven days without water, our system shuts down. Seven weeks without food, well, we’d certainly lose a lot of weight.

The same struggle for survival holds true in the wild world of animals. Relax your guard for just a moment, and you become someone else’s meal.

Even the world of plants is governed by this battle for survival — although the serenity of the forest and the enchanting beauty of a flower mask its existence. Yet more recent research reveals a fierce battle for survival even in the world of plants.

This battle is fought at a much slower pace and is less obvious, particularly since it is fought primarily underground. Roots will travel enormous distances to find nutrients. Like animals, they claim their territory. They nurture their young. Some will even resort to poison to keep out unwanted competitors. 

Many fascinating secrets of the world of plants have recently come to light. When an insect is rapidly devouring a plant’s leaves, some plants manage to send out an alert by producing a strong odor that will attract other predators to rid them of the pest.

Why is it that life is not a given?

Why is it that life is a constant struggle for survival?

Human beings have learned to protect themselves from wild animals and from the cold and heat of the elements, to procure easy access to food and to cure themselves of diseases. On the other hand, people keep fighting wars even though they should have learned by now that no one wins in a war, there are only those who survive. 

Why this all-pervasive struggle for survival — among humans, beast and plants? Is it to keep nature in balance? Is it to advance evolution?

Maybe one day we will gain more knowledge and a better understanding. For now, all we can do is to keep striving.

Until next time, 


Sunday, July 5, 2015


Neighbors can greatly impact our lives, especially close neighbors.

Fortunate is the person whose dog never barks, whose children never throw a tantrum, or who is blessed with benevolence toward other human beings and their manifold weaknesses. That person would be the perfect neighbor.

Yet our world is far from perfect. And so are most of us. We all have days when we need to make an extra effort to be pleasant to others, especially to those who live in close proximity. A sensitive neighbor may interpret our absent-minded grumpy nod instead of our usually friendly good morning as anger and may worry all day long.

Before you sign that check to purchase a condo, be sure to visit your prospective neighbors. You may be allergic to cats, dogs, or cigarette smoke; tell them about it and ask them questions about your other neighbors.

Not long ago, the city in which our condo is located, instituted a no-smoking rule. It means you can no longer smoke in your own living space unless it’s a one-family home; no more smoking in an apartment or in your own condo. For smokers this is a great hardship. It can also be a giant headache for board members who may have to deal with complaints from non-smokers who are convinced that a bit of smoke in the hallway may be dreadfully harmful.

Another thing, before you make the final decision, be sure to read carefully the CC&Rs, By-Laws, and especially the House Rules of the condominium. You may be surprised how many rules you have to follow—or face fines.

On the other hand, if you like people, having neighbors can add greatly to your enjoyment of life.

Until next time,


Monday, June 1, 2015

Condo Living — Pros and Cons

It’s always been the American dream to own your own home—to be the King or the Queen of your castle, to have your own backyard, and maybe to plant a few vegetables.

But suppose you have obtained a strata title to your place, in other words, you bought a condominium. You own your four walls, but you have to share everything else with forty or four hundred other owners.

The condominium is a fairly new concept. Utah attorney Keith Romney came up with the idea about 55 years ago, and in 1960 in the fair city of Salt Lake City had the first, 120-unit, condominium built.

Does a condo fulfill our American dream of owning a home?

It depends on the way you look at it. From a commercial point of view, such as credit card applications or questionnaires, yes, you are a homeowner. But if you wish to be Queen of your castle, a condo may fall short. There are CC&R’s and House Rules to be obeyed, monthly homeowner dues to be paid, common area restrictions to be followed.

Many condos do not allow children or teenagers to be in the pool area or gym without parental supervision. Your dog, if the association allows you to have one, may be banned from the condo grounds. You may even be fined if your best friend barks at the wrong time or your music invades your neighbor’s space after ten o’clock at night.

Condo living is ideal for an adult who doesn’t want to be bothered with fixing the roof or mowing the lawn, a person who can tolerate a change in the lobby furniture or the color of the building, a person who doesn’t mind or care what the neighbors are doing.

Condo living provides great ease for its residents. They can leave town without being too concerned about burglars. They can enjoy the association’s amenities without having to buy and maintain them.

On the other hand, condo living requires a tolerant attitude—you need to be able to live and let others live too. Luckily, it’s only once in a great while that you come across a person who perversely rejects the idea of being neighborly to other residents.

So when you consider buying a condo, ponder your preferences and attitudes, and think about meeting your future neighbors. I plan to come back to the topic next time.

Until then,


Monday, May 4, 2015

Equality of the Sexes

There’s much talk about the equality of the sexes these days. It wasn’t always that way. Women were delegated to Kinder, Küche, Kirche (children, kitchen and church). Many fields, such as higher education, medicine or engineering, were closed to them. A woman’s pay was about half of what a man earned for identical work. 

World War II caused a change in that inequality. While the men were fighting the enemy, women had to take over in the homeland. "Rosie the Riveter" worked in the factories, the farmer’s wife managed the farm, women pitched in wherever men once labored. Lo and behold, they did an admirable job.

The time had finally come to grant women a better education. Not surprisingly, women turned into good doctors, bright scientists, and capable engineers. They’ve become astronauts and explore space.

Equality at last. Well, not quite yet, but we’re getting there.

Let me define equality of the sexes. Does it mean that there’s no difference between the sexes? Not at all. Men and women may have as little in common as Cabbages and Kings. As the Walrus says in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass:

                     "The time has come," the Walrus said,
                     "To talk of many things:
                     Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
                      Of cabbages and kings …
                      And why the sea is boiling hot--
         And whether pigs have wings."

The variety of topics that the Walrus suggests is just as broad as the range and depth of the differences between men and women.  

The French have a colorful saying for it: Vive la difference!

Women may have adopted the male fashion of wearing pants. So be it. The Scotts used to wear skirts, but neither clothes nor gender affects the value of a person. Look at the snowflake — not two are alike, nor are two human thumbprints, much less two women or two men, not even identical twins. Nature abounds in variety.

We may be tempted to classify all rats and mosquitoes as “annoying pests.” Yet rats and mosquitoes might feel quite hurt by our flagrant oversimplification.

Men and women will never be identical, but they need to be equal before the law and in their opportunities of pursuing happiness.

Goodbye to all bias based on gender!

Until next time,


Friday, April 10, 2015

Demon Age

For easier viewing click on

Some people call the years of retirement the Golden Years—for many they are. Some people dread them as a time of loneliness, depression and decline—that too is possible. But it need not be so. After all, we are the pilot; we choose our path.

In my younger days the thought of aging never occurred to me. I was too busy with family, home and work. But times have changed—the internet, advertisers and a growing awareness of life around us keep reminding us daily of the passage of time.

Having passed the three-quarter-century mark, I can speak from experience now.

I chose the title Demon Age because of its twofold, apposite meaning. Age can be interpreted as the Devil’s doing, the Devil at work. Or if we look at the word’s Latin and Greek origins, Daemon and Daimon, we encounter the meaning of Deity and Genius. We use the word demon to praise a person’s extraordinary skills, such as a demon cook, or a demon at tennis.

And so it is with age. We can call on that divine spark in us to chart our voyage. We can plan ahead ingeniously —we can save, we can exercise and remain fit. It does take discipline, but the rewards are worthwhile—they enable us to anticipate our Golden Years.

It has been many years now since I retired. Yet surprisingly, my days are never long enough. I still get up around five in the morning. I’ll run errands on my bike and spend many hours volunteering. I have taken up Bridge and piano and write books, one of which became a bestseller.

These can indeed be the Golden Years. We finally have the leisure and wisdom to be aware of the many blessings that Life is granting us, filling us with infinite gratitude. Mark Twain put it in a humorous way when he said Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. Age is no reason for depression and loneliness.

I savor being retired. No more outside pressures, worries and deadlines, except those of my own making. We see life from a different perspective. We treasure our friends more deeply, knowing full well that our numbers are steadily declining. I admire their stamina and persistence and especially their contented smiles.

There is much talk these days about the possibility of prolonging life indefinitely. To me it is not an appealing thought. We may not be eager to die, but I’d prefer to progress and come back one day with a new body and see how this planet has improved and advanced.

In the meantime I don’t want to miss a laugh, or a new experience, or a moment of enjoying our beautiful planet Earth.

I went to a tea dance yesterday. A young man from Buenos Aires asked me to dance a Rumba with him, a dance I’ll long remember. In perfect rhythm and with total grace he executed and taught me some wonderful Latin steps! I drove home bewitched with a wistful thought stirring my mind … if only I were young again.

Until next time,


Monday, March 30, 2015

Phi in Nature, Art and Architecture

Way back in the thirteenth century Leonardo Fibonacci wanted to figure out how many offspring a pair of rabbits and their offspring would have if each bred one female rabbit a month. Simple: 144 rabbits after one year, 46,368 after two, and 14,930,352 rabbits after three years. The illustrious mathematician of Pisa had discovered the Fibonacci Sequence.

By dividing each number in his sequence by its previous number, he had detected Phi, and called it the Golden Ratio. Phi can be rounded up to 1.618.

Arab scholars had long known about this sequence, because for ages they had been using Arab numerals, 0, 1, 2, 3, and were far ahead of Europeans, who were still struggling with Roman numerals.  No matter how brilliant a mathematician, the use of II, IV, or CXII is not conducive to doing math. When Fibonacci returned from his travels to Arabia, he vigorously encouraged Europeans to use the Arab system.

Amazingly, Phi happens to be ubiquitous and a fundamental characteristic of nature. It shows up in the patterns of leaves, flowers, pinecones, pineapples and shells, and even in the spiral of the galaxies.

Phi is not only known as the Golden Ratio in nature, it also features in architecture and art. The pyramids and the Parthenon reflect this principle. Le Corbusier carefully calculated a Golden Ratio when he designed the UN Headquarters. Many city halls and theaters are built in the Classical Greek tradition based on Phi.

Even great artists have embraced Phi. Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Salvador Mundi are all known for having applied the Golden Ratio to some of their famous works of art, such as The Last Supper, The Annunciation, The Birth of Venus, and The Creation of Adam.

Some people claim that the beauty of a face may depend on its ratio too.

May Phi harmonize your life.
Until next time,


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Computer Glitches

Computers are simply inanimate devices, right?


Computers are highly delicate and sensitive creatures. At least mine is, and it can be quite stubborn at times.

Have you ever been in a big hurry to print out something? My printer worked fine earlier in the day. But now, when I don’t have a minute to spare, it is not cooperating!

Not only that, but the sentence I changed switched back to the old version. Twice. I’m at my wit’s end. Why do computers do that?

Frustration over technology glitches is becoming so prevalent that yesterday the Wall Street Journal featured a front-page article called "The Tech Fails That Annoy Us Most." Geoffrey Fowler and Joanna Stern write "We love technology, but this week we're shaking our fists at it for all the ways it annoys us." They invite readers to send in their pet peeves.

I suspect that computers want us to be grateful, glad and relaxed when we interact with them. After all, what would we do without them? Computers are everywhere and run everything. They know full well how much we depend on them.

Do you suppose that solar flares might occasionally interfere with our computer? Solar flares are known to cause trouble with satellite signals.

It is useless to talk about a computer’s feelings to an engineer. If he’s polite he will tell you that computers are simply machines—man-made, inanimate objects like shoes. If he’s the more direct type he’ll tell you that you’re nuts, how can computers have feelings?!

But suppose my haste and impatience and my rapidly beating heart are sending out jagged vibrations that interfere with the electronic field of my computer. They affected my grandson when he walked into my office.  Even though we didn’t exchange a single word, he said, “Slow down Grandma, slow down!!” How did he know? Because he felt my haste, just as my computer did. It’s not surprising that my computer is sensitive to my feelings; I spend much of my day with it.

I asked a friend of mine about it. He smiled at the foolish idea and patiently explained that our vibrations are much too weak; they measure in micro-volts and couldn’t possibly interfere with the five or more volts that a computer uses.

Perhaps we need to learn how to accurately measure human feelings and how emotions can interfere with or affect electronic equipment as well as other people.

Or could it truly be just us, hitting the wrong computer buttons causing chaos?

As the Cracker song goes:  I could be wrong, I could be right.

Until next time,


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lessons of Life

I tossed and turned. Sleep would not come. Tears were soaking my pillow. Helen, my best friend had been killed. Her innocent blue eyes and gentle smile kept beckoning to me. Just a week ago she had turned ten.

Helen had died in an air shelter. I disliked those underground cellars. They were cold, damp, dark and scary. Yet as long as I could remember we had spent part of every night in one. I suppose they did provide some safety, as long as you reached one in time and if it didn’t suffer a direct hit. I shuddered thinking of those who had been buried in one alive.

Would it ever end, this miserable war? You couldn’t ask a soul. Questions of a political nature were severely punished.  They labeled you as a traitor. Complete faith in the country’s leadership was a prerequisite for survival.

I secretly asked Mother one day. Infinite pain clouded her face, but only for a moment.  Then she softly stroked my head and whispered, “It will, one day.”

Why can’t we live together in peace, I wondered.

Why spread so much distrust and hate?

Why not work together and make it a better world for all?

It seemed so simple and so obvious, but why was it an utterly out-of-reach goal? The very air we breathed was laden with sadness. When was it that I saw someone smile or laugh? I could not remember. Death and destruction was everywhere. And fear, infinite fear of more death and destruction, or worse.

I suddenly sat up in bed, electrified, the first epiphany for a ten-year old. “That’s it. Of course!” I smiled to myself. “What the world needs is more kindness. I shall always be kind.”

Happily I fell asleep and never doubted or altered this first lesson that life had taught me.

Until next time,