Saturday, January 11, 2014

Family Gathering

I attended the funeral of my cousin Al in Colville, a small town in northeast Washington. Colville is in the mountains not far from what used to be the Columbia River. It's just a lake now created by Grand Coulee Dam several hundred miles downstream. Timber and mining are still big and the big sawmill is a prominent feature as you drive through town.

Al was much loved and highly regarded if the turnout was any indication. He was a fisherman whose day job was CPA and business owner, and, of course, a husband and dad. He was felled by cancer. As has been our sad routine, most of the surviving cousins appeared, all of us with extra pounds, eyeglasses, and gray (underneath anyway). There was the usual talk of medical issues including an unsettling prevalence of diabetes. At Al's house after the funeral and reception his wife Saundra had us drink up his Gentleman Jack Fine Tennessee Whiskey. That's not a bad ceremony.

Hopefully we will find some event other than a funeral to bring us together again.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


My cousin Al died this past week from cancer. He was three years older than I am and is the second cousin my age to die in a year and the third in three years. John was two years older than me and succumbed suddenly to an undiagnosed ailment. Phil was a year or so younger than I and did not survive a surgery.

Last night my mother-in-law, Kay Howell died, aged 90. Her daughter Patti was with her at the end. Kay was a Marine in World War II, raised five kids, and had her own business. Kay had been failing for some time and even though this was entirely expected and everyone was prepared, it's still very sad. As Lorraine puts it, "Now she is at peace."

Those are just the relatives. Over the years, colleagues from the old day jobs are gone now. Bob died in his sleep in Philadelphia. Phil in Atlanta to cancer.  Mike's wife Sharon, people we socialized with in Illinois, in California to cancer. Lorraine has a wide network that includes people north of 60 or 70 and she hears about someone every month it seems. The passings have become a regular part of life now.

In balance, our grandson Joshua was born in March.

I don't have anything more profound to express except the gratitude for knowing these people and being part of a wonderful family and community.

Friday, January 3, 2014

How are you listening?

Rather than get into a TLDR situation, I'm going to break things up. How to listen to audio books and podcasts. Most listening these days is private rather than public or communal. Everyone is plugged into their own thing through their portable devices. As I mentioned, this is a loss. It's possible to play the audio book (or podcast or music or news) through a speaker system so that more than one person can share the experience at once. The devices plug into speakers and there is Bluetooth where this is done wirelessly. I do this in my wood shop where I have a compact speaker that can really boom. But being a wood shop there is noise and as often as not, I'm plugged into my ear buds under the hearing protectors or have the hearing protectors plugged directly to the device.

The Bluetooth thing really performs in a car, in my case a truck. The device plays and the sound comes out the radio, no wires. Turn off the car, the device stops playing. Get back in the car, start up, and the story continues. Stop the car to pay a toll? Press pause on the dash. Phone call comes in?The program pauses until you are done. Slick.

One of our cars has no Bluetooth, but it does have a cassette player. There is an adapter like a cassette that routes the device signal into the radio through the player. Turn off the car and you have to turn off the device, but otherwise it works great.

However I do it, podcast and audio book content is a terrific way to spend time in the car alone or with company. I save up good podcasts and play them while Lorraine and I drive to the island, usually an hour and a half each way. Fresh Air with Terry Gross is our favorite.

As for the audio book, I find that Cornwell's Sharpe is a great way to spend a workout and I can actually focus on the words. The actor does each voice well and I am transported to the mountains of Spain. And the pictures are better.

What are you listening to?

As posted here before, I have begun to explore audio books in addition to hard copy books and e-books. In the past month or two I have tried several audio history books, one about Winston Churchill. Kudos to the actor who reads the narrative for his ability to get into character for Churchill, Hitler, Franklin Roosevelt, and French, British, and American soldiers and politicians. No wonder audio books retail for more than the hard cover versions. There is a lot of talent going into these productions.

I wanted to try fiction, but was cautious. I enjoy beautifully crafted sentences, the ones that verge on poetry and bring the reader into the scene. Like letting a Hershey's Kiss melt in your mouth. With the audio book, you go at the actor's speed, not your own. If you miss something and need to hear it again, you have to find the device and backspace, much more cumbersome than flipping back a page. I started one book by Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) and it was good, but after half a chapter I realized I wanted to see his words.

I looked for something somewhat lighter by my favorite historical novelist, Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell does a lot of "Westerns" set in medieval times, the Hundred Years War, and the American Civil War. His signature character is Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles fighting the French in 1809. I burned through those dozen books twenty years ago. Sharpe made it to the little screen in the 90s starring Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) and I rented the DVDs. The audio titles were available through the library so I checked one out in the process of lots of careful tapping on the screen of the iPhone.

Audio books are listened to, but unlike the days when a family gathered around the radio, frowned at bad news, laughed at Fibber McGhee and Molly, and choked back the tears at The Guiding Light. People today generally need something else to do during audio entertainment, work, drive, or walk away and let the radio play to an empty room. That's too bad. There is so much wonderful music, high quality news, and now literature available that one should devote the entire mind to the experience. Alas, listening requires only a quarter to a half of our brain power so it's useful to have something else going on such as driving or walking or working out. But if you are driving or walking or working out an audio book is a pretty good way to spend your time.

Next: How are you listening?