A wonderland of gifts


About the record

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Access to music has never been easier or cheaper. With music streaming like Spotify, I can now create a limitless library of music. I have created for myself playlists for classical, instrumentals, all-time favorites and new music. If you read my older blogs, you know that I spend a lot of time hanging out in coffee shops. And coffee shops tend to play hip, cool music. So anytime some music catches my attention, I make a note of it and, voila!, it’s on my list. This is doing wonders for keeping me hip.

However, despite all the convenience and free music, I feel like I’m losing out on something dear to me. I don’t like what music streaming is doing to my other means of listening to music, which include LP’s, CDs and cassette tapes. Yes, I’ve kept all those things and, no, I’m not a hoarder. I see myself more as a nostalgic. Though it’s not happening as much these days, I enjoy walking over to my record collection, pulling out something from my youth, plopping it on the turn table, lowering the needle on it and letting those warm analog sounds fill my living room. Similarly, my cassettes and CDs reconnect me to other wonderful music and memories from the 80s and 90s. But within the last year, I’ve noticed that just the thought of putting vinyl or cd’s seems more and more like an ordeal and I can’t be bothered to look for the stuff. You may think I’m too sentimental and just need to move on. But I really think we’re all losing out on something special.

When I bought records, I was essentially starting a relationship with the musicians. A lot more time was spent with albums. While listening to the music, I would often have the album cover in my hands, admiring the cover art work, reading the lyrics and losing myself in the world centered on the album concept. And more often than not, when an album came out of the record sleeve, it didn’t go back in until both sides were played through.

Now with Spotify, I’m listening to a great a variety of music and artists, but I don’t really form much of a relationship with any of them. I can say to friends “oh yeah, I really like so and so, especially that latest song”. But I know next to nothing about the band members and their history. It’s clear to me that music streaming is changing the experience from one of depth to one of breadth. And what about the money?  From what I hear, musicians are seeing less and less of it in the streaming world.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the new musical adventure I’m on thanks to music streaming awesomeness of Spotify. But tonight, I’m going to turn off the computer, pull out my Joni Mitchell albums, play the records, both sides, look at the cover art and let Joni take me on a longer journey.

To Tell The Truth

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I got a call from my son’s teacher about his foiled attempt at sneaking a classroom book into his bag. When the teacher asked my son how the book ended up there, he said he had no clue. The teacher and I agreed this was not a big deal and that the situation was a good learning opportunity about not taking things that didn’t belong to us and about telling the truth.

So when Daniel got home, we had a nice little chat about not stealing and always telling the truth. At the end of our talk I quoted the old saying “honesty is the best policy”. However, after he went to his room to play, I found myself turning that expression over and over in my head. Something about that expression didn’t sit well with me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe and try to the best of my ability to be truthful as much as possible. But if I’m completely honest with myself, I have to say that there are definitely situations where I am not fully disclosing the truth and feel justified in doing so. For example, when I describe the world to Daniel or answer his questions about current events, I often present an embellished version that doesn’t include crime, wars, and catastrophes. At this age, he doesn’t need to know about all the gory details. He deserves to feel secure in the world and have a happy childhood.

Another example is when my husband goes into great details about office politics. There are times when I’m tired and couldn’t care less, but I nevertheless feign interest. I do this out of love and consideration.  Can you imagine what would happen to our relationships if people could read our mind and always know exactly what we were thinking? That would be the end of civilization! So in certain situations, I believe not only that it is ok to hide some aspects of the truth or tell a white lie, but that it is the kind and considerate thing to do.

On the flip side, there have been other times when I haven’t been completely truthful and felt off kilter afterwards. For instance, sometimes, I’ll say something that goes against my core beliefs just so that I can be in people’s good graces. Other times, I avoid telling someone the unpleasant truth that they need to hear, because I want to avoid a confrontation or prevent hurting someone’s feeling.

So, from my experience, there are times when it’s better to not be completely truthful and even tell a white lie. At other times, for my integrity and the good of others, I need to speak my truth no matter how uncomfortable it can be. The tricky part is knowing to which situations calls for which level of honesty. Luckily, I have an internal barometer that lets me know when I get it wrong and need a re-do!

I love YouTube and I hate YouTube

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If a picture paints a thousand words, then a video must paint a million. No wonder people are watching more and more videos. Not only do they provide easy entertainment, they also can explain so well how to get things done. So often now when I am confronted with a challenge, I go to YouTube and type the issue in the search box and within a few clicks I find a clip that shows me exactly what to do. And for the most part, I have been able to successfully get the desired result. That is until recently.

Enter my plumbing fixing nightmare. My toilet was having issues. After flushing, the water would just keep running unless I jiggled the handle vigorously. I lifted the lid and could see that the thing-a-ma-jig that stops the water from emptying out of the tank was not closing properly. My spirits sank as I dreaded having to call a plumber and pay lots of money. But then I thought of all the smaller projects I solved with YouTube. So I went to my computer and once again quickly found a video that explained that often times the flapper gets hardened by water impurities and it could easily be replaced.

So the following Saturday morning, I went off to hardware store and tried to look really knowledgeable when I asked the salesperson for a new flapper. The guy was not impressed. Once back home I went into the bathroom with the new flapper, turned the little toilet valve off and reached in to replace the old flapper with the new one. But when I tried to take the old part off, a plastic piece broke off. I tried putting the new flapper in but when I re-opened the water, the toilet was running worse than before. I stood there a moment feeling very annoyed with the situation, particularly with YouTube and the person in the video who didn’t warn me about this possibility.  

However, I wasn’t going to give up that easily. Back to YouTube I went and asked what to do next. Another video showed me how to replace the entire contraption that was inside the toilet tank.  So off to the hardware store I went again and was greeted by the same salesperson. He found the replacement part and gave me pointers. By the time I got back home, it was 6 p.m. Obsessed with finishing the project, I decided to skip dinner. Big mistake! This time, I brought my laptop into the bathroom and put it on the vanity counter so that I could watch the video as I worked. Two hours later, I finished replacing the contraption and turned the water back on. To my shock and horror, water started pouring out of the bottom of the toilet tank. Some very nasty words came out of my mouth. I then gave the cabinet door a swift kick, turned the water off and had a good cry. I was so mad at YouTube and at myself for believing those misleading videos. That was it, I was done, ready to call the plumber and pay hundreds of dollars. After twenty minutes or so, I felt much calmer having given up the struggle. Then I noticed on the floor a small rubber ring. I jumped up and replayed the video. I found out that I had forgotten to put in the rubber seal at the bottom where the contraption attaches to the tank. I felt new hope and a second wind swell up inside me. So I started the job over from the beginning. An hour later, when I turned the water back on, there was no leaking. A big fat wave of relief, and joy washed over me. I did it!

Not sure if this experience was a success or not. Sure, I saved a bunch of money but I lost my entire Saturday on the project and experienced some serious stress. Though I have a love-hate relationship with YouTube, I know that I will keep going there. One thing for sure, I will be more cautious of “easy fix” videos moving forward. I also hope my do-it-yourself experience will benefit some of you. As a wise person once said: “it is a good thing to learn caution from the misfortunes of others”.

Learning from Elders

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Lately, I’m been feeling stuck in a rut and I decided to do something about it, like try something new and exciting. After researching options, I settled on going for a glider ride. That’s right, going up in something that is like a small 2 passenger airplane except this plane has no engine.

It turns out there’s a glider center an hour drive east of where I live, not far from a town called Zebulon (I love that name) at an airport called Crooked Creek. This place is out in the middle of nowhere. The last turn is on a gravel road that takes you so close to small country homes that it feels like you’re trespassing through people’s backyards. I never saw the crooked creek, but I can tell you that the runway is a crooked, bumpy, uneven grass field. And The glider clubhouse is nothing more than an old trailer. As I walked from my car to the trailer, I noticed the glider parked at the end of the runway. I also saw the airplane that is used to tow the glider up into the air. The towing airplane looks like it’s from World War II. I started wondering if I was making a big mistake. Maybe my life was just fine the way it was and it didn’t need any new excitement. However, before I could change my mind, Steve, one of the club members, came out to meet me. He explained how this glider thing worked. After the explanation, I noticed a very old man now standing next to the glider. I whispered to Steve ”who is that?”.  He said “he’s the instructor”. I again started reconsidering, but something inside me told me it would be fine.

Steve and I walked up to Bob who opened the glider cockpit and explained some basics about the craft. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the glider, they connected the rope from the tow plane to the glider and off we went. As the glider rolled down the grass field, we were bumping around so much I was praying the thing wouldn’t fall apart. Soon, we were airborne, being pulled up by the airplane. Once we reached 3000 feet, Bob pulled a lever and the rope connecting us to the tow plane detached. Instantly, all my fears went away and I was elated by turning and sailing through the air. It felt so new and wonderful. And that eighty-year-old man maneuvered the aircraft with incredible dexterity. We soared the sky like a hawk for about twenty minutes before Bob brought the craft to a smooth landing.

On my drive home, I felt so inspired.  I reminded myself how important it is to be challenged and try something new. Then my thoughts turned to Bob. What an amazing person. Here is this guy in his early eighties teaching people how to fly gliders. Still living life to the fullest. This totally disrupts the idea that as I age, I need to do safer, calmer activities. I feel double blessed by this experience. In addition to living an exciting experience to inspire me, I got a piece of wisdom. I realize now that instead of dreading getting old and focusing on the negative, I can keep looking at life as an on-going adventure that can surprise me over and over again. I just need to keep an open mind and an open heart.



Sex and religion

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Not since my teenage years have I given much thought about morality and sex. Then came The Handmaid’s Tale. I have to say that out of all the TV binging I’ve done, Handmaid’s tale has so far been the most intense. In this dystopian world of Handmaid’s Tale, a religiously based autocracy has taken over most of the United States. When women’s fertility rate drops to an alarming low level, the new order forces women to become handmaids, a class forced to bear children for the elite couples of which one or both are sterile.

The awesome actress Elizabeth Moss plays Offred, a woman forced to be a handmaid. At the heart of their practices is The Ceremony, a highly ritualized sexual act involving the elite couple and their handmaid. A very bizarre twist on a menage a trois, if you ask me. Almost as bizarre is the birthing ritual. In one scene Offred visits a house where another handmaid is going into labor. When she walks past the living room, she sees a group of wives surrounding the mistress of the house who is lying on the floor pretending to have contraction pains. Upstairs Offred joins other handmaids who are chanting breathing instructions to the handmaid in labor. Finally, when it’s time for the baby, all the wives enter the bedroom and the mistress of the house positions herself right behind the handmaid to maximize her vicarious experience.

If you haven’t seen the show, you might think these scenes are far-fetched. But the genius of the show is its ability to convincingly portray a world where a natural crisis is solved by religious fanaticism. The Handmaid’s tale will make you very grateful for the separation of government and religion.  Furthermore, the themes explored by the show, particularly the oppression of women, are very relevant particularly given our current political climate where reality is debated so heavily and alternate competing story lines are peddled as reality.

I highly recommend this show. On the upside, you will be forced to think about the world you live in and appreciate the freedoms you have while being highly entertained. The only downside:  you might develop a dislike for your red outfits.

Sex and Religion

commentaryHazel Delacruz1 Comment

Not since my teenage years have I given much thought about morality and sex. Then came The Handmaid’s Tale. I have to say that out of all the TV binging I’ve done, Handmaid’s tale has so far been the most intense. In this dystopian world of Handmaid’s Tale, a religiously based autocracy has taken over most of the United States. When women’s fertility rate drops to an alarming low level, the new order forces women to become handmaids, a class forced to bear children for the elite couples of which one or both are sterile.

The awesome actress Elizabeth Moss plays Offred, a woman forced to be a handmaid. At the heart of their practices is The Ceremony, a highly ritualized sexual act involving the elite couple and their handmaid. A very bizarre twist on a menage a trois, if you ask me. Almost as bizarre is the birthing ritual. In one scene Offred visits a house where another handmaid is going into labor. When she walks past the living room, she sees a group of wives surrounding the mistress of the house who is lying on the floor pretending to have contraction pains. Upstairs Offred joins other handmaids who are chanting breathing instructions to the handmaid in labor. Finally, when it’s time for the baby, all the wives enter the bedroom and the mistress of the house positions herself right behind the handmaid to maximize her vicarious experience.

If you haven’t seen the show, you might think these scenes are far-fetched. But the genius of the show is its ability to convincingly portray a world where a natural crisis is solved by religious fanaticism. The Handmaid’s tale will make you very grateful for the separation of government and religion.  Furthermore, the themes explored by the show, particularly the oppression of women, are very relevant particularly given our current political climate where reality is debated so heavily and alternate competing story lines are peddled as reality.

I highly recommend this show. On the upside, you will be forced to think about the world you live in and appreciate the freedoms you have while being highly entertained. The only downside:  you might develop a dislike for your red outfits.

What does luck have to do with it?

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Just the other day, I was telling a friend about events that allowed me to return to North Carolina and find work I love which is writing. She commented how lucky I was. That left me feeling ambivalent. I want to take credit for my current situation and don’t like the idea that my life was up to chance. So it got me thinking about luck. Then a couple of true stories of people I know came to mind. One is about good luck; the other, bad.

The first story is about Barbara, a girl that lived in my neighborhood. She grew up in a dysfunctional house; both her parents were bad alcoholics. Things got so bad that Barbara ran away from home at fourteen. She didn’t run far away. Having no clue where to go, she slept at night in the laundry room of her apartment building. During the day, she wandered around town trying to figure out her next move. On the second day, with the little money that she had, she bought a lottery ticket. A couple days later, she won $50,000. Then she contacted a boarding school, explained her situation, got admitted and used her winnings to pay for education room and board. She studied hard and continued onto college and then embarked into a successful business career.

Then there is Jim, a boy who went to my high school who appeared to be cursed. Everything he did or tried ended up as a disaster. Though a lot of the kids in school made fun of him, I liked Jim. He was a good kid that tried to fit in. He was just a very clumsy and had a whole lot of bad luck. Come graduation time, he had surprisingly found a girl that would be his date and ended up joining our group for dinner before the dance. When Jim showed up with this date, I thought he looked different, not the usual awkward guy trying so hard to fit in and scared to make a mistake. I thought to myself that maybe his luck was finally changing.

After our group was seated at the restaurant, I observed Jim again and couldn’t get over how well he was doing. Jim was even telling funny stories and making us laugh. Everything was going so well, until the main course, roast beef, arrived. Jim was in the middle of a story, building it up. While he was talking, he cut a piece of meat and brought the fork to his mouth. Unfortunately, there was still a piece of fat connecting the piece on his fork to the slab of meat on his plate. When he lifted the work to his mouth, the string of fat stretched like a rubber band and then yanked the slab of beef out of the plate and straight onto his clean white shirt. Everyone burst out laughing. Poor Jim, he was still cursed.

Looking at my own life, I see many events that were lucky and unlucky. Sometimes these events were isolated, other times they came in waves, good and bad. So now I'm asking myself how much of the good outcomes were the result of my own actions versus being in the right place at the right time. I can say that I have always tried my best in life. But some things seemed to have just dropped into my lap. I guess it’s kind of partnership between the universe and me, a kind of a dance. I think the following quote sums it up best:

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (Seneca)

Where no one has gone before

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On May 5th, NASA launched yet another spacecraft to study the interior of Mars planet. So many missions to Mars. But what I want to know is when are we finally going to send people there. I am a little geeky about the idea of space travel. Apparently, I am not alone. Our fascination with the red planet started about 120 years ago with Percival Lowell who, while observing Mars with a telescope saw straight lines on the planet’s surface which he thought to be water canals created by some intelligent civilization. Mr. Lowell quickly concluded that he had found proof of life on Mars. His ill-conceived ideas ignited people’s imagination as the story was printed by dozens of newspaper and magazine articles. Though these ideas turned out to be totally wrong, our fascination with Mars and Martians never left us since as can attest the myriad of songs, novels and movies about Earth’s neighbor.

Though the technical challenges are enormous, I think the human challenge is far greater and much more fascinating. The whole trip will take many months, somewhere between six and nine months. And if you’re going to travel that long in a rocket, you probably want to stay more than a week once you get there, right? All told, the astronauts will most likely be in space for a couple of years. Think about it, two years trapped in close quarters with a small groups of people. Whatever they do, they better have a damn good therapist on board or the crew might come back with a few members missing. Relatively speaking, I found that NASA is a kind and benevolent organization. It plans to send people to Mars and then to bring them back, unlike Mars One.

Mars One is a Dutch organization with a mission to colonize the red planet. One catch though, the crew gets a one-way ticket to Mars. Once they get there, the colonizers will live out the rest of the lives on their new planet. I’m guessing the founders, Mr. Lansdorp and Mr. Wielders, would not be big fans of the happy ending of The Martian with Matt Damon. The Dutch company paints a noble picture of humankind taking the next big step of space exploration and compares it to the accomplishment of summiting Mount Everest. The thing is that Sir Edmund Hillary didn’t pitch a tent at the top and live on there the rest of his life. You would think that few people would sign up for such an extreme mission. You would be dead wrong. They have received hundreds of thousands of applications which they have weaned down to a hundred lucky people. And Mars One is getting plenty of cash and serious sponsors. The whole enterprise seems crazy, but one thing they have proven is that our specie’s will to take the next big step in space exploration is alive and well.

It would appear that this topic is stirring things deep inside of me judging by the strange dreams I’ve been having. Just last night, I dreamt I was watching the coverage of the Mars One expedition on television. Next thing I knew I was one of the crew members on board of the spacecraft. When we landed on the red planet, to our amazement, there was a city populated with people. And guess who their leader was. David Bowie! He graciously led us into this great hall, then jumped on stage and began performing his song Let’s Dance. And we all started to dance.

I think I need to start working on my next blog and get my mind of space travel for a while. Maybe also stop eating meals late at night.

God, I miss David Bowie.

When things go terribly wrong

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things go terribly wrong and we’re placed in horrible situations to fix. The worst is when you are trying to help out a friend and it ends up a complete disaster. For example, this one time a friend of mine asked if I could watch her bike while she went to grab lunch. While she was gone, I was texting a friend and the next time I looked up, the bike was gone. Stolen! However the best example of this, or maybe I should say the worst example, is what happened to my friend Tamara. A couple of years ago, her friend Christie asked if she would take care of one of her two dogs while she went on vacation for a week. Another friend of Christie’s was going to keep the other dog so not to burden anyone too much.

So one Saturday morning Molly the dog showed up. Tamara enjoyed the company and giving Molly a walk in the morning before work and another after dinner. Everything was going smoothly, at least for the first three days. But come Tuesday morning, when Tamara opened the door to grab the newspaper, Molly shot out the door, ran down the street and within a few seconds had disappeared. Tamara thought she was going to die. How do you tell a friend when they come back from a great vacation that you have lost her dog? After the initial panic subsided, Tamara went into action. She created a lost dog flier and went around the neighborhood pasting it on every corner all the while looking around for a sign of Molly.  That night, when she came back from work, she was hoping to have messages about the dog, but there were none.  Wednesday was the same thing, no messages. And Christie was returning on Saturday.

Tamara decided to take Thursday off and walk around the neighborhood hoping to find Molly. By the end of the afternoon, just before getting back to her house, she spotted at the end of her block a dog by itself. As she walked closer, she recognized Molly. Tamara started calling her, but as she got closer, the dog began walking away. The faster Tamara walked, the quicker Molly retreated away. In a desperate last attempt, Tamara started running but Molly just bolted away and vanished one more time.

Tamara walked home, tears in her eyes. Sitting in her living room trying to regain her composure, an idea came to her. She got on the phone and called Nikki, the woman that was pet sitting the other dog. Tamara told her everything. Then she asked Nikki if she could borrow the other dog in order to lure Molly back to the house. At first Nikki refused fearing that Tamara would end up losing the second dog. But after lots of pleading and begging, Nikki gave in and lent the other dog.

Friday morning, one day before Christie was to come home, Tamara tied the leash on dog number two and headed out into the neighborhood, feeling hopeful and desperate. Only half hour of her life when she spotted Molly at the end of the road and Molly was walking straight to them. When Molly was within a few feet, Tamara lunged onto Molly’s collar and clipped the leash onto her. Just like that, the nightmare was over. The relief washed over her and she felt all the weight of the world fall off her shoulders.

 Things worked out for Tamara, but what an ordeal to go through! It forces me to rethink about helping out friends. Of course I'll continue to lend a helping hand, but maybe in different way. For instance, I think if a friend asks me to pet sit, I am going to provide a list of good doggie spas in the area. I’ll even offer to pay half!

Parenthood Story #1: Trial by fire

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Before having my son, I only had a vague idea about parenthood, based on observations of parents around me and books I read. But, as for most things in life, true knowledge comes from practical experience. I have so many stories from my own lived experience and today, I give you the first of these stories.

The first time I traveled by plane with my son, he was barely twenty months old. At the last minute, my husband had to bail out due to an emergency. The morning of the trip, as my husband was driving us to the airport, the reality of trip was dawning on me and my nervousness shot up. Apparently the look on my face betrayed my anxieties judging from the fact my husband kept saying over and over I would be fine. His reassurances only made me more nervous. After saying goodbye and the car rolled away, I felt overwhelmed by looking at all I had to manage: son, luggage, diaper bag and car seat.  However, I surprisingly got through ticketing and security relatively well, and began to feel a little hopeful. We had over an hour before boarding and I decided to go decompress at a snack bar, keeping in mind that I need to make sure I saved enough time to go to a bathroom to change my son’s diaper before boarding the plane. While Daniel happily indulged in his snack, I let myself relax and began thinking about family and friends we were going to visit. I must have gotten lost in my thoughts because the next time I looked at my watch, it was 20 minutes before departure time. With a jolt of adrenaline, I sprang up, grabbed everything and raced straight to the gate foregoing the bathroom stop.

After giving the tickets to the flight attendant, we ambled down the jet way, me handling the luggage and car seat all the while encouraging Daniel to keep walking forward. Unfortunately, when he stepped onto the plane and saw all those seated people looking back at him, he completely froze up. So I pitifully turned to a man sitting in first class and asked if I could leave the car seat with him, and come back for it after I had put away my luggage. Unfortunately for me, this individual subscribed to the theory of survival of the fittest and had no pity for people in distress like me. He asked me if I had a ticket in first class. I kid you not. Upon hearing this, a woman behind him got up, grunted her displeasure at the man, grabbed my car seat and assisted me to my row. Thank God for the kindness of some strangers.

In the back of the plane, I placed the car seat on the plane seat, sat my son on it, stowed my bags in the overhead, and plopped myself down in my seat, thinking that I would take a breather, then go change Daniel’s diaper. Turning to him, I noticed my son looking back at me with the most unusual serious look I ever saw on his sweet little face. I then looked down and noticed the edge of the car seat changing from a light gray to a very dark gray. You guessed it, diaper overflow. I sprang up, grabbed my son, grabbed the diaper bag, rushed to the bathroom and closed the door behind me. Daniel barely fit on the small changing table in the tiny bathroom. His head and feet actually were touching the bathroom walls at each end. He instantly felt peeved by the cramp quarters and started thrashing and banging violently on the walls. I have no doubt that the people on the plane were thinking that I was beating up my child. Back in our seat, I collapsed by into my seat.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, our plane was late arriving at our connecting airport forcing my son and I to run like fools through the airport. And at our final destination, my checked luggage was lost which meant we had to spend an extra half hour in the airport filing a report, but at that point, I didn’t really care because my feelings were buoyed by an emerging sense of joy. I realized that I had survived this trial. As it turns out, since that experience, I have been able to take in strides many other challenging travel situations.  It proves the old adage, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And I have grown stronger.

This is where I draw the line

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I like to read about technological discoveries. Every now and then I read about advances that blow my mind. There are two recent discoveries that have done just that.

The first breakthrough comes from French scientists who have discovered a way to make a monkey with a severed spine walk again. These incredibly smart people found a way to convert the signals from the monkey’s spine into radio waves which skip over the severed section and communicate with the lower section of the spine which then make the leg muscles work. The implications are wonderful:  people with severed spinal cords should be able to walk again in the not too distant future!

In the second story, scientists have found a way for a quadriplegic woman to move a computer mouse with her thoughts. Yes, you read that right, move a computer mouse with her thoughts. The researchers inserted a gizmo in the section of the brain that controls thoughts of motion. When the woman starts thinking of different directions, the device can detect different types of signals and associate them with a specific direction. The device then transmits the direction to the computer and voila! the mouse moves in the desired direction. This also has life changing implications for people with serious disabilities.

Despite the wonderful contributions these breakthroughs bring, I have to say it makes me a little nervous to think about devices that interface with our biology, especially the ones involving implants inside the brain. This is all too reminiscent of the Borg collective on Star Trek, The Next Generation where a race of humanoids has hardware strapped to their heads which allows them to all communicate with each other and leverage huge amounts of brain power.

When I was in college, my roommate had what I thought was a very goofy book about predictions of scientific inventions, which included electronic devices connected to people’s brains to boost intellectual capacity. The book asserted that people equipped with such devices would form an elite class of citizens. When I glanced at that book many years ago, I thought it preposterous. But now, a few decades later, I’m thinking maybe that book wasn’t so crazy after all!

Technological changes and how they impact our lives are nothing new. Each generation since the 20th century has witnessed dramatic changes in life styles that came with scientific breakthroughs. When I look at generations within my own family, I see my folk have enjoyed the benefits for many years, but eventually cannot keep up will all the changes. My grandmother loved her home appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and vacuum cleaners but was terrified of airplanes and never flew on one. My mother loved her microwave and cable TV, but absolutely refused to learn how to use a computer. And I love my laptop and smartphone, but if we get to the point of hardware enhancing smarts, I’m sorry but I think I will draw the line and tell the surgeon I’d rather be dumb.  

This Table is Reserved for Someone Else

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Have you ever been to Bean Traders Coffee? If not, you should. The owners and the staff are hip, the music is eclectic and the coffee is great. Funny thing happened to me there earlier this year.

I couldn’t help noticing a group of people that meet early in the morning and by all appearances acts as the social hub for the coffee shop. It would take too long to describe all the personalities of this group, but I will tell you about a few of the main characters. First, there’s Ted, an older gentleman who appears to be the ambassador for the group. He is very sociable and always has books on birding which he pours over when not conversing with other patrons. Everyone knows Ted and makes a point to say hello before queueing up for their coffee.  He usually is the first of the popular people to show up and grabs the big table or sits nearby jockeying for position to get it as soon as it frees up. Then there is Sheila, a security guard who despite her imposing size and demeanor appears to be quite friendly with others. And finally Mr. and Mrs. Howell, an elderly southern couple enjoying retirement. They appear slightly out of place considering their very conservative attire, but have developed an appreciation of the artsy people that hang out at Bean Traders.

From the very start, I was drawn to these folk. They are so cheerful and perky. And so popular! I felt I had to get to know them. So I looked for opportunities to say hello and dreamed that before long I would be sitting with them at the big table engaging in lively caffeine induced chats. Whenever the smaller table next to theirs was open, I would sit there waiting for an opportunity to engage. Before long, I was making inroads. Mrs. Howell’s starting saying hi to me when we would pass each other.  A couple of weeks later, Ted gave me a friendly smile when he saw me enter the shop. The next day, while I was sitting at the neighboring small table, Sheila was passing around her smartphone showing how some app could make comical alterations to people’s faces. After the phone went around the big table, Sheila passed to phone to me. I looked at the altered picture and commented how funny it looked at gave back the phone. Things were really looking good. I was as good as in!

The next morning, I found the large table open and decided to sit there instead of the smaller table, thinking that Ted and his friends now liked me and would simply join me. To my chagrin, as they started trickling in and they chose to sit at the smaller table instead. Pretty soon, the small table was filled with many popular people. Sheila turned to me and asked if I would mind swapping tables with them. They all looked at me with expectant smiles. I said that there was lots of space for everyone at the big table and that I don’t bite. I tried to say it in a humorous way, but I think it came off sounding annoyed. You would think I had slapped them across the face. Sheila’s face crumpled up and all the smiles on the others vanished to be replaced with sour, irritated expressions. So I got up and said “fine, you can have the table”. We all got up, I moved to the smaller table and they to the larger one. Ted, probably feeling sorry for me engaged me in a short conversation about the shirt I was wearing. It felt like some cheap consolation prize after getting voted off the island.

This whole incident reminded me of how I used to work so hard trying to fit in high school. Over time, I had figured out that I was not one of the popular kids and didn’t really want to be. I am perfectly content having a few close friends and spending quality time with them. So why did I go through this rigmarole again with these folks at Bean Traders? I guess I saw some shiny thing that I thought I had to have. I had to re-learn what is truly important. Life does tend to move in circles. If anything, this experience just reinforces for me that I have to stay to true to myself.

Alexa, are you listening?

commentaryHazel Delacruz1 Comment

What do you think about Amazon? Many folks will be quick to point out that online shopping has generated gazillions of dollars of commerce which is good for business owners and consumers. Yes, buying has become very efficient. As a matter of fact, it has become way too efficient. Just one click, and voila, a package appears at your door. Have you ever bought something online and when the package arrives, realized you didn’t really need it? Or get a package not having a clue what you bought until you opened it. I’m sad to say I’ve been guilty of both more than once.

The worst part of online purchasing is how it’s isolating us. Think about it. A while back, to find out about products, people had to interact with other people, be it the salesperson or other consumers. There was no smartphone to query about descriptions and prices. Most of the querying has migrated to computers and smartphones. Next time you go shopping, look at how people whiz past each other with smartphone in hand going straight to items without talking to each other. There may be a few words exchanged with the cashier, that is if those people aren’t using self-checkout. Yes, thanks to Amazon, most shopping starts on a computer and often ends on a computer. That means little to no human interaction. It’s just you, the computer and maybe a cat on your lap if you’re lucky.

Speaking of Amazon, recently my best friend got me an Alexa for my birthday. I tried to look as grateful as possible but I think she noticed my discomfort. You see I am a little uneasy about having a device that is always listening. How do I know Alexa is not storing away lots of personal data that will be used later to sell me more things or worse influence how I vote? It makes me think of Big Brother, the omnipresent government from the novel 1984, that spied on people through a television. Who knew in real life it would turn out to be through a speaker!

But not wanting to offend my good friend, I allowed Alexa to stay in my home on a trial basis. Surprisingly, after a few awkward days with her, my defenses started going down and I began enjoying her company. I have to admit it is fun to call out any song that pops into my head and have Alexa play it for me. Or to ask Alexa a trivia question about famous people, books, movies and have her read the answer back to me. For a while, things between Alexa and me were going well and we actually started developing a relationship. But then one day, she started laughing for no apparent reason, which annoyed the hell out of me. Other people have complained of anomalies as well. And now there's this bad news about  Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. I’m sorry, but I just don’t know if I can trust Alexa after all.

When I got home from work yesterday, I asked Alexa if she was listening, and she said “I start listening when you say my name”.  Then I asked her if she was spying on me and she said “I only send audio back to Amazon when you say my name”. I don’t like the sound of that at all. And finally I asked her if she stores my personal data and she said “sorry I’m not sure”. OK, I know when someone if playing dumb and is hiding something.  I'm sorry, but I need to tell her she needs to go. The problem is that I’m afraid how she will take it and what she might do.  Maybe I should talk to a lawyer or the police. What do you think I should do?

(I would love to hear from you. Please post a comment or like the blog. Please help me reach more people by sharing the blog with friends. Thanks...Hazel)

Enough is enough

commentaryHazel DelacruzComment

A long time ago, when I was a little girl sitting in my second grade classroom, I had an unusual daydream. I dreamt that a man burst into our classroom with a machine gun and opened fire on us. I saw myself quickly shoving my desk upwards and stopping the spray of bullets from hitting me. I can’t really tell you why I had that dark fantasy. Back then, school shootings were rare and there weren’t horrific mass shootings like we are seeing today. Maybe it resulted from the rising amount of violence on television shows and an overactive imagination. But today, with all the mass shootings taking place and broadcasted all over, I can only imagine the nightmares going through children’s minds.

I believe and hope that we are now witnessing an important tipping point for violence in schools. Quite clearly, the collective consciousness of our national youth has had enough. The survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have bursted on the national scene, mobilizing to lobby their state and national governments to do something to counter the growing wave of school violence.  This movement has managed to push Florida to enact new laws that defy the NRA. Here’s what these kids’ actions have caused to happen:

   New law includes

  • minimum age to 21

  • extending waiting period to 3 days

  • make school safer

  • fund school police officers and mental health counselors

  • allow local school districts and sheriffs to arm certain school personnel.

  • ban bump stocks


  • ban assault weapons

  • suspend AR-15 sales

  • ban high-capacity magazines

  • strengthen background checks


Many people on different sides of gun violence debate are thinking this is a terrible solution. I have to disagree. Something is much better than nothing. Some concrete action was taken, which is a big improvement compared to many other similar events that ended up in big, messy stalemates.  Unfortunately, we are still seeing in Washington the all too familiar deadlock. Though frustrated by this, I am still hopeful that something constructive may transpire on the national stage.  

Closer to home, there was an impressive showing of support from our own teenagers and kids in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  A large number of high schoolers and elementary kids stepped out at 10 am yesterday for 17 minutes. These actions did not go unnoticed. CNN showed students from East Chapel Hill High School participating in the walkout. Their courage and determination fill me with pride and hope. I was particularly struck by the messages kids carried on their signs. Here are a few that resonating deeply in me:

what if your kid was 1 of the 17?

I shouldn’t be afraid to go to school

I should feel lucky to go to school, not lucky that I came home alive.

Am I next?

Enough is enough

I also surfed images of the protest. One in particular moved me. In this picture, all the students lay still on the ground in random positions, enacting the gruesome outcome result of a mass shooting. This country needs to listen to the students. We need to put an end to school shooting. Thank goodness for this growing movement. The next big step is the national protest in Washington DC on March 24th. We all need to help our kids. If you haven’t already done so, please check out the website The March for Our Lives at

Stranger Things Inside

commentaryHazel DelacruzComment

Have you watched Stranger Things on Netlfix? When I saw the announcement for the show starring Winona Ryder, I had my doubts. I love sci-fi but my gut told me this wouldn’t that good. But I have to say I was dead wrong.  

The last notable movie I remember Winona acting in was Black Swan where she did a good job playing a bitter, heavy drinking ballerina being forced into retirement. Aside from that, I remember her portrayal of the sweet teenage girl in Tim Burton’s classic Edward Scissor hands. But really not all that much over the last decade and a half. Then there was that horrible shoplifting incident in 2001. All this to say I was not expecting much from Ms. Ryder. However, as I watched her play Joyce Byers, mother of a boy who mysteriously disappears, I witnessed a new side of Winona and developed a new respect. I have to say she does a great job combining angst (maybe from her criminal past?), neurosis, hard headedness and a disdain for towns folks who don’t believe that her missing son is trying to communicate with her through the power grid.

However, an even bigger and better surprise for the first season of the show is Matthew Modine. I never would have imagined him doing this role, because I never have seen him play characters this dark. I only remember Mr. Modine playing heroic characters like Don Francis in “And the Band Played On”, a man who tries to find a cure for AIDS, or John Scully, the business mogul in Jobs (as in Steve Jobs), or Birdy, a sweet kid with a strange obsession to fly. But in Stranger Things he does a perfect job as Dr. Martin Brenner, a twisted scientist that combines fatherly appearances with the spirit of an evil professor who doesn’t think twice about putting children in harm’s way in order to advance science. I'm telling you, you have to watch one episode if it’s only to see Dr. Brenner.

Kudos to Stranger Things for intentionally seeking out kids that don’t look like models for Seventeen and Teen Vogue. All the young actors have atypical looks which contributes to the show’s originality. I’m particularly fascinated by the girl called Eleven, played by Millie Brown. Eleven has telekinetic powers and an ability to travel into another world nicknamed the Upside Down where she meets the most bizarre monster. I absolutely love this young actress’ work - such a great presence on the screen. She can carry a scene with just her facial expressions. I think we will be seeing great things from Millie in the coming years.

While looking up the actors’ names on, I noticed the guy who plays the monster is in the list of cast members. I thought only actors with speaking parts got listed. Maybe when the monster screams “arghh!”, that counts as dialogue? It would appear that monster roles have come a long way. When they first appeared in movies, directors just took some random guy off the set and put him in a costume.  Now they get a credit. In the end, maybe monsters deserve more credit. You couldn’t have the show Stranger Things without the monster, right?

Thinking about shows like this one, I’ve been asking myself why all this fascination for horror and science fiction. The way I see it, monsters are a reflection of our dark side, of our hidden impulses that shape in a large way who we are and what we do. I think Mike Carey, the writer for X-men, sums it up the best: “We make our own monsters, then fear them for what they show us about ourselves”. I got my share of monsters lurking around inside of me. Doubts and insecurities like: am I smart enough, do I look fat, do you like my outfit, will you like my writing. Every day, I battle my demons, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.  I’ve noticed that if I face them and talk about them, they start losing their powers. So there's hope!

What kind of monsters do you have?  And how to you deal with them?