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August 3, 2005

Miss Manners - Making the World Safe for Open Adoption

I started to read Miss Manners' column (link to the Washington Post may require free registration) this morning with some trepidation. The mother of a young man who placed his baby in an open adoption was writing to see what her birth granddaughter should call her when she is old enough to talk.

Fortunately, Miss M's answer was consistent with the fact that the world of open adoption is a part of the larger scene of complex families, in which children often have membership in multiple families and have to figure out and manage complex relationships. She noted, "Your granddaughter could easily acquire an entire club of grandparents..."

Her suggestion seemed wise: figure out names that "work" for her family - perhaps combining the word Grandma or Grandpa with their first name. She also counseled, "...remember that you are dependent on the goodwill of people who are not related to you. Miss Manners strongly advises you to ascertain the consent of the adoptive parents and not preempt the choices of their parents." Sensible advice. Open adoption involves complex relationships, and "goodwill" is the lubrication that makes the system work.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:23 AM

August 9, 2005

The Texas Minnesota Thang

This morning's Star Tribune featured an article "Grinding Axes with Texas," which began with the lead, "It really chaps our hide the way the Lone Star State takes things we'd rather claim as our own."

As a holder of dual citizenship (having lived in Texas for 25 years and in Minnesota for 19 years and counting), I have a few comments to make.

I was recently introducing myself to my new next-door neighbor and found myself talking about Texas and Minnesota - and he asked what kind of connection there was between the states, because he had observed some kind of affinity between the two.

Well, the first connection is geographic. Texas and Minnesota are the "bumpers" on Interstate-35 before you cross international boundaries into Mexico or Canada, respectively. So the connection's pretty simple. Just hop on I-35 and head either north or south, and you'll wind up in one or the other. I-35 stretches from Duluth to Laredo, passing through the Twin Cities, Dallas, and Austin along the way.

The Twin Cities and Austin (TX) also have affinities. Both are centers of high tech and lots of white collar business, both are state capitals, and each is home to one of the U.S.'s largest state universities. The rankings of UT Austin and U of M Twin Cities tend to be very close. One may be a point or two ahead of the other on one dimension, but then the direction is reversed on another dimension. (But only UT Austin has a library that is built in the shape of the state of Texas.)

I think the 2 states also share a certain type of pragmatism that comes from dealing with harsh climates, although Minnesota has the "pleasure" of dealing with BOTH extremes, as this summer's continuing heat / humidity wave is continuing to teach us. As a consequence, people in both states dress casually in accordance with the weather -- or at least they tolerate people who do. People are adaptable.

However, my extended stays in both states have shown me that there are significant differences as well.

One of them has to do with a general approach to life. Minnesotans analyze and whine -- well illustrated by this morning's article. Here's the first sentence: "Texas, you've got our dander up!" (See?)

Texans just grab and run. They could care less whether Minnesota thinks it has 10,000 lakes. If they want to claim 10,000 or 20,000 -- well brother, they will.

There'a also a real difference in attitudes about the use of power in government and in universities. Minnesota touts its populist, participatory approach to life. Which is true in many ways. But sometimes it seems that the participation and consultation go on forever and either a) no one makes a decision, or b) someone steps in and grabs power and makes a decision in spite of all the consultation. In Texas, there's no pretense of consultation or government-by-the-people. Those in power just decide. Now I realize that I am edging into political territory here that others may care to analyze in much more depth. And maybe I'll add more in a subsequent post. But I couldn't let the occasion of this article pass without SOME comment about the two states that I alternatively love and hate. As with most things in life, wouldn't it be great if we could take the best things about each state and roll them into one? But what would we call it?

Posted by hgroteva at 7:55 AM

August 10, 2005

Lives Cut Short

I have been totally drawn into the ABC special about Peter Jennings, news anchor and foreign correspondent extraordinaire. I was always impressed by the excellence of his work, but the show has highlighted his passion and compassion, his love of learning (despite never having finished high school), and his desire to communicate (e.g., teach) others. He was a voracious reader and loved to travel and learn from his experiences in the world. The testimonials from his friends and colleagues have been incredible. He died at the age of 67, too early. Today, I also mourn the loss of a former university colleague, Bill Ryan. Even though I never met Bill in person, I felt great affection toward him because he was one of those wonderfully helpful tech people who coached me through a number of computer crises several years ago. Bill was only 38. Lung cancer killed Peter; brain cancer killed Bill. It's important to pause and honor those whose lives have passed ... and to learn from them.

Posted by hgroteva at 8:00 PM

August 12, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging - Introducing Shadow


After my first Friday Cat Blogging post 2 weeks ago about Pookie, the other members of the tribe have been yowling, "Me next!!" Shadow yowled longest and loudest, so here he is...

Whereas Pookie exudes gravitas and stateliness (see July 29 entry), Shadow communicates, "Here I am, here I am, love me, love me, pet me, feed me, aren't I great?" He's our "in your face" kittie, but oh so loveable and vulnerable. When I work in my study upstairs, he might sit in the hallway and wail -- until I reassure him, "I'm here. It's OK. Come on over." It works every time. He climbs on my shoulder for a long hug, nuzzles against my face and glasses, and purrs contentedly.

When one of his compatriots is getting attention, Shadow will surely be up and claiming HIS attention within 20 seconds. He doesn't settle down too easily, but as he gets older, he is willing to slow down a bit, especially if he's getting his tummy rubbed while watching TV in the den. But he's plenty rambunctious too - loving to chase others in the tribe all over the house. They they lay down together, groom each other, and fall asleep for hours. It's quite a show.


Posted by hgroteva at 1:32 AM

August 14, 2005

The Loaves and the Fishes

from this morning's Star Tribune

On the Train to Venice by Jim Moore

The first and least important mistake
was to take the train on Sunday, September 1st,
the last day of vacation for millions of Italians.
Though the train was packed,
we had thought to bring sandwiches.
We ate while everyone around us -- sitting, standing,
filling every possible inch of floor space --
went profoundly silent and watched
as if we were demonstrating a new technique
for brain surgery, one never tried before,
gone horribly wrong.
Not long after we finished, out of nowhere
came sandwiches, water, and fruit,
every last bit of it offered all around,
especially to those who had brought nothing with them. Such kindness
and pleasure, and gratitude, except
on the part of the two Americans
who had eaten their fill alone,
in silence, as if the world was empty
of everything but themselves.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:03 AM

August 19, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging - meet Mackenzie


Pookie's our sedate one, Shadow's the noisy one, and Mackenzie (pictured above) is the quiet one. She's petite and very circumspect, never forcing herself into a situation (unlike her BIG brothers). When she settles in for a cuddle, she's more relaxed than any of her tribe-mates. She's the best nurse-cat in the family, for those days when you're feeling yucky.

She easily moves in and out of coalitions with the others, but is not quite as tightly bonded as are Pookie and Sadie. But if she has a preferred pair-mate, it's probably Shadow. Opposites attract, they say. Here she is (on the left) with Shadow (on the right).

Mackenzie and Shadow2.jpg

Mackenzie's strangest characteristic is that she EATS WOOL - and the more expensive, the better. Unfortunately, we discovered this after she had already done a substantial amount of damage to my wife's wardrobe. She doesn't nibble - she eats big holes in the middle of garments. I thought maybe this was indicative of a vitamin deficiency (or some such thing), but apparently some cats like to eat wool. We have had many cats over many years, and Mackenzie is the first wool-eater. I would be interested to hear other cat/wool stories. For some reason, she has stopped doing this - no damage in the past year, although my wife has rearranged her clothes so that they are not so easily accessible.

Mackenzie also carries things along (reminiscent of Carrie's comment about her dog-cat). She is especially fond of a wool sock (of course) and a winter glove that has fur lining. These items keep appearing all over the house. But she is a warm, wonderful cat who, like her tribe-mates, has wormed her way into our lives.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:56 AM

Six Feet Under - R.I.P.


The last episode - ever - of "Six Feet Under" airs this Sunday evening on HBO. I will have more to say in the weeks to come, but I couldn't let this event pass without comment. I'm a huge fan of the show, having taught (with Heather Haberman) a course about family dynamics using the first season of SFU as our common experiential base. On NPR this afternoon, I heard a piece on "Day to Day" about the show, its premise, and its impact. You can hear the story by clicking here. In fact, the NPR website has quite a few archived interviews with SFU actors and Alan Ball, the mind behind it all.

What drew me to the show was that it was real. I don't mean that the plots were realistic - in fact, some of them were so far-fetched that I'd certainly hope they couldn't be real (like the one about the baker who got shredded in the mixing vat). What I mean is that the characters were complex and really human. They all had rich interior lives which Alan Ball let us into, and they all struggled mightily to survive and thrive in the midst of complicated circumstances. They dealt honestly and openly with complex human emotions. Family dinnertime conversations were not idealized or romanticized occasions for togetherness - they were the coming together of individuals with complex emotions, lots of baggage, and many needs. But those gathered around the table gave it their best shot - their depth of caring and commitment was genuine.

I will surely miss this show. After watching Season 1 many times, I feel that I really know the Fishers and their extended network. I'd like to know some of them in real life -- but that will have to be the topic for a post some other day. I hope to teach my seminar again in the future. What topics could be more germane to understanding families: attachment, death, development across the life span, identity, intimacy, boundaries, emotion regulation, sibling relationships, sexuality, psychopathology, children... It's all there for the taking.

R.I.P., and thanks for making our lives richer.

Posted by hgroteva at 4:31 PM

August 28, 2005

Travels in Door County, Wisconsin

Our new academic year begins tomorrow, so what could be more appropriate than a photo essay on What I Did On My Summer Vacation? Actually, summer was hardly a vacation. But Susan and I spent last week in Door County Wisconsin NOT working, and it was just what the doctor ordered. We had never been to Door County before, but were intrigued by the raves of friends and by what we had read. (It was also within driving distance. Despite the high price of gas, it seemed less aversive to pay at the pump than to risk being bumped randomly during the first week of Northwest's mechanics' strike.)

Door County has sometimes been described as the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," which seems a bit oxymoronic -- but there's some truth to it. Like CC, DC is a peninsula. It rises north of Green Bay Wisconsin (the city) and sticks out into Lake Michigan, so that Green Bay (the bay) is to the west and Lake Michigan is to the east.

Door county map.jpg

There are a number of small towns in the county, most specializing in some combination of cherries (more on that later) and tourism. (On the down side, there were too many kitch-y shops which all ended up looking alike after a while.)

We stayed in Sturgeon Bay, which is at the southern end of the county, in a condo called Harbor's Edge - and the water was indeed 5 feet from our front door. It was soothing to hear the waves at night. (What the brochure did not reveal was that our little condo was across Sturgeon Bay from the shipyards, but that wasn't too obnoxious.) The moonlight view was beautiful.

moonlight over Sturgeon Bay-b.jpg

One of my favorite activities was eating vanilla custard into which cherries were folded. The best was from Malibu Moo's Frozen Griddle in Fish Creek - yum! (We went there 3 times in 4 days!) Door County is the 3rd largest cherry producing area in the U.S. (acc to Craig Charles, in Exploring Door County.) We arrived too late for the fresh cherries (which I had gorged on at home throughout July), but Door County seems to specialize in "cherry everything." I can definitely vouch for the cherry fudge. Someone told me about cherries in burgers -- well, I don't know about that but will keep an open mind.

Hal at Malibu Moos Fish Creek-b.jpg

The state parks in D.C. are amazing. The first we visited was Whitefish Dunes, which was indeed reminiscent of the Cape. There were miles of sandy beach and dunes - the largest being dubbed "Old Baldy." In my walk along the beach, I encountered this most impressive sand sculpture.

Sand sculpture at Whitefish Dunes-b.jpg

We hiked on some of the nature trails and generally enjoyed the peaceful day. Definitely worth a return visit. (Next time, we will get the summer pass for the Wisconsin State Parks - only $30 for unlimited visits all summer to all of the parks).

We also visited Peninsula State Park, along the western coast. It's another beautiful park with varied terrain and opportunities for doing different things. A sand beach for the kids, lots of hiking and biking trails (here is the Sentinel Trail)

Sentinel Trail - Peninsula St Pk-b.jpg

... and plenty of places to camp and picnic. We hiked to the top of the Eagle's Tower, which is atop Eagle's Bluff.

Eagle Tower-b.jpg

Here is the view from the top.

View from Eagle Tower-b.jpg

In the midst of the driving, walking, touring, and eating, we were able to catch the finale of Six Feet Under (see my blog post from August 19). The last episode was indeed powerful and thought-provoking. I felt like I lost some good friends. (Seasons 3 and 4 are winging their way to me via amazon.com, and I hope season 5 will be released on DVD soon.) Some of the resolutions seemed too facile, but Alan Ball didn't skimp on the surprises or the complexity. Thanks for the great show, Alan. More anon.

On our last evening, we took a 2 hour sunset sailboat cruise on the Scupper, with Captain Tom Schroeder and 4 other folks. The cruise left from the town of Ephraim and went out into the harbor, sailing by Eagle's Bluff and the islands in the bay. But mainly we were out on the water enjoying its peace. There wasn't much wind, so Tom couldn't do many fancy sailing moves - but that was OK - it was great just as it was. I close with several shots of sunset, culminating with the view of post-sunset tranquility on the bay.







Tranquil post sunset2-b.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 7:26 AM