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May 29, 2006

What's In A Name?

A simple question, but one that has echoed down through the ages.

At Meredith's naming ceremony Friday evening, the Rabbi asked those of us in the congregation about our names. He reminded us that we each have 2 names: the name given to us at birth, which we had no say over; and the name we are continually creating for ourselves as we live in the world. We do have control over the latter. He asked (rhetorically), Would you rather be known as the-one-who-drives-the-gas-guzzler-and-despoils-the-environment ... or the-one-who-protects-the-environment-for-his-children's-children? You get the drift. It was a thoughtful reminder for all of us adults who were there to name a baby, that we are continually naming ourselves through our actions.

Meredith slept peacefully in our midst. Her Hebrew name, Meira, means "one who gives light." That's a tall order for such a little one, but our world certainly needs more people who will bring light. I think she'll be up to the challenge! Welcome to the world, Meredith!

Meredith3_2 wks-b.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 6:27 AM

May 28, 2006

Austindipities

I needed a new word today, so here it is ... short for Austin serendipities. I'll be using it a lot.

As I mentioned back in December when I wrote about the obituary of my esteemed anthropology professor from UT undergraduate days, it seems that return visits to Austin always connect me in some interesting and unexpected ways with my past lives here. I guess that shouldn't be such a surprise. I've been connected with Austin since I was about 14. I attended several years of summer band camp at UT while in high school; did my undergraduate work at UT (1966-1970) during one of the most memorable 4 years of American Cultural History (I know, that's boomer-centric, but hey - it's my blog!); taught there for 13 years; and have visited at least once a year since 1970, since my wife's family and now both of our kids, spouse, and grandkids live here.

So it shouldn't surprise me that my stock of memories attached to any place is deepest and fondest for Austin. But on with the story.

In this morning's American Statesman, I encountered an essay in the Insight section written by Howard Miller, history professor at UT. (Howard and I were fellow tenors in a choir here in the 1980s.) I loved his wit and insight back then, and was pleased to see it continues to be every bit as sharp in today's piece, entitled "The newest, hottest commodity? Jesus." You can read the full piece by clicking here.

He was reflecting on having just taught a spring semester course on Jesus in American culture. I 'm sure it would have been fascinating, thought-provoking, and mind-bending, seasoned with humor and irony. The op-ed piece talks a lot about the strange relation between Jesus and consumption, including, of course, reference to this weekend's film-du-jour, The Da Vinci Code. (No, I haven't seen it yet, but I probably will some hot summer afternoon.)

Miller ends with the following:
"Pity poor Jesus. When he walked the Earth, an affronted Jesus rose in righteous indignation and cleansed the market. In contemporary America, where few of his disciples adopt their master's prophetic stance with respect to the marketplace, Jesus, alas, has become the captive."

I encourage you to read his entire piece. Thanks, Howard!

Posted by hgroteva at 10:08 AM

May 27, 2006

I REALLY heart Craigslist.org

On April 30, I used this space to sing the praises of Craigslist.org, for helping us sell a refrigerator. Since then, I've tried to sell a few living room chairs with less success. But Craigslist redeemed itself forever for me yesterday, when it helped Mark find a job. It ran an ad addressed to "Gamers" - If you like playing video games, this is the job for you! He went for the interview in the afternoon, landed the job, and reports for orientation today. Congratulations to Mark, and undying thanks to Craigslist!

The entry process for this job was interesting. The first step was to report to one office building for a number of "tests" -- knowledge about computers, Microsoft Windows, office practices, spelling, etc. After he passed that, he was sent to another office several miles away for a group interview (2 interviewers and 5 applicants) - in which they were asked what type of computer they owned, what their favorite games were, etc. His extensive gaming and computer experience served him well. One person being interviewed didn't own a computer... and wasn't called back for step 3, back at building #1, for more paperwork. Then step 4 was a drug test - at yet another building across town.

I'm convinced that this strategy was being used to weed out those with only a casual interest in the job. If you were willing to trek to 4 sites in one afternoon and report the next day (Saturday) for a 1 hour orientation, you have shown at least a modicum of seriousness. The next steps involve several weeks of training and a 90 day probation - again, to weed out the not-so-serious folks. The 35 new folks are technically hired by a temp agency, so there is no commitment on either side until after the 90 day probation period has been satisfied. (A very clever solution for outsourcing the hassle of separating serious from not-so-serious potential employees.) By then, the hiring firm will have "tried and true" folks who have passed the 90 day probation, and the new employees will know what they are getting themselves into and will have a modicum of job security + those almighty health benefits. (Aside): It continues to amaze me how much employment and retirement decisions are driven by considerations about health benefits. The topic comes up in virtually every conversation I have with anyone about either new employment or retirement. Should this country ever move to a single-payer system (I'm sure it won't happen in my lifetime), there could be huge unanticipated shifts in employment patterns. I hope someone is studying this now.

Those who succeed on this new job will be providing telephone tech support to people who have bought gaming systems. I think one of the biggest challenges for these savvy gamers will be to not get irritated with novices who have problems that stem from things such as not plugging the machine in correctly, etc.

But now and forever, Craigslist has my gratitude! Thanks Craig, whoever you are.

Posted by hgroteva at 10:52 AM

May 17, 2006

Welcome to the World, Meredith

The blessing of a new baby! Meredith Heller Grotevant emerged into the daylight on May 12 at 3:20 pm. By all accounts, she’s doing superbly. Although I won’t be able to meet her in person until next Wednesday, I’ve seen her earliest pictures already. We are all relieved and happy that both Mom and Meredith are healthy and happy – it’s an occasion for great rejoicing. It will be wonderful … and different … to have a girl in the family, since both of my kids and our only grandchild (til last Friday) are males. Here are a few early pictures. I am smitten!

Meredith Day 1 post bath.jpg

Meredith Day 1 resting.jpg


Posted by hgroteva at 5:25 PM

Happy Birthday, Mark!

Today is Mark's 21st birthday - congratulations, kiddo!!

You have embarked on an exciting new phase of your life in a new (but familiar) city. We wish you all the best and send our love and support. I look forward to celebrating with you next week.

Mark2.jpg

Posted by hgroteva at 7:58 AM

God's Waiting Room

I have been spending several days with my father in his retirement community. He’s been in need of some new medical interventions and I wanted to be here in person to get him situated. He lives in a retirement community in a large metro area in Texas. The complex offers a very wide range of services for folks whose needs vary tremendously.

There are different levels of care. He is in the independent living section – where people live in apartments, duplexes, or luxury homes. Many of these folks are quite active – driving; playing golf; being active in their churches; shopping; spending time with their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc. There is also an assisted living section for folks who need more attention or supervision. Residents there live in a different building and eat with folks from their own unit rather than friends they made in the independent living area. There is also a health unit (aka nursing home care) and a separate building for Alzheimer’s patients. The latter two are rarely talked about.

Dinner is taken in a community dining hall, and there is always time for socializing beforehand. Some residents maintain a rather droll sense of humor about their situation. While waiting in line for food one evening, a woman turned to me and asked, “Do you know what we call this place? … … God’s Waiting Room�. Hmmm… what do you say to that??

Teaching lifespan development has given me new perspective on this age group. The textbook I used divided late adulthood into 3 groups: the “young-old� (ages 55-70), the “old-old� (ages 70-85), and the “oldest-old� (ages 85+). Of course, any such age groupings are arbitrary and approximate, but there are some interesting points of comparison to the living situations at my father’s community. (BTW, my father would not be pleased to be told he is now in the “oldest old� category, and I have no intention of sharing that news with him!)

The majority of people who move here are in the young-old group. They have recently retired and sold their family homes, and they’re looking for relief from the demands of home ownership and upkeep while still being able to enjoy recreational and social activities. You have to pass a physical in order to get into the independent living section. (My mother, whose health was poor for many years before she died, was terribly afraid her health would prevent them from getting in -- thankfully, she was over the threshold and they got in.) Many in this group are married when they enter, but experience the death of a spouse along the way. Then the health problems begin to intrude, and so we see the canes, the walkers, the electric scooters, and other adaptive devices come out. Folks in this generation (the Great Depression and WWII-shaped “Great Generation�) are fiercely independent and proud. The thought of having to move into assisted living is anathema. This topic came up at dinner a few nights ago, when one woman commented – “Joan (not her real name) is deathly afraid she’ll have a fall and they will throw her into assisted living.� (The implication is that once you’re “thrown in,� you’ll never come out.) My sense is that the decision to go into assisted living is rarely voluntary.

A few ironies:
**Although most residents have special dietary needs of one type or another, many of the foods served on the steam table are highly processed and high in sodium – not good for folks who need to watch salt intake.
**The administration building has recently been remodeled and has wonderful facilities – including an exercise room with fitness equipment, a computer lab, and a wood shop. But I’ve never seen anyone using these facilities. They look great in the brochures, however. (In all fairness, however, I haven’t been up there at many different times of day.)
**The folks in assisted living eat separately from those in the independent living units – and so the relationships they have fostered over dinner in their community over the course of several years may be abruptly terminated… or at least made more difficult to maintain. I could go on…

Despite these ironies, many of which are now becoming more clear to me, this has been a place where my dad has made new friends and has experienced a safe living environment free of the demands of home maintenance. I cannot envision myself, or most folks in my age cohort and demographic, living in a place like this. (Maybe it’s just that I don’t like to dress up for Sunday dinner!) I can’t really envision what kind of living situation I’d like to be in when I’m “old old.� But the bookending experiences of welcoming a new granddaughter into the world and spending a week in God’s Waiting Room have given me pause.

Posted by hgroteva at 6:18 AM

May 16, 2006

The Cycle of Life

I just finished teaching Human Development across the Lifespan in Family Contexts. It’s a whirlwind tour of the human lifespan, from conception to death – womb to tomb. It’s a very demanding course because of its sheer breadth. Out of all the possible things I could discuss in the 60 hours I have with the students, and out of all the possible things they could read – what’s most important?

The array of students in the class adds further demands. This term, I had the range from PSEO students (high school students earning college credit) to graduating college seniors – and majors ranging from family social science and child psychology to art, mechanical engineering, and architecture. Where to begin?? How to pitch such a class to satisfy such diverse students’ needs?

One reason I like the course is because it challenges me professionally to think of the interconnectedness of life across the human life course and the role that families and relationships play in development. I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to learn about topics that have become more salient since I last taught developmental courses – especially about brain development and the biological bases of behavior. (The latter topic takes me back to my graduate student roots in behavioral genetics, which is very exciting.) I have also taken the opportunity to think in “case study� terms about what specific conditions can teach us about human development. This semester, we spent some quality time on 3 “A’s� – autism, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s.

Interesting factoids:
Autism may be due in part to the failure of the brain to prune (selectively destroy) the too-many synapses that are normatively generated during infancy. We are learning a lot about Alzheimer’s from The Nun Study, a research project whose participants are the women from a religious community whose health and psychological histories have been well-documented for many years and who have all agreed to donate their brains to science after they die (since Alzheimer’s cannot be definitively diagnosed except by autopsy.)

As this class ends and I have greeted a number of my students as they walked across the stage in the last commencement ceremony of the College of Human Ecology (1900 – 2006), my own “human development practicum� has awaited me. At one end of the lifespan, my second grandchild ... and first girl (!), Meredith Heller Grotevant, was born Friday, May 12. Her statistics: born at 3:20 pm; 6 lbs, 12 oz.; 19.5 pounds. Mother and baby both came through it with flying colors and father is so proud! (I haven’t heard much about little brother’s reaction yet.) At the other end of the lifespan, my father has needed some new medical interventions that necessitated my travel to his home and retirement community. They don’t call my age group the “sandwich generation� for nothing.

Posted by hgroteva at 9:02 PM

May 5, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging - Who's On Top??

Cats on climber-b.jpg

Cats are so fascinating! Here's the scene I encountered last week on the tribe's climber. Look who's on the top level - little Sadie! She is the youngest and smallest and was the last to enter the group, but she is definitely Ms. Alpha ... and she knows it. She has never been afraid to stand her ground with any of the other 3. On the middle level are the 2 brothers (from the same parents, but not littermates) - Pookie and Shadow. Pookie's happy to be his cigar-smoking-and-brandy-quaffing self, never going anywhere too quickly. Shadow is the over-active brother, always wound a bit tightly. And on the bottom rung is MacKenzie - the quiet, sweet, more submissive one. But she's no shrinking violet either. Now that we're empty nesters, they add variety, spice, and love to our daily lives

Posted by hgroteva at 1:51 AM