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.
Category "About Inner Geek"
September 11, 2005
A Week of Tributes
Amidst the shock of the last two weeks post-Katrina and today's sadness of honoring those who died in 9/11, this week brings an opportunity for me to honor three people who have been very important in my life: my father, Floyd Grotevant; my long-time research colleague, Ruth McRoy; and my dissertation co-advisor and mentor/colleague, Richard Weinberg.
My father celebrates his 85th birthday on September 20, but family and friends are gathering this weekend in Dallas to honor him. My sister and I have had a good time planning the event, if for no other reason than it's given us the chance to be in touch more frequently; communicate with cousins, aunts, and uncles we haven't seen in years; and reminisce as we go over old pictures and receive tributes from FOD (friends of dad). Here are 4 generations of Grotevant men.
The occasion has also given me the opportunity to reflect on the contributions my father has made to my life as an adult. Not in terms of possessions, but in terms of enduring qualities that I've seen him exemplify and that I strive to show in my life. Among them...
**optimism – having a positive outlook about the future and relishing each new day for what it will bring
**integrity – “doing the right thing” and expecting others to do so as well
**commitment – unswerving dedication to loved ones and ideals
**engagement – being active in the community and the world
**follow-through – keeping commitments and doing what you said you’d do
**pride – in a job well-done
I'm ready to party!
This week also marks a career transition for my long-time colleague Ruth McRoy. Ruth is retiring from "active duty" as a full time professor at UT, but will be serving for many years to come as a Research Professor based in California but continuing to conduct research, write, mentor, and provide leadership for the field. Ruth and I have been research partners for over 25 years, reaching back to her days as a graduate student and my days as a newbie assistant professor at UT Austin. Here we are celebrating our work together at a favorite Austin site, the Oasis Cantina on Lake Travis. (Sadly, the Oasis burned down last December after being struck by lightning; I hope it will rebuild soon!)
Together, we have written scores of grant applications, interviewed hundreds of adoptive families and birth parents, mentored countless students, celebrated many publications, and traveled all over the world to present our work. It's all been a great privilege and a great adventure to work with such a talented colleague. Ruth's academic talents combine in powerful ways with her commitment to her field (social work) and to all people ultimately served by her work. Words that come to mind include passion, energy, zeal, intelligence, savvy, and leadership.
This Thursday, Richard Weinberg will receive the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the School Psychology Program at the University of Minnesota. I can’t think of a better candidate for this recognition. By my reckoning, it was 30 years ago this fall that I was a student in Rich's School Psychology Assessment sequence. It was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in my doctoral program. What I learned in that class about being a keen observer (among many other things) has stood me in good stead throughout my career. He has served as a significant role model from my first year as a graduate student to the present, as we are serving together as senior faculty members in our respective departments. Rich especially taught me how important it is to have faith in people (even when they aren't so confident in themselves), to provide opportunities, to give people room to grow, and to simultaneously and paradoxically be close and let go.
How lucky can I be -- to have three such amazing people in my life for so many years and to be able to honor them in the same week? (My only regret is that our geographical separation means that I will not be able to attend all three events.) The qualities that the three of them embody have been important touchstones in my adult life -- and they are qualities that I hope to pass on to the people whose lives I touch. My love, admiration, and appreciation go out to all three of you!
October 6, 2005
It's "just stuff"
How attached we become to our "stuff." Our basement flooded Tuesday night, when the Twin Cities received a record 5 - 6 inches of rain in a short time. As best I can tell, the ground was so saturated that the water seeped in through the floor - hence, wet carpeting in Mark's bedroom. He spent today tearing it all out; the dumpster is in the driveway.
This afternoon I started surveying the closets downstairs and found a number of wet storage boxes. One box contained tax returns from the 1980s. Good riddance, I guess. But another box contained my college yearbooks - they're toast. Another contained my baby book, complete with everything my mother wrote about my first years. I think it will dry out and not have to be thrown away.
But in the end, it's all just "stuff." I have NO right to whine, after what the people along the Gulf Coast have experienced. They lost everything - all their "stuff." I've had a number of experiences over the years without stuff, and it's reassuring to know that I have some perspective on how unimportant it really is. One such experience was when I moved to Minnesota in 1990. My wife was staying behind in Texas for 6 months while Paul finished high school, so I just moved here with my car and the relatively minimal amount of stuff it would hold. I lived in a funky room in a large house the department used to own (that's another story...) but was very content with the minimal baggage I had to deal with. Another time when I realize how little stuff I really need is when I go on retreat and stay in a very small single room -- the "stuff" of every day life doesn't really matter very much at all. And I've also had experiences when the stuff feels like a millstone around my neck -- like when moving across country and the driver of the van tells you how many tons of "stuff" you have, and by the way, here's the bill for hauling it.
When it's all said and done, we enter the world with nothing and leave the world with nothing. Having "stuff" is nice, but there's a lot more to life. Less is more. That will be my mantra as I proceed to fill the dumpster in the driveway.
But I'm still sad to lose my college yearbooks and other artifacts of childhood.
Less is more. less is more. less is more. less is more. less is more. less is more.
October 17, 2005
October has always been my favorite month - maybe because it's when I celebrate my birthday - but more likely, because of the colors and the light. This editorial from this morning's Minneapolis Star-Tribune captured the essence of October for me.
"If you're outdoors this week, you'll see it. October light, on a clear afternoon, seems to illuminate the trees and lawns from within. And individually -- each leaf, each blade, each blossom on the aster glows independent of all others.
If there happens to be drizzle, the mist may seem charged with some kind of current, perhaps the same voltage that makes a clouded sky suffuse faint sunlight like backdrops in a portrait studio. Dawn and dusk tint overcast skies with tones a watercolorist could spend a lifetime imitating.
October light is not imagined -- a few moments' Googling will demonstrate its popularity as a subject for painters, poets and songwriters, and of course the late John Gardner, novelistic champion of nature and small heroism. But neither is it easily explained.
It is not an illusion generated by the turning foliage it illuminates, as many assume, nor the product of the frosts that may or may not precede it. We know a fellow who used to theorize that light grows more intense when compressed within a shorter day, but we've checked with the experts and physics doesn't work that way.
Meteorology, on the other hand, has much to do with the phenomenon. Some years ago the late Bruce Watson of Roseville, a weather-watcher born for the arcane inquiry, explained that atmospheric pressure at this latitude is especially high in mid-October, circling the globe with an unbroken belt of unusually clear air. Humidity is low and so is airborne dust, thanks to sinking masses of cold air.
That's the science, more or less, but of course the most intriguing aspect of October light is not why it happens, but rather what it does. Go ahead and look:
Across the lake, light fog is drifting out of reeds that suddenly seem extruded from brass or even gold. Downtown, sheets of blue-green window glass register shards of their surroundings so sharply you might think every building had been scrubbed and buffed last night.
Walk a familiar stretch of sidewalk, noting how each maple is redder than the last, how the yellows in the hedges seem to hum. These birches here, with the coppery bark -- how is it possible you've never seen them before? And when did chrysanthemums start to come in all these colors?
While you're at it, mark a few weekend hours for getting off your usual routes and just a little ways into the unsettled world -- the fields and woodlands where October light gathers in fullest force, and only for a week or two.
The short gray days are not far off. Too soon, we'll be struggling to remember a world of living color."
Category "Choral Music"
November 16, 2005
Winter arrived last night. You say it's not due until December 21? Well, take my word for it, it's here. The snow, the sleet, the wind, the boots, the windshield scraping, the parka ... the whole nine yards.
Even though I've lived here over 15 years, I have never looked forward to winter. Maybe you have to grow up here, learn to ski and skate when you're just old enough to walk, learn to stand at a cold bus stop because that's all you know. But I know better, and I don't like it.
I still remember hearing Eric Friesen (then of MPR, now of the CBC) once saying that the only way to survive in Minnesota is to "embrace the winter." I just can't wrap my head around it. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague last week - she grew up in these parts and lives for winter. Her favorite kind of day is snowy and very cold. I described my favorite kind of day: 75 degrees, balmy, windows open, sunroof down on the car, wearing shorts, not having to change clothes for indoors / outdoors transitions - feeling at equilibrium with the temperature outside. Maybe I'm really adapted for San Diego. My ancestry is mixed northern European - and not awfully far north - they have a lot of 75 degree days there.
Anyway, winter is not my happy time of the year. The days are too short, the layers of clothes are too many, and I'm always having to figure out how to stay warm enough. (Consequently I eat too much and put on weight, and then feel bad about that.... but that's another story.)
The one good thing about winter is that the classical music scene in the Twin Cities is at its peak. We had a great rehearsal last night for the Advent Procession we (Gregorian Singers) are doing on Saturday, November 26. You are warmly invited: St. Paul's Church on the Hill, 1524 Summit Ave (just east of Snelling); 4:00 pm. Open to the public, free of charge (a freewill offering will be taken.) That's one of the good things about Minnesota winter.
Thus endeth my rant against winter. Now that I've got it off my chest, I can get back to work.
December 17, 2005
Road Trip ... or The First Day of the Rest of a Life
I'm writing this from Liberty, Missouri. I'm helping Mark move to Austin, and we made it almost half way before the snow and trucks made us think it was time to turn in for the night. It's been a good day, although getting everything prepared for departure was plenty challenging. The poor cats sensed that something VERY big was afoot. Shadown climbed into the suspended ceiling above Mark's bedroom and broke one of the ceiling tiles. Sadie was staying very close to my shoulder. I purposely didn't pack my suitcase until this morning, because the emergence of suitcases from the closet throws them all into a tizzie. Since Susan has a few days remaining at home, they'll get used to our departure one person at a time. And then Ian will be there to spoil them, so hey, they're doing just fine.
Mark clearly sees this as a transition - the possibilities are very exciting. What kind of job? What to study in school? Where to live? Whom to meet, and where to meet them? There's something very liberating about leaving one's childhood home, high school friends, and customer service job for a new world ahead. What will the long-term future hold? Who knows, but it's wonderful to speculate. Austin will be an exciting, yet vaguely familiar springboard for exploring new opportunities. It's a joy to be along for this part of the ride.
December 21, 2005
Christmas Presents for New Orleans
Dear Friends - Earlier this month, I posted a note from my friend John Pope in New Orleans about the very real needs that his city is facing. I just received the note below from pope and his wife Diana Pinckley, containing some concrete suggestions for people who might want to support New Orleans. I hope you will take it to heart. - HG
New Orleans has many needs, and there are many very specific things you can do right now to help preserve our culture and our people. Here are just a few that we can wholeheartedly recommend. Weâ€™ve even included a New Orleans shopping site that youâ€™ll love. Your investment in us will pay off â€“ in our music, our food, our history, our architecture and all the other parts of New Orleans you have come to enjoy.
Thanks to all of you for your amazing love and support!
New Orleans Public Library Foundation
Only three of 13 libraries are open, on a severely truncated schedule. You can see damage to some of the buildings on the libraryâ€™s Web site â€“ www.nutrias.org. Floodwater and carpets of mold have ruined the collections in the eight destroyed branches, and books were seen floating down the street. More than 90 percent of the staff has been laid off , and the entire system is now operating with only 19 employees. Amazingly, most of the Louisiana Divisionâ€™s irreplaceable documents and artifacts survived undamaged, despite being housed below ground. The loss of these collections would have been devastating to scholars across the nation and the world.
More than 1,000 people a week are using the library and its resources â€“ books, Internet access and staff expertise. The New Orleans Public Library has always served a high number of reference users, but the nature of their inquiries has changed. A librarian has reported: For every patron asking for directions or the phone book, there are three more trying to locate loved ones or seeking recourse from rent-gouging landlords. â€¦We have found that during these times, the publicâ€™s need for information about community and government relief services is great. It is gratifying to fill this vital need.
The library desperately needs money, though donations of books are also accepted. The books will likely be sold at a weekly Wednesday book sale in the portico of the closed Latter Library, with revenues going to help support staff and rebuilding needs.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana
Since Katrina made landfall, Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana has distributed more than 27 million pounds of food and supplies to people in need in the hurricane-affected areas. This distribution is already 46 percent more than the entire distribution all last year, and this figure is a few weeks old. The demand will only grow as individuals exhaust other government-sponsored resources early in the year.
Stephen Ministry is a program that trains members of congregations, crossing denominational lines, to provide one-to-one Christian care to those in personal stress or crisis â€“ people who are bereaved, hospitalized, terminally ill, unemployed, relocated, or facing another life challenge. In short, it has never been needed more desperately by more people than now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. For information about New Orleans activities and how to support them, contact Leila Schumacher, email@example.com
New Orleans City Park
City Park, at 1,300 acres, is the largest park in New Orleans and one of the 10 largest in the U.S. It lost 1,000 of its 14,000 trees; all but 11 of is 260 employees were laid off in budget cuts. About 90 percent of the park was under as much as 10 feet of water, often for several weeks. The salt water killed the grass on the golf courses and many of the plants in the Botanical Garden. Nevertheless, the park has mounted a brief version of Celebration in the Oaks, a tradition of lights and joy for New Orleans families. And, yes, Mr. Bingle is part of it!
Crescent City Farmers Market
We love going to the market - for wonderful Meyer lemons and the marmalade that Jeanette makes from them, for Jim Coreâ€™s fabulous produce, for Kayâ€™s shrimp and Jeannieâ€™s catfish and Maryâ€™s pastries and Mrs. Chauvinâ€™s pies. And Mr. Clarenceâ€™s plants, of course. Itâ€™s a meeting place, a mentor and a model. The farmers and fishers of the area have taken a blow, and now the market is mobilizing its community and its resources to help them. You can, too. To get involved in our new â€ścrop circlesâ€? giving program, and to find out about how the market can help in the rebuilding of our community, contact Richard McCarthy IV, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
The organization evacuated hundreds of animals safely to Texas before the storm. Its Lower Ninth Ward building was destroyed, so staff is operating from temporary quarters in Algiers. Just after the storm, staff and dedicated volunteers did an amazing job of rescuing animals and reuniting them with their owners, while taking undeserved heat for the over-the-top actions of rogue â€śrescuers.â€? The work continues. For those of you who know her, our calico cat Emma was an SPCA resident before she came to Wilow Street
Best Friends Animal Society
This group has worked diligently to reunite pets with their owners, wherever either might be across the nation. It worked with other groups on a reunion web search this weekend that â€“ by the number of cars parked on the neutral ground outside the Garden District Hotel â€“ attracted hundreds of pet owners.
WWOZ is the voice of New Orleans music â€“ a listener-supported, volunteer-operated radio station that just returned from exile â€“ first in New Jersey and then in Baton Rouge â€“ back to studio space in the French Market. The station says it best itself: â€ś Playing blues, jazz, Cajun, zydeco, gospel, Latin, Brazilian, Caribbean and a whole lot more, WWOZ keeps the music and heritage of the Crescent City alive and loud.â€?
The legendary music clubâ€™s foundation provides the music community with the resources its members need to survive, including clothes, gigs, instruments and housing. A great many options for support are available.
Preservation Resource Center
The Center promotes the preservation and renewal of New Orleans neighborhoods through its architecture. Its staff and specialists have been especially active in offering seminars on navigating the bureaucracy, mitigating the mold, and leqrning general issues of dealing with all aspects of bringing back damaged houses, not tearing them down. Theyâ€™ve also been handing out buckets and mops and clean-up kits â€“ very handy in the circumstances.
I-10 Witness Project
The project collects oral histories of Hurricane Katrina from citizens, public officials, soldiers, health workers, shelter residents and at least one reporter that you all know well (though his interview isnâ€™t posted on the site yet). The recorded interviews are available on the Web site and will be archived at local universities and public libraries for widespread public access.
The Baton Rouge Area Foundation
The Greater New Orleans Foundation
Foundations for Recovery provides resources for immediate needs of evacuees in the Baton Rouge area, and it will contribute to the rebuilding of human services in Greater New Orleans. The Greater New Orleans Foundation offers the Rebuild New Orleans Fund focused on excellence in education, economic expansion, job training, affordable housing, neighborhood development, race and equity, and sustaining and developing nonprofit capacity.
And finally, just for funâ€¦and for ways to get a little retail therapy for those post- (or mid-) holiday bluesâ€¦
A Web link to New Orleans shopping. We can especially recommend Blue Frog Chocolates and Louisiania Music Factory, among many, many others.
Love, cheer and gratitude!
Pinckley and pope
December 22, 2005
March of the Penguins
Rented "March of the Penguins" on DVD last night. The movie is amazing on so many levels. The stars of the show, of course, are the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica. In fact, they are the whole show (along with Morgan Freeman's perfect narrating voice and a "busy" but supportive soundtrack.) But oh, those penguins. I won't go into detail here - I'm sure there are many thorough reviews online - but if you haven't seen it, I urge you to do so. It is an awesome tribute to life, a wonderful statement about the non-incidental role that fathers play in families, and a vivid lesson in Darwinian evolution. We were spellbound; no one moved until the end of the movie. On the DVD, there's also a special feature narrated by the French guys who made the film, showing how they did it and what their lives were like for the year during which they were filming. I'm sure we'll be viewing it again during the holidays.
December 25, 2005
Today's editorial from the New York Times, entitled December 25, says it all. Here is the link. The article is reprinted below.
You don't really have to be in the mood for the Fourth of July. No one ever talks about having that Memorial Day spirit. Even Thanksgiving can be distilled, without too much disrespect. But Christmas is something different. Feeling is the point of it, somewhere under all that shopping. To think of Scrooge is to think of his conversion, the cartwheeling of his emotions after his long night of the soul. But the more interesting part of the story is his dogged resistance to feeling the way everyone thinks he's supposed to feel - about death, about charity, about prize turkeys hanging at the poulterer's.
Most of us know how we want to feel this time of year, whatever holiday we are celebrating. We want to feel safe, loving and well loved, well fed, openhanded, and able to be moved by the powerful but very humble stories that gather in this season. We would like to feel that there is a kind of innocence, not in our hearts, since our hearts are such complicated places, but in the very gestures and rituals of late December. We would like to feel that we are returning to something unchanged, some still spot in a spinning world. Whether you believe with an absolute literalism or with a more analogic faith, whether you believe at all, whether you are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or merely human, the word we would like to feel most profoundly now is Peace.
It's easy enough to be cynical about the things we would like to feel here at the dark end of the year, to dismiss them out of hand as if they were only the battery-powered, sugar-coated, marzipan dreams of a child's holiday. Life is too tough, too embattled for such sentimentality. That is Scrooge's point exactly: no use pretending the world isn't exactly the way it is. One of the reasons we love to hear the story of an old crank like Scrooge is that he seems to embody this cracked old world, made whole in one night by regret and repentance.
One night will not do it, nor will one day. Peace does not simply appear in the sky overhead or lie embodied one morning in a manger. We come into this season knowing how we want it to make us feel, and we are usually disappointed because humans never cease to be human. But we are right to remember how we would like to feel. We are right to long for peace and good will.
This morning's Austin American Statesman ran a section about "Quiet Generosity: These central Texans give their time and talent to make, keep our region beautiful." I was drawn to the article about Steve Bewsey, LifeWorks director of housing and homelessness. Mr. Bewsey helps street kids, many of whom have aged out of the foster care system, with their transition to adulthood - finding a place to live, a job, a person who cares. "Kids believe in him because he doesn't judge them and doesn't give up on them." It continues, "Does he get discouraged? 'Yes, but it goes away fast. I just don't have the time for it. Optimism is fun.' " Steve, thanks for the inspiration - Let's hold that thought in the year ahead!
January 1, 2006
Smooth Sailing in 2006
Best wishes to us all for smooth sailing in the new year.
January 16, 2006
The Star Tribune ran a full page article entitled "The Baby Boom Turns 60" yesterday. Although I'm not (quite) 60 yet, I am definitely a boomer, and proud of it! (not that I had anything to do with it at all...)
I especially enjoyed the sidebar that featured "greatest hits" from the 1940s, 50s, etc. Here are a comments / reflections / memories about a few of them.
Civil defense drills -- I still remember these drills from elementary school. Each fall, our parents had to fill out "bomb blast cards," indicating what we were to do and with whom we were to go in the event of a nuclear attack. We frequently practiced what to do in the event of a bombing -- going out into the hallway, kneeling on the floor, huddled against the lockers with our arms over our head and protecting our face. As if we would survive a direct hit.... We also frequently watched films about bombs, radioactivity, and associated illnesses. People built fallout shelters underground in their back yards, stocked with canned goods, blankets, and the requisite battery-operated radio. A major ethical dilemma, explored in dramas on TV, was what to do if a neighbor were to come knocking at the door of your fallout shelter. If you just have enough supplies and resources to protect your own family, are you morally obligated to share with others (who apparently didn't plan as well as you did), thereby risking everyone's death?
"Ben Hur" - I still remember this powerful movie - I saw it with the Underwood twins on a Saturday morning in downtown Dallas. We had special student-rate tickets, and it was a BIG DEAL - a movie on the BIG screen. I still remember the scenes with the lepers.
1960s - Where to begin??!!
"The Graduate" - This amazing movie came out when I was in college; I think I saw it 4 times. The first time I saw it, I was speechless for about 15 minutes - it raised so many issues that really struck a chord. Of course, it explored one of my favorite issues - identity. And it was a great up-the-establishment film for a young adult who had no intentions of going into "plastics!"
I could go on and on. I think this is all for now; I'll add to this thread as time permits. In the meantime, in my human development course we'll be discussing life course theory. As one of the exercises in the class, students will take on membership in various different generations ("greatest generation," boomers, GenX, etc.) and talk about the cultural and world events that shaped the members of their generation. Who knows, maybe it will give them a different perspective on their parents?
January 28, 2006
On October 6, 2005, I wrote the following:
When it's all said and done, we enter the world with nothing and leave the world with nothing. Having "stuff" is nice, but there's a lot more to life. Less is more. That will be my mantra as I proceed to fill the dumpster in the driveway.
Here's the context.....
Back in October, our basement flooded and we have had to take everything out so that it can be renovated. It's been a long process, done in stages. Stage 1 was to get the water-logged carpet and damaged goods out and make sure we wouldn't be infested with mold. Stage 2 was to make some repairs to the outside of the house to prevent (hopefully) the problem from recurring. Stage 3 was for Mark and much of his "stuff" to move to Texas. Stage 4 - talk to tile people, contractors, etc. in order to make a plan for the renovation of the basement. Stage 5 - finished just a few hours ago - was to complete boxing up everything in preparation for the beginning of demolition - THIS COMING MONDAY!
I found this to be not only an onerous, but also a surprisingly emotional task. Of course, part of it involved going through 15+ years of "stuff" stored in the basement because there was nowhere else to put it. Treasures that were too important to throw away, but not important enough to be the stuff of our daily lives. So boxing stuff up meant going through everything from our baby books (and those of our kids), to income tax files from the 1970s and 1980s (I regret that I'm not kidding), our rather pathetic "Presto-Pine" indoor Christmas tree (which will be in the next dumpster), and all the typical stuff that lives in basements - tools, pieces of this and that, 4 filing cabinets, etc. etc. etc. It was cathartic, but I'm glad it's over. Nothing will be going BACK downstairs unless we determine that we will really use it. And we will have one bang-up garage sale this summer! It should also make it easier to move when the time comes, especially if we will be moving into smaller quarters.
Lessons learned: simplicity is good. The monks knew it, and it worked for them. At the same time, however, the memorabilia of our lives help us re-experience important events and relationships. I have a row of about 25 coffee cups on the window sill in my office. They probably look strange to visitors, but i can tell a story rich with meaning about each coffee cup, and somehow they are comforting to have nearby. The challenge is keeping the volume of such artifacts in reasonable proportion. I guess there's nothing like a periodic flood to help us travel lighter. (Maybe I'll just try to do a better job of periodic purging without being prompted by a natural disaster...)
February 9, 2006
As our college transitions into oblivion, all faculty and staff who have been on Groupwise (TM) are having to move our e-mails to the university's server (Mozilla Thunderbird - what name will they come up with next?) I'm in the midst of culling through thousands of e-mails sent and received over the past 10 years or so. This handy mode of communication is quickly becoming a burden. Even though I can go for a whole week without my phone ringing once, I probably get 100 e-mails a day. That's 36,500 per year. In addition to all the "helpful" communications from every office at the university, every professional organization to which I belong, and every listserv to which I subscribe, I get bunches from colleagues and students around the world. (You'd be surprised how many students I've never met want me to help write their papers for them.) I'm getting VERY tired of the Viagra ads, software sales, paypal warnings, and offers to help Nigerian royalty in need. But I digress...
Today's issue of the APA Monitor (Feb 2006) reported a study (Kruger & Epley, JPSP, 2005, 89, 925-936) about people's accuracy in interpreting the meaning and tone of e-mail messages. They found that "people overestimate both their ability to convey their intended tone - be it sarcastic, serious or funny - when they send an e-mail, as well as their ability to correctly interpret the tone of messages others send to them." (p. 16). The reason they cite is egocentrism, peoples' inability to see the perspective of the other person.
In one study, Kruger and Epley found that people more accurately interpreted communications in vocal messages (e.g., phone) than in text-based ones. They conducted experiments in which students read messages over the phone or delivered them by e-mail. In the case of the phone communications, both sender and recipient were 76+% accurate about the other person's tone and its meaning. But in the case of e-mail, "the partners who read the statements over e-mail, though, had only a 56 percent success rate - not much better than chance."
The moral of the story: If you want to make sure the full meaning and the emotional tone of your message are understood, best pick up the phone occasionally.
Category "About Inner Geek"
February 27, 2006
4 jobs Iâ€™ve had
delivery driver for florist
warehouse worker in zipper factory
grader for calculus papers
payroll clerk for submarine USS Seawolf
4 movies Iâ€™d like to see at least one more time
Un Coeur en Hiver
The English Patient
4 favorite radio programs
The Splendid Table
This American Life
4 boring places Iâ€™ve lived
Utica New York
Buffalo New York
4 favorite pieces I have sung
Harris, Faire is the Heaven
Lauridson, O Magnum Mysterium
March 16, 2006
The Gift of Shoveling
Several weeks ago, I was complaining to a colleague that since I'm teaching on the "other campus" this term, parking is a hassle and I have to walk 15 minutes each way to my car. Earlier in the conversation, I had lamented about how busy the semester had been and that I had not been able to get to the gym very often. (I'm really not a whiner!) Her immediate response was, "Well, you've been given the gift of walking."
Was this pollyanna at work, or a very thoughtful and clever reframe? I choose the latter. I've thought of it every time I've walked to and from class since then, and it's really helped.
Well, today I had another chance to put it into action. Overnight, we got ANOTHER dump of snow - the driveway and the car looked pretty much like they did in Monday's picture (below). Well, I got my reframe working and decided I had been given the gift of shoveling. I had still not been to the gym very often and was "looking forward" to spending part of the days ahead doing my income taxes, so some new thinking was needed. The gift of shoveling... It helped me get through it. Fortunately also, the snow was much less dense than Monday's snow. I am not surprised that the Eskimoes have 100 words for snow (or however many...) There truly are many types.
All of this reminded me of another great reframe, this one from Robert Frost. I found this poem serendipitously while in the base library while I was serving in the Navy and mainly wishing I was somewhere else. I close with his words. And to my colleague friend who helped me see the gifts in walking and shoveling -- you know who you are -- my thanks!
Dust of Snow
by Robert Frost
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
March 28, 2006
I've been traveling lately and continue to marvel at how different people are in terms of the physical and psychological space they occupy. For some reason, my mantra has always been "leave a small footprint." In places like airports, I have no interest in standing out - that's pretty adaptive, I suspect. But the guy sitting down the row from me in the departure lounge had a really different goal. He had one of those Borg earpieces on and was carrying on business conversations loud enough for everyone on our outbound flight to overhear. "Justice department ... blah blah blah ... attorneys ... blah blah blah... blah blah blah"
Then I noticed the NY Times story (Sunday 3/26) called "The disconnect of connection." "Does anyone really need anyone at parties anymore? Instead of working the room, guests are busy working phones and BlackBerrys, surrounding themselves with electronic entourages. Kenneth J. Gergen, a sociologist, calls this constant need to be in a technologically mediated world of elsewhere while in public 'absent presence.' " Thanks for the new word, Ken - it describes this situation perfectly.
I see this in my students too. They come into class plugged into iPods and cell phones. Then they open up their laptops (and I'm SURE they're paying close attention to everything I say and taking diligent notes). At the end of class, in go the iPods and up go the cell phones again. Now, I have nothing against iPods or cell phones - I have them both and use them. But we do seem to be missing what's around us. Those things that are "hidden in plain view" (as the mystics say) are never revealed to us, because we are totally absent to them.
Anyway, it's all very strange, ironic, and paradoxical - no solutions here, but lots of questions. The Time magazine cover story last week was about multi-tasking. What are we doing to our brains with all of this stuff? There's probably a price to be had, but we may not know it for many years. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy my iPod and use my laptop and cellphone, but also be open to hearing the birds sing as spring arrives in Minnesota.
April 4, 2006
Announcement of Questionable Importance
Thanks to a colleague for sharing this "questionably important" announcement...
On Wednesday of this week, at exactly two minutes and three seconds past 1 am, the time & date will be
It will never happen again.
Category "Music - of all kinds"
April 11, 2006
In the Blogosphere ...What Goes Around, Comes Around
I was surprised and delighted to receive an e-mail this morning from a completely unexpected source. Sherrie, the owner of Malibu Moo's Frozen Griddle in Fish Creek Wisconsin, had run across my blog entry (08.28.2005) about our trip to Door County last summer and wrote me a note. She was pleased to see how much I enjoyed their ice cream (especially the vanilla with Door County cherries folded in), and said that hearing such wonderful things about her place made those 18 hour summer workdays worthwhile. I'm glad! Turns out we are also both musicians and love to travel, so we have struck up an e-mail correspondence about that too. I don't know if we'll make it to Door County this summer or not, but in fond memory, here's the picture I posted in August. Summer is just around the corner - and not a moment too soon!
April 30, 2006
I Heart Craigslist.org
As our remodeling project nears its completion (just a FEW months overdue), we are left with some furniture and applicances that we have replaced and wish to sell. My thoughts first turned to eBay, but I certainly was not in a position to ship a used refrigerator across country to the highest bidder! I recently learned about craigslist.org as an internet-based classified ad (and more) service that is tailored for specific metropolitan areas around the country.
Our new refrigerator arrived Friday afternoon. I cleaned out the old one and took a few pictures, wrote up an ad and posted the ad and photos on craigslist around 9:00 Saturday morning. By noon, I had 4 inquiries, and a few others dribbled in during the course of the afternoon. Wow! The early bird can't pick it up until Sunday afternoon, but I have faith that the transaction will work as planned. Otherwise, I have at least 3 backup buyers. What a great service! I'm eager to get some of the other furniture and "stuff" prepared for sale and out the door. Nothing is going back in the basement without being scrutinized for its keep-a-bility.
Category "Social Science"
May 16, 2006
The Cycle of Life
I just finished teaching Human Development across the Lifespan in Family Contexts. Itâ€™s a whirlwind tour of the human lifespan, from conception to death â€“ womb to tomb. Itâ€™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 â€“ whatâ€™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 â€“ 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 studentsâ€™ 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. Iâ€™ve also enjoyed the opportunity to learn about topics that have become more salient since I last taught developmental courses â€“ 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 â€ścase studyâ€? terms about what specific conditions can teach us about human development. This semester, we spent some quality time on 3 â€śAâ€™sâ€? â€“ autism, ADHD, and Alzheimerâ€™s.
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 Alzheimerâ€™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 Alzheimerâ€™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 â€“ 2006), my own â€śhuman development practicumâ€? 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 havenâ€™t heard much about little brotherâ€™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 donâ€™t call my age group the â€śsandwich generationâ€? for nothing.
May 17, 2006
God's Waiting Room
I have been spending several days with my father in his retirement community. Heâ€™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 â€“ where people live in apartments, duplexes, or luxury homes. Many of these folks are quite active â€“ 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 Alzheimerâ€™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, â€śDo you know what we call this place? â€¦
Teaching lifespan development has given me new perspective on this age group. The textbook I used divided late adulthood into 3 groups: the â€śyoung-oldâ€? (ages 55-70), the â€śold-oldâ€? (ages 70-85), and the â€śoldest-oldâ€? (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 fatherâ€™s community. (BTW, my father would not be pleased to be told he is now in the â€śoldest oldâ€? 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 theyâ€™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 â€śGreat Generationâ€?) 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 â€“ â€śJoan (not her real name) is deathly afraid sheâ€™ll have a fall and they will throw her into assisted living.â€? (The implication is that once youâ€™re â€śthrown in,â€? youâ€™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 â€“ not good for folks who need to watch salt intake.
**The administration building has recently been remodeled and has wonderful facilities â€“ including an exercise room with fitness equipment, a computer lab, and a wood shop. But Iâ€™ve never seen anyone using these facilities. They look great in the brochures, however. (In all fairness, however, I havenâ€™t been up there at many different times of day.)
**The folks in assisted living eat separately from those in the independent living units â€“ and so the relationships they have fostered over dinner in their community over the course of several years may be abruptly terminatedâ€¦ or at least made more difficult to maintain. I could go onâ€¦
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 itâ€™s just that I donâ€™t like to dress up for Sunday dinner!) I canâ€™t really envision what kind of living situation Iâ€™d like to be in when Iâ€™m â€śold old.â€? But the bookending experiences of welcoming a new granddaughter into the world and spending a week in Godâ€™s Waiting Room have given me pause.
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, sheâ€™s doing superbly. Although I wonâ€™t be able to meet her in person until next Wednesday, Iâ€™ve seen her earliest pictures already. We are all relieved and happy that both Mom and Meredith are healthy and happy â€“ itâ€™s an occasion for great rejoicing. It will be wonderful â€¦ and different â€¦ 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!
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.
May 28, 2006
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!
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!
June 8, 2006
Mentos and Diet Coke - Watch Out!
Thanks to Cathy for sharing today's NPR segment about the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment. When you put them together, you get quite an explosion.
Here's the lead-in to the story:
All Things Considered, June 7, 2006 Â· Two months ago, we reported on the Web video phenomenon of Mentos and Diet Coke. The mint candies combine with the soda to create an explosive geyser. But a new video on the Internet transforms that rudimentary concept into a highly choreographed routine, complete with funky soundtrack. Two men in Maine, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, took 101 bottles of Diet Coke and crafted a mesmerizing, two-minute Mentos and Diet Coke performance that they call "a spectacular, mint-powered version of the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas."
Enjoy! After you listen to the radio segment, be sure to click on "see this video."
This might be an interesting urban substitute for forbidden 4th of July fireworks - Could we arrange for the geyser to stream out in red, white, and blue??
Category "About Inner Geek"
June 14, 2006
More Blog-Mediated Serendipity
Here's another serendipitous occurrence, mediated by this blog. About a week ago, my wife received an e-mail from a woman in Anchorage, Alaska who was doing genealogy on our family name. She found us (and me) because of my blog post last September, when I wrote a piece in honor of my father's 85th birthday. After finding his name, she shook the family tree a bit and wrote to find out if we might have a common ancestor -- a fellow who purportedly came to the U.S. in 1752, hired by the British as a mercenary to fight those colonial upstarts (Oh, the shame of it!). His home appears to have been Heerte, Braunschweig, Germany (rather than somewhere in the Netherlands). Anyway, after a number of rapid-fire e-mails, Family Tree Maker determined that my Anchorage correspondent and I are 5th cousins. Amazing!
We are leaving tomorrow for a family wedding in Boston, and I'll be talking to as many people as I can about our family history. The new discovery of my 5th cousin probably would not have happened had I not been writing in this blog. So, to follow up on the question I posed earlier about whether I should continue blogging, the answer for now is ... definitely yes. It's been a source of satisfaction and new discoveries and an outlet for reflections I probably wouldn't have uttered outside the space of my own brain. So stay tuned for *Inner Geek - year 2* ...
August 18, 2006
Headlines without Stories
I've been delinquent in blogging of late - mainly because my life has been turned completely upside down in a short period of time. Although I've thought a lot about what I'd like to write, I've had neither the time nor the inclination to actually do it. But I've thought of some great titles / headlines for events of the past month or so. Here are a few. I may write about some of them later ... or I may not.
God's Waiting Room - part deux
Two Weeks in Hell (aka Dallas in August)
Toolin' Around in a Gold Cadillac
TV - Rotting American Brains One Commercial at a Time
Health Care for Elders: a National Disgrace
Hidden in Plain Sight - the Power of Friends
Boomerangs - Duck and Cover!
One Day at a Time
Losses and Gains: The Known and the Unknowable
The Many Miracles of Mocha
But here is the fortune that came in my cookie Wednesday:
"A sweet surprise awaits you."
I've taped it to my cell phone.
Category "In Memory / In Honor"
October 5, 2006
The Kindness of Strangers
Almost three months ago, I learned that my father was seriously ill. As the situation evolved, he went into a skilled nursing facility and then we transferred him across country into an assisted living facility closer to my sister and her family. In the process, we had to close his home, make decisions about the disposition of all his possessions, deal with a million business details, and close up his life of almost 50 years in Dallas.
But what I want to reflect on tonight (my last night before returning home) is the kindness of strangers. There is no way we could have completed this process without help from many people: family, friends, acquaintances, professionals and service workers, and people we never knew until this set of crises occurred. As the mystics have said â€¦ hidden in plain sight.
Here are just a few examples:
** the salesman from carmax who bought my fatherâ€™s car and then offered to drive me home (15 miles), since I wouldnâ€™t have a car once I left it there â€¦ and then when the deal ran into a snag (odometer problem), he personally made sure that it got taken care of while I was flying to Boston and back on a marathon weekend.
** the social worker from the health unit of the retirement community who offered to drive us, oxygen, suitcases, wheelchair, and all, to the airport last Saturday morning at 8 a.m. in her van.
** the man 2 doors down from my father in the health unit, who, despite his own infirmities, stopped by my fatherâ€™s room three times a day to make sure he went for meals and waited for him if he wasnâ€™t ready.
** my colleague in the department who, when I grabbed her in the hall (as she was running to a meeting) to ask for the name of a travel agent, was able to provide a referral on the spot that helped me work out complex logistics (including oxygen) with as little stress as possible
** the flight attendant who helped my father make his way to the rest room in first class rather than making him walk all the way to the back of the plane like everyone else
** the accountant who put her own work aside several times on very short notice in order to come to my fatherâ€™s hospital room to notarize documents
** the residential coordinator at my fatherâ€™s community who calmed our anxities about all the logistics involved in leaving and made the process as simple as possible
** the estate sale lady who, along with her mother, lovingly wrapped many of my parentsâ€™ possessions that were not earmarked for shipping across country and prepared them for sale; she made sure that nothing went to waste â€“ even partially used containers of cleaning solution
** the consignment store owner who, when told that I couldnâ€™t possibly take photographs of everything and bring them to him, volunteered to come to the house and look at furniture and household goods that would not be going on the moving van
** the nurse's aide from India who called my dad "honey" and made him feel special when he was at his weakest
** my fatherâ€™s friends and neighbors who urged him to get medical care (even though he didnâ€™t) and then stopped by his hospital room periodically in order to check in and make sure he was OK
** the nurseâ€™s aides at Dadâ€™s new facility in NH who cheerily stop by his room at multiple, random times during the day to make sure all is well
** the neighbor who lovingly accepted my motherâ€™s Christmas cactus â€“ I just couldnâ€™t put it in the trash
** my colleagues and students at the U and my sisterâ€™s colleagues at the hospital, as well as the members of our immediate families, who have doubtless covered for countless meetings and tasks we were not able to attend to during these crises
** all the friends, family, and colleagues who sent e-mails and phone calls with energy and prayers
To the many, many people who helped make it possible for this venture to succeed â€¦ you all have my most heartfelt thanks. Thereâ€™s a lot of goodness out there â€“ itâ€™s palpable and very real. Iâ€™m sure there are many people and events Iâ€™m not even aware of who helped us along. All I can say is that Iâ€™ll try to do the same for others in the future.
Category "Music - of all kinds"
February 12, 2007
Give Me My Radio Back!
I'm a big NPR / MPR fan, EXCEPT during those infernal times of the year when they have their pledge drives -- like now. The latest one started last Thursday. I just can't bear to listen during it - it's so irritating and distressing. (I know they need the money, and I guess they keep being reinforced for doing the pledge drives, because people do respond. I make sure to send in my membership fee at OTHER times during the year.)
In the Twin Cities, we had a good thing going when WCAL, a classical music station not owned by MPR, conducted its pledge drive at times when MPR stations weren't. So when MPR was doing its drive, I could listen all the time to WCAL, and vice versa. Now that MPR bought out WCAL, all 3 of the MPR stations do their fund drives simultaneously. There's no escaping. To top it off, the pledge drives seem to extend longer each year.
I feel sorry for the announcers who have to go on and on begging for money. I suspect they're muttering "This is not what I signed up for!" But they seem to weather it with relatively good humor.
I've been tuning in to some "commercial" stations - but AACK! This morning, one of the stations was telling the story of Anna Nicole Smith meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates. I can't tell you how many different ways that was revolting!
Well, that's enough of a rant for this Monday morning. It felt good to get it off my chest. But give me my radio stations back!
February 17, 2007
I Am Ready for Summer!
WHERE IN THE WORLD WAS THIS PICTURE TAKEN??
Category "Music - of all kinds"
April 9, 2007
Today's Star Tribune reported the following:
""HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L'ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play. It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by," wrote Gene Weingarten for the Washington Post. Almost all of them were on the way to work. "No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made."
Here's a link to the full Washington Post story, complete with some videos.
Although the story itself is quite a jolt, it says a lot to me about how un-aware we have gotten. I've mentioned earlier that the undergraduates in my class have their iPods plugged in until the minute class starts and plug them back in the minute that class ends. When people are walking on campus, they seem totally oblivious to their surroundings - the people, the birds singing, and yes - even Joshua Bell playing that amazing violin.
I predict that 10 years from now, there will be a great epiphany about "awareness" - people will be re-discovering how important it is to be in tune with their surroundings. In the meantime, I'll be paying close attention to those magical moments -- like the time I heard the invisible (to me) chorus rehearsing in the residence hall at King's College, or the time (while on the way to another concert) we stopped on the Washington Mall for a performance of Porgy and Bess being simulcast to the crowds outside, or to the time the Minnesota Women's Chorus was performing in the lobby of the Guthrie. Music is everywhere and needs to be performed and to be heard.
But this is about a lot more than music, isn't it? In what other ways are we oblivious to the amazing things around us??
May 11, 2007
Geek Heaven - The Encyclopedia of Life
I heard a fascinating Science Friday episode this afternoon about a new project, "The Encyclopedia of Life," being spearheaded by Harvard's E.O. Wilson, of Sociobiology fame. The goal is to catalogue all species living on Planet Earth in an "ecosystem of web pages." There's a jaunty introduction to the project at its website: eol.org It resembles Wikipedia, in that regular people will be able to upload entries, photos, etc. Check it out! It's almost as much fun as Google Earth.
June 3, 2007
Ten Things I'm Enjoying about Austin
in no particular order...
**Reading my favorite novel about emotionally tortured musicians (An Equal Music, by Vikram Seth)
**Hearing live music when I got off the plane at the airport
**Reading Maurice Sendakâ€™s â€śPierreâ€? over and over and over and over to Reid
**Seeing Meredithâ€™s big smiles and triumphs as she navigates her new world, walking
**Being chatted up by Nathan, the checker-dude at the Market
**Being truly away from e-mail, guilt-free
**The 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper â€“ it seems appropriate that this would happen while Iâ€™m in Austin. The album came out just as I finished my freshman year in college, 40 years ago.
**Chicken molĂ© enchiladas at Curraâ€™s
**Finding new CDs by Conspirare and Chanticleer
**Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla on top of Central Market chocolate crispies
and many more.....
June 20, 2007
Appealing or Appalling?
You know I like to travel.
When I'm grabbing some lunch at home, I often flip to the Travel Channel to see what's new. This afternoon, I was alternatingly excited and appalled by the show about "The World," the world's "first floating gated community." The management company is ResidenSea. The World is a luxury liner where you can "be at home and see the world passing by your window." It is a residence - people live on board full time, but circumnavigate the globe, calling at exotic ports. Units are as large as a reasonable house (c. 2000 sq ft) and are highly personalized with the most opulent furnishings. The emphasis is on PRIVACY. There are no more than 350 persons on board, although there could be 4 times that many in the same space. The spokesman said the ship was designed for penta-millionnaires. Yes, that means you need to have at least $5 million to afford this lifestyle. And you don't even own your unit. You buy the right of use for 50 years.
Click here for the details and a slideshow about the ship.
At first, I couldn't stop gawking and imagining what fun it might be to live there. Then I felt ... well ... it was just way too far over the top. I've lived in Minnesota long enough to know that it would never pass muster here. Remember, everyone's above average but no one is too much above average. It would fit the Texas life-style, but not the Austin life-style.
It made me think about a piece I heard on Morning Edition on the way to work this morning. If I recall correctly, they said that the cost of the political campaigns of the 10 most hotly contested Senate seats exceeded $250 million last election. That's a quarter of a BILLION dollars on 10 political campaigns. When you add the other Senators, all the Representatives, and the Presidential ticket -- it's absolutely staggering. Think about how much good could be done in the world with all that money.
My idea of campaign reform: let everyone have one brochure (multi-colored is OK, but it has to be copied back-to-back), one website, and one TV debate appearance. Take all the other money and end homelessness and provide health care for everyone.
I know -- it's naive and simple-minded. But hey, it's my blog! Have a nice day.
June 29, 2007
Seduced by Sudoku
Blame it on American Airlines. (There are several other things to blame on AA, but that will be the subject of a later post.)
On my flight to NM last week, I didn't feel like reading and the music wasn't enough to keep me occupied, so I opened the AA magazine and found the sudoku page. I had seen these puzzles for several years but had never tried one. Well, why not? So I did, and now I'm hooked.
There's a real satisfaction to unlocking the puzzle. Every row and column must be filled by 9 unique numbers (1-9), and the nine 3x3 boxes within the larger grid also have to contain the 9 unique numbers. As in the example above, the puzzle begins with some of the squares filled in, and all you have to do is fill in the rest. Simple, right?
Well, some are indeed simple - labeled such things as "light and easy," etc. But some are incredibly difficult.
I found that even the first few I did took a fair amount of brain power, but once I got the hang of the logic and figured out several strategies, I started flying through them. It was fun (and psychologically interesting) to experience the quick learning curve.
Now - this type of puzzle requires convergent thinking -- trying to determine the unique solution to the puzzle. What is the one and only one set of numbers that will make it work? Of course, most of life's puzzles aren't solved this way. But every once in a while, it's very satisfying to figure out that unique solution that makes it all click in. Kind of like making that big SPSS syntax file run without a hitch, or making that account balance to the penny. Doing sudoku saved my sanity while surviving in Chicago O'Hare airport for 24 hours - but that's another story too. Stay tuned...
Category "Choral Music"
November 22, 2007
I always enjoy Thanksgiving morning by listening to "Turkey Confidential," -- Lynne Rosetto Caspar's special live call-in show. (Go to splendidtable.org ) People call in with all sorts of cooking emergencies: turkeys that caught fire, turkeys that didn't cook, tipped over tanks of hot oil, etc. She has a reassuring way of helping people through their challenges, while adding in a good dose of humor and goodwill. I'm glad the show is streamed online - people are calling in from all over the country. I look forward to being able to listen from wherever I will be.
This may be the only Thanksgiving that Mark and I share by ourselves. We've enjoyed planning the meal together. I'm making the turkey and gluten-free dressing, and he made a flourless chocolate cake last night. It looks quite amazing. It is extremely rich -- pretty much all chocolate, sugar, eggs, and a little coffee. We'll miss not being with the rest of the family, but we'll all be together for Christmas. It's snowing as I write this, so it definitely feels like a holiday.
2007 has been a year of many transitions. Many work transitions (occurred and anticipated), housing transitions, pet transitions, health transitions. It has made me reflect on the meaning of "stability." We tend to think of the life course as a series of stable times punctuated by transitions (developmental or unexpected). I'm beginning to think that stability may be the illusion, with change being the norm. Ever since the co-occurrence of 3 major life changes in 2006, I've found that I simply expect more change and can let go of expectations about what will be. Without the illusion, life seems more fragile -- but it also makes it more difficult to take things for granted and more important to express thanks. On NPR, Anna Quindlen read the following from her book, A Short Guide to a Happy Life: ... "Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God gave us."
Music alert -- Next Sunday, December 2, at 4:00 pm, the Gregorian Singers will do their annual Advent Procession at St. Paul's on the Hill Episcopal Church, 1524 Summit Ave (just east of Snelling). It's a beautiful service, and a wonderful way to begin preparation for Christmas. I enjoyed participating in this service during my two years singing with the Gregs -- although balancing music, bells, and candles while singing and processing in the dark did present a challenge of the highest order.
December 5, 2007
The Gift of Shoveling --- and Petaluma Afternoon
My least favorite time is here -- shoveling season. It's probably clear that I'm not a native Minnesotan, because I have never "embraced the winter," as Eric Friesen (from MPR years ago) advised. As I was grumbling about shoveling my driveway on Sunday after the city plow had pushed a foot of hard gunk into the mouth of the drive, I thought about what my good friend Jean told me last year at this time: "You have been given the gift of shoveling." There's a lot of wisdom in that sentence. I think I commented on it last year too.
Re-framing is an important skill to have at this time of year, and I appreciate this particular one. Yes - it is a gift and a privilege to be able to shovel. The man across the street had a leg amputated last summer because of diabetes. He no longer has that gift.
I am reminded of one of my favorite Robert Frost poems, "The Dust of Snow". I discovered it when I was in the Navy, wanting desperately to be somewhere else.
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
I had that experience in the car on the way to teach this morning. (It was 12 degrees BTW.) On the radio, they were singing a song about "Petaluma afternoon." It was evoking a fine summer day in northern California. One of the verses said "Breezes blowin' ... Serotonin flowin'..." I had to smile!!
So now when I am grumpy about shoveling, I have my choice of thinking about my gift -- or about a Petaluma afternoon. It's nice to have options.
December 26, 2007
Betrayed by Blue Bell
One of the (not too) guilty pleasures of visiting Austin is Blue Bell Ice Cream. It's really the best, IMHO. My very favorite is to mix Homemade Vanilla and Dutch Chocolate together in the same bowl. Yum!
To my dismay, I learned on Christmas Eve that Dutch Chocolate contains wheat flour. As a person with gluten intolerance on a gluten-free diet, I check labels religiously. However, It never occurred to me that chocolate ice cream would offend. Chocolate chip cookie dough - yes, of course; but not plain chocolate. So I'll have to suffer with just plain Homemade Vanilla. I can hear the violins warming up in the background...
On the Blue Bell website, I noticed the new Chocolate Covered Cherries flavor (above). Hmmm .. that would go with Homemade Vanilla! I'll be checking the ingredient list as soon as I can make it to the grocery store.
Happy new year everyone!
December 30, 2007
From Technicolor to Grey
After spending 10 days in the land of warmth, vivid colors, Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, and chicken molĂ© enchiladas, it's back to cold and grey. The sun has not peeked out since I've been back home, and there are no immediate prospects on the horizon. And there's a huge icicle hanging on the power lines to the house; I hope it doesn't all come crashing down -- c'mon sun, do your thing!
The trip was enjoyable and much needed. It involved a lot of good food, a lot of "hanging out," a few good movies ("Atonement" - highly recommended .... and "Once" -- I got the DVD for Christmas). Reid and Meredith are at wonderful ages -- 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 - both in awe of the world in their own ways. Even though Halloween is long past, they enjoy dressing up in their costumes. Here are the bumblebee and the dragon.
I'm counting on the colors in their costumes to add life to the bleak landscape outside.
January 1, 2008
Update on the Monster Icicle
In my last post, I mentioned the huge block of ice precariously hanging from the power lines going into the house. Well, I had an interesting conversation with my sister this afternoon. It went kind of like this:
sis: "the weather's really bad here (north of Boston) -- lots more snow and ice, blah blah blah"
me: "yeah, it's terrible here too. Probably won't get above zero today, blah blah blah"
me: "you wouldn't believe this huge chunk of ice hanging on my power lines."
sis: "Can you call the power company?"
me: "I'm sure they'd just tell me to hire someone to get it down with a blowtorch."
sis: "Have you tried a hair drier? That's how I defrosted my refrig when I was in college."
So I headed out to Target to get a hair drier. (I certainly don't have enough hair to warrant having one for the usual purposes!) Fortunately, the ice block was just outside the second story window in my bedroom, and I could open the window and hold the hair drier up to it, which I did. (The cats, comfortably stretched out on their heating pad, thought I was nuts.) As I was not-too-patiently holding the drier up, I thought maybe I could bang on the ice and some would fall. So I got a metal hammer and banged away, just like I saw folks hammering away at their ice dams on the news last night. Sure enough, a huge chunk of it fell down. There's still a solid chunk hanging on the power line, but it must weigh 25 pounds less than before. So three cheers for sibling collaboration!
PS: I have never forgotten how to spell "icicle," because that's the word I missed in the school-level spelling bee competition in the 6th grade --- As soon as I - C - E... came out of my mouth, I knew it was wrong, but it was too late.
January 5, 2008
Stories That Didn't Quite Make It
The first week of January is always a good time for some house-cleaning. I'm on a tear now, especially realizing that I'll be moving in May -- I'm in a tossing mood!
Which brought me to a foot-high stack just left of my desk - various articles I'd set aside during the year to blog about, but they never quite made the cut. Since they were runners-up to the topics that made it, I thought at least their headlines deserved 5 seconds in the sun. Most are from the Star Tribune or New York Times. So here goes....
Gutter Talk: "You can spend less than $100 or more than $3000 to keep your gutters free of leaves. Here are the pros and cons of several systems." [Deliver me from ice dams.]
A Taste of Family Life in U.S., but Adoption is in Limbo -- one of a growing number of heartbreaking stories abput difficulties in international adoption.
Bloggone! - Ennui and exhaustion are idling some online opiners. Next year may see a decline - or at least a leveling off - in the blogging boom.
The church or the trees? Redwoods, the official tree of California, threaten a historic church in Monterey. The church wants the trees gone; the city prefers a compromise.
Modern technology can really divide us (Thomas Friedman) - thoughtful piece
Southern warmth covers a lot more than the weather, darling (Garrison Keillor) - The codger didn't like it when the airline clerk said "Have a good flight, darling." sour, sour, sour
Unleash your inner nerd (or geek or dork) - I already have. Mentioned the many online tests to see if you are a geek or a dork.
Friends for Life: An emerging biology of emotional healing (Daniel Goleman, NYT) -- Cites John Cacioppo, who states that "the emotional status of our main relationships has a significant impact on our overall pattern of cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activity."
When Seeing is Not Believing -- Andrew Sullivan (Time mag) on the rise of fundamentalism and why embracing spiritual doubt is the key to defusing the tension between East and West. (a keeper)
What to Keep or Toss when purging papers (a keeper -- woops)
Refugee issue comes into play as town bans soccer in park (Why can't we get along?)
Medical due diligence: A living will should spell out the specifics (Too close to home, with my father's illness)
The Racial Politics of Speaking Well ("For whites, the word "articulate" is a compliment to anyone. For blacks, it can be a toxic adjective.") - NYT
Dealing with Box elder Bug Problems without Pesticides --- (we have them, and this article helped)
The simple justice of mental health care -- Why punish Minnesotans just because they're sick?
Broken Promises: The collapse of a New Hope adoption agency has put in limbo some Minnesota families waiting for children around the world --- more heartbreak.
Pacemaker for the brain found to aid memory. (Ever since I saw Johnny Mnemonic I wondered about adding to my hard drive topside!)
Alzheimer's figures expected to soar once boomers turn 65.
And to conclude, for now --
a cartoon with a quote from Sinclair Lewis:
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
January 8, 2008
Stories That Didn't Quite Make It - Part Deux
Some more runners-up:
I-35 is road to salvation, say some Christians. (where do I start?)
Website can see if a vacation fits your 'travel personality' --actually it's pretty good. Go to www.besttripchoices.com
Upgrading to office 2007 - Request an upgrade today! (Whoever came up with this sadistic "re-design" should be __________ (fill in the blank). I hate it. I especially hate programs that try to anticipate what I will be typing or wanting to do. The first thing I do when Word is re-installed is turn off all the spell checkers, grammar checkers, shortcuts, etc. Don't get me started.
The Boys in the Band are in AARP. It's a life of married sex, cholesterol drugs and rock 'n' roll. (smiling)
Rare employee behefit: Gift of life. (an amazing story about School of Social Work colleagues Peter Dimock and Peggy Pond. Peggy donated half her liver for Peter; the story is wonderful.)
Who are You? (websites that help you figure out which Greek god or goddess you are, which movie villain you are, or which medieval vocation you are.) -- I am Hermes.
Finding Some Calm After Living with the Shakes. -- Jane Brody about "essential tremors," which several of my family members have.
Study Suggests Meditation Can Help Train Attention.
This is Your Life (and How You Tell It). (great to see an article about narrative psychology in Science Times -- I love Tuesdays.)
Last but not least: "Find Your Star Wars Twin"
Uses the Big 5 personality model to link you to Star Wars folks. I'm a cross between Chewbacca (neither nervous nor calm), a Jedi master (loyal, sensitive, and sympathetic), and the rebel admiral (known for his great powers of organization, responsibility, and administrative abilities. He is an individual who can be relied upon.)
January 24, 2008
During a stressful time when life feels pretty over the top, it's so reassuring to feel the presence of angels. Kind of the same feeling when I posted "The Kindness of Strangers" on Oct 5, 2006. This week's angels....
**volunteered to take care of my cats for 3 months while the house is on the market
**faxed proof of S's driver's license from the MN DMV to a rental car agency in Seattle --- a truly dedicated, caring public servant
**offered to provide some career counseling to M
**turned in the lost drivers license at the ABQ airport rather than started a new bank account and stole an identity
Thanks to angels, seen and unseen.
I will pass it on.
February 9, 2008
1 cup of milk, heated 2:20 in the microwave on high
1 tbsp. of Taster's Choice instant coffee, dark roast
Add coffee to hot milk. Stir until frothy. Enjoy.
This is totally sacreligious for any coffee purist, but it's a) convenient - no need to leave home and use that car; b) easy - pour, stir; and c) inexpensive - probably about 50 cents a cup, instead of $3.50 at you-know-where. I was surprised at how good it tasted and think it's not too far off of the real thing. Of course, you can add as much coffee as you want to suit your taste, and you can use decaf or regular, skim or 2%, etc. etc. Gratuities may be sent c/o Inner Geek.
February 12, 2008
Encounters with Self-Confidence
For the past 2 weeks, I've hired a young man (referred by the staging consultant who was referred by my prospective listing agent) to do some work around the house, preparing it to sell. He's a cheerful, energetic, self-confident guy -- eager to take anything on. Just about anything I asked him to do, he said -- "sure, no problem." Then as he got into doing things, it became clear that he was over his head on a few of them. He was sure he could bleach a water spot out of the hardwood floors. Not. He bid the painting of the hallway walls -- I thought that would include baseboards and door jambs, but no. (Why would you paint all the walls but not the door jambs that had paint from the same vintage?) He thought he had the tile countertops all figured out, but once he tried to work out the geometric pattern, he realized how complex it would be. I'm actually quite glad that he signalled his discomfort; I removed that from our agreement and have already found someone else to do it. He was also very confident about the timetable he was working on. However, everything ended up taking about twice as long as he projected.
SO -- a good example where unrealistic self-confidence can be an asset to the person -- sort-of. He ended up not doing the whole job, but what he finally did was good (albeit late, and with much feedback). If he had hemmed and hawed around what he could do and how quickly, I might not have hired him. In the end, he did much of what he agreed, and earned most of the money we agreed on (because of several add-ons). A good example of where self-confidence, even when it's a bit unrealistic, may be more adaptive (for him, at least) than a more realistic self-appraisal and self-presentation. Hmmm.
What did he win? He got the job, and partial pay, and worked at his own pace anyway.
What did I win? I got a job, partially done and not on schedule, for a decent price.
What did he lose? He lost my respect. I probably wouldn't hire him again or recommend him to others.
What did I lose? time and hassle
So for him, any gains may be short-term because they won't lead to future work, at least from me. But he knows I'm moving out of state, so why should he care?
I'll be talking with my social psychologist friends about this one.
Category "In Memory / In Honor"
February 17, 2008
Tenderness - that's the word that comes to mind when I reflect on Gerry Neubeck's memorial service this afternoon. The atrium of McNeal Hall was packed to overflowing. There was (Minnesota - understated) joy in celebrating his rich life and his wonderful family, but of course it was a bittersweet occasion because of the loss. Music and poetry were the media for communication - wonderful music. His granddaughter played "Meditation" from "ThaĂŻs" on the violin -- a beautiful solo... one that would make the angels weep. His grandson played a wonderful guitar solo. I loved the interplay between him and his Dad, who was standing aside and just behind him. They stole loving glances at each other throughout the piece -- more tenderness. Gerry touched many lives in a positive way ... his spirit will live on for generations. His life has made this world a better place. Rest in peace. (Although his clear instructions, in one of his last poems, was that we should dance on his grave, whoop it up, and celebrate life!) L'Chaim!
Category "In Memory / In Honor"
March 7, 2008
Time Stands Still
Time has stood still for the past two days. It feels like I have been lifted out of the normal stream of time and slammed into another dimension, disconnected from the "real" world. The visitations for my Dad were yesterday, and the funeral was today. I was amazed and gratified that family and friends from all over the East and as far away as Alabama made the trip to honor their uncle / brother-in-law / pop / friend.
I reconnected with some cousins I had not seen in 50 years, and others I had only seen once or twice in that time frame. My best friend / college roommate / best man / godfather of my son traveled from New York and surprised me at the church this morning. The staff from Dad's assisted living community turned out en masse to honor the man they had grown to love. My daughter-in-law's father drove in. Flowers were beautiful, and it was a tender tender time. It was close to overwhelming.
I'm very grateful that my sister and I honored our parents several times in recent years (their 50th anniversary, and my Dad's 80th and 85th birthdays.) For his 85th, we put together a large powerpoint slide show with photos going back to the early 1920s. For his visitation hours at the funeral home, we updated the slide show, adding about 40 new pictures. It provided a powerful way for folks to connect with his life history and with each other, since many of them and their loved ones were in the photos too.
We've gotten pretty good at gathering for funerals and weddings. I hope that the years to come will provide many more gatherings for just everyday hanging out. Turns out I have a substantial number of cousins, nieces, and nephews in New England, so my move should facilitate that.
My father loved golf - he loved the physical activity, and it was one of his most beloved ways to engage life. So it was only fitting that I concluded my eulogy by reading a poem that my mother-in-law, Helen Burton-Miskell, wrote for his 85th birthday. He liked it then, and it seemed a fitting way to mark the end of his life.
"Ode to Golf"
by Helen Burton-Miskell
What better way
To start the day
Than tap the ball
Into the cup
Just as the sun
Is coming up;
Or tee it off
Into the air
And watch it fall
This side of there,
But close enough
To make me smile;
Or lift it up
With just the iron
To put it down
Upon the green,
So close it rolls
Into the hole;
Or walk upon
The healthy green
And watch it spring,
Keep springing back,
Despite the traffic
On the scene.
What joy, what joy
To take a swing
And feel that I
As well can fly,
Watching the ball
Upon the wing
Till out of sight
Beyond the woods,
Where it alights.
I search and find.
Feeling as young
As any boy,
Whose surging blood
By nature sings,
I am as near
To heaven here
In love with life.
What better way
To start the day.
Category "In Memory / In Honor"
June 23, 2008
Rebooting a Life
Today was one of those watershed days, full of symbolism and meaning. Today was the day we held the final memorial service for our Dad and buried him next to our Mom in Dallas, their home. The memorial service was at the community where he and our Mom lived from approx 1992 - 2000, and he continued on after her death until 2006. Quite a few people joined us this morning, including a woman who was his secretary for 18 years (her first job; she is now retired and said he was the best boss she ever had). Many people were grateful to have the opportunity to remember him and celebrate his life, since they were not able to come to New Hampshire for his funeral back in March. His best friend, who had been housebound since November, made the special effort to attend.
My sister and I took a drive around the parts of town we haunted as teenagers. Our old neighborhood is still looking good, but down the street from our childhood home is a whole row of tacky MacMansions. If you have enough money, you can have a Tuscan villa, or a half-timbered Tudor, or a replica of Mt. Vernon --- and they can all be on the same street! You get the idea. Our old elementary school looks just like it did in the late 1950s. The church we attended looks as cold as it always felt. But we had fun going down each street and reminiscing about who lived where. It was amazing how we dredged up some names neither of us had thought about for decades.
For me, there was also a sense of closure. It's unlikely that I will ever be in Dallas again. The Texas part of my heart was long ago given to Austin; and Austin and Dallas are totally different cultures, although only 200 miles apart.
But to me it also felt a piece of a larger "reboot" my life is undergoing. New job, new part of the country, new professional responsibilities, new house, now the "senior" member of the family. (I'm not too sure how keen I feel about that - I have lots of tread left on me.) But it all definitely feels new, providing opportunities for both continuity and change. Very exciting.
Category "Music - of all kinds"
June 29, 2008
Tanglewood, Garrison Keillor, & Good Friends
The title really says it all. I spent yesterday at Tanglewood with a friend of 40 years, celebrating our friendship at the live broadcast of the Prairie Home Companion. Lots of meaning packed into that sentence; all good.
Of course, brought to you by Powermilk Biscuits, in the light blue box with the stain on the front that indicates reshness. Heavens, they're tasty!
Tanglewood has been on my MUST DO list for this summer for quite a while. It is as idyllic as its name suggests. Nestled in the Berkshires, its lush campus invites relaxation and camaraderie, even with total strangers. It's the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a venue for summer music institutes, and a place with an amazing summer music series. (Chanticleer and the Shanghai String Quartet are performing together next month -- stay tuned for that...)
Thanks to my colleague here who told me about the performance. We got 2 of the very last tickets in the Shed -- 3 rows from the back -- but who cares, it's a radio show! I just pretended I was listing on NPR, like I do almost every weekend.
We would have gotten Lawn tickets (great fun - people bring elaborate picnics and hang out), but the weather threatened rain, and it actually did rain for a time during the performance. I'll do that another time...
I've seen PHC live once before -- in the mid 1970s when I was in graduate school. It started broadcasting in 1974, so I must have been to one of its first shows, when it still had a small, local following. Now it goes out to millions every week. It was a great show -- excellent music, and poetry from the Poet Laureate of the U.S. (Where else would the Poet Laureate perform??) Turns out, he is from New Hampshire, not too far away from here.
Keillor clearly draws energy from the crowd. This was most evident after the broadcast was over. I expected a polite encore (the audience was very enthusiastic), but he and the rest of the cast stayed around for more than a half hour. They did some of their things, but mostly led the audience in a love-fest sing-a-long. What an unexpected pleasure! Singing can bring total strangers together.
The woman in the white blouse, second from left, was swaying to the music on her cane, along with her son in the red shirt. It was very sweet.
My feeling is that the Greatest Generation all knew a lot of songs in common, but that seems to be vanishing. Yesterday, we sang things like "Summertime," "Good Night Ladies," "Amazing Grace," "I've Been Working on the Railroad," ... you get the idea. What songs will the next generation of young people know in common? I really wonder. I could tell Garrison especially loved turning the audience loose in some a capella verses -- from stage, I'm sure it just felt like energy rolling right at him.
It's such a pleasure to live close to Chris after all these years. We were college roommates for 2 years and then went separate ways geographically. We've always stayed in touch, but visits have been infrequent. That will be changing. Tanglewood is just about half way between us -- a real bonus. (It's about 1 1/2 hrs west of here.) We talked and talked and talked, as always. Before heading home, we stopped at a funky Indian restaurant in Lee, MA. The staff seemed a bit pverwhelmed by the larger-than-usual crowd. Tha lamb I had was good, but I'm sure it was swimming in a sauce I will react to. I took as little sauce as I could. At the end, we both ordered coffee, but got tea. interesting.....
But overall, what a special day. A great way to start my life here. Maybe things like that happen when you CTRL-ALT-DEL.
July 6, 2008
Maine on the Fourth
I spent the long 4th of July weekend at my sister's cottage in Maine. NB: In Minnesota, they are "cabins," in New York, they are "camps," and in Maine they are "cottages." We had a great time --- eating, resting, talking, reading, paddling around the lake on the paddle boat, more eating, watching fireworks, roasting marshmallows, going in to town, & repeating same. It was a good get-away. It's great to be closer to family.
We stopped at a restaurant nearby for lunch, and their menu featured home-made potato chips -- they were thin, crisp, hot, and sprinkled with bacon, onions, cheese, and a Gorgonzola cheese sauce. Totally decademt.
On the 4th, we went into the Town of Limerick and stopped at the Runaway Cowgirl's Hideout on the main drag. I was totally smitten by a large Newfoundland. He came right up to me very calmly, and I thought I had known him all my life. In fact, I could have sworn that there was someone I knew in that dog suit. It was quite remarkable - I can't recall ever having such a strong pull toward a dog. That's probably a good sign as I prepare to welcome Sierra into my life in just about a month.
July 10, 2008
Objects and Feeling at Home
My office is beginning to feel like my home-away-from-home now that I have unpacked my coffee cups. I have this unique collection of coffee cups that goes back to the early 1970s. Each cup tells a story and evokes memories. I thinned out the collection a bit before I left Minnesota, but I brought most of them with me. (There are several more out of view on the right of the photo.) And I was able to find a good spot for my Amado PeĂ±a tile -- I like his work very much (he has Austin roots -- used to teach art at Austin High before he got famous and moved to Taos and Santa Fe.)
Briefly, here are the stories of the cups in the front row (L to R):
Black Forest Inn, Minneapolis - a wonderful German restaurant / beer garden with an outdoor patio - I've enjoyed a number of meals and happy hours here with friends.
A cobalt blue cup with gold writing: "President Bill Clinton - A Cure for the Blues" (with him playing the sax). I picked this up at National Airport when he was running for election. With all the bad economic news that seems to worsen by the day, we sure need a cure for the blues! How about it, Bill? I have an extra one - maybe I should put it on EBay?
The Arctic Cathedral; TromsĂ¸, Norway. I've been to TromsĂ¸ twice -- once to present at a conference and once to do some teaching about adolescent development. It's the northernmost university in the world. One visit was during May, not too long before the summer solstice. It was light almost 24 hrs / day, and people were out all night long, soaking up every bit of daylight possible. My friend Jane has an amazing hutte (summer cottage) that is glass all-round with a thatched roof.
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Within a short time of arriving in the Twin Cities in 1990, I heard my first live SPCO concert and was smitten. We had season tickets most years and thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful music and the intimate group that seemed to have a real personality.
Star Ship Enterprise -- I picked this up when Mark and I attended a Star Trek Convention in Minneapolis when he was a teenager. It was a very special day, even though we weren't dressed as Captain Kirk or Spock. (Many other folks were...)
Sundance -- A memory of numerous trips to Sundance, some for professional conferences and some for fun.
As I look at each of these objects placed in my new surroundings, all the wonderful memories flood back and keep me centered.
In Vol 8 (1) issue of Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research (2008), Jane Kroger has a fascinating article that fits well: "Symbolic meanings of valued personal objects in identity transitions of late adulthood." She and her colleague interviewed 20 folks age 65 - 89 who were in residential facilities in New Zealand, and they all talked with her about various personal objects they had in their living units -- some of which would have made little sense to an outsider, but made perfect sense to them. I saw how important such objects were during my father's last two years, especially when he was in assisted living. My sister lovingly gathered photo albums, CDs of his favorite big band music, and plaques and awards from his career and arranged them so they would be easily visible every day. They talked through the picture albums numerous times. Even if he couldn't remember whether he had eaten dinner, he could name all his buddies from high school and the Navy.
July 30, 2008
Traveling with the Tribe
Tuesday we began the journey with the Tribe back to Amherst. They have had the incredible good fortune to stay with a very loving and attentive foster family since early April, when the house when on the market. Bibiana, Kai Miok, and Lee have our unending thanks and appreciation!
The trip actually went better than I had feared. I read a lot on the internet and talked to many people about strategies for traveling with multiple cats. My sister lent me a large dog crate that fit 3 of the cats and their oval bed.
Shadow went in a separate carrying bag - he would have popped out of the crate like a jack-in-the-box and incited a riot, if he could! I got kittie tranquilizers from the vet and gave a 1/4 tablet to Shadow. By 20 minutes, he was staggering like a drunken sailor. It seemed to take the edge off for him, but by the end of the day he was his usual active self.
When we got to the hotel (thanks to LaQuinta for their pet-friendly policy!) in Merrillville (or something like that) Indiana, the Tribe were all thrilled to get out and explore a bit. They were especially fascinated by the mirrors in the bathroom.
They did a lot of sniffing etc. Sadie jumped in a dresser drawer and then promptly got behind the drawer and at the bottom of the dresser. Fortunately, she popped back up, because the bottom drawer was a false one and did not open.
Once they explored to their hearts' content, they settled in. All four found a space on what was to be my pillow. Hmmm - where will I sleep??
They pretty much slept together through the night. Pookie found a warm corner on the floor and they all piled on, as they are wont to do. So Day One - so far, so good. We made it past Chicago. YUCK- I hate the traffic there, no matter which route. Several of the major freeways are undergoing major construction, so the remaining lanes are very narrow and the trucks are MANY.
Anyway, off to hit the road again. Round em up, move em out.
Made it to Erie PA by 6 pm. The driving was MUCH easier east of Chicago. The tribe seemed to be less anxious today - now they know the drill. Shadow didn't need medication. They love exploring the hotel room. Tomorrow night we will be home. They'll have lots new to explore there.
We made it home! The cats spent a lot of time sniffing out the new house. Unlike a one-room hotel room, here they have 2 floors and a whole bunch of rooms. But they are settling in and seem pretty happy. Phew! But the very best news of the day is that we have an offer on the house. Fingers crossed, but the buyer has verbally accepted our counter-offer. It's good we're all comfortable with technology. I was communicating with the realtor from somewhere on the New York State Thruway, and Susan was calling in from West Texas on her way east. We will be signing contracts pdf'd to us and faxing or pdf'ing them back to MN. But her favorite story is the closing she conducted when the seller was on a boat in the Suez Canal.
August 28, 2008
Just before 6:00 pm this evening, we received the call we had been waiting for ... Our realtor in Minnesota called to say that all the papers had been signed and the sale of our house was now complete. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
The house was on the market almost 5 months, we had to lower the price three times - almost 20%, and we had to throw in almost-brand-new refrigerator, washer, and dryer. I feel that the price we were paid was insulting to the house and its condition. But I am realistic enough to know that the value of the house is a function of what someone will pay for it. I wish its new owner well. He got a bargain. (Unfortunately, since housing prices here have not slumped very much, we will not likely benefit from the nationwide housing depression.)
Although the feeling is only a few hours old, I finally feel the psychological freedom to allow myself to live fully in my new surroundings, without being encumbered by significant obligations 1200 miles away. The house was good to us. We were able to tweak it and shape it in some significant ways, and it worked for us quite well. My sincerest thanks to our realtors, who went above and beyond what was required, especially in the last weeks as the new owner was seeking FHA funding that required that additional repairs be made ... and to our handiest man, who made the repairs - and even camped out on the front porch, paint brush in hand, waiting for the inspector to return for the third time. (We recently learned that inspectors get an additional $100 each time they re-inspect a home. Doesn't take a genius to see why so many houses don't pass muster the first time.)
We had dinner with new friends tonight, and enjoyed champagne toasts to the sale of our house and to the beginnings of our new lives here. The chapter has been turned.
October 12, 2008
In the midst of the political vile spewed forth last week, not to mention the free-fall of the world economy, an interlude of beauty is needed. Here are a few pictures taken outside our house yesterday.
It's time for peacemakers to emerge, from the international scene on down to the most local of interactions. All is NOT fair in politics, especially when it comes to stirring up wars along the lines of race, class, or sexual orientation. It must stop.
February 28, 2009
Whiff of Spring
February has been over the top -- conferences, committees, teaching, writing, admissions, faculty search --- not to mention buying a house. I have gotten almost no exercise, and I feel it. But this morning I took a walk in the neighborhood. It was about 35 and a bit windy -- but there was a decided whiff of spring in the air, for which I am grateful. We are under a winter storm watch for Sunday into Monday -- snow expected -- but the good thing about spring snow is that it melts sooner rather than later.
Category "Social Science"
March 15, 2009
I discovered a column in the Sunday Boston Globe that gives me a good feeling as a social scientist. It's entitled "Uncommon Knowledge: Surprising Insights from the Social Sciences", by Kevin Lewis. [Click here]
One of today's clips, "The peaceful effect of boys," noted that "the gender of one's children affects one's view of foreign policy." Seems that "households with more boys were more likely to think that the United States should not intervene in other parts of the world and should use diplomacy over military force." The biggest effect seems to be on fathers of boys, who may be concerned that their sons would be drafted. It's a plausible explanation -- however, the U.S. has not had a draft in decades.
In any case, it was fun to encounter this column - it's always good to get some of those initially counterintuitive ideas out there for public exposure..
March 21, 2009
Magic Wings - Magical Day
It was a perfect first day of spring to visit Magic Wings in Deerfield with one of my oldest and best friends. Magic Wings is a butterfly conservatory, featuring 4000 free-flying butterflies from all over the world. You enter their habitat and walk among them for as long as you like. Peaceful and awe-some.
March 31, 2009
Our New View - Signed, Sealed, & Delivered
At our closing today, we learned about the meaning of "mortgage" from the French.
From Wikipedia: The term comes from the Old French "dead pledge," apparently meaning that the pledge ends (dies) either when the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure.
"Dead pledge" sounds a bit ominous, don't you think??
May 14, 2009
Obama's ASU Commencement speech
President Obama's commencement speech at Arizona State last night had me glued to the tube. He is amazingly inspirational - whenever I hear him speak, it feels like he's talking directly to me.
ASU had the bad taste not to present him with an honorary degree. Yahoo news reported the following: "His body of work is yet to come. That's why we're not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency," university spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said after the school's student newspaper first reported the decision.
Obama turned this lemon into lemonade by telling the graduates that their "body of work" would ALWAYS be in progress and that they should never rest on their laurels or their titles, even if the title was POTUS. Here is the first part of his speech. The 2nd and 3rd installments are available on YouTube.
May 17, 2009
All these photos were taken off the deck of our new house within the space of the first two weeks living here. The view is of Mt. Holyoke Range State Park, due west. The moods of the terrain seem to change every 5 minutes - we have experienced dense fog, clouds, heavy rain, wild winds, and bright sun -- often all on the same day. What a privilege!
June 22, 2009
Every Little Step
I saw a great movie yesterday, "Every Little Step." It's a documentary based on the selection of the cast for the Broadway revival of "A Chorus Line." Great stories, great music, great dancing, and lots of energy. But what got me the most? It was about excellence -- giving it your all, taking risks, pulling out all the stops -- and all the joy and elation that comes with it.
Go to this link for a trailer.
June 24, 2009
Resistance is Futile
As the Borg said to Jean-Luc, "Resistance is futile." That's how I've come to feel about Facebook. Yes, I'm on it now. The thing that put me over the line was the birth of my nephew last week. I know that Facebook is where all his pictures will be, and I want to keep up with him, so ..... (Not to mention that quite a few of my fellow bloggers have moved from blogging to Facebook.) I signed up a few hours ago, and discovered some old high school friends I haven't communicated with since graduation.
I also discovered, to my surprise, that my division at the university has a facebook page of its own! Needless to say, I have signed on.
Facebook has double interest for me now. The grant application we are working on involves social network analysis, and of course, facebook is the ultimate social networking tool. We will be studying social networks in a different way, but the experience of being on Facebook is giving me some new ah-ha's about social networks in general. Stay tuned for more on that...