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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Resolution: I only added two new articles to my blog in 2011. Promise to self: in 2012, I plan to post at least 10 new articles.

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Another Thanksgiving & Where the Acorn Sprouts

The year has flown by since last Thanksgiving. This year, we had a very quiet Thanksgiving Day with a placeholder meal for the Thanksgiving Feast. At my son’s suggestion, we decided to delay the turkey dinner until my daughter moved back to North Carolina in early December. Having her move back to North Carolina is truly a cause for thanksgiving. Perhaps when she has completed all her studies to be a nurse, she will settle not too far away. At least the probability goes way up.

Farmers' Market

Farmers' Market

There’s a big movement to “buy local” when it comes to food and other products. I think there could be a similar movement to “settle down local” to family.

When I ventured out from my home in my twenties, I moved across the continent, from left coast to right coast. I love living here in North Carolina — for me, the trees are right, the climate is right, friends are close by. I never could get used to the drizzle in Seattle or the eucalyptus and palm trees in California — or the lack of trees period in Idaho. I like to visit friends and family in all those places. I especially enjoy the summer mildness, Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier in Seattle and the incredibly wide-open sky in Idaho. But here’s where I’ve wanted to put down roots.

 

Speaking of roots, I have found hundreds of acorns sprouting in our walks through the woods this fall — more than I ever remember seeing. I’ve heard that it’s a bumper crop of acorns this year. I wonder if they have also been sprouting earlier than usual as well?

Array of Sprouting Acorns

Array of Sprouting Acorns

The saying is that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. I did, and now I find it makes it difficult to be there for my mother when she needs me. I hope that my children can both settle down close by — so that I can be there for them when they need me, and later, perhaps, they can be there for me.

Images:
Farmer’s Market Image courtesy of BaylorBear78
Sprouting acorns courtesy of Edward Britton

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ruzuku.com – a System of Online Social Support for Change

Two friends of mine, Abe Crystal and Rick Cecil, are building ruzuku.com to be an online system for helping groups of people to work together on desired changes. According to their research, many people make resolutions that fall by the wayside because they find it hard to persist on their own. With ruzuku (which means ‘support’ in Swahili), people can post status and receive comments and questions from others in their social network, helping them stay motivated.

This reminds me of the numbers I recently heard about membership attrition from fitness clubs.

  • From people who join individually, there is a 50% attrition rate. That means half the members fail to renew after one year.
  • From people who join as couples, the attrition rate is 26%.
  • From people who join as entire families, the attrition rate is 22%.
  • From people who join with inter-dependent exercise needs — for example, to play a sport together — the attrition rate is 6%.

Of course there are many reasons for attrition, but there does seem to be a strong element of social support that helps people continue with gym membership.

You might find ruzuku.com useful if you are organizing a group to work together toward some goal — as a teacher, coach, team leader, or friend. You can set up a challenge and send the link to the people you want to participate. Once they join the challenge, they can then post updates about their own progress, see the updates posted by others in the group, add comments, and otherwise use social networking to stay motivated. I think ruzuku links to twitter already — with Facebook linkage on the way.

Resilience: Blooming in the Snow

As part of the ruzuku.com beta, I created challenges around the four steps for building resilience that I described in an article for the Anita Borg Institute earlier this year. Each challenge was set up to last 5 days starting on Monday November 2, 9, 16, and 23. The first 3 are closed, but if you happen to be interested in trying out ruzuku, you could still join the one that will start on November 23 on taking inventory of personal assets.

If you read about this later and wish you’d had an opportunity to participate, let me know. I’m running it now as a way to help Rick Cecil and Abe Crystal with their beta. But perhaps we could try something similar in the future.

Image credit:
Signs of Spring courtesy of Reenie Just Reenie

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Memory Cues


Todd Kashdan is a psychology professor, researcher, and author of the new book, Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. When I asked him in an interview what he wanted to explore in the future, he said he’s curious about what keeps some marriages vital and vibrant over the very long haul. He thought he might live long enough to get well past his diamond anniversary (6oth), so what could he learn from people who have kept their marriages good to the end.

Based on my own 28 years of experience being married, I nominate shared memories and frequent strong hugs.

My husband has a much better memory than mine, so he’s the one who can refresh me with stories about what happened when our children were born or what what the food was like when we splurged and ate lunch at the Tour d’Argent in Paris in 1981. I do remember the service there being like something out of a fairy tale — invisible hands anticipating every need.

I attach memories to things, which is why I’m sometimes loath to give them up, even when they are worn out. We have a couch we bought together about 30 years ago — after 18 months of searching through D.C. area furniture stores and sitting on a lot of surfaces that one thought were great and the other thought were either ugly or uncomfortable. We agreed on a Flexsteel model with soft, slightly fuzzy, dark russet upholstery. My husband says to this day that the salesperson said the fabric wasn’t suitable for small children, but I have trouble believing I would have agreed to that. I do remember right after it was delivered, when our old really really ugly couch needing a cinder block to support the middle was hauled away and we both had trouble sitting casually on something so new and pristine. We also felt we were so far apart — our old couch was a bit smaller, so we could each nest on one side and easily stretch out a leg to touch the other.

Since then, our couch has absorbed so many family memories. I lay on my left side on it for the last 3 months of my first pregnancy — doctor’s orders. I rested on it with baby daugher and broken ankle (another story!)

Baby and Broken Ankle on couch

Baby and Broken Ankle on couch

My children made forts and tunnels and castles with the cushions. We all used it as a refuge when ill. During the years when my husband couldn’t sit flat in a chair and we stopped going out to theaters, we clocked many a Saturday night watching a movie and drinking fine wine while sitting on the couch. I learned how to stretch a little further to reach him with my foot. Now the buttons have disappeared inside the cushions and friends complain about how hard it is to get up from it, it sags so much. The fabric has survived 2 children remarkably well, but there a few places that are worn through, even a tear or two. We need a new couch. But what we want is this couch, just 25 years younger.

I have learned not to attach too much importance to objects. I made my wedding dress myself out of cream-colored wool challis that we found in an enormous fabric warehouse in Alexandria Virginia. It held memories too, for example, of the Thanksgiving when I put in what seemed like miles of hem while watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

Wedding dress hem

Wedding dress hem

I edged the hem with lace handmade by a friend. But after the wedding, I neglected to have it professionally boxed up, and a few years later found it full of moth holes. At the time, I thought “I hope this doesn’t say anything about our marriage” — and it hasn’t. But now I have only the memory of an object that holds memories…

Shared memories and lots of hugs — and shared curiosity.

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Mrs. Tim – Spending Time with a Friend in Fiction

I am mindful that I can affect the shape of my life by choosing carefully the people that I spend time around. If a book or movie turns out to be about people who are mean or small-minded or boring, I ponder whether I really want to finish it.

I have a collection of books that I re-read, like eating comfort food, when I need to spend time around people who are cheerful, brave, persevering, humorous, tolerant, wise — that is, in addition to the time I spend with my husband, children, and real friends.

I’ve been re-reading D. E. Stevenson’s series about Mrs. Tim for the last week or two. Mrs. Tim is an army wife in England from the late 1930’s through the late 1940’s. The first book actually grew out of the author’s diaries that she lent to a friend who wanted to know what life as the spouse of an army officer was like. The friend and her husband found the diaries so interesting and entertaining that they urged her to publish them. She pepped up her first set of diaries to make a book about a fictional character, Hester Christie — married to Captain then Major Tim Christie. The second book was based on her war-time diaries and required almost no pepping up because as she puts it, “there was enough pep already in my diary for half a dozen books.”

The last two books occur after the war when Major Tim was stationed in Egypt and Hester was left to manage alone — her children are both in boarding school except for holidays. In the third book, she works as a general dogsbody in a hotel, where she observes and participates in several stories of life being put back together after the war. In this book, Hester has an interesting discussion with her good friend, Brigadier Tony Morley about immortality. Tony had just finished a long conversation with a minister who had given a good sermon.

“Mr. Weir knew at once that I was really interested and came halfway to meet me. When people go halfway to meet each other something happens — something important.”

“Yes — but what is it?” I ask with interest.

“You give a bit of yourself and receive a bit of the other fellow, and you are both richer. … That’s one reason why it’s worthwhile to be alive,” continues Tony. “It’s a sort of immortality we can all achieve.”

“Immortality?”

“Yes. We all want to achieve immortality. We all want to leave our mark upon the world. What use is it to have lived if we leave nothing behind us when we die. One way to achieve immortality is to have children, another is to write or paint — but not everybody can achieve offspring or works of art.”

“I’m beginning to see.”

“It’s easy,” declares Tony. “if we go about the world giving bits of ourselves to people we meet . . . it’s worthwhile having lived . . . we leave something behind us which goes on–and on.”

I love these books because they are about the ordinary heroism of everyday people, finding ways to get along in their own particular times. Their times included all-out war, but they still squabbled about how to spend the money allocated to the officer wives to run the Christmas party — how much should go for decorations, how much for children’s gifts. Hester is observant and laughs kindly at herself and others.

These books may still be on the shelves of your public library or through Inter-Library Loan, and in a pinch they are available from Amazon.

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, also titled Mrs. Tim Christie,

Mrs. Tim carries on: Leaves from the Diary of an Officer’s Wife in 1940

Mrs.Tim Gets A Job

Mrs. Tim flies home

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A Brilliant Solution

My husband and I were talking about our experiences raising our two children. I was amused that he remembers them fighting all the time, and I hardly remember them fighting at all. He himself was an only child and I was the second oldest of 5. So I guess that’s the difference between upward and downward comparison.

The discussion of arguments did make me think of one ongoing conflict that the two of them resolved in an absolutely brilliant way.

It happened when we got our first family computer. They both wanted to use it, and had the predictable arguments, “You had it for two hours yesterday…” “Yeah but you had it more over the weekend…” “But I need it more because…” “But that’s what you always say…”

Here’s what they finally worked out between them.

If one was using the computer, the other could come say at any time, “I want to use it in 30 minutes.” That started the clock, and possession turned over at the 30 minute mark. The one giving it up could say, “I want to use it in 30 minutes,” in which case the clock started again.

What made this so effective is that there was no more reference to the past, no accounting for who had used it more, no squabbles about who needed it more. The solution was absolutely simple, in the best interest of both, and they stuck to it.

I don’t think I’ve seen any other quarrel resolved so effectively.

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Why I support Barack Obama in the US Presidential Elections

I support Barack Obama not because of any particular position or plan or promise. In fact, promises make me uncomfortable because I’ve seen the limits on presidential powers. Obama is not the only one who will have a voice when it comes to tax policies in the upcoming years.

I support Barack Obama because he has the spirit, strength, and understanding to guide us as in a nonzero direction as we participate in the formation of a global human society. In his book, Nonzero, Robert Wright argues that human history shows that new technologies permit new, richer forms of non-zero-sum interaction that lead to social structures that realize this potential, turning non-zero-sum situations into positive sums, embedding people in larger and richer webs of interdependence (p. 5-6). Nonzero: The Logic of Human DestinyNonzero cover

We are participating in the formation of a global web of interdependence. I believe that Barack Obama has the better understanding of the direction the world is moving, a better grasp on the impact of technology, and a greater ability to lead us as we face “tests of our moral imagination” (p. 9) that can lead to a world at “a new equilibrium at a level of organization higher than any past equilibrium.” He gives me hope.

The Audacity of HopeAudacity of Hope cover I also believe that Obama has the capacity to listen to many voices, respect people who do not agree with him, and search for tradeoffs that honor many interests. Here’s an example in the chapter called Values in his book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. In the state of Illinois, he sponsored a bill to require videotaping of confessions and interrogations in capital cases.

“It would have been typical of today’s politics for each side to draw a line in the sand: for death penalty opponents to harp on racism and police misconduct and for law enforcement to suggest that my bill coddled criminals. Instead, over the course of several weeks, we convened sometimes daily meetings between prosecutors, public defenders, police organizations, and death penalty opponents, keeping our negotiations as much as possible out of the press.

Instead of focusing on the serious disagreements around the table, I talked about the common value that I believed everyone shared, regardless of how each of us might feel about the death penalty: that is, the basic principle that no innocent person should end up on death row, and that no person guilty of a capital offense should go free. … At the end of the process, the bill had the support of all the parties involved. It passed unanimously in the Illinois Senate and was signed into law.” pp. 58-59

I support thet man whose debate comments sometimes started with the words, “Here’s where I agree with Senator McCain…”

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