– a System of Online Social Support for Change

Two friends of mine, Abe Crystal and Rick Cecil, are building 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 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 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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July Savoring

Now it’s high summer, the fig tree is full of huge leaves and small figs. At dinner time, light filters through the fig tree leaves, one leaf casting a shadow on another. Birds and deer are testing the figs, which are not ready yet. The fig tree reaches all the way to the ground, making leafy caves that children could play in.

Spike Buck

Spike Buck Through Fig Leaves

So much to savor this July — starting with temperatures that make it a pleasure to be outdoors. Downward comparison seems to make that pleasure more intense. Today it is 76 degrees at 2PM, but I’m mindful that it could be 96 to 100 degrees, far too hot so sit outside with pleasure. When we are outside, there are so many interesting things to feel, see, hear, smell, and taste.

  • Homemade peach ice cream. My husband makes ice cream at least once every summer from a well-thumbed book of recipes, many stained with use. He cranks it by hand with whatever help he can muster from children and friends.
  • A deer drinking out of the bird bath. We’ve been visited several times by a young buck with two velvety spikes. There are weeds that the deer are welcome to eat, but when they start into the fragrance garden, we run them off. It’s easier said than done. They no longer run when we bang a stick against a garbage pan lid. When I run down towards them, I wonder what I’ll do if they don’t run!
  • One bird sitting on a limb waiting for another bird to finish so it could have a turn in bird bath. The first bird splashing great arcs of water out of the bath, the second splashing itself much more daintily.
  • Hummingbird on Feeder

    Hummingbird on Feeder

    A hummingbird dive bombing a swallowtail butterfly that tried to land on the Monarda over and over again until the butterfly gave up. We knew hummingbirds were territorial with each other, but is this the way to behave in a butterfly garden?
  • The fragrance of magnolia blossoms and of gardenia blossoms that remind me of our wedding more than a quarter of a century ago
  • Buddleia up to the porch

    Buddleia up to the porch

    Silver Streak on Buddleia

    Silver Streak on Buddleia

  • The buddleia grown so tall that the blossoms are almost up to our level on the porch. On the 4th of July, we had an American flag butterfly garden with Monarda (red), Brazilian sage (blue), and Buddleia (white) all blooming at once.
  • Four or five silver streak butterflies on the buddleia at a time, sharing it with bumblebees. Two flying off, fluttering together, landing almost in tandem. I wonder how butterflies mate?
  • At night after it is dark, fireflies lighting up all around the yard and the almost deafening orchestra of evening bugs. I think they are cicadas. My mother once rode on a bus with a single cicada which sounded the same note over and over again. She found it rather tedious. The complexity and slow pulsing of the sound we hear comes from many many sounding together.

Just to reflect a little, my summer savoring is particularly piquant because of

  • Fleeting wonders. Most can’t be captured in photographs because they disappear so quickly. Try taking a picture of a hummingbird chasing a butterfly! Or of a hummingbird doing anything but resting on the feeder. I am constantly aware that this pleasure will soon be gone. The monarda and magnolia are done for the year, and the gardenia are almost done.
  • Downward comparison to other years, so much hotter and muggier. We’re having rain, which always seems like a miracle in July, and it’s keeping things green.
  • Family traditions so that today’s pleasures carry echoes of past pleasures
  • Family possibilities. When I see the green caves under the fig tree, I imagine children playing there. The tree was not big enough when my children were small, but maybe someday their children will enjoy hiding there.

I just had to add this picture of a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly that spent several hours yesterday in the buddleia, flittering from one flower stalk to another. I was in the middle of a business call when I saw it out my window. I put my phone on hold and hollered at my husband, thinking he’d want to see something that large and tawny. He stalked it with the digital camera.

Great Spangled Fritillary on the Buddleia

Great Spangled Fritillary on the Buddleia

I have to close with the last magnolia blossom of the season.

Last 2009 Magnolia Blossom

Last 2009 Magnolia Blossom

All pictures courtesy of Edward Britton, a man of great patience and persistence who still still hasn’t been able to capture a hummingbird in the air.

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If You Want to Get Old Gracefully, Make Young Friends

Tea Chest

Tea Chest

My mother has moved remarkably smoothly from Independent to Assisted Living in her community in Seattle. A lot can be said for the community itself that has both types of living in the same building, one on the 12th floor, another on the 3rd. They had maintenance people who moved the furniture that she decided to keep in place of the more institutional furniture originally in the room — 2 book cases,
Bear Chair

Bear Chair

her Bear chair, the tea chest she uses as a jewelry box, her dresser, her little marble-top table where she has worked crossword puzzles for years. The maintenance people also hung up her pictures, so she had lots of reminders of her children, grandchildren, and trips all around her. She was a world traveler in her time — visited all continents except for Antarctica, and came very close to it.


But now that I’m back in North Carolina, 3000 miles away, I have many opportunities to observe the truth of a saying I heard recently, “If you want to get old gracefully, make young friends.”

My mother has several friends who are my age plus or minus a few years. They have banded together with my siblings and me to create a caring web around her. I can’t list all the things they’ve done for her. One spent a morning cleaning out her kitchen so she could turn over the keys to the apartment. When she has a doctor’s appointment, there’s likely to be a friend or even two available to take her. People come by to visit, to go out for walks with her, and to take her to dinner. One couple remembered how much she likes mussles and found a restaurant with mussles on the menu. They all send emails when they’ve seen her, letting us know how she seems — are her spirits drooping, or is she her usual feisty and entertaining self?

Schipperke courtesy dbzoomer

Schipperke courtesy dbzoomer

My godmother recently hurt her back tipping water out of one of those enormous plastic garbage cans that people roll out to the street. It was too heavy to roll back, and, as she put it, she could have done it easily 5 years ago (when she was just 80). With her back hurt, she couldn’t drive and she couldn’t take her young dog, a 2-year-old Schipperke, for walks. So how did she manage to get by without calling on me or her children? Her neighbors. Every day neighbors dropped by to see what she needed. Groceries? They brought her more food than she could eat. Walking the dog? Various neighbors came by in the morning and the late afternoon to give him energetic runs. My godmother thinks everyone should have a little dog, which my mother thinks is crazy. But the little dog has not only given her something to care for, it has also made her meet all her neighbors, so they had a chance to experience her warm, witty, graceful self before she had the accident. It has certainly paid dividends in the last week or so.

This is a thanks to the young friends of my mother and grandmother — and all the other young friends out there.


Filed under Extraordinary people, Friendship, Independence

Endurance, Patience, and Acceptance

I am publishing an article in Positive Psychology News Daily that is my nomination for the 25th character strength. In their earlier work, Peterson and Seligman identified 24 character strengths that are known around the world and across time. But of course there’s no magic to the number 24. There could be 25 character strengths, or 26, or …

My nomination belongs with the virtue Courage, which currently includes Bravery, Persistence, Integrity, and Vitality. I believe it should also include the strength of Endurance — the way people respond to things they cannot change.

One of the criteria for a character strength is ubiquity, that it is recognized in different cultures and over long history. I had collected the following examples to illustrate endurance, patience and acceptance across time and place. They don’t fit in the PPND article, so I’m including them here as an appendix.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “When Allah desires good for someone, He tries him with hardships.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî] … In fact, the many afflictions that may beset a person are incalculable. …All of these afflictions, if endured patiently by the believer, are a means of attaining Allah’s forgiveness as well as His reward.

“The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” John xvii.11

Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes. – Buddha (Gautama Buddha)

Ahimsa or non-violence is the most important virtue. That is the reason why Patanjali Maharshi has placed it first in Yama. Practice of Ahimsa must be in thought, word and deed. Practice of Ahimsa is not impotence or cowardice or weakness. It is the highest type of heroism. The practice demands immense patience, forbearance and endurance, infinite inner spiritual strength and gigantic will-power.

He conquers who endures. Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus)

This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:20-21

It is better to be patient than powerful; it is better to have self-control than to conquer a city. Proverbs 16:32

Endurance is patience concentrated. Thomas Carlyle

Not in the achievement, but in the endurance of the human soul, does it show its divine grandeur and its alliance with the infinite God. Edwin Hubbell Chapin

Wounds and hardships provoke our courage, and when our fortunes are at the lowest, our wits and minds are commonly at the best. Pierre Charron, French philosopher and theologian, 1541-1603.

I learned from the example of my father that the manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured. Dean Acheson, American lawyer and statesman, 1893-1971.

Endurance is nobler than strength and patience than beauty. John Ruskin, British art critic and social thinker, 1819 – 1900.

Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, Caesar, 17 2 … but that he should undergo toils beyond his body’s apparent powers of endurance amazed them, Nevertheless, he did not make his feeble health an excuse for soft living, but rather his military service a cure for his feeble health, since by wearisome journeys, simple diet, continuously sleeping in the open air, and enduring hardships, he fought off his trouble and kept his body strong against its attacks.

“Woman has suffered for aeons, and that has given her infinite patience and infinite perseverance.” – Swami Vivekananda

I also found a poem by David Wagoner that illustrated one reason why Endurance may not come swiftly to mind when thinking about strengths — it is often quiet and retiring.

In a bad year, my father went away
A hundred miles to take the only job
He could find. Two nights a week he would sit down
In his boardinghouse after a hard shift
In the open hearth and write a duty letter.
He hated telephones, being hard of hearing
And hard of speaking and just as hard of spending
Now that he had to save our car and our house
And feed us from long distance. He knew words
Of all kinds, knew them cold in Latin
And Greek, from crossword puzzles and cryptograms,
But hardly any of them would come from his mouth
Or find their way onto paper. He wrote my mother
Short plain sentences about the weather
And, folded inside each single page, for me,
In colored pencils, a tracing of a cartoon
From the funny papers: Popeye or Barney Google
Or Mutt and Jeff or the Katzenjammer Kids.
The voice-balloons hanging over their heads
Said, “Hope to see you soon” or “Hello, David.”
And those would be his words for months on end.

I thank him now for his labor, his devotion
To duty and his doggedness. I was five,
And he was thirty-five. I have two daughters
As young as I was then (though I’m twice as old
As my father was). If I had to leave them
In a bad year, I’d want them to be good
To their mother and to love her as much as I did.
I’d miss them, and I’d want them to be happy
With or without me and to remember me.
If I could manage, I’d even write them love
In a letter home with traces of me inside.

David Wagoner (1999)

Endurance also affects the way people look, as illustrated in this passage from Anne of the Island, by L. M. Montgomery who frequently writes about duty patiently borne.

She finally concluded that this man had suffered and been strong, and it had been made manifest in his face. There was a sort of patient, humorous endurance in his expression which indicated that he would go to the stake if need be, but would keep on looking pleasant until he really had to begin squirming.


Augustine of Hippo

Husayn, Sheikh Khâlid (n.d.). Tests from Allah.

BBC (n.d.). The ethics of war.

Several endurance quotations are here.

Govig, S.D. (1994). Souls are made of endurance: Surviving mental illness in the family. Westminster John Knox Press.

Jones, Rufus M. (1941). Rethinking Quaker principles. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 8.

Lebra, R.S. (1976) Japanese Patterns of Behavior. University of Hawaii Press. 163. Retrieved 18 February 2006 from

Montgomery, L.M. (1915). Anne of the Island. Bantam Books.

O’Leary, J. S. (n.d.). Buddhist Serenity in a Time of Rage. Weblog.

Putnam, B. (4 October 2005). A daughter’s devotion: Prodigy Dakoda Dowd, 12, is putting golf dreams aside to stay close to her stricken mother. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 18 February 2006 from

Sivananda, Sri Swami (1947, WWW 1999). All about Hinduism.

Value Options (n.d.). Develop Resilience to Recover From Setbacks.

Vivekinanda, Swami (n.d.). Thoughts on women.

Wagoner, David (1999). A Letter Home. From Traveling Light: Collected and New Poems. Urbana and Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press. Also retrieved 18 February 2006 from


Filed under Extraordinary people, Stories, Strengths

A Story Like the Wind

A Story Like the Wind
Fifteen years or so ago — I know this because of the receipt I used as a bookmark — I first read Laurens van der Post’s two novels, A Story Like the Wind and A Far Off Place. They were so powerful that I couldn’t read any other fiction for months. They also stuck to me, little images that have enriched my life.

A Far-Off Place
For example, I’ve thought often about the time that the main character, 13-year-old Francois, behaved sharply and turned away from the adults who were trying to console him for the loss of his father. One of them, ‘Bamuthi, the Matabele leader on their homestead in the African bush, looks at the rest and says, “I give you a little fountain choked with mud.” They all nod, because they know the answer to the riddle: “the heart of a fatherless child.”

I lost my father when I was two, and it took me many many years to clean the mud out of the fountain.

I recently picked them up again and found them just as engrossing, even though the author is an egregious side-tracker. In the middle of a storyline, he switches into an earlier storyline and from then into an earlier one, or perhaps a digression into the natural life of babboons or elephants or lions or perhaps a long philosophical exploration of relationships between people and between peoples … so that sometimes it is hard to keep track of where you are in the original story. But the digressions are so full of rich detail.

I found myself tearing off little bits of paper to mark passages to go back to. Here are some of them:

In A Story Like the Wind:
‘Bamuthi: “Then a man-child also had to learn how to sing and above all to dance; for dancing and singing were the best ways he had of showing gratitude for the good things of life. Song and, above all, dancing were the surest ways of helping a man to endure the great trials of his existence; they were needed at birth, marriage and before war to strengthen his heart. … at the moment when the final loss of his shadow was upon him and those he loved, to drive away the power of death and revive the desire to live.”

Hiding courtesy kevinzim

Hiding courtesy kevinzim

Francois successfully shoots a huge, rogue elephant, Uprooter of Trees, that is drunk on fermented fruit and running amok across the homestead. Family friend and wild-life conservationist, Mopani: All he could get himself to do, therefore, was to talk at some length of the unfailing knack life seemed to have of confronting a man at the most unexpected moments with problems as large and dangerous as had been old Uprooter of Trees. Human beings, he stressed, always knew more than they allowed themselves to know. One of the things they never knew clearly enough was the power they possessed of overcoming problems even if they were thrice the size of Uprooter of Great Trees.

Mopani: “Have you ever known a more beautiful evening? I’ve heard it said somewhere that human beings should look on all things lovely as though for the last time. But this is the kind of evening which makes me want to look on it as if for the first time.”

Mopani: Remember always, Little Cousin, that no matter how awful or insignificant, how ugly or beautiful, it might look to you, everything in the bush has its own right to be there. No one can challenge this right unless compelled by some necessity of life itself. … Life in the bush is necessity, and it understands all forms of necessity. It will always forgive what is imposed upon it out of necessity, but it will never understand and accept anything less than necessity. And remember that, everywhere, it has its own watchers to see whether the law of necessity is being observed.”

In A Far Off Place:

Francois’ father, Ouwa: the real art of living was to keep alive the longing in human beings to become a greater version of themselves, to enlarge this awareness of life and then to be utterly obedient to the awareness. … Unlived awareness was another characteristic evil of our time, so full of thinkers who did not do and doers who did not think. … All this, Ouwa would ad, meant living in terms not of having but of being… For what, he often asked was the difference between the ‘Bamuthis of this world and the Europeans of Africa, if not that the Europeans specialized in having and the ‘Bamuthis in being.

And my favorite chapter in both books comes when Francois and his friend Nonnie, who have both lost everything and are traveling across the Kalahari with two bushman friends, sitting by a fire at night when Xhabbo asks a mime riddle than no one gets, and when he explains it, they all roll on the ground with laughter:

Nonnie: “Oh Coiske, do you know, until this moment, I thought we could never laugh like that again. I feel almost guilty that we could with Fa and your Lammie… “

Ligntning my first try courtesy of Kuzeytac

Ligntning my first try courtesy of Kuzeytac

Xhabbo’s reply: “[we] know that the sadness in you is no longer without a name and has found its voice. When sorrow finds a name and a voice, it is like the lightning you see calling and the thunder speaking after it to say that soon the rain will fall on you again.”

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Filed under Extraordinary people, Friendship, Good with the Bad, Relationships, Stories

Reading Science Out Loud, Round 3

I have a stack of books on the floor to add to the catalog of science books I’ve read out loud to my husband. I may miss one or two that have gone back to the library. This is the third installment in this list of very interesting books that have fed our joint curiosity. Round 1 had an emphasis on evolution and paleontology, and Round 2 branched out from neurology and human biology to measuring time and observing natural disasters. This round is a little broader, including music, geology, astronomy, and even some cosmology. It’s fun when things we’ve read before come around again in different contexts.

Jourdain, R. (1998). Music, The Brain, And Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination. Harper Perennial.
From tone to melody to harmony to rhythm to … A systematic and cumulative exploration of how humans experience music, from the physics to the neurology to the differences that practice and training make. Great beginning for deeper study.
Levin, J. (2002). How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space. New York: Anchor Books.
This one was a bit of a mind bender for me, given my totally inadequate education in physics and topology. But what wonderfully big ideas, thinking about the size and topology of the universe and how such things can be explored.
planets Sobel, D. (2005). The Planets. New York: Viking.

When we finished an earlier book, my husband had all sorts of questions about planets and the formation of our solar system, and this book has many answers. It progresses systematically from the genesis of the sun out to the Kuiper belt and Pluto’s ambiguous status. For each planet, it explains what is known and how we know what we know.

canon Angier, N. (2008). The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science.. New York: Mariner Books.

This was a real tongue twister to read out loud, since the author was trying both to inform and to entertain. Many very witty passages, but also a general exploration of the state of knowledge in physics, chemistry, geology, evolutionary biology, molecular biology, and astronomy. This book touched a lot of things we had already encountered, but introduced new ones. A new idea for me: the origin of the universe in the Big Bang is estimated at 13.5 billion years ago. Now I understand better news stories about how far back we can see.

Fortey, R. (2005). Earth: An Intimate History. New York: Vintage Press.
Using descriptions of rocks and geological history from Hawaii, Sicily, Newfoundland, Scotland, and several places around the globe, the author discusses the evolution of plate techtonics theory — as well as the rise and fall of oceans and continents. Bell Island off the west coast of Newfoundland is more similar to Wales in terms of fossils and rocks than it is to the east coast of Newfoundland. Lovely to think about how that can be.
chimps Fouts, R. & Mills, S. T. (1998). Next of Kin: My Conversations with Chimpanzees. Harper Paperbacks.

Can chimpanzees learn language, if we use a gestural language like American Sign Language instead of a vocal language? Roger Fouts taught chimpanzee Washoe several hundred words in ASL that she combined in novel ways. She taught ASL to her adopted infant chimp, Loulis, who was not exposed to human signing, thus demonstrating that “language acquisition is based on learning skills we share with chimpanzees.” Very interesting exploration of language acquisition, and another chip away at our sense of human uniqueness.

August 2009 – time to add a few more books to the list.

Not quite as much fun as the book on the beginning of earth, perhaps because we weren’t crazy about the imaginary travels at the beginning and end of each chapter. But it was interesting to read again about multiverses and inflation. May 2012

Ferreira, Pedro (2006). The State of the Universe: A Primer in Modern Cosmology. Phoenix Paperback.

Dark matter, dark energy, cosmic microwave background, primordial sound, age of the universe and how we know. Another view of the topology of the universe to add to Janna Levin’s. Strange and wonderful stuff.

Fagan, Brian (1995). Time Detectives: How Archaeologist Use Technology to Recapture the Past. New York: Simon & Schuster.

How do we learn about humans in prehistoric times? How do we interpret the clues left behind? In the words of archaelogist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, “You dug it up boy. Make sure you describe it because you can’t undo your deed.”

McPhee, J. (2000). Annals of the Former World. Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux.

Exploring the geology of the United States through roadcuts along I80 from New Jersey to San Francisco. Plate tectonics, glaciation, ophiolites (sections of the ocean floor emplaced on land). This book was 20+ years in the writing – some of it published in articles along the way. The author traveled with 5 geologists and includes both his observations about their lives as geologists and their observations about what they saw in his presence.

Greene, Brian (2007). The Best American Science and Nature Writing: 2006. New York: Houghton Mifflin
Gaarder, Jostein (1991). Sophies World. New York: Berkeley Books. Read October-November 2011
Ferguson, Niall (2008). The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. Penguin Books. Read December 2011.
Meyer, A. (2005). The DNA Detectives: How the double helix is solving puzzles of the past. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press. Read December 2011.
Laubichler, M. & Maienschein, J. (2007). From Embryology to Evo-Devo: A History of Developmental Evolution. MIT Press.

This was a hard slog because the focus was more on the history — who did what when and why — than on the science of evo-devo, which is what really interests us.
Read January 2012
Seife, C. (2003). Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe. Viking.
This was pretty interesting, though occasionally he wrote in journalistic hyperbole. But we kept wishing we could get an update about the things he projected would occur around 2010!

Read Jan-Feb 2012

Salsburg, D. (2001). The lady tasting tea: How statistics revolutionized science in the twentieth century. Henry Holt and Company.
This was a delight to read.
Read March-April 2012.
Reader, J. (2011). Missing Links: In search of human origins. Oxford University Press.

This was another delight to read — beautifully illustrated with photographs of fossils and people who discovered them and the places where they were discovered, detailed discussions of the preconceptions and reasoning of the major contributors — even a lengthy discussion of the Piltdown man and the remaining mystery around it (whodunit?)

Read March 2012

Stewart, I. (2012). In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World. New York: Basic Books.

At first, we weren’t sure how interesting this book would be to my husband, who has a BS in Mathematics. I knew it would be interesting to me, being a member of C. P. Snow’s other culture who can’t (always) remember the second law of thermodynamics. Yet each chapter has something in it that neither of us knew. Ranging from the history to the impact for each of the 17 equations. A good read.

April 2012

Pendergrast, M. (2003). Mirror Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection. New York: Perseus Group.
Hazen, R. (2012). The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet. Viking.

This was a wonderful exploration of many things we didn’t know about the genesis of the earth. Yes, we knew that the earth didn’t have a highly oxygenated atmosphere until after photosynthesis, but we gained a much clearer picture of the formation of the moon (from a collision with another planetoid, most of which was absorbed by the earth but also causing a big blob of earth-stuff to go flying off), the formation of first a basalt crust and then a granite crust, more ideas about the origins of life. Fun to read. May 2012.

Impey, C. (2012). How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe. W. W. Norton.
Firestein, S. (2012). Ignorance: How It Drives Science. Oxford University Press.

An interesting, but somewhat repetitive discussion of the importance of ignorance — being aware of what you don’t know — on the conduct of science. Based on a class taught by Dr. Firestein at Columbia. We particularly enjoyed the 4 case histories. Finished June 4, 2012.

Zuk, M. (2007). Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites That Make Us Who We Are Harcourt, Inc.

Fun! Except when it’s gross. But mostly fun. Finished June 26, 2012.

Steinhardt, Paul J. & Turok, Neil (2007). Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang. Broadway Books.

Finished Spring 2012. An interesting alternative to the Big Bang→Stretch Away picture of the universe’s evolution.

epic of evolution Chaison, E. (2006). Epic of Evolution: Seven Ages of the Cosmos. New York: Columbia University Press
This is an interesting presentation of the history of the universe in terms of 7 evolutions: Particle, Galactic, Stellar, Planetary, Chemical, Biological, Cultural. This cuts a wide swath through science — including cosmology, chemistry, physics, biology, even anthropology and psychology. Interesting to have so much pulled together in one place. Finished November 2012.
hallucinations Sacks, O. (2012). Hallucinations. New York: Knopf.
We’ve enjoyed books written by Oliver Sacks before — from Musicophilia to Uncle Tungsten. This book carried a great many quotations from people experiencing various kinds of hallucinations. The focus was more on the experience, with just a few paragraphs discussing how the experiences were tied to neurological functioning. Finished Nov 2012.

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Filed under Curiosity, Reading Aloud, Science

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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