As promised in my Leon Project post, here is my list of 95 things to accomplish by my 65th birthday, which is approximately two and a half years away. The list was extraordinarily difficult to create. Others have told me they had trouble coming up with such a large list; for me the problem was to keep it from expanding exponentially. I am terribly intimidated by both the apparent ambitiousness of the list—which includes many projects that have languished on my To Do list for years, even decades—and by knowing that I've left out far more of what I want to do than I've included, not to mention the activities that make up most of everyday life. Many of the items on the list can be broken down into 95 items of their own. A few are simple; I put those in to keep myself encouraged, though unfortunately I had to take many of them out to pare the list to 95. When I think of the time and effort this list represents, and realize that it's but a sampling of what I want to accomplish, it's no wonder that "my work" fills my days and is never far from my thoughts. But, to claim a cliché from our old favorite General Electric ride at EPCOT (Horizons), If we can dream it, we can do it. At least I'm going to try. Certainly it's a lot more likely to happen than if I don't dare to dream it.
I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to categorize my list items. In the end, I shamelessly copied from Stephen Covey's To Live, To Learn, To Love, and To Leave a Legacy. Live gets the items related to everyday life and to health, including organization and exercise. Into the Love category I put spiritual exercises, anything for which I deem the primary purpose to be social (from watching movies to visiting friends to joining Twitter). Learn gets reading and other cultural activities, mental exercises, and language learning. My genealogy work goes into the Legacy category, along with Grandma's Treasure Chest and other educational materials creation, and photo/audio/video work. Some items could easily go into more than one category, but I made myself stop stressing about that: this is a tool, not a master, and it doesn't need to be perfect. It just needs to be.
I look forward to collaborating with Sarah in mutual support and encouragement. And to having a list of accomplishments as a 65th birthday present for my inner Leon.
Here's is the original list. If anyone wants to follow my progress, there's a link to the Google Sheet on the sidebar (under Links/Personal). (More)
It takes a rich, greedy capitalist to grind the poor into the dust, right? Certainly over the years many have done a very good job of that. Our recent viewing of the documentary, Queen Victoria's Empire, drove home the disastrous consequences of both imperialism in Africa and the Industrial Revolution back home in Britain.
However, the same video also revealed the devastation that can be wrought by someone with good intentions, even against his will (e.g. David Livingstone), and especially when combined with the above-mentioned greed (e.g. Cecil Rhodes).
Which brings me to the point. I cannot count the hours and hours of struggle Porter has put into getting us health insurance in these post-retirement times. Without a doubt, I am personally grateful for the choices the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) offers us, as much as I philosophically fear its negative consequences. Some of those negative consequences are personal, too: e.g. the colonoscopies that had been covered by our insurance in the past no longer qualify for coverage because of new rules instituted by the ACA. And we can't afford to get sick until after the end of January, because the "helpful" phone contact assigned us the wrong Primary Care Provider, and the fix won't go into effect till February 1. However, I admit to no longer hoping for repeal of the ACA, because the damage has been done. Too many people, including us, are now dependent on it. I doubt we can put the genie back in the bottle.
While I freely acknowledge that the passage of the ACA had at its heart noble ideals and good intentions, I'm not convinced it's really helping the poor, or at least not as much as it's helping people who get rich off the needs of the poor. Porter, being retired, has the time to put into navigating the complex and exceedingly frustrating waters. He also has a degree in economics and a mind well-suited to financial calculations. Which convinces me that the truly impoverished will (1) throw up their hands and settle for a much less than optimal health care plan, or (2) fall prey to those who would profit from doing the paperwork for them, while charging inordinate fees and still coming up with a less than optimal plan.
Nonetheless, the purpose of this post is neither to start a political discussion nor to depress you. It's to honor my husband, for whom Sunday's Animal Crackers comic could have been created:
No doubt about it: I married the right man.
Leon? Who or what is Leon?
Leon was my boss a few eons ago, back at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He was a good boss, but one thing about him frustrated me. Day after day I'd work steadily, creating algorithms and developing computer programs for our laboratory. To all appearances, this did not impress him; it was simply what he was paying me to do. What made him light up with pleasure and praise, however, was when I'd take the extra time to create a computer display related to my work. Although I learned to produce these displays periodically, mostly to please him, it drove me crazy that I was being recognized for the "flash," and not for the bulk of the work, the more important work, that was behind it. However much he might have trusted me to do good work (he chose to hire me, after all), he also needed the occasional, tangible reminder that I was worthy of his trust. As it turned out, so did I.
Fast forward to every homemaker's frustration, every mother's least favorite question: What do you do all day? We know how long and how hard we work, and how critically important our labors are. All too often, however, the people we meet at parties, our friends in paid employment, and even those closest to us seem sincerely puzzled as to why our jobs take up so much time. That is frustrating to no end, but in fact it's true of most professions. No one from the outside can truly appreciate what it takes to do another's job, particularly since the hallmark of the best in a profession is the ability to make the work look easy.
I've discovered over time that Leon was not alone in his need for tangible measures of the value of our work. Maybe there's no purpose in sharing the details with people we meet at parties, but bosses, co-workers, spouses, fellow-strugglers, and even (no, especially) we ourselves need occasional reassurance that we are making progress. We are all Leon.
Why, then, do some of us find it so difficult to provide measurable documentation of our work? I've come up with a few suggestions, based on my own experience and on what I've learned from others.
- It takes time away from more important work. Who needs to add yet another camel-straw to the crushing burden of work undone versus sand slipping through the hourglass? As I learned in the computer biz, however, documentation is essential, however much it feels like a waste of precious time. Without documentation, others can't step in when we have to step back. What's more, putting what we do into words brings clarity to our own vision. If we don't know something well enough to explain it, we don't know it well enough.
- We don't like to make our work public until it's in final form. This is perfectionism, and Don Aslett would not approve. In fact, he insists that telling others about our work while it's still in progress is a good way to get help. It's also a good way to get kibitzers and critics, however.
- Our goals have long paths and far horizons. How do you quantify a happy child? A valued relationship? Growth and development? How can we help people appreciate our work without making their eyes glaze over? A journalist can point on a regular basis to articles published, a doctor to patients cured, and a trash collector to clean streets, but in many professions success, when it comes, is preceded by thousands of failed experiments, research lines that didn't pan out, apparently fruitless counseling sessions, and draft pages ripped from typewriters, crumpled and tossed away. It's all part of the process, but not conducive to marking milestones and erecting ebenezers ("hither by Thy help I'm come"). The employed can at least point to a paycheck, but unpaid work lacks even that.
- We're not "announcers" by nature. Some people like to chat about all the details of their lives, no matter how intimate or trivial. These are good people to have around, as they take the greater share of the conversation burden. But some of us don't see the point of such loquaciousness, or are simply uncomfortable with the idea. This is another good reason for developing a documentation strategy: we take control over what and how we share.
- We want to be trusted with our own work. We are not employees, and don't like the feeling that we are being supervised. As it turns out, however, this is not as significant a factor as I had once thought. We're not employees? Well, the self-employed have the hardest taskmaster of all, one who knows best all our weaknesses, struggles and failures. That boss needs the comfort of tangible markers more than anyone.
In light of these meditations, I've developed The Leon Project. Call it a New Year's resolution if you wish. I have hundreds of ongoing projects in various stages of completion, including not-yet-started and not-in-this-lifetime (genealogy is never finished!). This year I'm making an effort to document where I am, what I'm doing, and where I want to go, with hopes of developing a better road map, complete with milestones to which I can look back and say, "thus far have I come."
A large part of this effort will involve partnering with my sister-in-law in her "101 Things in 1001 Days" project. I have approximately two and a half years until my 65th birthday, which falls a bit short of 1001 days, so I'm calling my version, "95 by 65." (That will become a link when I publish its own post.) She started her project last year, but has graciously adjusted her schedule so that we both will finish on my 65th birthday. We are hoping that by doing our projects together we can encourage each other to keep going and reach our goals—which range from the trivial to the highly ambitious.
I've created two new post categories, The Leon Project and 95 by 65, in expectation of keeping some of the anticipated documentation here. I look forward to the adventure with both enthusiasm and trepidation.
Aside: This is not the first Leon Project post I have written. A few days ago the first one was nearly ready to post, but somehow overnight the bulk of the long essay disappeared. (Note to self: never assume that something you thought you saved actually succeeded in that process.) It took a while before I got to the point of being able to rewrite, and of course the two are quite different. Which is better we'll never know. This one, at least, has made it to the finish line.
Thanks to Katie of Peace on Birth, I bring a simple smile to your day. This is especially for those dear to us who are expecting their fourth child and live in a two-bedroom apartment, and for those who passed the family-of-six point quite a while ago. :) He's a little too hard on fathers, but you can tell he doesn't really mean it, just poking fun at himself to make a point. I'd never heard of Jim Gaffigan, but that's a name I'll be alert to from now on. There are some things he gets that few commedians do. I do wish he'd stop with the singular use of "they," however. I mean, he's talking about mothers. I think he could use "she" without excluding anyone.
But pleasantly so. After all, it's a sunny 39 degrees. In contrast, my weather stickers report the following:
- Downingtown, PA: 7 degrees
- Emmen, Switzerland: 8 degrees (6 hours later in the day)
- Granby, CT: 1 degree
- Old Saybrook, CT: 1 degree
- Salem, CT: 1 degree
and the winner is...
- Hillsboro, NH: -10 degrees!
You'd be shocked at the number of people who think our daughter and her family live in Sweden. Just as homeschoolers know that they will inevitably and repeatedly be asked the S Question ("But what about socialization?"), the Swiss know that much of the world will always think they live in the land of IKEA, ABBA, and free health care. Thus I was not surprised to see the following in an article on the Cooking Light website.
First Up: You'll love this Rösti Casserole with Baked Eggs. We have whittled down the calories in this traditional Swedish dish and added our own spin with Greek yogurt and artisan spices. This dish embodies the alluring qualities you'd expect from rösti—shredded potatoes that are cooked until browned and crisp on the edges. Serve with a colorful mixed greens salad.
At least the Swiss won't have to be annoyed at the alterations to their traditional dish—they can blame it on the Swedes.
The two best things about Geneva, Florida may be our friend Richard and the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band, but thanks to Jon I've discovered a third: Stephen Jepson. Take time to watch this Growing Bolder video. It's less than eight minutes long and will show you why I'm enthusiastic about this 73-year-old man's ideas.
I'm looking forward to exploring his Never Leave the Playground website. After watching the Growing Bolder interview, my only negative reaction was that keeping so mentally and physically fit takes up so much of his time he can't possibly fit in anything else, and few people can (or would want to) live that way. But clearly that's not true—he's an artist, an inventor, and a motivational speaker—and his website promises you can begin with easy baby steps.
I wonder if we've passed him among the spectators at our Independence Day parades. Nah, he'd more likely be in the parade himself. But I'll keep my eye out this year for someone juggling on a skateboard.
Legally Kidnapped: The Case Against Child Protective Services by Carlos Morales (Amazon Digital Services, 2014)
Legally Kidnapped is probably good for any parent to read who either (1) has childrearing philosophies and/or practices that differ at all from the current norm, or (2) thinks they might at some point tick off a family member, friend, or neighbor. There are frightening abuses taking place under the authority of Child Protective Services (name varies by state), where vulnerable children are ripped away from their families for days, months, or years, and for no reason other than ignorance and reasonable philosophical differences. The author says, and I believe him, that "children are much more likely to be kidnapped by State workers than by strangers."
It happened here just a few months ago, basically because the mother was a vegan. A doctor friend in New York told me (without names, of course) of testifying in favor of a family whose children had been taken from them: the excuse was an infected cut, but he said the real reason was the animosity of the social worker to the family's religion. And it's not just in the United States: Germany and Sweden have separated children from their families simply because they were being educated at home. It is a problem, and Carlos Morales, a former CPS agent who knows the system from the inside, offers some helpful information to educate, inform, and assist parents who might find themselves at risk. Some of the most important: record (preferably video) all encounters and interviews, never let your children be interviewed alone, always be calm and polite.
That's the good news. Sadly, I can't really recommend the book. The author, perhaps driven by guilt because of his former complicity, is too strident and extreme. He could have used some of his own advice about being calm and polite. Also, the book is replete with basic punctuation and typographical errors, which rightly or not steal credibility from its message.
Still, if anyone wants to glean what is good, it's short (95 pages), the price is reasonable ($2.99 Kindle price on Amazon, and I got it free when they were running a special), and Amazon tells me that I can lend my Kindle copy out one time for 14 days at no charge.
I hope you all had a very merry Christmas. Ours began with a live cello carol concert and included the opportunity to serve Christmas dinner at the community kitchen where my nephew volunteers. Although the church was packed, there were actually more hands than work to do, so after a while Porter and I found ourselves part of the entertainment: singing Christmas carols for an appreciative audience. That was great fun, though pehaps a litte too much of a workout for my throat. Now we're enjoying the peace and rest of a Christmas evening at home.
But on to the business at hand.
I may have to amend this if I finish another book before the end of the year, but since I made my 52-book goal and have lots of other things going on this week, I'm going to go ahead and publish my 2014 reading list post now.
It's amazing that I can read at a pace of a book a week and still make so little progress on the shelves and shelves of unread books lining our walls. Some are gifts, some are books I bought because they looked promising, and most are from the many boxes of books I brought here when my father moved out of his large home into a small apartment. All of the books are ones I want to read, eventually. But a book a week is only 52 books read in a year, and what with all the new (to me) interesting books that come to my attention, plus books that are so good I want to reread them on a regular basis, the "unread" stack is growing rather than diminishing. Yet I keep on keeping on.
One particular feature of 2014 was the beginning of my determination to read all of the books written by Scottish author George MacDonald, in chronological order of their publication. This is an ongoing project, as there are nearly 50 books on that list. I didn't make this decision until April, which resulted in my reading a one of the books twice—once early in the year, and once when it came up in its chronological ranking. I have no problem with that.
I own beautiful hardcover copies of all these books, a wonderful gift from my father, collected over many years. I would prefer to be reading them book-in-hand, with my family all reading around me, enjoying a toasty fire in the fireplace or cool back-porch breezes. But in reality, this year I have read most of the MacDonald books on my Kindle (or the Kindle app on my phone), in spare minutes snatched here and there from a busy life, or in the few minutes between crawling into bed and falling asleep. George MacDonald's books are public domain and thus free on the Kindle, and are very good material with which to end the day on an uplifting note. This also liberates other time for reading books that I only have in physical form.
Here's the list from 2014, sorted alphabetically. A chronological listing, with rankings, warnings, and review links, is here. I enjoyed most of the books, and regret none. Titles in bold I found particularly worthwhile.
- 2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut
- Adela Cathcart by George MacDonald
- Alec Forbes of Howglen by George MacDonald
- Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood by George MacDonald
- At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald (read twice)
- The Blue Ghost Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #15 by John Blaine
- The Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding
- The Caves of Fear: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #8 by John Blaine
- David Elginbrod by George MacDonald
- The Egyptian Cat Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #16 by John Blaine
- The Flaming Mountain: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #17 by John Blaine
- The Flying Stingaree: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #18 by John Blaine
- The Golden Skull: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #10 by John Blaine
- Guild Court by George MacDonald
- Handel's Messiah: Comfort for God's People by Calvin R. Stapert, audio book read by James Adams
- Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
- Life of Fred: Australia by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Cats by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Dogs by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Edgewood by Stanley F. Schmidt
- Life of Fred: Farming by Stanley F. Schmidt (all the Life of Fred books are worthwhile, but I particularly enjoyed Edgewood and Farming)
- The Life of Our Lord by Charles Dickens
- The Locust Effect by Gary A. Huagen and Victor Boutros
- Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robingson
- The Miracles of Our Lord by George MacDonald
- The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
- Not Exactly Normal by Devin Brown
- The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann
- Phantastes by George MacDonald
- The Pirates of Shan: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #14 by John Blaine
- The Portent and Other Stories by George MacDonald
- The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
- Ranald Bannerman's Boyhood by George MacDonald
- Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
- The Scarlet Lake Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #13 by John Blaine
- The Seaboard Parish by George MacDonald
- The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
- The Shadow Lamp by Stephen R. Lawhead
- The Silent Swan by Lex Keating
- Smuggler's Reef: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #7 by John Blaine
- Something Other than God by Jennifer Fulwiler
- Sometimes God Has a Kid's Face by Sister Mary Rose McGeady
- Station X: Decoding Nazi Secrets by Michael Smith
- Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
- Unspoken Sermons Volume I by George MacDonald
- The Vicar's Daughter by George MacDonald
- The Wailing Octopus: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #11 by John Blaine
- Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey (Wool 1 - Wool 5)
- Your Life Calling by Jane Pauley
Onward to next year!
I'll say more later about the extraordinary television show NCIS, which has captivated me in recent months, but can't wait for a major review to comment on yesterday's show, House Rules. This is the 12th season of NCIS, so there have been many, many episodes, and with the exception of a couple of this season's, we've seen them all. House Rules ranks as one of the all-time most beautiful. It was their Christmas show, and I don't believe I've ever seen a show that captured the basics of the holiday more effectively, efficiently, and beautifully. It's all there: law, grace, repentance, redemption, fatherly love. It's really an amazing show. The only thing that keeps me from unequivocally recommending it is that I fear that much of the effect would be lost on those who are not long-time viewers. The flashbacks and tie-ins to previous shows that are part of what makes it so powerful would seem disjointed and confusing to those without the proper background.
But I'm in awe of the writers and actors who made it happen, and glad we took time out of a busy holiday schedule to experience it.
The Battle of Kings Mountain was, like that of nearby Cowpens, decisive in turning the tide of the American Revolution in the South. Not that I was ever taught that in any history class in school, where local prejudice made the Battle of Saratoga the only "turning point of the American Revolution." But better half a century late than never: I know it now, and we visited both Kings Mountain and Cowpens on one of South Carolina's most beautiful ever November days.
Another point of major importance that I never knew: in the South, the Revolution was actually a civil war. Having been brought up in the Northeast, I never thought of Tories as being all that important: the Revolution was a battle between patriotic Americans and their nasty British overlords. But in this part of the land the fight was brother against brother, or at least neighbor against neighbor, with loyalties somewhat fluid, and more about personal freedom than politics and breakfast beverages. The British did their best to encourage the Loyalist faction (Tories) against the Patriots (Whigs), much as we keep trying to do in other countries today. They'd hoped to get the Americans to do most of the dirty work for them, remaining themselves in more of a leadership and advisory position. (Not much has changed in 234 years.) At Kings Mountain, the officer in charge of recruiting and leading the Loyalists was Patrick Ferguson. (More)
I was making Thanksgiving candy in the kitchen. Porter was flipping channels in the family room. He settled on a documentary talking about someone named Birdseye who for reasons I didn't catch took his family to live in the frozen wilderness of Labrador. "I wonder if he's the guy behind Birdseye frozen food," he mused.
I am the family looker-upper. I didn't ask for the job, but my family quickly learned that asking Mom was better than using the dictionary or the encyclopedia, because I couldn't rest till I knew the answer. So if they lack dictionary skills, it's my fault. I also drive people nuts: we'll be in the middle of playing a game and someone will casually comment, "I wonder how high the Aswan Dam is," and you guessed it, much to their consternation I leave the game and look up the answer. (The Internet has only made my compulsion easier to indulge in.) It turns out they aren't really curious enough to want to interrupt the game. To which I reply, if you don't want to know, why ask!
So, Porter will flip through channels, and when I ask what he's watching, he'll reply, "I have no idea." At that point I have to grab my phone and check the TV listings, because even though I have no interest in the show, I can't stand not knowing the answer. In this case, I determined that the show was How We Got to Now: Cold, and Porter's hunch was good: the Labrador traveller was indeed Clarence Birdseye, who (eventually) brought us the world of frozen food.
The answer found, I went back to my fudge—only to be drawn away again by a subsequent part of the show: the invention of air conditioning. This I actually sat down and watched, because Porter is not the only one with good hunches: I doubted they would say much about Willis Carrier without interviewing the author of Weathermakers to the World. Sure enough, I hadn't watched for long before I was able to turn to Porter and remark, "You know Eric who sometimes comments on my blog? That's him." (Ungrammatical, I know.)
Anyway, that was fun.
You may know the story, but still I dare you to watch this with a dry eye. It's well done, and worth watching the extras at the end, too. (H/T Diana)
I've written about Porter's Uncle Harry here before, but this article from the Cypress Cemetery website just came to my attention, so it seems appropriate to post it for family members this Veterans Day.
One veteran in particular was noted enough so as to be commemorated with a park and a National Honor Roll Memorial Tree, the large oak located in the northern part of the Annex. His name was Harry Gilbert Faulk and of the 28 veterans in Cypress who fought in World War I, he was the only Saybrook resident actually killed in action - in France on July 25, 1918 at 20 years of age. Company C of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, to which Harry was attached, was heavily shelled while sleeping on the edge of some woods north of Chateau Thierry on the morning of the 25th which resulted in significant casualties. Harry, who was mortally wounded, was one of the casualties.
It's a good article, though it implies that the store was owned by Harry's parents, and Porter's sure it belonged to Harry's brother, Fred. It was always referred to as "Uncle Fred's store." Any family members remember differently?
Harry was the youngest of six children of Frederick Olaf and Hilma Justina Faulk, who were both born in Sweden. The Faulks were well known in Old Saybrook and on Saybrook Point in part because they owned a small store at the corner of Bridge Street and College Street that also included a post office (photo at left). The location is now occupied by one of the condominium buildings of the Saybrook Point Hotel complex. One can imagine that young Harry spent a lot of time at the family store.
Happy Veterans Day to all, and thanks to all who who serve today or have served in the past.