What the Monarch Butterfly and My Hairdresser Taught Me

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Strange to think I can learn similar lessons from two such seemingly disparate sources, but if all things on earth are connected then universal wisdom is everywhere. The question is, are we in the right frame of mind to recognize it?

I was at the hairdresser’s telling my stylist how difficult it is to tame my wavy hair. It is fairly smooth and manageable in winter, but as the warmth and humidity increase, so does the frizz!

I asked how I can manage my hair in summer so it will do what I want. Her answer was, “You don’t manage your hair, it manages you.”  She explained that the best strategy is to let the hair take the lead, and then work with it to create a style I like.  

What a great strategy for life. We think we must always be steering the ship (our life), and if it veers away from the intended course as life always does, we think we must work even harder to correct it.

In reality, life is always leading the way, no matter how hard we steer. That is not to say we can’t have a plan and generally try to aim for it. I am not advocating jumping off the ship and being a jellyfish floating in the ocean, letting the waves decide where we land.

I can plan to style my hair in a certain way, but I know I will have to meet it halfway and accept what my hair wants to do. After all, my hair grew without my telling it to, it probably had a plan of its own long before I did.

  And what about the monarch butterfly? Soon after my haircut, I turned on public television to watch a show on the amazing annual migration of the monarch butterfly.

This little creature, which transforms from a caterpillar into something completely different with wings, knows immediately how to travel thousands of miles south to certain destinations.

According to the National Zoo’s website, monarchs “travel up to 3,000 miles in their migration — monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains make their way to central Mexico and those west of the Rockies fly to the California coast. These bright orange-and-black butterflies migrate farther than any other butterfly.” As they return north in the spring, the monarchs mate and lay eggs on milkweed.

This next part greatly interests me: The TV show said that monarchs are not designed well for such a long flight; they must use a lot of energy to flap their wings, traveling up to 80 miles a day. They must stop for nectar whenever they can. They must rest often, and they don’t travel when it rains, or when it’s too hot or too cold. They warm themselves by landing on trees. And they still complete this amazing journey.  

What if we conducted our life’s journey that way? How many of us just keep going even when we are tired, failing to rest and recharge? How often does bad timing get in the way of good intentions, trying to rush something or someone or oneself to accomplish something when what is needed most is something to drink or a good night’s sleep?

If the monarch can do this and still fly 3,000 miles, just think of the possibilities for us.  

Z Always Follows Y– Guaranteed

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There is a well-worn saying that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes. We laugh at the uncomfortable fact that we can plan all we want, but the outcome is often very different from what we expect or intend.

Maybe the certainty that the alphabet doesn’t change, that  2+2=4, and even that death and taxes are inevitable gives us a kind of comfort, that there are some predictable outcomes in life.

But I’d like to go further and ask if we can think about guaranteed outcomes in life the way we do with our ABCs and math facts.

Maybe we can assume that all our actions have some predictable results, and if we learn what those are we can exercise more control over our life and happiness.

Ridiculous of course, to expect a guarantee from anything we do, but hear me out. Say you have some free time, an hour or two. Do you clean the house? Go shopping? Write in your blog? Look at the results of each action.

Cleaning has a guaranteed result, and it can be very satisfying. But it has to be done again and again, so I never feel I am moving forward.  Also, it is energy intensive, and I look at time and energy as precious resources to be carefully invested.

Clothes shopping has no guaranteed results unless you simply love the activity. If I go clothes shopping and come home empty handed I consider it time and energy wasted.  

Writing in my blog, on the other hand, always has a guaranteed result. It doesn’t have to be great writing, but every effort is movement and I learn from it. I enjoy the process, the feedback, and the fact that I can say I posted something every day for a month.

I have appreciated the A to Z challenge for many things. The discipline I needed to blog nearly every day; connecting with other bloggers, many of whom I hope to keep “visiting” and exchanging comments with; and the confidence I have gained by exposing my writing efforts to the world. Thanks to all who participated, and to the people who arranged the A to Z experience. Go Forth and Blog!

Liebster Award!

I have been honored by receiving a Liebster Award. A fellow blogger was kind enough to nominate me, and to research all the details and obligations associated with this award, which can be found at http://merakigeek.wordpress.com/.

Here are the answers to my Liebster Award questions:

1. What is your favorite smell?
A. Wow, there are many. I have a fetish for nice-smelling soaps: lavender, lemongrass,

2. If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor? Why?
A. I am going to pick Jane Goodall. She has inspired me since I was in elementary school. She made her own way with calm focus and dedication.

3. Name one word to describe you.
Persistent.

4. What song is stuck in your head right now (or what was the last song that was stuck in your head)?
A. Hold On To The One by Slightly Stoopid.

5. When was the last time you were nervous? Why?
A. Starting this blog and showing everyone my writing efforts made me nervous. It shows my good and bad ideas, imperfection.

6. What top 3 characteristics would your ideal boss have?
A. Flexibility, communication, kindness. Communication is big, many smart people don’t know how to do it.

7. What’s something you hate doing? Why?
A. Household chores, commuting. Because I want to be doing something more interesting with my time!

8. Name a movie or book whose main character and/or storyline represents you or a time in your life.
A. I just read The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. The story reminds me of my family’s experience here as new immigrants in the 1970s.

9. Which store would you choose for a shopping spree?
A. Tough one! I am a budget shopper, so Kohl’s or JC Penney for clothes. Barnes & Noble for other fun stuff.

10. If you had to change your username/url to something completely not yourself, what would it be?
A. Hermit

11. How do you know when something/someone is totally right for you?
A. It feels easy and effortless, nothing has to be forced.

You Had Better Avoid Internet Explorer

(zdnet.com) “Governments urge Internet Explorer users to switch browsers until fix found Summary: Switch to Chrome or Firefox until Microsoft fixes the security flaw affecting all versions of Internet Explorer.”  

Government security teams in the US, UK, and Sweden are telling users of Microsoft Windows to use Google Chrome or Firefox to browse the web until Microsoft fixes the flaw found in all versions of Internet Explorer.  

Microsoft has confirmed that hackers have successfully exploited the flaw affecting IE versions 6 to 11, by using a Flash file to attack websites. The flaw allows hackers to gain the same rights as the original user.  

When Microsoft delivers the next patch to update Windows and eliminate the flaw, Windows XP will be excluded, even though, according to cnet.com, it still runs on 28% of existing personal computers, or about 500 million people.  

Launched in 2001, Windows XP (named for “eXPerience”) became the most popular operating system ever, with more than 800m users. It was replaced by Windows Vista in 2007, Windows 7 in 2009 and Windows 8 in 2012.

Unfortunately, as user-friendly as XP was it was not strong on security, and granted its users full privileges to adjust the software, making it easier for hackers to access.  

On its website, Microsoft tells XP users “With support ending, we’re here to make your next step easy.” It gives two choices, the first is to “upgrade your Windows XP machine to the new Windows for $199.” and the second, to “Purchase a new Windows PC starting at $249.”  

To try to mitigate these figures, it goes on to say, “New Windows PCs are 37% less expensive than Windows XP computers in 2002. And with built in security, your PC will be more secure.”  

That’s fine for Microsoft to say, but what if some users are not able to upgrade their systems?

According to zdnet.com, “One option XP users have to mitigate the threat is by unregistering the VGX.DLL file, according to security firm Sophos.”  

Other alternatives for XP users offered by businessinsider.com:   “Users happy to let the cloud manage their computing affairs can install Chrome OS on an old computer and run everything from within a browser.”

“Others may opt instead for a free copy of Linux Mint with its Cinnamon interface, and be able to do anything they could with Windows, but without the fear of being infected.”

 

Untangling Electronics

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You don’t have to be very old to reminisce about the days before modern technology. My 17 year old son was born before the DVD player, and when the internet was just emerging. My office got email just before he was born, and voicemail soon after. I didn’t have a smartphone until just a couple of years ago. The changes have come so fast, that I struggle to keep up, and as a result have found myself in a home full of gadgets, some new and some old but going strong. Recently I took stock of what we have at home and came up with the following:

Movie Players-11: There are 4 TVs in our house, 2 laptops that play DVDs, 2 smartphones, 1 Ipod, and 1 DVD player. Almost forgot, my son has an X-box, which plays movies.That means in a home with three people, we have 11 devices on which we can watch a movie.

Music Players and Radios-14: I have just started to get into digital music, as my son introduced me to Pandora. We have 2 CD boomboxes with radio, plus I have a CD player on the radio alarm clock at my bedside. We have an Ipod and two smartphones which play music. The cassette player, an older and poorer cousin, still has a place in my home–I have an old stereo turntable from my college days with a built-in radio, cassette player and giant speakers; and my son’s baby cassette player with red and blue buttons from when he was two that still works. We have a radio and CD player in both cars, and a waterproof shower radio in the bathroom. I had another cheap radio that only got reception during a full moon, so I dispensed with this and instead picked up a wind-up solar-powered radio, just because it is cool.

Telephones-9: We now have 9 telephones. Three are Skype capabilities on each of our three laptops; then we have 1 landline, and 2 cordless phones; and each of us has a cell phone.

Mapping-7: We have a GPS in each car and two smartphones that map, plus Google maps is available on each computer. We also have two old-fashioned map books that sit idle in our cars, wondering when someone will notice them.

Cameras-8: Three Skype cameras, 1 digital camera which takes videos (I won’t count the old one I foolishly bought on Craig’s List for $40); 1 film camera, which I hardly use now but I have for old times sake; and 1 camera on each of our cell phones=3 more, that’s 8 cameras.

Video cameras-7: Two of our cell phones have video capability and we also have an old fashioned VHS movie camera, plus Skype has the capability of recording video, and so does the Ipod.

Book Readers-5: We do not own book readers, but books can be downloaded and read via mobile and on the computer.

What concerns me about this technology explosion, observed in just one household but manifested in thousands of homes worldwide, is how complicated life has become. While I am the first to name the mobile phone, GPS, and Internet in the top 10 inventions I am most thankful for, it is clear the gadgets are still in the developmental stage, and so many of them overlap now I don’t know how to choose one. Do I want a camera on my phone, or a phone on my tablet? Shall I read using a reader, my phone, or my Ipad? Do I watch Netflix, Comcast on Demand, regular TV, or a DVD? Do I play the DVD on the DVD player or my laptop? And most importantly, where did I put the chargers for all these things??

My parents never bought something new as long as they could repair what they had. Now, that is no longer an option with repair prices often almost as high as buying a new piece of equipment. I wonder how much of our electronics is ending up in landfills. With so much new technology and people constantly upgrading phones, cameras, computers, and TVs, the old equipment has to go somewhere.

Another point about this stuff is that it is expensive. My son turned 13 without owning a video game system–unheard of, if you listened to him–so I went and dropped $250 to buy one. My mind wandered longingly to the days when I was excited by getting a slinky to “walk” down a flight of stairs, and when I recorded on cassette tapes for free instead of paying for each download as we do now. Oh, and the video game systems require buying video games, some of which cost upwards of $50, and accessories.

There is also the space requirement for monitors, cords, printers, digital boxes, and modems–my basement family room has a spiderweb of cords stuffed in the corner with each one attached to something that can’t be unplugged or we lose our connection to everything. The costs of replacing ink cartridges, paying for monthly cable, upgrading computers, software, and mobiles are in total a significant amount of money. There seem to be so many requirements, the back-up disks, the external hard drive to back your files up on (maybe it will all be in the cloud one day?). No wonder I remember my Dad having time to sit and read the paper while my Mom gardened. They weren’t having to delete excess emails or back up their hard drives! 

 When I watch older TV shows from 20-plus years ago, the characters seem so uncluttered without wires and earpieces, so peaceful in the absence of electronics. Imagine a retro rewrite where the Brady Bunch has to fit 8 computers into their already crowded home, and the kids argue about who gets to use the Ipad after school or who has a mobile phone. I can see it now, a whole episode devoted to this topic, which ends with the father devising a signup method which the kids proceed to violate, and they start bribing each other for extended use. Mom as usual would smile and shake her head with a characteristic “Oh, Mike!” and head to the kitchen where Alice is watching a cooking show on a 19-inch flat screen HDTV mounted on the wall near the refrigerator. It’s a sure hit!

 

 

Trying This Out

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Laurie parked in front of the Reading Library and did the 10 minute walk to the train. It cleared her head after the regular morning rush to drive her daughter Isabella to school when she got up too late to catch the bus. Laurie just made it to her 7:30 am train after squeezing into the last space in the adjacent lot. She usually enjoyed the half-hour ride into Boston, ichecking her email on her tablet or closing her eyes to doze. This morning, she felt tense. The previous day’s train conversation still haunted her. The two men, one in a blue denim cap, had been talking in low voices, and she had caught some of the conversation. At first she hadn’t paid attention to their murmuring, but then she heard, “remember to wear your piece.”

Laurie had frozen, and concentrated hard to hear more. She had read enough crime novels to know that “piece” meant. She quickly Googled it just to make sure, and got urbandictionary.com: ” 1. A Gun, knife, or other weapon. 2. Anything used for the smoking of various drugs, most commonly marijuana, most commonly a pipe.”

On the other hand, he could have been talking about a hairpiece. She had raised her tablet to look as if she was engrossed in the online New York Times. She tried to hear more, but the men suddenly seemed hushed, and looked around, almost peering over the back of the seat at Laurie.

This day, she sat in her usual train car, and was settling in to her tablet when she was surprised to see out the window the same two men. Once again one was wearing a blue denim cap. She noticed the other had curly black hair, thinning at the crown. She could have sworn they turned and eyed her through the window, and she saw the one with the cap murmur something to the one with the curly black hair.

Laurie was adjusting her headphones when she saw with a shock the same two men pass her seat and slide in to sit in front of her. Was this just a coincidence? Twice this week?

The whole ride in, Laurie couldn’t concentrate on anything but the men. They spoke in murmurs with voices much lower than before, and she kept wondering whether they had sat in front of her on purpose.

When the train arrived at North Station at 7:56 AM, Laurie lined up and filed out of the train and through the busy station that smelled of morning coffee.She headed for the Charles River Locks, and along at a brisk pace, in her pink pullover, grey skirt and sneakers.  This morning walk was how she loved to begin her day, and when she sometimes took the later train, she would hear the distant boom of the traditional cannon being fired near the USS Constitution at 9AM.

It was when she was walking the locks, on the metal walkway that swung so easily closed when the water was high, that Laurie saw the two men. She caught a glimpse of a denim blue cap, and startled, remembered that same cap she had seen on the train. They were ahead of her, but seemed to have stopped and were looking down into the water. Laurie slowed her walk, nervous. There were no other walkers around. The men didn’t budge, looking conspicuously down into the water. She hoped desperately they were fishing, but no gear was in sight, not even a piece of string. She started to turn around and thought about running back, but decided if she could make it past them that people were likely to be closer on the Charlestown side. She could have sworn they shifted closer together, and muttered to each other. She dropped down pretending to tie her sneaker, and in a split second rose up and dashed past the men, her footfalls thundering on the metal pathway. She nearly slipped on a wet spot but she thanked God silently that she had on her running shoes and they had good traction.

Laurie didn’t slow down until she got to the Charlestown Marriott, where there were people getting dropped off by cabs and walking over to see the Constitution.

Panting, Laurie slowed to a walk and looked behind her. Not a sign of the men. She kept walking, wondering if she had panicked for nothing. After all, there was no law against riding a train or walking the locks. She thought she had overheard a dangerous plot but it could have been a joke. Maybe they were rehearsing a play. This thought cheered her even as deep down she knew they didn’t look a bit like actors. A reality show maybe! She could be in one of those “What would you do?” shows and there could be a camera tailing her right now. Desperately thirsty now she stopped at Tedeschi’s, then remembered she needed cash as she saw the Bank of American vestibule, and rummaged in her purse for her bank card. Sliding it through the slot, she looked behind her again, scanning the street carefully, but she only saw a few people that appeared to be nursing students from Massachusetts General Hospital, and a van passed by with the words “Spaulding Shuttle” on the side. Relieved she yanked open the heavy door and as it closed behind her realized she was not alone.

Sorry! All About Apologies

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Apologies are fascinating. Think about it, you do something that upsets someone. You say something that is framed in such a way as to be called an apology. The person accepts what you say, and hard feelings are put to rest. How seemingly simple, yet profoundly important!

I got to wondering, how does this work? After all, the fact that some words are spoken doesn’t change what was done. If the neighbor accidentally chops down your favorite flowering bush thinking it is a weed, their apology will not bring your bush back (okay, they will probably pay to replace it too!)
What is it about repentance that satisfies us? Even a court of law will be kinder to someone who seems to truly regret his misdeed. A judge’s sentence will often reflect whether or not the perpetrator of the crime has shown remorse.

Apologies have been made by the Catholic Church at high levels, and on vitally important matters. Earlier this month, Pope Francis apologized for the child sex abuse committed by some priests, and promised a greater focus on child protection and punishing perpetrators. In 2000, Pope John Paul II apologized on behalf of the church for injustices committed against Jews, women, and minorities.

But not everyone is happy about apologies. Some might think an apology goes too far, and some that it does not go far enough. It might be given too late, or without sincerity. In an excellent article in Psychology Today by Alan Lazare, a psychiatrist who studies shame and humiliation, he says there is a right and wrong way to apologize.

“The botched apology–the apology intended but not delivered, or delivered but not accepted–has serious social consequences. Failed apologies can strain relationships beyond repair or, worse, create life-long grudges and bitter vengeance.”

“Timing can also doom an apology. For a minor offense such as interrupting someone during a presentation or accidentally spilling a drink all over a friend’s suit, if you don’t apologize right away, the offense becomes personal and grows in magnitude.”

So what makes a good apology?

First, you must acknowledge the violation and accept responsibility for it. You must name the offense–no generalities. You also have to show you understand the nature of your wrongdoing and its impact—‘I know I hurt you and I am so very sorry.’”

Another ingredient in a successful apology is an explanation for why you committed the offense in the first place. It is important to communicate that the behavior was not intended to offend. The silent message is that the offended person can now feel safe.

You also have to express genuine regret for your apology to be taken as sincere. Some sort of compensation might be offered to repair the damage.

According to Lazare, a common reasons for a failed apology is fear of shame and looking weak or guilty.

“Despite its importance, apologizing is antithetical to the ever-pervasive values of winning, success, and perfection. The successful apology requires empathy and the security and strength to admit fault, failure, and weakness. But we are so busy winning that we can’t concede our own mistakes.”

In fact, Lazare says, apology is an act of courage. It is “ a show of strength. It is an act of honesty because we admit we did wrong; an act of generosity, because it restores the self-concept of those we offended.”

“All dimensions of the apology require strength of character, including the conviction that, while we expose vulnerable parts of ourselves, we are still good people.”

Radon: The Invisible Pollutant

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When my husband and I were buying our first (still our present) home, we made a “what the heck” kind of decision to order a radon test. The results from the test in the finished basement came back at 14 picocuries of radon per liter (pCi/L) of air. According to our home inspector, the health effects of breathing that amount of radon is like “smoking a pack a day.”

The Reading Prong. Radon comes from the decay of uranium, an element found in rock and soil. Massachusetts is higher in radon than many states because of the so-called “Reading Prong,” referring to Reading, Pennsylvania, the town where radon was first identified.

Health risk. The link between radon and lung cancer has been well established. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking, potentially causing up to 30,000 deaths a year. 

Mitigation. With today’s technology, homes can have radon levels reduced to well below 4 pCi/L, the standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A common radon mitigation procedure is called “sub-slab depressurization.” This prevents radon from entering the home from the rock below, by sucking the air out from under the house and expelling it outside. This simple method uses a PVC pipe inserted through the basement floor and a 75-watt fan, and usually costs under $2,500 to install. It has the added benefit of keeping the basement drier.

We had this system installed and it brought our radon levels down to almost nothing. The system includes two small fans placed on the side of our home in 1999, and in 2014 they are still going, no replacement or repair needed yet.

 It is a good idea to buy a test kit every year or two to test radon levels both upstairs and downstairs. When we had our home tested, the couple selling us the house had no idea they had high radon levels and the wife was very upset and worried about that. It is smart to test for radon when buying a home, so that it can be fixed before moving in. It costs as little as $15 for an air test kit, and about $25 for a well-water test kit.

For more information, go to http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap.html.

Q: It’s Many Characters

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Q1: Aka, Arthur Quiller-Couch

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Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, 1863-1944, English novelist who used the pen-name “Q”, was editor of the famous Oxford Book of English Verse. In his introduction to this work Quiller-Couch (pronounced “Kooch”) wrote: “It is for the reader to judge if I have so managed it as to serve those who already love poetry and to implant that love in some young minds not yet initiated.”

Q2: Character on Star Trek

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(from fanlore.org) “Q is an alien recurring character in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, played by John de Lancie. The character was named after a fan, Janet Quarton.”

The site stated that Q is perhaps the most popular recurring Trek character, with his own newsgroup , alt.fan.q .

Q3: Secret Agent 007-James Bond’s Boss (My favorite character, esp. played by John Cleese)

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(from thebondjourney.com)
“Q, also known as Major Boothroyd, is head of Q Branch at MI6 which provides handy equipment for James Bond to use on assignment.
Some of the gadgets created for Agent 007 are simply ingenious. Q runs a laboratory with new prototypes constantly in development.”

“The character of Q was played by Desmond Llewelyn for seventeen Bond movies from 1963 (From Russia with Love) to 1999 (The World Is Not Enough).”
“The most recent appearance of Q, in (2002), was portrayed by John Cleese. Q is one of the most popular James Bond characters and a key component of the 007 film series – he became known for saying “Grow up 007″, when Bond made crude remarks about his work.”

Q4 (Kyu): in The Street Fighter video game series.
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“Not much is known about Q, except that he appears at different places around the world, and may be linked to various disasters. “ (streetfighter.wikia.com)

Pardoning Someone: The Way to Forgiveness

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I came across a powerful news story today on abclocal.com about a convicted murderer in Iran who, while standing at the gallows with a noose around his neck ready to be hanged, was pardoned at the last minute by his victim’s mother. He will now serve a prison sentence instead of being hanged.

Seven years ago, Abdollah and Bilal were both 17 when Bilal killed Abdollah in a street fight in the northern Iranian town of Nour, where they both lived.

Abdollah’s mother, Alenijad, had not wanted to pardon her son’s killer, even though she had the right to do so under Iranian law. She had been urged by local residents and even her own family to forgive Bilal. Her husband, a soccer coach and former player, was beseeched by local sports celebrities to have mercy on Bilal, who was once his soccer student.

Why had Alenijad resisted pardoning Bilal, and why the last-minute change of mind? According to the article, this was not her first great loss; she had lost another son in a car crash a few years before and, she said, “my life became like poison.”

The heartbroken mother said her dead son Abdollah appeared to her in a dream and asked her to forgive his killer. When, at the gallows, Bilal pleaded with Alenijad for his life, she slapped him. Then, she said, she felt ‘at ease’ and forgave him.

There is such a great lesson in this dramatic story. When we can’t forgive and hold the resentment and bitterness close, it creates a kind of tainted thinking that permeates our life. This woman saw how her life was being ruled by anger. Maybe she released some of that anger when she slapped Bilal; and then, with the support of her family, she finally allowed compassion to win.

(read the news story here)