Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Persistance Pays Off

I'm feeling pretty good about a recent accomplishment. I set a goal and stuck with it even when it got frustrating to the point of tears. I decided I wanted to make something fun for my family for Christmas presents. I had a cool pattern for making Polar Fleece Socks. There was just one problem with that. I don't sew. Not that I don't usually sew or I don't care to sew. I mean I don't sew at ALL, like I never really learned. I don't even thread needles.

But I do own a sewing machine that I bought about 35 years ago. I've hauled that darn thing all over the country with me every time we moved. A few different times in the past 20 years I had actually tried to make various items. Most of the results of those early efforts were somewhere between disappointment and disaster. So I gave up. I just never got rid of the machine.

I knew from experience from all my failed attempts in the past that just going at it alone was not likely to turn out much different, no matter how enthusiastic my intentions might be. So this time I found someone who has MUCH successful experience sewing to help me get started. We made the first pair of socks together at her house to show me the ropes. Then,she gave my old machine a thorough review and oiling, pronouncing it a dandy despite it's age and years of neglect. So, armed with renewed confidence and determination I set off for home to continue the project solo.

Enter ominous music from movie Jaws at this point.

Suffice it to say that initially all did not go well. At one point I was terribly frustrated, convinced I was incapable. One pair of socks had it's stitching done wrong and ripped out three different times. (I know, I'm a dork. How hard could this be??)

But this time I DID NOT QUIT.

I kept at it. My first pair on my own didn't look all that great. The seams on the ribbing cuffs did not match up quite right with the seam on the sock. The pattern of the fleece on one foot did not match the pattern position on the other foot. They were maybe just a tad lopsided. But you know what? They were still cozy and warm. So rather than tear them out again or give up, I kept going.

EVENTUALLY I had produced five pairs of polar fleece socks with contrasting soles and ribbing cuffs that were down right acceptable. They were NOT perfect by any means. But I still gave them to my family as gifts and they loved them. See!

There were several key lessons learned by this process...
1) When learning a new skill it really helps to have a guide who knows what they are doing.
2) Perfection is not the goal. It's ok to have high standards, but if I am not willing to tolerate some mistakes along the way I'll never learn anything new.
3) It really did get easier by the 5th pair. If I just keep at it long enough, it gets better.

I don't know if I am ever going to be a skilled seamstress. But I'm pretty darned proud of those socks. And I aim to keep trying and keep learning. Sewing can be a cool thing. Besides, I've carried around that silly machine for a long time. It's long overdue to be put to good use!

It's about time I learned that I can make something besides just Macaroni angels!

Says Who??

Ok, I'm genuinely curious. What sort of virus protection do you use on your computer?

My desktop computer caught a nasty bug for Christmas. I was able to get it removed by accessing the services of McAfee virus specialists - cost me $89 bucks and about 45 minutes of my cell phone time, but they got it all fixed without me having to disconnect my machine and take it in somewhere. Sort of amazing that their support guys who are in INDIA can work on my machine in BOISE by remote access. Anyway, the machine is back up and running, feeling ever so much better. I've now got all three of my computers running with McAfee virus protection and feel a lot more confident that they will stay safe.

However, a good pal of mine in AZ reports having had terrible luck with McAfee and she insists she would never use them again.

So I'm just wondering what others out there are using these days.

I used to have Norton. Then I went to McAfee for a while. Then when I bought my last desktop a few years ago the friend I bought it from had put the free version of AVG on it and said that should be fine. I kept MEANING to change it, but had not gotten around to it. (THAT is how I got infected - never again!) So now I'm back on board with McAfee.

I've found their tech support people to be polite and always able to communicate clearly, and solve the issues I've gone to them for. My own experience has been I have not ever gotten bugs while running their protection. So I feel like I can rely on their product even though someone I know and respect has had a completely different experience.

Which leads me to wonder-apart from virus protection programs, when it comes to other products and services, how much stock do I put in the recommendations / warnings of friends or anonymous online reviews? When it comes to life in general how much do I listen to the advice and council of others and how much do I go after my own inclinations?

Some things are just a matter of a match...for instance some of my students would say the sociology class I teach is fabulous and would encourage their friends to also sign up for it. Others will say it is way too much work and will warn other students away from the mean teacher who is so picky about requiring citations. A lot of services that rely on relationship as much as technical skill - therapists, hair stylists, etc may be a perfect fit for some folks while not being suitable at all for someone else. Other things like banking services can be measured by a more objective yardstick - what are their locations? Their hours? Their fees?

When I go out of town (as I just did) I often read reviews of hotels online before making a reservation. When I buy new products I sometimes look for customer reviews. But on more than one occasion I have gone for some service on the advice of a friend or family member only to be sorely disappointed.

So tell me - how do YOU pick a new doctor or hair stylist or car? Who do you listen to? Also do tell me if you will, what virus protection are you using? I'd really like to know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Italy or New Zealand?

Next year my beloved and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary. For some time now we have tentatively been planning a trip to Italy to celebrate. However, I think that trip just may get bumped. As much as I would adore spending time in Rome, Pisa, Florence and Venice, we've about made up our minds to try a different itinerary.

I think we may be headed to New Zealand.

No, it does not have the amazing cathedrals :

But I think the breathtaking natural scenery just might make up for that:

So you lurkers and fans...

Any of you ever been to New Zealand? Or Italy? Any thoughts on pros and cons of which would be the better trip?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Warm wishes to my visitors of 2010

As I am basking in the sparkle of this lovely Christmas Eve, I want to wish many blessings to my friends - both those I know in the real word and those who I know only in the vitural sense...

So I started looking back through my 2010 posts.
These are the folks who have dropped by:

Jen from Lords of the Manor
Natalie from What's Cool in Alaska
Deb H from Cold Feet Quilter
Mimi from Bigger Than a BreadBox
Rozel whose personal blog has disappeared! but still has posts up at Page Nibblers
Kersten at Altered Gypsy
Elizabeth from Posts from Portland
Tristi from Tristi Pinkston, LDS Author
Pat from Pat's Place (the blog that never really materialize but was a fun start!)
JJ at The Disconnected Writer
Cheri Crane from Cran-ium
Kelly aka Jaquandor at Byzantium's Shores
Katherine Darrow from Kat Tracks
Marley Delarose from Love Knows No Boundaries and Blame it on the Muse
Dan from Dan Harrington

Thanks to all of you who took the time to look at what I had to say and leave a comment.
I've had lots of stops and starts with this blog this year - a move, a change in jobs, and much transition of mind and heart.

Having dear friends, both those I hug in the real world and those I hug only with my words are what made the year shine.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Differences in Traditions

My same pal, Tristi, that I mentioned in my previous post is also a contributing writer to Families.Com - a commercial blog about marriage and family issues. I've been mining through back posts there to see if there might be any good info I can glean for the sociology class in Marriage & the Family I will be teaching for CWI this Spring Term.

After several years of teaching primarily online classes I am excited about the chance to get back into the classroom. I've arranged my schedule at my full time job to allow me release time to do this traditional face to face class one day a week. That will give me a very full plate to fit it all in. But with some strategic time management I'm pretty sure I'll be ok.

So as I read through some of the posts Tristi has written I was very impressed by the timely piece she did on "Differences in Traditions"

Whether it be in how couples handle the holidays, general philosophies about money management in a marriage, views on child rearing or relationships with in-laws, one of the challenges of any marriage is bringing together people with different life experiences and different ways of doing things. For those who have the added challenge of being from completely different cultures, or even as in my case having a wide age gap between partners that can create generational perspective differences, it can require some interesting negotiating.

I think one of the most significant things Tristi pointed out in her blog post on this topic is that the modern day tradition we act out may be a RESPONSE to earlier experience rather that a continuation of things handed down from the past. She talks about the importance to her of giving her kids special gifts for Christmas because she grew up without much in the way of material sparkle. In a way, providing an abundant Christmas for her family now is reaching back to the kid she used to be and making up for what she missed out on. Her husband grew up with over-the-top Christmas celebrations throughout his life. For him, the glitz and glamour is far less important.

These words hit home to me with a vengeance. I can see how in several cases, not just at Christmas, I have done things for my kids that were more about responding to my own sense of what I had missed out on growing up than they were about meeting a present need they had.

What sort of tradition differences do you have in your family? How do you negotiate which style of Christmas (or other things) will win out at your house these days? I'd be really interested to hear.

BOOK REVIEW - Who's At the Door?

I was recently asked by my writer/publisher pal, Tristi Pinkston, to do a review of the book “Who’s at the Door" by Dan Harrington. I've always been happy to join in the blog tours of books, so of course I said yes.

Who's at the Door? is a quick and easy read in which author Dan Harrington describes his meetings with a succession of different LDS missionaries in the town of Augusta, Maine between 2007 and 2009. As an aspiring writer with one publication credit in a local newspaper, Harrington initially became interested in learning more about the “Elders” as subjects for a human interest article he planned to write. Over time he developed friendships with several of the missionaries who served in that area. He allowed them to continue to come to his home to teach lessons about LDS doctrine, known as “taking the discussions”, and through that process begins to more closely examine his own beliefs.

When I first picked up the book I thought this was going to be a snapshot into the life of LDS missionaries. This is not that kind of story. Instead, Harrington turns the tables by capturing what it was like to be an “investigator”, a person learning about the teachings of the church. He describes his feelings about the different principles he is introduced to and reflects on how those teachings fit or did not fit with his established beliefs. He tells bits and pieces of what it was like to visit an LDS congregation and explores the things that he admires about or struggles with regarding the church and its members.

Clearly this book is intended for an LDS audience. While Harrington holds onto the “outsider’s view” in describing the teachings and traditions of the church, he portrays Latter-day Saints in very positive terms. Even when he reaches the points that hold him back from embracing the religion, he gives “the Mormons” the benefit of the doubt at every turn.

Harrington seems quite sincere in his affection and admiration for the missionaries. At several points throughout the book it seemed to me that he was less motivated in his ongoing meetings with the Elders by any serious spiritual searching than he was simply a guy who needed friends. He appeared to enjoy spiritual discussions to a point, but most of his focus was on the personal sincerity of the various elders he encountered and the fun times they had when he would take the guys to various restaurants to share a meal.

One thing that was very much missing from the story was how any of Harrington’s established friends may have reacted to him spending so much time with the Elders. He briefly mentions talking to his parents and sister about his interest in the church. Yet never once did he mention anything about other friends of his over a time span of three years. To me, that seemed to reinforce the notion that perhaps he was a guy that didn’t have many people he felt close to in his life, which may have been why he was so open to spending as much time with the missionaries as he did.

In the epilogue to the book Harrington writes: “I don’t think too many conversions hinge on how accurate the Book of Mormon may or may not be. People want a place to be accepted, a place to hear about God, a place where they feel God hears them. Simply put, most people aren’t theologians. Neither am I. That’s what we have in common.” That, for me, was the most telling passage of the entire book.

Both the strength and the weakness of this story is that the experience of investigating a religion is a deeply personal thing. Each individual’s journey is unique. So ultimately this book tells us a lot about Dan Harrington’s view and experiences in exploring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but offers very little that can be generalized to investigators as a group.

Some seek out a new church hoping to find a community where they can feel the reassurance of nice people who they enjoy being around. Others focus more on pursuing a spiritual confirmation about the truth of the principles taught. Some may be drawn to the church for its reputation of providing support in times of need. Perhaps the greatest value this book held for me was the ways in which it prompted me to take a closer look at my own motives for my involvement with my church family. Reading this book served as a catalyst for me to re-examine what the source of my own commitment to my faith is. Beyond that, it was a reminder to me about the importance of being open and supportive toward those who may come to investigate our faith. Because, as the prophet Gordon B. Hinkley taught us, one of the first things all new members need to feel welcome in church is to have a friend.

If you are looking for a fast read for the holidays, you can purchase this book HERE

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I see you

One of my all time favorite movies is Avatar...the James Cameron blockbuster. The most compelling line from the whole movie to me is "I see you" which among the people of the Na'vi means so much more than I see you standing there in front of me. It is their ways of acknowledging the other person on a far more comprehensive level.

As I understand it, it is closer to the common greeting in India of Namaste or Namaskar. "In India, the common greeting Namaskar or Namaste is no simple Hello. When one says Namaskar to someone, what it means is that he/she acknowledges the spark of the divine that is present inside them. Hinduism believes that God is an all-pervading force that envelopes all beings and things." (from Vimho's World)

While I was mostly impressed how incredibly visually stunning the movie Avatar was, I also liked a lot of the features Cameron built in to the Na'vi, this being one of them.

This has given me room to consider the extent to which any of us can truly know another person and to ponder how much I want to be known. At times I hunger for authentic connection with others. Yet at the same time I have long standing pattern of remaining somewhat guarded, not feeling comfortable with too much exposure of my private self.

I can talk about what I THINK until the cows come home. Matters of intellect and philosphy are pretty safe ground. Being open about how I FEEL is another matter entirely. I can be pretty darned selective in who I choose to be open with about my emotions.

To what extent do you truly see others? To what extent do you allow yourself to be seen?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Seasons of Life

As I sit looking out the window looking at the snow coming down I am mindful that there is beauty in every season of life. While I may long for warmer days and miss my lush green yard with all its flowers, it is only because the ground freezes and we get a cold season that many of my dormant bulbs will be able to bloom well come spring.

I'm trying to learn to go with the flow more in my life, learn to accept the ups and downs, shifts and transitions that come my way with a bit more equanimity.

I recently shared the story of The Precious Present by Spencer Johnson with a friend of mine. It's a tale worth remembering as I work at letting go of worry over what has been or what might be.

Change is inevitable. I'm hoping I can be more open to welcoming whatever life lessons come my way, even those that are not packaged in the color or style I would have chosen.

What I am learning is there is a distinct difference between pain and suffering.
Pain is inevitable. Suffering, however, is optional. I've come to believe that regardless of how much pain the world may dish out at me, whether or not I will suffer with it will be based on how I define and relate to painful experiences.

Lately I've been re-reading Victor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" I remember the basic story pretty well from when I read it many years ago. But because my life is in a very different place now I find I'm discovering all sorts of different layers to it this time around.

Sometimes life hurts. Learning to choose joy even in the midst of that hurting is a challenge worth mastering.

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