Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Franken-butt Anniversary

One year ago today my beloved went under the knife to have hip replacement surgery. The months leading up to and immediately following the operation were a struggle. My strong, capable husband endured tremendous pain for months and became in most respects an invalid. When our granddaughters came to visit last August they pushed him around in a wheel chair every where we went.

Gratefully, he has had a full recovery and is now able to do very nearly everything he ever could. He has one dilly of a scar on his butt (which I do have photos of but will NOT be posting) and at times still gets a little pain.

But considering the extent of the surgery, we are both pretty amazed at how well he has bounced back. The human body's abilty to heal from all sorts of mishap and trauma is nothing short of amazing.

As we think about where we were and what we were doing one year ago today we both recognize we have very much to be grateful for.

Hopefully we'll have another 10-20 years of active, productive life before we have to worry about "invalid" status again. Or not. What I do know after than dress rehearsal into the world of pain and limitation is that every healthy day we get is a precious gift to be savored and appreciated.

Understanding Society

As I have been researching various topics for the Intro Sociology course I teach at CWI I came across an intriguing collection of resources at the website Understanding Society by Daniel Little at University of Michigan. This is a very robust website with all sorts of tools (blogs, podcasts, YouTube interviews, Twitter feeds, etc)for examining society and how social scientists approach their world.

After spending more time than I care to admit noodling around on the various pages I was reminded all over again what drew me to the science of sociology in the first place. I am utterly fascinated by examining the twin forces of society: what creates stability and what creates social change.

As I went through my first day of classes on Monday I found myself flowing in the zone of guiding intro students to the idea that SOCIAL FORCES have more to do with the choices we make than individual preference. That of course does not mean we are robots being manipulated by our society. Yet the whole idea that individuals are not uniquely in charge of their own destiny is sometime quite difficult for American students to fathom. I love the challenge of helping them both comprehend and confront that.

It does no good to be overwhelmed or angry at the idea that social institutions and the power elite with their own agendas are limiting my options. Instead, I encourage students to PUSH those limits, which can only be done by first understanding them.

I'm excited for the new semester. The first four weeks are generally euphoric for me as I begin each term full of hope and excitement. Of course, by week 7 I will be overwhelmed with grading and discouraged by lackluster students who don't even bother to show up regularly. Still, every term I find my core group of people who get excited about what they are learning. We enter that magical, sacred dance of teaching and learning, where we take turns showing each other new ideas, different perspectives and ways of defining our world - savoring the process of making meaning and finding new knowledge. Honestly, this is what I was born to do, and it is such an absolute privilege I am still astonished there are schools that actually pay me to "perform" tasks that are so hardwired to my DNA that it's like telling a fish to swim.

I've taught adjunct courses in Michigan, Washington, Oregon and now Idaho. I love this more than anything else I've ever done. Would I do it full time if I had the chance? Absolutely - even though the very idea of that gives me some trepidation.

Would doing it day in and day out with a 5 or 6 course load burn me out on the one thing that absolutely fuels my passion? I don't have the answer to that. But since right now it's not an option, I don't have to worry about that. For now I will continue to teach in tandem with my full time job, putting my heart and soul into my classes. Down the road, if a full time position ever does open, that is a risk I would most definitely take.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do you love your work??

In cleaning out my office recently I found some notes on a conference I attended about work satisfaction and burn-out.

In those notes were a list of factors which are markers of level of employee engagement. How many of the following can you say are true?

1. I know what is expected of me at work.

2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my job right.

3. I have the opportunity to do my best and focus on my strengths every day at my job.

4. In the past 7 days I have received recognition.

5. My supervisor or someone at work cares about me as a person.

6. There is someone at my work that encourages my development.

7. At work my opinions and ideas seem to count.

8. Mission or purpose of my company makes me feel like my job is important.

9. My fellow employees are committed to quality work.

10. I have a good friend at work.

11. In the last six months someone has talked to me about my progress.

12. In the last year at work I have had an opportunity to grow and learn.

I can currently claim 4 out of the 12.

There is one of them that I'm not so sure I agree with. As I have gotten older I have shifted in my expectations about friendships at work. In the past I have developed very close friendships with my peers at work. Some of the dearest friends of my 20's and 30's were people that I worked with. Now, however, I am not close to anyone at my job. Part of the reason is I don't really have peers at my current position. There is no one else working at my same level on the same project. But another reason is that I've become more compartmentalized. I have friendships in my real life outside of work. I also have good relationships with my colleagues, but it's not personal. I don't tell them much about me.

I genuinely like my current job and believe I'm quite good at it. However, I also know that I'm like yogurt with an expiration date. When the grant runs out, my job will be over and I will then go do something else. That may be part of the reason I have not allowed myself to get too attached here.

Yet I think it's more than just that. I think my beliefs and expectations about work have substantially shifted over the years. I am glad I've had this job and in most ways believe it to be a good match for me. But it's my JOB, not my identity. It provides a way to pay for the rest of my life. I hope I make some bit of positive difference through what I do. In the end though, I won't miss it all that much when I move on to something else.

How do you feel about your job? If you could do something else, what would it be?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daddy or the Daughter? Reading the Burkes back to back

For several years now I have been an avid reader and audio book listener of the works of James Lee Burke. The man's word pictures steal away my breath. His complex, very human characters always intrigue me. The man simply writes some of the most STUNNING sentences I've ever encountered after over 40 years of reading hundreds and hundreds of books.

Then recently I got my first taste of his daughter Alafair's work. While both write murder mysteries they are completely different in style. I must say I got far more caught up in the suspense of Alafair's writing. But after finishing her book 212 I returned to one of JLB's earlier works,Sunset Limited. It did not have me on the edge of my seat waiting to learn what was going to happen next the way Alafair's book did. Instead it had me absolutely mesmerized with what was happening NOW due to the amazing language.

I think I like her plots better. I definitely like his sentences better.

Setting is another big difference between the two. Alafair's series takes place in New York City. Dave Robicheaux is a Cajun cop in New Iberia, Louisiana.

I love the sense of place in those bayou books.

Granted, the elder Burke has written other books in other settings, but the ones that completely capture my heart are the misadventures of Nam vet and drunk-in-recovery Robicheaux and his hilarious sidekick in the pork pie hat, Clete Pursel. I've read so many of these I feel like these two guys are old friends.

I'm sure I will read more of Alafair's work. I very much enjoyed 212 (both the area code for NYC and the building number for the murder that occurs in the opening scene of the novel). But when it gets right down to it, my all time favorite writer is still the grand master, James Lee Burke. The voice he brings to his novels is so rich and complex, filled with undercurrents of visceral themes and failed humanity.

Alafair's writing is taunt, driven, full of surprises.

Comparing the two is like asking me if I like chocolate or peanuts better. They are entirely different. But the combination of reading them both back to back is absolutely delicious. Pass the Reeses peanut butter cups please, and hand me another novel.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


On our recent get away weekend we had an opportunity to see the Bodies Exhibit in Idaho Falls. For those who may not be familiar with it, it is an educational exhibit of actual human bodies and body parts that have been preserved in some very ingenious ways. One cadaver was sliced into sections about two inches thick from head to toe and then had each slice encased in plastic. They are arranged on a table with a couple inches between each slice so you can look very closely and every single segment of the body.

I especially liked the room that focused on the circulatory system. A special kind of plastic polymer was injected into the veins of a cadaver until every blood vessel from major veins and arteries all the way to the tiniest of capillaries was filled with the stuff. It hardens there and then a special chemical wash is used to eat away everything EXCEPT the polymer. So what you have left is a standing form of a human body that is ONLY the blood vessels. Completely fascinating.

I looked at kidneys and livers and lungs and hearts and brains.

I looked at skeletons, at intestines, at whole bodies standing erect (but cut cleanly in half vertically so you could see how certain inner parts fit.

I looked at human embryos in vials with each display one week older so you could get a glimpse of how the fetus develops.

These were not pictures or models or representations. These were actual human bodies that had been preserved in such a way that you could see how the various systems fit together, what each organ looked like, how big it was, where it was, and in a few cases (like the lungs) what they looked like when healthy and what they looked like when diseased. (I haven't smoked in 30 years, but if I did I would DEFINITELY be quitting after seeing THAT particular part of the display.)

When I first heard about this show many years ago in a conversation at my oldest brother's wedding reception I initially recoiled. I thought it was a ghoulish idea to even consider creating such a spectacle and I thought it was pretty twisted that people would pay money to go look at this stuff.

But since that time I have talked to several folks who had seen the show when it came to various parts of the country - Phoenix, Seattle, LA. EVERY single person I knew who had actually seen it raved about the experience and said it simply was something that should not be missed.

So I reconsidered my views. Then when I learned that the show was in Idaho Falls and we were going to be driving right past there on our way to the Bluegrass Festival in Alta, Wyoming, I decided it was worth a side trip.

I'm really glad we went.

I do understand why some people say "Ewww! Gross" and others genuinely find it to be depraved rather than a worthwhile educational presentation. But I've got to say, it gave me a renewed respect for this amazing machine that is the human body and perhaps even a bit more commitment to taking better care of my own.

So now I'm thinking about other things I might initially find repulsive or disgusting, scary or boring, or simply not worth my time and wondering if I might want to re-examine my pre-judgements. There are SOME things I really do not need to see to know I do not want those images in my brain. But I'm learning that there are time when it really does make sense to reconsider my point of view.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Interesting Faces

I wish I'd had the nerve to take more face picture at the music festival in Alta, Wyoming I just attended. We had a fabulous time there and will long remember it.
I suppose it is the sociologist in me, but I enjoyed people watching as much a I did listening to the music.

The crowd was an eclectic group of all ages from the very old to the very young.

I got a kick out of the young man who had been to the face painting tent.

and this little girl who was grooving to the tunes with her family

Out of the several bands we heard the only one I was familiar with was Tim O'Brien:

I particularly like Joy Kills Sorrow and Donna the Buffalo.

It's late now and I'm tired, so uploading more photos from the concert will have to wait for another day. However, it will be the pictures that I DIDN'T take that I will remember most of all....the amazing sunset, and many of the interesting faces that I saw in the crowd.


Some random shots of lilies from my garden...


Some people like Sudoku. Some people do crossword puzzles. As for me and my beloved, we are jigsaw puzzle people.

However, my sister-in-law recently gave us a puzzle that didn't have any box to it. All the pieces were there .... all 1000 of them. She knew it was a picture of fish. But that's all she could tell us. YIKES. How are you supposed to do a jigsaw puzzle without the picture?? Gluttons for punishment that we are, we fussed with it for a while until we finally got the darn thing put together. So I took this picture to refer back to if we ever decide to do it again.

This served as one more reminder to me that whether it's Tony Robins saying to "Know Your Outcome" or Steven Covey saying "Start with the end in mind", it just makes sense, whether in LIFE or in puzzle land, to have clear concepts of what you want to achieve so you can move forward in a purposeful way rather than just taking random actions and hoping for the best.

With that in mind I'm revisiting my bucket list, my vision board, and considering again some of the goals I've plunked away at over the years. What do I want to accomplish before the year ends? Where do I hope to be in five years, or ten?

I really do believe in building a life by design rather than default.

So it's back to the drawing board for me to clarify what things matter most in my world so I can make sure those are the rocks that get put in my bucket first. The sand will take care of itself.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Latter Rain - BOOK REVIEW

I was asked by my publicist pal, Tristi Pinkston, to read and review the book “The Latter Rain” by James M. Conis. I received a free copy of the book to review, as is the usual custom in the publishing world, but had no obligation to say nice things.

I am going to say them any way. I was very impressed by this book.

The Latter Rain is a complex book that on the surface appears deceptively easy. Although tackling a serious subject (a detailed analysis of the writings of the prophet Isaiah), because Conis’s writing style is very open and engaging, on first impression is seems like it will be a fairly simple read. There is nothing stuffy or ostentatious about how he presents his material. Throughout each chapter Conis outlines various concepts with a basic formula:
1. Make a point 2. Give a biblical scripture which embodies that point. 3. Explain the symbolism of that scripture in clear, every day language. 4. Restate and reinforce the point.

Conis does this so often and so well that at times it truly does seem that the ideas being presented are very simple, even obvious ones. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Reading Isaiah is anything but simple or obvious to most.

For most of my life I have been completely baffled by Isaiah’s writing. I mean seriously, the dude had some horrendous issues with lack of framing. Everything gets topsy turvey because aside from all his metaphor and symbolism, he doesn’t put things into context very well and he had no idea how to build a clean segue. He’d be talking about the problems of his own time among the people of Jerusalem, then all of a sudden he’s off having visions about the end of the world with no transition in between! It’s pretty hard to keep straight without a secret decoder ring.

What Conis attempts to do in this book is to present the secret decoder ring.

While the initial focus begins with Isaiah’s writings, Conis also addresses Ezekiel, Daniel and others, both in the old and new testaments. This book seems to be a painstaking effort to use ONLY biblical references to explain the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Whether explaining how “rain” is used as a symbol in Deuteronomy or laying out the ways in which the Passover Feat foreshadowed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Conis uses language that is clear and appealing. Although it is evident throughout that Conis made a thorough and scrupulous study of the Bible in preparing this book, this is no dry, academic treatise. It is very clear that Conis has a strong testimony of God and a true love of the scriptures.

On page 204 he writes:
“What is required to find the Lord? We must seek him with all our hearts and with all our soul. Some are lost and do not even realize it. Others know they are lost and desire relief from their plight, but never appeal to the Lord directly. They seek comfort among the man-made solutions of the earth. But these false organizations have not the power to save, nor satisfy. Only those who seek the Lord directly and call upon him in prayer will ultimately find him and his kingdom. He will guide them out from among the heathen through the promptings of the spirit as if they were led by the hand.”

I was particularly impressed by the section toward the end where Conis explains the Book of Revelations. I must say, while Isaiah usually just confuses me, reading Revelations gives me the heebie jeebies and makes my head hurt! However, using the same technique as with the rest of the book, Conis alternates between the original bible reference from the Book of Revelations and his explanation of the figurative language. (I admit at this section I started skipping past all the bible stuff and only reading Conis’s own writing….) There were several key insights in that section that I found interesting, such as the stuff about the seven candlesticks, the seven seals, and the seven heads of the beast. He makes a case in very convincing manner for what each of these represent. There were a few spots where I became genuinely excited to FINALLY understand something that had previously been clear as mud.

If I have any misgivings about this book at all, it is for what it does NOT say. Nowhere in the book does the author ever say anything directly about the LDS faith. He never mentions the name Joseph Smith. He never talks about the Book of Mormon. I went through the whole thing carefully looking for even a veiled reference to the church. It’s not there. But for anyone who is familiar with the faith at all, there is no doubt whatsoever that establishing the true authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the central purpose of the book.

He talks about thinks like the authority of the priesthood, the apostasy, a restoring of what was lost, the "stick of Judah" and "the stick of Joseph" as two different companion works of scripture, temples, missionaries, God having a physical body. Yeah, it is very abundantly clear that the concepts Consis explains so meticulously with the prophecies and teachings from the bible are those which are the core doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. But he does it in a painstakingly neutral way, NOT taking a voice of proselytizing, but rather pointing out what it is the Bible has alluded to all along, and leaving it up to the reader to decide what they think about it.

So I cannot help but wonder, does it make the book stronger or weaker that he makes all these references to core LDS doctrine without ever naming the church? Will it make the book of greater interest to the non-LDS audience? Will it make it any less appealing to the usual LDS book buying crowd? I honestly don’t know. I suspect part of the appeal of the book to me was how much it reinforced what I already believe to be true. I’m eager to share this book with a couple of my non-LDS friends and get their take on it.

As for me, my impression is that James Conis is an incredibly intelligent, articulate bible scholar who has made a tremendous contribution to scriptural based literature. He definitely answered some questions that I had, and did it in a way that was inviting and clear. It’s not a lightweight book. But for anyone who is even moderately interested in biblical analysis, regardless of what their views about the LDS faith are, I think it will be a very worthwhile read. For those who may be on a journey of faith looking to find personal answers, this is definitely a book I can recommend.

You can see what others have to say about this book at the virtual book tour HERE. (Books reviewed are over on the left - just scroll down to find this one. It's the 6th one down.)I'm the second reviewer so far, there will be several others in the coming weeks.

The book may be purchased HERE

SPECIAL OFFER FOR READERS OF THIS BLOG: when you check out, type in the coupon code Tour to receive 20% off.

Here is some brief bio information about the author:
Mr. Conis’ interest in the scriptures began when he took a course on the New Testament at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The main lecturer for the course was an orthodox Jewish professor, while the recitation sections for the class were taught by lay ministers from Christian faiths. The resulting dynamic of this course created deep philosophical questions concerning the doctrines and truths found in the Bible and those espoused by modern-day religion. This led to a life-long quest on the part of Mr. Conis to understand the true meaning intended by the ancient prophets.

Friday, August 05, 2011

God Bless Gardeners!!!

Today was turning out to be one doozie of a terrible, awful, no good day. I won't bother you with all the sorted details. I'll just hit the highlights. One thing after the other went wrong. From the sting of some unexpected criticism, some poor communication at work, to a fiasco with hair color (again!) and a stupid mistake on my part that was just too embarrassing for words, I was feeling pretty miserable. I realized that in the grand scheme of things none of this was any serious trauma. But the combination of it all, compounded by the fact that I had very little sleep the night before, left my emotions all clumped and cluttered.

As I drove toward my street feeling somewhat sorry for myself I noticed a yard sale sign (Boise has more yard sales in the summer than any place I've ever seen!) so I thought I'd stop by. I picked up a few things - a teapot, a table cloth, a dress I hope will fit my sister-in-law, a woven basket and a cool incense burner all for just five bucks. What a deal! But way better than my yard sale finds was the terrific conversation I had with the gardener who lived there. They had BEAUTIFUL hollyhocks growing out front, which of course I admired. The gentleman then gave me a tour of his back yard garden which was an amazing hodge podge of flowers and raspberry bushes. He had about eight different colors of hollyhocks and was generous enough to share a jar of seeds. How kind!

Now I have something to put where my noxious weed used to be. I'm hoping a variety of colors will come up.

I was most of the way home before I realized I had never even asked the man's name. But even though we were complete strangers, that brief time visiting among his flower beds and berry patches did so much to rejuvenate my spirit. Sharing a love of growing things was exactly the salve that my poor little battered spirit needed.
Thank you so much, Mr. Gardener. You were a much needed bright spot in my day.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I haven't posted any pictures of my garden for a while. It's doing really well. Of course, when we went away to Michigan the spinach and cilantro both bolted. But the squash and the cucumbers are producing like gang busters, we've had lots of lettuce for salads and tomatoes are putting on lots of fat fruit just waiting to grow ripe. I love having lots of fresh produce, both to eat and to share with neighbors and friends. My mouth is just watering for that first BLT.

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