Posted by: Nancy | May 12, 2012

Exquisite Moment No. 2

A couple of weeks ago I met an elderly man who lives alone in the wilds of Arkansas. He seemed lonely to me, living alone in a home made for two.

He obviously missed his wife, now dead many years.The house remained a shrine to her; her rooms and objects untouched and unmoved.

He was retired, and appeared to spend his days in front of the television and computer. The stock ticker raced across the screen, interviewers talked incessantly about the days gains and losses. He managed his investments with a broker or adviser — the source of some company — and he kept his affairs in order with a lawyer, another source of some companionship. His final contact was a housekeeper, a closer relationship but still lacking.

Until the peacocks came.

He was transfixed telling about the peacocks. He was sitting on the front porch, watching the day. The neighbor’s old dog was nearby, sleeping in the yard, certainly. Then they appeared.

They were three. And they were magnificent. They presented themselves to him and elegantly, set about adopting him. He couldn’t move that first time, he just sat motionless in his chair as they came — one to an empty pedestal planter on his right, one to the symmetrical planter on his left. The third strutted around the lawn.

He was hypnotized, enchanted by these mysterious creatures. They stayed.

They found their way into the back yard, where he could watch them from his breakfast nook and television room and library. He bought giant bags of scratch feed for them and they rewarded him with their attention.

Unlike many peacocks, these did not scream at him. I believe they rescued him.

His imagination was wild. “Where did they escape from?” he wondered; “Who could bear to just release them? Why are they here? Will they stay?”

Familiar questions, no? They are the same questions — more or less — that intrigue most of us at one point or another.

For my friend in Arkansas, I hope they stay. They bring him happiness, they give him a new story. It’s just what he needed.

A bright flash of color, a show of life, in a hidden corner of the world.

Now he wonders, “What shall I call you?”

Posted by: Nancy | April 29, 2012

Exquisite moments

I’ve wanted to hear Donald Johansen for  a long time, so I was excited when the world-renowned anthropologist came to Kansas City last week to speak at the Linda Hall Library (one of my favorite spots in town, see previous post on Darwin).

He did not disappoint — he was humble and appreciative, and utterly captivated the sellout crowd from his first moments at the podium.

There was never any doubt of his expertise — his talk was peppered with the kinds of detail that require many speakers to check their notes, but he showed mastery and depth of knowledge, the sign of an inquisitive mind. He comfortably explained the mass spectrometry of argon dating, genomic records, the importance of fossilized pollen, how to perform skeletal comparisons.

But what made his talk stand out was his storytelling. He took us with him, back to that November day in 1974, along the wash in Hadar, Ethiopia.

He shows a photo of the landscape. He describes walking and turning his head, and his gaze settled on what he knew, immediately, was a humanoid elbow fragment.

My mind was in the right place,” he said. “I had the right sense of discovery. I knew my life would change at that moment.

His gaze extended, and he quickly spotted the other fragments that would make up the remains of “Lucy,” a 3.2 million year old humanoid ancestor, possibly the most famous fossil in the world.

A side note: We’re very lucky that the informal naming stuck — Lucy, by virtue of that simple and accessible name, became an individual to us. We began to be able to imagine her, specifically her, in a way that became familiar and understandable.

Johansen was right; his life changed in that moment.

His pursuit of knowledge, his quest to understand where we came from and what our existence means, became a deep responsibility. His search is for more than bones; he seeks out what makes us human.

He said he later realized that had he turned the other direction, had he not been prepared to see, he may never have had that moment.

 

Posted by: Nancy | April 8, 2012

A New Yorker moment in KC

Scene: Family room and kitchen at Mike and Karen’s house, about 20 people, chatting, eating and drinking.

A jazz combo is set up in one corner of the room — piano, drums, cello, two saxophones.

The musicians are young men, students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Music Conservatory. They are in the Jazz Program, led by Bobby Watson.

It’s a lovely time just being with friends; an evening made sweeter by a reunion with friends from 15 years past. We are eager to catch up and happily revisit old memories and restart old conversations.

Then the band starts.  In my memory of the night, everything else stops.

These young men are playing with a sophistication and touch beyond their years. It’s incongruous; baby-faced young men (no disrespect!) playing with joy, elan, and wisdom. It’s like they know a secret that the rest of us are searching for.

The drummer has blonde hair, tightly cropped. He’s slender and angular, and graceful. And when he plays, he is exuberant. Every note shows on him, in his eyes, his grin. He plays with an intensity, mindful of his part in the ensemble — at times caressing the cymbals, at times a dervish of motion. But the endearing trait is how much fun he’s having, the exuberance of his play.

I looked around the room at the rest of the crowd. All were transfixed, or transported, by the music and promise of these young men. We felt lucky to be there, to be a part of it.

The fact that it was happening here in Kansas City, just a few streets from our home, made it even better. We’d expect this in New York or maybe Chicago. It reminded me that magic is not tied to places, but hearts.

 

Posted by: Nancy | February 26, 2012

Everyday Acts of Courage

We were walking in San Francisco, drinking in the sights of old familiar places, so different from the Midwest yet feeling so at home. Earlier, at the conference, I had kept one eye on the windows. I had been watching the fog bank materialize and slowly pull itself into the city. I have always loved that about the city — the sense of being so close to the elements, being embraced by the mists.

Now, at early evening, we’re walking on California Street when I see her. She was old, perhaps 80 or more, a contradiction of frailty and determination.

She was walking uphill, up California, nearing the pinnacle of Nob Hill. With one hand, she braced herself against the wall of the building, her handbag in the  crook of her elbow.  On the other side, she holds on to a young man for support. He’s smiling at her, sometimes leaning down to speak in her ear. He seems patient.

Her face is unmoved, focused on the next step. She pauses between steps, to catch a breath, to muster strength. I’ve seen that before — it looks exactly like the labored steps of the climbers on Everest. I’ve read about the extreme effort, the utter focus, the massive commitment it takes to make each step.

It was the same for her.

She was wearing broad sandals with socks, likely the most comfortable items she had, likely the best for swollen legs and feet. She moved slowly, faltering, but with complete focus and determination.

She was in my thoughts all night. I wondered about her home, or her destination if not home. I wondered about the young man, probably 50 years her junior. Was he a relative or neighbor, or a stranger helping her?

None of it mattered. What captured me was her courage. She knew she would be challenged, she knew she would struggle and she did it anyway.

Her image has become a part of me now.

Posted by: Nancy | January 22, 2012

New Year, Anything is Possible

The best thing about starting a New Year is that feeling that you get a new chance, a fresh start.

And that there will be exciting new things to see and experience, if you’re open to the possibilities.

Here’s one of the first examples of the new year:

This little critter has been hanging around the neighborhood, lots of fun to watch. Hope he stays!

Posted by: Nancy | December 26, 2011

The Thanksgiving Rose

It was a moment of utter romance.

A little droopy, but still bright: The Thanksgiving Rose

It was Thanksgiving morning, I’m preparing for the big meal — following my lists, turkey in oven, dressing assembled, veggies chopped, Beth peeling potatoes, etc.  Tom has been outside, cleaning up the back yard, and he comes running in.

He’s found the last rose. It’s tiny and perfect, a vibrant pink. He hurried in to show me the miracle, and offer it as a gift knowing how I would love it.

I can’t believe that our poor pitiful struggling rose bushes have produced this. What a beautiful affirmation — still alive!

The rose held the position of prominence in my kitchen window; now that it’s dried, it’s still there. Not yet faded, a symbol and in some ways a nudge about not assuming time is gone before it really is.

You see, I’d been speculating privately that this would likely be among the last times I’d get to see my family for Thanksgiving. My sister’s debilitation was increasing so much, it would be impossible for these visits to continue.

The rose (and my beautiful husband) reminded me not to grieve in advance, but to celebrate what we have now, while we have it. Even if difficult, it’s worth having the moment and truly experiencing it for what it is.

Never wish time to hurry.

Posted by: Nancy | November 5, 2011

Silence

All of a sudden, in one day, every ginko tree in the city has turned bright, glorious yellow.

You can spot them from a distance. They stand out from the other trees, the copper of the oaks, the reds and oranges of the maples.

And one day soon, all at once, all the ginkos will drop their leaves, as though on cue.

It is the season of changes.

***

From my new window, I see a great flock of Canada geese and an occasional hawk.

I’ve been noticing the behavior of the geese. They are remarkably consistent. When one decides to go for a walk, the other usually fall in behind the leader.

When one decides to nose around in the grass for whatever tasty items, the others tend to do the same, in the same pose.

When one is startled and takes off, they all hasten to follow.

I know they are not popular with many, but they’ve been a joy to watch from my new window.

***

More changes coming soon. Including here, on these web pages.

I’m plotting a revision, as this business entity shifts to a new phase and a new scope. But not today. Today I’m content to amuse myself with the antics of the Canada geese and the lovely ginko.

Hope you too are having a wonderful season.

Posted by: Nancy | August 21, 2011

Measuring Life

I’ve lately been intrigued by the developing technology to help us measure and manage so many aspects of health and wellness  — on a personal level. I’d started gathering an assortment of brilliant apps and new tools that bring the measurement out of laboratories, hospitals and professional offices and into the hands of individuals.

In larger terms, I believe (naively and idealistically) that this kind of self-monitoring and management can do a lot to change our health care thinking. Shift our focus from sickness to health, push us to take control.

Then, suddenly, I was overcome by disparate happenings — events also oddly resonant with this question of measuring life.

Uncomfortable surprise #1.  My sister came to visit. It had been eight months since her last stay here, and we had both been looking forward to her return. She would play music, set up her work desktop in the kitchen, help with chores, work on art projects and look forward to exercises at Curves. We’d tell stories, play with the cat, go swimming and laugh a lot.

But this time, she was different. She was remote, anxious, uncomfortable. Her mental capabilities had diminished. None of our expectations were met. With great sadness and a sense of such tremendous loss, I made arrangements for her to return to her most comfortable setting. For her benefit.

How to measure the changes? I made note of new behaviors and counted the incidents. I remembered the Dementia Assessment exercise that I’d completed on her last visit; I answered the questions again, in light of her current state here. The scoring told of a change — it was 10 in December, and 44 this time.

But what do the numbers mean?

Uncomfortable surprise #2: Sadly, interpreting the scale is secret and can only be done by a licensed professional who has the code. I’m not sure what’s served by the secrecy. I’d like to know what I could do differently to help her.

Uncomfortable surprise #3: My beautiful husband had a major surgery recently, and was a model patient in working toward getting back to full health. He was dutiful in his exercises, medication schedule, careful in all aspects of his recovery.

Yet he developed a pain in his calf. “It feels just like a sprain,” he’d said. But it got worse, and when he felt short of breath and clammy, we called a nurse for guidance. When she advised checking it out, we went to the emergency room. He was sheepish, apologetic, noting that it’s probably just a sprain from the therapy.

But ultrasound, X-rays and a CAT scan revealed a very large clot, the length of his long leg, with dangerous fragments already in his lungs. Both sides.

He is better now, thanks to the medical monitors that tracked every change in his status. They measured blood pressure and clotting strength, they thinned the blood and reduced the clotting tendency to a specific therapeutic level: 2 to 3 on the Prothrombin Time/International Normalized Ratio.  There are repeated measurements now, with adjustments as needed, to keep the reading at the appropriate level. Over time, with the right readings,  the clots are expected to dissolve or dissipate or somehow disappear.

Now we watch the lab report numbers with intensity. I wonder how long before we’ll be able to do simple checks via a home analysis?

I like this trend. I like demystification. I like being able to measure, baseline, set goals and monitor actions that change the score. I prefer knowing the status and having some control, the ability to take actions to change what I can.

Some more examples of where this is headed:

  • Quantified Self: “Self Knowledge through Numbers” is the tagline for this online resource for measuring and monitoring personal health. It’s a forum, an association, a group that holds Meet-Ups in 27 cities and conferences, and produces a great Quantified Self Guide to help anyone start tracking and measuring … anything.
  • Jawbone: A new wristband sensor and app that helps measure and manage personal health. In addition to monitoring, it pulls from best practices to make suggestions for improvement. It’s a small scale and personal model of the evidence-based medical best practices tied to real-time monitoring data, like the large scale EMRs deployed in hospitals.
  • See Technology Review, The Measured Life, for more details on the trend and links to other cool stuff.
  • I love Daniel Kraft’s vision of the coming health care transformation.

The trade off might be that it makes us a bit more self-centered and self-focused, but if it leads to better self-awareness (not narcissism), I’m all for it.

Posted by: Nancy | July 17, 2011

“Unabashedly playful”

I attended a conference last week with Don Meyer, author and speaker and developer of programs for families with developmentally disabled individuals.

Don was in Kansas City to teach the techniques of running workshops for the siblings of developmentally disabled people. I expected to hear about issues of guardianship, health concerns, behavioral issues, overwhelming concern for challenges that loom large in so many families.

I had no idea it would be such a joy.

Don’s presentations are a delight. He is exuberant and funny, using humor and silliness.

He had the crowd of about 150 people do an exercise, without speaking, to sort ourselves into teams of “one’s,” “two’s” and “three’s.” The skeptical crowd got up reluctantly, some members heading for the doorways to slink out, but within three minutes, we were not only laughing out loud but holding hands in long conga-lines winding through the conference room, circling the round tables neatly organized. The simple handshake exercise forged bonds.

What did all this have to do with dealing with the many challenges of caring for a developmentally disabled family member?

Nothing, and everything. His workshops, he pronounced, are “unabashedly playful.”

“We have fun,” he explained. The workshops give siblings a chance to meet other siblings; there’s no “therapy,” just sharing experiences and feeling OK about it. You can’t underestimate how important it is to connect with others in similar situations.

My friends and I (all with siblings with Down Syndrome, from our own home-made support group) have been sharing stories and trading tips — how to measure signs of dementia, how to address changing health needs.

His advice to us? “Have wine at your meetings,” he said. “Make sure you have lots of laughs.” We left that day with an appreciation of the light touch.

In the same way that a whisper can be more compelling than a shout, so can a shared laugh be more powerful than the sobering narrative.  I’m thinking of a favorite quote from Maya Angelou that works to illustrate this:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

Posted by: Nancy | June 25, 2011

Making magic

I’m guessing that most of the audience at Maker Faire Kansas City Saturday had never before been to a Maker Faire.

The questions were everywhere: “What are you doing?” “What is this thing?” “How did you make this?” “What do you do with it?” And, of course, “Why?”

Part county fair, part science fair, it was a celebration of creation and exploration.

It was social, participatory and happily geeky all at the same time. It was hands-on, with nearly every booth offering something to touch, smell, taste or stare at. It was a full sensory experience, and there were a LOT of delighted faces everywhere you turned.

The makers were generous with their explanations, and the audience was frequently awestruck and surprised. Explanations might start with, “Well, how much do you know about the physics of sound waves?” then quickly ratchet up or down to meet the needs of the questioner.

If the most prominent question “How did you…?,” the most common reaction was an appreciative: “Cool.”

My favorite part was the sweetness of the event: everywhere I turned, I saw people amused or intrigued, nearly always opening up with a question. There was a gentleness in the responses from the makers; I think it was a sense of pleasure at sharing the fun of the creation, the wonder of the “how.”

How many mobile-phone videos were uploaded today? I saw people everywhere capturing bits of magic, probably thousands just of the Tesla coils with their dramatic lightening arcs flailing above the stage.

I wonder how many imaginations were sparked…

Congratulations, Maker Faire.

PS: I also wrote a little entry for their website.

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