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


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.

Posted by: Nancy | June 23, 2011

On asking for help

I know of a poor family – lower-middle class, let’s say – that never asked for help. Not from the church or the government or friends or family.  Not when they were hungry, missing rent payments or sick.

It was partly out of pride and a sense of privacy. “It’s nobody’s business,” the matriarch would say. She’d decline to fill out the income questions on school forms and avoid letting others see the struggle. (Although, of course, they could still see.)

It also was partly a belief that asking for help was the same as admitting failure. The right thing to do was to soldier on and know that there are others even worse off than you. To prove it, it was important to always give to others, no matter what.

So it’s no surprise that the children in this family adopted that same belief structure.  They marched on, doing the best they could, while understanding that they also must help others. It was OK for others to ask for help, but not them – that’s where the pride came in.

For the most part, it worked out OK. The children all grew up to become modestly successful and mostly productive members of society.

Until one of them really, really needed help beyond what the family could provide.

Slowly and reluctantly, they broke the tradition. They took small steps to see about getting help from a local agency, affiliated with the state. They filled out forms. And more forms. They made appointments. They cautiously talked with the agency and government workers. Over time, they began to imagine letting others help them.

It started with very small steps. And it took a very long time (years) to even allow the smallest bits of support.

Looking in from the outside, I can understand the uncertainty, mistrust and shame they felt at asking for help. Asking for help is an admission of incapability, and it is difficult to hold onto anything like self-confidence or pride when you do so.

So it was an act of courage for them to ask for help.

I know it didn’t come easily; I know they are still quite tentative. They are learning how to behave in a new way, allowing others to see the condition of their lives – and participate in making it better.

I tell their story only because it seems worth noticing this component of the human condition. It may be an odd belief system, but it may be more prevalent than we notice.  And it seems timely as so many are struggling in this economy, in one way or another, perhaps with this same discomfort of learning how to behave differently.

Perhaps I can come to recognize this and to understand that although they may not ask for help, I should be mindful enough to offer.


Posted by: Nancy | May 30, 2011

Thinking mobile

It was such fun to spend some time thinking about the Mobile Revolution last week, as part of the Ragan Conference here.

It felt a little like deja vu — like a conference on social media from three or four years ago. The expert guidance was remarkably similar:

  • It’s here to stay; this is not a fad.
  • Start with strategy, don’t just jump in.
  • Use research to identify your audience and the best way to reach them.
  • Create the content your audience wants and needs; don’t just try to repurpose other stuff into this medium.
  • Build measurement into whatever you do.

I learned about some great new tools, and I’ve been having fun experimenting with them. These are do-it-yourself tools for productivity with your mobile device.  Here’s a few:

  • Poll Everywhere. This is a cool site. You go there to create your simple poll, then you can get a page to drop into your powerpoint presentation. When you show it, your audience can use their mobile phones to respond and you show the results in near realtime right there.  Nice.
  • UStream. Really fun cloud computing and app combo. You use the app on your phone to record video, and it is live broadcast on your UStream channel. Very easy, useful for quick capture and broadcast. Citizen journalists, fully equipped…
  • AudioBoo. Similar to UStream, but audio only. Use the mobile app to record and it goes to your cloud channel. You can add photos there or send it to Facebook or otherwise share it.
  • PBWorks. Wiki software. Collaborate to create a knowledge base, or just organize your own knowledge. I’ve been watching this one for a while.
  • Dropbox. My favorite organizing and collaboration tool. I love this service and have used it when working with third-party groups. We can collaborate on documents, videos, etc., and stay synched. Get to the cloud from desktop and mobile. A great service.
  • EverNote. This is a lot like Dropbox, except you can also capture stuff from the web, bookmarks or content, and you can use your phone app to snap photos. Interestingly, anything you capture — handwritten words, powerpoint slides — becomes searchable. From everywhere. Very cool.

I also heard about a couple of books that sound like fun (disclaimer: I haven’t read these yet.)

  • The 2020 Workplace. What will it be like with five generations in the workplace?
  • Empowered. By Forrester Research smart guys, on how innovative companies make their customers and workers feel like they’re making a difference. (Hint: they are.)

The Mobile Revolution is changing the way we communicate. It’s changing the way we do business.

That’s why I’m on the bandwagon, counting myself as part of the revolution.

Posted by: Nancy | May 13, 2011

“Profound Idealism”

This is just a collection of items that interested me, perhaps with just a bit of a thread woven through … exploring and making…


Item No. 1: The April issue of Wired magazine was all about making stuff, and it featured a great interview with Limor Fried, who’s described as a “maker’s maker.” The part I liked best is in boldface below — I think she’s dead on; I think “making” is part of the entrepreneurial approach and can help us reimagine our economy.

Interviewer Chris Anderson asks about the maker movement:

“But how big is this really? Is it just a glorified hobby, or are we in fact looking at something that’s going to be an industrial model for the country and the world?

Limor Fried: Yes, it is a hobby, but in the same way that ham radio was a hobby — people were just experimenting with packet radio. But that led to Wi-Fi and cell phones. It’s a precursor, the same way that people making computers in the ’60s and ’70s in their garages affects computing now.

Chris Anderson: What does this mean for manufacturing in the US? If the small batch, the prototype, the niche, the flexible all become part of the design industry, which is here in the US, does the mass, the commodity go abroad?

Limor Fried: Yes. It doesn’t take much skill to operate a pick-and-place machine or an injection molder. That’s why we need to have more of the design and creative and engineering stuff, which does take skill, here in the US. I think the maker movement is incubating that very well, because maker stuff is all about designing and making prototypes. We might make the first 10 in-house, ahead of a 10,000-unit first run. I can do that with a small team of people and then have a factory abroad manufacture the rest. And that’s really fantastic. I don’t have to buy a factory to make what I want.”

Especially relevant as the Kansas City Maker Faire approaches! See you June 24-25.


Item No. 2: Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, asks: Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

Whoa … garage shop biotech? It turns out there’s a rising tide of do-it-yourself biohackers who work on genetic engineering and bioresearch in makeshift home labs, using a $500 PCR Xerox. (Another reason I was so disappointed in the PCR Nobel laureate’s recent talk — see my last post — but I’ll let that go.) “Biopunk,” a new non-fiction book by Marcus Wohlsen, describes the movement. From the article:

“Wohlson discovers that biohackers, like the open-source programmers and software hackers who came before, are united by a profound idealism. They believe in the power of individuals as opposed to corporate interests, in the wisdom of crowds as opposed to the single-mindedness of experts, and in the incentive to do good for the world as opposed to the need to turn a profit.

“Suspicious of scientific elitism and inspired by the success of open-source computing, the bio DIYers believe that individuals have a fundamental right to biological information, that spreading the tools of biotech to the masses will accelerate the pace of progress, and that the fruits of the biosciences should be delivered into the hands of the people who need them the most. “


Item No. 3:  One of the most exquisite websites I’ve ever seen is the Essential Vermeer.  It’s a beautiful archive of Vermeer’s works with interactive hotspots in the paintings that provide an incredibly detailed history of the item and its importance to Vermeer.

The snippet at the top is from this site, a fragment of  The Astronomer. I think of it as “The Explorer.” (That’s my excuse for including it at the top here.)

I imagine this astronomer with that same deep spark of passion for exploration — just like the examples in science and technology and engineering. I think I love profound idealism…

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