The Longest Night

The Longest Night


Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018


*Song lyrics in { }  written by by the English poet Christina Rossetti.  Rossetti wrote the poem in 1872 (or earlier) as a response to the magazine Scribner’s Monthlys request for a Christmas poem.  When Gustav Holst composed a melody to the poem in 1906 a new Christmas carol was born.


{In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.}  Today at 4:33 CST, the winter solstice will occur.  The date of this solstice, as with the other solstices, varies from year to year.  This is because the tropical year, the time it takes the sun to return to the same spot relative to planet Earth, is different than our calendar year.  The 21st or 22nd of December are the most common dates for the winter solstice, though.  The next solstice occurring on December 20th will not happen until 2080 and the next December 23rd winter solstice will not occur until the year 2303.  It is doubtful anyone reading this will be alive then.


The specific time of the winter solstice is determined by the exact instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on a 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis.  Also at this exact time, the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  While the solstice will occur within minutes of this post being published, it occurs at the exact same time worldwide and even for the astronauts on the International Space Station.


Since the solstice brings about the longest night of the year, it stands to reason that it is also the shortest day of the year.  After all, each day is only 24 hours, regardless where it falls on the calendar.  For example, New York City averages nine hours and fifteen minutes of daytime or sunlight, depending on the weather, on the winter solstice.  On the summer solstice it experiences fifteen hours and five minutes of daylight.  That compares to Helsinki Finland receiving five hours and 49 minutes of light and Barrow Alaska n9ot even having a sunrise.  In fact, Barrow’s next sunrise will not be until the third week of January.  The North Pole, which has a prominent role in determining the solstice, has not experienced a sunrise since October while the South Pole will not have a sunset until March.


Early cultures created a great many myths about the winter solstice.  Celebrations were held to beckon the return of the sun and to celebrate rebirth.  Many believe the traditional Yule logs originated in Scandinavian and/or Germanic cultures to encourage light to return to the earth.  Great feasts were prepared and cattle slaughtered so that people could dine heavily since there would be no fresh meat or vegetables for several months.


{Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.}  December 21st has had a prominent role in history for other reasons, though.  The Pilgrims arrived in the New World at Plymouth, MA and went on to settle and found a society encouraging free worship.  In 1898 on this day, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium which opened the door for the Atomic Age.  On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 was launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.  The Mayan calendar supposedly ended on December 21, 2012 and many feared it would be the end of the world.  Others believe it was the rebirth of a new era for earth.


Some ancient cultures believed dark spirits walked the earth at this time while others felt it to be a time of renewal.  For most people, the winter solstice is a time of continued hurrying around while they prepared for the holidays.  {What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.}  How we should celebrate this longest night is by gathering energy to make tomorrow the best day ever.  It truly is a wise man/woman who does their part in helping others, sharing goodness, showing kindness to all.  On this the longest night which has followed the shortest day, I invite you to share your heart with others.

Key to Success

Key to Success


The Creative Soul


I remember applying for a job once to teach the general population about better parenting.  The interview went along as I had expected.  I was asked about my training, my work experience, and then I was asked how I would market the program.  As I sought to quickly gather my thoughts to respond, the interviewer smiled and handed me three blank sheets of paper.  “Here is some paper.  Develop a marketing outline and then draw up a brochure.  We’ll be back.”  Never has a blank piece of paper – the semblance of nothing – seemed so threatening.


Albert Einstein felt the key to his success was imagination:  “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”  Most writers know the terror of facing a blank piece of paper but so do others in the artistic community, whether it is a blank canvas, a blank piece of sheet music, an empty stage, or a simple block of stone or clay.  Is it possible to teach ourselves how to be creative or is it simply something we are born with, that thing that keeps our mental state from staying focused on the mundane?


Research shows that children encouraged by their parents to participate in pretend games and role playing tend to have higher levels of fantasy as adults.  Are they the only ones who can become great artists?  Is it possible to train creativity or encourage a creative imagination?  The answer to those questions depends on what you are calling creativity but basically, the answer is yes. 


Research seems to imply that our environment can boost creativity and, like many old adages say, hard work can also pay off in becoming more creative.  Behavior is also contagious and when we engage with creative content or watch someone else be highly creative, it can rub off on us and we ourselves increase our own creativity.


Research has shown that there are two phases to creative thinking – divergent thinking and convergent thinking.  Divergent thinking is the ability to think of a wide variety of options or ideas, all connected to a main problem or topic.  Such thinking is supported by intuitive thinking, a fast, automatic mental response to a problem or dilemma.  Convergent thinking then helps us evaluate those ideas or options for their usefulness, feasibility, etc.  This involves analytical thinking, a deliberate, focused thought process which ultimately and hopefully allows us to select the correct option or idea to employ.


We all use creativity every day in solving routine problems.  For instance, you are making a vegetable soup out of left-overs and suddenly your sibling drops in to surprise everyone.  You can add some broth or water to the soup to have more servings.  This is a creative response.  OR you get all dressed up for a fall day in a nice button-down cardigan, shirt, and slacks when someone on your commute bumps into you, spilling your coffee on your shirt.  You stop by the restroom on the way to your office and remove your shirt, buttoning up the cardigan and wearing it as a sweater top instead of just a jacket.  This is another creative solution.


Not all creative imagination needs to compose an opera or paint the ceiling of a grand cathedral.  Research indicates that the first thing we can do in becoming a grand master of creative output is to immerse ourselves in creative experiences.  Exposure to the arts and putting out some effort are important first steps to creative success.  Sadly, it is less about having a muse and more about putting in the effort.  Famed scientist Louis Pasteur knew the answer when he said “Fortune favors the prepared mind.”


We have spoken about this before but I think it bears repeating.  Anyone can be an artist.  Not everyone can be a Michelangelo or Andrew Lloyd Webber but we all have the potential to be an artist.  The process is vital in becoming creative and should be emphasized rather than just concentrating on the end result – the goal of a masterpiece.  The journey you travel in becoming creative is far more important – the play, the practice, the exposure; these are all the keys to successful creativity and enjoying the creative life.


Step, Stumble Stretch, Succeed

Step, Stumble, Stretch, Succeed

Epiphany 42 – 43 – 44 – 45


Life is not lived in brief spurts, regardless of how many characters it seems we can summarize and reduce our being into on Twitter.  Life is a building process and we, if we use the past properly, can and should be the architects of a productive and effective tomorrow. 


Most of us go nowhere quickly when we refuse to take that next step.  The wonderful thing about infants is that they have little fear in taking that next step.  They see others moving and want to join the parade of life.  They spend months learning to pull themselves up and, hesitantly, stick that leg out, completely unaware of what their foot is or its purpose in balancing them.  They simply go for it and, generally speaking, fall flat on their face or rump.  Most will be undeterred and immediately try again while a few cautious souls will wait a minute.  The thing is, though – they continue to try… and fall… and try again.


Here is the point where I generally insert a quote and never fear, there will be a quote coming but first…think.  How many steps did you take yesterday?  For those health-conscious few who are tracking their steps the answer will be relatively easy.  The next question is a bit harder.  How many of those steps took you where you ultimately want to be in life?  Here is where the quote, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, comes:  “All things are engaged in writing their history…Not a foot steps into the snow, or along the ground, but prints in characters more or less lasting, a map of its march.”


Every step we take is an important part of our journey.  Some teach us while others delight us.  Often, we are like an infant and stumble.  The world would have us think that stumbling is wrong.  Yes it hurts and often puts us back a few paces on our ultimate pathway for our goals but is it really wrong?  Is not the difference between success and failure merely our perspective?  Can stumbling blocks really be steps to success?


Daniel M. Gilbert, in his book “Stumbling on Happiness” writes:  ““Consider this scenario. You own shares in Company A. During the past year you considered switching to stock in Company B but decided against it. You now find that you would have been better off by 1200$ if you had switched to the stock of Company B. You also owned shares in Company C. During the past year you switched to stock in Company D. You now find out that you’d have been better off by 1200$, if you kept your stock in Company C.

“Which error causes you more regret? Studies show that about Immune to Reality nine out of ten people expect to feel more regret when they foolishly switch stocks than when they foolishly fail to switch stocks, because most people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions. But studies also show that nine out of ten people are wrong.  Indeed, in the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret “not” having done things much more than they regret things they “did”, which is why the most popular regrets include not going to college, not grasping profitable business opportunities, and not spending enough time with family and friends.”


The infant believes that as long as he/she is moving, progress is being made.  The wisdom is that belief is staggering because it is very true.  As long as we are moving, we are taking the next steps that will lead us to our ultimate goal.  We are going to stumble and perhaps even fail.  It is inevitable.  Getting back up and trying again is the first step towards success, however. 


Have you ever watched an infant try again after failing to stand up and successfully walk?  Whether they fell back onto their bottom or they fell forward and needed to turn over, at some point they are once again sitting up, ready to try to take that first step once more.  So what do they do next?  They stretch forward.


Whether you go for Lailah Gifty Akita’s “You have to stretch your soul to find your potential strength” or Sunday Adelaja’s “You are meant to stretch yourself in life”, the message is the same.  Life requires us to stretch, to forego rigid movements and beliefs and reach for something just beyond our grasp.  Often, like that infant, we will fall but we alone can decide whether our falling is really a step forward or the end.  Nothing guarantees failure like staying in one place and doing nothing.


This post, a four-part post, is not that complicated.  We take a step and then we stretch.  Not the runners among you will be shouting right about now that I’ve got the order wrong.  Before we step we need to stretch and I will not disagree.  However, sometimes we have to simply make that first step and then, preparing to make successive steps, stretch.  All too often we fail to take a step because we feel unprepared.  Allow me to impart a small pearl of wisdom:  We cannot be fully prepared for every step we take in life.  Life is lived in the unexpected as well as in the prepared, carefully planned journeys.  None has a complete sense of control in life.


“Expect little and we live up to the expectation.  Expect a lot, and we stretch and grow to meet the expectation.”  John Stahl-Wert uses this in working with corporate leaders and team-building seminars but it applies to our individual lives as well.  We tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies at times.  Believe you are a failure and you will be a failure.  Believe you can take that next step and you most likely will.  It might not be just exactly as you had planned but…. Reread two paragraphs up and realize that life sometimes gives up the unexpected as a learning tool.  The infant eventually learns to walk and to try.  Other skills quickly follow, not because walking is the first step to adulthood but because learning to try and try again is.


Each step you took yesterday got you to today and your steps today will lead into tomorrow.  If at the end of the day you can count your steps, whether just a few or all of them, you will have been successful.  I’m not talking about success defines as being the riches person on earth or amassing a huge stock portfolio or being the most beautiful or handsome or even winning the latest Twitter war of words.  Success is found in the sum total of everything you did and each step you took. 


Life’s successes are not sitting on a certain latitude and longitude just waiting for us to find them like hidden Easter eggs or the prize in a box of cereal.  Each step we take leads somewhere and yes, sometimes we will fall.  How we utilize that opportunity will grow and stretch us, preparing us to stumble at times but to also try again and succeed.  An infant often seems like an inexhaustible bundle of energy and when that energy is dedicated towards learning to walk, they succeed.   Each step is an opportunity towards success, an important ring on the ladder of life. 

Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go

Pentecost 57


Decades ago I read an essay that stated world peace was a pipe dream, an impossible hope.  The argument was that because most industrialized nations had a war-based economy, peace was a deterrent to their continued success.  In a private conversation with the sitting Argentinian president U.S. President George W. Bush reportedly said something very similar, the quote being “Nothing stimulates an economy like war.”


Economist Henry Hazlitt published what he called the “broken window fallacy” in 194r in his book “Economics in One Lesson”.  Hazlitt gave the example of a boy throwing a rock through a storekeeper’s front window.  The broken window would cost the storekeeper an expense to repair.  Let’s posit that expense would be three hundred dollars.  The glazer would need supplies to make the new window so he also would spend roughly three hundred dollars with his suppliers who would need to refurbish their stock, etc.  The original three hundred dollars spent by the store keeper would be imitated in each link on the supply chain also spending three hundred with their dealers, providing income and jobs for all involved. 


Hazlitt summarized his broken window fallacy and the resulting conclusions, both incorrect and correct.    “The logical conclusion from all this would be … that the little hoodlum who threw the brick, far from being a public menace, was a public benefactor.  The Broken Window Fallacy is enduring because of the difficulty of seeing what the shopkeeper would have done. We can see the gain that goes to the glass shop. We can see the new pane of glass in the front of the store. However, we cannot see what the shopkeeper would have done with the money if he had been allowed to keep it, precisely because he wasn’t allowed to keep it.”  In other words, we never get to see what positive things might have been wrought with that same three hundred dollars.


Environmental activist David Suzuki uses an example of a corporation polluting a river instead of a broken window.  Once the river is polluted, Suzuki explains that a costly program will be implemented and residents will purchase bottled water because the naturally flowing water they had depended upon is now polluted.  While the grocery owner will appreciate the increase in sales of bottled water and some people might be hired to work the cleanup program, overall quality of life has suffered and the individual has lost money in his/her pocket because of the need to purchase the bottled water.   Again, we would never know what programs might have used that cleanup money if the pollution had not occurred.  Economic winners are always easier to track than the losers and Hazlitt proved there will always be losers in such a thought process.

Economist Mike Moffat explains the fallacy in a war-based economy using refrigerators.  He asks us to imagine an army dropping refrigerators on the enemy instead of bombs.    To obtain these refrigerators, they could, Mike proposed, do one of two things.  Each citizen would be asked to pay one hundred dollars to purchase said appliance.  That means, the citizen would lose instantly one hundred dollars of their disposable income, income they might have used to purchase life-essential items.  The other option would be for the government to come into each home and remove the privately-owned refrigerator from each citizen’s house. 


Moffat correctly assumed neither would be a satisfactory solution to the general population.  Yet, Moffat explained, an increase in taxes to pay for war does steal money from your disposable income.  The destruction of war not only takes away someone’s appliances, it destroys their entire environment and often, their families, either directly or indirectly.  No war has ever been fought without destruction and death.  War has come to be seen as an economic tool and yet, like the broken window, it is not.


Peace offers a much quicker and clearer path toward economic prosperity and general well-being.  Monies spent on the destruction and subsequent injuries could be spent on finding cures for naturally-occurring illnesses.  Instead of fighting each other, the economies of said countries could grow with stability and increased growth which would provide more trade opportunities, increased production and escalated job growth and prospects.


So what, are you thinking, does this have to do with Pokémon Go?  Pokémon Go is the latest RMG – reality-based mobile game.  It is a multi-player, individually played game in which imaginary characters are seen in the real world and battled then captured.  Confused?  Let me explain.  Players use smart devices to view their surroundings.  The game application then superimposes the Pokémon characters into the viewed environment.  For example, you might see a character resting beside your garbage can at the end of your driveway.  There might be two sitting on the curb at the local library.  Some public places are designated for specific activities within the game.  While you compete in the overall points competition, the game is played solo.


Many have posited that this game is getting kids off the couch and out into the real world.  After all, the more you move around, the more opportunities you have to score points.  Like the broken window fallacy, though, we fail to see the real picture.  While these players are moving around capturing and accruing points, other things are left undone, other sights unseen, other responsibilities left undone.


What we need, I realized, is a Peace Go game.  We need to recognize the points the world accrues when we do find a cure for a disease like cancer.  Forty years ago people died from AIDS but today, people are living with it longer than anyone ever dreamed possible.  Two years ago, an ice challenge dared people to pour ice cold water over themselves.  Those who failed to take the dare paid ten dollars and many paid rather than get soaked in freezing water.  Yesterday it was announce that those monies have resulted in medical breakthroughs.  I know of no one who died from the ice bucket challenge but today many have a better chance to live because of it.


We need to start awarding points to those who see opportunity in ordinary living and create extraordinary living for others.  We need to expand our definition of a hero to include the teacher who teaches a child how to say thank you, to the stay-at-home mother who teaches courtesy to her children, to the father who works a dull job but provides for his family.  We need to realize that we all are players in the reality game application called life.  The only way to really win that game is to create and support peace.  Otherwise we are all losers. 


We move around our environment just like that storekeeper.  No one wants their home invaded or destroyed.  We not only play the game, we make the rules.  Will you create an effectively attractive strategy for winning today?  Will you be the window breaker or someone who helps build opportunities for us all?

A Healthy Start

A Healthy Start

Pentecost 2


Do one good deed every day.  Sounds like one of those New Year resolutions, doesn’t it?  It is actually the first step to improving your health.  Who knew?   Performing charitable acts, even very small ones is one of the surest steps a person can make towards having a healthy and happy life.  This series is going to focus on the spirit of our living and practicing philanthropic acts is one of the simplest yet most rewarding things we can do.  Giving works both for the giver and the recipient.


In 2013 over forty international studies were examined and the evidence compiled indicated that volunteering and doing good deeds can lead to over a twenty percent reduction in mortality rates.  In other words, living, even just a little bit, for someone else means you yourself can live longer.  Pentecost is often call the “Ordinary Time”.  This Pentecost, Pentecost 2016, we will explore how to improve our own living by giving.  I hope to give you one way each day to improve another’s living as well as your own, and it will not require a great deal of money or time.  We will, in summary, each day make this ordinary time extraordinary living.


Many people think only millionaires can be philanthropic but the truth is we all have something to give.  For example, we each have twenty=four hours each day.  Seven to eight of those hours need to be allocated for work while another eight are usually set aside for work.  A healthy travel time to and from work is no greater than one hour each way and eating meals should take between forty-five and sixty minutes.  That still leaves three hours:  8 + 8 + 2 + 3 = 21.  Of course personal hygiene and getting dressed should factor into the day as well as some light entertainment.  Still you could probably find time to volunteer one or two hours a week. 


One study yielded the results that senior citizens who donated at least one hundred hours a year were twenty-eight percent less likely to die than their peers.  That is one hour every three days, give or take.  It translates into two hours a week or 104 hours.  “But that’s not a magic number—it could be 75 hours or 125,” says study coauthor Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. “The important thing is that you’re doing it regularly.”  Doing good is not just good for older people, either.  Another study revealed children saw a drop in their cholesterol when volunteering.

Not everything needs to be done for someone else.  Starting the day off with doing something good will help us be fit.  Take for instance the seven minute exercises that are so popular right now.  You can google them or search for an app on your smart phone but here are seven that take seven minutes to do.  I know what you are thinking – I have not any extra time; my schedule is packed.  Well, there are one thousand, four hundred and forty minutes in each day – yep, 1440.  If you do not think your body is worth 1/205.714286, then you have some serious mixed-up priorities.  Seriously, mixed up priorities.


First let’s start with every school-aged child’s favorite exercise – the jumping jacks.  One jumps into a position with arms stretched upward and out towards the sky and feet also outward.  The body resembles an “X” when this is done properly.  Some of us, however, have passed the age of jumping.  You can still put your body in this position.  Do this rapidly for one minute (or longer.  There are no penalties if you managed to spend fifteen minutes a day doing these instead of just seven!).  Starting with your feet together and your arms at your side and then jumping or hurriedly moving into position with your arms above your head and your legs wide apart is great for your cardiovascular system.  This is a great exercise to improve one’s stamina and endurance and life does require that.  It will also, over time, increase your flexibility and circulation.  The human is not a vase.  It was not created to sit still.


Exercise number two is a wall sit.  Stand with your back flat against a wall and slowly lower yourself to a sitting position or halfway down the wall.  In other words, pretend there is an imaginary chair and you are slowly sitting in it.  If you are really stiff or have knee problems, take this exercise very slowly.  None of these should be done without considering your own personal condition and health status.  Feel free to print this off and take it to consult with your doctor before trying.  Remember each of these exercises is done for one minute so don’t try to win a world record doing wall sits on the first day.  Doing it has benefits, even if you only manage two or three at first.  Going slow is fine.


Next comes the squat and this is simply doing the same thing as the wall sit without the wall.  Hold your arms out front and slowly lower your body to a squatting position, going as low as you can.  If you need to, start holding onto a chair.  Again, we are aiming for flexibility and mobility, not a gold medal.


The next two exercises also involve the entire body and can be done holding onto a chair if you need.  The lunge is everybody’s favorite silly walk.  Move down a hallway, taking a bit longer steps than normal and lower your body as you go.  Ideally, the knee-bend results with your leg at a ninety-degree angle but any angle is fine for the beginner.  Most of us do not sleep in our kitchen/bathroom/closet.  Even someone in an efficiency apartment has to move around their living space.  Doing lunges while you go to the closet or the bathroom to shower combines the act of getting ready for work or school with exercising.


Another great exercise to do while getting ready to leave for your busy day is high knee running.  The high knee exercise involves lifting your knees to your waist and yes, holding onto a chair to do this is fine.  Please lift as fast as you safely can – emphasis on safety, especially when you first begin this.  Like the lunge, this exercise helps improve your core or central body’s strength.  Our torso supports us so we should support it, after all.  Both the lunge and high knee running also improve flexibility and balance as well as tone your abs, thighs, and derriere muscles.


The next exercise is one you can do in the shower or immediately after toweling dry.  If you are into exercising daily, then you probably are already giving your body seven minutes and push-ups are a regular part of your daily regimen.  If they are not, then please add them.  However, for the rest of us, doing a push-up, even the thought of one, stops us.  You can do a standing push-up, though, against a wall; hence, the shower.  Standing facing a wall, place your hand at should height.  Position yourself about eight inches from the wall and with your palms flat against the wall, lean in.  Then push yourself back into standing up straight.  The hardest part about this exercise is to keep from laughing when you cat thinks you are a new post to rub against.  Moving on to regular push-ups is permitted but this form of push-ups will also provide you benefits.


My last suggested exercise is really the first one you should do because you can do it in bed.  Of course, doing it on the floor is also permitted and again, don’t be surprised is your small pet think you are a new couch.  This exercise is called the plank and wins the prize for all-round benefits.  In fact, because it seems so simple you might just skip it but please don’t.  In exercise, as in life, sometimes the simplest things yield the best results.


To do a plank, one simply holds one’s body off the bed or ground in a straight line.  This is done by bending elbows and resting the arms on the bed or floor and then pushing up with toes remaining on the bed or floor.  Your body will have the appearance of an incline or plank.  This may sound really simple but trust me, it is not.  Getting into position is easy; holding it is difficult and requires great overall strength.  Most of us do this in bed at some point when turning over.  Start out small and hold for ten seconds and work your way up to one minute.  The plank is wonderful for core conditioning and also for good posture, balance, and other muscles we need to go about our busy lives.


Give yourself seven minutes a day.  You will burn more calories, build muscles, improve your blood circulation and have more energy.  You cannot be good for anyone else if you are not good to yourself.  Maya Angelou once said “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”  I hope you join me doing this ordinary time when we discuss doing simple yet extraordinary things.

Up, Up, and Away

Up, Up and Away

Easter 49


When discussing unlimited potential, the cliché “The Sky’s the limit!” is often used to indicate that anything is possible .  At the time, reaching for the sky was to go beyond reality.  Today, though, it is not uncommon for men and women to do just that – go beyond the sky and into outer space.


On April 9, 1959 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the names of seven astronauts that would take part in Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program of the United States.  These seven men were nicknamed the Mercury Seven.  Thirty-four years later in 1995 a Hollywood Produced borrowed from the nickname in discussing the Mercury Thirteen.


Mercury Thirteen refers to the thirteen women who were part of an Air Force project.  With space a premium in any space craft, two researchers wondered about the advisability of sending women into space rather than men since women tended to have smaller body frames.


Our final installment of this series about female inventors will focus on those women who helped make the space program that the international world has today.  Some were true inventors while others invented thought, potential, and possibilities by their participation.  In this last frontier of gender inequality, the Mercury Thirteen helped pave the way and prove that women could do whatever the men did in outer space.


IN 1960, one year after the announcement of the Mercury Seven astronauts,  Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II and Brig. General Donald Flickinger invited accomplished polot Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb to take the same physical tests that Lovelace’s foundation had developed for NASA to select the Mercury Seven.  Cobb passed with flying colors (no pun intended!) and other female pilots were invited to participate in the testing.  Within the next year, nineteen women had undergone the rigorous testing.  The oldest was the forty-one year old wife of a United States senator and mother of eight children while the youngest was twenty-three years old and a flight instructor. 


With the testing completed, thirteen women passed the same physical examinations that the male candidates for astronauts had to pass.  Those thirteen women were: Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Jane B. Hart (now deceased), Gene Nora Stumbough [Jessen], Jerri Sloan [Truhill], Rhea Hurrle [Woltman], Sarah Gorelick [Ratley], Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman (now deceased), and Jan Dietrich (now deceased).  While none of these women ever went into space, their participation and success in this program proved women could and would one day become astronauts.  The first female astronaut was Sally Ride but there have been forty female astronauts that have gone into space from the United States with the first woman in space being a Russian cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova.  Eileen Collins was the first U.S. female astronaut to pilot a spacecraft.


Having someone to go into space was just a piece of the puzzle of space flight, however.  Some of the earliest and most innovative computer programmers were women.  We’ve already discussed Dr. Grace Hopper and her inventions and contributions to computer science.  She was the one who, upon learning a computer was not working because of the moth that had somehow gotten inside the processing unit, coined the term “debug”.  The female innovators of computer science and programming were not afraid to try something new.


“When I first got into it, nobody knew what we were doing.  It was like the Wild West.”  That is how Margaret Hamilton describes her days as one of the first programmers for the Apollo Space Program.  Margaret would take her four=-year-old daughter to work with her at M.I.T. and while the child slept on the floor, Margaret would try out new things and write new code.  “We had to simulate everything before it flew.  Once the code was solid, it would be shipped off to a nearby Raytheon facility where a group of women, expert seamstresses known to the Apollo program as the “Little Old Ladies,” threaded copper wires through magnetic rings (a wire going through a core was a 1; a wire going around the core was a 0). Forget about RAM or disk drives; on Apollo, memory was literally hardwired and very nearly indestructible.”  The seventy-pound computers on the Apollo crafts would also employ the first auto-pilot systems that now are commonplace on commercial airliners.


I mentioned at the beginning of this series that I was chagrined to realize I could not think of forty-nine female inventors.  History tends to lean towards the men in its reporting and I felt that was a great reason to do this series.  In the past forty-nine days we have discussed a total of seventy-seven female inventors, just the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of proof that intelligence is not gender specific.


I hope you have enjoyed this series and perhaps learned something.  I most certainly have!  The true take-away, though, is that nothing should stop us from becoming the best we can be.  Margaret Hamilton is now her own boss as the head of the technology company Hamilton Technologies.  In an article in “Verne” two years ago she discussed the differences between then (1960) and now for women.  “It depends on who the woman was, who she worked for and what the culture was in a particular organization. In general, some things were more difficult then and some more difficult now. On hindsight, some of the things that were accepted back then, because we (men and woman) did not know any better, are not accepted now; and they often seem quaint and even astounding when looking back. We still do other things out of ignorance today, such as continuing to pay women lower salaries than men.”


Today software is a common term but fifty years ago it did not even warrant a line item in the budget for a space project.  Today women still make less than men when doing the same job at the same level of performance.  We still have a long way to go.  The good thing is we still have a way to go at all, a chance to improve and invent a better tomorrow.  Speaking of tomorrow, a new series starts.  See you then! 


A Life Denied – A Life Saved

A Life Denied – A Life Saved

Easter 48


The motive or impetus for this series on women inventors was the diabolical and tragic use of three kidnapped schoolgirls as suicide bombers by a group of Islamic fanatics and terrorists operating in Africa.  This group of rather cowardly and anything-but-religious males seeks domination and they do so by sending others out to rape, pillage, and die.  The Internet is full of millions of references that uphold my next statement: Only the weak and lacking in self-esteem need to resort to domination and manipulation, kidnapping and other acts of violence, name-calling to incite frenzy and panic.  People convinced of their purposes and beliefs can discuss such calmly and with conviction, not screaming and waving automatic firearms and throwing grenades.  The death of one of those schoolgirls for such an unworthy cause was beyond tragic.


There is no basis for thinking women are not capable of higher learning or intelligent thought processes and I sought to give multiple examples of such.  Gender discrimination has no one event to mark as its beginning.  Some claim the Biblical Old testament story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is its beginning.  Others cite basic physiology as the reason.  Males were bigger and stronger and they could guarantee the most successful hunts and returning with food while the females did better at tending the cave or whatever passed as living arrangements.  Regardless of the earl beginnings, there is no need for gender discrimination today.


Today was we begin to conclude this series we will discuss women who were, for one reason or another, denied opportunity.  These women created their own lives, much as we all should and in doing so, created a much better world for us all.  They refused to let life enslave them or restrict them and in doing so, invented life-saving devices.


Guiliana Cavagliere Tesoro was born in Venice Italy into a Jewish family.  She was denied the right to higher education due to fascist laws which were passed under the reign of Mussolini.  She moved to Switzerland and then the United States and completed a Ph.D. in chemistry at Yale University at the age of 21. She married that same year and gave birth to two children but otherhood did not slow her down.  Before her death in 2002, Dr. Guiliana Tesoro would invent flame-retardant materials that save the lives of firefighters every day.  Some of her other synthetic fibers enhance our own lives daily, such things as permanent press clothing, for instance.


Edith Flanigen was born in Buffalo, New York and benefitted from attending a Roman Catholic all-girls school which had an excellent chemistry department.  Edith went on to major in chemistry in college and earned two degrees.  She left college and went to work for Union Carbide Company, having a most successful career there that would span forty-two years.


Edith Flanigen was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2002 and awarded in 2014 the National Medal of Technology and Invention by President Barrack Obama.  Before her retirement she invented more than two hundred different synthetic substances, awarded more than one hundred and nine patents, and wrote over thirty-six scientific works which were published.


One of Edith’s most successful invention is something called Zeolite X, a molecular sieve that can separate petroleum into various parts.  She also invented a synthetic emerald.  This was not only used for commercial jewelry, its more important application is in the use of lasers and other scientific equipment.  Edith Flanigen is proof that women can not only think but contribute when allowed to surpass societal norms.  Edith’s synthetic emerald has allowed the use of lasers in many life-saving operations as well as the development of drugs to combat disease.


Maria Beasley lived in the nineteenth century and disliked the life rafts of the day.  She set about inventing something better and in 1882 received a patent for such.  Maria’s life raft is similar to those used today and consisted of a lightweight design that could be folded and yet still support several grown adults when put into action.


At the 1884 Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, Maria Beasley displayed some of her fifteen inventions, almost all of which earned her money which was a bit unheard of for that time in society.  They average working woman earned about three dollars a day while Maria grossed twenty thousand dollars a year.  Her inventions included a steam generator, a foot warmer, a wooden-barrel making machine and an anti-derailment device for trains.


Rosalind Franklin grew up in London, England and also benefited from a parochial schooling, this time at a Jewish school.  Rosalind knew from an early age that science was her great love and she studied it prodigiously.  Her aunt described her as a child:  “Rosalind is alarmingly clever – she spends all her time doing arithmetic for pleasure, and invariably gets her sums right.”


Rosalind would go on to study coal, using helium to determine its density.  This probably does not sound like much to those of us not scientifically included but her studies of this led to the invention of the gas mask, among other things.  She continued her studies of coal and how temperatures affect the molecules of substances, gaining a reputation as an experimental diffraction researcher.  It was this reputation and an appointment at King’s College that led to her work with DNA fibers.


Franklin was half of a team that discovered there were two types of DNA.  It would be twelve years before the true nature of this discovery would be appreciated and by that time, Rosalind Franklin had died of ovarian cancer.  In 1962 James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA double helix, a discovery made possible by the x-ray diffraction discoveries of Rosalind Franklin.   Many believed she would have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry that year but the Nobel Committee does not award posthumously.


Candace Helen Brown Elliot is the modern woman, innovative and inventive.  A native of the area in California known as Silicon Valley for its technological businesses, Candace is best known for her work with flat panel displays, one of which you might be using this very moment.   Such advances in computer displays enable doctors to advise on operations halfway around the world.  She has nearly one hundred patents issued to her with others pending.  A mother of two grown daughters, Candace is also a pilot and has had several technological companies of her own.   She had her husband live in Silicon Valley where in her spare time, she gardens.


Candace Brown Elliot is a firm believer in giving people a chance to develop their own potential and has some strong thoughts about the subject.  “Even the best and brightest from our leading universities have rarely been instructed on how to be creative.  Our engineering schools teach convergent thinking skills, but rarely teach, or even acknowledge the value of, divergent thinking.  Consider that each and every class assignment that they have likely ever work on had a single “right” answer and no other.  But novel problems require novel solutions.  A good training series for all employees would include the three basics, divergent thinking skills, convergent thinking skills, and continuing self-education skills.”


I’ve said it before and I’m saying it now.  Life is messy.  Things go awry, people disappoint.  Life happens and it is neither always pretty nor pleasant.  Each day is a novel experience and, as these women have proven, it often requires a novel approach to see it through to the end of the day.  Some call it thinking outside the box while others would offer we need to find the right box and then develop it to its full potential.  When it comes to potential, the sky is the limit, regardless of gender.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s female inventors.  They certainly have gone above and beyond!


The Dreaded “D” Word

The Dreaded “D” Word

Lent 33


Editorial Note:  Someone asked why I would begin a perfectly good week with a discussion about discipline.  Well, as it turns out, due to weather, scheduling snafus I can attribute to the time change in the United States regarding Daylight Savings Time, and the inevitable hiccups that occur when we connect cyberspace with realistic space, you got an extra day without the discipline discussion.  Like everything in life, however, discipline has caught up with us.


When we think of discipline, we usually think about punishment.  What we should be thinking is academics.  Lent 19, two weeks ago, we discussed evangelism of self and how we presented ourselves and advocated for ourselves to others.  I remarked on the general reaction whenever anyone used the word evangelism and how perhaps we should replace it with “habit” or “presence”.


Discipline is another of those words that draws an immediate and strong response, one that is usually negative.  The word originates from the Latin “discipulus”.  The Latin word referred to objects of knowledge and/or instruction and could be either actual objects or elements that assisted instruction such as teachers.    Our usual response to the word and definition that involves punishment and that comes from the French derivative of the original Latin “descepline”, which defined the term as physical punishment used to aid in teaching.


Discipline and punishment became connected because someone was not a good student.  That may seem like the punchline of a joke but it really isn’t. Because students needed some sort of organization in their studies and later on, some type of behavior motivation to complete said studies, the two worlds of academia and punishment became one in defining the word discipline.


Bertrand Russell wrote an interesting treatise on education and punishment and approached the two in a manner befitting our purpose in growing a better self.  Russell wrote: “Any serious educational theory must consist of two parts: a conception of the ends of life, and a science of psychological dynamics, i.e. of the laws of mental change. … The conception which I should substitute as the purpose of education is civilization, a term which, as I mean it, has a definition which is partly individual, partly social. It consists, in the individual, of both intellectual and moral qualities: intellectually, a certain minimum of general knowledge, technical skill in one’s own profession, and a habit of forming opinions on evidence; morally, of impartiality, kindliness, and a modicum of self-control. I should add a quality which is neither moral nor intellectual, but perhaps physiological: zest and joy of life. In communities, civilization demands respect for law, justice as between man and man, purposes not involving permanent injury to any section of the human race, and intelligent adaptation of means to ends. If these are to be the purpose of education, it is a question for the science of psychology to consider what can be done towards realizing them, and, in particular, what degree of freedom is likely to prove most effective.


Russell felt we should substitute the idea of education as purely academic and make it reality.  Russell proposed we think as education as living, the only way and true meaning of the word civilization.  After all, the purpose of education is for the betterment of civilization and its continuance, Russell felt.


Bertrand Russell has strong views on the organization or discipline of education.  “On the question of freedom in education there are at present three main schools of thought, deriving partly from differences as to ends and partly from differences in psychological theory. There are those who say that children should be completely free, however bad they may be; there are those who say they should be completely subject to authority, however good they may be; and there are those who say they should be free, but in spite of freedom they should be always good. This last party is larger than it has any logical right to be; children, like adults, will not all be virtuous if they are all free. The belief that liberty will ensure moral perfection is a relic of Rousseauism, and would not survive a study of animals and babies. Those who hold this belief think that education should have no positive purpose, but should merely offer an environment suitable for spontaneous development. I cannot agree with this school, which seems to me too individualistic, and unduly indifferent to the importance of knowledge. We live in communities which require co-operation, and it would be utopian to expect all the necessary co-operation to result from spontaneous impulse. The existence of a large population on a limited area is only possible owing to science and technique; education must, therefore, hand on the necessary minimum of these. The educators who allow most freedom are men whose success depends upon a degree of benevolence, self-control, and trained intelligence which can hardly be generated where every impulse is left unchecked; their merits, therefore, are not likely to be perpetuated if their methods are undiluted. Education, viewed from a social standpoint, must be something more positive than a mere opportunity for growth. It must, of course, provide this, but it must also provide a mental and moral equipment which children cannot acquire entirely for themselves.”


That reads like quite a lot and it is but I implore you to please take the time to go back through it and make up your own opinion.  There are some things in that paragraph I like and others I do not agree with at all.  Two things stand out to me:  Russell’s disbelief in spontaneous goodness and a strict adherence or rules for life.


I believe in organization and really like organizing things.  Do not assume this means my house is spotless.  It is clean but very cluttered and I make very few apologies for that.  Life is much more than simply putting things in their place.  For me life is about using what we have learned and being open to learning more.  Russell would probably disregard that discipline or school of thought.


I also believe the purpose of learning and living is to develop those spontaneous good thoughts and actions which Russell does not think possible or beneficial.  “We live in communities which require co-operation, and it would be utopian to expect all the necessary co-operation to result from spontaneous impulse. The existence of a large population on a limited area is only possible owing to science and technique.”  I respectfully disagree with Russell on this.  Yes we are able to occupy large numbers of people within a confined space due to advancements made with science and technology but the application of that science and technology must include benevolent deeds which are instigated by benevolent thoughts and feelings.  When we forego such, we lose our humanity.


Discipline is necessary because it actually defines us.  When seeing a very large person unknown to them, many people assume the person is lazy.  This is a horrible first assumption but it is the first impression many have.  Perhaps the person is not physically active but there could be good reasons for this.  Very few of us are intelligently active.  Reread that last sentence please.  Most of us either are haphazard in our physical activity or obsessive.


The disciplines we develop give our life meaning and definition.  We cannot discuss our garden of self and soul without discussing discipline.  Our week will not, hopefully, be morose, though.  Discipline can be fun and entertaining.  It also will mean a cleansing of the soul, so to speak, if I am to continue to be honest with you.


So relax and be open to leaning and perhaps developing a new pleasant discipline.  Some believe one of the first and great disciplinarians was Plato.  I will let him have today’s last word:  “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”



An Eye 4 an Eye; a Heart 4 All

An Eye 4 an Eye; a heart 4 All

Lent 4


In mathematics, a Motzkin number for a given number n is the number of different ways of drawing non-intersecting lines between n points on a circle.  This may not seem very interesting to you but Motzkin numbers cross mathematical genres and have a variety of purposes in determining and defining our lives.  I find these numbers interesting because they appear as illustrations – lines drawn between two points or more on a circle.  We live on a planet that is often represented by a globe, which is as you know a circle.  Whenever people connect, they often form the illustration of a Motzkin number.  You know how much I like connections; no surprise that I like Motzkin numbers.


Four is a Motzkin number.  It is also a number, a numeral, and a glyph.  Let’s work backwards in defining the number “4”.  First though, we have to talk about typography.  You all are typography experts, especially if you read my blog posts.  I can be a good proofreader but often miss things in my own posts.  This is usually because I am caught in a time-crunch but also because my mind knows what I wanted to put on the page and so it sees what it thought I wrote and not what is on the page itself.   Typography is arranging things in such a way that they can be read and understood.  Typography is important in numbers because it gives them meaning.  The dashes between a phone number take it from being an identification number to being a phone number, from representing an account number to a website address.


A person writing wants their writing to be understood and sometimes a glyph is employed to do this.  A glyph is a symbol within an agreed-upon set of symbols that is intended to represent a character, a character that exists only in writing.  Glyphs are those marks that collectively result in the spelling of a word or contribute to the meaning.  I should note that such meaning is entirely dependent upon culture and the usage within a certain social construct.  Think about the lower case “I”.  Written properly, there is a dot above the small vertical line.  The dot is not a glyph because it doesn’t really mean anything and the “I” is recognizable without it.  In the Turkish language, though, that dot is a glyph because the Turkish language has two distinct versions of the letter “I” – one with a dot and one without a dot.


Four follows the number three and comes just before the number five.  It is the only number that has the same number of letters in the English language as the value it represents.  A number is a theoretical concept that represents a certain value and a numeral is the physical representation of that value.  Thus the number “4” is a number, a numeral, and a glyph.


Although the number four is found within the Torah, the Quran, and the Bible (Luke 13:29), Biblical numerology does not usually contain the number four.  It is a different story in numerology, that concept that assigns meaning and distinction to numbers.  In that discipline, the number “4” is a number of stability, order, and completion of justice.  Succinctly put, number “4” is the number of earth and mankind.


Four appears quite often in our lives.  There are four points on a compass, four winds, four moon phases, four seasons, and in Western living, four basic elements – earth, wind, fire, and water.  The ancient Greeks considered four to be a perfect number.  In Pythagorean philosophy (Who remembers that from blogs past?) there are four parts of the human soul: mind, opinion, science, and sense.  The luckiest symbol on earth is the four-leaf clover, with each leaf symbolic of mankind’s living – hope, faith, love, luck.


This series is about growing a better self and even in gardening there are four basic steps: preparation, planting, cultivation, harvest.  Every day we live those four steps…or we should.  Every day we are subjected to the four parts of the human souls of others – their thoughts or mind’s doing, their opinions, their interpretation of science, and their logic or sense.  We respond in kind with our own four parts of our own individual souls.  We go through each day with hope, faith, seeking love, and counting a receiving a little bit of luck along the way.


We ourselves were once the theoretical concept of whomever we believe it the Creator or Supreme Spirit.  We are also the living representation of said concept and we each are characters within a greater set of characters – that set known as mankind.  We connect like lines on a circle in everything we do and all of our actions affect not only the rest of mankind but the earth on which we live.  In the Western world the fourth anniversary is one of fruits and flowers – things that bloom within a garden.


Go out today and bloom, living as one of many, knowing that your actions and being counts to us all.  Just like the fruits and flowers, we blossom and then rest, and then again find purpose in our being.  Even for those who have passed, there is still purpose.  They contributions to our living are not forgotten, just as those plants that have lived out their life cycle become part of the mulch that feeds the future garden.  You are important; you have value.  You are the fruits of life and the future of tomorrow.

Prepositions and Miracles

Prepositions and Miracles

Pentecost 122

As you know I love feedback from you guys, my readers and followers.  It is, after all the purpose of this blog – to engage in conversation as we engage in our living.  I do not identify the responder unless they request it due to privacy concerns and respect but I do value each of you deeply.  Over the weekend I was asked a really interesting question:  Aren’t these myths out of date?

I mentioned several days ago that a family member had been in an automobile accident and was in a coma.  She remains in a coma and while some progress has been seen, the outlook is still up in the air.  In other words, we are hoping and praying for a miracle.  Tomorrow her youngest will celebrate her second birthday so while it has become the new “normal” to visit her in the hospital, this celebration of life is also reminding us of the fragility of life.

The mythologies of mankind also served to remind us about the fragility of life.  While they seldom called the endings of their tales of colorful characters, fantastic exploits, and incredible out-of-this-world powers “miracles”, that is how other writings would classify them.  More importantly, they were guidelines for living and, since we are all still living, then I don’t believe them to be out of date.

Depending on the culture, the purpose of the myths varied while many of the characters and deeds were strikingly similar.  While there seems to have been a “parallel development” as Carl Jung phrased it in the development of similar stories, some simply choose to believe that these commonalities are the result of travel.  They believe that, like the trade winds that carried the trading vessels to all parts of the world, exploration and travel carried the stories that were then altered to fit the culture.  I choose to believe there is a much simpler answer: We are all human.

In the throes of tragedy or great confusion, we need to make order out of the chaos.  It is how our brains function and the mind works.  Our eyes see everything as it is but how our brain interprets those visions is not always accurate.  Place a large rectangle in a room identified to us as a bedroom and the rectangle is first thought to be a bed because it makes sense.  That is why fifty eye witnesses can all be telling what they perceive to be the truth and yet none of them tell the same story.

Mythology is the collection of man’s attempt to make order from the chaos that life sometimes throws our way.  The stories may seem unbelievable to those of us living in the twenty-first century but that is just because we have become egotistical.  We think, with all our technology, that we know all the answers.  We don’t even know all the questions so how can we possible know all the answers?

One of my favorite parts of speech is the lowly preposition.  Like the myths of old and even those newer ones, prepositions give us direction.  Place the candle…where?  On the table.  Run…where?  Up the hill.  Where is she hiding?  Around the corner.    Often overlooked, the importance of the preposition is found in its definition:  “a word governing, and usually preceding, a noun or pronoun and expressing a relation to another word or element in the clause”; “a relationship between other words in a sentence”.

Mythologies, those weird stories about even weirder deities that can’t have possibly defied the laws of gravity to accomplish what they allegedly achieved, are all about our relationships – to nature, to each other, to ourselves, and to the universe.  A simple word such as “in” or “after” or “on” may seem insignificant or meaningless but really, without them we would be lost.  We would be left with only “here” or “there”.  We would have no relationship with our living.

I cannot prove that miracle have ever occurred but to an ancient Greek or aborigine, I think the lifting of a space ship that then circles the planet while men and women live within it might just qualify.  What we consider science today was once an imaginary story, the dream of someone many considered crazy.  The miraculous cures that saved many from plagues and viral epidemics are science but they are also answered prayers.

In December we will discuss prayers for all cultures have some sort of them, regardless of what they are called.  Today, though, think about the prepositions in your speech and your actions.  I picked the cup of tea up off the table.  I pushed the vacuum across the floor.  I placed my hand on the puppy’s head.  I also petted the cat but anyone who is owned by a cat knows the cat places their head under your hand!  I raise my spirits and prayers to the supreme being of my beliefs.  It may be neither here nor there but the fact is we are here and, for my at least, mythologies still hold meaning.  And I will continue to have hope that my family member will experience the miracle of science and faith in her recovery.