Saturday, October 5, 2013

Can you trust your memory? Lessons from the Protecting Hand Sculpture

In Lincoln, Nebraska, where I live, there is a sculpture called “The Protecting Hand,” originally created for what was then Woodmen Accident and Life (Now Assurity Life Insurance). It still graces the south side of a downtown building, clearly visible from the state capitol, that unique tower on the plains.

I remember when I was a child, the parents were nude. 

Or were they?

I even remember my second grade teacher commenting on how terrible it was that the figures were all naked, that someone should put clothes on them.  Then I remember seeing them with clothes on for the first time. I seem to remember something about a controversy and how they finally agreed to put clothes on the figures.

But are those memories accurate?

A photo of the sculpture was recently posted on a Facebook page about Lincoln, and people began commenting on the fact that the figures were formerly nude and the clothes were added later.

Then someone had the audacity to state that the figures had always been clothed. That can't be true, I thought.  They were once naked.  Everyone knows that.  It’s part of Lincoln’s lore.

Still unbelieving, I searched for visual proof, and found this photo from the 1957 University of Nebraska yearbook:

Yep, they had clothes in 1957 – and that was before I was born.

Yet there is this collective memory of the figures being naked.  I showed the picture to my 20-year-old daughter, and she said, “Weren’t they naked at one time?”

The Facebook page shows the common consensus: The parents formerly had no clothes. Here are some comments:
  • I remember when the man and woman had no clothes
  • They are hilarious with clothing. I hope they never put clothes on the naked ones in the State Capitol Building!!
  • Remember when woodman had to dress the people. So stupid
  • Glad they never put pants on "The Thinker" or "Venus de Milo". What were the city fathers thinking?
  • I remember when they were not dressed. Really never made sense to me why they had to "clothe" them. Ridiculous.
When someone explained that it was an urban myth that they were naked, people refused to believe it:
  • there was a time, for a very long time, they were unclothed and it was very nice sculpture.
  •  Urban fact. We're talking full frontal nudity, man, woman and child. I was titillated and proud of my city. What poor hired mason had to spackle that penis?
  •  Sorry, not an urban legend. When I was young they were not clothed. Remember it vividly.
  •  I grew up in Lincoln as well. I'm positive they were naked as I also remember the big to-do when they were made to have clothes put on them. It wasn't a story I heard...I actually saw it with my own eyes countless times.
And when someone finally showed pictures to prove it, including one of the sculpture going up, that clearly shows pants:
  •  You can show me all the pictures you want, but I grew up in Lincoln, and I can tell you, they were not clothed. In fact, there was a fig leaf cod piece before there were pants. My mom thought it was so funny, she stopped so we could have a good look see. Don't know what to tell you all, but parts was parts, not pants.

 Some pretty strong feelings here.  And some pretty strong memories.

And then, after we had proved that the figures had always been clothed, someone added their comments (evidently without looking at the previous comments):
  • Miss the original art. Whoever changed this art, was a coward. If you cant handle art, leave the art. Dont change it. I mean, its the art of an insurance company, with 1950s standards. Pretty dang mild.

 Here we go again .. .

Like many legends, there is an element of truth to it.  The artist’s original model showed all the figures entirely nude, but he was asked to modify it before creating the full-sized version on the building.  That model is now on display in the Assurity building, which is now in a different location.

Why do so many people remember the figures being nude?  And why is it such a strong memory? Did it just seem like they were nude because the clothes were so understated?  Did we focus on the children and miss the clothes on the parents? Were we somehow remembering hearing about the artist’s original model and getting it mixed up with the full-sized sculpture?  Did we get some false information somewhere?

The fascinating thing about this memory is that it is not just something we heard or experienced.  It’s a strong visual memory.  Many people can “see” those naked people in their memories.  How could those memories be wrong?

I still find it hard to believe that they have always been clothed.  And what about my second grade teacher?  Was she just talking about the kids being naked? 

I’ll never know.  But what I do know is that we can’t trust our memories all the time.  And certainly not when it comes to naked people in a huge hand.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Impossible Pie

Here's a recipe I've gotta try.  But I'm not a big fan of coconut.  I wonder if I could make it without coconut.  ♥

2 cups milk
1 cup shredded coconut
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 Tablespoon butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Place milk, coconut, eggs, vanilla, flour, butter and sugar in blender. Mix well.
Pour into a greased and floured pie plate. Sprinkle nutmeg on top.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Balsamic glazed fish

I adapted this recipe from one I found on the package of Trader Joe's Frozen Sablefish:

  • 2 T honey
  • 1 t balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T soy sauce or teriyaki sauce
  • 1 T orange or lemon juice
  • 1 T orange or lemon zest or peel
  • optional: ginger (powder or fresh minced)
  • 2 T oil
  • pepper

Season fish with pepper. Combine other ingredients into a glaze and spread over fish. (You may need to melt the honey in the microwave first.) Broil 3-5 minutes, then finish in a 450-degree oven until it flakes with a fork (about 10 minutes per inch of thickness of fish).

Friday, May 31, 2013

Grammar Tip #8: Lightning vs. Lightening

This one should be obvious, but I've seen it misused so many times lately, that I decided to include it in my Grammar Tips.

Here’s how to tell the difference between these two words:
  • Lightning is that flash of light in the sky during a thunderstorm. 
  • Lightening is a verb (specifically a gerund) meaning making lighter in weight,  color or intensity.

Some examples are in order:
  • I saw lightning in the sky.  We’d better go inside.
  • I am lightening my load by taking some books out of my backpack.
  • The sky is lightening as the sun comes up.

Now, here is where it gets confusing. “Lightening CAN refer to the flash of light in a thunderstorm, but only when it is used as a verb, to express action and NOT when it is used as a noun.

Confusing, right?  The best way to figure it out is to ask yourself, Would I use “thunder” or would I use “thundering “ to replace it? If you would use “thunder,” then use “lightning.”  If you would use “thundering,” then use “lightening.” You can remember it by associating the longer word “thundering” with the longer word “lightening.”

  • It is lightening outside. (You would say, “It is thundering outside.”)

  • I think we are going to have a lightning storm tonight. (You would say, “I think we are going to have a thunderstorm tonight.”)
  • There is lightning in our area tonight. (You would say, “There is thunder in our area tonight.”)

The instances where you would use the word “lightening” are really very rare.  When in doubt, use lightning.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Update on Meditation and My Blood Pressure

In my previous post, I shared how slow breathing, or meditation, can lower blood pressure, with or without using "helps," such as CDs, podcasts or the famous (and expensive) RESPeRATE machine.

After I started practicing slow breathing/meditation, I found my blood pressure readings becoming consistently lower. When I saw my doctor, she gave me surprising and happy news:  She said I could try going OFF the blood pressure medicine to see how I do. "Most people just want drugs, so that's what I give them," she explained.  "But if you're willing to use other methods, I'm willing to work with you." It was refreshing to hear that from a doctor.

It's been almost two weeks now without the med, and so far my blood pressure has been stable.  A few times it has been a little bit above normal, but ten minutes of meditating will almost always bring it down.  Here are some examples:

Before meditating: 130/93. After meditating: 115/79
Before meditating: 128/90. After meditating:  114/80

What's even more exciting is that usually when I take my blood pressure without meditating, it gives me a completely normal reading, such as 117/77 or 118/84.  I haven't seen readings like that for over a year.

I've also varied the way I use the Jesus prayer in my meditation.  Sometimes I use the shortened form of the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me."  I say it silently once as I inhale slowly and once as I exhale slowly.  I usually do about eight breaths per minute.

Meditative prayer has also greatly relieved my anxiety and depression.  I believe as I continue to practice it, I will notice other  health benefits as well.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Alternatives to RESPeRATE Breathing Tool for High Blood Pressure

If you've googled anything about blood pressure, you've probably seen the ads for RESPeRATE , the machine that's been shown to lower your blood pressure. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if it showed up as a featured ad on this blog post. (Sorry about that.) If you're like me, you've been tempted to buy it.  But let's face it: The $300 price tag is pretty steep for what you get:  a machine that gives tones to tell you when to breathe and some cheap headphones.  Oh, it does have a band that measures how your chest and stomach moves in and out when you breathe.

Research has shown that slowing your breathing to 6-10 breaths per minute can lower your blood pressure. But do you need to spend $300 for a machine to help you? What are some alternatives to using RESPeRATE?

I discovered these podcasts at               In order to share them with friends, I made a tiny url:  Listen online or download the podcasts entitled "Paced Breathing for Hypertension." These podcasts give you tones to signal when to breathe.  They're simple to use and free.  If you find yourself getting ahead of the tones, just take a few breaths to get back on track.

You could also try a music CD that has tones to help you breathe.  I found this one:
The Slow Deep Breathing Music Album for Yoga, Meditation and Relaxation

The podcasts or CD are a good way to become familiar with the pace of breathing.  After using the podcasts, you may wish to try slowing your breathing on your own. That way you can practice breathing exercises anywhere: while waiting for an appointment, at your desk, or (better yet) outdoors in a peaceful setting.  Try to make your exhalation a slightly bit longer than your inhalation.  From time to time during the session, test your breathing by counting how many breaths you take in one minute.

I find it helps to use a phrase with my breathing.  You can do something as simple as counting 1-2-3-4 while breathing in and then count 1-2-3-4-5-6 while breathing out. Or you can use phrases, such as "I am very calm. My body is resting peacefully." or "My blood vessels are opening up. The blood is moving easily."

I like to use an ancient prayer called "The Jesus Prayer" or "The Prayer of the Heart," which was developed by the early Christian monastics as a way to "pray without ceasing."  The monks and Orthodox faithful still practice this prayer today.  It's simply: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  I breathe in while saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God," and I breathe out while saying "Have mercy on me, a sinner."  Actually I have found that it works better to make the second phrase a little longer, so I usually say, "Have mercy, have mercy on me, a sinner."  I sometimes use a prayer rope, which has knots that you finger with each repetition.

If you are a Christian, I highly recommend the Jesus prayer, because it has been used for centuries as a tool of meditation and devotion in much the same manner.  And the monks of Mount Athos are some of the healthiest people on earth.

Of course, you may use a phrase from your own religious tradition or beliefs as well.

I find that when I spend 10 minutes practicing slow breathing, my systolic blood pressure lowers by about 12 points each time.  It's gone down as much as 19 points.  I've been doing this for several weeks and I seem to be getting lower blood pressure readings overall.  Although I am on a small dose of blood pressure medication, I am hoping to be able to reduce or eliminate the medicine in the future.  My doctor is fully supportive of my breathing sessions.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grammar Tip #7: Punctuation and quotation marks

Many people are confused about where to put quotation marks, especially when the quotation marks are not used for conversation, but rather for something like a movie title. What complicates matters is that the U.S. has different rules from Great Britain. (And don’t ask me about other countries.)

The rules that I share here are for writing done in the United States, and they are really quite simple:

  1. Commas and periods always go inside the quotes. 
  2. For other punctuation marks (question mark, exclamation point, colon, semicolon) it depends on whether the quotation mark is part of what is being quoted. 
Hopefully some examples will help:
  • “This is a good day,” she said.
That’s pretty straightforward, but let’s try this one:
  • I don’t really like the movie “First Blood.”
the tendency is to put the quote in front of the period because it’s not part of the movie name. But that’s not how we do it in the U.S. The period and comma always, always, always go inside the quote, no matter what.

Now let’s look at some examples with a question mark:
  • “How are you?” she asked.
Here the quote is an actual question, so the question mark goes inside the quote.
  • Do you like the movie “First Blood”?
In this case, because the movie name does not include a question mark, you would put it outside the quote.

Let’s see the same idea with exclamation points:
  • “Come over here!” he shouted.
  • I really, really like to play “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”!
Hopefully the examples help. If you have any questions, please leave a comment.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Iditarod 2013 Poem

My first Iditarod poem of the year. (Hopefully not my only one. I'm having a hard time getting inspired this year)

Iditarod 2013
The snow is blowing in my Nebraska home
I’m cooped inside with a gimpy knee
But never fear – I’m not alone
The Iditabuds are here with me.

I sit and watch the lead change hands
It’s Martin—It’s Aliy—It’s Mitch this time
It’s so confusing for us fans
No pattern, no clue, no reason or rhyme

It makes an exciting last great race
When we don’t know what will happen next
Can we keep up this frenzied pace
Of following those marks on the GPS?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I’m Weird #2: Coffee? Beer? Soda Pop? No thanks

When you ask most adults to name their favorite beverages, most would certainly have one or more of the “Big Three” on their list: coffee, beer or soda pop. But not me. I can’t stand any of them.

Photo by Seemann
Coffee: What a bitter, horrible taste. I don’t even like the smell of coffee. I’ve heard you have to develop a taste for it—but why? Especially when tea is so much more delightful—and better for you. Tea gives just enough caffeine to give you a little boost—but not enough to make you jittery.

Photo by Seamann
Beer: Once in a while, I decide to try a sip of my husband’s beer, just to see what the hype is about. Every time it tastes like something spoiled, something I need to clean out of the refrigerator. I guess the time to develop a taste for beer is when you are young. When I was young, my church looked down on drinking, so I never tried it. But I had no desire to, because it smelled so vile. Now that I’m part of a church that often has get-togethers at a local brewery, beer is no longer taboo; but I still don’t get what the appeal is. I will drink those Seagram’s fruit-flavored “malt beverages,” but my cold alcoholic drink of choice is hard cider.

Photo by ronnieb from

Soda Pop: I used to drink cola, usually Pepsi One. I only had one a day—but I needed that one. A few years ago I read somewhere that carbonation robs your body of calcium. I wasn’t sure if it was true or not, but since my mom has osteoporosis, I figured I wasn’t going to take any chances. So I quit cold turkey. It was in a November, when I wasn’t as likely to crave a cold can of cola. I replaced it with lots of tea—both hot and cold—to replace the caffeine. (I learned that Pepsi One has twice as much caffeine as other colas. No wonder I was so addicted.) It’s been several years now. Occasionally I’ll have a specialty soda, such as a root beer float or a creme soda from the “Rocket Fizz” store, made with real cane sugar (no high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners, thank you.) But usually when I try a sip of typical soda pop, I find it tastes like chemicals. It’s one of those things that once you give it up, it becomes distasteful to you. (I wish that worked with chocolate or ice cream.)

I don’t mind being weird, and I think it’s healthier too. I drink a lot of milk and tea, some water—though not enough—juice and the occasional alcoholic beverage.

Being weird can cause problems at certain social gatherings or public events. People bring out coolers of beer and pop, and I’m left searching for the water bottles at the bottom. Coffeepots are everywhere, but seldom hot water for tea. When I remember, I keep teabags in my purse, and I have been known to search out a microwave in the kitchen of a church or meeting place, so I can have a simple cup of tea. But that’s not enough to motivate me to develop a taste for one of the “Big Three.”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Grammar Tip #6: Affect vs. Effect

This one seems to trip people up.  But it’s really very simple:

Affect is almost always a verb. Effect is almost always a noun.

To be more specific: Affect is almost always used as a verb (an action word) meaning “to act on” or “to produce a result.”  Effect is almost always used as a noun (a thing) meaning “a result,” “a consequence,” or “something produced by an outside cause.”

Now for some examples:

How will the hurricane affect the price of oranges?
What effect will the hurricane have on the price of oranges?

Note the difference?  In the first sentence, affect is used as a verb. In the second sentence, effect is used as a noun.  Let’s try another set:

I don’t like the way this medicine affects me.
This medicine has some bad side effects.

Now, you will note that I used the word “almost always” in both instances.  Like many rules of the English language, there are exceptions.  The good news is the exceptions are very rarely used.

Affect can be used as a noun meaning an emotional response (such as a facial expression or tone of voice).  Psychologists are about the only people who use affect as a noun, and the phrase is usually,  “He/she has a flat affect.

Effect can be used as a verb meaning “to bring about” (which is similar, but not exactly the same as the verb affect).  The phrase most commonly used is “to effect a change.” 

So unless you are using the phrases, "He/she has a flat affect" or "effect a change," you are probably correct in assuming that affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

How will that knowledge affect your writing? I believe it will have a great effect.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I’m Weird #1: Shoe Shopping is NOT Fun

I’m starting a new “series” on my blog called “I’m Weird.”  I got the idea to write a blog post about some of the ways I’m different from most people—at least most Americans.  But the list got so long, and I knew I would always be thinking of more, so I decided to make a series.  So here goes:

I used to hear an ad on Pandora radio that started like this:
On a good day you go shopping
On a really good day you go shoe shopping with your best friend . . .

Really?  That’s a good day???  I hate shopping of all kinds.  It’s something I put off until the last minute.  I hate spending all that money, and often I can’t find what I’m looking for.  So it’s off to another store, and another store . . . until I finally give up and go home or just settle for something close to what I want.

Photo by Alvimann, from
And shoe shopping is the worst.  Who designs women's shoes, anyway? Yeah, high heels are supposed to make your legs more shapely, but in my case the shapely legs would be ruined by the wobbly walk (and probably the broken ankle I’ll get when I fall) and the grimace on my face from wearing the world’s most uncomfortable shoes.  Flats aren’t much better.  They’re always too tight in the ball of my foot and they slip in the back—if they even have a back at all. Why do shoe designers think women want to wear shoes that don’t stay on their feet?

I have a confession to make: I buy men’s shoes most of the time.  They are cheaper, fit better and feel MUCH more comfortable.  But I still don’t like shoe shopping.

And why would I go shopping with my best friend?  Why would I subject her to that torture?  That’s not what friends are for.  Occasionally we might stop in a gift shop or a museum store and prowl around a bit, but it’s always in conjunction with something more fun—like visiting a nearby town to have lunch, tour a museum and generally explore.  We would never go shopping just for the sake of shopping.

On a good day? I don’t go shopping.  I might go out for tea at a local coffeeshop, attend a concert or play, take a long walk with my camera, play board games with good friends, or jam Irish folk music in the basement of the music store.  Anything but shopping.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Introduction to the Autoharp

The autoharp is a simple, yet complex instrument. On one level, it’s extremely easy to play, making it a popular tool for elementary school teachers and music therapists.  But the autoharp can produce some amazing melodies in the hands of a master.

A typical chromatic autoharp has 36 strings and 15 or 21 chord bars.  To play a chord, you simply press a button and strum. The chord bar dampens all the strings except the strings for that chord.  If you hold down the “C” button, the only notes you hear are C, E and G. 

If you know anything about music, you can pick up an autoharp and strum along with singing almost immediately. Picking out melodies is a little harder, but if you’ve played other instruments, you can pick up some basic songs fairly quickly.

Here I am after only one month of playing the autoharp:

I hope to improve with practice.  The following video shows how wonderful an autoharp can be.  This is Bryan Bowers, well-known autoharp master, at a recent concert I attended:

Bryan uses “diatonic” autoharps: autoharps that have been tuned to just one key. It’s easier to pick out a melody on a diatonic autoharp, and it produces a louder and usually more beautiful sound.  The disadvantage, of course, is that you can play in only one (or sometimes two) keys.

I hope to add more posts about the autoharp as I learn more about this amazing instrument.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fear of Traveling

Most people have fears that someone can at least relate to: heights . . . water . . . crowds . . . closed spaces . . . clowns. (Well, maybe not clowns.)  But I have a fear that most people can’t understand: the fear of traveling, sometimes called "hodophobia."

Before we go any further, let me make one thing clear: I am NOT afraid of flying. I think flying is one of the safest means of traveling.  Heck, if I could afford to get in a plane early in the morning and fly to New York City and have lunch and then make it back in time for bed, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

For me it's simply this: I’m afraid of being away from home for long periods of time—no matter how I get there. 

Most people love traveling. They look forward to trips for weeks in advance. Traveling is relaxing, a way to get away from the stresses of everyday life.  For me traveling is a huge stress I don’t need. 

For me traveling means feeling out of control, tense, and not being able to sleep without prescription meds (which I hate to take).  I’m afraid of forgetting something at home, forgetting something in the hotel, getting sick, having a car accident, missing my flight, getting lost, etc., etc.  On vacation, everyone wants to try new restaurants, but my stomach is tied up in knots, and I can barely get down a bowl of soup.  It’s just not fun for me. 

What’s worse: The stress of traveling brings on strange physical ailments.  I’ve had back pain, jaw ache, vaginal infections, eye infections, and who knows what I’ll get the next time.  These problems sometimes continue even after I return home and occasionally build up into a nasty case of depression.  It’s just not worth it for me.

Strangely enough, I’ve found that traveling by myself is actually less stressful.  I feel more in control. I can listen to whatever I want in the car.  I sing along, talk to myself, stop whenever I want, munch on whatever I want.  I also find that a little alone time in the hotel can help me relax.  Of course, I want to have some people contact while I’m there.

It also helps if I have a strong motivation to travel.  I’ve traveled twice to meet famous sled dog mushers, and both times have been enjoyable. In fact, I remember when I was looking forward to meeting Martin Buser, four-time Iditarod champion, I was literally counting the days.  I remember thinking, “So this is what it feels like to look forward to traveling.”  Usually I’m filled with dread before a trip.

So there you have it:  My true confession.  It’s hard to have a fear that people don’t understand.  There is very little support for people like me.   One webpage said people should try to overcome their fear of traveling by starting with an English speaking country.  What? Start by going to another country?  Whoever wrote that obviously did NOT understand hodophobia.  A good start would be going to another state.  I doubt if I’ll ever go overseas. 

Hints for overcoming a fear of traveling?  Not sure I have many of them.  Here are a few thoughts:
  • Baby steps, just like any fear. You may need to start with a day trip to another town, or an overnight trip not far from home. 
  • Find something to motivate you to travel.
  • Travel alone or with someone else—find what works for you.
  • Plan ahead, print out maps, make lists—whatever you can do to help you feel more in control.
  • Take medication to help you sleep if you need to.
  • Have an “escape plan.”  You’ll feel better if you feel like you have the freedom to go home early if you need to. 
But it might be  best to just accept it that you don’t like to travel.  It’s not all bad.  I save a lot of money that way.  (My husband likes that part.)  And when it comes down to it – say I have a thousand dollars to spend.  I’d much rather spend it on something like a new camera or a new autoharp, from which I will get many, many hours of enjoyment, than on a trip, which—even if I were to enjoy it—is over in a few days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Making a Poster

Last Friday at work I needed to make a sign.  At first I figured I’d make something on the computer and print it out. But our printer wouldn’t print anything that large.  “Have the design center print it out for you,” said one of the graphic artists, a young lady who had just graduated from college.  But the older designer suggested I make it myself, using poster board and magic markers.

So I set to work. I drew guidelines with a ruler (top and bottom and one down the middle for centering). Next I sketched where the letters should go, keeping in mind that an M takes up much more room than an I. It was a much more difficult process than just highlighting the text and hitting the command for “center.”

But it was much more satisfying.  I’d forgotten how much fun it was to work with my hands. I’d made plenty of posters this way in the past, and I remembered how enjoyable it was.

At this stage I showed it to the student intern graphic artist.  “Wow,” she commented.  “I could never do that.”

I was sad, in a way.  This young person—an expert graphic artist—would never know the joy of hand-lettering a poster on poster board.  She probably didn’t even know how to do it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon carefully coloring in the letters with red Sharpie, then outlining them in black with an art marker.  Then I erased all the pencil marks.  A fulfilling way to spend a  Friday afternoon