Monday, February 24, 2014


"Your obstacles were designed for you, so that when you overcome them, you become the person God designed you to be." ~David Lipsit

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Polar Vortex in Central PA

source:City Island at -9F (check the link for more great shots!)

Thanks to Bob for the find!

As my college friend Liz put it, "You know you've been living in the polar vortex too long when the outside temperature gauge on your car says 18 at 10:30 am and you think, "Wow, what a gorgeous day! Glad I didn't wear my heavier sweater. Man, I probably don't even need this coat today." True story."

Also Jesse Hake "Shackleton's Artic Adventure" FB album, including:

And a few of my own from Little Buffalo State Park, where they were ICE FISHING. What do they think this is, Minnesnowta?

Find something you love to do, then find someone to pay you to do it.

Five signs you're not following your true path.
Read it.
Then act on it.
I am talking to myself here.

What's a "t" among friends?

Big Frog: Did Joss Whedon do that one?
me: Ummm... no. But Buffy, the Avengers, Dollhouse... those are Whedons. And Firefly, of course.
Big Frog: And Joss is the... dad, right?
me (not sure where this is going...): Yeah...
Big Frog: And Wil is the... son?
me: What?
Big Frog: Joss's... son?
me: Do you mean Wil Wheaton?
Big Frog: Ummm.... It's only a couple letters... it might be naptime.

Had an interesting exchange with a friend recently about Wil having grown sons. It stemmed from Wil's recent blog entry. And although Big Frog has high school classmates who are already grandparents, we are really glad not to be there yet.

Joss also has kids, but the only other Whedons I can think of are his sibs.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Tap Pups masterclass with a Tap Dog!

Anthony LoCascio, 16 years a Tap Dog, gave three entirely different masterclasses to the Tap Pups today!
He gave us such gems as:
  • Counting is critical.
  • Every step in tap is preparation for the next step.
  • It's not scary because of you, it's scary because it's scary.
Then he smiled, wished us "May your feet be with you," and turned on the music with a "Good luck" (and an implicit "You'll need it.").

Because he worked with a lot of counterpoint and canons, the same steps travelled across the room and back. There was a neat step where the accent was done, depending on your part, as 4x2, 1-2-2-3, or 3-3-1-1. I've sung canons since I was tiny, but doing them with my feet was new. Also new to me was dancing with my hands to walk through the steps. Additionally, a few things that Vicki has doubtless taught us, but that were phrased differently today were
  • Dance with your lower body and keep your head level.
  • Watch your lines (meaning body lines rather than lines of dancers)
  • Keep your knees over your toes.
  • Toes do treble, heels do bass.

photo source: Vicki's Tap Pups

Anthony's company is TapLife, and he posts to Youtube as just4tap
I commend to you his Blurred Lines (which song we'd used for a PopTap session earlier in the year). There also is a tutorial on the same -- thankfully he didn't run our masterclass at the same speed as he works with dance professionals!

Shawn Achor: The Happiness Advantage

Thanks to Joyful Darkness & to Chris Koob for their recommendations!

book notes on The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, by Shawn Achor

Change your performance by changing your mindset

Be the outlier! Weird:rich; normal:broke

"Helping the Elderly" - test of motivation and resilience. Not possible to sum up. Here it is in full.

As an undergraduate, I was often encouraged to sell my body. The Psychology Department was constantly offering money for willing research subjects; and since I was almost always short of funds, I was a willing guinea pig for experiments that ranged from mere humiliation to full-on trickery -- everything from uncomfortable social encounters, to repeated MRIs, to grueling trials of mental and physical abilities. But the most memorable experiment of them all was a seemingly benign one called "Helping the Elderly".

The study was three hours long and promised to pay $20. To get things underway, two research assistants handed me a set of bike reflectors with Velcro straps and a pair of tight white biker shorts. One of the assistants said formally, "Please attach these reflectors to each of the joints on your body and put on the shorts. And oh, yes, we just ran out of white T-shirts, so you'll have to go topless. Do you wish to proceed?"

For $20? They clearly underestimated me. A few minutes later, clad in reflective sensors covering my elbows, wrists, and knees, I emerged looking like a bare-chested robot. They then explained the study: The researchers were examining how the elderly fall to the ground, so that they could eventually help senior citizens avoid injuries. Of course, they couldn't actually ask the elderly to fall repeatedly for the study, so they recruited college students instead. Made perfect sense to me.

I was told to walk down a padded hallway in the dark while a video camera recorded the position of the reflectors on my joints. As I walked, one of four things would happen: (1) The floor would suddenly slide to the left, and I would crash onto the lightly padded walkway; (2) The floor would suddenly slide to the right, throwing off my balance and sending me crashing down to the left; (3) A cord attached to my right leg would be yanked out behind me, pitching me face first onto the walkway; and (4) If none of those things happened by the time I got to the end of the walkway, I was just supposed to throw myself to the ground. That last one sounded especially ludicrous -- what kind of elderly person intentionally throws himself on the floor?

But 20 bucks was on the line, and so for the next hour I fell down about once ever thirty seconds. At 120 falls, the research assistants emerged, giggled sheepishly, and admitted they had forgotten to put the video in the recorder. They would need to retape all the falls again. "Do you want to proceed?" Again I said yes.

Another 120 falls later, I was bruised, battered, and exhausted. With all the gear I had on, merely picking myself up off the mats took an enormous amount of energy, and the whole ordeal had taken a painful toll on my body. When I finally stumbled into the hallway, the research assistants had been joined by a distinguished-looking professor, summoed to investigate a major irregularity: The experiment had never lasted this long.

The study, it turned out, had nothing to do with "helping the elderly". (Note to self: Never trust the name of a psych department study.) These researchers were actually studying motivation and resilience. They wanted to know: How much pain and discomfort could you put people through before they gave up? How much would a person withstand to get the reward he had set out to get? In my case, the answer was: a lot. The professor had come down to the hospital on a Saturday because I was the only one who had ever lasted the full three hours. As they stood there explaining all this to me, I couldn't help but wonder if I was supposed to feel stupid for withstanding all that abuse for a measly $20. But before I could say anything, the professor handed me ten crisp $20 bills. "It's the least we can do for putting you through that," he said. "The more subjects pick themselves up off the mats and keep going, the larger their reward. You've won the Grand Prize: $200."

What is happiness?
eudaimonia (Aristotle's definition): translates better to "human flourishing"
joy-gratitude-serenity-interest-hope-pride-amusement-inspiration-awe-love (Barbara Fredrickson)

You can study gravity forever without learning how to fly.

How many trillionaires do you know? (Zimbabwean currency)

"The Order of the Elephant"

Recognition can be given in traditional ways -- a complimentary email, or a pat on the back for a job well done. But you can also get creative with it... The elephant is a two-foot-tall stuffed animal that any employee can give to agnother as a reward for doing something exemplary. The benefits come not just in the delivery and reception of well-earned praise, but afterward as well. ...Other employees stopping by immediately notice the elephant and go, "Hey, you got the elephant. What'd you do?", which of course means that the good stories and best practices get told and re-told many times.

Our beliefs about our abilities are not necessarily innate, but can change, as our mindset is almost always in flux.

  • What identity are you wearing today?
  • Remind yourself of the relevant skills you have, rather than those you lack.
  • growth mindset: believe you can enhance basic qualities thru effort, as opposed to fixed mindset: capabilities are already set

What would your customers call your job title if they described it by the impact you have on their lives?

List three good things every day -- forces brain to scan for potential positives, small or large laughs, feelings of accomplishment, strengthened connections, hope for the future. 5min/day trains the brain to become more skilled at noticing and focusing on possibilities for personal and professional growth and seizing opportunities to act on them. (Also, b/c brain is focused there, small annoyances and frustrations are driven out of the field of view.

on deciding to lowball or highball an offer: mental "I am here" map -- the most successful decisions come when we are thinking clearly and creatively enough to recognize all the paths available to us, and accurately predict where that path will lead. The problem is that when we are stressed or in a crisis, most people miss the most important path of all: the path up.

Crisis as catalyst.

internal vs external locus of control

The reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn-out it gets.

We are drawn -- powerfully, magnetically -- to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort -- getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on.

Put the desired behavior on the path of least resistance, so it actually took less energy and effort to pick up and practice the guitar than to avoid it. I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit.

We each have our own version of an offensive line: our spouses, our families, and our friends. Surrounded by these people, big challenges feel more manageable and small challenges don't even register on the radar.

Invest in something that continually plays dividends. Just as social support is a prescription for happiness and an antidote to stress, it also is a prime contributor of achievement in the workplace.

The people who actively invest in their relationships are the heart and soul of a thriving organization, the force that drives their teams forward. In sports, these people are called "glue guys" [because they] "quietly hold winning teams together".

"What's on the other side of your [business] card?" -- not your title but how you self-identify your responsibility or your passion or even your outside hobby.

foster high-quality connections -- relationally attentive -- managing by walking around

Most peole think this research is useful for them, but even more useful for all the people around them. The person we have the greatest power to change is ourselves.

Once we start capitalizing on the Happiness Advantage in our own lives, the positive changes quickly ripple out.

Mirror neurons: specialized brain cells that can actually sense and then mimic the feelings, actions, and physical sensations of another person.

Each workplace develops its own group emotion, or "group affective tone", which over time creates shared "emotion norms".

Butterfly Effect

Friday, February 21, 2014

You look Chinese. I'll greet you in Mandarin.

Today the Messiah College Alumni group asked for postings about first memories of Messiah College. Mine was a revelation about my family rather than about the college.

I posted: I heard my dad speak Mandarin for the first time in my life at Messiah. Dr Van Gorder, who visually you would not guess was fluent in Mandarin, greeted dad with a visual assumption that were were Chinese. (We're ABCs*.) And my dad, who even when we would visit the Chinese church he grew up in, listened in Chinese and responded in English, answered Dr Van Gorder in Mandarin as though he spoke it every day of his life.

* American Born Chinese

My mom tells how her dad, one time, tried to "encourage" (read: require) Chinese language in the household. He laid down a decree that only Chinese would be spoken in the house. And my mom's and her four sibs' response? According to mom, there was silence in the household for two weeks.

As for me, I'm 100% Chinese by blood. But I am such an ABC! Mom says that I, like her, am Chinese "until I open my mouth". On occasion, I've received compliments on my English. Sometimes that comes back to bite, though. The summer after my freshman year, I went to Kunming, Yunnan Province, China, with Dr Van Gorder and a team from Messiah. Because I looked Chinese, and beause we were working with Chinese college students and attending English Corners, often there was an assumption that I was a Chinese national who had latched onto the group.

Usually that was fine and actual nationals striving to practice their English were glad for me that I was trying to find my roots. But once we were in the midst of a road trip and I was sitting on the curb next to an African-American teammate. The bus driver said something to me with the assumption that I could translate for the American... when I haltingly told him that I was an American, and I was very sorry (two phrases I got very good at very quickly), he started railing at me! I learned afterwards that it was something of a diatribe on "How could you turn your back on your culture and your people?" I was taken aback, shocked into silence.

I'm not alone, though. Gene Luen Yang, who wrote such graphic novels as American Born Chinese and Level Up, both of which I highly recommend, is in the process of reintroducing one of the first Asian superheroes, the Green Turtle, from the Shadow Hero line. About his Chinese school retention, he shared (pictures in the link, towards the bottom):

If you compare [the] final art with my thumbnails, though, you’ll notice that the Chinese characters are different. That’s because I don’t really know how to write Chinese, despite having gone to Chinese school every Saturday for twelve years. I basically wrote the few characters that I remember as a placeholder, so in the thumbnails the Chinese banner reads, “Gene Luen Yang is a.” That’s right. That’s the net result of twelve years’ worth of Saturdays. I can write my name, “is”, and “a". I can’t even tell you what Gene Luen Yang is, because I don’t remember how to write “cartoonist” or “teacher” or “undisciplined Chinese student.”

Moral of the story: pay attention in your language classes, kids.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Your feet sound like...

"Your feet sound like a machine gun!" ~Vicki

I could live on that for awhile. Yay for shuffle-jumps in the warmup!
OK, now back to work. There is a LOT to learn before the Spring Show. Big arms! And SMILE!
(Bonus, we have a real Tap Dog coming in to give masterclasses on Saturday.)
source: Keane Sense of Rhythm

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Blizzard of 1983

According to family lore, when dad's work moved us from Michigan to Murlyn (Maryland), the real estate agent told us that it only snowed, on average, 2 inches per year. We got considerably more in each of the first few years we were there, including this whammy.

The front page of The Baltimore Sun, 31 years ago today.

Mom went outside to shovel.
She was summarily ordered inside by our neighbor across the street, who in addition to being the neighborhood grandma, was also a nurse.
Murg was born the next week, on time, in the hospital, well after the snowstorm.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Desserts inspired by TipTop & The Purple Fiddle

Every Friday, and some days inbetween, either Big Frog or I will talk about Thomas. And burgers. Tonight's TipTop burgers are paired with smoky mac & cheese.

And while I don't have the baking confidence to make brioche stickies (SO good), I can fake their blueberry cream cheese in puff pastry, which was Big Frog's favorite of their desserts, and I have twice made actual Yam I Am Brownies (note to self: subbed 1/2c applesauce for 1/2 stick butter).

Also Sea Salt Caramel Rice Krispie Treats.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I always thank God...

I write this simply to remember to be grateful.

Dark and cold is one thing.* Dark and cold and stuck is something quite else entirely. Today I am grateful for our firepit because, because of it, we have a stack of cardboard at the house, somewhat lessened now that I used a copious amount to give me traction to gun it out onto the street.

I also am grateful, every time it snows, that we live on a through street that gets plowed early and often. Even as I shovel (and still usually grumble) about the plowed snow that entraps our cars, I am so beyond-words grateful that we are already plowed.

And I would be remiss if I did not thank God for a Big Frog with a strong back and a willing heart who usually does the bulk of the shoveling.

* It was kind of funny that, when our power went out on Monday, PPL's outage-reporting automated system told me cheerfully that they had no idea when, if ever, we would get it back. The lights blinked back on in 10min. Today, by contrast, the lights went out at the exact same moment of the day, so I called and expected similar. Today's automated voice informed me that we should have power at noon tomorrow (20h after the outage), with a distinctly robotic attitude of "I am just saying noon to everyone. Don't hold your breath. It's entirely a crapshoot." It was like talking to Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

He who laughs last...

...might have missed it the first time.

Big Frog segued from The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) into some Bare Naked Ladies.

Big Frog: If I had $1,000,000, I'd buy you some art -- a Simon or a Garfunkel... me: No, it's a Picasso or a Garfunkel. Because Paul Simon isn't an art. A Picasso is art, and a Garfunkel is Art.