Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Back to Work and Still More Catching up to do - I Need More Vacation Time

I'm back to work this morning so will write a brief post.  But I acknowledge that I need more vacation time to finish everything I've started...then again, a 4-day weekend is hardly much of a vacation but it's better than nothing. 

I spent most of yesterday working on the Cyber Cafe website .  I'm recreating the site in Joomla!, a free open source, web content management system (web CMS).  I'm creating the site on a subdomain, so both sites are running parallel right now.  But I hope to replace the current site with the new one later this week.  It won't be complete, but it will be complete enough to serve its purpose.  Websites are never done anyway.  They are always works in progress unless you just have a static brochure that changes only occasionally. 

I've been teaching myself to use Joomla! over the past year or so, in my spare time.  This means I don't often get a good chunk of time to work on it and learn it really well.  It's only in a stretch like yesterday that the new concepts and ways to use it effectively can really sink into my brain.  Like most things, you learn it best by using it frequently.  That way, the concepts become ingrained in your brain and you can visualize how it works even when you are not in front of your computer. 

Yesterday I had the time to document how the new site is organized, using PowerPoint to create some teaching tools.  This will help my clients edit and maintain their Joomla! sites after I've created them.  That takes a lot of work too. I find documenting how I'm working helps me discipline myself.  It helps me lay things out and keep them simple because I don't want to write a lot of documentation.  Using fewer section and category options can make it easier for an organization to maintain the site and doesn't overwhelm them with choices and decisions.  That makes me a better web designer for small organizations and non-profits that  have non-tech staff who will have to support the site after I'm done. 

I'll post more on my progress later.  ...gotta get to work!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Happy Birthday Maureen

Today I'm sharing a virtual birthday card for my sister Maureen.  Earlier this month, I shared a card for another sister, Kathleen.  Since they both have birthdays in June, I thought it fitting to do the same for both.  It's also my nephew Danny's birthday today, so Happy Birthday Dan as well.  He's currently serving in the Navy and I'm not sure what part of the world he's in right now.  Last I knew, he was shipping off to Afghanistan (the Navy manages much of the supply duty for the Army and his outfit was sent there for that shipping/supply duty).

So, here's to Maureen, the eldest of 4 girls and the 2nd of 8 kids.  Sometimes it's difficult to be the older siblings in a large family.  You end up with a lot of responsibility on your shoulders.  And it sometimes seems as if they don't get much of a childhood because they become responsible for the younger ones.  Maureen is no exception.  She still thinks like a parent, today, especially when dealing with her siblings.  She took on a role too young as our de facto mother when our mother wasn't well and I think she lost out on some of her own childhood as a result. 

That doesn't mean she didn't have some fun along the way.  I remember her in The Student Prince, a musical she performed in at Cardinal Spellman High School.  And I remember many a day when she'd tie up the bathroom and gag us all with hair spray as she readied for a date.  Teased hair and lots of spray to hold it in place were the style back then. 

But I also remember her Mr. Donut uniform and how she grew to hate even the smell of donuts.  Working hard every day after school to add some money to the family budget was necessary.  You just did it.  And later she worked full time for Ma Bell (if you  have to ask, you're too young). 

Like my sister Kathleen, Maureen tried to help keep our parents in their own home when their health failed.  She uprooted herself from California to Boston and moved in with them.  Working all day, setting up procedures in the home to manage my parents health care, and going back to school to complete the degree she had begun to work on in CA...she interrupted her life to make theirs' more comfortable. 

Maureen is good at setting up systems and procedures to make things work more smoothly and efficiently.  Whether it's work or home, there's always a system of record-keeping and documentation in place.  Medications are organized and labeled so someone else can come in and do the tasks easily.  Paperwork is in neatly labeled file folders.  The bills are organized. 

A bit more than a year ago, Maureen started a special project.  She spent countless hours putting together a gift for my uncle Bill (our mother's brother) and my aunt Ruth (our father's sister).  They are the remaining relatives from our parents' generation.  She asked each of us to write a short letter of our memories of each one and send them to her.  What had been intended as a Christmas present took a bit longer, partly because she waited for each of us to do our part.  She prepared a beautiful portfolio for each with all our memory-letters enclosed.  She then copied each one and sent a copy to all of us.  Each one was carefully rolled and tied with a ribbon.  It was a wonderful way to let our uncle and aunt know how much they meant to each of us.  And we each learned a little something about our siblings' experience with our aunt and uncle and even some things about ourselves that we'd forgotten.

It is evident that a lot of love went into that project and I'm glad she did it and encouraged us to be part of it.  What a nice way to say thank you to people who have been an important part of our lives for so many years.

I'm so happy she retired.  She spent many years trying to recover from an industry downturn that meant her long-time employer went bankrupt and she had to start over -- not just in a new job, but had to learn new skills and start over at the bottom of the corporate ladder.  She'd sacrificed much to help my parents stay together in their home, and that decreased her employment options. 

All her life, she was the responsible one.  And I think that took something away from her.  In retirement, she can relax more, not worry about improving her job skills or employability.  She can take an interesting job/project for a time and work at a reasonable pace.  She can choose and that is probably the most important thing. 

So, Happy Birthday Maureen.   I hope your day is sweet and relaxing.  Do something fun.  Do something just for you! 

Friday, June 18, 2010

Denmark Rising - Part IV

Before fixing dinner last night, I finished Barry Clemson's novel, Denmark Rising.  As I said in yesterday's blog, I already knew the outcome in general.  But Clemson has written well and has made me care about the characters in the book.  Most of them are real names, of real people, with some interpretation on Clemson's part about their feelings and actions on the day-to-day basis.  It is a delicate balance -- writing about historical figures while staying true to what we do know about them.  Completing the book gave me some closure as to what happened to many of the characters who were prominent throughout the book and about whom I was very curious.

War takes its toll in many ways and these characters were no exception.  Clemson brings to light ethical, moral, and human issues throughout the novel.   These are just a few that come to my mind from my reading this week. 
  • Danish youth and adults who were angry about the occupation and felt that Viking warriors should rise up and strike back -- how to convince them that strategic nonviolence is an appropriate response and is actually a weapon?
  • German Wermarcht (regular army) who served in Denmark throughout Germany's occupation and saw no reason to kill civilians who'd done no harm to them -- how do they resolve orders to kill them against their Christian upbringing?  
  • Can you order an action, knowing it will result in the deaths of innocents, yet it means far fewer people will die than if you ordered alternative actions?
  • When "my turn" comes for punishment from the oppressor, will I stand up and face it or will I run and hide, leaving my comrades to face my punishment? 
  • How can I practice nonviolence yet plan actions that will kill many others, even if they are the enemy?  Can we do anything to prevent those deaths while maintaining our resistance? 
This is a book I will recommend, over and over again, to people I know who like to think.  This book compels you to think about and reflect upon what is an appropriate response to oppression.  Have we learned all the wrong lessons?  Are there times and places where this won't work.  Are there other times and places where it might be the most effective option; so why aren't we doing it? 

Let me know what you think after you read Denmark Rising

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Denmark Rising - Parts II & III

Yesterday I wrote about this novel by Barry Clemson and said I'd read Part II last night.  I did. Then I stayed up later and read Part III as well.  If I didn't have to get up for work this morning, I'd have read Part IV; this book is that good.

I am engaged with this story and don't want to put it down.  I already know the outcome.  World War II has been for over many years.  The German tyranny against the Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other "non pure" groups is well documented.  Many of the officers who participated in Hitler's persecution have been brought to trial and found guilty.  Others are still being hunted. 

So what makes this book so compelling?  I admit to being fascinated with history.  The people who tell me that history is boring just haven't read the books I've read.  Books such as "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich;" some non-fiction books I read many years ago -- one set in Poland describing Jewish exiles' escape attempts -- another set in Russia describing a young man's years as a member of the Russian Youth Brigade who was trained to persecute any religious practitioners and given wide latitude in their own personal habits; this is living history.

Denmark Rising is fictional but uses living history to go beyond storytelling to raise important philosophical questions and introduce strategic nonviolence on a grand scale.  It is a timely novel, engaged as we are in two wars so far away from our own safe homes and facing the terrorism threats that have pervaded other parts of the world far longer.  Can peaceful, strategic nonviolence work on a large scale?  Can it work in today's conflicts?  What are we willing to sacrifice to make it work?  Is that sacrifice less than the price we are currently paying? 

Read the book and ask yourself these questions.  If you are a teacher, use the book as a springboard for discussion with your students.  If you are a student, introduce it to your teachers/faculty.  Clemson has provided a discussion forum, Teaching with Denmark Rising, to aide you.  While reading and discussing, also take time to appreciate the readability of this book and check out other works by Clemson.

Good Reading to You,

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Denmark Rising - "The Danes said, 'No!'”

Barry Clemson has written a fascinating, fictional novel that poses the question, "What if the Danish government led its people in nonviolent resistance against the German army in Germany's occupation of Denmark in WW II?"

Although fiction, it is historically accurate regarding this period of great uncertainty and brutality.  The main exception to this accuracy is in presenting the Danish government as leading this nonviolent resistance.  In truth, it was a grassroots resistance effort that slowed Germany's efforts in Denmark for several years.  Danish government finally did say "No," when Germany tried to arrest Danish Jews in 1943. 

I admittedly was eager to read the book, so when it arrived in my mailbox Monday I put everything else aside for the evening and started reading.  I didn't stop until I'd finished Part I.  From the opening paragraph, Denmark Rising captured me.  I am putting this evening aside to read Part II. 

Clemson's passion for "liberty, equality, and justice," and strategic nonviolent responses to abuses of these, is reflected in his work.  A self-proclaimed scientist/activist/novelist, Barry writes and educates.  He hopes Denmark Rising will be used to help teach and understand the philosophy of nonviolent resistance. 

This page on Clemson's website helps explain his strategic nonviolent response philosophy.  In that article, Clemson explains the "John Wayne syndrome," in which there are only warriors and cowards; there are "good guys," "bad guys,"and the people who need to be saved from the bad guys.  Our television and movie world is filled with examples of John Wayne syndrome in action.  It becomes easy to emulate because it is so visible. 

However, there are many examples of strategic nonviolence available.  We just have to search a bit more for them.  Some examples, include Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) is an example of an organization that led nonviolent responses to racial oppression in the American South.  With that group, Clemson experienced first-hand how strategic nonviolence could radically change the attitudes of many and lead government to change. 

Add Denmark Rising to your reading list and enjoy a thought-provoking yet easy read.  It may give you food for thought and the soul. 

For reviews of Denmark Rising, see this page on Clemson's site. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

Happy Birthday Kathleen

I thought I'd use my blog space today to say Happy Birthday to my sister Kathleen, who has been a rock in the foundation of our family for so many years.   

We are a large family (8 children - all adults now, living all over the country). Growing up in a large clan like this means we learned to deal with many different personalities and we are representative of several generations and life experiences.

Kathleen is one of those people who thinks things through, sees alternatives, and works to make things work.  She inspires others and is a catalyst for getting things done. 

I admire how she worked for so many years and earned both her bachelor and master degrees later in life while working full time.  She helped my parents so much, especially in their later years, sacrificing her time, energy, and money to make sure they were able to stay in their home even through severe illnesses.  I'll save the "thank you's" to my other sister, Maureen, for her birthday which is later this month. 

There were weeks and probably months that Kathleen never saw her own apartment, as she'd fly in from a multi-day trip for work and immediately get on another plan to come to Boston to stay a few days with my parents and take care of their needs.  Then she'd be off to another work trip and repeat the process just a few days later.  Oh, and she was studying for school at the same time.

Her sacrifices made it easier for Maureen and me, who were more local, to do our part.  Without Kathleen, though, I suspect the system wed' set up would have broken down.  As I said, she's a catalyst.  Within minutes of arriving somewhere, she's figured out what needs to be done and gets it started.  I think that's why she's good at her career in financial planning and investing.

Everyone needs someone "outside" to review what and where they are in life so they can plan for the future.  Kathleen is good at looking at a person, their relationships and finances, and helping them figure out what do to next to prepare for the future.  She's careful about what and whom she chooses to associate with.  She doesn't look for the quick fix that gives an immediate but false sense of security.  She looks longer term and tries to balance now with future.

That's probably why she's someone I can go to for advice for just about anything in my life.  She thinks about now and future before saying anything.  She considers the relationships involved and isn't afraid to point out where some may be holding you back.  Whether it's a person or a job or whatever, she looks at the situation and gives her assessment of how it's affecting you; then she advises you.

More importantly, she doesn't say "I told you so," if you choose another path.  She just helps you move on.  That's admirable in any relationship.  It's invaluable in a friend and in a family member.

So, Kathleen, surprise, here's your virtual birthday card!

Happy Day and I hope many more will come.