August 30, 2004

Context is Everything, the Nature of Memory

I've been reading Susan Engel's Context is Everything, The Nature of Memory. She writes "Between the folds of one's mind and the expression in words or pictures of a memory lies a process of manifestation that is extremely complex but worth understanding. " Using current research on memory, vivid anecdotes and examples from autobiographies and memoirs, Engel does much to help us understand the complexity of memory.

My takeaways from her book

    • Remembering is a process of transforming an internal moment of re-experiencing into something one shares with other people."
    • The self as personal historian and the center of the past.
    • The memory of everyday life. “those little scenes, rather than the grand events, are what capture for teller and listener alike the specificity, uniqueness and significance of the person’s life. It is the experience of lives we want to know about more than the facts of the life.
    • We recall the past in a way that makes us seem and feel consistent.
    • Chronology is what distinguishes autobiography from memoir.
    • A strictly accurate and objectively verifiable account of what happened when doesn't necessarily say much to rememberer or listener. What is the meaning of what happened is what people want to know. We want our chronologies tagged with personality

"Paradoxically, as more and more of our lives are lived indirectly through these complex layers of representation and media, we become thirstier than ever for accounts of direct experience, experience that remains the central focus of our historical curiousity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:46 PM | Permalink

Time Capsule

Time Capsule is a site where you can enter any date from today back to 1800 and get a personalized page with news headlines, top books, songs, and tv shows on that date. Very handy when you're putting together a digital story for a celebration, a birthday, a wedding, or for a memorial

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:12 AM | Permalink

August 28, 2004

Every damn thing or stories?

Eamonn Fitzgerald writes a delightful blog from Ireland called Eamonn's Fitzgerald's Rainy Day has an eye out for new blogs. He welcomes David Marsh, a fortysomethingish Brit, who writes film reviews, works for a film distributor and runs an online store for children's shoes. David lives in Munich "with a wonderful wife and three delightful children who always behave and say please and thank you. David's blog Raising Chooks is about his adventures with his family.

I was more taken with Eamonn's observations

    Those of us who have spent four or more decades on this earth will be familiar with the nostalgic thrill of going up to the attic or down to the basement to rummage around for the box filled with those family photos. Was that black-and-white gap-toothed demon really me? What were we doing to those sepia-tinted hens? The fog clears for a moment and the lost land of childhood is visible again.

    In our Digital Age, the past will not be rendered as a box of disparate images. Microsoft, with MyLifeBits, is working on storing and presenting our memories. Senior Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell "has captured a lifetime's worth of articles, books, cards, CDs, letters, memos, papers, photos, pictures, presentations, home movies, videotaped lectures, and voice recordings and stored them digitally. He is now paperless, and is beginning to capture phone calls, IM transcripts, television, and radio." Nokia's Lifeblog "automatically organizes your photos, videos, text messages, and multimedia messages into a clear chronology you can easily browse, search, edit, and save." Using Lifeblog, you can "save your mobile images and other data in Nokia Lifeblog on your PC to start your own, ever-growing, life log."

    Alongside these big-name ventures, the simple blog now offers parents, and children, an opportunity to chronicle the present and preserve the past. What a wonderful way of keeping the family occupied! And together! Not that one should idealize this kind of thing, though. The blog may turn into a slog and end up abandoned in cyberspace, like so many other websites.

I agree that we now have the digital tools available to chronicle our lives. And it's a wonderful thing. But collecting every damn piece of paper, every email, every photo and transcribed instant messages is not the way to do it. If you can't use your creativity to tell stories that family members and others want to hear and see again and keep, than a likely result will be a cursory look by survivors before deleting the entire contents of the hard drive before discarding the computer. I mean how many bad photos and inane emails will family members want to go through. Life has its dreary parts and so do many collections.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:48 AM | Permalink

August 27, 2004

Man lay dead in bed for 2 years.

No one knew Jim Sulkers had died in his bed almost two years ago. His telephone number was still listed in the telephone directory and his condominium fees and bills were automatically being withdrawn from his bank account. His bills must have been covered by a pension cheque automatically deposited into his bank account.

The medical examiner determined that Sulkers who was in his 50s and suffered from multiple sclerosis died of natural causes though since the body was found in a mummified state the exact cause of death could not be determined.

Neighbour Sam Shuster said residents in the complex often wondered where the man they knew only as Jim had gone, but were told his condominium fees were still being paid.

"How can that happen, for God's sake. Two years!" Shuster said yesterday of the man who had been a resident in the building since the mid-1980s.

"I used to ask the president of the board of directors where in the hell is he? She said all she knew was the bank gets the monthly money so we don't worry about it."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:58 PM | Permalink

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Mulch in Marin County

Environmentally conscious Marin County is the first in the back to nature movement for the dead - in this century at least.

Mount Auburn Cemetery located in Watertown and Cambridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 1831 as America’s first landscaped cemetery. It's a National Historic Landmark inspiring the creation of the nation's public parks, an active cemetery, and its 175 acres are one of the best birding spots in Massachusetts.

The new owners of Forever Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley, California, plan the country's first permanently protected cemetery, nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary. Peter Fimrite, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle writes in Marin Cemetery: Ashes to ashes, dust to mulch The three new owners are Billy Campbell, a physician and environmentalist, Tyler Cassity, a funeral aficionado, and Joe Sehee, an expert on socially responsible business.

    What they plan to do is restore the native habitat of the area, establish an interpretive center and open the whole kit and caboodle up to hikers, nature lovers, schoolchildren, and even birthing and wedding ceremonies.

    Traditional funerals and cremation scatterings would continue on the land, but most burials would prohibit embalming, allow only biodegradable caskets and require natural grave markers, like planted shrubs, trees or boulders

Campbell sees Forever Fernwood as the pilot project in a sweeping movement to protect a million acres of land over the next 30 years by turning cemeteries into open space preserves. Already 500 people have put their name on a waiting list.

Will it attract as famous people as Mount Auburn Cemetery who include .....

Famous people buried at Mount Auburn include:

• Nathaniel Bowditch (1773 – 1838), navigator and mathematician
• Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893), Episcopal Bishop
• Charles Bulfinch (1763 – 1844), architect
• Mary Baker Eddy (1821 – 1910), religious leader
• Buckminster Fuller (1895 – 1983), visionary
• Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840 – 1924), art patron
• Charles Dana Gibson (1867 – 1944), artist
• Asa Gray (1810 – 1888), botanist
• Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809 – 1894), author and poet
• Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910), artist
• Julia Ward Howe (1819 – 1910), reformer and author
• Harriet Jacobs (1813 – 1897), author and abolitionist
• Henry Cabot Lodge (1850 – 1924), statesman
• Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (1902-1985), U.S. Senator
• Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882), poet
• Amy Lowell (1874 – 1925), poet
• James Russell Lowell (1819 – 1891), poet
• Bernard Malamud (1914 – 1986), novelist
• Josiah Quincy (1772 – 1864), politician
• Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 – 1924), civil rights leader, journalist
• Charles Sumner (1811 – 1874), abolitionist and senator

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:14 AM | Permalink

Caskets for Less at Costco

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reckons that the cost of a no-frills burial is $6000. Adding flowers, limousines and obituary notices can up the price to about $10,000, Both the cost and the difficulty of making so many decisions at a time of intense emotional distress has led many people to pre-plan funerals. Since 1984 the FTC has regulated the sale of funeral goods and services requiring funeral providers to give a detailed price list for all they sell.

Now Costco is entering the market with a pilot program to sell discounted coffins, offering their customers with a way to save money in death. The Economist in its August 21-27th issue, (onlne for subscribers only) in "Stiff Competition, a cheaper way to face the final curtain" reports that starting on August 16th at two locations in Chicago, customers at Costco will be able to browse casket samples at a kiosk and have a casket delivered to a nearby funeral home for $799.99. The same coffin at a funeral home would cost $3500-$5000 according to Bob Nelson of Costco, "This is an industry that traditionally people get ripped off in."

An FTC rule introduced in 1994 bans funeral providers from charging an extra fee to customers who buy their caskets elsewhere. Here's what the FTC says about funeral costs and pre-paying for funerals ....

    Millions of Americans have entered into contracts to prearrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved. Laws of individual states govern the prepayment of funeral goods and services; various states have laws to help ensure that these advance payments are available to pay for the funeral products and services when they're needed. But protections vary widely from state to state, and some state laws offer little or no effective protection. Some state laws require the funeral home or cemetery to place a percentage of the prepayment in a state-regulated trust or to purchase a life insurance policy with the death benefits assigned to the funeral home or cemetery.

    If you're thinking about prepaying for funeral goods and services, it's important to consider these issues before putting down any money:
    • What are you are paying for? Are you buying only merchandise, like a casket and vault, or are you purchasing funeral services as well?
    • What happens to the money you've prepaid? States have different requirements for handling funds paid for prearranged funeral services.
    • What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
    • Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?
    • Can you cancel the contract and get a full refund if you change your mind?
    • What happens if you move to a different area or die while away from home? Some prepaid funeral plans can be transferred, but often at an added cost.

    Be sure to tell your family about the plans you've made; let them know where the documents are filed. If your family isn't aware that you've made plans, your wishes may not be carried out. And if family members don't know that you've prepaid the funeral costs, they could end up paying for the same arrangements. You may wish to consult an attorney on the best way to ensure that your wishes are followed.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:50 AM | Permalink

August 19, 2004

Eulogies for the Living

Every now and then, we can see the power of love in one person's life. Here, Jane Galt, who writes most often about economic issues and sometimes politics in her blog Asymmetrical Information
expresses her love and respect for her grandfather in A word about George Farrell

    It's one of the great tragedies of human life that we tend to save our best compliments for eulogies. When we're in love, at least at the beginning, we manage to override the human instinct for reticence. But with those we love longest and best, we forget to take stock of how much we love them, how much they have given us, how unique and extraordinary and, well, neat they are. Even in the moments when, for some reason or no reason at all, we are struck by the realization of the terrific power this person has in our lives, and our own gladness that we have been given this marvelous person for our mother, and not some other person who could not be other than inferior, we don't mention it. We forget. Or we are uncomfortable being sentimental. Or we simply don't know how to say what we really mean, and though we throw our arms around that wonderful specimen and exclaim "I'm so glad you're my mother!", we know even as we say it that we have not managed to communicate the grand emotions that inspired us.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:30 AM | Permalink

August 17, 2004

Focus Your Giving

Too many of us give to charities in a haphazard way. We give to those who ask us. We give to those who are suffering right now like victims of Hurricane Charlie or for toys and back-to-school kits for the children of Iraq.

We give when our hearts are touched by the goodness of one woman such as Susan Tom who has adopted 11 children with special needs who was recently featured in an HBO film My Flesh and Blood. So many people were moved by her story that a special Tom Family Education Trust was set up. Blogger Alan Nelson made an open call at The Command Post to counter the evil of Nick Berg’s beheading by strengthening the good of Susan Tom and her kids and raised $15,000 in three days for their education.

But he did more, he focused his attention. Realizing the power of the Internet, he developed the idea to create a network of bloggers who raise awareness of “micro charities”—charitable opportunities that are simple, personal, non-bureaucratic, and inspiring. Charitable opportunities where someone can feel great about giving $1, or even just from reading the story of the charity, it’s sponsors, and it’s beneficiaries. He then set up a website and a network Strengthen the Good

This is how you leave a larger legacy. Focus the major part of your charitable giving on what you want to accomplish most. Figure out what your charitable mission is and then give it your all. If what you really want to do is strengthen your community, consider joining or starting a Leave a Legacy program

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:21 PM | Permalink

Digital Slideshows Tell Stories - Dead or Alive?

Are you one of those people who have scads of photos in shoeboxes? Or have you converted to digital photos but only print out the very best? Either way, you might want to rethink the way you commemorate family events. Usually people save every photo they've made about the event with the result that no one ever looks at them again after they've seen them once or they keep an emblematic photo to represent the entire event.

Why not use your photos and out takes to put together a slideshow that tells a story in about 3 minutes. Use any one of the many digital editing software tools on the market to make a slideshow, add music, maybe a narration and tell a story. Stories are powerful. Do them now while you're in the full possession of life when you can tell it your way.

According to the August 23rd edition of Newsweek, commemorative DVDs that star the deceased will be coming soon to a funeral home near you.

    Designed on short notice, DVDs usually contain photos, home videos and milestone documents like diplomas. "We're starting to see the public really embrace this," says Joe Becker, a funeral director in Brookfield, Wis. "People who don't know we offer DVDs actually come in with their own laptops wanting to do it themselves." Service Corporation International, a conglomeration of 1,600 funeral homes, says it has already designed 7,000 DVDs this year—up from just 2,500 in 2003.

    The industry's now moving to bring funeral directors up to speed. Next month the National Funeral Directors Association convention will premiere its first DVD workshop. The American Board of Funeral Service Education expects all mortuary schools to add digital video courses by 2005. And funeralOne, a funeral tech company, will soon introduce DVD editing software that provides directors with theme templates (such as "animal lover" or "avid sports fan") and preselected background music. It gives new meaning to the term new funeral director.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:49 PM | Permalink

August 1, 2004

Charitable Entrepreneurs

Growing up Irish in Boston, you have a different idea of obituaries and wakes than most people.
Around Boston obituaries were the Irish funny pages and that wakes are where the pols would go to pay their respects, drink and chat up the voters. If you've seen Spencer Tracy in The Last Hurrah, based on the book by Edwin O'Connor and on the life of James Michael Curley as Mayor of Boston, you know exactly what I mean.

So maybe it's not so surprising that one of the blogs that I visit regularly is the Blog of Death Every day, Jade Walker features one or more obituaries, each of which is a mini life story, sometimes showing how a life can change completely mid-course.

Richard Bloch was such a man. He and his brother founded H&R Block in 1955 to help people with their tax returns. Today the Kansas City-based company is now the world's largest tax preparer, with 21 million customers in 11 countries. But what is more remarkable is that he got lung cancer in 1978 and was told he had only 3 months to live. He underwent aggressive and extensive treatment and beat the cancer back. That experience prompted him to sell his interest in the company and to become an aggressive advocate for cancer patients.

He and his wife, Annette, launched the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation, the R.A. Bloch Cancer Management Center and the R.A. Bloch Cancer Support Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The couple created the Cancer Hotline, one of the first free phone services staffed by experienced volunteers to help cancer patients find available treatment resources, and penned three books. In the late 1980s, he also survived a bout of colon cancer.

That got me thinking about Charitable Entrepreneurs. In the United States, we are fortunate to have businessmen and women who bring their talents to bear to support and sometimes start charitable causes. It's an innovative, uniquely American way to solve social problems. While other countries depend on the government to take care of such social issues, in the U.S. people take it upon themselves to start, support and give to charitable organizations. Which may be why charitable giving in the US is dramatically higher in the U.S than in Europe

COUNTRY................GIVING in euros per capita

Spain.......................... 122
U.K............................. 117
Ireland........................ 100
France.......................... 74
Finland.......................... 70
Austria.......................... 50
Germany....................... 39
Hungary........................ 32
Slovakia........................ 25
Czech Republic.............25

hat tip Michael at 2 Blowhards

Posted by Jill Fallon at 7:03 PM | Permalink

Life Lessons from Dave Barry

A friend in California sent me these life lessons from Dave Barry who calls it SIXTEEN THINGS THAT IT TOOK ME OVER 50 YEARS TO LEARN

1. Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a
laxative on the same night.

2. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human
race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential,
that word would be "meetings."

3. There is a very fine line between "hobby" and "mental

4. People who want to share their religious views with you almost
never want you to share yours with them.

5. You should not confuse your career with your life.

6. Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.

7. Never lick a steak knife.

8. The most destructive force in the universe is gossip.

9. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and
compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.

10. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely
suggests that you think she's pregnant unless you can see an
actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

11. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other
people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age eleven.

12. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age,
gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that,
deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers.

13. A person, who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a
nice person. (This is very important. Pay attention. It never

14. Your friends love you anyway.

15. Never be afraid to try something new. Remember that a lone
amateur built the Ark. A large group of professionals built the

FINAL Thought for the day:

Men are like a fine wine. They start out as grapes, and it's up to
women to stomp the crap out of them until they turn into something
acceptable to have dinner with.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:40 PM | Permalink