Thoughts on charity: Ideas for year-end giving?

Something I have been trying to improve in the last few years has been making a conscious effort to give in ways I've found difficult in the past.  Two very concrete ways I think I can be more charitable is in 1) attitude and 2) money.  One area in which I find it easy to be charitable, in comparison, is time, a resource I unfortunately have a tendency to squander as well.

A quote about charity from Maya Angelou's "Letter to my Daughter" that stuck with me went something like this: 

The charitable say in effect, 'I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.' Fine, if my excess is tangible, money or goods, and fine if not, for I learned that to be charitable with gestures and words can bring enormous joy and repair injured feelings.

I found this statement powerful, as it pointed out to me a clear gap between where I am, now, and where I should be, or want to be.  Part of it is just wanting to be a more decent human being but most of it is wanting to be a better Christian, and do a better job of living up to the character God expects from me as I walk in the world (though I fail miserably, most of the time).  I try not to impose my beliefs on others (ironically enough, I felt a bit oppressed the other day when talking to a couple of rabidly atheist friends), and especially through this blog, but this particular topic is impossible to separate from my faith.

I will probably explore the subject of charity through kindness in another post, but for now I want to explore the more traditional or popular notion of charity, that being charitable with my money.  Firstly, I don't think it is only up to the rich to be charitable. Back in my Hollywood days when I was making pennies, I found it very difficult to part with my money because it truly was hard-earned, and scarce besides.  I am not proud of it, because I do think it's important to give, even if it is a little, especially to cultivate a 'habit' of giving.  When I complained to a friend several years ago about how difficult it was to tithe on such a low income, she looked at me squarely and asked, "won't it be more difficult when you are making more money and 10% means $8,000 instead of $2500?"

I don't think I've even gotten to the point where I am giving 10%, but looking back, it probably is a bit easier now that I'm living a little more comfortably.  At any rate, the end of the year is a good chance for me to look back and "true up."  

And so, I put this question to you wise folks: if you were inclined to give, where would you give it? The easiest answer for me is my old church in Mountain View, which I believe is doing some truly good and amazing work, from workshops that help people managing their debt to support groups for women with a relative who is incarcerated.  

But this year I'd like to expand the possible list of recipients, not only for my personal giving but for anyone who's reading this, who might be interested in giving as well.  I also prefer to focus on organizations that aren't traditionally popular among the wealthy or otherwise "chic."  I'm especially interested in learning more about organizations that focus on seniors and the elderly, as they seem to comprise a relatively ignored population (sure not as popular as babies, women and various specific diseases).  

Here's a list of organizations I find compelling, but I'd love to hear of some other worthy organizations you might have come across:
  • Asylum Access (helps those oppressed by political turmoil navigate the legal systems in their country of refuge)
  • Doctors Without Borders and Reporters Without Borders
  • WWF (that would be World Wildlife Fund, not Worldwide Wrestling Federation)
  • The Mango Tree
  • Heifer International
  • American Red Cross
  • Union of Concerned Scientists
  • World Vision
Update: Wow thanks everyone for all the additional suggestions!  Here are some more ideas from various people:
  • CityTeam Ministries (homeless outreach in SF and other major cities)
  • Glide Memorial Methodist Church (homeless outreach in SF) - interesting I'd never heard of it before.
  • SEED schools
  • Polaris Project
  • Arlington Free Clinic
  • Childrens Hunger Fund
  • Education Pioneers
  • Dress for Success
  • e3 Partners
  • A Single Drop
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • William J. Clinton Foundation
  • Amnesty International
  • Just a Drop
  • Room to Read
  • Taproot Foundation

The Na'vi: Hot or Not?

So I know they were designed to be appealing to moviegoers. I think one review called them "familiar yet pleasingly exotic." I am not even sure what it means to be pleasingly exotic, but I think that hits the nail on the head. You feel really weird looking at these strange creatures and yet you find yourself strangely drawn in.

Non-sequitur: Why do tribal chiefs ever only seem to have daughters?  Why don't they ever have sons in the movies?

I'm not really sure what does it for me - the super obvious resemblance to Native American and African tribes? The hugely expressive cat-eyes and human-like mouths? The way you can readily recognize the human actors who played them? The sensually exposed blue skin? Their raw physicality? Whatever it is, it's the stuff of dreams.

That said, when I got out of the IMAX theater tonight, I called Garry and said it gave me the creepin' willies to watch avatars make out, let alone have 'avatar sex.' I'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with my feeling that such shameless displays of affection are specifically a figment of Western filmmaking, and these creatures seem decidedly non-Western.

I am most definitely dating a 'nerd.' Now it all makes sense!

Garry sent me The Nerd Handbook via Rands in Repose, quite possibly one of the best blog posts of the year, so I could better understand where he's coming from.  Having grown up with my brother as a role model (such that my definition of 'manhood' involves being able to fix my computer rather than carry heavy stuff or play sports etc.), and having some nerd tendencies myself, I can definitely relate, but this guide spells it out so much clearer than anything I've encountered before. 

This article comes at a particularly pithy and relevant time for me.  Despite my adolescent fantasies of romancing tortured writers, wiry athletes, warrior princes, revolutionaries, asian-american christian worship leaders, and shyly passionate high school history teachers, deep down I always knew I'd wind up with a crusty engineer.  My parents are both physics majors and my brother is a classic CS videogame ENTJ, so it' you say... in my blood.

I'm amazed at how accurately the guide describes the inner workings of a nerd's mind!  I'm at the same time fascinated and bemused by these odd creatures and I'm sure it will come in handy the next time I want to tear my hair out.  Some quotes that struck a particular chord in me:
  • "A nerd needs a project because a nerd builds stuff. All the time."
  • "At some point, you, the nerd’s companion, were the project. You were showered with the fire hose of attention because you were the bright and shiny new development in your nerd’s life."
  • "It’s clichéd, but a nerd is defined by his computer...He sees the world as a system which, given enough time and effort, is completely knowable."
  • "System-redefining events force your nerd to recognize that the world is not always or entirely a knowable place, and until he reconstructs this illusion, he’s going to be frustrated and he’s going to act erratically."
  • "Your nerd has built himself a cave."
  • "As each part of the project is completed, your nerd receives an adrenaline rush that we’re going to call The High."
  • "Your nerd listens hard to recognize humor potential and when he hears it, he furiously scours his mind to find relevant content from his experience so he can get the funny out as quickly as possible."
  • "Your nerd has an amazing appetite for information."
  • "You love to travel, but your nerd would prefer to hide in his cave for hours on end chasing The High."
  • "You want your nerd to eat healthily so that he’s here in another thirty years, so how do you change this behavior? You make diet and exercise the project."
  • "It’s just as much a nerd’s job to figure you out and maybe someone somewhere is writing an article about your particular quirks. Good news, he’s probably reading it right now."

This is how I know that love is not rational.

No it's not rational, but it's inconvenient, unpredictable, and anxious.  Or am I really talking about infatuation?  If so, this is not the first time I've been infatuated with a place.

Some context: those close to me have borne intimate witness to the harrowing one-month apartment hunt I just conducted, during which I must have seen 40-50 living situations from Redwood City to Bernal Heights in SF (if, like me, you've never heard of it, it's a neighborhood nestled south of the Mission and Potrero Hill, just northwest of where the 101 and the 280 intersect...I'd say it's SF's best-kept secret: affordable, charming, historical, and incredibly convenient for those who own a car).  

It was frustrating especially because I kept open parameters, not wanting to limit my options, and yet a strict list of criteria.  I looked at studios and shares.  I looked at every town within about 10 miles of work: RWC, San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Burlingame, Millbrae, and Foster City.  It was exhaustingI've encountered everything from the pristine townhome furnished completely from Cost Plus, to the houseful of hippies and fruit trees, to well-maintained but boxlike apartments built in the 1970s, to a decrepit old house at the tippy top of a steep incline, which was built in the 1880s and looked 150 years old, an abode befitting witches or old professors.  I must have clocked 100s of miles on my car and became familiar with the nuances of how neighborhoods changed, if you crossed the tracks, or if you landed on the wrong side of a particular intersection.

You know how they say "the odds are good, but the goods are odd"?  That is exactly what the housing market is like right now.  A short drive down El Camino in the town of Burlingame will take you past dozens of "FOR RENT" signs (hint: many owners in this area do not advertise on Craigslist, and many are pushing 90 years old.  Instead, they expect people to walk or drive by and call).  But there was usually one or several things wrong these places, for instance:
  • No laundry on the premises
  • No parking spot included
  • No dishwasher (this was common)
  • Cave-like, with no light
  • "Kitchenette" with a mini-fridge and sink so small you can't even fit a plate in it.
  • Hallway smells of old cats
  • Faces industrial railroad yards and auto repair shops
  • Dirty
  • Faces El Camino: loud/noisy, dusty, and those damn eucalyptus trees make it near impossible to get out of the complex safely
  • Roommates teach channeling classes and renaissance swordfighting out of the house.
  • 3-4 roommates sharing one bathroom
  • Etc. etc. etc.
Out of all the place I saw, I could count on one hand the number of places I truly liked.  Then, I saw 1021 El Camino Real in Burlingame.

I liked the manager, Barry, as soon as I talked to him on the phone.  I didn't like that the place was on El Camino, and it was kind of expensive, but as I approached the old building with its stately facade, I was intrigued.  The lobby made me smile - someone had taken pains to set up some lovely chairs, lamps, and a coffee table.  Barry called me from somewhere up the stairs, and I never thought the stairs would end.  But it was only after I reached the fourth-floor landing that I lost my breath.
Barry was in the middle of fixing the place up and repainting - he kept warning me not to lean on anything - but under all the clutter, what I saw was a golden, light-filled aerie.  It looked out over the rooftops of the surrounding buildings, with one window that faced north and two giant windows that faced full west, inviting all the light from the setting sun.  You don't understand, it is so difficult to find an apartment in the area with good natural sunlight.

My eyes started to adjust and I started to explore.  All the little nooks and crannies, from the built-in bookshelves to the built-in glass-front cabinets, only enchanted me further.  The apartments had been built in 1931 and retained all the old charm.  The hallways were as thoughtfully decorated as the lobby, giving the whole place the feeling of an old, jewel-like, and storied hotel.  I loved it all immediately, madly and deeply, and that was even before Barry pointed out the exercise room on the top floor, and the rooftop deck that allowed an almost 360-degree view of trees, the Woodside hills, and all the way to the East Bay. 

There were two major drawbacks though: the apartment was on the fourth floor of an old building with no elevator, and the windows faced El Camino and all the rush-hour traffic noise.  The fourth floor would not be a problem as long as I am able-bodied, but I injure myself a LOT, what with my weak ankles and knee that tends toward dislocation.  The romantic, delusional part of me wanted to overlook these imperfections, embrace them even.  It was prepared to sign the lease right then and there, and Barry seemed pleased to have me as a potential tenant. "You suit this place," he told me. 

The realist in me told me to hold out for something better, as if that were even possible after one finds the apartment-love of one's life.

I told Barry I'd continue looking and think for another a day or two.

Well friends, it was not meant to be.  In the end, my practicality defeated my romanticism, even though the studio at 1021 El Camino really felt like home, like I truly belonged and could be myself.  The next day I found a place which, by all practical measures, completely outweighed the place I loved.  It is closer to downtown shops and restaurants, it is walkable to Caltrain and the library, it is cheaper (with utilities included!), it's in a much quieter and more affluent neighborhood, and it has decent light, though it faces east, not west, and will have none of that magical "golden hour" light that photographers love so much, and which the studio at 1021 El Camino had in abundance.  So I signed the lease on the more practical place and I hope I can make a home of it.

But it's been days, and I still can't stop thinking fondly of 1021 El Camino.  So I wanted to immortalize it here.  Thanks for humoring me.

Amelie Rio stockings: A Follow-Up

Posted simultaneously to

Some of you may remember this story I told more than half a year ago, about a pair of stockings I fell in love with.  In fact, it was the first pair of stockings, or leggings, or any legwear accessory to which I ever gave a second thought.  They were made by MaxMara, but the brand was beside the point.  They were the most beautiful things I'd seen in a long time, and they haunted me.  You can read the original post here.

After that first encounter, and at least a week or two of miserable pining, I decided to try to find them again.  This was not an easy task, as MaxMara doesn't even have a website.  (Though their less expensive brand, MaxStudio, does.)  Apparently MaxMara makes hosiery, but the lines are not widely distributed, and even among MaxMara stores, only a select few carry hosiery at all.  And among those, the chances of me finding this particular style in my specific size were slim.

By the time I decided to cough up the $70 to buy them, of course, the South Coast Plaza location was sold out.  I went on a cyber quest, searching for them in many different permutations until, finally, I ran into this Boston Globe article about eye-catching legwear. I jumped - there was a boutique that sold them, Moxie on Charles St. in Beacon Hill!  I wrote them immediately to see if a) they still had the stockings in stock and b) they would ship to California.  A day later, I got the magic response:

I have one pair left.  It is a M/L but it is Italian sizing and runs pretty small.  I can ship but we charge $10 for shipping.  The stocking is $65. 
Let me know if you'd like it.
Karen F. Fabbri, owner 

After a flurry of e-mails where we figured out logistics, shipping/credit card information, the stockings were on their way.  I gotta hand it to the Moxie folks -- they were so patient, responsive, and accommodating.  Totally painless experience, and I was so grateful that they held the stockings for over a week while I continued to hem and haw over the purchase.  When I finally took the plunge, I was glad I did!

I know all the considerations about impracticality, exorbitant price, etc.  But in the end, I was so very glad I did it.  This is how I figured it--I don't buy jewelry or expensive handbags.  This was one of the first luxury items I ever purchased, and just because they are non-conventional, and I can't wear them all the time, doesn't make me any less satisfied with them.  They really are fine quality and I'm sure if I am careful with them, they'll last for years to come.

We're all "sheeple" apparently

Be honest... how often have you thought this exact same thought?

me: I'm a yupster. it's different. yuppies shop at pottery barn and crate and barrel.  i, on the other hand, am a unique and wonderful snowflake.
Stephen (my brother): contrary to popular belief, you are the same as everyone
me: am not. i am a snowflake.
Stephen: i am not a snowflake
me: what are you then
Stephen: a space monkey
me:'re a monkey?

How I feel about the Twilight Saga...

It is exactly, I mean exactly, like these stupid crushes I used to have in high school where I would actually be embarrassed to admit I liked the guy because he was usually kind of oddball, dorky or just plain weird.  Ashamed but strangely drawn in.  (Nothing, by the way, like the way I feel about my favorite founder.)

It's weird to think that one can have a crush on a book series, but looking back at the progression of the past week, it developed exactly like that.  So does, I guess, my relationship with many other books/movies/tv shows that I get really into.  It starts with curiosity, then denial, turns into compulsion, and finally fullblown addictive obsession.  (Sooner or later, more or less, I recover.)  In this case, I watched the movie over the weekend out of curiosity, to see what all the fuss was about, and then I've been sleeping at 3-4am this week because I stay up reading the books.  And now all I want to do is talk about it to anyone who will listen.

I still feel pretty conflicted about it.  The writing is totally atrocious - I tell people the dialogue is like reading my old AIM chat logs from high school, and the rest of the first book is like my high school diary where I would pontificate on the various perfections of some guy I never even talked to.  I think that's where it really sticks in my side, and maybe that's the genius of it--Stephenie Meyer managed to make us see just how absurd and silly we all were at that age (or still are).

I don't like most of the characters either - I despise Bella Swan and I think Edward Cullen is tiresome in his tortured angst.  The actors from the movie are another story; I think they are all adorable, even Kristen Stewart, whom I hated in the movie, but in real life she's like this spunky, awkward-funny amalgam of Janeane Garofalo, Alexa Chung, and Avril Lavigne (only not so bratty).  And yes, the chemistry between her and RPattz is like, super hotttt!

But I read some of the first book because, I don't know, I was feeling indulgent.  Then I read the synopses of the others to get the gist of what happened.  I started New Moon, and then the character of Jacob Black hooked me and drew me straight into the vortex of Twilight hysteria.  He's the one realistic, multi-dimensional, funny, tragic, incorrigible, naughty, beautiful, humane, immature, and wonderfully charismatic character in the whole series.  Plus I've had a mild fetish for Native Americans since I was young (I know.  Totally objectifying an entire culture).  When I got impatient with the smarmy, saccharine, and boring vampire-Bella bits, I started flipping through and only reading the parts that involved Jacob the werewolf.

I wonder if I should start the fourth book.

I'm actually thinking of getting a t-shirt that says "TEAM JACOB: I run with wolves."  When did it become okay to be this dorky?  And let's not get into how dirty us women feel about the sunny, likable, and newly ripped (but not quite legal) Taylor Lautner.  Control yourselves ladies, he's only 17.

And finally, the New Moon trailer:


Someone posted this on our alumni listserv

Obama Will Be One of The Greatest (and Most Loved) American Presidents

By Frank Schaeffer
The Huffington Post

Posted October 8, 2008 | 02:45 PM (EST)

Great presidents are made great by horrible circumstances combined with character, temperament and intelligence. Like firemen, cops, doctors or soldiers, presidents need a crisis to shine.

Obama is one of the most intelligent presidential aspirants to ever step forward in American history. The likes of hi intellectual capabilities have not been surpassed in public life since the Founding Fathers put pen to paper. His personal character is also solid gold. Take heart, America: we have the leader for our times.

I say this as a white, former life-long Republican. I say this as the proud father of a Marine. I say this as just another American watching his pension evaporate along with the stock market! I speak as someone who knows it's time to forget party loyalty, ideology and pride and put the country first. I say this as someone happy to be called a fool for going out on a limb and declaring that, 1) Obama will win, and 2) he is going to be amongst the greatest of American presidents. 

Obama is our last best chance. He's worth laying it all on the line for.

This is a man who in the age of greed took the high road of community service. This is the good father and husband. This is the humble servant. This is the patient teacher. This is the scholar statesman. This is the man of deep Christian faith.

Good stories about Obama abound; from his personal relationship with his Secret Service agents (he invites them into his home to watch sports, and shoots hoops with them) to the story about how, more than twenty years ago, while standing in the check-in line at an airport, Obama paid a $100 baggage surcharge for a stranger who was broke and stuck. (Obama was virtually penniless himself in those days.) Years later after he became a senator, that stranger recognized Obama's picture and wrote to him to thank him. She received a kindly note back from the senator. (The story only surfaced because the person, who lives in Norway, told a local newspaper after Obama ran for the presidency. The paper published a photograph of this lady proudly displaying Senator Obama's letter.)

Where many leaders are two-faced; publicly kindly but privately feared and/or hated by people closest to them, Obama is consistent in the way he treats people, consistently kind and personally humble. He lives by the code that those who lead must serve. He believes that. He lives it. He lived it long before he was in the public eye.

Obama puts service ahead of ideology. He also knows that to win politically you need to be tough. He can be. He has been. This is a man who does what works, rather than scoring ideological points. In other words he is the quintessential non-ideologica pragmatic American. He will (thank God!) disappoint ideologues and purists of the left and the right.

Obama has a reservoir of personal physical courage that is unmatched in presidential history. Why unmatched? Because as the first black contender for the presidency who will win, Obama, and all the rest of us, know that he is in great physical danger from the seemingly unlimited reserve of unhinged racial hatred, and just plain unhinged ignorant hatred, that swirls in the bowels of our wounded and sinful country. By stepping forward to lead, Obama has literally put his life on the line for all of us in a way no white candidate ever has had to do. (And we all know how dangerous the presidency has been even for white presidents.)

Nice stories or even unparalleled courage isn't the only point. The greater point about Obama is that the midst of our worldwide financial meltdown, an expanding (and losing) war in Afghanistan, trying to extricate our country from a wrong and stupidly mistaken ruinously expensive war in Iraq, our mounting and crushing national debt, awaiting the next (and inevitable) al Qaeda attack on our homeland, watching our schools decline to Third World levels of incompetence, facing a general loss of confidence in the government that has been exacerbated by the Republicans doing all they can to undermine our government's capabilitie and programs... President Obama will take on the leadership of our country at a make or break time of historic proportions. He faces not one but dozens of crisis, each big enough to define any presidency in better times.

As luck, fate or divine grace would have it (depending on one's personal theology) Obama is blessedly, dare I say uniquely, well-suited to our dire circumstances. Obama is a person with hands-on community service experience, deep connections to top economic advisers from the renowned University of Chicago where he taught law, and a middle-class background that gives him an abiding knowledgeable empathy with the rest of us. As the son of a single mother, who has worked his way up with merit and brains, recipient of top-notch academic scholarships, the peer-selected editor of the Harvard Law Review and, in three giant political steps to state office, national office and now the presidency, Obama clearly has the wit and drive to lead.

Obama is the sober voice of reason at a time of unreason. He is the fellow keeping his head while all around him are panicking. He is the healing presence at a time of national division and strife. He is also new enough to the political process so that he doesn't suffer from the terminally jaded cynicism, the seen-it-all-before syndrome afflicting most politicians in Washington. In that regard we Americans lucked out. It's as if having despaired of our political process we picked a name from the phone book to lead us and that person turned out to be a very man we needed.

Obama brings a healing and uplifting spiritual quality to our politics at the very time when our worst enemy is fear. For eight years we've been ruled by a stunted fear-filled mediocrity of a little liar who has expanded his power on the basis of creating fear in others. Fearless Obama is the cure. He speaks a litany of hope rather than a litany of terror.

As we have watched Obama respond in a quiet reasoned manner to crisis after crisis, in both the way he has responded after being attacked and lied about in the 2008 campaign season, to his reasoned response to our multiplying national crises, what we see is the spirit of a trusted family doctor with a great bedside manner. Obama is perfectly suited to hold our hand and lead us through some very tough times. The word panic is not in the Obama dictionary.

America is fighting its "Armageddon" in one fearful heart at a time. A brilliant leader with the mild manner of an old-time matter-of-fact country doctor soothing a frightened child is just what we need. The fact that our "doctor" is a black man leading a hitherto white-ruled nation out of the mess of its own making is all the sweeter and raises the Obama story to that of moral allegory.

Obama brings a moral clarity to his leadership reserved for those who have had to work for everything they've gotten and had to do twice as well as the person standing next to them because of the color of their skin. His experience of succeeding in spite of his color, social background and prejudice could have been embittering or one that fostered a spiritual rebirth of forgiveness and enlightenment. Obama radiates the calm inner peace of the spirit of forgiveness. 

Speaking as a believing Christian I see the hand of a merciful God in Obama's candidacy. The biblical metaphors abound. The stone the builder rejected is become the cornerstone... the last shall be first... he that would gain his life must first lose it... the meek shall inherit the earth...

For my secular friends I'll allow that we may have just been extraordinarily lucky! Either way America wins.

Only a brilliant man, with the spirit of a preacher and the humble heart of a kindly family doctor can lead us now. We are afraid, out of ideas, and worst of all out of hope. Obama is the cure. And we Americans have it in us to rise to the occasion. We will. We're about to enter one of the most frightening periods of American history. Our country has rarely faced more uncertainty. This is the time for greatness. We have a great leader. We must be a great people backing him, fighting for him, sacrificing for a cause greater than ourselves. 

A hundred years from now Obama's portrait will be placed next to that of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Long before that we'll be telling our children and grandchildren that we stepped out in faith and voted for a young black man who stood up and led our country back from the brink of an abyss. We'll tell them about the power of love, faith and hope. We'll tell them about the power of creativity combined with humility and intellectual brilliance. We'll tell them that President Obama gave us the gift of regaining our faith in our country. We'll tell them that we all stood up and pitched in and won the day. We'll tell them that President Obama restored our standing in the world. We'll tell them that by the time he left office our schools were on the mend, our economy booming, that we'd become a nation filled with green energy alternatives and were leading the world away from dependence on carbon-based destruction. We'll tell them that because of President Obama's example and leadership the integrity of the family was restored, divorce rates went down, more fathers took responsibility for their children, and abortion rates fell dramatically as women, families and children were cared for through compassionate social programs that worked. We'll tell them about how the gap closed between the middle class and the super rich, how we won health care for all, how crime rates fell, how bad wars were brought to an honorable conclusion. We'll tell them that when we were attacked again by al Qaeda, how reason prevailed and the response was smart, tough, measured and effective, and our civil rights were protected even in times of crisis...

We'll tell them that we were part of the inexplicably blessed miracle that happened to our country those many years ago in 2008 when a young black man was sent by God, fate or luck to save our country. We'll tell them that it's good to live in America where anything is possible. Yes we will. 

Frank Schaeffer is the author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back. Now in paperback.

My brother's "pacifier" theory.

It was good to catch up with my brother after almost 2 months of not seeing him.  We talked over Vietnamese food and Pinkberry-like frozen yogurt at Yogurtland.

One thing I thought worth sharing was what my brother calls his "pacifier" theory.  After taking care of 50+ kids over the last 10 years--most of them at the nursery at church, he has come to realize that most people, young and old, have what he calls a pacifier--that is, some specific thing they need/want of the people around them which, when provided, will utterly quell and satisfy them.  Some people want to feel smart, for instance.  Some people want to feel beautiful.  Some people want to be recognized for their effort or accomplishments. 

I asked him what our parents' pacifiers were.  I was surprised/impressed by how accurate they were, when I really thought of it.  He said that our mom wants to be appreciated for the things she does for us.  (This is very true... the more I think of it, I realize my mom shows her love for us through acts of service, and by feeding us.  And I'm recognizing that in myself now, too--the need to take care of others in the same way).  Our dad also likes to be appreciated, but in a slightly different way--"He likes it when he advises you to do something and you follow his advice, and it works out well," observed my brother.  In other words, our dad gets great satisfaction out of being right.

It's an interesting thing to think about if you are trying to work with or influence a group of people, especially as a manager or leader, if you want to be bringing out the best in people or trying to get people to work towards a goal.

Debate: How many is "a couple"?

I'm really confused.  I always thought "a couple" meant just what it says.  Two.  A pair. One, and two.  Not three, not four.  In the past week though, I've had at least two people interpret "a couple" as more than two. 

In the first case, my friend said something was "a couple miles away."  15-20 minutes later, I was like, "Geez, this place is hella far.  It's totally more than two miles."  She was like, "who said anything about two miles."  I was like, "that's what a couple is!"  In the second case, I said "a couple of friends," meaning two, and was asked exactly how many "a couple" was, but by this time I realized that "a couple" did not unequivocably mean two.

So tell me if I'm wrong, but this is the system of numbers I've always had in my head:

"a" = 1
Ex. "I want a cat."  Means I want ONE cat.

"a couple" = two
Ex. "I had a couple of drinks."  Means I had TWO drinks.

"a few" = 3 - 5 
Ex. "I've visited a few cities around China."  Means I have traveled to FOUR cities in China.

"several" = 5 - 8

Ex. "John has had several partners in the last couple of years."  Means John is someting of a manslut, having spread himself around with approximately SEVEN women in TWO years =P

"many" = 8 - 15, depending on what you're talking about
Ex. "I want to do many different things when I go to Chicago in a few days."  This gets a little hazy, but I probably could come up with more than EIGHT things I want to do in Chicago in the THREE days I have left before my trip.

"a lot" = more than 10ish
Ex. "I have a lot of e-mails to send tonight."  You get the point.

Of course, interpretations of "a few," "several," "many" and "a lot" can differ depending on what you're talking about.  If it's cars in a parking lot, for example, "a few" could mean up to 10, "several" can mean up to 20, "many" can be up to 100, "a lot" can be like 500.  But, "a couple of cars" is still just 2 cars.

Anyway, just some thoughts for an unproductive Thursday night.