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Archive for July, 2010

On Saturday Ivan’s Aunt Karyn was in Budapest and we met up with her, her husband and her nephew and strolled around Margitsziget. Margitsziget is an island in the middle of the Danube that’s been turned into a park. It’s a beautiful green place in the middle of the city. We wandered around for a couple hours. At first Avery fell asleep, but as soon as she woke up, guess what she found…

Ice cream!!! There were little ice cream vendors everywhere. She made an awful mess and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The park is really pretty and has a hotel, a swim area, paths all throughout it and a couple little restaurants. You can rent all sorts of things for getting around in. We saw a segway looking thing with small training wheels in the back, there were contraptions made for families that looked like two bikes hooked together with four sets of pedals to run them and a small seat on the front for small children or dogs. There were motorized golf cart things you could hire to take you around and even buses. I think next time we might have to rent a family bike. It looked pretty fun.

At the southern end of the island there is a fountain. It’s really pretty, and when we were there they had it performing a water show to classical music. Karen and I decided that we could have stayed there for a couple hours and watched it, but since they had to catch a train to Krakow that evening maybe it was better that we leave. Avery called it “high water” but we can’t tell if she meant “high water” or “hi, water.” Either way, it was kind of cute.

We had a picnic lunch together and Avery has a new buddy. She and Karyn got to be pretty good friends over lunch and a traumatic fall through the hole of a bench. She’s got a nice red bump on her eye, but some hugs made her feel better. Karyn and Dennis and their Nephew Beau (I hope I spelled that right) were really fun to hang out with and we’re really glad they came. They say they’re coming back maybe for a little longer in a little over a year, so hopefully we’ll get to see them again.

Here we all are. Karyn, Dennis, Beau, Ivan and Avery beneath. I’m not there because someone had to take the picture and we were already blocking the sidewalk. It was a great day and man, were my legs sore that night!

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CONFIDENCE: The feeling you experience before you fully understand the situation.

For the past year and a half I have been collecting quotes that I felt are particularly true and important (and often funny). I have over 200 now and roughly an eighth are related to confidence, faith or doubt. This endeavor corresponds with the “midlife crisis” I’ve been experiencing during the same time [1]. This period also corresponds with the birth of my daughters and the progression of my arthritis.

One can mistrust one’s own senses, but not one’s own belief. If there were a verb meaning “to believe falsely,” it would not have any significant first person, present indicative.

–Ludwig Wittgenstein

My midlife crisis is what I will call a crisis of confidence. I want to say crisis of faith, but the word faith is too often associated with religion, and so I will say crisis of confidence. During this period I have lost some amount of confidence in everything from the free market, to literal religious belief, and especially my own ability to succeed.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. All progress, therefore, depends upon the unreasonable man.

–George Bernard Shaw

This has, naturally, caused me to think about the nature of confidence and the “unfairness” of it. A person with confidence has an automatic advantage over someone who doesn’t. This has of course been well studied in, say, tennis. Certainly many of history’s great men (and women) have been very confident. Consider for example Richard Stallman, Joseph Stalin, and Mahatma Gandhi. Clearly they have accomplished “great” things (great in the large rather than good sense obviously), and from the little that I know, I would definitely consider them “confident” people. They were extremely stubborn and I think that takes confidence. On the other hand, I consider myself a fairly reasonable person, which likely means I will never do “great” things.

The victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so.

–Ennius

I have realize that for most of my life I had confidence working for me, at least in school. I knew that I was “smart” and that I could would do well. When I worried about “flunking”, I was worried about getting a B. Of course I had doubts, like everyone, but I always knew that in the end I would be fine. I usually knew, even as I was thinking “I’m not good enough”, that I was in fact good enough. I would pass the test and the class. Unfortunately, I have come to the point where I no longer know it. Or rather, I don’t believe it when I tell myself that I know it. The self-doubt drains my energy and the will to study. Why try when I’m going to fail embarrassingly anyway?

I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

–Henry Thoreau

Having gone back to school after working 4 years for a great company I knew that I would have forgotten some things. But when I started school I was faced with the reality of having forgotten things. There were also things that I had never learned. Then came the oral exams. Someday I may feel comfortable taking an oral exam, but right now they scare the CENSORED out of me. When they ask a question that I don’t immediately know the answer to (which is most of them) I freeze up and hear the little man in my head repeating “I can’t do this. I’m too stupid. I should know this.” Needless to say it’s not very conducive to actually thinking my way towards a solution.  This never happened to me before.  If life were fair this failure would spur me to work harder next time, but instead it erodes my confidence and work ethic because I know I’m going to make a fool of myself anway.

Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself.

–Ludwig Wittgenstein

In other words I’ve gone from placebo to nocebo.

What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure, that just ain’t so.

–Mark Twain

Enter the Candidacy Exam. It’s oral. It a requirement. And you only get one chance to take it.

Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.

–Woody Allen

While studying I had to tell myself every day that it’s mostly a formality (I don’t know if that’s actually true). “They don’t want the shame of flunking me anymore than I want the shame of having flunked,” I would tell myself. It almost worked. Mostly what got me to study was the embarrassment of failing. I now know what it feels like to really worry about failing–really failing. Changing-all-the-plans-you’ve-made-for-the-next-few-years-and-maybe-your-life failing. If this is what other people feel in school, no wonder they hate it.

There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.

–Buddha

In the end the exam was more of a presentation than an exam (a presentation where I only presented about a quarter of what I had prepared). They did ask a few questions, but it was quite low key. Once I was in presentation mode (where I feel more comfortable) I didn’t have time to worry and I did okay. I didn’t pass with flying colors, but I did pass—which is the important thing. I felt relieved of course, but I was surprised to feel a boost to my self confidence a few days later. For one of the first times in my academic career I feel like I overcame something—achieved something for which the outcome was in actual doubt [2]. I am no longer playing Mario with as many lives as I need. I’m playing Nethack on a remote server with no way to save scum. And I made it.  It wasn’t pretty, but I made it. I might even be able to graduate. No probably not. I honestly don’t know enough math for that.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.

–Charles Darwin

You might think that I wish that I had my old self-confidence back, and I do, but I have also begun to wonder whether it is better (in some ways) to be more honest with ourselves. Is it moral and healthy to lie to ourselves, believing that we are competent? The psychology seems to say yes. You perform better and you feel better [3]. If there is any thing to homeopathy or “the secret”, it is little more than confidence–though that shouldn’t necessarily be scoffed at. I think one of the main positive influences of religion in a person’s life is to give them confidence. What could be more empowering than knowing you are doing the will of the supreme being? It’s very liberating.

Doubt is uncomfortable, certainty is ridiculous.

–Voltaire

Nevertheless for some reason I have hangups with deceiving myself. Sometimes I wish I could go back to naively believing that everything was okay so that I could achieve more and be happier (though I don’t know how to do that). Other days I think I would rather be completely honest and see the world as it is. Perhaps it’s some sort of trade off like happiness and reason [4].

Doubt is the beginning not the end of wisdom.

–George Iles

In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate passing my exam and the bit of confidence I found in doing so. If you drink, have a pint of bitter for me, and if you don’t have a non-alcoholic malt beverage.

Men are born to succeed, not fail.

–Henry Thoreau

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you increase your self confidence?
  2. Have you found that viewing yourself more accurately has lowered your self-confidence?
  3. Would you or do you willingly believe a lie so that you can be happier or more successful?  How do you do this?
  4. Do you know people who seem to get everything they want just because they are confident? Do you resent them? Is it “fair” that confident people have an easier life?
  5. Do you think it’s ethical for doctors to prescribe a placebo if it works for the patient?
  6. Do you have any good quotes about faith, doubt, or confidence?

THERE IS NO JUSTICE. THERE IS JUST US.

–Death (Terry Pratchett)

[1] I realize it’s probably not a actual midlife crisis since it’s not directly age related, but it’s too late to be a Quarter life crisis (and it fits the symptoms of a midlife crisis much better).

[2] There is a theory that praising children too much and in the wrong ways decreases self esteem and work ethic. If that’s true, then I think it happened to me. All my life I was told I was smart. I remember thinking (though perhaps it’s a false memory) that if you had to work at school you weren’t smart. How bizarre that seems now.

[3] From Radiolab, we learn that people who lie to themselves are more successful [5]. And there is an entire theory about how self-delusion makes us happy.

[4] If you haven’t read Voltaire’s “The Good Brahman“, you really need to. It’s short, and I read it 10 years ago in Spanish and I have never forgotten it.

[5] Yes, I realize I can’t write anything without referencing Radiolab, but dang it, it helps me stay sane. When walking Evelyn late one night I got a Radiolab episode followed by This American Life. Normally I try to not have my favorite shows back to back. I was very glad it slipped past me this time since my mood, almost instantly, went from angry and frustrated to tired but enjoying myself.

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Thunder?

Evelyn pooped her diaper this morning with a low rumbling sound and Avery looked up and said “ooohh! thunder!”

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I realized recently that my experience with Relief Society was a little outside of normal. I realized this after spending 8 months in my mom’s ward because we were between moves/having a baby, etc. My RS history:
My first Relief Society was a student ward in the dorms – obviously not your typical RS. A bunch of 18-19 year old women doesn’t really fall within the typical stereotype of the LDS women’s organization. My second experience would have been a regular BYU student ward – again, not exactly typical. After that was our married student ward – closer, but still pretty out there, and finally our branch in Orem. (yes there is actually a branch in Orem, Utah. THE Orem, Utah just North of Provo, Utah.) Arguably this was a normal Relief Society, except that it was an apartment complex all thrown together into a branch. It had a lot of young married women, some older single, divorced or widowed women, and it was very small. I’m not sure I would have called it your standard Relief Society experience.
Then I moved home. And this is where the revelation came. There are old people in Relief Society! Duh, there are old people in Relief Society. Everyone knows that right? Well, it’s true. In an abstract way I did know there are old people in Relief Society. What I didn’t know was that there are fascinating old people in Relief Society. And this is where I explain my history with old women, which is also maybe a little abnormal?
My history with old women consists of my experiences with my Grandmas. What I remember of my mom’s mom (she died when I was 14) was that she was old and kind of quiet. I remember her sitting on the couch a lot. The exception is when my mom had my little brother when I was four and she taught me to skip and we tied blue ribbons everywhere. Other than that I mostly remember her talking quietly on the couch with my parents.
My other grandmother did things with us when we were little, but since about the time I turned 13  all she’s really done is lie in bed watching her various TV shows (lately it’s been the food network) and eating club crackers.
The point of these involved histories is that I really had the impression that when you got to be an old lady you had to be boring. This was a little distressing to me, but I kind of took it as a fact of life and resigned myself to it. I told myself that when I got to be 78 I would WANT to be lethargic and a little colorless (no offense to my grandmas. They had good reasons).
Then I got involved in my mom’s Relief Society. Actually, first I met Ivan’s aunt Louise. Louise was my first beacon of hope. This woman refused to fit my stereotype of old women. She bought VW busses, made enchiladas, organized family get togethers, traveled, and I even heard rumors that she got those spinner wheel covers for her car. It’s true she tended to sit a lot at the monthly dinners that her entire extended family came for, but she is still a force to be reckoned with. Louise became my first hero.
Still, I thought, “one woman, she’s the exception that makes the rule.” Then I moved into my mom’s ward and began going to Relief Society there. There are a lot of older women in my mom’s ward. One of the first weeks I was there I sat next to one older lady who talked to me for 15 minutes about cataract surgery. It was hilarious. I can’t explain why it was hilarious, but that woman was certainly not the feeble type I was expecting. There was the older woman who would assign meals to be brought to people who needed it and would at times call and see what was to be brought and occasionally “supplement” the meal if it was anything less than about 10 courses. There were hard working women, there were hilarious women, there were lovable women, there were beautiful women. There were women laughing right along with the teenagers at the white elephant gift exchange. And all of them over 60 or so. So this is my thank you note to Relief Society.
Dear Relief Society,
You have given me hope for my future. I have been liberated from the inevitability of colorless and uninspiring golden years. I now have hope that I too, can be a funny, creative, and perhaps even fun 60 something.
Love,
Rachel

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Happy Birthday little Evelyn! Evelyn is my happy baby. She loves to smile and coo. She does her fair share of fussing, but it’s so easy to get her to smile that sometimes she’ll smile in the middle of crying. It’s the cutest thing ever. She’s a very social baby. She LOVES being talked to, and played with. Sometimes when she’s crying all you have to do is go make eye contact with her and she’s a happy little thing for a while. She’s also gotten a lot calmer the last month or so as far as fussing goes. She’s typically pretty happy unless she needs something now (yay!).

Evelyn’s beginning to be okay with sleeping flat. For the longest time she wouldn’t sleep longer than an hour or two if she was horizontal. She’s been sleeping in her bouncy chair, which is inclined, for probably two months now. She’s getting a little harder to put to bed (it might be jetlag) but a lot of the time I can hold her and bounce her and the lie down with her and let her rest on the bed once she’s asleep while I go do something else.

Because it’s so warm here right now and we don’t have air conditioning, Evelyn has tended to go naked since we moved. She still likes to sleep wrapped up, so especially when she’s sleeping I try to have as little clothing under her blanket as possible. As it is, she still wakes up all sweaty sometimes. It’s okay, though. It’s cute sweat.

Jetlag has been kind of rough for Evelyn. Last night was the first night she really slept the way she did in Texas. It’s been four days, I guess. She seems to be adjusting though. She slept five hours last night and then another two and two after that before she woke up. She’s a pretty good little sleeper. I feel pretty blessed that way.

Evelyn has discovered her hands the last couple weeks and started reaching for mobile toys and things. It’s hilarious to watch her catch her hands in her gaze and then watch them as they move around. So fascinating! She’s still pretty jerky with them, but she manages to hit toys hung above her head sometimes and the other day she accidentally hit herself in the face while she was trying to control her little fists.

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Budapest

A lot has happened in the last couple days.

We managed to get everything into our suitcases and three carry-ons. I was pretty proud of myself. Especially when we got to the ticket counter and our three big checked bags weighed 49.5, 50, and 50.5 pounds (you’re allowed 50 – he didn’t bug us about the one that was a half a pound over). I can’t tell you how many times we weighed those things. Our scale is a little off and I was a little paranoid.

We all were awake through most of the flight to Chicago. Can I just say that I hate Chicago O’hare airport? That place was a mess. Also, if anyone’s interested, I flew KLM last time I flew out here and liked it a lot better than LOT airlines. It took me two or three days of dealing with the LOT people to get Evelyn added as a lapchild and it took them 15 minutes of our connection time at O’hare to figure out what was going on even after I’d added her.

Polish airlines was kind of an interesting experience. The plane was older and not as nice as the planes I was on last Fall. The interesting part was the service,  though. It was really informal. We sat right next to the galley and the attendants brought us food and a drink at the beginning and end of the flight and the rest of the flight they had a cart in the galley with juices and cups and cups of water and anyone could just walk in and get a drink on their own. The whole flight the galley was pretty well open – people brought their trash down instead of waiting for the attendants to come by with a bag and I went in there several times to get water. Flying always dehydrates me. They also had currant juice, which I’d never had before. It was really good.

The other interesting thing about polish airlines was that everyone clapped when we landed. I’m not sure it’s polish airlines, or just the flight. Our flight from Warsaw to Budapest was also on Polish airlines and one person clapped when that one landed but no one really joined in. On the first flight the whole plane was clapping.

Then, of course, they lost our luggage. We’re still waiting to get that back.  We had to go pick up Ivan’s phone yesterday because he’d left it with a friend while he was gone, so hopefully they didn’t try to call us yesterday. I’m really getting a little frustrated. I really want my hairbrush and Evelyn’s bouncy seat. She usually sleeps in it. And I keep thinking “Hey, we brought… oh yeah it’s in our checked bags.” or “Hey, I could use… oh yeah, I don’t have that bag yet.” Grrr.

Then, last night around 8 our landlord came over and informed us that he needed our apartment back. He lived in it and moved into a hostel that he runs so he could rent out our apartment, but the hostel is too noisy and busy and he’s not getting any sleep. I felt a little bad for the guy – he really did look beat, but he’s been a somewhat spastic landlord and now we have to find a new apartment. He’s going to help us look for one, but we’re all still adjusting to the time change and Ivan’s got his qualifier that needs to happen in the next week or two. And we still don’t have our luggage to move with us. So if it takes a week or two to get moved I don’t think I’m going to feel too badly about it.

I swore to myself before we left that I was going to do nothing exciting for at least a month once we got here because I was so worn out from all the technicalities and planning it took just to move here. So much for that plan I guess. It will be nice to have a different apartment though, I think. This one never feels clean to me.

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I was just looking at our stats and realized that today is precisely 1 year from our first blog entry in this blog. It all started with Ivan’s “pseudorebellion” July 14th 2009. Yay for us! One year and still going strong.

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