Dan and Crawdads

Got any time to read a really great novel?  Didn’t think so.

Crawdads 3

Yes, I borrowed it from the local library.

But when you do, I have a story that you will find every spare minute to read.  It’s Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Rightfully, you could say, Dan where you been?  This is 2018 novel that topped The New York Times charts in 2019 for 27 weeks

Without giving too much away, I want you to know it’s a murder mystery that takes place in the marsh of the North Carolina coastline.  Following two timelines that slowly intertwine, Crawdads has compelling characters as well as an engaging narrative that wraps up with one of my favorite endings of all time.  Delia Owens weaves in the science of the marsh in an understandable way for the non-science folk among us (by that I mean me), similar to Barbara Kingsolver.

That’s my tease.  Without equivocation, Where The Crawdads Sing is my favorite book of 2020.

PS  Thanks, Karen!

Dan, a Road Trip with Hannah, and Why To Kill A Mockingbird Matters – A Book Endorsement

Are you a Harper Lee groupie like me?  If so, I have a book for you.  – Why To Kill A Mockingbird Matters (2018) by Tom Santopietro.

TKAM tkam cover

First, let me begin by saying I never read To Kill a Mockingbird!  Fact is, I was never much of a reader through my public school and college years.  I read enough to answer the questions at the of the chapter, but I never learned to love reading.

TKAM peck

But…I did see the movie To Kill a Mockingbird (1962).  That must count for something!  I loved the film that was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture (but lost to Lawrence of Arabia).  Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch won the Oscar for best actor.  In fact, in the midst of writing this blog, Hannah and I watched the film one more time.  It stands up well as an inspirational tale of one man’s courage.

It was a little odd what got me interested in Why To Kill A Mockingbird Matters (2018) in the first place; it was a recent negative review in the New York Times Book Review section.  Click here for Roxane Gay’s unimpressed review.

So why would I read a book with a lousy review?  Because the reviewer let me know that the book is all about the backstory; of Harper Lee herself, the writing and publishing of the book, how the movie came to be, and what happened to the actors and Harper Lee herself since 1962.  I love me a good backstory.

Spencer Tracy was Harper Lee’s choice to play Atticus Finch in the film version of Mockingbird.  Unfortunately, he was filming at the time and couldn’t commit.  Fortunately, Gregory Peck was available.

TKAM atticus and scout

Atticus and Scout

Santopietero sums up why Gregory Peck had such appeal to many of us, … thanks to the role of Atticus Finch, in the public’s eye Peck had become not just a movie hero but also the personification of the quintessential American: the man his fellow citizens liked to think reflected not just their country but their own very best selves – a champion of the the underdog.

Well, I am happy to report that I righted the wrong in paragraph two and read To Kill A Mockingbird cover to cover a few weeks back.  By the way, the film is a quite faithful to Harper’s book.  Not getting enough, I read Critical Insights: To Kill a Mockingbird and watched both two documentaries: Hey Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird and Our Mockingbird .

TKAM map of monroeville

And the fruit of this infatuation is that Hannah and I on the road again, this time to southern Alabama!  Next month (October 2018), we fly into Atlanta and work our way to Monroeville, Alabama, the hometown of Harper Lee.  You see, Monroeville was the model for Maycomb, the setting of the novel.  The actual courthouse which holds a Mockingbird museum will be the centerpiece of our adventure.

Road trip!

TKAM critical insights


TKAM Hey Boo 2


TKAM Our Mockingbird

Dan’s Has Another Good Book for You – Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (#13)

The full title is Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (2017).   Sheryl’s husband Dave, not quite fifty and the love of her life, died after working out on a treadmill at a Mexican resort where she and Dave were vacationing.  They had been married for 11 years and expected a long life together.

Option Sheryl and Adam

Sheryl and Adam

I have seven quotes for you that just might get you thinking I need to run, not walk, to a local bookstore, Amazon, or a public library to get this book for myself or for a loved one dealing with the unexpected.

This quote really hit home for me.  When someone says a causal greeting to another grieving like How are you? [it hurt] because it didn’t acknowledge that anything out of the ordinary had happened.  I pointed out that if people instead asked, How are you today? it showed that they were aware that I was struggling to get through each day.

When someone is grieving, there is a need for an opener (e.g. Hannah).  By staying silent [when one is grieving], we often isolate family, friends, and coworkers…Unlike non-questioning friends, openers ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers without judging.  They enjoy learning about and feeling connected to others.  Openers can make a big difference in times of crises, especially for those who are normally reticent.  So Hannah!

Rather than say to a grieving person or one who just heard of a cancer diagnosis It’s going to be okay…or everything happens for a reason, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge.  To literally say the words: I acknowledge your pain.  I’m here with you.

Option B platinum rule

Growing up, I was taught the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated.  But when someone is suffering, instead of following the Golden Rule, we need to follow the Platinum Rule: treat others as they want to be treated.

Daily I (Dan) have been writing a page of gratitudes in my journal.  I’ve changed to something I learned in Option B.  …counting our blessings doesn’t boost our confidence or our effort, but counting our contributions can…gratitude is passive: it makes us feel thankful for what we receive.  Contributions are active: they build confidence by reminding us that we can make a difference.  I now encourage my friends and colleagues to write about what they have done well.

Some grieving parents over the death of a child experienced post traumatic growth, instead of post-traumatic stress.  Much more to this and it all starts on page 78.

There are so many more jewels that I dog-eared when I read Option B, but I’ll end with two.  Surgery patients who watch comedies request 25% less pain medication.

Option B failure

Chapter 9 – Failing and Learning at Work.  The chapter points out the importance of admitting mistakes and not trying to hide failures.   Scientist Melanie Stefan suggested her academic colleagues be more honest on their CVs (resumes).  Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer took her up on the challenge and wrote two pages of rejections.

As a quasi-academic for 12 years, I had a ten-page CV of accomplishments, selections, and triumphs.  But already writing these additions to my CV feels quite liberating.

1990-1991 – received 100 rejection letters or no response at all for my first book, “Sweet Dreams, Robyn,” before Joy and Marv Johnson at Centering Corporation took a chance on an unpublished writer.

1992 – Turned down for the one-year Teacher-in-Residence position at the University of New Hampshire.

1993 – Selected for the one-year Teacher-in-Residence position at the University of New Hampshire.

1995 – Twice had my dissertation rejected at the University of New Hampshire.

1996 – Had my dissertation accepted by my dissertation committee at UNH

1996 – Turned down for an assistant professor position at Colby Sawyer College in New Hampshire.

1996 – Despite not having finished my dissertation, hired at Eastern Connecticut State University to teach in the Department of Education.

I bet you are connecting the dots.  The seeds of success can be sown in rejection.

Wisdom from The Dalai Lama’s Cat and the Art of Purring (#12)

Readers of my recent blogs of Hannah’s adventures on the San Ysidro Trail near Santa Barbara, California were introduced to the wisdom of David Michie in The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring.  It’s a book that Hannah and I heartily recommend and most pertinent to us after Hannah’s fall off the trail.  To give you a taste of its practical suggestions for living, I include these eleven quotes.  Enjoy.

In the stillness, we discover that there are other ways of knowing things than through the intellect.

[Be] uncompromising on the importance of actions over words and others over self.

Buddha himself said…It is only when we have faced the reality of our own death that we really know how to live.

Life is finite; every day is precious.  And simply to wake up in good health truly is a blessing, because sickness and death can strike at a moment’s notice.

Page 89 – Formula for happiness?…The formula is H equals S plus C plus V… Happiness equals what’s called your biological set point or S, plus the conditions of your life, C, plus V, your voluntary activities.

What arises for you depends on your actions, on the karma and conditions you create.

Dalai Lama Art of Purring

Page 142 – The marshmallow experiment at Stanford University.  The advantages of delayed gratification and self-control that signal success.

Page 143 – A study about the circumstances whether or not prisoners would be granted parole.  Low blood sugar affects our judgment.  Eat well and regularly.

Four tools to practice equanimity (calmness, composure)  

First: impermanence.  Never forget: this, too, will pass…

Second: what is the point of worrying?  If you can do something about it, fix it.  If not, what is the point of worrying about it…

Third: don’t judge… When it happens, you think bad.  Later you may think [that’s] the best thing that ever happened. 

Fourth: no swamp, no lotus.  The most transcendent of flowers grows out of the filth of the swamp.  Suffering is like the swamp.  If it makes us more humble, more able to sympathize with others and more open to them, then we become capable of transformation and of becoming truly beautiful, like the lotus.

Happiness comes first, then success.

The Holy Secret is this: if you wish to end your suffering, seek to end the suffering of others.  If you wish for happiness, seek the happiness of others.  Exchanging thoughts of self for thoughts of others – this is the most effective way to be happy. 


Dan Hears “When a Door Closes, a Window Opens.”  But what about the Transition? (#11)


Book review of Hell in the Hallway, Light at the Door: How to Move Gracefully Through Change into Renewed and Abundant Life by Ellen Debenport  

It’s a cliché that when a door closes, a window opens.  That said, many of us, including me, buy into that notion.  Why Reverend Mother when advising Maria to climb every mountain in the Sound of Music offered that same advice.   Click here to see Reverend Mother rock Climb Every Mountain.

Ellen agrees with the premise, but thinks there is more to it.  There can be hell in the hallway when going from the closed door to the open window.  Offering constructive advice on how to deal with all sorts of changes in one’s life, the author opens a door for us all.  This is a book where I yellow highlighted it page after page and already have begun reading it a second time.

I have selected twelve quotes from Hell in the Hallway as a tease to see if this might be a book for you.

The hallway is that place between jobs, between relationships, during a major illness or after a permanent change or crises.  Life as you know it has ended, and you’re not sure what’s coming next.

Love is not the same as worry.  Worry blankets those we love with our fear; we are imagining the worst for them.  Love holds a vision for the best.


The key to forgiveness is to stop insisting on what ought to have happened, to stop making up stories about how your life should have been different.

Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expected the other person to die, or holding onto a hot coal, intending to throw it at someone else.  Who gets burned?

Release all thoughts of how things ought to be or might turn out, and simply experience the way things are.

Surrender means giving up the stubborn belief that life should be fair or make sense at any given moment.

Everything will be okay in the end.  If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

The most obvious example of our creative power is the placebo effect.  Sick people get better when they believe they will.  The pill they took wasn’t a miracle drug.  Their thinking made them well.

The nocebo effect simply means that negative expectations produce negative results.

(Circumstances) are not happening to you, they are happening for you.


(Quoting Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

Love first, teach second.

Dan and Patty Hearst 42 years after her Kidnapping (#10)


Book review of American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trail of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin.

Hannah and I married at her father’s Christmas tree farm in East Penfield, NY in 1972.   Twenty months later Patty Hearst was kidnapped on February 4, 1974, two days before Hannah’s 26th birthday.  That’s forty-two years ago for those of you keeping score!!

A 19-year older, Patty Hearst was kidnapped when she just a kid!   Remember yourself at that age?  I was barely pulling my act together during my freshman year at the College of Wooster; my earth-shaking focus was making the college tennis team and hoping something would happen with the comely coed from Fairport, NY, Hannah Kraai.


Patty Hearst as Tania of the Simbionese Liberation Army

I can’t imagine holding it together like Patty Hearst did as the Simbionese Liberation Army took her hostage and changed her life forever over the next 18 months.

This past Sunday morning, I told Hannah that I don’t want to get the Sunday New York Times like I usually do; I want to finish this 350-page book, which I was a third through.  Typically books over 200 pages are deal breakers for me.  I just can’t sustain the focus.

Ah, but this book is different.  Though non-fiction, it reads like a novel.  Although I generally knew her story (as those of you 60+ no doubt do), I didn’t know the details and the personalities.   As you may remember, Patty eventually became a willing participant in the crimes of the SLA.  Or did she?   It’s a compelling story and one of those books I just couldn’t put down.


And by the way, F. Lee Bailey, the flamboyant attorney how defended her and lost, now lives in Maine.  In 2012 he passed the Maine Bar Exam, but the State Board voted 5-4 to deny him a law license on the grounds that he failed to prove that he “possesses the requisite honesty and integrity” to practice law.   Previously he had been disbarred in Florida and Massachusetts.  In 2016, at the age of 83 he is a “legal consultant” in a single room above a beauty shop in, very likely, Yarmouth, some 50 miles north of us in York.  Click here for information on his Maine legal consulting gig.

And one added bonus, Jeffrey Toobin’s last chapter is Aftermath, where he updates the current status of all the key players in this drama.

Dan Has Big Magic for You! (#9)

bm-cover-with-herThat is, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond FearClick here for a review of this book by the New York Times.

Since the respected Ogun Holder recommended the book, I just ordered it on Amazon and loved it.   I have eight quotes for your perusal.  Perhaps, they are enough to have you borrow the book from your local library or buy it.  Enjoy.

When I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly.  I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

Bravery means doing something scary.

It’s never too late.

Fake it til you make it.

Perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.

We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us.  Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us.  But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth –nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.

First of all, forgive yourself.

Whatever you do, try not to dwell too long on your failures.  You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters.  You don’t need to know what anything means.

Dan Has Some Happy Money for You! (#8)

happy face

You’ve likely heard people say that money can’t buy happiness.  Let’s dig a little deeper into that cliché.  Really?  Perhapas, someone working two jobs making poverty level wages ($24,000 for a family of four) wouldn’t be happier working one higher paying job and being home with the family?

Research shows that people who make $55,000 are happier than those that make $25,000.  But here’s the surprise, only 9% happier.  It turns out that in the United States that once people make $75,000 per year, making more money has no influence on their happiness.   Those making $200,000 are not happier than those making $75,000.

happy money 2

I have an intriguing short book (157 pages of text) with many practical suggestions to improve your happiness for you to spend your money more effectively.  Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton may have you rethinking your particular romance with money.

In this fast read, the authors outline five ideas to improve your happiness with the money you have.

Chapter One – Buy Experiences

Chapter Two – Make It a Treat

Chapter Three – Buy Time

Chapter Four – Pay Now, Consume Later (I bet that sounds counterintuitive.)

Chapter Five – Invest in Others

Let me dig a little deeper into Chapter One.

Buying experiences is right up our alley.  As parents we focused on giving our kids experiences.  For example, we thought traveling West would be a short and long term positive experience for them.

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

When our kids were young, Hannah and I took them on driving and camping trips to the American West for four straight summers.  For four to six weeks, we would drive to Yellowstone in Wyoming, Zion National Park in Utah, or even to Denali National Park in Alaska.  One night we all squeezed into one tent when torrential rains flooded our campsite at Devil’s Tower, WY.

Driving in a GMC Van with three rows of seats, we packed tents, sleeping pads and bags into a Sears Cargo Carrier on the roof, which allowed us still to have room for all five of our bicycles.  Camping in state and national parks and the occasional KOA Campground with a pool, we treated ourselves to breakfasts out and made lunches and dinners on the road.

The authors claim that experiences have value over material goods if they:

  1. Bring you together with other people to foster a social connection
  2. Make a memorable story that you’ll enjoy retelling for years to come
  3. Provide a unique opportunity without easy comparisons to other activities.

When researchers at Cornell asked strangers to discuss purchases that they made with the intent to increase their happiness, those who talked about experiential purchases enjoyed the conversation more than ones who talked about material purchases.

Other research shows that the satisfaction with experiential purchases increases over time while satisfaction decreases with material purchases.

Happiness is not something ready made.  It comes from your own actions.   Dalai Lama

Dan Grapples with Everything Happens for a Reason (#7)

Reason image 2

A few days ago I skim/read Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon (2007).  It’s your basic self-help stuff.  But there was one line that I’ve heard a hundred times and often doubted that got my attention.

Everything happens for a reason.

I used to think that it meant there’s a Supreme Being in the sky directing the action below.  There is a plan for everyone.  I never bought that.

I do get its corollary – There is a reason everything happens.

That corollary seems pretty Mr. Obvious.  Of course, there is a reason everything happens.  My foot will hurt if I kick a big rock.  We have free will, I believe and we make choices.

But the first statement has an air of metaphysical mystery (i.e., beyond the five senses), a spiritual component that intrigues and draws me in.

What if Everything happens for a reason means that Everything happens for a personal reason?  I may not know the reason why something happens, but in time I may find personal meaning, especially if I look inward.  Could that be?

Reason know what it is

Let me give you an example.

A young father is working two jobs to support his wife and their dream of buying a house on the Seacoast.  One job is where he commutes 100 miles round trip each day to sell real estate north of Boston while the other has him landscaping locally.  One late evening coming back from Boston, he falls asleep while approaching the Hampton Tolls.  He totals his Honda Civic when he crashes into the back of a panel truck.  He has a few bruises and no one else is hurt.

That he fell asleep at the wheel is the reason the accident happened.  That because of the accident he realized that he must quit his real estate job and focus on his landscaping is the personal reason.

By making personal meaning from what happens, does that make Everything happens for a reason?  I think not.  People have free will.  We all make choices.  I don’t believe there is a cosmic plan – predestination.  We can make personal meaning from events in our life.   We can come to the point where make lemonade from lemons from what happens in our lives.

I am back to my original belief There is a reason everything happens.  I am not on board with Everything happens for a reason.

I do know that I Trust life and  Look for the good.

Dan Offers You a Happiness Advantage (#6)

In this scenario, are you lucky or unlucky?  You are in a bank lobby with fifty other people.  A bank robber comes in and fires a shot.  You are hit in the arm and it turns out you are the only one hit.  Lucky or unlucky?

If you say lucky, your reasoning might be that you could have been killed.  If you say unlucky, you might say that going to the hospital with a bullet in your arm is indeed unlucky.

Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor

In this study that Shawn Achor writes about in his book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, 70% of the people surveyed said that they would be unlucky.  If you make certain assumptions about Wall Street folks, you’ll love this.  More than one Wall Streeter said he was unlucky since out of 50 people, someone else had to be more deserving of the bullet.  Whoa!

The point of this exercise is that whether you say lucky or unlucky, neither is true.  It is just your perspective.  In fact, either answer is a “counterfact,” a hypothetical that we invent to make sense of what happened.  If you choose a positive counterfact, you set in motion a positive mindset that benefits your motivation and performance.  If you can train yourself to see circumstances with positive counterfacts, you are on the road to greater happiness.

Here’s another highlight of the Happiness Advantage.  Soldiers going off to war were told that there were two options when they returned – (1) they’d be normal or (2) they’d have Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  Over the last generation there has been research that points to a third possibility, a third path – Post-Traumatic Growth or Adversarial Growth.  Good can come out of a struggle with something difficult.  It’s along the lines of obstacles are opportunities that we hear about at our Unity services.

Principle #1 talks of the advantages of finding something to look forward to, committing conscious acts of kindness, and spending money (but Not on Stuff) as ways to enhance your happiness.

Later in the book, he talks about the happiness advantaqge depending on how you look at your work.  Is it a job, a career, or a calling?  If you can reframe your work into a calling, happiness can follow.

SA Ted image

Shawn offers practical, understandable explanations from research that you can use today to enhance your current level of happiness or turn your RAF (male) or RBF (female) into one of happiness.

Shawn has an entertaining 12 minute TED talk to highlight some of his points in the Happiness Advantage.  Click on this link to see it.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M