Smith Corona electric typewriter and an iPad with Apple logo on screen

January 24, 1984

30 years ago today Steve Jobs unveiled the Macintosh computer.

It was revolutionary.

It was a revolution I missed at the time.

I was about four months away from finishing my studies at West Virginia Wesleyan College (International Studies and German) – and clipping along just fine thank you very much with my Smith-Corona electric typewriter.

Today on Facebook, TED talks shared a video of the Macintosh unveiling and I watched it with our tech-savvy son.

Compared to what he is used to, the unveiling seemed a bit cheesy in its rudimentary graphics.

But at the time, it was a mind-blowing advance in the technology universe.

Not that I was all that plugged into the technology universe.

I was more Choir-Theatre-Study Abroad, and not so much Calculus-FORTRAN-COBOL.

My freshman year of college I took a computer science class in lieu of math.

We learned how to write programs in BASIC.

My programs were along the lines of multiplication flash card games.

We wrote the programs in a small little computer lab in the science building. (I think it was the only such lab on campus, but I won’t swear to it. As I said, I was not all that plugged into the technology universe.)

I have no memory of hearing the news about the unveiling of the Macintosh at the time.

Thirty years along, that Macintosh unveiling has progressed to iPhones and iPads and Siri.

It has led to a taken-for-granted daily interaction with technology.

Thirty years ago, phones were connected to walls or in phone booths; mail was something you sent in an envelope with a stamp; searching for information meant physically going to the library and looking up references in card catalogs; and photographs were taken on film, developed and then printed in a dark room.

So, from the vantage point of this frosty January day in 2014, I raise my steamy mug of Swiss Miss to the visionary inventors who took risks and dreamed dreams.

Here’s to you!

And here’s to the next generation of dreamers, visionaries and risk takers. (One of them lives in our house.)

I hope I am still around in 30 years to see the impact of your dreams and visions.



Collage - two photos - jet flying into Twin Towers on 9-11 and a photo of two water bottles

My home state of West Virginia suffered a major environmental blow this month. More than 300,000 citizens went for more than a week without useable water, and now conflicting information and a bad smell keep many of them from trusting the water even today – two weeks after a chemical leak was reported/discovered.

Yesterday I read the blog post of one young woman from Charleston, WV who is agonizing over how to handle this in her day-to-day life. She is soon to give birth and will have to maneuver through the water crisis with a newborn baby.

Her anxious lament awakened memories in me – memories of a different disaster from more than a decade ago.

When I read her words, I was transported to September 11, 2001.

I was holding our two-month old in my arms as I watched a jet plane fly directly into the World Trade Center – live on the Today Show.

I knew in that instant that the world our son would grow up in was going to be vastly different than the one from my childhood.

Basic worldviews shifted that day.

After September 11, 2001, we think twice before getting on a plane or attending large high profile events.

That’s not to say we don’t fly or attend the events, but it is now with a hesitation, a calculation, an assessment of risk.

For West Virginia’s waterless, a basic worldview has shifted.

When they turn on the tap to do the most routine things – brushing their teeth, making coffee, washing their hands, doing dishes or laundry, taking a shower or bathing their children – they now think twice.

Some of them will think twice but use the water anyway.

Some of them will think twice and seek bottled alternatives.

As I read her words, my heart went out to this expectant mother.

I remember how I felt in those days, weeks, and months following September 11th.

I mourned for a different age of innocence that our son would not experience.

I raged inside that people could be so heinous, cold, and calculating – playing fast and loose with human lives.

And then I began to wonder how we could address conditions in the world that led to that day.

In the days and weeks and months to come, there will be discussion about how to address the conditions that led to life-sustaining water for 300,000+ people being poisoned and compromised.

Meanwhile, many will continue to mourn and rage.

And many will continue to reach for bottled water.

I stand with the people who know we have reached the point where shock and outrage must lead to civic action.

That’s a truth we can no longer water down.

Here is a piece I wrote shortly after the events of September 11, 2001:

My son

What will the world be like for my son?

I watch him sleeping or playing peek-a-boo.

He is so innocent, so carefree.

I thank God for him and can’t believe how full my heart is, just looking at him, or holding him while he sleeps.

What would be best for him?

To act out against threats?

To ignore them?

Is there a middle way?

What will the world be like for my son?

The decisions we make now will shape it.

So, the future of safe water in West Virginia (and elsewhere) – for ourselves, our children and grandchildren?

The decisions we make now will shape it.

(Twin Towers Photo Credit)

Storms and Wars

Japanese soldier Hiroo Onoda and Actor Russell Johnson - photos from Wikipedia

On January 9, 1965, the 15th episode of Gilligan’s Island featured the story of a Japanese soldier who arrived at the island, didn’t know WWII was over and who proceeded to hold the castaways prisoner.

While Americans watched and laughed at the episode, somewhere on an island in the Philippines Hiroo Onoda was living a version of that story for real.

Decades after the end of WWII, he still held down his jungle post in a war he believed was not over.

It wasn’t until 1974 that he came to accept the news that the war was over, he was relieved of duty, and he could go home to Japan.

Hiroo Onoda died last week at the age of 91.

That same day, in a strange coincidence, actor Russell Johnson, who portrayed the professor on Gilligan’s Island, died at the age of 89.

That strange coincidence got me thinking about how we handle our own moments of isolation caused by the storms and wars in our lives. How do we pursue our own survival when we find ourselves in an awkward spot?

Well, both the pretend professor and the real soldier found themselves in stressful and dangerous situations not of their own making.

That can happen to us, too.

Both the pretend professor and the real soldier had limited information from the outside world as they navigated the task of deciding “next steps.”

We can face the same situation. Sometimes it’s because there is limited information available. Sometimes it’s because we don’t seek out additional information.

Both the pretend professor and the real soldier called on their training and preparation in order to survive their circumstances.

The pretend professor used the materials at hand and his scientific knowledge to help himself and the others survive and to seek rescue.

The real soldier used the materials at hand and his military training to survive and to carry out what he still believed to be his honor-bound duty and avoid capture.

So are we prepared to face our own storms and wars?

What steps are we taking now to be ready when the storms and wars come?

They will come.

Sometimes we will need to survive physical threats, such as the loss of access to clean water.

Sometimes we will need to survive emotional threats, such as coping with the loss of a loved one.

In all circumstances, preparing in advance and remaining open to new information can make the difference.


Smiley face reactions - apathy, anger, pleasant

(Images by samth1815)

When something bad happens, we react.

How we react to the bad thing is important and will directly affect us and those around us.

We typically either “blow off…blow up…or…reach out.”

One reaction is to pretend the bad thing is no big deal.

Or maybe we recognize it as a big deal, but believe it is inevitable.

In those cases, we are tempted to “blow it off.”

“Oh well.”


It is what it is.

Another reaction is to respond with rage.

“Somebody” or “somebodies” are the devil in disguise.

They. Must. Pay.

In those cases, we are tempted to “blow it up.”

“Oh h-e-double-toothpicks!”


String ‘em up!

But what if instead of feeling there is either a) nothing to be done or b) revenge, threats and vilification are the only things to be done…

What if – instead – we chose to c) reach out and build relationships?

Relationships with those who were harmed or affected by the bad thing.

Relationships with those whose actions contributed to the bad thing.

What if instead of blowing it off or blowing it up, we reached out with reasoned determination and vision, offering our time, attention and creativity to the process of fixing the conditions that allowed the bad thing to happen in the first place?

To be honest, many of us go through stages of both the “blow it off” and “blow it up” reactions.

That’s normal.

And it’s OK.

But we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get stuck there.

What if more of us took the trouble to get to the “reach out” reaction?

What then?

Then perhaps responsible parties would be held accountable (with appropriate due process);

those who have been harmed would receive help and restoration; and

the conditions for the future would be improved.

When something bad happens, we react.

Exactly how we react is a choice.

Blowing it off doesn’t help. The problem won’t go away.

Blowing it up isn’t very effective. There will be no systemic or long term change.

Reaching out.

That choice will make all the difference.

Eau No

Drop of water from icicle - reflecting the sky and clouds

Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Avian Center, Brooks, West Virginia

(Sharyn Ogden, photographer)

The city of my birth is currently experiencing a water emergency.

An industrial company allowed a chemical to leak into one of the rivers that runs right through town.

An estimated 300,000 people in Charleston, West Virginia and in several surrounding counties have been told not to use their water.

At all.

OK – they can flush the toilets and put out fires.

But no drinking, no cooking, no washing, no bathing, no laundry, etc…


Restaurants and schools are closed.

The communities and many who live beyond these communities have pulled together and are coping.

Officials don’t know how long this situation will persist.

But despite the current upheaval, it’s assumed and believed that eventually things will get back to normal.

It’s an eye-opening experience.

You can make do without lots of things in life.

Water isn’t one of them.

Usually we don’t have to.

We take this for granted.

I take this for granted.

Lots of people in the world have not had that luxury.

They don’t take clean water for granted.

They’ve never taken clean water for granted.

They don’t have clean water and it is not the result of a temporary interruption in service.

Estimates of how many people don’t have access to safe water vary, but generally the number hovers around one billion.


The lack of clean water results in disease and poverty and death.

It results in people (mostly women and children) spending a large portion of their time “hunting and gathering” for water that is anywhere close to being clean.

The city of my birth is still coping with this temporary interruption in service.

But in the midst of trial comes opportunity for growth.

Something good can come of this very bad situation.

Perhaps we will stop taking clean water for granted.

Perhaps we will take more notice of those around the world who live with this situation every day.

Perhaps we will then become more engaged in efforts to help them.

And… since this situation was not caused by a “natural disaster” but by a man-made disaster that’s affected nature…

Perhaps we will become more watchful of how we steward our own resources to make sure they are protected and there for us and future generations.

Water is off but social media is flowing in the midst of this current crisis.

People are sharing information, pointing to water distribution sites, providing context about the type of chemical in the water, and offering to open their homes to those affected.

One person described seeing an elderly woman arrive at the store in search of water only to find the shelves bare.

The elderly woman was too late.

But she was not alone or forgotten.

The person went on to say that two teenagers were in line, each purchasing two jugs of water.

They paid for their water and then called out to the elderly woman to wait.

They each gave her one of their jugs of water, refusing her offer to pay for them.

That story made me cry.

It made me cry with happiness that we live in a world where we watch out for one another and we make sure the weak receive help.

It’s often in moments of crisis like this that we witness this version of our world.

May we learn to seek this version of the world even on days when the water is plentiful…

…and clean…

…and taken for granted.

Trash Impatience

Trash bin with snow on top

Our garbage company just called.

Pick-up will be delayed by one day this week.

We are in the midst of a short cold-snap, with wind chill temperatures near -30.

That’s not Minnesota-cold, but cold enough.

I’m glad the company took steps to let the workers wait out the most dangerous of these temperatures.

It’s supposed to spike up to a balmy +30 by tomorrow.

Hopefully customers will be patient and not grumble about the delay.

But, let’s face it.

We live in a 24-7, on-demand, customized society.

Waiting (regardless of the reason) is not our strong suit.

Not too long ago people were slamming delivery companies for failing to deliver packages in time for Christmas.

Never mind that some of those disgruntled, present-less consumers had ordered the products at the 11th hour and expected the delivery companies (during one of their busiest times of the year) to deliver with magical Santa Claus-like around-the-world-in-one-night-to-every-home-down-every-chimney speed.

Delayed gratification is quickly becoming a lost art.

We are too quickly “put out” when things don’t happen lickety-split right at our command.

This is not to say we should excuse poor customer service or slap-dash performance.

Quality and excellence are noble goals.

Nor do we ignore times when “above and beyond” are needed for personal health and safety.

But nine times out of ten, it’s not a matter of life or death.

It’s a matter of having a little patience.

After all, patience is a virtue and a genuine “fruit of the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22)

Perhaps we would all be better off if we could find it within ourselves to do one simple thing:

Trash impatience.


Photo of a heart with headphones, plugged into the Bible

I like to listen to the radio while driving.

In both of our cars, pre-set 1 is West Virginia Public Radio.

Pre-set 2 is K-LOVE.

Those are the main two stations we listen to.

So today when I shut down my computer, turned out the lights, closed the door and evacuated my office for the last time (my employer eliminated my position due to budget issues,) I exited the parking garage, turned up the street and headed out. After a block and a traffic light, I snapped on the radio.

My husband had been listening to a CD, so I pushed the “FM” button.

At first it was tuned to public radio.

It had some nice classical music, but after a few seconds I decided I was in more of a K-LOVE mood.

I punched pre-set 2.

Out sprang “What Faith Can Do” by Kutlass, mid-song.

The stanza of lyrics could not have been a more perfect match for that exact moment in my life if I had cued them up myself in advance.

I have worked for this employer and its sister-institution since early 1999. As I leave behind my higher education career, I am determined to take this unexpected opportunity to pursue my dream of writing.

Into that backdrop, Kutlass crooned:

It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard
Impossible is not a word
It’s just a reason for someone not to try
Everybody’s scared to death
When they decide to take that step
Out on the water
It’ll be alright
Life is so much more
Than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way
If you keep believing

I’m so glad I was listening – to that station – at that moment – and heard that stanza of that song.

What are the odds?

Well…it turns out the odds of hearing what you need to hear go up when you actually tune in and listen.


Listen up!

“Be careful little ears what you hear.”

Today I could have driven in silence.

I could have turned on the radio but let the CD play.

I could have turned on the radio and left it on public radio.

But I turned on the radio, switched from CD to FM and then switched the station to K-LOVE.

Hearing the right thing at the right time involved a series of actions on my part.

Listening takes effort.

Listening must be intentional.

Listening is an active discipline.

As I reflect on today’s experience, my mind turns to scripture.

Scripture says listening is important.

In Genesis, we are told that “God said” and “it was so.”

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently challenges, “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!”

In Revelation there is the repeated phrase, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches…”

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all want us to listen.

Listening takes effort.

Listening must be intentional.

Listening is an active discipline.

We have to train ourselves to listen.

We have to choose our sources.

It might be music.

It might be a person.

It might be scripture.

It might be the still, small voice in your heart.

Make the effort.