Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coming to Terms with Those Little Muscles

When I started doing pilates last spring, I couldn’t even hold my head up. My stomach was hopeless. I’m sure Chris, my 65-year-old instructor, said to himself, “This one is going to be a challenge.”

Chris preaches pilates like it is a religion. He is this shy Austrian man, who came to pilates because he had had two serious back surgeries and was in terrible shape. Over a 5-year period he mastered virtually every exercise, reclaimed his health, turned his body into one slim muscle, and became a certified pilates instructor, studying in Boulder with some of the pilates greats. Because of his humble beginnings in this popular form of exercise, he could and did offer me encouragement. He teaches out of his home, where he has a complete set of pilates equipment in the lower floor.

From the get-go, rolling like a ball became my forte. It was the one and only thing I could do from the beginning. But the great thing about Chris and about taking pilates privately was that he customized every session to exactly what I needed. He always chose exercises that gave me some level of mastery, constantly offering positive feedback. He continues to work hard on alignment, making sure the effects of my scoliosis are addressed.

The surprising thing was how quickly I started to sense the presence of my stomach muscles, those muscles I had long ago declared dead and ruined by pregnancy and childbirth. About the same time, I started finally to fit in standard sizes instead of seeking out the elasticized waistbands and the pants with front pleats. How very exciting!

Today’s lesson was all about learning to control those subtle muscles – the lats, the triceps, the biceps, the pelvic floor – all muscles that I had previously barely acknowledged. He repeatedly said “Can you feel that?” I’m starting to realize that the power of pilates is being able to control at will every muscle in your body.

I’m a long way from mastering the 500 exercises that Joseph Pilates designed, but my body is a lot stronger than it was 6 months ago and it is improving every week. I can hold my head up for a long time with no problem these days...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Degreed Enough

My summer away at Math Camp at FSU (for high school students) when I was 17 resulted in my first serious boyfriend and the expectation by those who taught us nerdy kids that I would go on to get a PhD someday. At that point in my life, I was much more concerned about the boyfriend.

I was one of those serious students who seldom made less than an A and didn't fit in terribly well in a high school in northern Florida where the most important subject was football. From my first quarter at FSU, I knew that I was going to major in math, not giving myself any chance to just try some other things. By the time I got through four years of college with a 3.75 GPA, I needed a break from school and I had already realized that theoretical mathematics was not terribly exciting.

Fortunately I had worked in the computer center at FSU for those 4 years, so I had marketable skills. I took the GREs and did reasonably well, but I decided to take a break and work for a year before going to grad school. I moved the Washington, DC, and took at job as a computer programmer.

I quickly realized that I didn't really need an advanced degree to do what I was doing. In fact, it wouldn't have helped my career path in the least. Besides, I was having a lot more fun now that I was not worrying about getting all A's. Just to test the waters, I took at graduate class in computer science at the U of Maryland, where I worked by butt off to get an A and reaffirmed the fact that I was happier not going to school.

I have always felt like I disappointed someone by not pursuing an advanced degree. I mean, there was that stated expectation when I was 17 and I had never come through. As I look around my office now at people who actually did go to graduate school, I realize that whereas I am now eligible to retire, they are not because they don't have the requisite number of years of service. Perhaps this is my way of rationalizing the fact that I never did what was expected of me.

The truth is that I love going to school. I can't imagine anything better than being able to attend classes that don't count for ANYTHING! I intend to do plenty of this when I retire. But definitely not in math or computer science. I will probably take classes in writing, poetry, English lit, religion, philosophy, psychology – all the things that I missed because I was on such a math track before and I was convinced that I couldn't write. I can't wait to go back to school just for the love of learning.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Unmatched Musical Bookends

The last two Saturday nights have found us at his and hers (no, make that hers and his) concerts. Our musical preferance couldn’t be more different, but we each indulge the other’s taste from time to time. My husband had a recent epiphany about why this is the case and did his quarterly Blog post: http://dsquared22.blogspot.com/ (December 15, 2005).

Last Saturday we went to hear Conjunto Iberico as part of the Dumbarton Oaks series, and free to us as a trade for my husband’s computer services to a friend of ours. This is a group of 8 cellists (no kidding, a cello octet) who played pieces from baroque to modern, some of which included a talented soprano singing in both Portuguese and Spanish. As we sat in the historic beautiful Dumbarton Church in Georgetown listening to this rich and varied music, I found my mind released to float once again and I only occasionally had to nudge my husband as he nodded off.

Last night we went to the annual folk music marathon put on by the Washington Folk Musical Association and hosted by Dick Cerri, Mr. Folk Music himself. This year it was just one night, not the typical two, because they had rented the new Schlesinger Hall at NOVA. But instead of paring down the program, they started at 6:30 so as to be able to pack in hours and hours of guitars, banjos, fiddles, and singers. The line-up did include a few folk "ringers" like Paul Stuckey of PP&M. It was a non-stop stream of words that made me work hard to comprehend the sad stories that went along with the tales of woe, from sailing ships that were lost at sea to coal miners who never came up out of the mine. It’s an aging audience who comes out for these, but they are passionate about this genre of music. At 12:30 I attempted to escape and drive myself home as they were still going full-tilt and it was well past my bedtime. (But, alas, I couldn’t get the Prius to go into reverse – that’s another post in the making.)

It looks like this year I will get one more big dose of folk music. On the way into the concert hall last night, my husband (who loves the intrigue of a silent auction) bid on a house concert by Side-by-Side. It turns out they were the opening act, meaning that it only got better through the evening. I found myself secretly hoping that he would be outbid – I mean he was just the first of many, wasn’t he? But towards the end of the evening, they read off the lucky winners and the 1,500 or so people in attendance learned that Doris Justis and Sean McGhee (http://www.wfma.net/Sideby.htm) would be performing at our house. Lucky us and well, happy birthday perhaps to my folk-loving husband.

The good news is that both of us honored the other’s musical taste by trying hard to stay awake and not be too seriously vocal about why we don’t vote as a pair when it comes to music. I could only think of it as unmatched bookends on a very long shelf...

I Want Somebody to Love

Do you need anybody,
I just need someone to love.
Could it be anybody,
I want somebody to love. (With a Little Help from My Friends, The Beatles)

Finding THE ONE seems to be a recurring theme on more that one Blog these days. These are beautiful (mostly) women of virtually all ages who are asking the same questions: How will I find him? How will I know? Will my friends like him? What if it doesn’t work out?

I met a charming woman for coffee this afternoon. We had a mutual curiosity and had missed each other at the recent DC Blogs happy hour. She has been in love with her best friend for 15 years and hasn’t had her love returned. How incredibly sad. She is beautiful, intelligent, and full of love. This is just not fair, I said to myself. I immediately started to go through my list of available men who might be a good match for her.

It occurred to me that matchmaking had at one time made this process so much easier. Someone else had made executive decisions about how to pair people up. My guess is that the results were just about as good as they are when we leave it up to the individuals to decide. There would not have been 15 years in limbo in those times. I just don’t think I would make it in the dating world of 2006 if I were single.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

My Friend Charlotte

Do you remember reading Charlotte’s Web as a child? It was the loving story of a spider named Charlotte who dedicated her life to saving the pig Wylbur from being slaughtered by spinning miraculous webs that contained messages. She was willing to spin out her life little by little so that the pig could live. I cried every time I reached the end of the story when Charlotte dies but her eggs hatch into baby spiders.

I have a friend Charlotte whose goal in life is to heal others. Unfortunately healing everyone else means taking on their maladies physically and mentally. But nevertheless she repeatedly does it. It’s part of why she is here.

This same friend was my biggest supporter during my recent health ordeal. She called me daily and offered me words of encouragement. After my last encounter with her, my sense of taste started to come back and I felt stronger every day. But she got swollen glands and bumps on her tongue. And she felt the need to withdraw emotionally to mend and detox physically and mentally.

I love the fact that my health is coming back gradually. I will soon feel like my old self completely. But I miss my friend Charlotte. I love her so much and want her back in my life. I have other friends to play with, but she is my favorite friend.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Ethics of Blogging

As I came in the door on Tuesday evening feeling all mellow from a fantastic acupuncture session, I could sense the tension in the air.

Husband: Where in the world have you been all afternoon?
Me: Getting my final scan at WHC and then going to acupuncture.
Husband: I have been trying to reach you for hours because I really didn’t appreciate the fact that you made me sound like a total asshole in your post about Aunt Z.
Me: That was not at all my intention.

In fact, I was the one who had sent him an e-mail message earlier in the day since he rarely reads my Blog otherwise: I wrote about your Aunt Zelda today. You might want to read it. Obviously if I thought I had said something awful about him (which I have vowed to try not to do), I wouldn’t have been inviting trouble!

We had a tense dinner together with him basically telling me that he didn’t want to have to think about everything he said to me for fear that it would end up in my Blog for our friends and the world to see the next day.

As luck would have it, AUA and Cube came to the rescue (with no prompting I must say) to totally support the personal dilemma my husband was facing over his ailing crotchety 97-year-old aunt. Instead of saying “He really sounds like a cold-hearted asshole,” they were saying “We totally get it and are sympathetic.” By the end of the evening, their comments had helped him immensely to see that not only had I not been portraying him maliciously, but that his problems were real and understandable.

But my dilemma of what to write and what not to write continues. In this particular piece, I found myself saying, “Your initial comments to me might have been the 20th (as you said) in your train of thought. But they were the first that I heard. I stand by my story.” Where does journalism leave off and protecting the privacy of those we love take over? My cardinal rule is one of never trying to hurt anyone. But that doesn’t mean that I will sugar-coat my life at home and make it sound like our life is a G-rated movie. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) there are no rules of Blogging, no censors, no arbitrators. Each of us writes by our own rules of ethical Blogging conduct. Sometimes there are gray areas.

How do you decide what is allowable? What’s fit to print in Blogdom?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Orthodonture of Psychotherapy

During my weekly 7 AM meeting with Kathryn today, I started to see an amazing parallel between straightening your teeth and straightening your head. I have gone through both over the last couple of years, so I have firsthand experience.

When I went in for my first visit to the orthodontist, I looked around the waiting room. Absolutely the only thing I had in common with the other patients was that we all had very crooked teeth and most of them were much further along in the process of getting them straightened than I was. I had braces when I was 12, but failure to wear my retainer and age had combined to produce a pronounced overbite and the beginnings of TMJ. My orthodontist sugar-coated the description of the treatment – one to two years, no pain, a bite plate initially, a lot of money, what more can I say? It really didn’t sound so bad.

You see I missed that "bite plate initially" hidden between the no pain and a lot of money. For the first 10 weeks, I had to wear this contraption on my upper teeth that put constant tension on my mouth and expanded my palate. Since I had to wear it 24x7 and couldn’t really chew anything with it in, I was basically on a diet of blended food and liquids. That was just the beginning.

Then the brackets and wires and eventually rubber bands went on. The inside of my mouth toughened up to the intrusion of brackets and wires. With my daughter’s insistence, I learned how to kiss with braces on. (She said, "Thomas and I didn’t have any problem when I had my braces. I’m sure you and dad can figure it out.") And so we did.

I went in periodically and they would comment that things were coming along. In my typical impatience, I always asked what they might do to speed up the process, professing to dealing well with pain. They take a much more laid back view, wanting to make sure the monthly payments are complete before the treatment is over. To make a long story short, my teeth continued to gradually get in line, some being more compliant than others. After two years of this agony, the braces came off, I had perfectly straight teeth, I signed in blood that I would wear my retainers for life, and it was over.

I talked to Kathryn today and broached the subject of terminating my therapy. I am really feeling pretty good about the shape of my head, preferring to work more on the rest of my being. I had a really terrific acupuncture session this week and am intrigued more and more by this form of eastern medicine. There is a limit to how many forms of therapy I can take on concurrently, how much work I can miss, and how much money I can spend. I really have to be reasonable about this. Kathryn and I did sort of a trip down memory lane of the last year and how far I have come in my willingness to take risks with other people and in my self-confidence. At one point I blurted out (as I often do), "This is really a lot like getting your teeth straightened." And she agreed.

Kathryn and I have a truly wonderful working relationship. It has been a long time in coming. And despite the fact that she never gives physical re-enforcement (the cardinal rule being THOU SHALT NOT HUG THE PATIENT), I now know that Kathryn cares deeply for my well-being. She knows that I hate this rule, but that I simply accept it because that’s the way therapists are. I told her today that it would be a lot easier if she was some gross person that I really didn’t even like, but she is not. She is so much like me and I just know that if I wasn’t her patient, we would be the best of friends. I’m still not sure why I seem to want to be everybody’s friend these days, but Kathryn’s characterization of me as HUG-STARVED is pretty accurate.

To bring an end to this run-on post, I definitely see parallels between teeth-straightening and adding balance and order to your mind. Both processes have a positive effect on your appearance. I am still wondering about the retainers for your mind – what do they look like? Do you wear them 24x7 at first and then just at night ultimately?

Worries About My Yellow Dog

One of the smartest things my husband and I ever did several years ago to put an end to the inevitable resentment about doing repeated crappy jobs was to just divide them up. I got unloading the dishwasher and he got taking out the trash. I got buying dogfood and he got changing lightbulbs. I got taking the yellow dog to the vet and he got the older black dog. Whereas everything up to the dogs was negotiated, we actually flipped a coin for the dogs, thinking that the black dog would be the bigger burden since he is getting really old. We probably would have extended this to our children, if they had still needed to be taken to the pediatrician’s office. You are saying, "These people are Type-A anal retentive idiots!" Well, maybe. But the system has worked miraculously. We no longer argue over the small things.

I definitely got the lucky toss on the dogs, because Jake, the yellow dog, has been extremely healthy. Our son Dan found Jake on the Internet 7 years ago, advertized as an "Oops litter", the product of two champions from different breeds (golden retriever and black lab) who just couldn’t resist. From the minute we saw him, we knew he was the one for us. He was practically free since he didn’t come with papers. But then, that wasn’t why we were buying him. Instead, we wanted a second dog to wake up the first, a black lab named Dylan, who was 5 years old at that time and who had been practically comatose since birth. Well, wake him up Jake did. Jake has never lacked for spunk or the desire to FETCH-FETCH-FETCH, ad nauseum.

Unfortunately it is the as nauseum that is now the problem. He has always been a dog to throw up easily and in that charming canine habit, he just proceeds to eat it again. But lately it has become a daily habit, sometimes even twice a day. My retired husband is often the one who is home and so he gets to clean it up. He finally reached his limit of tolerance and made a daytime appointment for Jake, letting me know that I owe him a Dylan visit. Fair enough.

I fully expected the vet to tell him to just try a different food for Jake. But instead she took a stool sample (I won’t describe exactly how) and biopsied a suspicious lump. When I heard about the latter, I started to feel really guilty for not having taken him in sooner, although this latest throw-up frenzy just started a few weeks ago.

Nevertheless I am extremely worried about the outcome of this problem. I have heard that large dogs don’t live as long as small dogs. Fully expecting Dylan (now 12) to be the first to go, I am totally surprised that it could possibly be Jake. I have already started to think about when I would choose to ease his life, knowing that I couldn’t bear to let him suffer. At the same time, I wouldn’t try to prolong his life if I wasn’t sure he could fully recover. What a dilemma. These dogs are like family. I keep hoping they will both live forever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Blog Around the World

When my son Dan, who is a fanatic about Internet chess, talked about playing people in Russia and Israel and virtually all around the world , I used to marvel. I never thought that I too would find a niche in this global Internet web of connectivity.

On Monday morning as I checked my e-mail when I first got up, I found a most intriguing message from a person who professed to having read every post I had ever written the previous day (while at her office, mind you). First of all I was incredulous that anyone would find what I was writing compelling enough to plow through over a year of mostly daily posts. But secondly, this person told me that she lived on a different continent, lest I worry about a domestic stalker! She went on to tell me why she had liked what she read.

Quite to the contrary, my ego soared as I realized that I had an unsolicited fan, someone that I had not coerced into reading my Blog, who perhaps had not even found it through DCBlogs. I fantasized about where she might live, how old she was, what she might look like, the circuitous path that she had in actuality taken to arrive here. I knew only that she was a woman from her name. For some reason, I had assumed that she lived in the UK. I had fun thinking all day long about what questions I might like to ask her. That evening I sent off my probing questions and sure enough, got a timely reply.

It turns out that she lives in Brisbane, Australia. She is 24 years old. She has a charming Blog (www.wordsandthings.blogspot.com) of her own. She had found me through Reya (www.goldpoppy.blogspot.com) through her friend Anne (http://gnosiscafe.com/gcblog/) in San Francisco. We chatted through several additional e-mail messages. This linkage with a person halfway around the world made me realize just how accessible people everywhere have become.

I had another experience this week that boosted my ego. DC Cookie (www.dccookie.blogspot.com) had made a recent comment after the last Blogger happy hour that Reya and I fascinated the hell out of her. We weren’t sure what was so fascinating – our age difference, our subject matter, or what? So Reya asked and got an extremely thoughtful reply that included a line about how reading my Blog has helped her to better understand her own mother. WOW! I couldn’t have asked for greater reader support!

My world according to Blog has expanded significantly in the past few months, to the point where I have to figure out how to contain it so that it doesn’t dominate my life. But meanwhile, this instant connection with relative strangers is fascinating the hell out of me and I am having the time of my life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What Will Become of Aunt Zelda?

My husband’s Aunt Zelda has managed to thoroughly piss off most people who have ever tried to befriend her, as well as many who have not. At our wedding, I recall that she said some really insensitive things about the best man’s wife being fat, which did not need to be said. She’s one of those people who knows how to give advice but refuses to ever take it.

I first met Zelda on that initial awkward visit to Detroit to meet the greater family, still feeling angry about my earlier visit pre-conversion-to-Judaism when my husband’s parents had treated me like a ghost. At that point Zelda was in her 60s, with coifed bottle-blond hair and still talking about all the men she had turned down in her life-time, choosing never to marry. She told me that she wanted to sing at our wedding and I politely said, "No, thank you," having other ideas about the music I wanted. I could see then that Zelda was a self-proclaimed psychologist, looking for a way to insert herself in everyone else’s life and always telling stories about her own life, many of which were rather sad.

The big pivotal moment in her life was when she was put under for some sort of surgery as a fairly young woman, to wake up and find a breast missing. The real tragedy is that she didn’t learn until years later that it was malignant because no one told her. I just found this story to be utterly unbelievable. Over the years, we have heard about how a boarder in their small farm home sexually abused her, about how her own mother verbally abused her, asking why she had been a girl instead of the boy she wanted. Oy vey! If these stories were really true, Zelda had every reason to be totally screwed up.

Zelda’s reputation in the family was always as "the independent one." She went off alone to make her way in Chicago. She supported herself, hoarded and invested her money, and lived like a pauper. She worked for Heineken’s as a glorified secretary and got all the beer she could drink. To this day, Zelda lives alone in an efficiency apartment on Chicago’s northside. She is generous to a fault with everyone in the family, except herself.

There were always boyfriends along the way. Her last boyfriend was 99 when he died after falling and breaking his hip. He had been driving up until that point and they had been a serious number.

Zelda has always prided herself on her voice. Although we didn’t let her sing during the wedding ceremony, she befriended the piano player at the reception and launched into "Sunrise, Sunset" during the reception. That evening as we were collapsing in exhaustion from the wedding, Zelda was out with one of my former boyfriends who attended the wedding (30 years younger than she was) at the bar where Eric, the gay piano player from our wedding, was performing. She continued to sing back in Chicago, volunteering her time at a home for Jewish senior citizens.

Today Zelda is 97 years old. She suffers from macular degeneration. My husband received a call from her bank yesterday, expressing concern about her ability to manage her affairs, especially since she can’t see to read or write any longer. Now, tell me how this woman continues to live on her own! His reaction was, "Why me? I really don’t want to have to deal with this. With her. I’m probably going to have to go out to Chicago and do something about this situation." She had inflicted her pain even on him at times in the past.

All of a sudden, I found myself feeling an overwhelming pity for this woman who had fought so hard to be independent all these years and who was simply not winning against nature. Maybe it’s because I no longer have parents or an elderly aunt to worry about. Maybe I just can’t hold grudges against her any longer for all the times she’s said things which I didn’t want to hear. I somehow want her to live the remainder of her life in some sort of dignity, sparing her the degradation of having to be shackled.

Monday, January 23, 2006

A Home-Grown Psalm

Yesterday at Temple Micah’s meeting of Kol Isha (Woman’s Voice), the group that focuses on women’s spirituality, the topic was none other than “The Psalms and Healing.” They didn’t know how important that topic might be to me in mid-January when they set up the schedule last fall. At the end of the two-hour discussion, the leader Lynn asked each person to take 15 minutes or so and write a personal psalm. I wrote what I wish I had written two weeks ago.


God, be my companion as I enter into the unknown.
Support my body as it prepares for assault.
Calm my mind as it imagines what is not there.
Help me understand why medical procedures are necessary.
Let my recovery be a time of reflection and learning
as I comprehend your infinite wisdom and my mortality.
I entrust my body, mind, and soul into your
safe-keeping. Guard them well.

It just rolled onto my page with no erasures, no strike-outs. Some days are like that. Maybe I had been saying this psalm-prayer in my head without knowing it.

A(nother) Gift of A Million Little Pieces

Before I went into the hospital, a work colleague dropped off a book she had recently read, highly recommending it: A Million Little Pieces. I had never heard of it at that point. The story about its being a fraud broke about that same time. In between sucking lemon candy, drinking water, peeing, and taking showers, I read the first 75 pages and was instantly hooked on the story of a long-time addict’s attempt at rehabilitation. I was thoroughly engrossed in the scene in the dentist’s office with no drugs allowed for things like root canals when it was time to go home from the hospital. My book along with my PJs were quarantined for 90 days. I didn’t think any more about it until I went to my book club meeting last night and guess what our February book is – you got it, A Million Little Pieces. So that’s great – my only copy has been condemned until May and I have to read it by mid-February. Actually I was more curious than ever to see if I could tell just where the author had embellished the actual story. Oh well, I figured I would just have to check it out of the library.

Then I ran into my coffee klatch friends in Starbucks this morning. Marilu, the most vivacious of the group of mostly senators’ wives who drink their morning coffee after working out at the 8th Street Curves, pulls out a bag and says, “Anyone need a good book to read? I’ve finished it – A Million Little Pieces.” I gladly took it off her hands and delighted in the fact that it was not glowing with radiation. I can’t wait to pick the story up on page 76. I left our hero squeezing tennis balls as he grimaced drug-free through two root canals and 4 caps – an awful lot more than my dentist, the eminent Larry Bowers, would ever attempt in one office visit. Maybe just the beginning of the embellishment...

Has anyone out there read it?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Alternative Medicine

I was drawn to the river, to sit in the sun and eat my lunch while I pondered the incredible morning of healing I had just experienced. As I sat down four seagulls took up positions around me, one just a few feet away and three others like sentries on the spot where the water met the land. I so wished I had known their language so that I could have conversed with my lunch-time companions.

I had just come from a massage session that was like nothing I had ever experienced. As my bodyworker and I sipped a cup of tea and did our usual gossiping before my massage began, she told me that she intended to focus on my head, neck, and upper chest, which had taken the brunt of my recent radiation treatment. She sensed just what impact this whole thing had had on my body. She told me that one of her roles as a healer was to absorb the negative energy my body was ready to release, with the assurance that the birds would carry it away from her.

As I lay upon the massage table, I found my body to be so confused that I couldn’t even get my head to relax. So I pictured myself as one of the mermaid babies in my recent dream, breathing through my gills and just gliding through the water. This image released the tension that was making my head so rigid. I luxuriated in all the reiki and the work on my salivary glands, my face, my neck, my pectoral area, and my scalp.

After I turned over and she had started those long strokes using cream mixed with lavendar on my back, I felt her large hot tears fall onto my skin as she quietly sobbed. At first I was afraid, since I had never heard her cry before. But then I experienced a tremendous emotional release and realized that I too had a lot of tears that needed to be shed as the negative energy rushed out in a torrent from my body.

Today’s massage was all about letting go of strain and stress and the residual poison from my radiation treatment. We both came to realize that it had in fact been a far more powerful intrusion on my body than either of us had previously imagined – sort of like an atomic bomb going off internally.

At one point during my massage I momentarily sensed the presence of God and the angels. I filed this away as just one more encounter with the essence of holiness. How utterly breathtaking and awesome!

As I was leaving, my bodyworker left me with the disturbing thought that I had been led into the depth of hell to be raped by Pluto and that I would forever carry the scars and the memory. Meanwhile she opened the windows and turned on the ceiling fan in an attempt to clear the room of the negative energy before her next client arrived.

I walked out feeling both drained and relieved to be free from so much excess baggage. As I sat down at the river’s edge, the gently flowing river reminded me of the healing water of the mermaid babies. My attendant seagulls reminded of the birds who were waiting and ready to carry away any last remnant of negative energy. But most of all I was reminded of just how well my bodyworker understands everything about me. It’s almost as though she has a window to my body, mind, and soul. She always knows just what magic to work to have the greatest cathartic impact on my whole being. Who could ask for anything more?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Mother's Guilt

I woke up with a good case of guilt. In my preoccupation with myself, I have done absolutely nothing to celebrate my son Daniel’s 25th birthday today, to make this day different from any other for him. He’s in Tucson, about to graduate from law school, a mere 2500 miles away, so it’s not like I can whip up a birthday cake today and just deliver it.

Dan is a hard one to buy anything for. First of all, he’s not a very materialistic guy. I can imagine that the digital camera we bought him last year is still sitting unopened in its box. He has suddenly taken a liking to clothes, but only to those clothes that he picks out. And in truth, you don’t really need a lot of clothes in Tucson.

So what does he need most? A soul mate. Something I can’t buy and can’t find for him. Dan is a gorgeous guy – tall with light brown (used to be very blond) hair. At one point he had that sinewy body of a swimmer because at 12 he was nationally ranked (or at least very good) in butterfly and long distance freestyle. He is one of those people who is smart without having to try to be. He could write well from the moment he learned to type at 10, handwriting never being a great strength. Sound perfect? Well, he’s so shy that he spends an inordinate amount of time by himself playing chess on the Internet. He’s a well-kept secret just waiting to be discovered.

I half-seriously thought about posting an ad on the Tucson version of Craig’s List: “Handsome young law student (with a good job after graduation already lined up) looking for a woman who is beautiful and smart.” I should add, “If you are not both, don’t bother to reply” because he is picky beyond belief. Maybe that’s a defense mechanism to justify that he meanwhile is asking NO ONE out. I could also add, “If you are the one, believe me, he will be faithful to the end. I have watched how he deals with the current love of his life, his dog Jake.” If ever I wanted to be a matchmaker, it is for Dan. But unfortunately there are some things a mother just can’t do.

So I’m back to the dilemma of what to do today for Dan’s birthday and no closer to a solution. This is a good question for all those Blogger girls that I decided to adopt earlier in the week. Please, give me your ideas!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Taste of Water

My daily rant is not about the deprivation of my sense of touch. But rather I’ve moved on to complain about my sense of taste. It seems that every day holds new surprises. The latest surprise is that water now has a taste. And what does it taste like? Well, something like it used to taste after I had just rinsed my mouth with mouthwash and then took a drink of water. Eeewwwww!

There is one person out there (and you know who you are) who is wagging her finger at me and saying “The surgery was unnecessary. The radioactive thing was unnecessary. If you had just listened to me, none of this would be happening.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. I hear you. But I did all of those things. And now I just have to deal with the consequences for better or for worse. And the consequence du jour is a compromised sense of taste. It’s not just water. It’s also milk. It’s also toast. Everything is just a little off. Not too far, but definitely far enough to notice.

This started me to thinking about the sense of taste. We can all imagine in our minds how salt tastes, how sugar tastes. But if salt suddenly began to taste like sugar and sugar like salt, would we then put sugar on our eggs and salt in our coffee? Or would we simply accept the new taste? Is anyone following this logic or does it totally not make sense? In other words, how learned is our sense of taste? How adaptable is it? But perhaps, more importantly, how permanent is this alteration? Am I going to wake up tomorrow with yet another twist to it? Maybe even a twist of lemon? This is really starting to sound like a crazy person talking!

I just want a total return to reality if there is such a thing. I’ll take my water plain, un-chemicaled, un-flavored, with no artificial anything added.

Thoughts on Therapy

It was just a few months ago that I was angry at Kathryn, my therapist, because I thought she was more interested in her stupid rules and in her weekly fee than she was in my mental health. I had also recently questioned whether or not I was ready just to quit going to therapy. I mean, we had discussed at length my initial concerns, either resolving them or at least helping me understand them better.

However, over the past 10 days I have come to have a completely new appreciation for what Kathryn brings to my life. In fact, yesterday when I went for my (groan after a late night at the Blogger meetup) 7 AM visit, I said, "Kathryn, aren’t you tempted to just break your rules and give me a hug? We have really been through a lot together in the past week, even though I couldn’t see you." Of course, she gave her pat therapist answer for why we couldn’t embrace each other, but I know that she secretly wanted to give me a hug.

Last week when I was so hypothyroid that I could barely move, I cancelled my Thursday 7 AM appointment with Kathryn, but she suggested that we talk by phone instead at 9 AM that day. She called with some suggestions: (1) a phone call once I was in the isolation room in the hospital, (2) a phone call when I had been released to go home, and (3) taking a copy of the guided meditation CD that I had used during my recent surgery with me to the hospital on my IPOD. I have always been reluctant to call her, thinking that only people who are suicidal should be calling their therapists in between appointments. I would probably never have thought of the surgery CD either without her prompting. We talked for at least a half hour about what I might expect to experience. She left me with the comforting thought that she was available 24x7 if I needed to call.

My first panic attack came when I was all by myself and I was attempting to call Kathryn and the phone wasn’t working. Until I realized that I didn’t need to dial the 202 area code in the District, nothing worked. By the time I reached her, I was really beside myself with anxiety. She talked to me until I calmed down, patiently listening to my description of the weird room and everything that had already happened. She reiterated that she was available any time I needed to call. She offered to call my husband to relay my telephone number, which she did.

We talked several times during the next few days. Each conversation proved her to be a good listener and someone who made thoughtful suggestions that helped me steer around other potential problems.

So when I went to see Kathryn this week, I had an entirely new take on her commitment to my mental health and her contribution to my peace of mind during my recent ordeal. I would still like to think of weaning myself off of therapy by sometime in the early summer, especially if I continue to feel good about life. However, I firmly believe that at any point if I wished to resume therapy, Kathryn would take me back into her practice. That’s a nice feeling to have.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Coming Out

Last night's Blogger happy hour marked my re-entrance into the land of the living, my re-connection with humanity. I can say with all honesty that I had never appreciated my ability to reach out and touch someone so much until I was forbidden to do so.

It was somewhat of a strange evening, starting with my regular Wednesday night meditation group, where we sit silently for a half hour and then read and discuss something from a Buddhist monk. When I entered Healing Arts last night for meditation, arriving before the others, I chanced to run into Mary, the owner of the practice and a renowned acupuncturist. It turns out that Mary was the first person I was to hug after 6 days of isolation. I must say that I luxuriated in that hug, describing it as hugging someone from the inside out. (This sounds odd coming from a person who was awkward at hugging anyone other than my dog even two years ago.) I felt such a connection to Mary that I suggested that we sit down for a moment and talk about how she might customize two sessions of acupuncture to recognize my emergence from what I could describe to her only as "having passed through the valley of the shadow of death." At this point, the others arrived, we did our usual sit and discussion, and I shooed them out and locked up because I still had plans for the evening.

When I found Mackey's, the Blogger happy hour was still in full tilt and with beer in hand, I was more than ready to hug everyone I encountered. I was sad to learn that John of Prod&Ponder and Susan Banks who writes Dating Rules for Sitcoms had asked about me, but had left before I arrived. I did see AlwaysWrite, Goldpoppy, Pat Thibodeaux, Kathryn, I-66, Martin, and some other familiar faces. I also started to look around and find other must-meet Bloggers, like V of Circle V and Travis, and a whole host of new Bloggers I am dying to read. Jamy and DC Cookie arrived shortly after I did. But where were AUA, AsianMistress, Velvet, and Kristin? And I missed Playfulindc, who is on the road. Of course, Cube was nowhere to be seen. I selfishly wanted them all to be there.

As I finished my second beer, which if you know me, you realize is a lot for me to drink, I started talking to a young guy from NCB.COM, telling him all about my ideas on the ethics of Blogging, about how Blogging had changed my life, about the wonderful post by a group of Blogging artists, and on and on and on. I had a great conversation with V about the details of the elegant dinner with artists in North Carolina that she so beautifully wrote about in a recent post and about her illegal trip to Cuba.

The whole evening was a high for me – the chance to put faces with names, the chance to build up my ego when people told me that they had been reading my Blog and liked it, but most importantly, the chance to meld with humanity in oh-so-many wonderful hugs. It really felt like the release from some awful prison to the ultimate in freedom.

Sadly as I drove home by myself, I realized that my husband and I had negotiated a re-connection date for Thursday morning and this was still Wednesday evening. I was so tempted to just leave my single bed and slip between the sheets in the big bed I share with him, in my state of contentedness. I still sorely needed his hugs.

But instead, I decided to honor his level of comfort and wait one more day. Tonight as you look up at the late night sky, don't be surprised if you see Disney-style fireworks. They will definitely be real and they will commemorate the end of what I hope will be the last time I will ever be forced to stay away from the one I love so much!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Call from an Angel

You will never guess who just called me as I was stepping out of the shower just now. My pal Lindsey from the Radiation Safety Department of WHC! Has any professional from that hospital called to check up on me? Absolutely not. But this guy who befriended me said he had been thinking about me since Saturday and just had to know I was OK. And today I could truthfully say, “Yes, I am more than OK. I am really feeling fine, once again.” I told him I was sorry his Skins didn’t win on Saturday and we decided some things just aren’t meant to be. Part of me is afraid to find out that there might not actually exist a person named Lindsey Statler, that it was all a figment of my imagination. Was he really real? Why wasn’t he ever afraid? I’ll never know.

Frog Eyes

As I washed my face last night I suddenly looked in the mirror and said: OH MY GOD, you’ve got your father’s drooping eyelids. Even a month ago, I thought of my eyes as being happy and, well, not looking older than my age, especially with a little eye makeup artfully applied. But last night they suddenly looked sad and old and the eyelids were full of wrinkles and very droopy.

Could this just have happened? Or could this be one of the unwritten side-effects of the radiation I just received? Probably not. It’s probably been a gradual thing that all of a sudden became apparent to me. FROG EYES, that’s the only way I could describe them.

I have always thought that I would grow old gracefully, just accepting what nature dealt me as part of the process. But I must confess that my mind immediately started to remember those pages in the Washingtonian that advertized private clinics with the before and after pictures that indeed turned ugly old faces into beautiful young ones. Would I dare visit one of those places? If I did, would I be tempted to deal with more than just my eyes? Oy vey! Probably not, but I haven’t totally dismissed the idea. In fact, I thought of my 75-year-old friend Betty who looks so young and realized that it’s her eyes that hide her years – they don’t have that wrinkled saggy look. My guess is that once your eyelids get this droopy look, the skin doesn’t just tighten up on its own.

Then again maybe I should start with a visit to an expensive spa and treat myself to a facial as a belated present for the birthday that I failed to celebrate in the midst of my recent health crisis. Or maybe I should go sit at the Mac counter at Nordstroms and let some cute young girl paint my face and sell me a bag full of expensive creams and colors and brushes. Maybe that would be a less costly, less painful way to deal with my recently acquired frog eyes.

Maybe just feeling 100% again will at least add the happy back into my eyes. But I may need someone’s help as to what to do about my eyelids that seem to be stretching and folding and look froggier every time I glance at the mirror. So it’s my turn to ask for advice! Bring it on...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mermaid Babies

For those of you who have been reading my Blog, you will probably be greatly relieved to know that this post has nothing to do with my health or radiation or forced isolation. It’s a good sign that at least in my dreams I am starting to think about something else.

I just woke up from a dream that does deal with one of my greatest fears (swimming in deep water) in a very beautiful way. It centered around a documentary that substantiated the fact that many babies begin life in the sea as little tadpole-like mermaids with (undoubtedly) their male counterparts. I suppose this isn’t so far from the truth as we all begin life in utero where we must breathe amniotic fluid through what must be gills.

Let me digress and mention that for my daughter’s 6th birthday we hired the school’s drama teacher to put on “The Little Mermaid” at the party which was in the lower level of Generous Geroge’s Pizza parlour near Old Town. Rachel of course played Ariel, The Little Mermaid, with a very red wig and a costume with a tail. Her friend Anjali (whose father was the one who harbored lice under his turban) insisted on being Flounder. I actually wrote about this last year – Little Mermaid.

Anyway, in my dream, as I am doubting that mermaid babies could ever happen, it’s Anjali who says to me, “Haven’t you studied the evidence? Of course it happens!” They were so cute with their big heads and little tails, just swimming happily around in the water. Even I wouldn’t have any fear of the water if I could swim like a mermaid baby. Can it even be possible that I swam no naturally in my mother’s womb?

Leaving thoughts of mermaid babies behind, I have to shower and get ready to re-join humanity as I go back to work today. What a surprising way to start the day...

Monday, January 16, 2006

My Doctor Makes House Calls

My doctor and friend Deborah came over today (her day off) to eat lunch and play duets with me. She was on call, so periodically she would have to talk to someone with the stomach flu and go through the bland food diet drill or whatever, but otherwise she and I just had fun together. I had agreed to make an elegant lunch with my latex gloves on and not to breathe or salivate on her food. She didn’t seem worried in the least. Although we avoided an entrance or exit hug, otherwise our visit made me feel totally normal for the first time in a long time.

I remember as a young child carefully planning what I would serve my friends at a tea party. There was in fact one such tea party when one of the Baptist girls was saying the blessing first and our Episcopalian friend Debby managed to eat all the cookies while we had our eyes closed. Those damned long-winded Baptists...

Well, I got up today with a menu in mind that included all of the forbidden foods of my last 5 weeks. It actually grew as I made my way through Whole Foods, buying everything I saw that was in the least bit tempting. Not only did I want it to taste good, but I wanted to make a pretty lunch – one pretty enough for a picture. So here’s the menu I came up with:

  • Homemade lemony shrimp salad with chives and capers on a butter lettuce leaf
  • Tomato - avocado - Kalamata olives with a balsamic olive oil dressing
  • Fresh orange sections
  • Crusty French bread with very rich gooey better-than-Brie cheese
  • Mixed raspberries - blueberries - kiwi fruit with mango sorbet for dessert
  • Individual Sharffen Berger Mocha bar (since everyone always needs just a bite of chocolate)
  • Fattoria Paradiso 2004 dry white wine

It was an easy lunch to prepare and fun to eat with someone who appreciates good food. We went easy on the wine so as to be able to still read music after lunch.

Deborah tuned up her bass and with full stomachs and always with loads of humility we began to play. We played all the pieces we were getting good at and then we took another look at the Claude Bolling Jazz Suite, which is always good for making me realize how little I really know about jazz or even about playing the piano. We concluded with a few more old warhorses that have become favorites. Then Deborah packed up her huge instrument and hauled it out to her car, suggesting that I take a long walk. She jokingly said, “Just wear a hula hoop and tell people not to get any closer than that!” What a riot!

Little by little, life is returning to normal. By the time I next see her, I will have no further restrictions. She reminded me that we will do a blood test in a couple of weeks to see if my Synthroid dosage needs to be adjusted, but otherwise I will turn into just another patient who only has to call my doctor for professional reasons when I have the stomach flu or something that everyone else also has.

Top Been Missin's

I started to think today as life seems ready to return to normal about what it is that I have most been missing over the past few days in this weird state of isolation. Here’s my top 10:

(1) Sex (I promise never again to have a headache or be too tired...)
(2) Hugging friends and family.
(3) Petting my dogs.
(4) Getting a massage.
(5) Going through my house without thinking about avoiding things or people or dogs.
(6) Sleeping in a king-size bed.
(7) Sharing the newspaper.
(8) Reading the book I started in the hospital – A Million Little Pieces (even if it is a fraud).
(9) Being able to use any telephone in the house.
(10) Being able to use the downstairs bathroom.

The funny thing is that many of these would apply if you had a cold or another contagious disease. I guess the difference is that the consequences of contracting radiation seem so nebulous, so what does this really mean anyway?

The doctor said I could return to work tomorrow, so I suppose that just about does it...

The Latest in Kitchen Fashion

I always wondered how my dental hygienist Cindy could so casually don a pair of latex gloves when I lay back on the dental chair to get my teeth cleaned. She just puts them on without thinking and goes to work scraping and probing and polishing my teeth.

I think I’m starting to get it. As I walk into my kitchen these days, I grab a pair of latex gloves out of the open box and throw them on without thinking that I’m dirty or germy or radioactive or anything at all – it’s just something as common as putting on an apron – it’s just what I wear in the kitchen to make my tea or heat up my soup or check out what leftovers exist in the refrigerator.

I’ve got the drill down pat. When I’m done, I simply open the trash can drawer with a gloved hand, pull off the gloves and drop them in, then shove the drawer shut with my covered knee. Simple as pie and becoming such a habit. Repetition is a powerful teacher...

Mama Told Me There'd Be Days Like This

Emotionally dysfunctional: That’s the way I feel these days. And I thought menopause was a roller-coaster! I woke up yesterday feeling permanently silent and perpetually on the verge of tears. I shot off a ranting e-mail to one friend who was probably already at work. No one was talking to me – I mean NO ONE!

Then I found Velvet on-line and she stepped up to the plate to cheer me up as none other than Velvet could. We talked by e-mail all day long – Velvet telling me about her latest romantic involvement which sounds pretty good to me and me telling her stories about my long-ago love life that I haven’t even told my husband. She humored me, telling me that I was helping her sort things out, as though Velvet really needs any help doing that. At one point she told me she was laughing her ass off at something on TV, and by then I was at least smiling and I was certainly writing, if not talking. She even gave me credit for advice in her daily post, which I consider a supreme compliment, since my own daughter doesn’t credit me for knowing anything about dating in today’s world (I mean how different can it really be?)

So after several lengthy e-mails from Velvet, a visit from a neighbor who brought me a “care” basket and stood at a distance of 12 feet to talk to me for 15 minutes, my friend Linda’s thumbs up on the 4-page letter I drafted to WHC, the now-resident-chef (my husband)’s homemade pea soup, and last but not least a mention in DCBlogs (thanks to Reya), I am at least psychologically in much better shape.

Mama told me there’d be days like this, there’ll be days like this my mama said...

(And, yes Kate, it really is 1:45 AM. I woke up and just had to write this in the middle of the night!)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Down for the Count (A.K.A. Raise the White Flag)

As Cinderella Man blared downstairs last night and I tried to go to sleep in my strangely single bed, I wondered about the match going on inside my body right now. Or maybe it is more like an invading army of isotopes, searching out the last thyroid holdouts. They must have found a group of ragtag cells in my throat, in that area where my thyroid used to be because it feels sore and swollen. Thyroid cells tend to migrate elsewhere, so I imagine a few here and there in various and sundry lymph nodes as well. I was forewarned that the side effects would be more pronounced after the onset of the treatment, and they were at least right about that.

After 10 hours of sleep, I thought I ought to get up, but I feel as tired as when I went to bed. I would so like to be able to crawl inside my body and find out how the battle is going – sort of like a Red Cross observer. I hope it is almost over, that those last cells will soon surrender, that the invading army will take its prisoners and go home, that there will be no collateral damage to the good guys like my salivary glands, that I will just feel energetic and totally normal once again. Some of the scariness and the unknown continues as I get these daily reminders that something very unusual indeed happened to my body and it’s not over yet.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Memories of Lice

As I sit in my own house watching my husband carefully keep his distance today, as I talk to my massage therapist about my next appointment and sense a hesitation in her voice about working on me, I am reminded of episodes of lice when my children were much, much younger. The dreaded letter home about a nit found in some child’s head was enough to send shivers of panic through me. I’m sure everyone dealt with lice at one time or another. I’ll never forget combing my own hair one morning after a shampoo to find living bugs that looked like fleas but didn’t hop, putting them in a plastic bag, and taking them to the pediatrician’s office only to learn that they were indeed lice. So that’s what they looked like! Getting rid of lice meant using caustic poisonous shampoos on the one obviously infested, but also on everyone else in the family as a precaution. It meant literally tearing your house apart to clean and chase those eggs that could have been laid anywhere. It meant not coming in contact with another person who was infested. In a particularly long episode, we were sure that it was the Indian child’s father with the turban who was harboring the recurring lice in his long hair. It seemed like there were times when we would never be lice free.

But lice were little bugs that were real and, as annoying as they were, they never really did much besides make your head itch and make the school officials go crazy. There is no radiation bug to chase. No one can even tell me what the real danger is. What does exposure really mean? As I go into my kitchen with my long white latex gloves on to make a cup of tea, just what is it that I’m trying to avoid spreading? I have this image of a little odd-shaped bug that over the next few days will gradually shrink in size so that by mid-week it just disappears out of sight. My dogs haven’t sniffed out the radiation bug, haven’t yet learned to steer clear of me, and you know what, I’m just not going to tell them about it.

Life After Half-Life

I’m home. I’m exhausted from my ordeal. I’m happy to be able to use my own computer once again. The only real side-effect I have experienced is extremely sore salivary glands, sort of like someone punched me in both jaws.

This morning I woke up early, despite the fact that I had been up several times during the night to drink water, pee, and suck candy – the requirements for getting my numbers down to the point where I could go home. The morning nurse Candy called to tell me that she would be meeting me at my door to give me my breakfast tray. Most of the nurses were only to happy to shove in my meal tray and literally run back down the hall, one of them actually telling me that she couldn’t step over a particular line. I respected their fear and simply reached out to get my food. My new pal Lindsey from the night before who obviously considers himself impervious to radiation and who was coming in on his day off just for me, called from his car to tell me he was heading in from Landover and would be there in about 20 minutes. I got my final shower, hoping to rinse away as much of the radioactive residue as I could from my skin and hair follicles. At precisely 9 AM Lindsey appeared, put his measuring tape to my belly button, stepped back 3 feet, and measured me at 7.2, proclaiming “You’re good to go girl!” I said a big affirming YESSSSS! We discussed the quarantine of my pajamas and my book for 3 months, and he parted with a loud “GO SKINS!” I think Lindsey, the Radiation Safety Tech, had something on his mind other than the work he was going to have to do to decontaminate my room and ready it for its next inhabitant. I quickly changed into the clothes I had worn into the hospital, which had been kept isolated in the closet, and when my husband arrived, I simply walked out the door, not saying goodbye to anyone. What a weird way to leave. I hopped into the back seat as far away as possible from my husband and said “Take me to Starbucks for the latte I have been wanting for the last 5 weeks!”

It’s going to take some adjustment at home to live in the same house with my husband and my 2 big slobbery dogs and simply be a shadow passing around their lives for the next few days. I asked my husband to buy some latex gloves so that I can touch common things like the refrigerator and not worry him. The irony of this is that no one has been able to tell me one possible outcome of a person or my dogs being exposed to me! The medical profession tends to cover its ass at all cost. But I will play the game so as not to worry anyone. This means basically that I have my own dishes, my own brush and detergent for washing them, my own bathroom, my own bedroom, my own office, which are all mine until mid-week, when the ban is suddenly lifted as suddenly as it was imposed. The weird diet is over, so I can gorge myself on dairy, fish, and salt. But most importantly, I can convince my body that I have a thyroid again by resuming my daily dose of Synthroid, a synthetic thyroid hormone. So even though I hate the isolation from the people and animals that I love, everything else about life is becoming normal again.

I woke up today planning the letter that I intend to write to Washington Hospital Center. My main objective is to spare other people the unnecessary confusion and the extreme anxiety I have felt because of the many unknowns and the unfortunate interactions with some of the people who have been in this drama. On the other hand, I intend to give well-deserved credit mostly to people who are not doctors, who are paid hourly rates to do sometimes menial jobs, but who seem to have taken the course in bedside manner that so many of the professionals obviously skipped. I want to offer myself as a personal point of contact for people like me who have questions about what is going to happen. I may even write something about this from the patient’s perspective, which will be quite different from the book on thyroid cancer published by the doctors.

This process has taught me a lot about myself – about how I handle scary situations, about how I deal with a lack of control, about just how tough my body actually is. It has taught me to value highly a respect for the individual that goes a long way to making any medical process bearable.

It has also showed me how important the Blogger community is in my life. In addition to words of support from old friends and new friends, I received comments from perfect strangers who it turns out were reading my Blog and had things to tell me. The miraculous discovery of a keyboard in the hospital was absolutely the thing that kept me sane and allowed me to do what I seem to like best to do these days – write and read on DCBlogs!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Casting the Play

Playfulindc jokingly suggested that she would play a nurse in the story of my hospital saga. At that point in the story I told her that she should hold off because there hadn't been a competent person yet whom she would want to play. Well, now there have been two. Caroline was the gregarious nurse who braved all levels to radiation to come into my room to get the heat going AND found the keyboard hidden under the TV. She said, "Honey, this will hook you up to the Internet," and that was absolutely music to my ears. So Playful, you can be Caroline. The leading man is a black dude named Lindsey, who is part of Radiation Security. He covered the keyboard with plastic for me, brought me s bag of Jolly Ranchers just because he knew how tired of lemon candy I was, and went down to the cafeteria to buy me some camomile tea. We've worked out a deal to assure my earliest release tomorrow so he can go home on what was supposed to be his day off and I can get out of here. Any ideas for someone to play Lindsey?

The Real Skinny on the Radiation

At precisely 1:15 this afternoon a woman arrived with a big cart. On top of the cart was a blue box about the size of a car battery. She poured me a cup of water and asked me if I was ready for THE PILL. She announced to the attending doctor, who turned out to be none other than Yuri (who is Italian and not Russian), that my dose was going to be 140.2 millicuries. She opened the blue box and took out a large bottle wich contained just one small white pill. I took it, drank all the water, and then Dave (of Radiation Safety) measured my emissions at 24. I don't know exactly what 24 means, but what I do know is that I have to be down to 14 to go home tomorrow. How do I get there? Drink, pee, shower, suck on lemon candy. I will never ever eat another piece of lemon candy without remembering this experience.

The Room of Gloves

Now that my trial balloon post actually worked, I'll provide a few more details. I had wondered what this room would actually look like. They had described it as covered with plastic If I hadn't been so scared when I walked in, I would have laughed out loud. Virtually everything that could even think of touching had a latex rubber glove taped to it. It was lik lifeless hands with no arms hanging everywhere. Let me tell you, it is a real pain in the ass to type on a keyboard covered in plastic.


Do I ever have stories to tell! After just a couple of panic attacks, I discovered a keyboard in the drawer under the TV. It is shrouded in plastic now and I am connected virtually to humanity once again. More to follow.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

No Laptop

We spent almost 5 hours today at the Nuclear Meds Department of WHC today for 70 minutes worth of scans. I took my husband with me just in case there were any more melt-down situations. Within a few minutes of our arrival he started to understand the general feeling of the place. I simply can’t figure out why you spend so much time just doing nothing, just waiting for whatever is supposed to happen next. In the span of those 5 hours, no one ever asked to see my ID – to see if indeed I was who I was supposed to be. Even though there were signs posted in every room to the effect of “Check 2 IDs just to be sure” – guess they have had just a few cases of mistaken identity.

At least the level of competence, if not the pace, picked up a little bit. Pat, a tech with very red, very teased hair, seemed like she had operated the WW II vintage equipment numerous times before my turn. Dr. Acio, the VERY short doctor we saw for 10 minutes at the end, was polite and seemed to know his stuff.

Meditation had prepared me well for the 3 scans – 30-minute full-body scan, 20-minute throat scan, and 20-minute chest scan. In each case, the only admonishment was DON’T MOVE. I took that to mean DON’T EVEN SWALLOW. The only way I could do this with a machine 2 inches from my face was to close my eyes and breathe and count and breathe again. I kept telling myself that it was so similar in length to the meditation I normally practice. I made it a point not to look up before the thing came over my face, but rather to just keep my eyes closed until someone said I was done.

I finally had to ask the inevitable question that has been plaguing me all along – whether I could bring my laptop into THE ROOM tomorrow. The unequivocal answer was NO. In fact, I can’t take anything in that I need for a month afterwards, except perhaps my glasses. Everything else will have to be measured for radioactivity and bagged for storage to exhaust the half-life of the radiation before I can bring it home. I suppose I had always suspected that this might be the case, but it’s still very disappointing. I was so hoping to write a lot on my computer, even though I knew there wouldn’t be a web hookup. So instead I guess I’ll opt for a pad of paper and just hope the pad passes the radiation police upon my departure.

I had also been worrying about whether I would be locked in the room. Apparently not, but I will be told not to come out. I wonder what would happen if I suddenly flipped out and started running down the hall exuding radiation everywhere? Don’t think I’ll try it.

Dr. Acio went over the home precautions – paper plates, flush twice, no exchange of bodily fluids, distance, distance, distance. I’ve got the drill down and the fun hasn’t even begun. Even if I can’t write it down, my memory is going to glow about this experience for some time to come. That I’m sure of...

So tomorrow (Friday the 13th) at 11 AM I’m off the air until my glowing body is released to go home hopefully on Saturday. Meanwhile I will have sucked a piece of lemon candy every 90 minutes around the clock, taken 4 showers, and drunk enough water to float a battleship as I flush this stuff out of my system.

Career What Ifs

I’ve recently had reason to think about my career. You see, instead of filling out retirement papers, I’m applying for a new job. Well, not really a new job, but rather the legitimization of the job that I have been doing for the last 12 years.

I haven’t ever talked much about what I do, focusing more on my desire to move on into retirement and leave my job behind. I am eligible to retire under a very liberal federal government retirement system that doesn’t require you to work until you can no longer enjoy life and I was planning to do so when my youngest child graduated from college this year. So what happened to change all this?

I am in charge of the data processing of the largest survey in the US – the American Community Survey, sampling 3 million households a year in every state of the US and Puerto Rico, which recently received a permanent budget of 168 million dollars a year (too bad my salary isn’t a straight percentage of the budget!). This survey will take the place of the Census long form in 2010 and as such has a lot of interest in Congress and in the world of demography in general. I wonder if anyone reading this has been in sample? If so, you probably opened the envelope and said things like: How could they dare ask me all these questions about my income, about when I leave for work, about how much I pay for gas? Those nosey bastards! But then if you were smart you heeded those 3 little words on the outside of the envelope – REQUIRED BY LAW – and spent a few minutes filling it out and sent it back in. Otherwise you had to endure phone calls and maybe even a personal visit from a Census enumerator. A word to the wise – just about any stray mark on the paper form will spare you endless further contact if you should come into sample!

My boss Larry retired last week. Larry had quietly shepherded this survey from its inception in 1996 where the first sample was in 4 counties of the country, instead of 3219 counties, and where no one – I mean NO ONE – thought this idea of a “continuous measurement” survey would ever fly. But Larry, the eternal optimist, succeeded where others might have failed. He was a good boss, who quickly figured out that I wasn’t interested in talking about local sports teams, but instead we talked about the values of meditation and yoga, other interests of his.

I was secretly hoping they would bring in a really awful replacement for Larry, someone who would make retirement seem like the only real option for me. But instead they filled Larry’s position with Lisa, a career-minded woman who could easily be my daughter by virtue of her age. Lisa sticks her head in my door every day “just to say hello”. She actually answers my e-mail messages, where most of them previously went into some black hole in Larry’s computer because he was not terribly well organized and he much preferred face–to-face communication. Lisa actually gave me a box of Godiva chocolates for Christmas (not her holiday either), and anyone who gives me chocolate is a friend for life.

So as I consider retirement, I am suddenly faced with the elevation of our staff into a division that after 20 years offers me a chance for a promotion. I can hardly walk away from this opportunity that really requires nothing more of me than to continue to do my job well.

Not having applied for a job in so long, my first task was to develop a resume. What a trip down memory lane that was. There was...
– My first job at the FBI which I took not because it was the higher salary, but rather because it seemed to be the more interesting of my 2 offers in DC. I lasted 3 months there and felt like I was released from prison when I left to go to the Census Bureau. I actually wrote a letter to J. Edgar Hoover upon my departure.
– My first job at Census where the first person I met was my husband, who at the time had shoulder length hair and who came in late every day because he was always a night owl and who was addicted to Drakes Cakes for breakfast. When we started sleeping together, I thought it best to look for a new job so as not to complicate our relationship.
– My 15-year stint in the international area of the Census Bureau, where I became moderately fluent in Spanish and French in order to work in developing countries around the world, giving technical assistance in place like Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Morocco, Kenya, Lesotho, India, Thailand, and Jordan. I often felt like a used car salesman, brokering assistance deals with US AID and the UN and even with foreign country governments. I attended international conferences in places like China, Japan, and the Netherlands, where I was on a first-name basis with big shots in the statistical community. These trips had wild adventures that will never be chronicled in this Blog, but will forever remain in my memory.
– A period of 6 years back in the US learning what the worst of bureaucracy was all about and why I much preferred a job that allowed me to exercise my technical skills.
– And finally the last 12 years building the ACS from the ground up. Not many people get this chance to do something brand new, at least not something with the budget or the notoriety of the ACS. Fortunately my boss Larry trusted me to do things right and basically left me alone. I could hire whom I wished and do whatever was necessary to create a processing system that could handle a continuous stream of data in and produce yearly estimates from that data.

As fulfilling as this work has been, as I wrote my resume, I started to wonder how different my career might have been had I taken some different paths. For starters, from the minute I went to college at FSU, I knew that I would major in math. From the minute I started working in the computer center as a freshman, I knew that my job would probably be in the computer field. I knew that I would take mainly math courses and foreign language courses, courses that I was relatively assured of doing well in. I knew that I would continue my string of good grades, just because I was programmed to be a good student. I didn’t take chances. I didn’t try a lot of new things. I didn’t allow myself to take classes that required a lot of writing, lacking the confidence that I could write acceptably well, or that at least I would enjoy it. What a shame!

My father was of the mentality that a sure future was the only future. There was not even a hint of trying something just to see if you would like it. He was a brilliant inventor who could never discuss his work with me because it was top secret. He hated bureaucracy and put up with it only because that is how you advance in the government. He stopped advancing and just treaded water for a long time until he could retire at the earliest opportunity. He scrimped and saved unnecessarily so he could live like a pauper during his last 10 years and leave me (his only child) a fat inheritance that allowed me to completely renovate my house and still have plenty of money. If my children are reading this (unlikely), be forewarned that I intend to spend my money doing things I enjoy, so don’t count on remodeling your houses after I am gone.

So I ask myself, what would have happened if I had at some point just thrown caution to the wind and followed a different path? Where would I be today? Would I be happier? Would I be wealthier? These are questions that I will probably never be able to answer. But every time I hear of someone who is really between jobs, I start to wonder what if...?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Strike Three

As I walked down that all-too-familiar hallway toward the Nuclear Meds Dept of WHC today, I thought to myself, “I wonder if today will be any different? Will I finally feel confident in this place?” I was going there to be DOSED for my scan tomorrow, a necessary precursor to the big deal on Friday.

I had followed the rules to the letter, not eating or drinking anything for hours prior to my arrival. I signed in and sat down to wait, watching while people came and went. At one point I saw my pal Yuri from last week’s visit go by and he actually shot me a smile, which was more than he was doing last week. After a half hour, I complained to the receptionist that I was not feeling very well and would really like to just take my pill and be done with today’s visit. Her reply was that they were PREPARING MY DOSE. Now I started to wonder at what horse-size pill this was going to be, imagining that I might even have difficulty swallowing it.

I finally asked to see Wayne, the director of the place, who had been enlightened by my doctor Deborah as to how to get results online from his own lab. His response was that my appointment was actually at 1:30 and that they just asked me to show up at 1:00 for paperwork. Are you kidding me? How much paperwork could you possibly need from me when I have all but signed over to you my first-born already? He also said something about MEASURING MY DOSE.

Finally after about 45 minutes, someone called my name and took me back to sit somewhere else and wait. She then proceeded to tell me that my pill had been delivered (by a courier?) and that the machine that MEASURED MY DOSE was not working. I’m thinking to myself – OK, you have my pill, but you don’t know what’s in it? God help me! After about 15 more minutes, another technician hurried in with a medicine bottle, someone poured a glass of water, and I got READY TO BE DOSED. I put out my hand and she shook a little pill about a half inch long into it. YOU MEAN THIS IS ALL I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR ALL THIS TIME? I swallowed it, asking if I could in fact drink all the water in the cup, since they had told me that the ban on eating and drinking extended to one hour after my DOSING. With a positive response, I gulped it down, and then bolted out of there as quickly as I could possibly move, still in slow motion. I wondered if I would feel anything as whatever was in that little pill exploded in my stomach.

Maybe my fourth visit when I go there tomorrow for the scan will finally be different. Maybe the equipment will work, maybe the people will care how I am feeling, maybe something will seem normal, but I am starting to think that nothing about this place is normal. It’s like something out of a bad sci-fi novel with mad scientists and equipment that has a mind of its own. The cast of unforgettable stars, like Yuri and Wayne, just keeps growing.

A Princess Slowly Moving Toward Friday the 13th

Do you know what it feels like to walk through deep water? It takes a lot of effort and you don’t move very fast. That’s exactly how my body and brain felt when I woke up today – like I was moving in very slow motion. The intentional lack of thyroid hormone in my body as I near this procedure was finally quite evident. I thought about just rolling over and going back to sleep, but my body didn’t really need sleep. Instead it needed calming and reassurance and orderly movement. So I threw on some clothes and moved slowly out the door to my yoga class with Ajit.

I selfishly hoped I would be his only student once again and had already decided to request an hour of restorative poses. But alas, two other students showed up, one of whom was quite advanced. So I just told Ajit I would create my own "program" today with occasional input from him and basically lie around on the floor in different stretching poses.

He suggested that we all do the initial centering together. He asked each of us (all women) to think about being a young princess with a halo of white light on our heads. I carried this image through the entire class, adding a long pink dress to the princess image. I felt my closed eyes fill with big tears of happiness as I smiled at myself as a young innocent illuminated princess.

Creative Ajit managed to run the class like a 3-ring circus, because he had quickly realized that he had three students with very different needs. While one person was doing shoulder stands and the "wheel", another was doing extended down dogs, and I was resting with my legs up the wall and just breathing in and out very slowly. I managed to join the others in the hamstring stretching that has become a part of my daily routine since Ajit’s lesson in walking before we all settled into final relaxation. Ajit closed the class with blessings for body, mind, soul, and spirit and we all said Namaste in unison. As I left, he suggested personal meditation and breathing exercises over the next few days.

My isolation begins on none other than Friday, the 13th of January. Frankly I don’t have the energy to be superstitious. I’m getting close to hitting rock bottom, but I am looking forward to the chance to climb back up once I can take my synthetic hormones again on Saturday. Then I will feel like the end of this ordeal is near. So bring on the big thoughts on Friday for the princess with the halo of light.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Do You Believe in Magick?

I am a mathematician by training, always demanding proof of everything. But my association with someone who does believe in magic (often spelled with a K in the pagan tradition) has made me wonder about a lot of things.

When I see her on a professional basis, there are always two decks of Tarot cards available – the traditional deck with the cups and swords and other symbols about which I know nothing and then another deck of the Druid Animal Oracle cards. For the longest time, I ignored those cards thinking they were just the tools of a palm reader, who could make up a good story. However, about a month ago, I started picking a card from each deck every time I visited. I still don’t get the cups and swords thing. But the animals have been uncannily correct in depicting exactly what is going on in my life. Here are my last two animals:

Bee -- Beach -- Community, Celebration, Organization

Ask the wild bee what the Druids knew:

Beach invites us to celebrate. You may have a special reason for celebration, or you may simply need to celebrate the wonder and mystery of being alive. You may like to enjoy a glass or two of mead, which--if it has been made in Scotland--will carry the scent of Heather, and will bring you closer to the spirit of the Highlands. In the Druid tradition there are occasions to celebrate every six weeks or so. As human beings we need to have time when we can come together to enjoy each other's company. The bee tells us that we can live together in harmony, however impossible this may sometimes seem. By being at one with the natural world, by paying homage to the sun, by centering our lives around Spirit or the Goddess, we can work together in community.

Goose -- Gèadh -- Vigilance, Parenthood, Productive Power

Swarms of bees, beetles, soft music of the world, a gentle humming; wild geese, barnacle geese, shortly before All Hallows, music of the dark torrent

Gèadh brings creative and productive power. It allows you to open to this power, secure in the knowledge that your relationship or family or working partnership will provide a stable environment to act as a crucible for your creativity. Raising children is one of the most joyful and worthwhile activities we can undertake, and the goose, with its strong attachment to its family, combined with its ability to fly extraordinarily high from one continent to another, shows us that it is possible to be both grounded and spiritual in our daily lives.

These two cards so completely describe my relationship to other family members and my efforts to reach out and embrace the greater community that I was simply bowled over when I drew them randomly from the deck of 33 cards. Maybe, just maybe, this magick is starting to make sense.

Then there’s this little issue of my blood, which has had a dramatic turnaround in just a week. Last week my blood test showed little progress toward the ultimate numbers that I needed for my medical treatment to move forward. During my last session, the practitioner concentrated on my blood and this week I’m a 30.

I can always fall back on probability and chance, but maybe, just maybe, I’m becoming a firm believer in magick! What an exciting and intriguing thought!

Monday, January 09, 2006

I'm a 30!

As my friend, doctor, and double bass duet partner Deborah opened the door today when I went over to play with her, she greeted me with “You’re a 30!” The significance of this will be entirely lost on you if you didn’t catch last week’s saga of the Russian doctor Yuri blankly watching me crumple into a sobbing wreck after he told me that my radiation treatment would have to be postponed because my thyroid hormone level was at 8.92 when it had to be at least 30. I can only equate my emotional state to that of the astronauts when a shuttle launch is scrapped and they are left sitting on the launchpad with no information about when it will be reinstated. Only in my case, a delay meant even greater time off Synthroid, the synthetic hormone that makes my body think it still has a thyroid. Last week I left the Nuclear Meds Department of WHC angry over lies and incompetence.

Today, however, things are turning around. Here’s what happened. At 8:30 I showed up at Deborah’s office for a blood test by the slickest lab tech in DC, a black guy named Sean. Just in and out in no time with no pain, no bruising. At around 10 AM each morning a courier picks up the little vials of blood and delivers them to a lab back at WHC. Deborah, who was returning from Florida today, sat in the airport in Tampa with its Wi-Fi connection and logged into her account with the lab to learn of the results around 12 noon. When she got home this afternoon, she called the Nuclear Meds guys, who were simply incredulous that she had results within hours of the test, and worked out a plan to get things back on track. She printed the “evidence” out for me and presented me with it as we sat down to play Handel, Bottesini, and Dittersdorf.

Neither of us had practiced much recently, both complaining that one part without the other is not nearly as interesting. But we made wonderful music anyway today. I know when to start now just by listening to her breathe and draw her bow back. Her bass was rich and full after getting a small crack in the shell mended. We observed the dynamics and distinguished the excited faster sections from the slow and luxurious largos.

I ate my unsalted peanut butter on whole wheat bread snack before heading off to yoga, where none other than Jamy showed up. What a nice surprise! My downward dogs and lunges were never so energetic, even with my totally out-of-whack thyroid hormone level. I can finally see the end of this ordeal and I can’t wait to get there.

In the spirit of Jamy’s posts, I am today grateful for Deborah – for her friendship and her skill and wisdom as a physician who definitely passed the course in bedside manner with flying colors!

Now I have to lobby to be declared “safe” to return to humanity by next Wednesday so as not to miss the next Blogger happy hour, where indeed I will have something to celebrate...

Surprisingly Fresh Food

When I first went on this weird diet several weeks ago, I just assumed that I wouldn’t be eating out for a while. The diet requires no dairy, no seafood, no soy, no iodized salt. It’s pretty hard to just walk into a restaurant and order off the menu.

But cooking for myself and turning down lunch and dinner invitations gets old, so I decided to experiment. I basically reeled off the requirements and asked the waiter to have the chef make something I could eat. Here are the results of 3 tries:

Café Belga: Salad topped with succulent roasted duck. Balsamic dressing.

Sonoma: Penne pasta with sundried tomato topping. Side salad.

Raaga: Spicy potatoes and spinach with fenugreek. Whole wheat tandoori bread. Mixed salad with lemon juice. (The most amazing revelation was that the white rice with the little peas in Indian restaurants tastes so good because it has half-and-half in it -- so no rice, thank you!)

I was pleasantly surprised at the willingness to customize. But what was an even greater surprise was the freshness of the food. It was always appropriately hot or cold, but just prepared – not sitting around half done waiting to be ordered. I suppose good chefs go to school to learn how to meet any and all challenges and this was just one more. In any event, their willingness to do so has made life just a little more normal as I count down the days to when these restrictions are lifted and I can eat anything I want to eat once again.

Someone asked me what my first request would be? Something with very good cheese perhaps. And maybe a latte with my scrumptious dessert. None too soon...

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Where Do You Score 39 Points for FUCK?

Let me set the stage for last night’s home entertainment: 2-1/2 serious Scrabble players and 2-1/2 people watching The Forty Year Old Virgin (the movie, that is) in the same family room.

Our friends Linda and Michael were over to watch the pathetic Redskins actually win the first playoff game. After being satiated with my homemade split pea soup, salad, baked apples, and a lot of wine, we opted to stay home, as opposed to trying to decide on a current movie in a real theater.

Making decisions about movies with them is always an ordeal because everyone has so many requirements and they consult multiple reviewing sources ahead of time. The 3 movies we currently had out from Netflix included: Cinderalla Man (rejected by Linda and me because it dealt with boxing), Sea Inside (rejected by Linda and me because it dealt with death), and The Forty Year Old Virgin (chosen by default since it was the only one left). At which point, Linda and I suggested that Scrabble be an optional choice. She is that type of Scrabble player who seldom goes through a game without using all 7 letters. You just assume that she is going to win from the outset. Her husband Michael, on the other hand, would not list spelling as one of his greatest strengths, despite the fact that he graduated from G’town Law and has a prestigious job in a local university. So the Scrabble players were Linda, Dan (still home from law school), and I, with Dan only putting half of his attention into the Scrabble game.

Five minutes into the movie, it was obvious to Linda and me that we had made the right choice. Dan, however, seemed totally absorbed by this inane story of some guy who at 40 decides that it is time to do it. How utterly absurd! – the theme and the enactment of it... As we struggled to make sense of our letters, the background noise seemed to be a sound loop of FUCK-BOOB-DICK- and other related 4-letter words. At one point, Linda said to Dan, “Just listen, you will have any number of ideas how to use those letters.”

I had unbelievable letters, drawing Z and X on the first turn. I most always had vowels and I got a lot of the high-score consonants. Linda had to turn her letters in at one point because she had so many of the same letter (I think it was E). The real competition was between Linda and me since Dan was far more interested in chortling with the boys over the virgin movie. I have lost many a Scrabble game at the very end, because my end-game SUCKS: I refuse to agonize over how to maximize points from the dregs of my letters and how to go out first. However, as luck would have it, I actually prevailed even though Linda went out first, winning handily by 7 points.

The virgin movie was still causing uproarious laughter in the background, but as Linda threatened to walk home, Michael said that even he had had enough. They left, I went to bed, and I woke up today to find out that the virgin had finally gotten what he wanted. A happy ending I guess...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Thoughts on Writing

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E. L. Doctorow.

Garrison Keillor talked about E. L. Doctorow on his birthday on January 6. He also related the following story:

Doctorow sat around for a year (after 1971) trying to come up with an idea for his next novel. He said, "I wrote endless pages that didn't take me anywhere. I got so desperate that I started to write about the wall that I face when I write. As it happened, that was the wall in my study in New Rochelle, N.Y. That house was built in 1906. So I started to think about the house and that street and what it must have looked like in 1906."

Not sure if he had a story or not, Doctorow began going through history books to learn about what was happening in New York in 1906. He went through books of photographs to see what the streets looked like and the clothes people wore. He purposely didn't try to look for any particular story but what emerged was his novel Ragtime (1975) which he later said was the easiest book he ever wrote.

Since hearing this, I have been looking at my own writing process, trying to figure out what distinguishes the days when I am posting on the hour (to borrow Velvet’s phrase) from the days when nothing seems interesting enough to write about. Just what makes the difference?

I think it has a lot to do with my state of engagement with my life – either happy or angry or frustrated. In any of those emotional states, I have so much material that I could always produce a story. It’s those times when I feel disconnected from my feelings, depressed, and just plain sleepy that I am devoid of words.

For example, that day several weeks ago when I made my first visit to the Nuclear Meds Dept of WHC resulted in pure depression. It was not until the next day when the story could be told. On the other hand, my live Blogger encounters result in a certain drunken euphoria that dismisses sleep and always spawns a story.

Just as Doctorow’s focus on his study wall resulted in his most famous novel, I find that it’s often not the great ideas, but rather just the simple observations that are of the greatest interest to those in the Blogosphere. I loved DC Cookie’s story about wearing around an “M” on her shirt the other day and finding that no one told her about it. For the most part, our Blogs are just about our lives, and we all share some common needs that are fertile ground for an infinite number of posts.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Annual Purge

This is the time every year when I start to notice all the SHIT that has piled up everywhere in my house over the last year. There are certain places where everyone throws things all year long. It’s only by the end of the year that I really notice and one of my typical New Year’s resolutions is to clean out those collective garbage dumps.

I went through a drawer in our kitchen and found calendars for the last 5 years and scads of expired coupons not worth the paper they are printed on. I saved the BB&B coupons because they never expire (even though they have an expiration date) and threw away all but the 2006 calendar. Those and the phone books that haven’t yet expired were all that was left. I felt mildly victorious at just having started this cleanup, so I quit for that day.

We were actually prompted into cleaning out the pantry earlier this year when the beetles forced the issue. There are some things that just can’t wait for the end of the year to arrive. But those bugs were a pain in the ass to get rid of.

There are places like the attic and the basement where people in my family think they can just leave things and no one will notice. The problem is that unless you move regularly (which we do not), those dropoffs tend to take up all the extra space. But then, who really cares what the attic and the basement look like?

Then there are file drawers. I really hate to go to file something and find that the files are so full that I just cannot possibly cram something else in. Whose job is this anyway – this job of winnowing files? No one obviously wants to claim it!

I can already sense that my interest in fulfilling this New Year’s resolution is slipping away and I am settling into 2006 with comfortable piles in lots of places. The management of STUFF was once an obsession of mine, but it has taken a backseat to other obsessions these days...

Who's Reading My Blog? (Reprise)

I asked this question a couple of months ago, when I was thoroughly convinced that I had only two readers who seldom left comments. Then I went to the Blogger meetup at EyeBar and met some of the people writing on DCBlogs. In a conversation with AUA, I learned about SiteMeter, a way of knowing more about who is reading, filing that one away for future reference. But most importantly, I added links to my Blog, making it so much more than a diary. I started leaving comments here and there and started getting a few comments on my posts. I was featured in DCBlogs and before I knew it, Blogging was becoming a daily way of life. I still wrote every day (more of less), but reading was taking on a whole new importance. At this point, I had evidence that I had more than two readers. I remember when Reya pointed out that I was actually on Prod&Ponder’s link list and my ego soared 100%. But I still just assumed that those people reading were the ones who now occasionally left comments.

At a recent dinner I attended with some really savvy seasoned Blogger women, I learned about StatCounter and still other ways to learn more about your audience. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued, so yesterday I installed StatCounter and a whole new world of information opened up.

I quickly realized that there is far more traffic than I would have ever thought possible. Many of those people arrive and leave as quickly as they can exit, but some stick around for a while. Some come through Google. Others come through "power" Blogs like Velvet-in-Dupont or Grateful-Dating that recently cited my Blog because of our dinner. Some seem to be regular readers. The most interesting thing is how many of them are outside the DC area. WOW! My brain which naturally likes statistics and analysis is simply exploding with information.

But more than that, I realize that my interest in Blogging is now three-fold:

– I still love to write, sitting down preferably in the morning to quickly pour out whatever has been ruminating in my head for the last 24 hours.
– I look forward to reading a few favorites on a daily basis and a growing list of others from time to time, occasionally chancing on a prize that I just must add to my link list.
– I am fascinated by studying all of the data that StatCounter now provides me about who comes: when, from where, for how long?

The challenge is in keeping these three activities in balance and allowing me to still carry on the other aspects of my life without being totally absorbed by this. That’s my New Year’s resolution. Blogging is definitely the best thing that has happened to me in a very long time. I just have to make it a sometime pastime and make sure it doesn’t continue to deprive me of sleep and the ability to do the other things that earn me a living and keep me sane!

The good news is that now I have a much better idea of who is reading my Blog and I am both surprised and delighted!