Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Send in the Clowns

If you’re tired of reading my rants about work, then skip this one, because it is the same old thing. I just have to include the latest episode because it makes the EXIT sign flash in red neon for me.

Last night I found the following e-mail message from one of the b___s to my boss and a few others, including me:

"After reviewing the list that DK sent out and looking over my notes from our meeting last week, I have a proposal for your consideration. I am concerned that we are not clearly identifying the key things that need to be demonstrated. I also do not think that we have the best background to decide what level of testing is truly needed to make the decision that we are ready for production. BP has done this several times already for other clients - he is in a much better position to advise us on the amount of testing and the specific things that MUST be done. I think we need to give strong consideration to his opinions.

I also think that it would be very useful to get an independent eye to advise on the design, prioritization, and implementation of these tests. To that end, I suggest DD. He is an acknowledged expert on systems design, development, and testing. He also knows the {survey name}. He works well with {our division name} staff and {b____ #1 division name} staff. I propose that we ask him to serve in a leadership role to define the key measures and to work with us to be sure that we are doing this correctly. We could ask him to chair a series of meetings to help us get through this critical stage.

Your thoughts?"

Basically she is saying that I no longer know how to do my job. And she is proposing that a family of semi-related individuals take over my responsibility.

The proper response from my boss would have been, "Thanks for your concern and your suggestion. However, I am confident that my staff have the expertise and experience necessary to make this judgment." Instead, she said, "This makes a lot of sense to me if DD is available and willing. What do the rest of you think?"

I didn’t even dignify this with a reply to the group, but instead I sent my reply just to her:

"I see this as one more slap at my attempt to do my job. No one has ever before questioned my ability to decide when something was ready for production. But I am happy to defer to BP or DD on this if others want to trust their judgment. I would ask if things go wrong, are they going to be around to fix them? We are ready on our end whenever someone says GO. I'm very tired of disagreeing with all these people, although I was not aware of a current disagreement with BP or { production division } on this."

Send in the clowns...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where Things Stand

Just catching you up on a few loose ends: My plea for mediation was for naught, but I am in the process of getting scheduled on the big boss's calendar.
If you recall, a couple of weeks ago at the suggestion of my friend Bill, who is a genius when it comes to personnel issues, I applied for mediation to deal with my #1 problem-maker. I learned up front the this would happen only if she agreed to it. With very little hope, I went ahead and waited and waited and waited. The "dispute resolution" person (Ms. DR) called me today to explain that this other woman had said it wouldn't be necessary because she wouldn't be around much longer. I take that with a grain of salt, because even though she is a few years older than I am, she has been threatening retirement for years but doesn't seem to be motivated to leave. Ms. DR suggested that my boss could sit down with the two of us. My boss had already extricated herself from the situation, preferring not to rock the boat since it involved another division. Ms. DR then suggested the other woman's boss, and I said I had lost my steam to pursue this further.
This morning I found the following response to my request for a meeting from the big boss:
I will have my secretary set something up for the 3 of us to talk.
The third person is of course my boss. As busy as the big boss is, this is about all I could expect, actually a very positive note. I can't wait to have my day in court, which still may turn into an exit interview, depending on how it goes.
Thank you to all of you who gave me such encouraging words about "my great attitude." I must confess that since yesterday, since my inception of the big blowout happy hour, I have been going around the table in every meeting mentally deciding whether or not to invite each person. There are some definite NOs and a lot of MAYBEs. But there are also a lot of YESes. I just love putting the bitches and sons-of-bitches on the NO list, even though they will probably never know they weren't included.
WIN-WINNING still leaves some wiggle room for lashing out. I don't think I would be human if I didn't have those feelings of anger and disgust about the few people who are real jerks.

Monday, February 26, 2007


In a win-win situation, you can’t lose – right? Ironically as of today, that’s where I find myself at work. Nothing has really changed yet, but in a sense everything has changed.

I fired off my e-mail to the big boss today, copying my boss on the message. I have yet to get an acknowledgment.

BUT in the meantime I have suddenly realized that no matter what happens, I WIN. If they decide to take me seriously and reverse a couple of key decisions and start listening to me in general, I will perhaps stay a while longer, but not a long while. If they don’t, I can start planning the greatest happy hour ever and set a date for freedom.

Interestingly enough, my boss didn’t mention this at all in our weekly one-on-one meeting today. She was more interested than usual in what I was working on and the status of everything. In a meeting she and I attended at 12 noon (believe it or not), she actually asked my opinion in front of the group of big-wigs.

One of the first things I did this morning was to sit down with 2 colleagues who as of a month ago were firmly in my court and who failed to back me up last week to find out what had happened. The bottom line was they had decided to back the boss instead of the right thing to do. They will not be coming to the happy hour.

I went through the rest of the day feeling like a cloud had been lifted and with it the weight of the world. I think WIN-WIN has such a nice ring to it, don’t you?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mixed Feelings about Moving On

I always thought that when I retired, I would go out in a blaze of glory amid profuse thanks from everyone around me. It looks like that just might not be the case. My escalating “job wars” are pointing me to the door with a handful of people probably ready to say “Good riddance.”

Before I slink away with my tail between my legs, I decided to make one last effort to have a reasonable logical discussion with someone in authority – my boss’s boss. It strikes me that this rather like appealing to your grandmother when your parents disagree with you. I actually advised my boss that I was going to do this, so she would at least know that I was going around her.

This whole weekend I have been drafting a mental e-mail message to the big boss. This seems to happen when I lie down to go to sleep or when I wake up in the middle of the night. Here’s the gist of it:

“I am seriously considering retiring because several important processing decisions which go against my better judgment have been made. They affect efficiency, cost, time, and perhaps even data quality.

I have devoted the last 13 years of my working life to assuring the excellence of the (survey name) processing system. I can't bear to see that excellence threatened. Furthermore I can't bear to feel unhappy and frustrated in my job.

I would like a chance to discuss this with you, with or without (my boss) present. Please let me know your availability.”

(Interestingly enough, there is at least one data user who reads this Blog and can attest to the high quality of the data I produce. She has been most supportive of my efforts to do things correctly.)

Somehow just writing this down made me feel better. I wonder if the big boss will make time for me in her busy schedule. I wonder how she will react. She comes from the same background that I do. In fact my husband hired her straight out of college a long time ago. So she is just a few years younger than I am. She is smart and well-respected within the agency and within the Federal government.

After chewing on this for a while, then I go on to thinking about just how I plan to leave, to say goodbye to a place I’ve called “work” for the past 35 years.

I used to think I would retire in the summer. If that were the case, I had envisioned a huge pot-luck outdoor picnic with everyone’s favorite recipe and Frisbees flying. I just wanted a chance to informally talk to people and reminisce.

But with this latest round of arguments, I want to closely control who comes to any function and I probably don’t want a group of more than 10 people at a time. So I’m thinking a series of brown-bag lunches – invitation only. There are certain people that will never be invited to one of these affairs, probably by their choice and definitely by mine.

Despite the fact that I may not leave among a sea of hugs, I am getting excited when I think this may actually happen. Sometimes we need a swift kick in the ass to set out heads and feet in motion. I think I’m finally movin’ on!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Same Difference

I was somewhat excited about responding to the meme posed by David this week because he was the originator. It was not just something handed down like some random chain letter. His 60th birthday prompted him to think about ways he has changed over the last half of his life and ways he is just the same. So here goes my version of this story.


– I still have the same fears of deep water and going downhill fast.
– I still have bad skin that disagrees with the sun and a gait that is characteristically abnormal.
– I’m still ferociously determined when I think I am right. I will go to great lengths to defend something I think is important or to make something happen.
– I still have a thing for remembering numbers – like telephone numbers – and doing math in my head instead of using a calculator.
– I’m still a technophobe despite the fact that I make my living working with computers. I just have no interest in the constantly enlarging set of hi tech – cell phone, iPOD, HD TV. I’m sure if I wanted to I could make these things useful parts of my life, but the urge simply isn’t there and probably won’t ever be.


– Perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that I am no longer a token Jew, but rather I have embraced with love my adopted religion. It is an integral part of my life, much more important to me than my birth religion ever was.
– I have learned the importance of touch, something that was largely absent in my upbringing, but which is so important to my well-being. I have learned the importance of a heartfelt hug.
– Although I still prefer classical music, I have started listening to and thinking about the words of songs. The words provide another dimension to the music.
– I WRITE every day. For so many years I thought about things, but I didn’t write down my feelings or reactions to life. This Blog has revolutionized my life.
– Following in my mother’s footsteps, I have gradually let go of the insistence that the kitchen be spotless when I go to bed and that my closets and drawers be straight enough for an open house. I have come to realize that in the end no one is ever really judged by whether her refrigerator is clean. In the final analysis, it just doesn’t matter.

I think that’s enough. So, my faithful editor and meme originator, what did I leave out?

Friday, February 23, 2007

And the Crack Widens

There are defining moments in life which clearly distinguish those with balls from those without. Yesterday people's reactions to the announcement that we had to abandon our cars in the sagging broken garage was just such a moment.

The announcement came at 4:00 just as everyone was thinking about going home. The dutiful group immediately started looking for alternative ways to get home without even questioning how ridiculous it was.

When my boss asked me how I was planning to get home and I responded that I was going to drive my car out and would dare them to shoot me if I did, she looked at me aghast as if to say, "How could you possibly question authority?"

I loved the comment from Ulysses yesterday to the effect that we have more to fear from the government itself than from terrorists these days. Now there's food for thought.

I decided to sit tight for another hour and make my move at 5:00. Just as I was preparing to lave, an announcement came on freeing those of us parked in the basement or ground floor of the garage. We were told to leave through the other (South) garage.

Here's the real joke: When I went downstairs to leave, the guard casually asked me where I was parked. As long as I SAID basement or ground floor, I was free. There was not a single guard or police presence in the garage. I could have driven out of there from any level and used any exit I chose. Which is exactly what I did.

The bottom line yesterday was that many people went home without their cars. Many of them do not live anywhere near public transportation. There was no announcement about reimbursement for travel to and from work or that they were even required to come to work. They were told this morning that sometime today they would be able to remove their cars.

Balls be damned, we have a real problem here that goes way beyond our cars. That picture on top of this post is THE REAL THING. Today when I arrived at work, both the North and the South garages were closed. We were allowed to walk through the North garage to get to our building. As we did, we saw a bunch of blue supports that had been installed floor to ceiling in part of the garage.

The scariest thing I learned today was that this crack was first reported 10 days ago. I guess we're just lucky the garage didn't collapse in those 10 days. But what actually caused the CYA panic that finally ensued yesterday?

I'm curious to see how the agency deals with this dilemma. Will they have to tear down the garage and start over? Will they continue to find cracks in the two garages and the two associated buildings? Will this in any way be resolved before I retire?

A comical thought: Maybe they need to reconsider the idea of demolishing our previous 50-year-old buildings. Despite the fact that the water wasn't fit to drink, the plumbing was unreliable, and the there was asbestos above the lowered ceilings, the roof was never in danger of falling in...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And the Walls Come a-Tumbling Down

Since mid-morning we have gotten increasingly serious messages concerning the safety of the garage connected to our new building. Although there was never a statement of the problem, the messages progressed from:

– Move your car if it's on the 5th (top) floor of the garage to
– Move your car if it's on the 3rd floor or higher to
– No one can drive into or out of the garage to
– No one can walk through the garage to
– The PG Fire Department and the press are now on the scene.

Well, the cat's out of the bag, but what sort of cat is it? There was still no mention of the nature of the problem.

As I ventured out of my office to go to the Health Unit for an allergy shot, I asked a stranger on the elevator who said, "They found a crack in the concrete support for the 4th floor of the garage."

Oh. So now I know.

What will this mean for me? I now have to park outside half a mile from my building? I need to constantly worry that the entire garage structure might collapse? The garage might collapse while I am in my office, thereby demolishing my 1991 Honda and the US Government will buy me a new car? Highly unlikely.

Oh, and yeah, the same company built the 8-story office building in which I work. Wonder if it has any cracks...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A List for What?

My husband is a list-maker and a note-taker extraordinaire. When he goes out of town, he has a complete packing list which he updates for the particular trip. When he goes to a lecture of any sort, he carries a notebook and makes readable, useful notes.

So it was no surprise to find a list on the kitchen counter when I came downstairs this morning. But...

Pom juice, dark choc, almonds, wine
Fish Tuna Salmon
Tai chi

My guess was that he saw a program on TV last night that focused on “the fountain of youth”, a subject important to him as he celebrates his 60th birthday tomorrow.

He looks a lot younger than 60. No paunch. Not a single gray hair (and no Grecian Formula).

What’s interesting about the list is that it includes DAIRY, which he resolutely avoids because of lactose intolerance. And TAI CHI? He’s tried a lot of exercise, but not this one.

I can’t wait to find out the origin of the list and, more importantly, whether he plans any life changes as a result of this. (It didn’t say SEX with whom...) I guess we all are a bit of a Ponce de Leon at heart.

P.S. I wrote this earlier in the day and just came home to the following conversation:

D: Do you know where this HEALTH magazine came from?
B: Yeah, it’s a free subscription from our friend Ellen.
D: There’s a good article on aging in this issue.

Mystery solved. Now I want to read the article.

Go wish him a happy birthday!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Thar She Blows

I'm thinking of buying stock in Kimberly Clark. I have used an unbelievable number of Kleenexes in the past 2 days. I wonder if you can get dehydrated from blowing your nose? I wonder if there is really a point beyond which there is nothing left to blow? As I sit here eating a big bowl of chicken soup, I'm getting impatient for its curative powers to exert themselves. Instead I just sneeze and blow yet another time...

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Rule of Three

Three is a number that just seems to permeate life. There was the story of the three bears. And then the three little pigs. Three strikes in baseball is the kiss of death. My father even had the rule of three: if someone offers to pay for something, decline 3 times and then gladly accept.

My current three experience is the onslaught of that cold I wrote about 10 days ago. I sensed two definite battles that I successfully won with my arsenal of Airborne. But I’m afraid to say battle number 3 is not going in my favor.

Here I sit on my last holiday until Memorial Day sniffling and sneezing. I didn’t feel like doing Quentin’s exercises this morning. I cancelled my “play date” with Deborah. I am bagging yoga. I have to be really sick to change my life this radically.

My husband, the Airborne evangelist, is urging me to continue to make myself a fizzy cocktail every few hours today with the thought that it might lessen the symptoms, lessen the duration of this garden-variety cold.

When I do get a cold, I always wonder where I picked it up. Is this the same germ I contracted 10 days ago as I sat next to the sniffling sneezer in the choir? Or was it the fact that at the Chinese restaurant last night I sat next to a door that kept bringing in cold air. Deborah says no to the latter. Just what is the gestation of a cold?

The good news is my wonderful husband is going to make a batch of Jewish penicillin for me later. His chicken soup is not terribly conventional. He puts things like broccoli and sweet potatoes in it. But there’s something about that soothing warm dill-flavored broth that works wonders on a cold.

My allegiance is going back to chicken soup! So much for Airborne.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Joyful Cooking

For me the joy of cooking does not come from the book so named, but rather from making up a new recipe. Yesterday after such a stressful week, that seemed just the sort of therapy I needed.

The way I go about this is by starting with a set of ingredients I like and adding others that would seem to go well. So yesterday's dish was to center on a piece of beef tenderloin. That meant a trip to Costco since they have the best beef at prices about half of what I would pay at Whole Foods. As much as I hate the crowds and the lines and the no frills at Costco, I went and I shopped. Of course there was then another stop at Whole Foods to get the organic shitake mushrooms and a few other ingredients.

Here's the beef stir-fry that resulted. Bear in mind this is for 2 people who don't eat a lot.

Olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1" of ginger root, minced
6 small (2") peppers (red, yellow, orange) cut into rings
1/2 cup of chopped broccoli (uncooked)
1/3 pound of shitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 large piece of beef tenderloin (a 2" fillet) cut into bite-size pieces
4 small hydroponic tomatoes quartered
1 teaspoon concentrated tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
½ cup rich beef broth
Basil leaves
Red pepper flakes
Penne pasta

-- Put the salted water on to boil for the pasta while you chop everything else.
-- Sprinkle the beef with flour and set aside.
-- As you start to cook the stir-fry, put the pasta in to boil for 11 minutes.
-- Saute the shallots, garlic, ginger, peppers, and broccoli in a 10-inch skillet in a small amount of olive oil.
-- Push the sauteed vegetables to the outside of the pan, add a small amount of olive oil, and saute the mushrooms in the center of the pan.
-- Push the mushrooms to the outside of the pan, add a small amount of olive oil, and saute the beef.
-- While the beef is still red, deglaze the pan with the red wine.
-- Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, and the beef broth.
-- When it looks ready, add the basil, salt, and red pepper. The sauce should be slightly thickened.
-- Serve the stir-fry over the drained pasta.

The above quantities are only guesses. Just use your own judgment!

Serve with a glass of really good red wine on a candle-lit table. A nice fruit salad for dessert is all you need for a yummy meal.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

An Obit of Note

In addition to some new home exercises, I carried away from PT on Friday a copy of an obit from The Economist for Momofuku Ando. For some reason, Quentin had thought I might find this interesting, or maybe interesting enough to distract me from that slippery slope I seemed to be sliding down on Thursday when I was questioning my sanity.

Now tell me, honestly, have you ever heard of this guy who died? No, I thought not. But I’ll bet you’ve eaten a shitload of Nissin Ramen over your lifetime. Momo (as I will respectfully call him for short) invented instant noodles in 1957!

Momo’s is really a Horatio T. Alger story set in Japan. Prior to 1957, his life had been a bit of a mess. He had failed at selling any number of things including dress fabrics, engine parts, pre-fab houses, magic-lantern projectors, and socks. He had tried to launch a scholarship scheme for poor students that landed him in jail for tax evasion.

However, on a cold night as he was walking home from work he noticed crowds of people waiting patiently for noodles to be cooked. Why not make it easier? And why not do it himself? thought Momo.

It took him a full year of experimenting in his back shed as he tried to discover the best way to bring noodles back to life. He finally discovered the secret from his wife as she cooked vegetable tempura: flash-fry the cooked noodles in palm oil, making them "magic".

In 1958 his instant noodles went on the market, where they were laughed at by the fresh noodle makers in Japan. By the end of the year, he was laughing at them as he carried his money to the bank after selling 13 million packages of ramen.

The Japanese voted instant ramen their most important 20th century invention. Today the company is a $3 billion global enterprise.

Momo’s homespun philosophy was the underpinning of his venture:

Peace will come when people have food.
Eating wisely will enhance beauty and health.
The creation of food will serve society.

Momo practiced what he preached, eating at least one package of ramen daily until he died at a ripe old age of 96. The next time you dip into a cup of ramen, remember its humble beginnings and give thanks to Momo for his contribution to feeding the world.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The End of the Dream Team

My Dream Team was a short-lived idea that represented my idealism in a world that isn’t quite ready for this approach to health care. Today the Dream Team became just that as it officially disbanded.

Last fall I came up with this idea of throwing all sorts of therapeutic intervention at my life-long problem with walking. After Dr. Spiegel diagnosed the cause as a mild case of CP in utero, I determined to put together an army of the best people I knew to deal with it. That’s just the way I am, making plans and hoping for the best.

At that time I had several people quite important to me as teachers or therapists, including a physiatrist, a yoga teacher, a massage therapist, a pilates teacher, and a physical therapist. I arranged a group meeting so they could better understand what they were dealing with and so they could begin to exchange information that might affect the outcome of their and my efforts. A couple of people went to a great deal of effort to arrange busy schedules to attend this meeting. My only enticement was homemade chocolate chip cookies and an offer to pay their standard hourly fee, which most of them declined.

It was a meeting I will never forget. Dr. Spiegel laid out his conclusions about the source of my problem. The good news was that it would probably not get much worse since it had been with me my entire life. The bad news was there might not be a whole lot of improvement, no matter what anyone did. Dr. Spiegel also conjectured that the best therapy might come from experiencing 2 sources back to back, such as PT followed by pilates or massage followed by yoga. I realized just how much all of these people knew and how very different their perspectives were. I came away on cloud 9, having been both the laboratory rat and the subject of their discussion that lasted at least an hour.

My PT guy and my pilates teacher were the only ones who consistently worked with this concept. The yoga and massage parts never really got off the ground. The physiatrist tried several rounds of scalp acupuncture, but it was unclear that this had a direct benefit on my walking problem. He admitted that I would have to come multiple times a week, and that was just not feasible.

Today was my last PT session, not because I wasn’t progressing, but rather because my insurance company pulled the plug. I have a home program of exercises, but that’s not the same as having someone else help you stretch seriously. Quentin and I both lamented that the insurance people would rather pay for the result of a fall that work on strengthening to prevent it. What a sad comment on the state of healthcare in this country.

I will continue to see my pilates teacher once a week, which is probably not enough to make a serious difference. I will continue to exercise on my own, concentrating on the pilates and PT home program.

Now that I have abandoned my grandiose ideas, my goal is simply to maintain the movement, balance, and flexibility I currently have and not to fall down if I can possibly avoid it. Strengthening will definitely help. I have this feeling that if I ever quit and returned to my vegetative state of a couple of years ago, I would not only become fat, but I would become really decrepit and probably a lot crankier too. So I will head to the basement every morning, turn on the new CD my husband made for me, and work out the kinks.

I love the idea of collaborative health care, but maybe it’s an idea before its time. Some day...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Brink of Insanity

I find myself wondering what it’s like to go insane. Do you know what’s happening or are you just oblivious? I have become so crazed by this situation at work that I don’t think I’m even behaving rationally.

I have put in way more hours today that I will ever be paid for. But the sad truth is this afternoon after yet another meeting where my nemesis talked for 57 of the 60 minutes, leaving me a scant 3 minutes for the final word, and everyone just nodded their heads in agreement, I finally realized how very hopeless this situation is. I’m sitting here with a pounding headache trying to figure out why in the world I have let this thing take control of me.

This is supposed to be the time of winding down, turning over to others, just gliding right on out the door. Instead I’m working my ass off and getting virtually no credit for anything I do. Instead I’m branded as a troublemaker, one who can’t be trusted to stay calm, cool, and collected.

Maybe this is just the result of caffeine deprivation and a very frustrating day. Maybe after I see Quentin in the AM and then go for my 3-monthly melanoma scan, I will have renewed faith in life, telling myself how great it is to graduate from PT and not be dying of melanoma. Now there’s something to be happy about. Yes?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Leave the Toilet Seat Down

My most lasting memory of my first Hebrew class 25 years ago with Rabbi Amy Perlin had nothing to do with Hebrew, but rather reflected a story about her family, in which all children were daughters. The cardinal rule in their family was “leave the seat down”. I had never much thought about it, but this seemed like a courteous policy in any household where there were females of any age.

Twenty-five years later I find myself thinking about Amy Perlin every time I stumble into the bathroom in the middle of the night and occasionally find the seat up. There have been times when I was half asleep and was jarred into full alert by contact with the cold rim of the toilet bowl.

I must say that my husband is pretty good at this in general, especially upstairs. But did I teach my son this rule? I’m not sure if we ever talked about it.

The other reason to not only put the seat down, but to also close the toilet lid, is that the dogs have been known to take a drink from the open toilet. GROSS you say, but they obviously don’t care.

In deference to dogs and girls, if you are of the seat-lifting stand-up persuasion, please think of us the next time you flush. It really isn’t hard to put the seat down.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The 3-letter Word That Strikes Fear in My Heart

A wave of fear passed through me as I heard the weather reporter say we might get up to ½" of ice tonight. The thought of icy sidewalks and icy roads makes me want to stay inside until it all melts.

It later occurred to me that the word ICE carries with it such a mix of emotional reactions. On the positive side, there’s the clink of ice cubes in a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. There’s the congenial skaters on a public rink who periodically warm up with hot chocolate only to go back for more twirls and jumps and even good natured spills. There’s the ice under the hockey players that every now and then gets cleaned up with a Zamboni (don’t you love that word?) There are even icicles that hang from the roofline and kindly remind us that it is still winter.

But on the flip side, there is the treachery of just a thin sheet of ice – especially the kind that you don’t see until you are upon it. Walking on an icy sidewalk with nothing (or no one) to hold onto can land you on your ass in no time flat. Driving on an icy road can result in even greater disaster to you and your car and to others. That feeling of spinning out of control gives me a sick feeling in my stomach. If you want to know my real worst icy nightmare though, it’s falling through a hole in thin ice. Now that one is absolutely more than I can fathom (literally).

So I am on the horns of an icy dilemma. I have a ticket to meet Deborah and her husband to see the movie of “I Puritani” recently filmed at the Met tonight in Ballston, just as the ½" of ice is about to commence. Should I gladly relinquish my $18 ticket in the interest of safety? Should I drive and hope the weather person was wrong? Should I convince my husband to take me to Ballston and then take a taxi home? You who know me know I will probably figure out a way to go. Foolish? Yeah, probably. But how many times do you get this opportunity?

The bottom line is that while some ice is nice, this ice really sucks! Does that sound like gratitude for a 2:00 dismissal from work due to impending ice?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Newly Converted

Count me as one of the converted. I've seen the light. Airborne is my constant companion these days when there's even a hint of a cold coming on.
For years I have poo-pooed this over-the-counter prophylactic and remedy for the common cold. My husband has been preaching Airborne for years as I just sniffled and asked for cough drops and another box of Kleenex.
Saturday at Temple Micah, the person sitting next to me in the choir admittedly had a doosy of a fresh new cold. She was sneezing and blowing and singing right next to me for 3 hours. There's only so much breath-holding and hand-washing you can do in a situation like this. I was pretty sure I was doomed.
Sure enough by 3 AM on Sunday morning, I woke up achy and with a sore throat. I determined that this was indeed a true test for Airborne. For me the sore throat is the trademark of a cold. Jake gave me one of those "What-the-F___-are-you-getting-up-for-this-is-the-middle-of-the-night?" looks as I dragged myself out of bed and trudged downstairs to make an Airborne cocktail.
I much prefer the Pink Grapefruit flavor over Lemon Lime. They are both rather gross and leave a telltale residue on the glass. But early Sunday morning I decided that I really didn't mind the flavor if the Pink Grapefruit fizz worked.
I got out of bed several hours later, still feeling lethargic, but miraculously the sort throat was gone. I had another round of Airborne with breakfast.
By the time I finished playing music with Deborah around 12 noon, all symptoms were gone and I had renewed energy.
I asked her professional opinion of Airborne and received a polite, "It can't hurt you." But clearly she doesn't believe for a minute that this stuff works.
I now have a supply at work and at home and I will not hesitate to break it out if the occasion arises. I have seen the light and been saved from the common cold. Halleluya!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rants on Public Restrooms

For the life of me, I cannot figure out what takes many people so long in public restrooms. On Friday I nervously watched the doors of the men’s room and the ladies’ room at Whole Foods as I stood there crossing and uncrossing my legs. I was happy to take the first one open.

I have always been somewhat curious and fascinated by public bathrooms. Growing up in the South, I often found myself at the back of the Sears & Roebuck, back by the catalog department, in search of a bathroom. I would read the signs – MEN, WOMEN, COLORED – and ask my mother why there were three choices. I always wanted to try the COLORED to see if it was any different from the one I normally used.

Then there were the restrooms associated with the public library. Aside from the gross smell, they seemed like just another set of toilets to me. But my mother was always warning me NOT to sit on the seat for fear of contracting some unmentionable disease. Instead she would put layers and layers of toilet paper on the seat as I squirmed with a need to pee. Later in my life, I wondered how many cases of gonorrhea had ever been documented as coming from toilet seats.

As I get older my ability to “hold it” after I feel the urge to pee has decreased. So I find the lines for public toilets to be annoying. The women’s line is always far worse than the men’s so I am certainly not above using the men’s room. As long as it has a toilet, it works for me.

Airline toilets are perhaps the worst. I am always dismayed to see someone in front of me carrying a toiletry case in hand. I find myself placing bets about which door will open first and inevitably losing.

But back to my initial question – what is it that takes some people so long? Is there some elaborate process of preparing to pee and then washing up afterwards? Or is it the need to touch up their makeup? Or is it the perverse idea of making me wiggle outside the door?

I have occasionally knocked on the door in desperation to make sure the person inside knew I was still waiting. I’m not so obnoxious in most lines, but the need to pee sometimes brings out the worst in me.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Disdain for Sleeping Alone

I just couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping alone in my husband’s absence. So I hooked up with a guy I’ve known for about 8 years. He’s blond and a little overweight, but very affectionate. He keeps losing his hair, but he still seems to have plenty left. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking. It seemed all he was interested in doing was licking my face, my ears with his long tongue. How totally sexy! He stayed all night, snuggling close to keep me warm.

Before you are convinced that I am having some sordid affair in my husband’s absence, I must confess that this stand-in sleeping companion was none other than Jake, my big yellow dog. He rarely gets beyond the gate that separates the kitchen from the rest of the house. His ears immediately perked up when I said, “Would you like to sleep upstairs tonight and keep me company?”

He was on his best behavior, not even raiding the trash cans, in exchange for his freedom to go upstairs. He wiggled around for about 5 minutes and then settled in for the night, never once even jumping off the bed. He did think it was time to get up when I got up for my nightly trip to the bathroom around 3 AM, but then he quieted down when I came back to bed.

I slept on my husband’s side of the bed and made it clear to Jake that he was to stay on my side since my husband will have a fit if there are dog hairs on his part of the bed. That was fine with Jake.

The one big difference between my husband and Jake was when the alarm went off this morning, Jake was up and read to go. My husband has a rather hard time dragging himself out of bed in the morning.

Jake has always had a mind of his own and a penchant for being able to escape from any situation. I imagine he will seem like an angel in comparison to Marley, the dog in the book I’m about to read.

So my dilemma of sleeping alone has been solved. It’s not quite like having a husband, but it’s certainly better than being the only body in a king size bed!

I think you can actually see Jake's long tongue out over his nose in this picture. Isn't he a cutie?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Home Alone

I am faced with the rather unusual situation of being home alone this weekend. That prospect always scares me just a little.

When my children were young, there were times when I would have paid dearly for a weekend in my house without anyone else at home. There were a few times when a single room with 4 white walls would have been a delightful escape from the realities of life. But my children are grown and the stability of my current life seldom makes me want solitude.

The irony is my busy schedule and the fact that my husband's sleep schedule is so radically different from mine result in many weeks when during the week days we probably don't spend more than a couple of hours in each other's presence. But there are so many signs that he's there. The trash gets taken out. The dogs get fed and let out. The newspaper and mail are brought in each day. Some sort of dinner is usually available. I never go to bed without a big juicy kiss. And a warm body shares my bed for at least 4 hours that I am in it every night.

So I am wondering how I will use all this open time this weekend? Services at TM tomorrow and lunch after with a friend, playing music with Deborah on Sunday morning – those are the only things on my agenda. So will I tackle another housecleaning project (hopefully not resulting in the disaster of the last one)? Or will I practice the piano? Or will I curl up with a good book? Or will I rent a movie? (...probably not since I have yet to be curious about how to run the DVD machine.)

I must now think about things like getting home sometime during the day on Monday before yoga to let the dogs out to pee.

For more reasons than help with the dogs, I will welcome my husband home on Tuesday. I just hope his visit to see his ailing mother in Detroit is a positive experience.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sitting Mindfully

"My name is Barbara and I've been pissed at someone at work for some time now. I hope I can just forget about this as I concentrate on my breath for the next hour." Sound like some weird spin-off of an AA meeting? That was my check-in at meditation last night.

On Monday as I sat in a teleconferenced meeting with around 30 people, I actually asked this woman to quit rolling her eyes every time I opened my mouth to speak. The people in Indiana who were participating in the meeting wanted to know what sort of fight they should be gearing up for! We seem to have become no better than the siblings who sit in the back of the van and bicker.

This person refuses to return my phone calls, doesn't answer my e-mail messages, and yesterday chose to boycott a meeting called by my boss in which I was participating. Part of the meeting was devoted to discussing the deplorable lack of communication. Everyone around the table admitted to having been the target of her abuse, but it seems no one in authority has ever advised her that it is OK to disagree with other persons, but not acceptable to professionally disrespect them. I suggested that we get a mediator involved to try to resolve this issue for once and for all, or at least to make it a little more palatable.

So that was the baggage I brought to meditation. I was the "anchor" last night, meaning that I sounded the bell that opened and ended our silent sit, and I read the short piece entitled "Posture" from Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Little did I know how perfect the message would be for me. Among other things he says,

Mindful sitting meditation is not an attempt to escape from problems or difficulties in some cut-off "meditative" state of absorption or denial. On the contrary, it is a willingness to go nose to nose with pain, confusion, and loss, if that is what is dominating the present moment, and to stay with the observing over a sustained period of time, beyond thinking. You seek understanding simply through bearing the situation in mind, along with your breath, as you maintain the sitting posture.

It would definitely have benefitted me more to receive this advice prior to my sit last night. But, I have this funny feeling that I may bring the same problem to next week's sit. It just doesn't show any signs of improving.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

More than a Puck and a Stick

I am just as uninterested in sports as Reya is. However, when the invitation to go to a hockey game with some other Bloggers came up, I jumped at the chance. I must confess I hadn't been to a hockey game in over 30 years and could just barely tell you who the local hockey team was. And that was probably only because Quentin's PT practice works on injured CAPS.

I managed to get through my earlier obligation and arrive with my husband by the start of the second period. The only face I recognized was Velvet's as we stood in line to buy the requisite 16-oz cup of beer. She introduced me to her friend FreckledK.

Then we climbed to the next to the highest row of seats in the MCI Center to watch the game. I expected to need binoculars, but it really wasn't that bad. I wouldn't have known one player from the other even if I could read their names. The colors of their uniforms were easily recognizable and my husband quietly told me to cheer for the ones in black.

As we watched the puck fly around the rink and very rarely go into the net to score a goal, I was much more interested in learning more about the other people sitting in row P with me. I could only wave to Velvet on the other end. But in between us were a wonderful burly black guy who works at the VA, having chosen public service over a career with an oil company; EJ, who is the same age as my son and who came across as incredibly mature for her young age; BettyJoan, who shares a history of bad skin with me and who is currently preparing for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer; and some others who were friends or coworkers of the above.

I had my eye on the game, usually cheering for whoever possessed the puck. When the electronic sign told me to cheer, I did. When it said LOUDER, I did just that. The people running these games don't give us spectators credit for being able to think! I did notice the players seemed not as violent as they had been at the last game I attended. There was no blood, no medical emergencies.

It was a rather low-scoring game, with the CAPS and BRUINS tied at 2-2 at the end of the third period. So there was a shootout and the Bruins were ultimately victorious. Oh well...

Then we all went home. My good parking karma had secured a space in the adjacent block, so we were soon on our way. I came away with renewed interest in attending Blogger happy hours to be able to catch up with people like Velvet, EJ, and BettyJoan again. What a fun evening!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A Very Unique Book

Can you remember ever reading a book that was written totally in the second person? Or even seeing such a book? Our book club choice for February was "The Portrait" by Iain Pears. The entire book of over 200 pages was a monologue with no chapter breaks in which the speaker carried on a prolonged conversation with another person, who had no direct speaking lines in the book. It was a mystery and it was fascinating.

The novel takes place on the tiny island of Houat off the northwestern coast of France. The speaker is an artist who has been commissioned to paint the portrait of a long-time friend of his, who is an English art critic.

It quickly becomes apparent that the narrator has a score to settle with the critic. Little by little the story develops the art critic's character and portrays him as a self-serving and despicable individual who has used others repeatedly to get ahead. All of this influences the portrait that is gradually being rendered. The descriptive language is beautiful as it paints verbal pictures of the art itself and so many scenes.

The stories of their mutual acquaintances Evelyn and Jacky are important to the plot.

There are unexpected twists and turns at the end that remind us of an Edgar Allen Poe story. The author leaves us and the main characters literally hanging on the edge of a cliff.

Go read The Portrait! It's a fast read that will make you think.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Larger than Life

Why are we so fascinated with superheroes? Children turn to Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and all sorts of other larger than life figures to extend their small world and support them as they deal with the challenges in their lives.

As a child I was never good at "make believe." I lived in a very real world that had no room for imaginary friends or superheroes. What a shame!

It was only in my fifties that I started embracing superheroes. Mine came in the form of health care providers who offered me everything from a reawakening of my sense of touch to an explanation of a life-long physical problem to various remediations for this problem to interventions to help me keep cancer at bay. For all these people, nothing they said or did would seem extraordinary to them, but it elevated their status in my mind. They became my superheroes.

I started to wonder if anyone was actually looking at me as a superhero. I am not sufficiently geeky to qualify as anyone's superhero in my IT job. However, the fact that I could design and make 6 finished napkins in an hour and a half yesterday might make me someone's superhero. Or the fact that I continue to pack more into most every day than 24 hours will accommodate.

Just as children cling to their superheroes, we as adults also take comfort from figures who loom larger than life. That is, until we realize that these people are just like us. They have the same physical and emotional needs and shortcomings. For all of us life ends at exactly the same place.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A Convenient Showing of An Inconvenient Truth

Jews are the first to step up when it comes to social and environmental action. Temple Micah is right there leading multiple efforts to save the world. My husband has agreed to organize an hour of protest in support of “Save Darfur” in front of the Sudanese Embassy each month. The Green Team at TM has emerged to raise public awareness of environmental issues.

We were treated to a free showing of “An Inconvenient Truth” last night as part of the Green Team’s efforts. Not only was there a movie to see, but there were HANDOUTS and a SPEAKER to answer questions afterwards. And of course, there was FOOD – no TM event would be complete without food.

The movie only served to confirm the grim truths I had already begun to process by providing pictures and facts, lots of facts. But it was extremely well done, despite the serious message it carried.

As I watched Al Gore enthusiastically take his cause to the world, I could only wonder how much better the entire human race would be today if he had been given the office he earned. The movie portrayed Al Gore not as a politician, but as a citizen concerned about the future for his family and the rest of the world. The plastic smile was gone, leaving just a guy with a message that needed desperately to be conveyed.

What also became evident was that although we in the US deserve the blame for about 30% of the problem, there are many countries, including China, which are far ahead of us in terms of doing something about it. We are sorely lagging in terms of manufacturing fuel-efficient cars, an important component in this country of single-driver SUVs.

Al Gore not only presented the problem, but he also offered some concrete things that we could do to start to fix it. Just as we successfully addressed the hole in the ozone layer, we have the power to make a difference in global warming.

This movie should be required viewing for anyone graduating from high school in the US today. If this country doesn’t wake up to the problem, future generations are going to pay the price for our ignorance and greed.

Can you name one thing that you will do in the coming year to address global warming?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Dealing with a Nocturnal Elbow

I know exactly what precipitated the pain in my left elbow that started over a year ago. We were packing up the car to drive north to Boston. When my husband suggested taking water bottles 6 at a time to the car, I in my typically impatient style picked up the whole case of 24 and suddenly felt a sharp pain in my elbow. As we headed north, I massaged the place that hurt, regretting my haste that left me in pain.

As with most pain, I chose to ignore the aching elbow for the next month or so. It was never intense, but it was there. Then the pain during the day left and it hurt only at night.

Since that time I have consulted several different doctors about the pain in my elbow when I was in their offices for other reasons. I get to the “it hurts only at night part,” and they say, “Right. And what brings you in today?” A new massage therapist offered the suggestion that it might be symptomatic of a pinched nerve in my neck. Great!

This week as Quentin started to work on my right foot and leg, I decided to mention the elbow problem, just to get another read on it:

Me: Do you know anything about tennis elbow?
Q: Yeah, I know a lot about it.
Me: (I describe the original injury.) Now it hurts only at night after I have been lying on my left side. Never during the day time. But it hurts a lot at night.
Q: (closing his eyes as he always does to visualize the injury and its effect) That is not tennis elbow. You probably tore (I can’t remember what he called it) in your elbow and it healed short. That’s why it hurts when you lie on your left side with your arm extended out straight. It’s never in that position for any length of time during the day.
Me: So what can I do to fix it?
Q: Hold you left arm out straight and pull your fingers back with your right hand. Do it 15 times a day.
Me: What a wonderful thing to do when I sit in all those boring meetings and listen to the talking heads drone on and on.

Now, I ask, why couldn’t someone else have figured this out a year ago? I did the simple exercise yesterday during the day. Last night was the first night I can remember in a long time when I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with a throbbing elbow. It may still have hurt just a little, but I am convinced that this will make it better.

So many health care providers want to fix the big things, but they neglect the little pains that add an edge to a good night’s sleep or continue to point out how important something like an elbow really is. The solution to this one was not a medical degree, but rather a sound understanding of anatomy.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Poem to Remember

Picking one favorite poem is not an easy thing to do. Do you pick one that is universally accepted as really great? Or perhaps one that tugs at your emotional heartstrings? What are the criteria for such a difficult choice?

I have been intrigued with the poetry of Billy Collins for the last couple of years. Not because it will show up on the list of “The Top 100 Poems of All Time”. But rather because Billy Collins talks about just plain ordinary things and makes me think about them in a new light – every time!

As I get older and watch my memory slowly get a little rusty, this poem seems to sum it all up so nicely:


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never
even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

--Billy Collins

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Coming into Balance with the Sun

For the past two decades, ever since my first skin cancer diagnosis, I’ve looked at the sun as my enemy. I’ve regretted all those hours spent on Florida beaches in skimpy bathing suits frying my skin in cocoa butter. Mea culpa, for goodness sake.

So I was most surprised when my husband pointed out an article in yesterday’s Examiner which revisited the effect of the sun. Excerpting,

A new study suggests that the main cause of deadly skin cancer – sunlight – might also help protect against the disease. The key could lie in the amount of ultraviolet B light the skin absorbs – enough to stimulate a healthy immune response in the skin but not so much that it boosts skin cancer risk. In 2006, a prominent cancer epidemiologist published a controversial study that found that melanoma patients with higher levels of daily sun exposure actually had better survival than patients who spent less time in the sun.

Go figure! Maybe it’s like homeopathy, which uses the thing to which you are allergic to protect you.

With this information, I may once again embrace the sun, remembering how good the light and heat can make you feel. Never again will I allow my skin to turn red and burn. But instead I will seek a balance that diminishes the fear I have come to associate with this most important lifesource.

Balance is the answer to so many of life’s issues, isn’t it?