Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas is Almost Here!

Even at my advanced age, I can't help but be excited about the impending holiday. Christmas Eve is one of my favorite days of the year (along with the summer solstice, but that's another post) and it's almost here! I'm expecting family to arrive tomorrow, and I've been scurrying around trying to get things ready.

Things done:

Stocking are hung by the chimney;
House is as clean as it's going to get;
Sheets are washed, beds are made;
Shopping is mostly complete;
Tree is mostly decorated;
Champagne has been procured.

Things not quite done yet . . .

I haven't thought through the whole "food" thing, but I think the Chinese place down the street delivers;
Presents are not wrapped yet;
I didn't iron the sheets (horrors!)
Not all presents have been fully procured;
Two cans of paint sit unopened---the walls will remain as they are for now;
The dog could use a bath (he smells a bit like a dog, I'm afraid)

But, regardless, all will be well, I am sure. For all those travelling, Godspeed. For those travelling to my house, I can't wait to see you!!

Merry Christmas to All.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Caveat Em, Baby

I'm saddened by the devastation in personal fortunes and private foundations due to the Madoff Ponzi scheme. I'm also angered by the SEC's failure to do its job to protect investors and ensure transparency. The ripple effects of this as it moves through the economy will be very real. $50 billion dollars is real money (it could have been used to take over the domestic auto industry and save taxpayers the pain of a car czar, for example.)

I'm heartened, though, by the number of investors who looked at the Madoff firm and declined to invest. I'm confident that many of these investors/managers took some heat from the colleagues and clients as their friends, neighbors, and competitors continued to earn such consistent returns. Despite that, for these brave and insightful people, reason prevailed.

My take on all this is simple ( simplistic, some might say.) Con men and women we will have with us always. Caveat Emptor.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

and a slightly new me . . .

thanks to someone with a better sense of what I look like . . . Thanks P-. The eyebrow is funny . . . I do have a habit of raising my left eyebrow while looking askance at life.

I'm taking a day off today---I spent the morning christmas shopping, and had some success---my own little contribution to the economic stimulus plan. My son and my husband are now fully (maybe) shopped for, as are the people at work. I'm taking a break, and then getting to work on getting my home ready. I think it's time to take down the Halloween decorations . . . .

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2008

it's a new day . . .

And I feel ten pounds lighter---the world is clearer because I'm not blinded by too much hair in my face.
As silly as it may be, when I feel overwhelmed, it shows in my hair. I stop taking care of myself, and it turns into a downward spiral very very quickly.
Now I can go out there and take on the day!
And, hey . . .happy birthday to my little brother who turns 37 today (or is it 38?)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

my disordered head

It's not my head, really, it's my hair. Cute on my manga, not on the real me, now an official une femme d'un certain age.

My hair is a window into my state of mind--a direct link from my head to my hair and right now my hair is a mess! It's way way too long, and shaggy and yucky. That means my life is not in order, either at work or at home. I've got to reassert some order, and soon. When my hair is back in shape, I can regain my equilibrium. Yucky hair is a sign that I have temporarily lost the mandate of heaven (yes, I do think of myself as an empress of a dynasty---that's another post)

Today is the day. I will either shave my head a la Britney Spears, or I will get the charming and gifted Tiffany to come my aid. I'm hoping for Tiffany, but I'm prepared to pick up the shaver-thing if I need to.

I'll keep you posted . . . .

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Howard and I graduated from the first section of our Chinese class on Saturday. I'm in the middle, Howard is on the left, and Ma LaoShi is on the right. I'm so proud of us! It's really hard and embarrassing to try to learn a new language at this point in life. There's just no getting around looking and sounding stupid as you try to twist your tongue around unfamiliar sounds.

Our final involved trying to introduce ourselves to native Chinese speakers, and introducing each other and our imaginary friends, a teacher and a doctor. We also had to introduce our imaginary grandmothers, and indicate if she was our mother's mother or our father's mother--they are different words in Chinese.

There was a delicate moment when Howard introduced his wife as his older brother, but we rallied and moved on. I'm sure we were pathetic, but everyone was very gracious and encouraging. I'm so glad I'm doing this!

Friday, November 21, 2008

CNN--"someone needs to speak up"

CNN has a headline story today, titled "Some one has to speak up on the economy." They note the the President and the President-elect are both keeping radio silence on the topic of the economy.

Careful readers of this blog (that means me and my dog) will note that I have been calling for Clinton-Bush I leadership on this issue for some time. I can understand why it would have been difficult during the campaign, but this is getting serious. The markets are approaching free-fall, and there is some serious panicking going on. The lame-duck President is silent, for obvious reasons--it's too late and he doesn't have anything to say anyway. Our President-Elect is silent because he's not the President yet, and he doesn't have time to be making serious economic policy addresses.

Who has time, political capital, respect, and the guaranteed attention of the press and foreign leaders? Former Presidents Clinton and Bush I, that's who. If they would speak jointly and without the filter of politicization about the continued efficiency of the American workforce, about the need to continue to invest in our infrastructure, and about our American "can-do" attitude that we can work ourselves out of any temporary setbacks, I think people would listen. We desperately need leadership on this issue.

C'mon Bill. Get over here, George. What are you waiting for?

Mini me

I'm the last blogger to break down and get a manga. I put it off because I knew what would happen, and it did. There isn't a manga option that puts in wrinkles, stress lines, and a saggy neck. My manga is WAY cuter than I am, but it's the closest I could get.

My hair looks like that because I need a haircut. It doesn't look that cute in real life; in real life it's just hanging in my face.

Oh well, she can be my web-face . . . as the misquoted saying goes, on the internet nobody knows who you really are.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The feminine touch . . .

A son of friends of mine has made a scientific discovery that is making the rounds of the scientific journals, and travelling through the web. You may have heard about it--women's hands are dirtier and have much more bacteria than men. This is despite the fact that women wash their hands significantly more often than men. Here's a link to one of the many articles:

Noah Fierer, who is the lead researcher on this, is predictably brilliant and insightful, given his genetic heritage. His parents are justifiably beaming (while looking at their own hands in a new light.)
Nice work, Noah!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

getting my groove back . . .

I"m stepping up my walking efforts, and now get 5-8K steps in every day without too much extra effort, so that's good news.

I'm finding a rhythm of sorts around creating a home life while mon mari est parti. It's not the same dance as when he's home, but we're making it work. We eat leftovers while watching the news, we take turns walking the dog (me in the morning, my son in the afternoon) we focus heavily on homework and are both in bed by ten. The house is a wreck, and laundry is piling up, but we're OK with that . . . .

Now the next trick is figuring out how to move back and forth between the two modes of living. When mon mari est a la maison, we have to move back to the old dance, and sometimes that's turning out to be hard. Clearly there is still work to be done on this front. He wants us to come to him this weekend (dog and all) to go to an opening in DC. While it would be fun, I would miss Chinese class, we would miss our laundry and grocery shopping day, and my son would miss his ACT prep day at school.

And yet, we just might do it anyway. It would be fun.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

speaking of tsunamis . . .

I think I'm drowning. Since mon mari (we're ALL learning French at my house) took on considerably more responsibility at his job, and I did as well, suddenly our time-tested dance of shared responsibilities is not so smooth. In the past (it seems so long ago) he did everything related to food---the shopping, the planning, the preparing, the picking up of the CSA box weekly---and my son and I did the cleanup. My husband also did the lion's share of the laundry and paid all the bills.

In return, I did the outside work--the weeding, the raking etc. I also did the homework support, the school meetings, the basic housework---enough to keep us from living in squalor---and the general house-related stuff. It seemed to work.

No more. Most days my job demands all my attention from 7:30-6:00. then I go home and try to feed myself and my son. Then we begin the homework effort--(last night was chemistry--egad) then he goes to bed and it's time to cleanup, do laundry, and then begin my own homework to be ready for 7:30 the next day. Then, I'm up at 5:00 in the morning to take the dog for his required one mile walk.

I called in sick to my last Chinese class. Something had to give. glug glug . . . .

Friday, October 24, 2008

Tsunami leadership

Now that a former fed chairman has used the word "tsunami" to describe the global financial crisis we are in, maybe the President will read my blog.  Who calmed the world and got financial aid streaming to the victims of the tsunami?  Bill Clinton and George Bush I.  That's the team we need speaking for us now.

At the considerable risk of repeating myself, neither of our presidential candidates nor our current president have any credibility on this issue.  I could go on and on about how the Obama campaign continues to disappoint me (way to lead, by going after the poor guy who had the audacity to question the "spread the wealth" taxation policies---Joe didn't get the memo that to question the inevitability and wisdom of Obama is to invite scorn and public humiliation---I could have warned him) and how adrift the McCain campaign appears to be, but that's not the point.

The point is that this a real crisis, and calls for real leadership.  All we've heard up to now is posturing and inauthentic attempts at authority.  Panic feeds on itself, and in a crisis nothing spreads faster than rumor and fear.  Every other public attempt to lead on this issue has deepened the crisis.  Only Clinton and Bush, speaking together and with calm assuredness, can deliver the message that we are strong enough to weather this storm, that the fundamentals of the economy (the innovation and resilience of the American people) are sound, and that this crisis is the one that will define this generation.  We have not been tested in this way before, but we can do this.  To be sure, we haven't done it yet, but we can do this.

Bill, George.  We need you.  We need you now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

community supported agriculture

Even as the temperature here is unseasonably warm (which I LOVE) I can tell that autumn is here from the box we get from Spiral Path, our community organic farm. We've moved from melt-in-your-mouth tomatoes to acorn squash. I love getting our weekly box of produce and smelling the wonderful aromas of food that was picked only hours before.

I don't like the cooling weather and the longer nights, but they do bring wonderful fall greens. I'm looking forward to wilted red swiss chard baked with asiago cheese. It's so wonderful it can make a grown man cry.

It's making me hungry to even think about it . . .

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bush/Clinton NOW

All I know about the economy, I learned at Columbia from Doug Holtz-Eakin (DHE).  Sure, I learned some in college, some by working in banking and investing, and some by just trying to make a living in this world, but the fundamentals that shaped my understanding of markets, market behavior in turbulent times, market responses to imperfect information, and the theory of rational expectations, I learned from him and it guides me still.

I am not an economist, and certainly can't ascribe to DHE the economic positions I take in this blog.  From where I sit, however, some things appear clear to me.  The theory of rational expectations tells us that if people think something is going to happen in a a market, they will act in such a way as to precipitate it actually happening.  So, if people believe that the market will crash and burn, they will act in a way that makes it crash and burn.  

That seems to be happening.

I would respectfully recommend the following to the President, who seems to be short on ideas at the moment.  

1.  Stop talking
2.  Tell your cabinet members to stop talking
3.  Ask the Fed Chairman to stop talking
4.  Suspend trading on Tuesday, and give the market an extra day to calm down.
5.  Meet with other Heads of State and send out a coordinated message that banks will not fail, and that Iceland will not declare itself insolvent  (where is the World Bank when you need them?)

Engage former Presidents Clinton and Bush to speak to the nation together about moving forward.  Both are respected leaders in the US and abroad, and they respect each other.  This is a crisis that cries out for leadership that is above politics.  Right now in the US, we can't trust what Obama or McCain is saying---the political climate is too intense.  No one trusts what President Bush is saying.

We need a credible voice, or voices.  We need to hear from Bill Clinton and George Bush I.  Soon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I'm Sedentary . . . .

But not for long, I hope.  I joined a group of people taking the 10,000 step challenge and I'm trying to improve my overall health. 

 I have cervical spine "issues" and I live a lot of my life in pain.  So, what's happened to me over time, and to a lot of people who have conditions like mine, is that I've become sedentary.  Because it hurts to move around, I don't.  I sit a lot.  That builds on itself, of course, so I've become increasingly unfit, and increasingly unlikely to move around.  That makes me cranky, antsy, and generally off my game  (just ask my family.)

I'm pleased to be taking this challenge along with people I work with.  I'm a long long way from 10,000 steps a day, but I'm wearing my pedometer, and will keep you posted on my progress.  Right now I'm squarely in the beginner category, but I'm hoping to stick with it.   

 Wish me Luck!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

heavy sigh

I've been reading many editorials on our financial crisis, and watching for signs of leadership. I'm finding a lot to read, but not a lot of leadership. Like all Americans, I have skin in this game, and have lost more money than I care to think about over the past 6 months, and even days.

So, because this is the way I process information, I've been looking at the string of events over the past 8-10 years which have led up to this. I've been looking at Glass-Steagall and the signing of GLB by President Clinton. (Oh, how I miss him, really I do.) I've been looking at FNMA, FHLB, FHFA, and FHLMC and how we/they changed their mission over time.

I say that "we" changed their mission over time, because, really we all did it. After the dot com crash, many of us wanted to believe that real estate was different. We wanted to believe analysts when they reported that because real estate markets are all local, there could be no "bubble" in the way there was with technology stocks (or with tulip bulbs.) We all wanted to ignore the speculative aspects of real estate, and also wanted, in our egalitarian way, to encourage home ownership for all--especially for those who fell in the "sub-prime" category. Who among us objected to the goal of making home ownership, "the American dream" available to more people. FNMA had an "American Dream Team" who worked with local Realtors to help low-income families buy the "house of their dream." Some Realtors still have it on their websites. Here's a link to the Texas Department of Housing, and it's not unique.

I can't really blame this crisis on lack of regulation--intentionally under-enforced regulation maybe, but not under-regulation. I blame it on us, and our representatives in DC who wanted to keep the party going at all costs. As a group, American voters don't like to hear bad news. We reward people who tell us what we want to believe.

So, this year we will likely reward the Presidential candidate who tells us we were duped by bad people on Wall Street, and that we are innocent victims of predatory lenders. Voters want to hear that someone can fix the problem, and that we will feel no pain. Only rich people and big bad corporations will pay the price--and they are all suspect anyway. This election will be won by the candidate who dumbs down the issues the most, who promises no pain (again except for those who deserve pain) and who, most importantly of all, exonerates likely voters from their role. Egad. No wonder I'm not enjoying this election cycle. It just keeps getting worse.

Monday, September 29, 2008

the failed bailout/buy-in alternative

Hmm.  The bailout aka "buy-in" doesn't have the votes to become the law of the land, and the Dow is plummeting.  That giant sucking sound you hear is wealth disappearing into nothingness.

How about trying this?  If the root cause of the meltdown is a collapse in the overly exuberant housing market, why not take say, $700 billion or so, and buy individual mortgages at reduced interest rates?  Ordinary people struggling to stave off foreclosure will have an option other than selling their home for any price they can get.  The mortgage-backed securities will regain value, housing prices will stabilize because the supply will decline, and we're investing in ourselves rather than in investment houses that we all know played fast-and-loose with the markets and with our money.

Or, as taxpayers perhaps we could buy the homes outright, and rent back to the homeowners on a rent-to-own basis.  It would accomplish the same thing.  We put Homeland Security into place after 9-11, we could take HUD and turn it into an agency that manages housing stock at least until the situation stabilizes.

I know that the problem in the credit markets is real, and that we will all feel it soon.  But, if lenders know that corporate borrowers are supported by a stable housing industry, that might help.

This bill isn't passing Congress because most members are not economists or investment bankers.  They are politicians.  They know when their constituents are fighting mad, and right now they are.  There is simply no appetite to appear to bailout people who make more money in a year than most will make in  a lifetime or even two lifetimes.  Shortsighted, maybe, but it's real.

I wish I was seeing a little more leadership from either of the two candidates.  I think this crisis has their economic advisers so freaked out they don't know what to say.

They should call me ;-)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I love new york

I had the good fortune to be in New York on Monday through Wednesday, and it was a pretty busy place. The UN was in session, the clinton global iniative was opening, Wall Street was melting down--and I was just happy to be back.

I was in midtown, my least favorite part of town, but spent the evening in Soho eating well and looking at art I could never afford. It was great to be there.

And guess who I met? A grand-slam winning tennis player, pediatric cancer advocate extraordinaire, nun. I felt like I was meeting the personification of my last few blog posts.

She was extra-ordinary. Really. Delightful, smart, personable, fun, and gracious. I told her about skater aid, about my son teaching me to play tennis, and about the weirdness of hearing Ave Maria out of the blue--am I being called??

She wrote my son a lovely note, and generally impressed the heck out of me.

I love New York.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tennis Anyone?

My son is trying to teach me to play tennis. Lucky for him, he has some of his father's athleticism because I have negative athleticism. I am the black hole of athleticism. I'm not well-coordinated, I have poor spatial relation skills, I'm not strong, and I have no endurance. Despite all this (and did I mention the worst part--I do NOT have the wardrobe for sports) and his teenager-disinclination to even acknowledge that he has a mother at all, he is teaching me to play tennis.

Yesterday we had our third half-hour lesson. He was so patient. He was so encouraging---lots of "good effort, Mom" and "that's OK, just try again" comments. I'm really having fun, and I think he is too.

I was playing in a khaki skirt, t-shirt, and Teva sandals (I have no shorts or tennis shoes) and was running after balls as best I could. At one point he said to me, seemingly out of the blue "That's exactly why you shouldn't try to do this in a skirt." Since I knew I hadn't just fallen down, or exposed myself in any skirt-related way, I was puzzled by the comment. Then he paused and followed up with this. "Oh, sorry. I guess that's just the way you would run anyway." OUCH!! But, since he didn't intend any meanness, I'm over it. (Do I really run that awkwardly?)

It all made me realize, though, how much he is growing up, and how well he seems to be turning out. This probably isn't the last time I'm going to need him to teach me a new skill. I'm glad we're starting with tennis.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fighting Back

A friend of my family has a young son battling pediatric brain tumors. He's a twin, and I have the newborn picture of him and his brother in a frame in my office. What sweet big boys they were---over 7 lbs each!

It's a struggle far-away friends can only marginally participate in---the family hunkers down and pours all their energy into the critically important details of fighting the fight. He's doing well right now, and we are all grateful.

In support of his fight, and the fight of many other children and families, we're supporting Skater Aid this year. Skater Aid is based in the Atlanta area and encourages the skateboard community to support research in the area of pediatric brain cancer. I don't know any skaters, and the child I'm thinking of doesn't live in Atlanta, but I know the organizers and I know that research anywhere in the world helps everyone who encounters this disease.

We're also supporting the early intervention work of Keystone Human Services in honor of our nephew who was born amazingly prematurely, and is now, at 2 years old, as cute as he can be, and our niece who is no longer with us, but whom we think of with love every day.

Please join me as you are able in supporting these efforts.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

My life in sports

My family, sans moi, is off to a sporting event. A baseball game. They love it, and that's great with me. I don't get it, but that's OK too. Luckily I don't need to get it.

It's all always seemed a little random to me---a little hard to attach too much meaning to. Apparently, as Under the Covers pointed out to me, the Jacksonville Jaguars have come to the same conclusion.


Oh, I adore you . . .

I am listening to a recording of Vin DeAraugo singing GiaNina Mia. A scratchy old recording that brings tears to my eyes.

"Oh I adore, I adore you, Gia Nina mia . . .
More, more and more I adore you Gia Nina mia . . . "

It's an old sentimental song popularized in the early 20th century by Jeanette MacDonald (strangely, since it's a love song to a woman) and reminds me of myself as a child of 7 or 8 sitting in an Italian restaurant with my family. My first memory of lasagna, of real Parmesan cheese, my first taste of dry red wine --- how un-politically correct!

The song made me blush---I was certain it was meant for me. I can still remember every note, and it brings back smells and tastes and memories of a happy time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How Much We Lost

How long will it be, I wonder, before I can say this date without recalling vivid details of another September day? This one is not crisp and clear and beautiful, like that one was. It's cool and rainy here in the northeast US.

How long will it be, I wonder, before I look at a plane in the sky and not think about how it looks like a missile? How long will it be before I forget the feeling of those few days when there were no planes in the sky at all?

How long will it be before I stop feeling disoriented in lower Manhattan, before I stop being surprised at the bizarre vacant space across from Brooks Brothers? How long before I can approach the fence, how long before I don't resent those who can and do?

How long will it take for the world to untangle the events set in motion that day? The death of Archduke Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles, September 11th, these events define us for centuries to come. so sad.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A new way to talk?

Have you seen  It was launched this summer as "a new way for women to talk" on the web.  Egads.

I tried to like it.  The "hair day" alert on the banner gave me a little pause at first, but I decided to accept it as perhaps having a little fun with the women's magazine model.  Ditto with the horoscope.  Ditto with section on who has the best legs.  

It wasn't until I got to the reader response section that I knew with certainty I was in the wrong place.  The mean-spirited remarks are so rampant, and so personal. would be a better name.  Count me out of this new way to talk.   I'll take the old way.   If we can't all get along, can't we at least have a little civility?

Friday, September 5, 2008

what's in a name?

I was watching the Republican convention last night (I'm a political junkie--have been all my life) and was providing scintillating commentary to my dog--he thought I was very insightful, by the way. I could tell by the rapt expression on his face---when the proceedings arrived to the point of the vice-presidential nomination. Then the tone of my voice changed considerably, and the dog fled to the relative safety of another room.

What aroused my ire? Sarah Palin was being formally nominated. The speaker referred to her as "Sarah Palin" exactly once and then, for the rest of the speech and through an uncomfortable awkward chant, referred to her as "Sarah."

What happened to her last name? Why are we uncomfortable referring to women by their last names? Why isn't the press calling her "Palin?" (And, why, for god's sake, did Campbell Brown of CNN ask a McCain (not John) spokesperson if "Sarah" could focus on the campaign while parenting an infant with Down's syndrome, a son leaving for war, a pregnant teenage daughter, and two other children? I do NOT believe that she would have asked that question of a male candidate, but I digress.)

This name thing has been troubling to me for many many years. At the top of the stairs in house where I grew up, there were two framed wedding invitations--my mother's and my grandmother's. On both, in lovely engraved script, the bride was mentioned by her first two names only. The parents "gave" their daughter Marie Therese. Her name was obliterated entirely in the invitation to my mother's wedding, and Mr and Mrs Oswald C. "gave" their daughter Sherrill Ann.

No last names of their own. Just first names adrift in a sea of temporary last names. It seemed so sad to me. The names seemed to be without an anchor, without a home of their own. At a young age I promised myself that I would claim the name I was born with as my own, and never change it. My name, my full name, is not a temporary way-station. It is me. Strip away all else, but leave me my name.

Names are important. They have power. I don't know how I will vote in November. I am "in play" as politicos like to say. I do know, however, that if I find myself in a crowd chanting Sarah Palin's name, I will say "Palin."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

xie xie ni, universe

A transliterated thank you to the universe. Just as I launched myself into way-making, a flyer appeared in my mailbox. Someone in my neighborhood is beginning classes in conversational Chinese. How cool is that?

When I graduated from college 25 years ago, I labelled my boxes in Chinese in a vain attempt to hold onto whatever lame language skills I had learned. My writing was so poor, and my memory now even worse, that it's all Greek to me. I can't even recognize my name!

I'm calling tonight to sign up. We already have French labels on everything in our house to support our 9th grader in his French 2 classes. If labels would help in his Latin class we would do that too, but it just doesn't work--after "dog", "door" and "house" it's a little limited.

We have room for another set of post-it notes on everything, and I'm really looking forward to this. It'll be great!

Monday, September 1, 2008

I promise to stop whining

I just reread my last two posts, and it's a little embarrassing. Yuck. Whine Whine Whine.

Enough with that. I'm not a victim of my job, for crying out loud, so I need to stop complaining and whining.

It's a beautiful day, I'm feeling better ( a thoughtful coworker brought me miso soup, crackers, pepto bismol, and ginger ale so I made it through the day. Thanks Emily!!) I'm home, my husband is playing golf, my son is sleeping, and all is right with the world.

Fall is here and football season has started. Not my favorite combination, but it's encouraging to know that some people look forward to it. Greg does, at Pitt Rehab, and that's a good thing.

Ramadan has started, and I am reading (trying to read) a new translation of the Daodejing--the Chinese philosophical text. Anytime I read something in which the words "ontology" and philology" are used more than once in a paragraph, I know that I have to pay attention. A bit of a switch from First Assistant (see what I'm reading offline for a reference.) I'm enjoying it.

So, enjoy the day. I will spend it in my backyard with loads of reference books and Chinese history texts, and I'll love every minute of it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I've often said that it sucks to be sick when you're travelling. It doubly sucks to be sick when you're travelling for work. As mentioned in an earlier post, I'm 300 miles from home in a hotel room, and I can't keep anything down. I've ordered soup from room service, and am hoping for the best.

I have a presentation to give tomorrow, and I haven't finished it yet. This is gonna be great. . . .

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to Reality

The last-minute extension of summer is over, and it's back to work and school for us. Already the pain of being a parent-who-works-outside-of-the-home is making itself felt. I had planned to be home every night this week. At least for the first week of school I wanted to pretend that we have a normal family life and that we can literally be there for our child. Then a late afternoon meeting 100 miles from here was called for tomorrow. I have to go. I won't be there when my son gets home from his first full day of high school.

Then I got pulled into an all-day meeting on Friday---300 miles from here. I'll leave on Thursday and not get home until late Friday. Damn it all. Really.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ahh Vacation

We're at the beach. Even in a tacky falling-down last-minute rental condo, life is good. We got here with the help of my son and Isabel (I'm testing out that name for my GPS.) We made only one wrong turn and drove in circles for a while waiting for the satellite to figure out that we didn't do what she was telling us to do. Other than that--perfect!

The weather is here, wish I were beautiful. The ocean water is warm (or what passes for warm in these parts--70-71-ish. That's just barely tolerable on my warmness scale.

We had dinner at the Backyard restaurant to celebrate an anniversary---it was nice, and brought back memories of many other dinners we've had there. some happy, some sad. I could see the table by the fence where I cried through the entire dinner. This is a happier time.

This is a town where my husband and I have spent much time together. About five years ago I decreed that we would come here no more. Enough! Enough tangled memories, Enough enduring beach traffic through PA and NJ, Enough complications with my in-laws and vacationing in close quarters with them. Enough! Basta!!

But, clearly I've relented and it's good to be back. I planned the trip to be here for half a week, and crossed paths with my mother-in-law. we arrived on Tuesday, she left on Tuesday. it's better for everyone that way.

so many posts waiting to be written---but for now, the boys (my son, my nephew, and my husband) are all itching to get to the water. Me too.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

going to the beach--phase one

Half the family is now at the beach.  It's quiet here, and I'm wishing we were there--although this morning I was glad not to be part of the packing rush.

I have a new Magellan GPS system, and he/she is in need of a name.  I spend a lot of time being lost, so I'm looking forward to having this system. I'm relying on it to guide me to the beach on Tuesday morning.  My son tells me that naming or anthropomorphising one's digital accoutrements is hopelessly old-fashioned, and yet it seems that the human voice guiding me through the maze of interstate highways ought to at least have a name.  

I've googled women explorers, and come up with Isabella, which has a nice ring to it, but I'm not sure yet.  I'll keep looking, and I'm open to suggestions.  She seems to be a she, but perhaps only because I haven't figured out yet how to change her voice.

I'll keep trying . . .   with any luck, inch 'Allah, and with her help, my next post will be from the beach.

Au revoir


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

He's Home

My son is home after 8.5 weeks away at summer camp. We picked him up this morning, fed him, and then he fell asleep. Reminds me of bringing him home from the hospital.

He looks good---I think he grew a little taller. I just looked in on him, sleeping soundly in his bed. When he wakes up we'll work on unpacking, and all the work of re-entering home life.

For now, it's just good to have him home.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Back to School

I'm holding on to summer as hard as I can, but even I know that nothing gold or green can stay.  My flower beds are blowzy with tangled blooms of russian sage, purple coneflowers, verbena, oregano, thyme and basil gone to seed (but blossoming beautifully in the process) and three tomato plants that arrived from some distant garden, all competing for space.  The lovage has once again decided that it needs the entire garden to itself  and is threatening its neighbors with determined offshoots.  The petunias and impatience are all but buried in the resulting mess.  The beds are alive with all manner of bees, birds, butterflies, and moths conducting their business and ensuring the success of future blooms.  

The autumn bloomers haven't come into the picture yet, but they are out there warming up.  The white dwarf chrysanthemums--always a bit precocious--have started to bloom, but they remind me of the type of person who looked forward to back-to-school efforts.  It's just too early to think about school or chrysanthemums.  They should be quiet for now.  The sedum is still gathering its strength, the golden delicious sage doesn't even have buds yet, and the Japanese maples all still have their summer look.

But last night we had a group of friends over for dinner, and we sat outside until late in the evening.  It was a lovely night, and the crickets and cicadas were singing loudly.  That sound, pronounced one man well-past school age, was the sound of back to school.  Once you hear that sound, it's time to shop for sweaters and notebooks, time to look at schedules and re-establish routines.  "Yes," most people at the table nodded in agreement.  "Summer is over" they all agreed.

So today we made plans to spend next week at the beach.  My son comes home from camp in the middle of this week, so we'll all go as a family.   Fall can be put off for another week.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

working too hard

I had a strange experience at work last week. I have been working on a presentation for about ten days--nonstop. There was simply too much work to accomplish in the time allotted. Oh, I had help---expert consultants, an intrepid assistant, who copied and faxed, proofed, and collated--- but the pitch was mine. All the mistakes, overlooked risks, misunderstood opportunities were mine. I felt my inadequacy acutely.

So the time came to present, and it went beautifully. Amazingly well. I'm not sure how it happened, exactly, but it really all turned out great.

Hmm. I'm sure it was a fluke.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Laughing Out Loud

I am a WXPN Kids Corner listener without a child in the appropriate age group.  In fact, I am a huge fan, and often go out of my way to listen. I drive home after a long day at work, and listen to Kids Corner and sing along to the Cheese Song ---also known as the "Homage to Fromage." My favorite verse is 

Mozzarella Mozzarella Mozzarella! 
 I love Mozzarella. 
 It makes me a happy fella
It's the world's number one sella (it is!) 
And that's why I love mozzarella!

I love it!  The Gorgonzola verse is good too.

check it out on the Bubboon's Tunes web site --  it's addictive!

Last night was the Silly Jester song, which is set to the tune of the sea-chanty "what do you do with a drunken sailor"  Some of the verses made me laugh out loud, which was fun in and of itself.  Also last night was the Kids Corner open stage, where children call in and perform on the radio---they play the piano, sing, tell jokes, . . . .whatever they want to do. It's indescribably touching.

I also got a good laugh out of the jibjab video which is posted on Pitt Rehab, along with many other spots on the web.  That's where I saw it first, though.  Thanks Greg!  Its good to be laughing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

looking around

Coming out of a pain episode is hard and takes more time than I like to allow.  The universe, however, has indefatigable rules about these things, and it takes what it takes.  A famous philosopher, I can't remember who (!) opined at length once about the folly of trying to accomplish things in too short a time frame.  Fine wine, good scotch, and re-emerging from pain all take time.  One rushes such things at one's peril.

Anyway, I'm now re-emerging and it's going well.  There are very interesting things happening at work  (terrible, yes, but interesting--to quasi-quote Mr. Ollivander the wand-seller) the landscaping in my front yard is done, the purple-cone flowers have bloomed during my time in seclusion, and in general I'm glad to have another go at things.

Some lovely things have happened recently.  We had a nice backyard picnic with neighbors we rarely see, and spent a lovely evening outside eating steamed clams and talking.  A friend (I must write a thank you note) brought me back 15 year old single malt scotch from a recent trip to Scotland.  He doesn't even like Scotch (or so he claims) yet he went to distillery after distillery to find one he thought I would like. very peaty and dark . . .  Now that's a good friend!

One day, perhaps, I'll go there.  It's fun to dream, and it's nice to have room in my head for something good.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

musings on pain

I'm in a lot of pain today. It happens. I'm getting better at managing it, and haven't been to the hospital in over a year. Sometimes pain creeps up on me, and I can divert it, redirect it, or subvert it. Other times, like today, it arrives full-blown, without warning, and it's harder to manage.

Pain is a funny thing---your body sending you urgent messages that something is wrong. I'd like to tell it that I know, that I'm doing all I can to address the problem--which isn't really correctable. It seems like you should be able to talk to yourself like you would talk to a child to reassure them, to calm them down. "I know something is wrong," I tell myself. "Everything will be fine, we're doing all we can and you don't need to worry anymore. There is no need to keep reminding me of the problem; I'm on it, I promise." I try to distract myself, (perhaps by writing) just as I would try to divert a child, try to get them thinking or talking about something else. I must admit that I have better results with a child than with myself.

In my family we have a retired service dog, a wonderful Labrador retriever who has been unable to work since he was three. He was in several car accidents in a row, and became too anxious to work. He also endured a surgery to repair some accident-related damage, so he knows a thing or two about pain. He now lives the life of a pet, and he's a wonderful dog. A little idiosyncratic, perhaps, but wonderful.

He hasn't entirely forgotten his early years as a working dog, and he can tell when I am struggling. He stays very close to me, stays very quiet, and puts his head in my lap when I'm sitting. He brings me Kleenex boxes, which he learned to do in his early days as a grief-therapy dog. It's not grief, but I guess pain is pain, regardless of the source.

So, what's the next step? I don't know; maybe he knows. Maybe it's being quiet and letting the storm blow over, although as Andrea has pointed out in A Small Group of Thoughtful Concerned Citizens, that can be illusory. Maybe later I'll feel well enough to sit and smell the thyme and that will help. All I know right this minute, is that I have to take it one minute at a time.

Friday, June 20, 2008

ora pro nobis

At lunch today, while sitting with a colleague in the bright mid-June sunlight at a trendy downtown bistro listening to jazz, I was startled to hear the unmistakable first few notes of the live recording of Jascha Heifetz's performance of Schubert's Ave Maria.  In a flash I lost track of the conversation, my surroundings, everything.  

Schubert's Ave Maria is a musical powerhouse in its own right, but for me there is no more emotionally laden piece of music, and no more powerful rendition than Heifetz's.  Ave Maria was played at my wedding (which was on the Solemnity of the Assumption) and was played at my father's funeral---with only me and one of my sisters there to hear and understand.  It was frequently listened to in our house as we grew up, and is inextricably linked to my conflicted memories of my father.  (or my memories of my conflicted father---either way works.)

My father told the story, true or not--who can know?, that in his early years in radio, as a young white man doing on-air work at an all-black R&B radio station, he would always, without fail, play Ave Maria on the air at noon, for his mother.  As I am named for his mother, maybe he saved this story for me---I wonder if he told others something else?

Regardless, much of my childhood conspired to contribute to this music's power for me.  I went to Catholic School--some of the time at an all-girls school.  One of my sisters crowned Mary one year---a source of reflected glory for me that I can still recall vividly.  "Oh Mary, we crown thee with blossoms today/Queen of the Angels/ Queen of the May."  We brought white peonies to place by her statue in the convent chapel--and you won't be surprised to know that I have planted a white peony in my garden----I didn't plan it, it was a gift from someone who couldn't have known.

My father would occasionally anonymously send me a dozen roses--in grade school, in high school, even in college.  The note was always signed with a Latin phrase from the Hail Mary----there was never any doubt that they were from him.  I said the Rosary faithfully as a child, and can still invoke it in times of great need.  

It was a little much, though, to have all of this flood into my head at lunch.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

stony rubbish

...what branches grow
 Out of this stony rubbish?

TS Eliot, The Waste Land, 19-20.

This is a confessional post.  The work on my front yard has begun.  My design nightmares are before me In front of me, really.  We've done so much work on our house over the past year, and I've spent much of it almost paralyzed with fear that I would pick the wrong thing, spend way too much money on it, and then hate it and be stuck with as it mocked me day after day.

I had a close call with the new front door, but I love it now.  Sunlight streams in through leaded glass.  The kitchen is great, I'm glad I held out for just the right light fixture.  The bathrooms are all vastly improved, and the new closet in my bedroom makes me feel very indulged and organized.   None of it is really that great or unusual, but it's a big improvement, and I'm really happy with it.  I thought I was home free.

Alas, on to the outside.  The house is blue.  I've never liked it, but lived with it for 12 years.  The shutters are brown.  never liked that either, but lived with it for 12 years.  The trim is white.  OK.

In the remodeling, the front of the house changed, but we did not plan to change the siding.  It would be hard to match 12 -year old vinyl siding, so I decided to create a stone accent on the front of the house.  That might not have been so bad, but the stone I picked (by mistake) is very dark gray.  way too stark.  So, now I have a blue house, brown shutters (half of them missing from the renovation work) white trim, gray and black stone, a tan brick chimney, and a light gray stone front walk.  It's horrible.  I've gotten bids to put new siding on the house, but what color goes with grays and tans?  And I didn't plan for that expense, so my husband is NOT happy.  I'd post a picture, but it's too sad.  (picture now posted above . . .)

And I haven't even mentioned the exterior of the front door.  It's electric blue.  Electric Blue.  That, at least, is relatively easy to change, but the rest has me close to design despair.  I could be the poster child for some as-yet un-invented HGTV makeover show.  What Not To Do, perhaps it could be called.

In my heart of hearts I was counting on the landscaping part of the project to come magically to the rescue.  I know that doesn't make sense, but at least I could pretend to the neighbors that we weren't really "done" yet, and that this sad state of mis-matchedness was temporary.

Oh me.  To top it off, I hear my mother's voice in my head saying, "Nina, if that's your biggest worry, then just stop whining, fix the problem, and move on to something a little more important."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The thyme garden

One of my favorite books as a girl was The Time Garden by Edward Eager. It is the story of children who discover a magic thyme garden in a house by the sea. The garden has a sundial (note to self: get a sundial) withe the inscription "Anything can happen...when you've all the time in the world."

So naturally, when I finally had space to make a garden of my own, I filled it with thyme. I have lots of thyme. dwarf thyme for ground cover, lemon thyme for the smell and beautiful green and yellow leaves, and common thyme everywhere.

This week I have been "working from home" to be with my son for a bit before he leaves for the rest of the summer. Much of that time has been spent in my thyme garden while I call encouragement to him to keep working on his summer assignments. I cannot imagine any more pleasant garden task than cutting back thyme. Every step, every movement, every snip of the shears releases the most wonderful aromas. I take the cuttings and spread them on the uncovered ground of the beds I haven't dealt with yet, and they stay there, drying in the sun, and continuing to smell delightful.

I have too much thyme, I know. My husband, the cook in the family, rarely uses it--preferring the thyme he gets from our organic co-op. I want to tell him that mine, only steps away, is fresher and organic too, but I've stopped trying to convince him. This thyme is mine--it grows only for me and my enjoyment. I cut it, I run my hands through it, I put it in vases, and I gaze at it from the kitchen window. I may not have all the time in the world, but I have plenty of thyme, and on some summer days that feels pretty magical.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vista Panorama Perspective

That's how describes the word "vista." No one who is reading a blog doesn't know that Vista is also Microsoft's newest PC operating system.

Well, I'm writing this on my Windows XP laptop, which Microsoft would like to de-support soon, because last night, in its infinite wisdom, at 3:11 am, Microsoft updated my Vista home PC. Now it is hosed. I've been tinkering with it all day, uninstalling the updates, trying to reset to the factory defaults, making copies of the files I can't live without, and I'm really frustrated. Did I mention that the PC is only a few months old? This really stinks.

Why would they sell such a flawed piece of software? Why are they making it so hard to keep using XP, which for all its myriad flaws is at least stable? Sure, this OS has much to like---features that have been in Mac for years, but missing in Windows. But, Steve, it needs to WORK! I know you and Bill have had some trouble with the transition, but until now you have left me out of it. Now you've taken your argument to my living room. Stop it!

I'd like to think you're going to fix this problem with another update next week, but since my PC is so confused that it no longer recognizes its own NIC, and certainly can't connect to the Internet, any such fix will bypass me. Thanks Steve. I'll keep this in mind at the meeting next week when we decide on the desktop OS strategy for the three thousand employees I work with. My company can't afford to run a help desk staff large enough to deal with this kind of thing every Wednesday morning.

Monday, June 9, 2008


In Cynthia Tucker's column on 6-4-08, she takes women to task for noting the sexism that pervaded the Democratic primary season. She argues that by doing so, we're "whining" and playing into a culture of victimhood, which diminishes Clinton and ourselves. My local paper even headlines the column with "No Reason to Be Whiny."

Am I alone in seeing the irony? By pointing out what is true, that this primary season, as previously pointed out by former press secretary Dee Dee Meyers in a Vanity Fair blog, shows that racial epithets are not condoned and that sexist ones are tolerated as a matter of course, we're whining?

Cynthia, help me understand this. When we point out blatant double-standards, are we whining? When we notice how often her appearance was noted in the press, are we whining? When we count the number of times, in the mainstream media, the word "bitch" was used, are we whining? Are we retreating to the classic female role of victim? Are we asking to be saved by a big strong man who will make the mean sexist boys and girls stop saying those mean things? I think not.

I think that by writing it off, playing it down, and letting it go AGAIN and AGAIN because that's what nice compliant girls do, we're settling for the most classic female role of all. We'll suffer in silence for something others perceive as a greater good. We'll defer our victories so a man can have a better chance. What is that but claiming the victim role and turning it into a twisted female virtue. Who's a better victim than a female martyr?

Cynthia Tucker's argument is that sexism can't be confronted, because that would be playing the victim. So, rather than do that, she would have us just go be actual victims and for goodness sakes, be quiet about it. Nobody likes a complaining woman, after all.

We can do better than that. I'm nobody's victim, and I'm nobody's guaranteed vote.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Gardens, Walls, and Weeping

I'm feeling better these days. My gardens are beginning to be restored to order, except in the front yard, which will involve heavy equipment. The small backyard beds, that are now completely my own having removed almost everything I inherited from the original owner, are lovely and fragrant.

Out with way too much forsythia; out with too much euonymus, too much privet, too many arbor vitae, too many trees, and too much holly. Out with the ubiquitous suburban blight of juniper.

In with two birdbaths, cranesbill geraniums, russian sage, lavender, culinary sage, basil, dwarf oregano as ground cover, hydrangea, and lots (maybe too many) of purple cone flowers. In with containers of geraniums of all types and shades, in with coleus varieties, and a wonderful rosemary that has now survived three pennsylvania winters. In with pineapple sage, which is my absolute favorite.

Now, onto the front yard. I've been imagining redoing it for years. I've been complaining about it for years. So, after years of listening to me (he listened to me!), last year for Mother's Day my husband hired someone to come and rip out all the landscaping in the front yard. It was a surprise. I almost drove past my own house, so altered was it by this act of love. It looked like a bomb went off.

Gone were the azaleas (They were in the wrong place, in full sun, and I didn't like the washed-out salmon color anyway.) Gone was the beautiful old rhododendron that was planted too deep and needed constant care. Gone was the "miss kim" lilac that made me sneeze, the gigantic smoke tree that smothered everything, the leather-leafed abelia that was messy and made me sneeze, tons of boxwood, burning bush, rose bushes, and poison ivy (for color!) All gone. Except the poison ivy, which withstood the onslaught.

It is still a wasteland over a year later, but I have plans-a-plenty. A circle bed surrounded by a stone wall, with a smooth capstone so I can sit on it while I weed. Inside the bed will be a japanese maple surrounded by liriope. A stone walkway to the sidewalk and mailbox. An espaliered red rose bush on an iron trellis. Confederate jasmine for fragrance, bulbs for spring color, black eyed susans, asters, and mums for summer and fall color, virginia sweetspire for color, plenty of space for annuals, and absolutely nothing for winter interest. I'm still working on that.

The stone wall has been the most interesting. I'm learning that stone walls need "weep holes" to be strong enough to hold back the tons of organic matter I'm trucking in. That feels like a metaphor to me. Maybe I'll explore it in another post. Maybe it's too obvious to belabor. Anyway, I feel better knowing my wall will be stronger if it cries occasionally.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Going Home after 25 years

I just got back from my 25th college reunion, and I am so glad I went. The timing couldn't have been better for me. 25 years later I am in a much better position to appreciate being one of 30,000 living alumnae of the oldest women's college in the world. 25 years later I finally, surprisingly, feel like I belong.

My college friends and I have always had a complicated relationship with our alma mater, our other nourishing mother. With some life experiences behind me now, I am more understanding of the truth that complicated relationships are the only ones worth having.

So, I am very thankful to have gone home again for a day. I am thankful to have walked familiar paths and to have been in an environment so fully appreciative, and so completely supportive (if only for a day) of all her daughters. I loved seeing the single alumna from '33, and remembering how, at our graduation and their 50th reunion, so many of them gathered to wish us well. I look forward to my 50th, and sending off a new class of '33; and when I do, I will remember the laurel chain that connects us across the centuries.

I did not expect to be so moved; I did not expect to feel so welcomed. I did not expect to exhale so deeply, or to experience the relaxation and calm that only comes from being home. I did not expect to be so proud to be part of a tradition. And so, on this my 25th reunion, I am newly resolved to live expansively and mindfully, and to make my other mother proud too.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

my iphone and i

I love my iphone and feel very fortunate to have one. They are still too expensive for my taste, but the user experience is so good, so much better than anything else I've ever used, that I think everyone should have one.

This is not an iphone homage. The web has no need of another one of those. It's a reflection on why it has become so important to me. It's a device I literally always have with me.

I've had "devices" for many years. A bevy of cell phones, palms, pocket pcs, blackberries and the like have lived in my purse. I always ended up carrying two, though. I always needed one for voice and one for email, calendar, organization, etc. Not because one device couldn't theoretically do it all, it just wasn't easy or convenient. That meant I had 2-3 contact lists, at least 2 phone numbers, 2 chargers, and 2 devices to keep track of.

No more. I carry only one, and it happened quickly. When I first got the iphone, I immediately left on a trip from the US to Russia and Moldova. I carried two devices, as I always did before. The non-iphone began to give me trouble right away. It wouldn't roam, or sync, or be helpful in any way. The iphone was a dream. I didn't need to remember country codes when trying to call home. My iphone knew where I was and adjusted. It also turned into a "local" phone for other people. When I'm in Moscow, people in Moscow call me with a local call--how cool is that?

I turned the other device off, and I've never looked back. I am officially a one-device woman. Device monogamy is new to me, so I'm still working through it.

I like the weather button. I like knowing what the weather is in Chisinau, and thinking about what the village children are encountering as they walk to the after-school program. Do they still have the coats and socks we bought the last time I was there? I like knowing the weather in Moscow, and in Johannesburg. I think about the day-care workers making morning rounds to help get children who live alone ready for school. Are they hot? Cold? I like knowing the weather in Rome and wondering if I'll ever see it. This may be as close as I'll ever get.

I like the camera--it's pretty good! I like the navigation, and once used it when a friend and I were hopelessly lost and jet-lagged in Vienna at midnight in November. Brr! I don't have a GPS system in my car, so I've used my phone as a substitute at times.

I like the SMS texting--I can communicate with people under the age of 25, and with my boss, (who is older than 25.) I know it could be more full-featured, but it's still really good. I like watching my stocks---will this be the day, please god, that I can quit working? Maybe tomorrow. . . .

I like the clock, I like the ringtones, and I like the notes. I like it all except the ipod feature.


Thursday, May 15, 2008


Today my son, as captain of his school lacrosse team, will deliver a speech at the annual sports banquet.  Strictly speaking, from a "do the math" perspective, it wasn't the successful season the team was hoping for.  1-11.

The team started out with some challenges; barely enough players to field a team and a new coach for the third year in  a row.  On the plus side, they had some seasoned players who were anxious to make their mark, spirits were high, and the team was planning for a season to be proud of.   They knew they could do it.  Parents, looking on from our more jaded vantage point, were less hopeful, but we encouraged and cheered.

The season began to  go off-script right away.  The experienced, seasoned goalie, ready to be a team leader, suffered a fracture in his hand during the second practice.  Out for the season before the season officially began.  An experienced dynamic player in midfield moved to another State.  A veteran player, in his haste to get to practice, closed the car door on his hand. The team, short on players to begin with, began to look a little ragged.

 Against all odds, they never lost hope of winning.   Players who had never held a stick before were, without warning, starters playing the whole game.  Not because they suddenly displayed a heretofore unrecognized talent for lacrosse, but because there weren't enough team members to allow for substitutions.  Parents held their collective breath lest there be another injury.

Losses piled up.  The odds of a completely winless season increased as the days went by.  And these were not close games they were losing.  They lost badly, and often the winning team did not display the sportsmanship one would like to see.  It can't have been easy being on this lacrosse team.

And yet, their coach never stopped coaching them to win.  Not one player quit, or decided to stop showing up at practice.  They showed up at every game, badly outnumbered, and held their heads up.  They played hard, if not always well, until the final buzzer.  The team goalie, in her first season playing the game, was a fearless competitor--never flinching in the face of the seemingly endless barrage of shots on goal.  Hijab flying from beneath her helmet, she stood her ground and sometimes left me breathless with her courage and poise.  (or maybe it was the pollen that was keeping me from breathing, but that's less poetic.)

At the end of the season the team finally won a game, and was able to celebrate a hard-earned victory.  One victory, and the season is now over.    One victory, eleven losses later I couldn't be more proud.  They can "do the math."  They could have quit halfway through when it was obvious that they couldn't have a winning season. 

They know that it's not about the math, and it rarely ever is.  

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Day of Thanks?

In my work life,  have about 25 people reporting up through the departments that I run.  They range from highly experienced seasoned professionals to entry level.  They work in multiple States, and collectively do an absolutely amazing job of supporting this nonprofit in its important work.  They see a lot.  

The work we do is behind the scenes.  We do the work that allows other people to do the work more obviously related to the organization's mission.  We are often invisible to the larger organization.  We are also not on the receiving end of humanitarian awards or heartfelt displays of thanks from families.  When there is thanking to do, we have to do it for ourselves.

So, last week I held a day of personal thanks from me to the 25 people who work very long hours, doing very hard work, under less than ideal conditions, and who do it for less pay than they would get if they walked across the street and did it for another company.  I thanked them collectively and individually for managing the anger and frustration of their internal customers, who are often not at their professional best when they approach us for help or support.  I thanked them for broadly and correctly understanding that our mission encompasses their work, too.  I thanked them for inspiring me to keep coming to work every day, even when it's really hard.

Specifically, I thanked them with food, with soothing music, and with ten minute appointments with a massage therapist we installed in a vacant office.  It was lovely, and we all felt more relaxed and able to take on the challenges of the coming days.  At least I did.

Interestingly, only about half of them thanked me.  I'll have to spend more time thinking about that.  Am I not supporting them enough, or communicating my support enough?  Was it too little too late?  Can one day of thanks offset a year of intense pressure?  Do they just feel entitled?  Do we simply not do enough thanking to make it part of our culture?  I'm not sure.

One clue is that two days later I got the news that one team member is leaving.

OK.  That's a pretty big clue.

It's not just me; this really is a difficult work environment and I need to do a better job. Thanking people and then throwing them back into the maelstrom isn't the right strategy. Thanking them and working to change the culture they are in, might be.  So, today I promise to begin to try.  I will try to be the change I want to see in my work world.  And, hey, looking back over the last week, I can see that I've already begun.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Run Hillary, Run

I dreamed last night that Hillary Clinton conceded and dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.  It made me terribly terribly sad.  I know it will likely happen soon, but I, for one, want her to press on.

I am a lifelong Democrat.  A Democrat taken for granted by my party, and I never even knew it.  I am a 40-something professional woman, who started this campaign season as a John Edwards supporter.  I did not become a Clinton supporter until New Hampshire, when I suddenly recognized quite clearly what I was seeing.  I was seeing my own experiences as a working woman playing out on the national stage.

I am seeing the endless barrage of negativity, the intentionally unflattering photos, the thinly veiled (if veiled at all) glee of the political pundits at every less-than-perfect step.  As every working woman knows, an actual misstep is not required--simply short of perfect will do fine as an opportunity to be insulted and diminished.  I am seeing the delight of the press in knocking her down to size.  

I am seeing the painful double standard that I live every day in my work life, and ironically, it hurts more to see clearly that it has nothing to do with me, or with her, and has everything to do with our gender.

So here is my message for her, for the party, and for the Republican nominee.  Run, Hillary, and please don't stop.  For every woman who has been asked to leave the room and leave the real decisions to the men, for every woman who has suffered the humiliation of the disdainful glances, the condescending words, or the sharp sting of resentment of her accomplishments, please keep running.  Show up every day, Hillary, and show that we won't be ignored, we won't be belittled, and we won't be marginalized any more.

Run for me, Hillary.  Run hard and don't back down.  Run for far more than the mere hope of winning, and make us proud.

And for those who worry that I might not vote for the eventual Democratic nominee, and worry that Hillary is polarizing the party, I say, look in the mirror.  By not honoring her and her candidacy, you are telling me that you don't honor me.  I have voted for this party my entire life, and have done so proudly, but if the party joins in the effort to diminish Hillary Clinton and cut her effort short, then the party sends me a signal that I will not ignore in November.  If she is not the Democratic standardbearer, then I will vote for the candidate that most honors my experience in this country, and more and more, I am seeing that candidate is of another party.