30 November 2009

Still life

I have always been partial to still life paintings; scenes from a slice of time in life. A festive buffet table in the midst of a cheerful dinner party, a lonesome bowl of flowers in a dusty, visitor-forsaken parlor, a picnic basket heavy with refreshments waiting on a sunny front porch just before a ride to the country.

It is a mystery to me how these images capture the moment, the essence of human emotion when no human images are present.

I ponder the holiday weekend that just ended and the range of emotions that typically accompany any holiday. This one was no exception. A pinch of stress, heaping helping of happiness, dash of disappointment, cupful of peace. As I get older, I expect stress and disappointment to knock on the door of my holiday; they are annual visitors. I acknowledge their presence and am learning to simply accept that they are there, but not engage with them to a great extent. I have a much better time if I visit with happiness and peace.

On Thursday evening, I viewed the carnage that was formerly my clean kitchen and did my best to tidy up without detaching from the celebration. Dishes, stemware, leftover food loaded into plastic containers, saucepans and kettles in the sink. Contrasted with twinkling tree lights, glowing embers in the fireplace, colorful bowl of apples, bottle of wine on the sideboard. But on Friday morning, with only a small amount of effort, the mess was a distant memory and my kitchen had reemerged from the rubble. Coffee cup, breakfast plate, laptop computer, eyeglasses.

The still lives of the moments of the weekend. The peaceful ending: folded laundry, rumpled blankets, sleeping dogs, cell phones plugged into the wall.

25 November 2009

Humble gratitude for technology

On this day of thanks, this season of reflecting in gratitude for the blessings all around us, I humbly offer thanks to the technologies that enrich my existence. While I readily acknowledge that I am slow to adopt available technologies (an admitted technophobe), once I do, I quickly realize the advantages. Within the past year, I have stepped up the pace in terms of technology adoption. Which just gets me to a place where I am merely somewhat behind the general population in terms of personal use technology rather than dangerously lagging.

First, I am thankful for my digital camera. I do not fancy myself a photographer by any stretch of the imagination, but I do love to capture images and do my best to coax and stretch them into something visually interesting. I conquered my technophobia long enough to purchase this item last winter and learn how to use some of the features. Which leads to the second item on this list. I am thankful for Picasa, that wonderful image enhancement product that helps turn my ordinary snapshots into something pleasant, something worth sharing. Which, in turn, leads to the third item on the list. I am thankful for Smilebox, that inspired photo compilation and presentation product that can make any collection of digital photos look wonderfully thoughtful and appealing.

Fourth, I am thankful for my ATM/Visa bank check card. I know these have been around for quite some time, but I am slowly beginning to realize the conveniences. Furthermore, I am thankful for online bill payments, a banking feature with which I am just now gaining familiarity. And while we are on the subject of financial services, I am thankful for all the online customer portals to my accounts, insurance policies, W2 statements, tax returns, etc., that made applying for my mortgage such a speedy process this past summer. I had nearly all the required supporting documents sent over in a matter of minutes.

And last, I am thankful for the online tools that offer a venue for discovery and creativity, primarily the google blogspot tool, youtube and last.fm. Through youtube and last.fm, I have been fortunate enough to explore music in a way that is free and completely easy. While I am still not comfortable with the procedure of operating an ipod, at least I can gain casual access to digital music. And the blogspot tool offers an opportunity to foster personal creativity in a way that I would have never expected to find enriching.

While 2009 will not go down in history as the year of major advances in consumer technology, it has been a watershed year, for me at least. And I am genuinely thankful.

23 November 2009


I work in a professional environment in the healthcare sector. So it makes sense that one of our institutional core values is caring. In my office, one of the ways that we demonstrate caring is to recognize each other’s personal accomplishments and little celebrations, like birthdays, promotions and employment anniversaries. Once per month we set aside a half hour to get together in a conference room, read out all the happiness announcements for the month, sing a little birthday song for the collective birthday celebrants, and adjourn with a slice of some sinfully delicious goodie. It sounds contrived, but is in fact, sincere.

Of late, I have been omitting to attend the monthly gathering, primarily due to laziness because it is on another floor. Occasionally I have a schedule conflict, but for the most part, I can offer no legitimate reason for my absence.

But this month, I attended, at the urging of my manager. And discovered that my own employment anniversary was on the happiness agenda. 5 years. I can remember the day of my job interview, just like it was a couple of months ago. I remember the employee Christmas party my second year. Dozens of incidents that collectively weave into the familiar texture of my daily workday life. I can look back on the moments in a mere instant. Five years have elapsed.

From time to time I check in on a blog by inspired author, Gretchen Rubin. One of the things that she often says that resonates with my anniversary is this: the days are long, but the years are short.

It's the truth.

22 November 2009

Living in fear

For the first ten to twelve years of my brother’s life, my mom lived with anxiety that symptoms of a debilitating disease would begin to surface and interfere with his ability to function as a normal child.

He was born on Good Friday at 8:05 in the morning. The delivery room number was 805 and my brother weighed 8 pounds 5 ounces. The nurses were all buzzing about this amazing coincidence.

But there was more. His legs were not straight, the bones curved inward so that the bottoms of his feet nearly touched each other. The doctors informed my mother that her baby might have cerebral palsy and there was a chance he would never walk.

I am not sure what sort of advanced medical tests those physicians performed back in March 1964 to arrive at this neurological diagnosis. But it understandably created a layer of concern in the background of my mother’s psyche as she watched her son learn to crawl, talk, feed himself, walk, read and ride a bike. She kept waiting. Waiting for something irregular to occur; something that never happened. Because they were doctors, right? There had to have been a reason for them to share this very serious information.

Before sending her home with her new infant, the hospital applied casts to his legs to encourage the soft baby bones to straighten on their own. They did. But they failed to take away the anxiety and fear that she harbored as she watched him grow.

The Houdini incident

Gracyn decided to rehearse her new disappearing act this past week. Thankfully, she did not (to our knowledge) have any accomplices. Apparently there was a breach in the back yard perimeter fence. A fairly significant breach. An entire section was unfastened and there was a gap large enough for an adventuresome 10-pound dog to pass through. So her journey began Monday morning.

Thankfully, Cristy had located her name tag and attached it to her collar just the night before. And since Gracyn is a cute and friendly dog, before too long, she was bound to take a break in her journey to make a new friend. Which she did. And the friend happened to be, luckily, a real estate agent who examined her collar and recognized the street address as a house that recently sold in this neighborhood. The real estate agent put Gracyn in her garage, left for work and called Cristy, since her telephone number was on the name tag. Cristy left work, drove over to the house, retrieved Gracyn and brought her home.
Phew! All within the span of 2 hours. ~Insert big sigh of relief here~

I suppose in true Houdini style, this disappearing act was not a success since Gracyn required an escort for the second leg of her journey.

She won’t be rehearsing again any time soon since we employed Ted the Handyman (his real name) to repair the fence breach the following day.

20 November 2009

Back on the chain gang

I work in a fairly professional environment. It is an organization under the umbrella of the great State of Texas, therefore, we pay a rigorous amount of attention to matters concerning human resources. Good old HR. In all fairness, I’d have to say that it is the most professional environment in which I have ever worked and in my experience, everyone is treated with equity and respect. Right down to job titles and the descriptions we use to describe those jobs.

Which brings me to an essay I read by inspired blogger
Blogget Jones the other day, in which she discussed her professional status in the organization where she works as a peon. I had to laugh. Really. I am among them, the multitude of peons that commute to work, attend meetings, crunch numbers, draft reports and write executive summaries. The spotlight does not often shine in our direction, but that is OK with us, because we do not so much seek it. We seek the camaraderie of our colleagues, the creative challenges lurking within the layers of our assigned projects and the opportunity to make a contribution without a whole lot of drama or fanfare.

But still, we sort of bristle at the word peon. It seems, well, so menial. I have to tell you, and this is the honest truth, I was in a client’s office (years ago, not in my present place of employment) and my boss actually used the term “underling” in his conversation with the client, in reference to me and my team. Yes! I could not believe my ears. I felt the red sting of humiliation, as though I had been instantly diminished. Transported to a chain gang and sentenced to hard labor under severe conditions.

Maybe I was the only one who noticed. The meeting continued without remark or incident.

In another example, much more recently, a friend used the word “minion” when referring to a member of his team in a serious professional conversation. He did not say it disparagingly or in an attempt to be funny. The staff member took grave offense and promptly issued a complaint. My friend was sternly instructed not to use that term again. He thought the staff member’s reaction was an overreaction.

I don’t happen to think so. We are peons, hear us roar!

18 November 2009

The frugal consumer: admirable or merely annoying?

While I do not watch television much (honest statement), when I do, it seems that I pay slightly more attention to the commercials than the programming. It might have something to do with my weak attention span…who knows.

I noticed an advertisement by the fast-food empire, McDonald’s, that features a young couple. The male half of the couple is ultra-frugal and over the span of 10 seconds or so he demonstrates to his understanding, but more common-sense wife, that he is contributing to the household economy through his frugal endeavors. One of these endeavors involves a large homemade contraption to squeeze the last droplet of toothpaste out of the tube. The wife, on the other hand, takes frugal matters into her own hands by simply picking up lunch at McDonald’s. Happy ending, fade to jingle.

I have seen the commercial twice and the first time did not realize that it was a McDonald’s commercial because I was so consumed by absorbing the husband’s economical creativity. He is indeed a man after my own heart. I am a frugal person myself. Genetically programmed that way -- thank you very much daddy.

But clearly, this commercial is no-so-gently poking fun at the frugal people of the world as evidenced by its depiction of one of the husband’s “getting-my-money’s-worth” projects gone badly awry.

Now, I can totally relate to getting the last droplet of any product out of its bottle. I realize that I may be setting myself up for ridicule, but this is my true confession. I routinely swish water in the bottom of shampoo bottles to get the last of the shampoo before the bottle goes into the recycling bin. In my estimation, I get 4 additional full lathers. I swish water in the bottom of the laundry detergent bottles to make use of the last of that product, producing one or two basins full of soapy water for my delicate hand wash. I flatten toothpaste tubes with the back of my toothbrush to push the gel all the way to the top and don’t throw away the tube until it is beyond my ability to squeeze. It gives me an extra 5-6 toothpaste squeezes. Getting the last of the skin lotion out of the bottle is somewhat aggravating, but in my experience, there is about 2 weeks worth of product remaining after the first sign that the bottle is “empty” that I can coax out with gravity and a little shaking.

Cristy and I are on opposite poles of this spectrum. Actually, I’m at the extreme end of the spectrum and she’s somewhere in the middle. But she tolerates my frugal behavior, precisely like the understanding wife in the McDonald’s commercial. I wonder if my obsessive attention to economy is as ridiculous as the commercial makes it seem? It’s doubtful that I’ll change anytime soon.

17 November 2009

Small scale mysteries

Two little tidbits have been nagging my distracted brain all day today. One way to conquer this beast is to write it down and get it out of the inside of my head. Ah, sweet release. Still don't know the answers, but I can finally move on.

Question 1: What is the origin of the word "fussbudget?" It is such a funny word, but the literal deconstruction leaves me at a loss.

Question 2: What is the origin of the phrase "resting on your laurels?" Why would anyone rest on a laurel? Laurel is not a synonym for rear-end, last I checked.

Just curious.

The mentoring dilemma

As I was walking into the office this morning, I met up with a colleague in the elevator lobby and we rode up to our floor together. She mentioned that she saw me pull into the parking garage and thought to herself that I was someone she really looked up to professionally. She said she admired the way that I was handling my career and considered me a mentor. I, of course, returned the compliment with some supportive words of encouragement, acknowledging how wonderful she is and what an important contribution she makes.

This exchange gives me pause to consider. How important is it for us to have professional mentors or role models with whom we can personally identify? Does it contribute in a meaningful way to job satisfaction? What are the behaviors or characteristics of those individuals most often identified as mentors or professional role models?

A number of years ago I worked for a large professional consulting organization that implemented a mentoring program specifically for mid-career females. It was structured as a group, with a designated senior professional as the group leader. The premise was to provide a network of peer contacts plus a senior mentoring contact for each female in the group. The idea behind this premise was splendid, but the only drawback for me, was that I had no relationship with any of the members of this network because I worked in a different business unit. The level of effort required to build the trusting individual relationships that would make this network a solid resource for me, personally, was not on my short list of things to do. I already invested plenty of time in my job and every spare nanosecond I was able to detach from it was precious. So while on the one hand the mentoring network was something I felt I wanted, the investment-versus-payoff balance was out of whack.

Earlier this year, I attended an industry lunch meeting and was surprised beyond belief when one of the speakers, a rather senior female executive in another organization, spoke quite frankly about gender disparities. Our field is dominated by females, yet there are few females in senior executive roles. This is true. The speaker took it a step further, suggesting that we, females, do ourselves a disservice by not supporting each other. She suggested, in fact, that our behaviors actually undermine our opportunities to succeed.

If my own response was a barometer for the rest of the audience, I would have to say that we were startled, and perhaps even uncomfortable by her frankness. The subject seemed taboo. No one ventured to ask a question. But the truth is that I would have liked to have delved into the conversation further. In a different, safer forum.

I often feel a nonspecific subliminal tension with my own manager. She is very smart and I respect her. I do not know why the tension exists and I do not know how to replace it with something that is healthier and stronger for us both.

The only thing that comes to mind, in light of this morning’s exchange, is to turn her into a mentor. What if I made an effort to let her know that I valued her professional accomplishments and considered her an amazing role model? What if she wants to know that I value her and my behavior is just not confirming my feelings? Perhaps I can influence the transformation of this relationship into something better and I have nothing to lose from trying.

14 November 2009

Mean people suck

I don’t like bullies. And by bully, I don’t mean a big kid who is threatening to beat me up if I don’t hand over my math homework. I’m talking about adults with aggressively strong personalities who communicate in a confrontational tone and manner. These people frighten me and they might as well be threatening to beat me up because that’s exactly how I feel when the conversation is over: like I just got knocked down.

I don’t do well in conflict situations to begin with, and I completely lose my ability to function if I am having a conflict with a bully. It happened today. I had this unfortunate encounter with a woman about 10 to 15 years older than I who owns the lighting store where we recently purchased two chandeliers. Cristy and I hired a man who does electrical contracting work on the side to install all of our light fixtures. It is convenient because he works on the weekend and she and I don’t have to take more time off work to meet him at the house.

The new chandeliers are for the foyer and kitchen. Cristy and our installer went to the store to pick up the boxes this morning and he started installing them. Unfortunately, when he took the foyer lantern out of the box, he walked over to tell me that he had some bad news – the chandelier was broken. He showed me where the problem was and we packed it back up so I could return it.

Later, I took the fixture back and immediately felt a chill spread through the room when I suggested that I’d like to exchange it. I waited for a while with my boxed up lantern and then a while longer when they took it to the “back” for their “guy” to inspect it. The bully, I mean, owner, approached me with a stern look on her face and I felt like I was about to get in trouble. She went on the attack immediately: who was my installer, what was his name, what was the name of his company, was he a licensed electrician? I stammered and tried to explain that he was a qualified electrician, but had another full time job. That was all the fuel she needed. He was incompetent! He twisted up all the wires when he tried to install it! It was going to take their “guy” a couple of days to repair the mess!

This didn’t make sense to me. I told her that my installer merely removed it from the box and did not even attempt to install it because he noticed the flaw. Didn’t matter what I said.

I was instructed to return on Monday or Tuesday to pick it up.

Then she walked away.

I walked out to my car feeling scared and ashamed.

The store called Cristy later in the afternoon to say that the repairs were complete and we could pick it up. I don’t feel good about going. I know, I’m such a wimp. I’ll get it another time. When I’m feeling less diminished. Mean people suck.

13 November 2009

Racing to the finish line

Yes, the starting pistol has fired. You didn’t hear it? I heard it, but hit the snooze button once already and am about to tap it again. Holiday season! Dinners, family gatherings, traveling, parties, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating. Perhaps my favorite time of year, truth be told.

I know, I know, the accompanying stress associated with getting everything done (beautifully!) is so often a barrier to enjoyment.

Let’s see. Last year at this time, I was well on the road to completing almost all of my holiday shopping except for a small handful of personally selected gifts. Completing my Santa list turned out to be no trouble at all. In addition, Cristy and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her (old) house, I completed my seasonal decorating before the end of November, visited my mom in Oklahoma for 4 days, gave a pre-Christmas brunch at my (old) house for my small family and another little dinner party the following week for a handful of friends. Plus, Cristy and I attended several other family gatherings in celebration of the season. It was a busy time, but I managed to coast through it with almost no anxiety.

This year, I’m afraid I’m not going to be enjoying that coasting thing so much.

Decorating is going to be a challenge since unpacking and house arranging is not exactly complete. My gift giving inspiration has not yet arrived and I generally rely on a visitation from this muse to guide my projects and shopping. And much to my dismay, parties at our home may not be on the agenda this year.

So I will consider it my practice year. Yes, that’s it. I need one year to figure out how to decorate the house so it will look splendid. One year to get the chimney cleaned so we can actually use the fireplace for a cozy gathering at home. One year to somewhat recover from the chronic financial drain associated with moving, renovating, furnishing. What's that old saying about Carnegie Hall?

Don’t worry Santa, aah’ll be baahck.

Just wondering

Sometimes I just start wondering. And once that starts, you never quite know where the path will take you. Consider yourself forewarned.

You know those Spanish restaurants where they serve delicious tapas? I was wondering about that this morning. I thought I had read that tapas originated in cafes many years ago, driven by the need to keep pesky insects out of the patrons’ beverages. So they served beverages with a little saucer to place on top of the glass in between sips.

Is this real or an urban legend? I have no precise memory of where I heard or read this story about the origin of the term.

Anyway, as my recollection tells me, over time, caf├ęs naturally began to serve little bites of food on these handy saucers. Bringing us to the current day where small portions of food are served on little plates in cute Spanish cafes. But no one uses the plates as a cover for their beverage anymore.

Which brings me back to my internal question. If pest control (namely flies) was a problem with drinks served in an open glass, wouldn’t the flies get all in the food too? Why was it considered OK to serve food on these saucers when the saucers were needed to keep flies out of the beer?

Maybe I don’t have the full story. Maybe exterminators arrived on the scene and took care of the problem with flies. Or maybe every table came equipped with a fly swatter.

But flies are just G-R-O-S-S. They are filthy. I do not like them one bit.

I was at a picnic about a year ago at a public park, and the hostess began putting an assortment of snacks, salads, dips and sweets out on the table. I was appalled to observe flies digging in to the feast before any of the humans. We were outdoors and we were unable to keep them away. I couldn’t bear to watch anyone eating after the flies; it just completely unsettled my stomach.

I am not a queasy girl. I can pick up spiders, lizards, frogs or beetles if they get indoors and gently escort them outdoors where they belong. But oh my. Just the thought of someone eating potato salad after a couple of flies have visited makes me very uncomfortable. I need to avert my glance.

Let’s rest for a minute or two on the bench alongside this path and recover, shall we? And then we can resume normal Friday morning activities.

11 November 2009

Courage to change

Tomorrow is recycling day. Our recycling bucket contains an assortment of plastic, metal and paper, ready to embark on a journey of reincarnation. It isn’t so notable anymore, curbside recycling programs have been implemented throughout Houston. But I have not participated in quite a long while. At my former house in the Heights, recycling pickup was on alternating weeks and I did not have the mental acuity to maintain that schedule in my head, so I drove two miles down the street on the weekends carrying my recyclable waste to the neighborhood recycling center. Then after I moved to Cristy’s house, I was never clear on the recycling guidelines or schedule. And since Cristy did not participate, I gave it up for a while. Yes, my aspiring greenness faded to a dullish muddy brown.

But we’re back on track as of tomorrow. Thursday is a bonus day for Waterford Park: regular household trash pickup day, heavy trash pickup day and recycling day. A veritable bonanza of solid waste services!

It occurred to me, on the drive in this morning (as I was listening to the noise in my head rather than music due to my chronic technophobia) that since we are busy getting our house organized and arranged, perhaps I could try to do the same with myself. There are certain step-oriented programs that focus on improving the quality of your life by eliminating negative behaviors that tend to contribute to chaos. Some people that participate in step-oriented programs also use tools as metaphors for action. Eliminating negative behavior is really an intangible thing, but by linking a tangible action to the negative behavior and enacting a “riddance ceremony” to this action, it helps to define some mental structure around the purging experience.

So I was wondering if I could put some of my personal defects out for pickup tomorrow along with the household trash. I won’t be needing them any longer. They don’t serve me well now and just like holding on to old VHS video tapes, it’s doubtful that I’ll be needing them in the future.

Perhaps I could say goodbye to complaining and refer back to the guidelines my mommy suggested when I was a little girl: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Complaining for the sake of complaining is counterproductive and I don’t think I much need to do it anymore.

I might also be well advised to toss out judgment in tomorrow’s trash. One of my character defects, unfortunately, is to lay claim to a judgment before I have enough information. So instead, I think I might be a better person to pause and take the trouble to listen or read more, even if I don’t happen to ultimately agree with the point of view.

And I think, overall, I would increase my level of personal happiness if I discarded my tendency to be reclusive. The level of communication among my immediate family is not very frequent and, truth be told, it troubles me. So instead of observing this burden from afar, I could adjust my happiness by reaching out more. Taking a couple of hours out of my week to call, email, send letters and notes. I cannot change anyone else’s behavior and do not have any expectations that a change in my behavior will trigger a similar response in anyone else. But I am sure it would make me feel happier. Plus, it's just the right thing to do.

My plan is to simply print a copy of this essay, circle the items that I want to discard, and add it to the trash when I carry it out this evening. The renewal, the reincarnation that I seek, from the act of recycling, is the change that I will take back with me. Trading complaining for gratitude, judgment for curiosity and reclusiveness for reaching out.

I recited the serenity prayer to myself before I came in to work today. Usually, when I say this prayer, I tend to focus on the first part: accepting the things I cannot change. But today, my heart hovered around asking God for the courage to change the things I can. He has, in fact, answered my prayer. Through the simple act of recycling.

09 November 2009

Second favorite, a dubious distinction

Recently, Cristy and I have become regular customers at our local Lowe’s home improvement store. We have visited most of the sections in the store: plumbing, electrical, home organization, window coverings, paint, lawn and garden, hardware. And during these visits, we have had an opportunity to interact with a variety of Lowes employees. We remember them on our successive trips, and they remember us.

Cristy is easy to remember. When she engages in conversation, she’s one of those people who asks questions about the other person, encouraging them to talk about themselves, their kids, their pets. People like her.

Last week I was in Lowes on a solo trip; I had only a short list of items to purchase. I ran into Michael, one of the sales associates that we adore. He’s friendly, helpful, handsome and likes dogs. Plus, he’s a Houston fireman, a job that carries a fair amount of distinction. Anyone who is willing to run into a burning building to save someone’s life is way more than OK in my book.

I spent a moment or two chatting with Michael about a project. Then he said, almost in passing, that Cristy and I were his second favorite customers.

Second favorite?

I didn’t quite know how to respond. Somehow I was crushed. I told Cristy later. She was appalled. We’re cute. We spend a fair amount of money there. We are there at least 5 timed per week and sometimes twice on Saturday!

Hey Michael, what’s the deal? What do we need to do to get the top spot?

Method to the madness

Snippets of conversation generally begin like this:

“Where did you get that kitchen towel?”

“Do you know what this plastic lid belongs to?”

“Have you been able to find the batteries?”

Yes, we are still in that post-move, not-quite-unpacked, trying-to-get-the-house-organized place. On day eleven, yesterday, our house really started to resemble a place that looks like we live here. It is transforming into our home. Cupboards, pantries, cabinets and closets are full and organized, in a reasonably logical way. Everyday items, books, towels, coffee cups, dog bowls and trash baskets have places that are now becoming predictable.

But the double-barrel unpacking approach (me & Cristy working in separate areas of the house) has some minor drawbacks. We have a lot of stuff. No kidding. So the person who unpacks and organizes the item is, for a while at least, going to be the only one who knows where to find it. Leading back to the long list of questions that seem to emerge in every conversation:

“Did you unpack the Tupperware?”

“Where is the toilet paper?”

"Wow, I didn't know we had that."

06 November 2009

Reflection on moments

I pulled to a stop behind a Metro bus at a traffic light and noticed two people departing from the bus, walking toward the filling station-convenience store on that street corner. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about this couple, this man and woman. Initially I was not sure that they were a couple. But they immediately began talking and smiling. She was middle aged with a nondescript hairstyle, a long, comfortable skirt, t-shirt and corduroy shirt on top. He was about the same age, taller, fuller in girth, and had graying hair pulled back into a moderately long ponytail. After about a half dozen steps their strides matched and they were walking side by side, still talking and smiling. Then he put his arm around her shoulders, squeezed himself closer to her and I could tell by their faces that they were laughing. Sharing a little joke. A second later they disappeared into the store, presumably for a cup of coffee and perhaps a breakfast snack.

Yesterday, I read a compelling essay on a truly wonderful blog,
AbodeOneThree, about time, specifically about the moments in our lives. Recognizing them, savoring them and rejoicing in the lessons, trials, joys, sorrows and love that they bring.

I was but a voyeur in this moment of shared laughter between my fellow commuters this morning, but it was a perfect illustration to that essay and a compelling reminder that we have the power to shape our moments. We have a string of opportunities, moments, in our day to fill these moments with laughter, extend a hand of friendship to others and whisper words of love to the people whose love we cherish.

05 November 2009

Meandering mind of the commuter III

Today's morning commute was reasonably light, just the typical slow patch a bit north of the 610 loop. As usual, with no distraction from my out-of-commission car audio system, my mind is free to wander. Hundreds of thought fragments float behind my eyes, a tiny thread dangling at the bottom of each. I grab one, follow it for a few moments until it carries my brain to another. Then I release it and follow the next thread. Every so often this stream-of-subconsciousness bubbles up to the surface and calls for my conscious attention.

It happened that way this morning, one of these thought fragments caught my attention and took me to the phrase noblesse oblige. It reminded me of a conversation I had with someone a number of years ago. The content of the conversation was regarding community service and the source of personal motivation to become involved in service. At the time, I had never heard this phrase and did not know the precise meaning. And my stupid pride stood in the way of just asking. Within the context of the conversation, I had a feeling that the definition had something to do with extending oneself in service due more from a sense of socio-economic obligation than desire to extend a helping hand.

So, I looked it up today, all these years later. Seems as though the precise meaning of the phrase needs to be inferred from the tone in which it is spoken. Makes sense. It is an old phrase, originating in an age where hard class distinctions were routinely observed as part of daily life.

And I wonder, now, if it matters. I mean, in terms of that original conversation years ago: is the act of performing community service somehow invalidated if it does not come from a pure place of love, but rather from a sense of obligation? Right now, I’d say no. I think the real question is whether the individual performing the service will realize that his or her time and effort is needed and valued. And consequently, whether that person can then forge a personal link to our innate human tendency to offer help, transforming the motivation into a human connection, rather than a chore or obligation. In other words, is this person likely to integrate community service into their life because it is meaningful?

Hmmm, just a thought for the day from the meandering mind of the commuter.

04 November 2009


You know some days are just not as great as other days. For the most part I keep a positive outlook, count my blessings and try to complain less. I’m not always successful and am the first to admit that I have plenty of shortcomings. But today is just not a really good day. Yesterday wasn’t either, come to think of it.

Could be the full moon, biorhythms, fatigue, who knows. To make matters worse, I start punishing myself inside my head by replaying unpleasant circumstances from long ago, feeling the shame and humiliation all over again. Let it go, already! What’s up with that?

I feel unbalanced and out of touch with myself, with all other humans on the planet. I’m not about to publish a manifesto describing a new conspiracy theory just yet; no immediate need to call the mental health patrol Just slightly out of step, that’s all. As if my existence is somehow diminished, maybe even inconsequential.

Seems I’ve felt this way before, yes, it does sound familiar now that I’m reading it back to myself. But I’m taking the regular dose of prescribed meds…could be pms…could just be Wednesday.

03 November 2009

Confrontation with keys

I was at a gathering once and a woman I knew entered the room wearing a lanyard around her neck, a small bundle of keys dangling at the bottom. I assumed she was in charge of guarding some super-secret confidential information. My esteem of her rose immediately. Before too long, she relayed the story about the lanyard.

Apparently her daughter was visiting and noticed that her mom’s level of personal disorganization resulted in repeatedly misplacing her keys. After several searches of the premises for the errant keys, her daughter suggested that her mom just wear them around her neck.

“Well, honey, if it gets that bad, I will.”

“Mom, it is that bad.”

Her honesty, humility and humor in revealing this personal weakness increased my esteem of her even further.

My own key crisis occurred this past weekend. Over the span of two days I enlisted Cristy in conducting two household-wide searches for my set of errant keys. Both times they turned up in logical locations where, in my absent-mindedness, I did not think to look: once in my jacket pocket (!) and once on the kitchen counter beneath my backpack.

In her exasperation, Cristy insisted that we install a key hook where I would be required to place my keys upon entering the house. I selected a location where I would be sure to see the key hook, at eye level, upon entering the house every time. Within a couple of hours the pretty new hook (formerly a decorative measuring spoon holder) was available for use.

I am happy to report that since the last key-loss incident, I have been 100% successful at keeping track of my keys in the house. I know exactly where they are, picking them up just as I walk out the door and looping them over the hook immediately upon entering. This is not to say that a key hook is a silver bullet cure for the overall absent mindedness that is slowly but surely spreading through my living, breathing consciousness. But it helps.