29 April 2010

Gratitude at work

Eight years ago I decided to change my career and I left my job in the private sector to become involved, as a volunteer, in the world of nonprofit. I was not sure what I was going to end up doing by way of a permanent career change, but I knew I wanted to immerse myself, meet people and learn about this unfamiliar segment of the business world as quickly as possible.

Eventually, I wound up working at an organization for which I have great respect. I believe in the mission and admire the brilliant scientists here that make contributions to our world. I am grateful to be a small part of this organization. It is something much bigger than me and it stands for something good. It touches lives and sometimes even saves lives.

Today, one of the scientists here was named in Time magazine’s annual list of the world’s 100 most influential people. He is a professor and chair of the Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma. His field of research involves harnessing the human immune system to develop a cancer vaccine and this important work is gaining attention. Congratulations to Larry Kwak, M.D., Ph.D.

28 April 2010

In harmony

I walked down the street today to attend a presentation: 1 block west then 1 block north. The day is lovely and I noticed blooming daylilies and plenty of chirping sparrows along the way. One of the buildings I passed has now been entirely fenced; any sort of access to the perimeter is prohibited. The building will be demolished at some date in the not too distant future as the Texas Medical Center makes way for expansion.

The process of expansion is one that seems to have no end. New roads, new buildings, new floors added to the tops of existing buildings. The vast acreage of Hermann Park lies along the northern edge of the medical center. A drive into this complex from the freeway affords commuters a picturesque view of the golf course. Recently, a broader, new road was constructed to channel traffic alongside Braes Bayou more efficiently and as a result, the older road near the edge of the golf course was abandoned and has been returned to the park as restored green space.

This is something I have not ever before observed. A road demolished and the land restored to augment nature. It makes me happy that the civil engineers and transportation planners included this as one of the goals of the construction project.

In my personal corner of the world, Cristy has taken significant strides to convert our own yard into a nature friendly habitat. There are 2 squirrel feeders, a bird feeder, hummingbird feeder, two birdhouses and a birdbath. Numerous wind chimes provide soothing musical sounds that help mask the noise of nearby lawnmowers or tools. She has made our yard a welcome place for birds and squirrels and we are rewarded daily with visitors of all varieties.

The energy inside our homes is, I think, derived in large part from its external surroundings. Windows that offer views of water, sky, foliage and our feathered neighbors give us the elements in Feng Shui that represent vital Chi energy. A balance with nature and with spirit. Harmonious.

Amid a sometimes perplexing blend of chaos, I am reminded of the harmony woven throughout the moments of my day.

25 April 2010

3rd vein

It’s been another weekend of activity. Oil changes, pool cleaning, ceiling fan installation, window shade hanging. Mixed in with a little bird watching, sipping coffee in the sun and keeping company with the dogs. My oldest dog’s mobility has been declining of late and it has me worried. For the past 9 months or so, he has been taking some medication that has helped to sustain him, but last weekend that medicine was no longer sufficient.

Thankfully the veterinarian remembers him and understood that I was reluctant to subject him to the stress of a visit to that office, particularly in his current situation. Through a telephone consultation, she prescribed a new medicine. It is the medication of last resort for him and she had given me this warning 9 months ago when we embarked upon his prior course of treatment.

It is a steroid targeted to reduce inflammation around his spinal cord and restore his locomotion, dispensed in a declining dosage over a period of two weeks. Moving into the second week, it appears that this current dosage level does not seem to be as effective as the previous level because he is beginning to lose track of his back feet again. But he is still able to walk and remains alert with a good appetite.

The steroid has some side effects. I read about the medicine online. It is so difficult to tell whether the side effects I observe in my dog are merely annoying for him or whether they are making him truly uncomfortable. I’ve started giving him an extra dose of his “doggy tylenol” just in case.

In our society we want to act in a humane and caring manner toward the animals who are our companions in life. We want to prolong their lives as long as they are happy, alert and comfortable but we also want to inject human logic into balance. At what point has the animal’s discomfort dipped below the equilibrium of sustaining care?

I’m not presently equipped to be a participant in that determination. And in all honesty, I’d prefer not to be part of that process. I would prefer that my beloved dog travel the journey of his life to its complete end without my involvement, if at all possible.

This process makes me focus on my program more than ever. I have to let go. I have to let each day unfold through God’s grace. I realize my tears come from the sadness of a loss that has not yet occurred. And each tear keeps me away from the joy of my precious Jackie’s life. Living in the now.

24 April 2010


It was 6:45am Friday and I noticed several cars pulling into the parking lot of a largely abandoned shopping strip on my way to work. Then I realized they were cutting through the parking lot to zip over to the Shipley Donut shop. Thoughtful folks that they were, they were probably going to get a big box to take in for their coworkers. Or maybe not, who knows?

Regardless, it reminded me of a story that my mom likes to tell from time to time. About Shipley donuts. The best darned donuts around, if I do say so myself.

When my brother and I were young kids, my dad would buy a dozen Shipley donuts from time to time, as a Saturday morning treat. He wasn’t the type of man who would get up early on Saturday morning to drive over to the donut store to get fresh donuts. He’d buy them the night before and wrap the box in kitchen towels to try to keep them fresh. My brother and I were kids and didn’t know the difference. I guess my mom and dad just didn’t much care whether the donuts were fresh or not-so-fresh. In hindsight, this is weird, because my dad loved sweets.

Anyway, one particular Friday night, we had a box of Shipley donuts on our kitchen counter wrapped in dish towels.

The next morning, Dad awoke and made his way into the kitchen. He noticed my younger brother sitting on the floor watching cartoons. As he started making the coffee, he glanced over to the box of eagerly awaited Shipley donuts and to his surprise, only saw an empty counter. Naturally, he asked my brother where he put the donuts, thinking he had already snaked one or two from the box.

Hey, where’d you put the donuts?

What donuts?


A quick look around the house revealed an empty donut box and some kitchen towels casually tossed aside. And a family dog with an upset stomach casually sleeping it off in the laundry room. Apparently the kitty had acted as an accomplice and pushed the box to the floor for amusement.

No one else was very amused at the time, but all these years later, it is a continued source of amusement, at least for my mom, my brother and me.

22 April 2010


2nd vein.

I’m turning into my mom. Part of me, anyway. Not the casino-slot-machine-diva part. The homemade-buttons-and-bows part. I know I’ve written a couple of blog entries about my foray into homemade things and craft projects. It’s a far cry from the way I would have envisioned spending my time if you had asked me ten years ago. But now it just seems genuine and personal.

Cristy brought home a little pot of daisies from the store last night. It is a welcome gift from a group of colleagues for a coworker returning to work after completing a treatment protocol for breast cancer. Cristy wanted it to be sweet and special, so I offered to make a little bow for the plant and thankfully, she agreed. In five minutes I had made a little bow out of cotton fabric layered alongside a smaller bow of raffia and string with a couple of beads attached to the ends of the string. I tied the bows to a little plastic card holder and anchored it into the soil. It doesn’t look spectacular, but it does look personal. It looks like this woman’s coworkers cared enough about her to make a homemade bow for the pretty potted daisies.

I will probably turn into one of those women who troll the clearance table at JoAnn’s, picking up remnants of lace, ribbon and pretty patterned fabrics to adorn greeting cards, packages and gifts of all sorts. Just a little touch to make them personal. That’s what my mom always did.

21 April 2010


I’m running a day late this week because I stayed home from work with an ailing dog on Monday. As a result, the threads of my thoughts are splintered, sort of like a tree whose main trunk divides into 3 or 4 veins. Each thread is larger than normal and my thoughts are not quite balanced.

One of the thoughts is related to giving. On a more elemental level, giving evolves from awareness and compassion, so perhaps that is where this particular thought originates too. I read two blog posts in two days about giving and guilt. The guilt of living in prosperity, when compared with a life of limitation, the guilt of being so consumed with the myriad problems of living a prosperous life that the larger problems of humanity are eclipsed from view, and the guilt of having done nothing to help.

Both of the blog authors are female. I have a hypothesis, but no quantifiable information with which to back my hypothesis (so take it for what it’s worth), that guilt is more prevalent among females than males. The next logical step after guilt is shame, and shame is a dangerous, spiraling trap that keeps us focused inward. Consequently, we have done nothing to help, have gained awareness that help is needed, but are now so ashamed that we become paralyzed and do nothing but retreat. In helplessness.

I was not raised in a family where the spirit of giving to others was prioritized as a core value. My father was the product of an impoverished upbringing during the 1930s and 1940s. His parents did not ask for or receive assistance and my father’s stoic observation as a youngster was that it was the responsibility of each family to make it on their own. A view perhaps valid for its time, but outdated in my lifetime.

Life is not a level playing field. In our country, educational opportunities are not equal for all children. The safe home and nourishing meal that I never concerned myself with as a child, are indelible question marks in the lives of many children and often manifest as barriers to education. Social problems stem from a complex set of issues, but poverty and lack of education are intertwined and lie firmly knotted within the root causes.

I have a job in the business of philanthropy. What I have learned from this business is that those who make donations often do so because they feel connected to a cause and they feel their gift will make a difference. The fact that they have not made a donation to a particular cause in the past is not a sufficient reason to feel guilty, it is only an opportunity to learn, to understand why the program exists and who it helps. Armed with an adequate level of information, the prospective donor can make a decision about whether to support that particular cause with a financial contribution.

Once, during a time of relative abundance in my life, I expanded my own philanthropic wings and made two sizable donations (sizable within the context of my personal giving experience) to two different organizations in one day. I am certain that if either organization had personally approached me subsequent to those gifts, offered an opportunity to learn more and presented a case for support, I would have increased my giving even further. But it didn’t happen. I attempted to volunteer my time with one of the two organizations, but their lack of directed leadership was disheartening and I eventually went away altogether.

I have a theory that people who have a healthy relationship with philanthropy also have a healthy relationship with money. They spend their money on things they value and maintain a realistic perception of their own financial status. I also have a theory that those of us who live in prosperity (again, in the context of the world at large) have a responsibility to our neighbors to extend the hand of friendship.

We can all do something to help. Banish the guilt and shame and simply do something. Contribute, volunteer, advocate, develop an attitude of curiosity and tolerance.

One down.

20 April 2010


What happens when you put a group of people together in a room? Someone will invariably observe that the temperature of the room is not quite comfortable; it’s either too hot or too cold. The first observation serves to open a general discussion about the less-than-comfortable conditions.

Guilty! I’m one of those people. My personal comfort zone tends to accommodate temperatures that are slightly above normal rather than temperatures slightly below normal. I don’t like being cold while I’m at work. But just two offices away, my colleague almost always has a fan blowing in her office – she’d prefer the temperature much cooler than the normal setting.

I work in an old building and have learned that while the HVAC system is tuned as much as possible to accommodate the changes to the internal space layout through the 20 or so years since it was first built, it’s just hard for the building engineers to regulate even airflow.

OK. I get it.

So I don’t complain about the temperature in my office because I realize they can’t really do that much more. Instead, I sit on a heating pad.

It’s warm. Sort of like those wonderful seat warmers that some lucky people have in their cars to keep them warm in winter. But with a twist. It is an electric appliance, and if I’m not careful the heating pad can burn my skin. Yes, there is a fabric cover over the heating pad and yes, I wear completely adequate clothing, so the heating element is not coming into actual contact with my skin.

Nonetheless, last Friday I noticed that my derriere was just particularly sensitive. So after work, when I got home, I checked it out. To my dismay, there were two bright red burn spots on my very own butt. A startling discovery.

I’m struggling to figure out the metaphor here…

16 April 2010

More thriftiness

Sailing on the success of last weekend’s thrift store outing, I have continued on the quest for dinner forks and buffet plates this week. Monday’s target was a rather upscale thrift store in the heart of the Montrose. It is staffed with a hefty supply of volunteers that resemble museum docents. My journey rewarded me with a set of 7 dessert plates in a modern floral design, shades of orange, pink and yellow. Quite festive and only $10.

Then yesterday, on the way home from work, a little voice urged me to pull off and dash into Dillard’s clearance center store. I had been there 2 or 3 weeks ago and doubted that the inventory would have changed much, but I heeded the voice. And the reward was worth the extra time. Open stock china priced at 99-cents. Only three patterns available, and mostly saucers without cups, but I was fortunate enough to get an armful of pretty bone china salad plates for under $20.

However, the fork shortage still lingers in the shadows of my thoughts. So today I went to the Salvation Army family store in the Heights on a quest for dinner forks. There were a lot, just not a lot that I liked. I prefer a dining utensil that feels weighty in your hand, so the stamped metal utensils, the kind that are plentiful in thrift stores, don’t exactly do it for me. Thankfully there were a half dozen that met the minimum criteria and at 20-cents per piece, who can complain, right?

I casually glanced at a few other items, but with not much time to spare, I made my purchase and headed back to work. Future thrift store outings will continue to be part of my future as I move down the list to other items queued up in my mind’s periphery.

Learning (still) to let go

I’m not sure why this popped into my head, but it did. And unfortunately now the thought has become a free radical, taking up too much space in my consciousness while I should be concentrating on another far more important task. In my experience, the best way to banish a pesky thought is to write it down on paper; get it out of my head and put it elsewhere. OK, so electronic writing is not exactly the same, but it might work.

Cristy and I are going to a wedding on Sunday and the groom is a particular friend of mine. He has a large circle of friends, some of whom I know on a first name basis as acquaintances. I would recognize them if I saw them and would feel comfortable smiling and exchanging a sincerely pleasant greeting.

Once, a number of years ago, the groom-to-be and I went to hear a musical performance at a local venue. We took a seat at our table and chatted, waiting for the band. Two other individuals from his circle of friends entered the place and took a seat at the bar. My friend gave a slight wave and nod to both. Shortly afterwards, one of them walked over to our table and exchanged a quick greeting with my companion. I knew him by name, but had never had a personal conversation with him. I smiled as they spoke, looking at him, prepared to extend a warm hello. But to my surprise and utter humiliation, he abruptly turned and walked away without even acknowledging my presence. Not a nod, not a glance. It was the sort of snub that might be discussed for pages in a Jane Austen novel.

I think the blood was rushing through my ears and I could not quite hear if my companion attempted to make up a possible excuse for his friend’s rudeness. But, of course I did my best to brush the incident aside and focus on enjoying my evening.

I will likely never forget that stinging breach of manners and I suspect that this friend of the groom’s will be at his wedding. But of course, why wouldn’t he invite his friends? And the fact that he might be there makes me mildly uncomfortable. As though the same experience might repeat itself again. As though I will attempt to maintain a safe distance from this individual in order to avoid the opportunity to repeat the ugliness and shame.

In some step-oriented programs that focus on being-here-now, I might be accused of obsessing about a possible future event that may or may not happen. And that accusation would be true. By placing my consciousness in the future and permitting my imagination to cast a worst-case-scenario, I set myself up to choose a single outcome, from the millions of possible things that might happen. Furthermore, I choose to shift my focus away from the primary purpose of attending the wedding, sharing my friend’s joy, truly the only reason I want to go at all. But worst, I shift my focus away from the here and now. The tasks I should be attending to, the peace and happiness I could be percolating in my heart right at this moment.

Hmm. That’s better.

13 April 2010

Best made plans

Dogs have a way of outsmarting us humans. We make plans and execute our plans carefully. Then a dog comes along, casually sniffs out the one single deficiency, and in a nanosecond, topples the fruits of your labor, all the while wagging her tail happily.

This is the way it has been with the doggy door.

Developing a plan for restricted canine access to the dog run area of the yard throughout the work day was an essential element of our initial move-in plan. We carefully planned a location for the door, selected a contractor for the installation, planned the design for the perimeter fence around the dog run, planned for the exterior pathway leading to the door and purchased all the requisite materials.

It seemed like a reasonable plan. Dogs would have the freedom to stay indoors or outdoors during the day, would not be subjected to the risk of falling into the pool, and on lawn mowing days, we would simply pop the cover over the doggy door and they would stay safely indoors.

So we executed against the plan. Mucho time consuming. No small expense.

Flaw #1 – commercially-made doggy door covers are designed to trick humans into thinking that they are actual barriers. This assumption is false. The simple pop-on doggy door cover we have can be removed by a crafty canine in a matter of moments. It is no match for a dog with an agenda.

Flaw #2 – temporary fencing is temporary, at best. During the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, we installed some deer fencing at my old house to keep the dogs inside the yard after the back fence blew down. It was very effective as a short-term solution. We decided to take this success and expand it to a larger scale, for a longer duration, by using deer fencing to cordon off the perimeter of the dog run. However, because of the variable terrain and other factors, there were weaknesses in the fence that the dogs quickly identified. Quick, as in instantaneously. Scaled the fence, no problem. Over the subsequent months, we (and when I say we, I actually mean Cristy) have conducted countless repairs to this temporary fence to remedy each breach of integrity.

These two initial, but fatal flaws in our logic resulted in a ripple effect of downstream problems, exacerbated by our attempts to outwit our clever companion dogs with creative solutions to these problems. Each activity, consequently falling into the aforementioned mucho-time-consuming and no-small-expense categories.

The remedies seem to be the most obvious. 1. stack up some heavy things in front of the doggy door blocking access to the door. 2. get a professional to build a real fence.

OK (head hanging in embarrassment), OK.

Fencing contractor completed the work yesterday. After we return the leftover lumber to Home Depot, I can start working on getting the leftover splinters out of my hands and maybe, just maybe, put the doggy-door episodes to rest.

Too optimistic? We shall see.

12 April 2010

Scenes from the weekend

Plenty of activity punctuated by brief escapes to the yard, full of blooming plants. Projects included phase 2 of the photo gallery project (phase 1 picture at left), doggy-door barracade, candle-lantern groupings for the trees, making a birdbath, hanging a bird feeder, and adding storage hooks for the pool tools. Full agenda.

10 April 2010


Wedding day is approaching and we are beginning to ask ourselves questions like, do we have enough glasses, plates, forks? Do we know exactly what else we need for decoration?

I was talking with my mom on the phone last night and she asked: what are you going to wear?

These are all good questions and there is not a clear answer to any. Yet.

I suspect we’re a little deficient on some of these items, so this morning I went to two of the thrift stores nearby to see what I could find, within a modest budget. I don’t make it a habit to go to thrift stores, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t make it a habit to go to any store except for groceries and other consumable necessities. The point is, I don’t have much of a shopping habit and I have not developed the fine art of sniffing out the excellent values at thrift stores. (I have heard urban legends about such people.) My number one objective today was to get forks.

It was a moderately successful outing. For an investment of $30 I acquired a domed cake pedestal, a pretty assortment of knives and forks, and 4 pieces of stemware that just happen to match a pair of wine glasses we already have. However, I have a feeling that a few more trips to the thrift store will be in my immediate future because as satisfied as I am with these purchases, I simply did not get enough forks.

Seriously, there were literally buckets full of dinner knives, but a true scarcity of forks. Even though I was not planning to get any knives, I had to sift through hundreds to find the few forks that I did purchase, and along the way found some very pretty table knives.

My hypothesis about this is that forks disappear. True statement? In my own personal inventory, dinner knives are indeed the most plentiful. Spoons come in second and forks sadly lag behind in third place.

So when donations arrive to the thrift store (the inventory), knives are in greatest supply.

But consumer demand gobbles up the scarce supply of forks that happen to arrive.

Thus, a few more visits (to other) thrift stores will be required to satisfy my own demand for the upcoming wedding celebration.

Plus, if I focus on the forks for a short while longer, I won’t have to worry about what to wear. Yet.

04 April 2010

Another weekend project

I asked if I could use her cordless drill and she said yes. I had high hopes of completing a little project on my own. I wanted to convert an unadorned vestibule in our home into a photo gallery. I had found some ledges on sale at Target and had plans to use these ledges as the basis of the photo gallery look I was seeking.

The plan seemed easy enough. Theoretically. Still, I was a little apprehensive. After all, I was about to drill some holes in our walls.

I got my supplies together: eyeglasses, snowman pencil, measuring tape, level, manual screwdriver and drill. When Cristy saw the snowman pencil she knew I was serious. She decided to evacuate to a place of relative safety where she would not have to observe my palpable nervousness.

I marked, measured, drilled and successfully hung the first ledge. I replicated the process exactly and hung the second. My confidence soared. Feeling that drill move the anchor into the dry wall was incredible. It felt secure. Why had I been so nervous? I would have this project knocked out in 10 minutes, tops.

Then there was a tiny bump in the road. The fittings for the third shelf didn’t match up with the anchors I had installed. Hmmm. I had done everything exactly like the previous two. I kept hoping for a miracle, trying to get the ledge to fit, badly marring the paint in the process. I was sweating.

I stepped out onto the back porch to admit my power tool deficiencies and solicit advice for proceeding. The first thing she said was: Isn’t hanging shelves fun?

No. It isn’t. I hate the bastards who invented shelves.

Plan B – install two new anchors a half inch over from the previous two. I measured the openings on the rear of the ledge again and verified that the measurement was not identical to the first two ledges. I needed to modify the distance between the anchors.

I don’t know whether it was my escalating panic or just a case of bad luck, but Plan B failed too. On to Plan C – half inch over in the other direction. Triple measure, mark, triple measure. Success.

Five more went up quickly after the setback. The gallery is far from complete, but the visual anchor is in place and the second round of photos will probably go up next weekend.

I need some recovery time.

01 April 2010


I have to admit that I don’t know what these initials mean exactly, but I do know it has something to do with a personality profile, in the Myers-Briggs vernacular. It’s a label, and humans love to label things, people and places. I attended a presentation today and the speaker touched on the topic of introverts and extraverts. Many people in the room gave an audible acknowledgement that they were intricately aware of this distinction and strongly identified with one of the two personality types.

I was sitting at the front of the room closest to the speaker and had been paying close attention throughout the presentation. She was making eye contact with many people in the room but had not made eye contact with me until this precise moment. She looked at me directly and said: you are the introvert, right?

Uh, well apparently so.

The extroverts in the room voiced their agreement with this hypothesis.

The speaker resumed her presentation, acknowledging that extroverts are often guilty of interrupting others when they are speaking, but don’t much seem to mind when they themselves are interrupted.

I try not to interrupt others. I try to listen and respond as appropriate. Sometimes I find myself waiting, waiting, waiting for a break in the conversation so that I may broach a new subject, ask a question or introduce an idea. I would consider it rude to interrupt a conversation in progress to serve my own needs. But sometimes conversations have their own momentum and the lulls I seek just don’t present themselves. The extrovert speakers keep talking and other extroverts keep interrupting in a swirling cycle.

I was talking with my brother yesterday. He is an extrovert and I hold him in high esteem. But when we talk on the phone it is a difficult experience for me. Yesterday I had wanted to ask him something in particular. But as I was listening to my brother talk, the story he was telling, as is typical, kept getting longer by the minute. Eventually, he had to interrupt himself in order to cut our conversation short and answer a call from a client.

I never got a chance to interrupt him and ask my question.

I know that I am an introvert. I work well in a quiet atmosphere and don’t need to interact with others to keep my creative energy engaged. I prefer to minimize my time in meetings unless they are well structured. I have fun in social situations, but I am never the life of the party. I prefer to take a supporting role.

But this word, introvert, this label, seems to convey other information. As though we introverts seek to limit our interaction with others or hide from the world. Today’s presenter did not use these precise words, but she did paint a picture of introverts in similar broad-brush terms.

And I begin to think that being an introvert, governed by this part of my DNA, inhibits me from living a richer, happier life.

On the other hand, I would not wish to be one of those people who chronically interrupt others when they are speaking or verbally arm-wrestles others for the microphone.

So excuse me while I send my brother an email to ask him my question. It is not the quickest way to get a reply, but at least I can use this strategy to communicate a complete sentence.

Fool for love

Google is my preferred search engine at work and in life too. I love Google. I've been giving it a workout lately at the office. And today I kept noticing the word Topeka on the landing page instead of the regular word Google. The very wierd thing was that I was just doing a little bit of research on a couple of constituents that were originally from Topeka, KS. That was a surprise to me because their last known address was in Florida.

Often, Google seems to read my mind. If I enter one or two letters of a word or phrase, the search engine intuitively fills in the rest, making my job quicker and easier. Sometimes this ESP is more than a little startling, especially when I begin to search for something that falls outside the normal parameters I typically use. How does Google know what I am thinking?

But back to Topeka. I thought this word was just another improvement on the ESP feature package, but then my curiosity got the best of me. I clicked on the word and opened a silly and funy article about Google changing its name. Clearly an April fool's day joke. But clever and well executed.

I love Topeka!