Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Question No One Really Asked Has Now Been Answered

I've seen dozens of pregnancies and have been pregnant myself twice.

Every time, I might've marveled at a woman's size (or lack thereof), her grace (or lack thereof), or her waddle (rarely is there a lack thereof).

Never have I wondered why a pregnant woman doesn't topple like a Weeble-Wobble.

But apparently I'm just not curious enough. Some scientists did ask, and some yahoo at Forbes and the Associated Press felt that the answer was worthy of publication.

Guess what they learned? Disingenuously enough, scientists learned that women are built differently from men and these differences allow women to adjust to a different center of gravity.

Huh. Who would've thunk it?

Read more:

Sunday, December 9, 2007


A call this morning with my mother started me thinking about associations and the lasting impact they have on our behavior.

When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, around six or seven years old, I found the family-sized box of Nestle Quik powdered chocolate. ("Found," in this context, means that I waited until the adults were not paying attention to me, and I sneakily crept into the kitchen and pulled my pudgy, overweight body onto the kitchen countertop and get the chocolate off the topmost shelf in the highest cupboard.)

Not being a child known for moderate dietary indulgence (I would add 1/2 c. of brown sugar to a glass of whole milk for the pleasure of slurping the brown sugar off the bottom with a straw, just to add more brown sugar when it either dissolved or was eaten), I sat my pink flower-pantied bottom on the countertop with tablespoon in hand and eat spoonful after spoonful of the powdered chocolate ad nauseam (that's a pun, by the way). How I managed to eat half a box of this stuff (not to mention without any kind of lubricating agent like sips of water milk), I do not know...but I did.

An hour or two later, I was in the front seat of my parents' 1976 white Thunderbird, sitting between them. (Anyone who can picture this situation may ask, "where was her seat belt?" To that I would say, Dad ripped out the seat belts and disabled the warning/light bell on every car he had. It was 1980-something and we probably had a metal dashboard in that car; kids were just made tougher back then.) As we made a sharp right turn into the parking lot of a strip mall, by stomach roiled. The car made the little bumpity-bump over the curve, and I experienced all of that chocolate powder a second time, this time in the upward direction, as it temporarily turned brown the white leather seats and stained my favorite yellow/white polka dot dress.

Fast forward about 10-12 years to a college drinking experience when I must've thoroughly abandoned all of the best good sense I ever learned from Grandma or Spock (I mean the logical Star Trek Spock, not the nurturing child psychologist). This 6-hour period began with homemade sushi and champagne (hey, we were cultured college kids!), progressed through beer-and-amaretto Depth Charges, and concluded with shots of tequila and cinnamon-flavored Firewater. About four hours after last call, I took a 15-minute break from vegetarianism and indulged in Chicken McNuggets because I realized I needed food. Perhaps not surprisingly, my body rebelled. Thereafter any gaps in my memory about what I had drank or eaten over the previous 12 hours were answered, in a most physically uncomfortable way.

Since I was 6 or 7, I've barely touched chocolate, eschewing chocolate milk, hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate cheesecake, chocolate pudding, chocolate bars, or even chocolate ice cream, or chocolate fudge. I may be one of the few women who disdains gifts of chocolate at Valentine's Day. Since that teen-aged tour of the middle-shelf of the bar, I have barely touched booze, but, more significantly, I have such a strong aversion to tequila and artificial cinnamon that my stomach clenches at the faintest whiff. For multiple reasons, I have never again attempted to acquaint myself with Chicken McNuggets.

So, back to this morning's call with Ma.

I like to cook and bake, something my mother doesn't have much time to do, and my dad likes to eat what I cook and bake. He living nearly 600 miles from me isn't an impediment, as I manage to send travel-tolerant food via carrier pigeon (a.k.a. family members taking road trips between points A and B). Knowing my dad loves cheesecake, and I like making it, caused me to call home this morning to offer to send some cheesecake to him as part of his Christmas package.

Dad was asleep, sleeping off the exhausting effects of life-saving cancer treatment which does everything to destroy quality of life while trying to preserve the quantity of it. So, I asked my mother: Would a nice, high-fat, high-sugar cheesecake entice Dad into eating a little bit more (weight gain being one of his objectives right now)?

Mother: "No, not cheesecake."

Me: "Is he just not eating anything, or do animal-based products just not seem tasty to him right now?"

Mother: "Neither. We just don't want cheesecake in the house."

It was then, in a Hollywood-like rush of flashbacks and instantaneous recollection, that I remembered.

Mother hasn't made cheesecake or had homemade cheesecake in her home for almost 30 years. Whereas she'll occasionally purchase the finest cheesecake CostCo has to offer, it is generally relegated to the extra freezer out-of-sight, and more often meets its end not through someone's enjoyment of every calorie-plumped bite but rather due to freezer burn because it sits there uneaten for so long.

So why the cheesecake prohibition? Clearly, in a home where 1-pound bricks of Jack cheese, tubes of salami, and jugs of whole milk were as plentiful as Starbucks in an urban mall, cheesecake is not verboten due to health concerns.

I last saw Grandpa Ted when I was about ankle-high to a grasshopper then so I have only the foggiest memories of him (if, indeed, they're authentic memories). My mother used to make Grandpa Ted a cheesecake every Christmas. He'd turn one 8-inch cheesecake into about 16 slices (making them very thin indeed!) and freeze each one individually. He'd allow himself one slice a week over the next 3 months or so, knowing that on his birthday, he'd get another homemade cheesecake, so his Christmas gift needed to last until then.

Grandpa Ted died some 27 years ago, and Mother hasn't made a single cheesecake that I know of since then. I have no doubt that the possible parallels have struck here: She liked to bake cheesecake for her dad, who died. I like to bake and am offering to bake a cheesecake for my dad, who is suffering through cancer. She is (or at least, can be) a rational woman. Were I to go ahead and send a cheesecake there uninvited, there'd be no Joan Crawford-type dramatics with a cheesecake flying across the room to hit the wall with a slurpy splat. But every time she saw it in the refrigerator, it'd likely trigger her own Hollywood-like rush of flashbacks and make her a little less happy until it was gone.

Her commitment to cheesecake avoidance is so great, my dislike of chocolate, cheap booze, and Chicken McNuggets pales by comparison.

Such is the power of association.

It's okay, though. To be honest, Dad probably wouldn't feel well enough to eat it anyway.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Confessions of (Recovering) a Networking Addict

When I was displaced from my job late last year, the employment coaching consultants preached many things: upscale your clothing (the tech-geek uniform of jeans and collared shirts doesn't work during an interview); maintain your grooming (dye, trim, clip, and polish body areas appropriately); and network, network, network because "95% of all jobs are found through networking."

Holy cow pies, Moonshine. Network? Uhm. Maybe you've not gotten it yet, but I'm not exactly the warm fuzzy type. And you want me to talk to people? People as in bipeds? Let me tell you, there's a reason I prefer to work in technology groups for companies that are geographically distributed.
  1. I'm female, which already gives me an edge, mainly in the unpopular Affirmative Action way.
  2. For a female in technology, I'm relatively hot. [Bear in mind "relatively".]
  3. I'm in technology and have a personality and a sense of humor. [Mark one more for the Willowbottom-meister.]
  4. My social skills are at least equal if not better than those with whom I work. [Be afraid, be very afraid.]
  5. I never work with real, live, real-time people in my same location. [So yes, there are days when I can work in my pajamas at home and no one knows.]

Basically, where I work and in what I do, I need to exert very little effort to be the most personable, attractive, and charming cream of the crop. And now, you dare to suggest that I network, as in real time with other human beings who may not shop the clothing line of Oh, dear.

So, the consultant recommended we start our networking journey by getting an account at LinkedIn.

Whew! That was a relief. I thought you were going to suggest I apply makeup and go to cocktail mixers.

Well, the consultant suggested that, too, but I think she realized that for some of us, it's baby steps.

So, I got a LinkedIn account and got totally sucked into it. This was surprising for someone who snottily has eschewed Yahoo! 360* and Facebook and MySpace for so long as Web sites for attention-hungry twits. But yet, here I was ravenous to do as much as possible -- post my resume, solicit recommendations for my past work, etc. Social and professional networking applications have wet dreams about over-achievers like me who determine our own self-worth by how many contacts we have. At first, I was demure, waiting for people to invite me to be one of their "contacts." But I realized that networking is not a place for wallflowers (insofar as anyone who networks behind the shield of a plasma monitor isn't a wallflower). You must be noticed to succeed!

Suddenly, rather than awaiting invitations, I was inviting people to be my contacts from college 11 years ago I'd not spoken to since. Old co-workers who'd been at the same company for 25 years, siblings, professional students, the nanny, even distant relatives who have a Luddite-style aversion to e-mail and would never even see my invitation ... no relationship was too sacred. All I knew is there were people out there who had "500+" contacts and I wasn't yet one of them.

And then it struck me. Most people require a little more of their interpersonal relationships than being contacted whenever they are needed for some reason or other (like a job search). Most don't care for being treated like spices on a kitchen rack: easily pulled out, just as easily shelved. I could add all these people as my contacts, but was I prepared to maintain some semblance of contact with these folks for an indefinite period of time ... even (gasp) forever?

Well, I think we know the answer to that. And so, my visits to LinkedIn immediately became as frequent as when I put eyeshadow on. That is to say, very rare.

So, for the last several months, I've been a recovering networking addict, visiting my profile now and again to keep it updated but really not exerting any effort on this. Hopefully nothing will happen to my situation to belie this self-semi-confident statement, but I've done very well staying employed so far based on the quality of my work alone and my (arguable) charm during interviews. I'd rather try that route than the one I find more painful ... namely, the networking-with-real-live-people part.

My networking inclinations were near dormant until recently when my sorority launched its own networking site. Suddenly, like a hungry koala in search of eucalyptus, my networking urges surged to life again and I felt the flash of adrenaline-fed heat that augurs a competitive race. Here I have a chance to demonstrate my connectedness to my sisters and prove that I am a person worth knowing.

I create my account and immediately begin to add friends. I pause. Wait, think I. Wouldn't a true demonstration of my popularity be if I play hard to get and let them all add me as a friend? Briefly I entertain fantasies last experienced in high school, when I dreamt that as I walked through halls (without a pass, of course) students gaped at my self-confident saunter and the girls cooed appreciatively at my edgy black-and-white tie-dye shirt over my tights and L.A. Gear sneakers. (Yes, I wish I were making that part up.)

In this dream, though, servers crashed and networks clogged due to the number of women sending me "Add as a friend" invitations. Women would ask each other in hushed tones or in furtive e-mail messages, "Has she accepted you yet?" "No, not me either." Meanwhile, my profile would be the among the ones with the highest hits, so much so that when my sorority recruits new members every semester, they would list me as a famous member based on my sorority network hit count, along with the noted actresses, Olympians, and philanthropists. "Oh, yes," the 19-year-olds gasp in breathily excited but hushed tones, "SHE is one of our most respected members. She only accepts a very few as her friends, you know." Of course, they would never refer to me by name, as though I'm Lord Voldemort and far too awe-inspiring.

As I awake from my reverie, I'm pragmatic enough to be sardonically amused at my own shallow aspirations that, no matter how humorously presented, may have some small sliver of sincere desire. Yet, I recognize that I really am too people-shy and opinionated (and really too lazy) to ever be the Networking Pontiff, whether of my sorority or the professional world. And I don't think I really want to change, either.

So I've let it go a few days since I actually logged into any networking site and I take some small pleasure in being choosy about who may connect to me. For those connection-hungry networkers who aspire to have the "500+" symbol by their LinkedIn profile, they'll need to create some story a little bit more unique than they also used to work at the same mega-sized corporation I did. And please ... make up a good story, like about some night in some pub where I wore a chartreuse feather boa made of emu feathers and danced to the Macarena while listing off the names of the British monarchs from 1066-1603 and you and I conversed about the witty appropriateness of the word abecedarian. Then I might connect with you.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Why I'm Greek

Every once in a while, those who haven't known me since college ask me, bewildered, "where does all your time go?" Apparently they think that when I'm not working or blogging, I must be buffing my nails, gently wiping my husband's sweaty brow with a soft cloth, or smoothing my children's hair into perfect style.

Well, truth be told, I'm Greek. That's Greek as in "Alpha Kappa Mu Mu" (the name my non-Greek brother has given my sorority because he thought it sounded funny), not Greek as in "My Big Fat Wedding."

In the eight or nine months I've had this blog, I haven't talked about my Greek-ness not because it's unimportant to me, but simply because the involvement of an adult woman in a college sorority tends to raise some questioning brows. To save myself the effort of justifying it, I just avoid mention of it entirely except to those who "understand." (Those who do understand would be "fellow Greeks," in case the quasi-vocal inflection and air quotes didn't convey into the blogosphere.)

Had Kermit the Frog been a member of Alpha Kappa Mu Mu, he might've sung "It's Not Easy Being Greek" instead of that other catchy tune. In some ways, it's true. After all, if you don't sport a blonde bouffant, and are not hot, a stay-at-home mom, a member of the modern wealthy landed gentry, and from Texas or Georgia, do you really belong in a sorority? And if you dare mention to some that you were Greek once-upon-a-time, will people even bother investing the time into getting to know you to learn that you're not the stereotype?

I'd like to think yes. After all, at the core of every Greek organization's mission statement is some descriptor that basically means "libertie, equalitie, fraternitie," and something about scholarship and excellence. In no organization's write-up have I seen "rock hard hotness", "PHAT," "bling," "good lay," or "toilet papering."

Maybe it's because those organizations didn't try to recruit me.

The interesting thing about being Greek is the response I get when people "find out." The response is either, "YOU were in a sorority?" or "you were in a SORORITY?" The inflection on that sentence alone tells me right there what that person thinks about Greeks in general.

"YOU were in a sorority?" = You're not blonde or hot, and you're in no way what I picture a sorority member to look or be like. How on earth did you get in?

"You were in a SORORITY?" = You're not blonde or hot, and you're in no way what I picture a sorority member to look or be like. Why on earth did you pledge?

Either way, it's uncomplimentary.

The answer is the same to either question, though. Why did I pledge and how did I get in? Well, my sorority saw in me (hopefully) the same thing that I (hopefully) see in it: The desire, ability, and opportunity to nurture leadership in young women, myself included. Sure, lots of organizations can do that but not many of them are dedicated to that and have the opportunity and organization to recruit at such a significant scale at our nation's institutions of learning. Couple that with the additional benefits of a life-long personal and professional network and bond of sisterhood to others who are all committed to the same and you have a pretty compelling argument for "going Greek."

Sure, being Greek comes with the additional trappings of any organization: jewelry (like religious organizations), robes (like the House of Parliament), sometimes a dedicated facility/house (like honors colleges), parties (similar to corporate mixers), and other paid-for extras. It also may come with some problems, and they are the problems that are native to existence as a young person. Let me tell you, college Greeks didn't invent drinking, snappy dressing, and crazy parties. It's just our leadership abilities that make us so darn good at organizing them.

(Disclaimer: That was a joke.)

But my point really is that being Greek offers the opportunity to give younger people a leadership experience under the advice and counsel of older collegians and, even better, under the auspices of a national organization and chapter advisors. Sometimes it's done well, and sometimes not. But that's how it works anywhere. Hopefully organizations are led by people who make them succeed, but it doesn't always work out that way. Fraternities and sororities are no more and no less failure-proof than any other human-led organization.

There aren't many organizations intended for college-aged youth that accommodate the blend of the quasi-professional and the academic, understanding and even encouraging students to put their school first and volunteer work second. Greek groups also help students understand, even on a relatively micro scale, what it means to be a small part of a bigger whole and of a history that may extend hundreds of years back that they can directly shape for the future. Let me tell you that every Greek member, no matter how "insignificant" his or her participation, can make or break a chapter, a college, an entire sorority/fraternity, or even lead to the elevation or destruction of the entire Greek system. Greek organizations can help shape student leaders by demanding responsibility and hopefully accountability while providing opportunities to every person to showcase their best aptitudes while doing good for their organization and philanthropic causes, even if it is under the guise of a seemingly vacuous t-shirt sale or volleyball game.

I'm not so naive that I think it actually works like that at all times, and I realize this is a little pie in the sky. But this is how it can work -- how it should work.

So, really, why do I continue to volunteer for a sorority that stopped being relevant for me when I graduated college, more than 10 years ago? It's because I truly believe that we are responsible for helping others achieve their life's passion and enabling them with the tools to make their little corner of the world a little better. How else can we enable them with those tools unless we put them into real life situations where showing up, paying bills, and fulfilling your word matter and, if not honored, come with real consequences from which your parents may not be able to bail you out? Because Greek relationships are the among the ones that really can last a lifetime, there's great accountability ... if it's done right. Almost anyone can engineer themselves into a supposed "buy-a-friend" network, but there aren't a lot of people who actually make that investment meaningful and lasting. I feel that I'm still involved to help us meet that challenge.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Age of the Tomato

Once or twice in the past, I have been accused of being an over-achiever. I find this to be a poor descriptor because I don't think I've achieved very much. Instead, I prefer to think of myself as someone who puts to use every moment of time that I can. Very little time is spent on TV or idle relaxation. Indeed, in addition to work, parenting, and homemaking, my leisure activities are often combined so more can be gotten out of less. Examples: Movies are enjoyed on the iPod while I lift arm weights on the stair machine at the gym. Books are read while nursing. E-mail is read and sent while I'm on conference calls.

But, the more I try to fit into less, the less truly gratifying it is. This is especially true when it comes to work. While I enjoy, for the present, being a corporate slog and working 50-hour weeks, I don't actually "see" the positive impact of my work. One must go through a long set of connections before my work in managing the development and installation of code for a corporation connects to assuaging the hurts of suffering children throughout the world.

It's at these times that I feel greatest personal satisfaction from good old fashioned manual labor. Painting a bedroom is more satisfying to me than saving $100,000 in production costs. Washing the car and cleaning the garage engenders a greater sense of completion than bringing the count of my unread e-mail down. And, lately, seeing things grow in the garden (however pitifully!) is more pleasurable than producing reports.

In this post you see a picture of a tomato plant (heavy with growing tomatoes). I made this. Well, truth be told, I'm not solely responsible for its creation since I bought the starter plant from a farmers' market and planted it. No matter how much satisfaction I derive from making things, I'm not so foolish to think that I'm attentive enough to living things to do a good job of nurturing them from seeds -- thankfully, children are capable of expressing their ire so I remember to feed and water them. Plants are not so capable.

But the point is that I did make this, with the help of my older son who helped me dig and relocate worms and lady bugs, and my husband who helped me water it, too.

This single tomato (and the ones that will follow) are, to me, a greater testimony of my worth and contributions as a human being than all the certificates of recognition received by my past employers.

This leads me to believe that corporate America can learn something from someone like me. Instead of gift cards to Best Buy and shiny gold coins and signed certificates of appreciation with accompanying recognition points (all of which can be redeemed for more stuff), perhaps we should usher in the Age of the Tomato. Produce is then awarded based on your contributions and capabilities. A sample recognition plan may look like this:

You're the Zest! Recognize with a the gift of a low-cost, easily-used condiment, like a lemon or lime, which comes with paring knife and zester. This is a spontaneous gift that could be awarded following management presentations, a corporate event, or after someone has helped you produce a report. Estimated cost, $7 or less.

Lettuce Thank You! This is for the person whose contributions are a bit more meaningful, probably designed for an experienced entry-level person or a more junior mid-range contributor. The gift would be a small bag of salad fixings, including lettuce, tomato, cucumber, radishes, and a salad dressing, along with tongs and a nice wooden bowl. For the extra special mention, this can be upgraded to include a bottle of vegetable oil (to keep the wooden bowl polished) and a substitution of the standard iceberg lettuce for some nicer dark or gourmet greens (think watercress, spinach, frisee, etc.). Estimated cost, $8-$13.

You're In-herb-spensible. For the seasoned (ha ha!) chef or exceptionally qualified nurturer, reward them with this premium gift of herb seeds with the supplies needed to create a hydroponic herb garden. This is especially appropriate for project or people managers who have made significant contributions. The hydroponic garden can be upgraded, as desired, to a Sur la Table-quality herb seed and garden kit for the senior-level management executive. Estimated cost, $20-$170.

Criteria for award includes not only the person's contributions, but also his/her corporate rank (which may determine overall gift value), and his/her abilities to produce (ha ha!).

This recognition program provides growth opportunity (ha ha! I'm killing me with the puns!), as well as truly useful gifts that allow a person to enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of gentle labor. Additionally, this is an entirely green, environmentally-sensitive program (perhaps it should give partial attribution to Al Gore or Ralph Nader) that provides healthy food into employee diets, potentially reducing health care costs.

I would market this concept, but that would contribute to more e-mail, meetings, and other less-satisfying labor. So, I release this idea into the world for all corporations to benefit. For myself, I ask only for my just desserts and hope to receive a cut of the take.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Mathematical Reason to Believe in God

There are many people who have unquestioning and unwavering faith in Something. And there are many who have a militant belief in Nothing. I'm not either.

I consider myself to be a "questioning believer." I have faith in God and hope for salvation and, more selfishly, a earnest prayer for a pleasant hereafter replete with reunification with those beloved. In my opinion, only those without a heart (or a soul?) could believe otherwise, at least about the hereafter. To be nakedly honest, nothing is more likely to push me into the Pit of Despair than the prospect that the only time I'll have with my children is the here and now.

All that said, it takes a lot of work for me to believe. Faith requires the constant nurturing of hope and the acceptance of things that cannot be explained. This goes against my very pragmatic nature and demands an exhausting amount of regular introspection.

So, imagine my relief when I found mathematical (scientific!) justification to believe in God in the form of Pascal's wager! Although that URL does provide a thorough explanation of Pascal's argument, a more digestible version may be found in the book I'm presently reading, "Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea," paragraphs of which I'll share with you here. Surely I'll break all sorts of copyright laws by sharing some of this content, but hopefully the Penguin Group (and Charles Seife, the author) isn't as militant about enforcing its rights as the RIAA.

So here's how this theory works, with content from the book very liberally paraphrased.

Imagine you have two envelopes, marked A and B. Envelope A may or may not have $100 in it. Envelope B may or may not have $1,000,000 in it. Theoretically, there may be money in both envelopes, one envelope only, or neither envelope. You just don't know. But, you need to choose one envelope to open and you get to keep the contents. Which envelope do you choose?

Obviously, Envelope B! You could win $1,000,000 with B, whereas the most you could possibly win with Envelope A is $100. It's a no brainer. This is explained using a tool from probability theory called expectation (the expected value of the envelope).

So, this is how it would look mathematically:

Envelope A:
1/2 chance of winning $0 1/2 x $0 = $0
1/2 chance of winning $100 1/2 x $100 = $50
Expectation = $50

Envelope B:
1/2 chance of winning $0 1/2 x $0 = $0
1/2 chance of winning $1,000,000 1/2 x $1,000,000 = $500,000
Expectation = $500,000

It's perfectly obvious that if you're given a choice between envelopes, Envelope B is the one you should choose. The expected value is 10,000 times the expected value of Envelope A (and the probability is the same no matter which envelope is chosen). Pascal's wager is exactly like this game except that the envelopes are replaced with God and no God/god. And here's where I'll go to quoting the book verbatim.

"If you are a faithful Christian and there is no God, you just fade into nothingness when you die. But if there is a God, you go to heaven and live for eternity in bliss: infinity. So the expected value of being a Christian is:

1/2 chance of fading into nothing 1/2 x 0 = 0
1/2 chance of going to heaven 1/2 x ¥ = ¥
Expectation = ¥

After all, half of infinity is still infinity. Thus, the value of being a Christian is infinite. Now what happens if you are an atheist? If you are correct -- there is no God -- you gain nothing from being right. After all, if there is no God, there is no heaven. But if you are wrong and there is a God, you go to hell for an eternity: negative infinity. So the expected value of being an atheist is:

1/2 chance of fading into nothing 1/2 x 0 = 0
1/2 chance of going to hell 1/2 x -¥ = -¥
Expectation = -¥

Negative infinity. The value is as bad as you can possibly get. The wise person would clearly choose Christianity instead of atheism."

I am now greatly relieved that my belief in the Great Cosmic It is not as irrational as sometimes feared. There is no need to struggle to resolve the warring dichotomies fighting for ownership of my cranial tissue. Faith is mathematically justified.

Next, I'll focus on resolving the issue of intelligently designed evolution.

Citation: Seife, Charles. Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea. New York: Viking, 2000.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hello, My Name Is Willowbottom...and I Have a Problem

The Twelve Steps to Recovery

1. I admit that I am powerless over my addiction to home improvement projects. My life has become unmanageable and obsessed to such an extent that performing even simple tasks (removing a fork from the cutlery drawer, for example) result in me thinking of new home improvement projects (buying a belt sander to re-finish the cabinets, grease the drawer rails, and seal the shelves against humidity).

2. I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. Consequently, I have consulted a home color consultant, watched HGTV, and prayed to St. Thomas the Apostle (patron saint of builders). My prayers range from wishing for a perfect home to a prayer for more money to remodel this house into the perfect home.

3. I am making a conscious decision to turn my life and my will over to God as I understand Him. In this case, God is not Lowe's, Home Depot, the local remodeling company, or any of the other temptations that litter my path.

4. I have made a searching and fearless inventory of myself, which has resulted in me recognizing that no home can ever be perfect because a home is a reflection of ourselves and we are imperfect beings.

4a. Recognizing that I am an imperfect being, I'm considering turning my home improvement efforts into self-improvement efforts. Look for me in the self-help aisle of the bookstore reading, "Shaping the Perfect Toenail: You Can Do It Too!" and "Afraid No More: Overcoming Your Fear of Dogs to Become a Mail Delivery Person".

5. I have admitted to God, myself, and to other people (via this blog) the exact nature of my wrongs. My wrongs include choosing the wrong color of paint for our kitchen (the first time), not painting the ceiling in the utility room when we painted the walls, and buying an insufficient amount of bark and top soil resulting in me having to place a second order and not benefiting from any economy of scale.

6. I am entirely ready for God to remove all defects in character. If God could please help me have better color and design sense, I would be much obliged.

7. I humbly ask God to remove all of my shortcomings. Those shortcomings include my apparent laziness which is the only reason I can think of for the hallway being unpainted after more than a year.

8. I have made a list of all those people I have harmed and am ready to make amends to them all. To my children, I'm sorry you ingested all those paint fumes in utero. To the former owners of this house, I'm sorry I cursed you for being raving incompetents and idiots of the greatest exponential. I'm further sorry I alleged that anyone with a hammer and a piece of drywall considers himself to be a builder, although I still suspect that to be true. To my family, I'm sorry for all of the calls at all hours when an answer was "absolutely needed" that "very minute" because I was at the home improvement store and wanted to make a decision. To my husband, I feel that I should apologize to you for something but really, since we're married for "an eternity", I feel that you're to blame by half for everything we've done time you're awake until 3am working on tiling, it's up to you to stand up to me and say "no more!" (and then deal with the resulting consequences which will be severe). To my son, I'm sorry I told you that paint would make your brain rot and your toes fall off which is why you couldn't help me paint any more.

9. I'm supposed to make direct amends to all I've harmed except when to do so will injure them or others. So...let's just say I did this and call it good.

10. I will continue to take personal inventory and admit any wrong-doing promptly (unless it's really not my fault because it "needed" to be done to the house).

11. I will seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for me and the power to carry that out. Consequently, I ask for the spirit of St. Martha (Stewart) and the producers of HGTV to descend upon my tortured soul, salve it with the unguent of frugal inspiration.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I will try to carry this message to other home improvement addicts through copious forwarding of this link. I furthermore promise that I will stop remodeling my home before it resembles the Winchester Mansion and I develop an unsettling resemblance to Sarah.

In summary, please join me in prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like supporting beams, massive structural changes, and highly costly kitchen remodels),

the courage to change the things I can (like painting, decorating, and landscaping),

and the wisdom to know the difference (generally indicated by price tag).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Offering the Helping Hand that May Get Bitten...

This is a post I've been working on since mid-December -- so long ago in the gestation of blog posts that this one really should be put to eternal rest (perhaps in a cardboard box under a tree?) by now.

Around Christmas time (ah, the triteness of it all -- isn't that when all feel-good stories occur?), I rushed hurriedly from my 7th-storey window-facing office in a metropolitan area to the hoity-toity urban mall five blocks away. My objective in the scant 30 minutes I afforded myself was to rush to Ann Taylor, purchase two purses on sale (one for me and one for my sister), grab some lunch to go, and get back to my desk in time for a meeting.

My speedy trek was interrupted by a scruffy man, dressed in a trench coat (no, this is not that kind of story and his trench coat was closed), with ragged hair, a face gritty and unshaven, and displaying overall dishabille. He reached out his arms to anyone who walked by and asked for change of any sort so he could get a meal. Everyone, from the most questionably dressed collegian to the lawyers wearing the AX suits, stared around him. That's stronger than staring "through," by the way. To stare through something sort of acknowledges that something is there to stare through (in much the same way that being an atheist still acknowledges at some level that there is a god). So, they simply stared around him as though this dirty gent were a horizon bend, of sorts.

I'm not generally a "stare through" kind of person. I either openly ignore or boldly acknowledge. I chose to boldly acknowledge and smile.

"Can you spare some change?" he asked.

"Yes, I can spare some but I have none on me," I replied with the truth. He accepted it as something he's heard before but then said, "Do you got anything? I'm just hungry."

I hesitated and then asked, "I don't have cash and I'm in a rush, but I'm going in the food court. Can I buy you a meal while I'm there. What do you want?"

"You'd do that for me?" he said, appearing stunned.

"Sure, it's no problem."

"A burger. Some fries. Mmm, and salad. You gotta have salad because it's healthy and keeps you from getting run down. Hey, can I get a Coke, too?"

"No problem. Wait here and I'll be back in about 15 minutes."

So, I rush, rush, rush around, my heels clicking on the concrete and my calves aching because I was trying to force them into becoming battle chargers. Stopped at the little Thai place, ordered my lunch. Stopped at McDonald's, ordered his lunch. Stopped at Ann Taylor, bought purses (the primary objective, after all!). Admired mannequin at Victoria's Secret (I'm not saying I'd wear that underwear but it'd be nice if I could and look good in it!). Walked to the little Thai place, picked up my lunch. Walked to McDonald's, picked up his lunch plus added a few apple pies to it. After all, salad is healthy, and burger and fries are filling, but dessert should be a true treat. Rushed upstairs laden with hot, goopy, loosely contained food and purses that, if they stained, would likely earn my sister's ire.

Looked around the cold and breezy pedestrian mall for my hungry stranger.

He was gone.

I walked north...then south. I walked east...then west. I went inside...and walked back out again.

He was gone.

I felt betrayed. I felt foolish. I was disappointed, an experience only slightly mollified by my "responsible" side reminding me to get over this quickly and get back to my desk for a meeting.

In the meanwhile, I was schlepping around a bag full with two quarter-pounders, two large containers of fries, four apple pies, two salads, and a super-sized Coke. What to do?

Somberly, I walked toward the office with the weighty bag full of food with still the immediate problem of what to do with it. Walking opposite me were two gentlemen, also scruffy but in an indeterminable way where there was room left for doubt whether they were impoverished, manual workers on break, or just people with a poor sense of personal hygiene. I was afraid to ask for fear of giving offense. But, the practicality of the situation again presented itself. I'm not going to eat this food and someone else should benefit.

"Excuse me?"


"I have all this food here that I bought for someone in need who asked for it. He disappeared and I can't find him. Would you take it? It is untouched and still hot, purchased only about five minutes ago."

"Are you serious?" asked one. "Is this for real?" queried the other.

I feared they took umbrage with my offer and thought how degrading this situation was, that the yuppie bearing food was insulting them.

Instead, they both got down on their knees and they prayed.

They blessed me, they thanked God for sending me with the food. Their prayer was brief and was followed by them going to the public water fountain to wash their hands and then eating.

How to close this blog post in a way that feels appropriate and isn't banal and overly moralistic? I don't know that I can.

So, for now, until I think of something better, I'll just say that I walked back to the office, ate my Thai food, made my meeting on time, and gave my sister her purse.

(I realized that I'm not really a big purse person so I gave mine away. Besides, what if Tiffany and I showed up at the same place with the same purse? Such a faux pas!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Global Warming Argument Has Now Gotten Ridiculous

Do you want to help save the planet from some contributors to global warning? There are so many options that go beyond the "reduce-reuse-recycle" refrain. Consider switching out your light bulbs for energy efficient fluorescent light bulbs, air dry your clothes, and bury yourself in a cardboard box under a tree.

Surprised? Don't be. Apparently the frontiers of global warming prevention advocacy have just pushed past that big flashing (energy-efficient) sign that said, "Now Passing Tacky-ville." Now you can go onto your eternal reward in the most carbon dioxide minimizing way possible. I bet right now you're glued to this screen, panting with near-frenzied anticipation, wondering, "how can I die and save the environment, too?"

Simple, according to an Australian scientist. When you die, don't get cremated. Instead, have yourself placed in a cardboard box and interred under a tree. Then, your body can provide the tree with nutrients and, by choosing to not be cremated, you can prevent up to 110 pounds of carbon dioxide from being produced.

Now, even the most passionate of tree-huggers have a new way to help Save the Earth by "decomposing friendly." Regrettably, though, they need to wait until the patchouli-smelling cosmic life-force from above comes to take them away. It seems like everywhere I go, some environmentalist is upping the ante when it comes to environmental protectionism. There are those who recycle, those who drive hybrids, those who won't drive at all, and there are even those who espouse the goal of living without any impact to the planet. My hats off to you all.

As for me and my remains, I eschew the suggestion to inter them into a cardboard (hopefully leak- and smell-proof) box under a tree. Instead, in characteristically utilitarian fashion, my plan is to have my reusable organs donated. Anything left over can be put to much better use. There will be no cremation for me (which is my preference) since that would clearly be harmful for the environment. I also don't want to be buried. That's a lot of fuss and besides even under this new proposal, it would be environmentally careless. What a waste of a perfectly good cardboard box that would be! Instead, I would like my remain's remains to somehow be transformed, somehow changed into something useful that can be shared with others thereby keeping a very small part of me with each and everyone of you always.

What would that look like? Click here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mental Health Stifles Creativity

For the past few weeks now, I've visited a therapist to address various challenges in my life. Before jumping to any conclusions, there's nothing really bad happening in my life but my opinion is that every once in a while, you need to wipe clean the emotional slate and start fresh. A former colleague of mine claims that periodic visits to the therapist is a mental "tune-up" necessary for continued mental health, much like dentist visits or an annual check-up. To that extent, I suppose that a discussion with the therapist is like mental floss, clearing the crevices of your brain tissue of undesirable emotional gunk that can contribute to decay. You could also think of a therapeutic visit as being like the splutter of lubricant during an annual exam that makes everything glide along better -- but surely I'm not alone in finding that analogy distasteful.

But, I've noticed a side effect of my mental health endeavors. There's been a disturbing decline in my creative productivity. Notice my blog posting, which has been reduced to near nothing in the past six weeks, which more-or-less correlates with when I began visiting the shrink.

I think I'm onto something here.

Observe the great creatives of history. Whether their means or ends were good or ill, they all accomplished something extra-ordinary and they were all suspected or confirmed mentally "different." Consider Tennessee Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Gaetano Donizetti, and John Forbes Nash. Lest you think only men are inspired by their cranial chemical imbalances, don't forget to include Mary Shelley, Virginia Woolfe, Vivien Leigh, Margaret Mitchell, and Joan of Arc (whether she was truly visited by angels or not, it's undeniable that a woman seeing visions is a little different than the rest).

When a struggling musician in college (struggling not for want of money or food but for lack of talent), I stumbled upon an epiphany of sorts: there is an apparent link between greatness and being afflicted with syphilis. Witness van Beethoven and Mozart, Schubert and Wolf, de Maupassant and Joplin. Could it be that these men had happened upon the path to accomplishment? If one can't be mentally unstable, contract syphilis and have a second chance! Even those with less noble goals seemed to be aware of this link. Manet, Henry VIII, and Ivan the Terrible all had syphilis, too. But, to be fair, one could argue these men were insane as well as syphilitic. After all, only a crazy man (and my mother's ex-husband) would marry six times.

So, perhaps a person's contributions to society is relative to their mental faculties or lack thereof. Maybe my very good mental health alone explains my (absent) contributions to the worlds of politics, literature, music, and science. Is evolution stigmatizing me for being chemically balanced (relatively-speaking)? Is my future potential forever capped because all of my synapses are synapping? Is mental stability the new glass ceiling?

Clearly then, my first step to recover any pretense to creative genius is to stop visiting the therapist.

Should that not inspire the necessary mental defects to result in prolific composition, I may need to resort to more dire contracting syphilis.