Thursday, January 31, 2013

Goodbye Girlfriend!

So it's a little overwhelming to have two major losses in one day.  Not only must I deal with the 30 Rock finale, but another big distraction in my life, my workplace, is undergoing and coming to grips with the resignation of a very popular teammate, a co-worker of 8 years, my friend Jamie.

Jamie and I found common ground very quickly when she came onboard, and it had very little to do with work or anything very technical.  We had hungry, active, treasured boys at home and wonderful 2nd hubbies.  We connected.  Our bond strengthened as we both left our comfortable lives as techies in our respective buildings to take on new assignments and join the executive suites of 38 Macbride Hall, along with the cockroaches.

Jamie has made coming to work a little easier because of her sunny disposition and her general knack of keeping things light and interesting.  She's "all that and a bag of chips" - one of her many endearing expressions I won't soon forget.  She has pulled me up more times than I care to admit as I moved from mothering to managing.  Aside from purchasing policy pain and a bunch of other  IT-related headaches, we had many other compelling topics to cover on a regular basis:  our love/hate treadmill relationship, Vitamix fun, wine, hair, shopping, shoes!  I will miss you, Jamie - and remember you.  And please, don't forget what a hard working "good girl" I am when you find yourself running your empire.  Blerg!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ellipses . . . A Cautionary Tale

In sending out an email message this morning about the bad weather and working remotely on this snowy day, I received some email responses and happened to glance at my original email text.  Weird - there was this strange character  - Š - automatically being inserted into some of my text.  When I signed off with, "Be safe out there..." it translated into "Be safe out thereŠ"

Since I'm working from home today and am only occasionally interrupted by my wonderful SO, SJS, I took the time to solve the problem on this one.

Windows readers - ignore!  This only happens when composing on my MacBook Air!  For such a sweet machine, this is embarrassing!

Here's the solution:  Go to System Preferences. Then Language and Text. Under text, turn off check next to "...".  This fixed it in conjunction with unchecking in Outlook - Preferences - Auto Correct - Auto Format unchecking "...": with ellipses.

But it got me thinking about ellipses.  (You know, those dot-dot-dots you often see, especially in email writing, because that tends to be more conversational and certainly less formal.)

And how much I love them . . . I think it all started in high school when I penned a feature column called Ramblings.

And so I started down this path of learning more about ellipses.  Most of us employ an ellipsis to show some sort of an omission, such as shortening a long quote (but never, ever change the quote's meaning).  Or we use it as a pause, to tell the reader we are thinking on something, or to indicate the passage of time, or if we want to give the reader the sense that something is left unsaid.
Most of us also overdo the ellipsis . . . and some find it annoying . . .

The other big takeaway today for me:  When you decide to use an ellipsis, realize you are substituting it for a word or phrase so use it as such and be sure to make it correctly!  Don't use two dots, or five dots - it's always an exact 3 ellipsis points, people!  There are actually special non-breaking symbols you can use if you want to get fancy but the period in everyday work is very acceptable - just make sure to have a space before and after the 3 periods, which also, by most accounts, calls for having spaces between the periods (please don't look at my use of the amazing ellipsis in any previous blog post of mine)! 

Hugs . . .


Sunday, January 27, 2013


Our tri-state weekend is almost over, and, driving home, er, to Cedar Rapids, although tired, I am feeling overwhelmingly renewed for the work challenges ahead this week.

Hanging out, with Shawn beside me, in Milwaukee (Joe), Chicago (Scott and Kate, Matt and Kelly) and Bettendorf (Sunday dinner with my parents and Goddaughter Jenifer) - that's better than home, because the people we visited are my definition of home. It's such a treat, such a fabulous retreat, to see loved ones moving about, smack in the middle of the fabulous lives they've created.

At Mac's American Pub, in Wicker Park.

Hangin' - after hanging some pretty awesome blinds.

Our 45 minutes in Milwaukee, on a Friday night, at a Starbucks.

A perfect hostess!  Kelly, in her new kitchen.
Special time!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The big "C": Communication

The big "C" - I'm actually not talking about cancer.  Rather, communication.  And if you don't do it well, your relationships can suffer, not unlike a cancer that robs you from all that matters.

Tonight our engaged couple, from church, stopped by for the lesson on "Marital Communication".  We talked about how early love, that phase of "in love" - otherwise known as "we can't keep our hands off each other" is such a misunderstanding.  When we are "in love" with each other, communication is so easy we hardly even think about it.  About the only thing we notice is that we have so much in common.  We pay so much attention to each other and often remark at how wondrous it is that we can practically read each other's mind.

Then, life happens.  The end of romance, the introduction of disillusionment, aka the natural and normal progression, hopefully on to something called mature love.  Sometimes the feelings of closeness and safety are replaced with real fear as we dive a little deeper.  We become increasingly aware that we are actually quite different from our partner.  We realize that our different-ness is pretty darn real and that's when our friend Communication is really important.  The tools needed to build a good house include: 
  • sharing (you gotta share who you really are - your fears, hopes, dreams - in spite of feeling vulnerable),
  • listening (with the goal of understanding, not judging),
  • acceptance (honor that person you chose!), and then...the frosting: 
  • further growth because you continue to risk exposing and sharing your entire self.
If you forget all else, remember this:  this is one place that it's okay, in fact absolutely imperative, to talk about yourself.  I-statements are the key!  "I messages" expose what's going on with you.  For example:

"I would like to tell you how I feel about (your mother, your clothes, your breath, your job, your friends, your drinking, etc.), do you have time to listen?"


"I feel (bad, isolated, neglected, insecure) when you (watch TV, run the car out of gas, make plans for us, eat the pizza) and I wish you would (think of me, ask me, consult me, consider me) before making decisions that impact both of us ."

Avoid "You messages" such as:  "You don't understand" or "You would not believe" or "You did this..."

"I messages" tend to OPEN up conversations - "You messages" tend to shut DOWN communication.

I'm out of here.  Keep it real.  Time to find Shawn and communicate...and pour a little red.

Monday, January 21, 2013


Even though I've done this a couple of times, I've only been recently involved with 21st-Century wedding planning...wowza.  There's a lot to it! 

We were honored to attend the tasting event as part of the wedding preparation for Matt and Kelly and their big day at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center.  What a beautiful venue.

Music, cake, flowers, centerpieces.  So many many many opinions.  And the only ones that really count are the wishes and desires of the two who are making promises on this big day, their day. 

The groom - in negotiation-mode.

Decisions, decisions.

So many decisions...

Two favs

MOB with Bride and Groom...Cheers!

Champagne fountain - how fun is this?

Happily engaged...just exactly the way it should be.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons from Laurie

I didn't know Sharon very well, but I came to know my sister a whole lot better through Sharon's death six years ago today.

For sixteen months, my sister Laurie was Sharon's caregiver as together they traversed the journey of cancer patient and, finally, Hospice client.  I'm sure I won't can't get all the details correct, but they both taught me - about death, and about caring for the dying.

Laurie is a crier, just like me, which is one of our common bonds.  But she was a rock when it mattered, and it mattered a whole lot during those sixteen emotional months.

To say it was a difficult time doesn't paint the picture.  Laurie became a medical expert and a patient advocate for Sharon.  Laurie learned blood counts, oncology options, CT scan results and consulted on all of it.  There were a whole lot of sacrifices, compromises, inconveniences, and late nights online remotely so the wheels didn't come off her work commitments.  She did all of that (and I know I don't know the half of it) and she would've done it another sixteen months, or years.

What I saw in those difficult days was a woman who was so committed to the integrity of another human being that you couldn't help but sit up straighter, to try harder, to be better.

At Sharon's funeral service, Laurie delivered the eulogy.  I was nervous for her.  She's a crier - how is she going to do this?  I saw my sister's strength like never before.  She gave a final gift to Sharon, and to all of us who were listening.  Her eulogy was a toast to her best friend, her sister-by-heart, and she was amazingly strong.  Her composure, her resolve, her grace - these things were modeled for me by Laurie that day.

What I've seen since Sharon's death is a loved one so full of grief that in the early difficult days her words slurred, her hand seemed unsteady, her eyes were so sad.  What I've seen in the last few years is a woman who fully understands the gift she was given and treasures it and can talk about...and, having witnessed death so intimately, really values all that comes with purposeful living.

Thank you, big sister, for the life lessons.  I hope I get a ride in your new Mustang soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lentil Love

From my BFF, Gwyneth - ok, actually from

Lentil ‘Meatballs’
2 cups cooked lentils
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1small onion, finely chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the real stuff, people)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
pinch of each: dried fennel seed, dried thyme, dried rosemary
handful of cherry tomatoes
½ cup packed basil leaves
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground pepper


1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Arrange cherry tomatoes in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and place in oven. Keeping a close eye on them, cook for about 5 minutes until they’ve burst and melted, but not burned or dried out. Keep oven heated for the meatballs.

2. Drizzle a pan with olive oil, place over medium high heat and add onion. Sauté for about a minute until translucent. Add the garlic and dried herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper, sautéing for about another minute or two until soft and fragrant. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.
3. Place lentils in a food processor with tomato paste and a drizzle of olive oil and pulse until smooth.
4. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add ricotta and mix with beaten eggs until combined. Add lentils and mix together until smooth. Add onion/garlic/herb mixture from the frying pan, parmesan and panko breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper. Mush together (hands are best for this) until combined. If mixture is still feeling wet, add more breadcrumbs until the mixture is dry enough to stick together and roll into balls.
5. Place basil in mortar and pestle drizzle in about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, and grind until it forms a thick oil (it’s ok if there are still bits of basil).
6. Roll lentil mixture into small balls and place on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 8-10 minutes. Turn balls, and bake for another 5 minutes, until slightly browned.
7. Drizzle with basil oil and serve alongside cherry tomatoes.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


We saw Flight this weekend, starring Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington, who turned out another amazing performance, this time as a commercial airline pilot who had a long-standing struggle with alcohol and cocaine.  He had more demons than purpose, even with many "souls" (NTSB terminology)  in his care.

Like other movies by director Robert Zemeckis, this one had really cool special effects and a thrilling start that drew us immediately in.  I wouldn't recommend watching this movie if you're catching a flight in the morning.  And if R-rated movies bother you, move on.  I don't know much about catastrophic airplane equipment failures, and the plausibility of maneuvering the aircraft the way the pilot heroically did in the beginning minutes of the film, but I recognize his mental struggle and his character and think the movie got all of that spot on.

We were rooting for someone who belonged in prison, someone so full of charm and self-loathing that our struggle mirrored his own.  We loved him and hated him and most of all wanted to believe him, all his quirky excuses, all his far-fetched defenses, all his stories.  We were along for the ride and felt his inner resistance.  The pilot just could NOT stop drinking for very long at all, even when the stakes got very high.  He put his life - and so many others - in danger.

Denzel Washington provided a poignant portrayal of the struggles of the addict - and the people whose lives he touched.  He was a charmer and a jerk, broken and selfish, compelling and constantly tempted.  We saw the disappointments, felt the despair, witnessed the self-destruction.  We pulled for him even though he wasn't pulling for himself.  It was a painful and believable performance, and the dichotomy of him as both hero and addict really sucked me in.

The Hollywood ending is a little bit disappointing, because whipping this addiction isn't usually this neat and tidy.  He found his rock bottom and then found redemption.  And there waiting was his curious 15-year-old son, ready to discover him,  describing his dad as "the most fascinating person I've never met".

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Power Posing

This past week, I welcomed a new hire to our work group and did my best to thoughtfully onboard him.  At the same time, I'm in the middle of another search.  So I've been thinking about how to recruit the right people, the right fit, for the team.  I know interviewees and new hires are usually intentional in how they behave because they know judgments are made in the first few seconds of exposure to strangers.  I'm more aware than ever that on the other side of that equation, on the other end of the table, the person running the show is also probably conscious of showing who they are.  The actors have arrived and the stage is getting set.

It doesn't mean anyone has to be less powerful.  It's all in the pose.  Social scientists have long noticed that we humans tend to complement another person's pose.  If the other person is dominating, we retreat or at least dial it down a bit.  However, if you want to take the power, or at least not lose your advantage, it's a better strategy to mirror the other's pose.  If they lean forward, you lean forward.  If they sit back, you do the same.

It's a given that the video in our lives trumps the audio - that how we behave is bigger than whatever words we choose to say.  Our nonverbals govern how others think and feel about us - but the newer thing is that researchers are discovering that our nonverbals also influence the most important person in your life - YOU!  Your presence, your thoughts and feelings, impact how you carry yourself, and the tape you play in your head.  That's what this 5-minute clip below is all about - it contends that tiny tweaks in your posture going into a stressful event can lead to big changes, one that encourages acting powerful and dominant, which are two pretty awesome adjectives to bring with you to a job interview, or anywhere else you are lookin' to score a win.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Depression Prevention

I took a Personal Health Assessment online tonight offered by my employer.   I admit I bit on the incentive to earn a quick sixty-five bucks.  I thought I would fly through it but actually found it worthwhile.  I know only a little about depression and there was a section on the test that was clearly trying to ascertain where you land on the happiness continuum.  I'm not hearing voices or having crying spells; for the most part, it seems my brain is behaving normally and from my POV, life is cooperating, and nicely.  But clinical depression, while being the serious kind and affecting chemical changes in the brain and all age groups, isn't the only kind of depression.

I know I've suffered situational depression from time to time - most of us have, too.  Stressful events such as experiencing a death or divorce, a job loss, other kinds of failure or isolation, can cause even the strongest among us to pull the covers over our head.  (I have, by the way, found this method very effective.)  Other methods include:
  • Controlling negative thinking every day
  • Engaging in healthy, pleasant activities like phoning a friend
  • Breathing exercises or buying cute yoga pants
  • Exercising for 30 minutes or even dreaming you will soon

The Wellness group at work really encourages facing it head on and slapping it down.

And then there was the question for the modern worker, prodding about impediments to doing your best, because of things such as personal problems, financial concerns, anxiety...or TECHNOLOGY ISSUES.  You're welcome to anyone I have ever helped with a computer question!

I also learned that I'm suppose to avoid alcohol and exercise within 4 hours of  bedtime, and also get at least 7 hours of sleep a night.  Really?  Is that even possible?  Negative thoughts are seeping back in now.  How is that going to work?   Well, I guess I actually don't fall asleep until 3 am so maybe I will be okay.  I wonder if I can start my work day at 11.

The cheery part of the assessment was my final score...I'm doing moderately okay.  It didn't hurt that I got extra points for never using clove cigarettes or smokeless tobacco - YAY for me!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

For Better, Forever

We met with our engaged couple tonight and I really enjoyed our session.  We had three fairly profound topics to cover and the deep conversation that resulted has stayed with me: 

The families from which we came - the point here is that every family is powerful and it is important to examine how you've come to inherit certain ways of speaking, thinking, acting.  It's normal that you take on your childhood influences and it's normal that you think that the way your family did things is the CORRECT and normal way of doing things.  For example, if your family struggled every month to make ends meet, you might just think that's normal.  If you ate your dinner in front of the TV when you were a kid, you might adopt that as your new tradition when you marry.  If you are not mindful, that is, you do not recognize these behaviors, you will likely repeat them, whether they are healthy or not.  Here's the nugget:  you will never fully understand your own self and your own behaviors until you understand the family from which you came.

The person I have come to be - Since our family of origin helped shape our foundation, it is important to reflect on what was exactly built.  Is it shaky?  Can it withstand a tsunami?  How can you offer the gift of yourself to another if you haven't been honest with yourself?  Sharing only your good side is a scam, and is probably, structurally, not going to weather the storms of life.  A whole person is not a perfect person, people!

Family traditions - (I keep hummin' the Hank Williams song...)  Anyway, the point here is that family traditions are simply the way our family did things.  For example, how did your family celebrate birthdays and holidays?  How did they handle crises?  We tend to think that the way our family did things is the way things SHOULD be done!  Not necessarily always so!  Couples trying to blend their lives should reflect on their family traditions and then share those experiences with each other.  From there, they should walk a white sand beach and collectively decide what traditions they want to establish or preserve and adopt as their own (beach is optional) for their lives together.  This isn't going to happen overnight, mind you, and it takes a lot of effort!  It's important to note that in times of stress or upheaval, we tend to default to the traditions, er, behaviors, we learned growing up...which speaks to the hugeness of those early years.

This is extremely valuable stuff for engaged couples to consider.  But I don't think you need to be in the process of planning a wedding to think about these things.  I don't think you even need marriage to think about this.  A lot of it comes down to this - "What's my relationship with me?"

Saturday, January 5, 2013


In the spirit of the new year - and buckling under the pressure from a volunteer who wanted to register us - we agreed to donate our blood today.  I didn't really want to participate - it was a sacred Saturday morning, plus, honestly it required me to work those personal goals of getting out of my comfort zone whenever possible, trying new things and volunteering in the community.

I hadn't donated since I was much younger and I was a little tentative.  I was ok with testing my hemoglobin and getting asked a lot of personal questions (I even had to point out the region in Greece we recently visited so they could cross-check with potential malaria areas) - but my weight?  Why did they need to know THAT?  Apparently they just need to make sure you weigh more than 110 pounds and I'm happy pleased okay reporting that I passed that test just fine.

The phlebotomist was engaging and sensed my fear and explained everything, especially when I told her I was currently writing this blog in my head.  She told me she works out of Davenport, Iowa (Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center) and that is where our blood was headed.  She explained that everything is timed carefully because the blood cannot sit idle, and, volunteers (they couldn't do what they do without them) arrive at predetermined times to receive and process the blood.  MVRBC, unlike other places, collects "quads" so your blood can potentially help 4 surgeries, er, human beings.  I started to get energized when I learned that the blood is distributed in states where loved ones reside:  WI, IL, IA, MO.  Not only is blood needed for accidents, but, duh, also for hip surgeries, knee surgeries, cancers, etc.

High school drives are always a big success - she said teenagers tend to be fearless, are enthused about getting excused from class, and appreciate the free snacks.  Athletes are notorious for donating - usually about two days before a big competition. It's a healthy thing to do. But the blood drives attract all over the demographic map, and all are welcome - unless you have or are at risk for infectious disease.  They screen carefully.  I asked about those who sell their plasma - she said MVRBC doesn't pay for blood because they believe they get more authentic answers to lifestyle questions from people who are driven to donate by something other than money.  She said the plasma is mostly used for research and training and they go to tremendous lengths to verify the blood and protect the donor's - and the recipient's - safe experience.

Instead of that tall Blonde roast I had yesterday, it would've been smart to hydrate before the draw (drink twice as much water as you normally do the day before).  This encourages your veins to plump so the draw goes faster.   (I donated 460 mL but the typical donation is 510 mL if you are bigger and are hydrated.)  Oh - and we are free to donate in 56 days...and you can bet I hope to do just that!

Knights of Columbus: part blood drive, part pancake breakfast.

They draw six vials in addition to the quad so the lab can quickly test your blood when it arrives.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Hey there, 2013!

"The privilege of a lifetime is to be who you are." 

- Joseph Campbell (the "Follow your bliss" scholar) 

Happy 2013 everybody!

I'm looking forward to the year ahead and thinking about everything I can GAIN.  The idea of being faithful where I am - to be more mindful in the dreams I chase - this is a refreshing mindset and how I want my life to inch along.  This is what I'm thinking about today.  Joy is my birthright and the year ahead is so full of promise.  I can't wait to get started!

Of course this doesn't preclude the notion of LOSING those pesty ten pounds.