Thursday, July 31, 2008


At work yesterday I was trying to carry on a conversation at the same time I was working with numbers, and I mentioned that I needed to pay closer attention so I wouldn't mess up someone's paycheck. My boss joked, "I thought you were supposed to be so good at multitasking." So I told him this story:

At work one day in the mid-1970s, when we lived in New York, some of the women in the office were chatting about what they'd cooked for the previous night's dinner. That reminded me that my older daughter, who was 12 at the time, had cooked dinner for our family the night before. It was the first time she'd ever done it. I couldn't wait to tell my co-workers about it, but, being reasonably polite, I waited so I wouldn't interrupt them.

While I waited for a lull in the conversation, I listened intently, but I kept on working. I worked in the marketing department, and my simple task at that moment was to make files for contracts with some billboard companies with whom we planned to advertise.

Finally, I had my chance to speak. "Kim cooked dinner for the first time last night," I said proudly, "and she did a really good job. It was delicious." I told them about the menu she'd chosen and how she had prepared each dish, and they all smiled and made nice comments. I basked briefly in their nods of approval, then went on about my business.

That happened in the morning. In the afternoon, I began to look for a file I'd made for Suffolk Outdoor Advertising Company. It wasn't there. Three times I flipped through the stack of files, knowing I'd made that one and certain it couldn't have disappeared. The files had never left my desk.

The fourth time I went through the stack of files, I went one-by-one. Instead of scanning for that one file name, I carefully read the label on each folder, setting each one aside after I read it, beginning a new stack of files I'd checked thoroughly.

I never did find one labeled "Suffolk Outdoor Advertising Company." I did, however, find a file containing their contract. It was right there the whole time, and I'd been skipping over it. Its label, which I had neatly typed and centered while I waited to talk about dinner, read "Chicken Breasts."


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Pride? Yes, mostly. I guess.

Carmon, of Life at Star’s Rest, has tagged me for a meme, one she suggested in a comment on this blog would be “pretty easy.” I’m supposed to list six things I’m proud of.

On the surface that sounds easy: children, grandchildren, country, uh....uh...

That’s as far as I got before I realized this would be the most difficult meme I’ve ever attempted. It was Friday when I read that I’d been tagged, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, trying to evaluate every possible answer for its truthfulness. What I discovered, to my dismay, is that listing things I’m not proud of would be an easier task. That would be a longer list, too.

Nevertheless, after much soul-searching, here is my list of six things I’m proud of (sort of):

1. I’m proud that I have an innate sense of fairness that allows me to see and understand both sides of an issue. This has been an asset in my career, when I’ve been able to help one person understand another’s point of view, and in my personal life, when I’ve been able to step back from my own opinion long enough to learn from someone else’s.

Sometimes the fairness thing annoys people. When someone makes a sweeping generalization and waits for me to respond affirmatively, I rarely do, because my mind immediately begins screaming, “Wait a minute, that’s not always true; what about this or that?” Sometimes I can keep those arguments to myself and sometimes I can’t.

Fairness is not at the top of the list of things I’m proud of, but I listed it first because it’s the thing that made this list so hard to complete. As soon as I’d think of something to be proud of, I’d think, well, that’s one way to look at it, but the flip side of it is...

You get the picture.

2. I mentioned my children and grandchildren above. Because they, and probably you by now, already know how proud I am of them, I’ll lump them together with the rest of my family for the purposes of this exercise. Family includes in-laws, too, not just the folks whose genes I share.

I’m immensely proud to be part of this large group of people. They’re bright, funny, loving and giving. They know when to have a good time and when to get serious, and they make me feel wonderful in their company. I love these people deeply.

As individuals, we’re not without our problems. My father joked once that there’d be enough anti-depressants at our family reunion to stock a pharmacy, and he may not have missed the mark by much. For the most part, we’re normal, stable, compassionate, good citizens, but we’ve all had at least brief moments of heartbreak or melancholy that knocked us for a loop

As a family, we are perfect in our imperfections. Although we’ve traveled some bumpy roads, we’ve helped each other smooth out the bumps, and there’s been plenty of love, joy and laughter along the way.

3. I’m proud to be an American, even if I haven’t always been proud of the actions and decisions of our government. The thing is, though, I expect the French are proud of France and the Brits are proud of Great Britain, and I believe they have a right to be.

When I think about America, what I feel more than pride is great good fortune. How lucky am I to have been born in a land of such abundance and opportunity? By an accident of birth, I hit the geographic lottery.

Once again, in the interest of fairness, I realize that there are pockets of poverty and misfortune right here in the good ol’ US of A. I guess I’m most proud of America when I see our citizens working together to take care of the least among us.

4. I’m proud to be a good listener, I’m proud that I can keep a confidence, and I’m proud that I mind my own business. Most of the time. I’ve bundled these three qualities together because they often become important at the same time, in the same situation.

I can listen empathetically for long stretches of time without feeling the need to interrupt and turn the conversation back to what I’d prefer to talk about. I’m proud of this because there have been times in my life when being able to talk to a good listener has lifted my own spirits, and it makes me feel good to do that for others. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that my personal store of empathy and compassion is finite. If I hear someone complain about the same things over and over and over again, I not only cease listening, I may even begin to hide from that person. I’m not proud of that, but it helps me maintain my sanity.

When, while listening, I’m asked to keep a confidence, I do exactly that. Almost always and almost always forever. The exception to that rule occurs rarely, only if someone drops a bombshell that explodes into my own life. In that case I reserve the right to seek out my own good listener, one who can also keep a confidence, to help me think things through.

I mind my own business, and usually I’m proud of that. If you tell me A, B and C, I’ll assume that's all you want to say and that if you want me to know X, Y and Z, you’ll tell me in your own good time. Till then, I won’t pry. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that a lot of people aren’t straightforward about asking for help when they need it, and I, in the course of minding my own business, have missed some vital hints. Sometimes everyone would have been better off if I had asked a couple of probing questions.

5. I’m proud that I’ve had some long-term jobs, one for seventeen years and the current one (in one variation or another) for nearly ten. It pleases me to know that I stayed the course through various assignments and various supervisors, remaining flexible enough to handle changes and performing consistently to meet the expectations of those who depended on me.

There was one period of time when I defined myself almost entirely on the basis of what I accomplished at work. It is with great pride that I can tell you how good it feels to have gotten over that nonsense.

6. The last item on this list is one that almost didn’t occur to me, but I’m glad I remembered in time to include it. A few months short of twenty years ago, I began researching my family’s history. I’m proud of this ongoing body of work and of the patience and persistence that have kept me following first one thread, then another, through a vast maze of documents.

This has been a labor of love. It may appear to others to be nothing but thousands of names and dates sprinkled with an occasional relevant fact or legend, but I saw in each name an individual human being whose own life gave meaning to my own. Genealogy awakened in me an interest in history and geography, two subjects I found boring in school. Typing each new name into my database, I’ve imagined what life was like for that person in that particular place and time. In thinking about them, I’ve become fond of all of them.

Most of my family members are too busy living in the moment to spend time wondering about people they’ve never known, and that's as it should be. But I'm ready. If the genealogy bug ever bites one of them the way it sneaked up and bit me, I’ll proudly help scratch the itch.


I've probably overthought this challenge way too much, but that's my six.

I'll tag Alison, for whom I could list six things to be proud of in about a minute; Betty, who has a knack for wrapping up life's experiences in articulate tidy bundles; and Yajeev, who's always on the lookout for blog ideas and whose list will probably be as funny as it is inspirational.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Bucket List

The title of this post was inspired by the 2007 movie of the same name. When the movie came out, a lot of people posted their "bucket lists" (things to do before they kick the bucket), and I gave some thought to what would be on my list. So what did I come up with? Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip.

There are plenty of things I haven't done that I'd enjoy doing, but I can't think of a single thing I need to experience in order to feel that my life is complete. On the one hand, that realization fills me with a sense of contentment. On the other hand, it makes me think I must have a pitiful imagination.

At any rate, this post isn't even about that kind of bucket list. This is nothing more than three separate, unrelated entries that I've bundled together because of their references to buckets.

P is for bucket
My little brother recently turned fifty, but I have a clear memory of an incident that happened when he was only three years old. He was playing with his chalkboard, studying the brightly painted items that decorated its frame. The name of each item was printed in large letters below its picture, and my brother knew his alphabet by then. I remember the look of concentration on his face as he pointed his tiny forefinger at each letter, said the letter aloud, and then said the name of the item.

Forty-seven years later I can remember only one of the items pictured on the chalkboard, and that one only because my brother's reading of it charms me to this day:



Pails, in comparison
In the mid-1990s I attended a work-related seminar that energized me. Driving back to the office with a co-worker, I spoke excitedly about all the ideas the seminar had generated and how they could be implemented in our workplace. To my surprise, she disagreed. She said she'd found the seminar boring and most of the ideas "too much trouble" to try.

At that particular time the company's management was focused on helping the employees be the best they could be so they could deliver the best possible service to the customers. Since I believed the seminar had provided some ideas that would help to further management's goals, I expressed my frustrations in confidence to our psychological consultant.

"How can two people sit in the same room, hear exactly the same things, participate in the same exercises, and perceive the experience entirely differently?" I asked. "I just don't understand it."

"It's really very simple," the consultant replied. "Let's say the two of you go to the river to get water. You take a five-gallon bucket, and she takes a three-gallon bucket. If you expect that both of you will come back with the same amount of water, you've set yourself up for disappointment."

Ever since then, when I'm feeling frustrated, I stop, take a deep breath, and mentally measure the size of the other person's bucket. I hope this little tip will be as helpful to you as it's been to me.



That's my most recent term of endearment for Butch, though I certainly mean him no disrespect.

After a weekend of pain and misery, he's now doing great! Monday at lunchtime was the first time he looked perky since his surgery last Friday, and he's been full of doggy energy ever since.

He's still on antibiotics and pain meds, and he still requires some special care. The grapefruit-sized, shaved area on his rump has to be wiped gently to keep his stitches from getting infected, but both of us seem to be tolerating that procedure fairly well. His plumbing works correctly most of the time. Twice I've found pairs of lima-bean-sized "droppings" that seem to have escaped his body when he wasn't paying attention. He didn't acknowledge ownership of them, so I'm hoping those were anomalies and not signs of the future.

I must say that the two days of constant belly rubs may have spoiled him a little bit. He no longer whines in pain, but he's now incorporating the whine into his bag of tricks for getting me to give him what he wants. He stands at my knee with a wagging tail and an expression of expectation on his face and waits for me to guess what he wants. If I say the right word, he barks excitedly. If I don't say the right word soon enough to suit him, he begins to whine.

The "bucket" on his head seems to interfere with his hearing and/or the sensitivity of his nose, two senses he relies on because of his blindness. As a result, he crashes into things more often than usual, and sleep is reserved for chunks of time in between the screeching sounds of plastic scraping against furniture.

I'm guessing that his temporary hearing and smelling disabilities are also responsible for his sudden inclination to walk so closely behind me that the top and bottom edges of his "bucket" hit me repeatedly in the thighs and calves. We'll both be glad to get rid of that thing when his stitches come out next week.

If you've read this far, then you already know that Butch isn't the only one around here who whines occasionally. Now that I've noticed I'm doing that, it's time to adjust my attitude and switch my focus to how much I love Butch and Kadi and how grateful I am that Butch is recovering so well.

And, since Butch has now finished his nap and has head-banged his way over to the computer to let me know he's up and around, I'll stop writing for now and get us all a treat. Who knows? Maybe I'll even let him beat the living daylights out of the backs of my legs for a while, just to show him how much I care.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Butch is home

I think it was a good thing for all of us that Butch spent last night at the animal hospital. This time he looked really good when we picked him up, and there was none of the disorientation that worried me so much the last two times. Allowing time for the anesthesia to wear off made a world of difference.

Kim went with me to pick him up this morning, so her dogs, Lucy and Winston, were here with Kadi to greet Butch when we brought him home. It was really touching to see how solicitous they were of him, checking him out from head to tail, sniffing him all over and licking him gently on the face.

We let all the dogs outside soon after we got home, and they scattered in different directions to find the perfect places to do their business. When Butch started to come back in, his bearings were a few degrees off. He was headed straight for the fence, about two feet to his right from the patio he was aiming for, and he was trotting at a pretty good clip. My calls for him to stop didn't slow him down a bit, but Kadi heard me call. She saw what was happening and ran to intercept Butch, putting her body between him and the fence, nudging his nose with hers, and stopping him just in the nick of time. That was pretty cool to see.

On most days Kadi's interest in Butch appears to be limited to making sure she gets on the sofa before he does, keeping an eye on the treats to be sure hers is no smaller than his, and monitoring other issues that smack of sibling rivalry. Today, though, she's kept an eye on him. When she hears him whimper (and he's been doing a lot of whimpering today), she stands over him and touches him with her nose, gently checking out first his head, then his paws, trying to determine what's hurting him. Then she looks at me, her expression clearly saying, "Do something."

And so I do something. The only thing I've discovered that stops Butch's whimpering is rubbing his belly. He's spent the better part of the day lying at my feet, mostly on his back, and I've spent those same hours watching Hallmark movies on TV while scissoring my feet back and forth from his chin all the way to his inner thighs.

My proudest moment today was when Butch went to the back door and asked to be let out, then walked to the back of the yard, circled around, and pooped. It was a scrawny little poop (he hasn't eaten much since yesterday), but poop it was, and he controlled when and where it happened. I have since scratched "incontinence" off my list of concerns.

Butch isn't due for more pain medication for a couple of hours yet, but he stopped whimpering about half an hour ago, and I'm hoping his pain is finally easing up. Right now he's sleeping soundly, and all I can think as I watch him is how much I'd like to be flexible enough to bend all the way to floor level and give him a great big smooch on those black patent-leather lips.

Friday, July 18, 2008

All is well, knock on wood

Butch's vet called about an hour ago to tell me he came through the surgery with no problems and was up and walking around. Despite a substantial amount of scar tissue, they were able to remove both anal glands, which, they hope, were the source of his ongoing infection. Only time will tell for sure.

I am so relieved.

We had expected to pick him up this evening, but the vet requested to keep him overnight because it's so late in the day, because he may have a lot of pain, and because he'll most likely have some unpleasant drainage from his behind. The pain thing convinced me. We'll go get him early tomorrow.

I appreciate so much your good thoughts and prayers, dear readers. I know by what you write that you understand the power of the bond that exists between us humans and our animal companions, and that understanding translates into a soft cushion of emotional support.

I'll update tomorrow after Butch comes home.

Tonight, instead of nursing Butch, I'll spend some quality time with Kadi, one on one, no sharing necessary. She's made it clear many times lately that it isn't fair for me to take Butch with me and leave her home alone, so this is an unexpected opportunity to make it up to her. No doubt we'll both be thinking about our "boy," but part of the time we're thinking about him, we'll be riding in the car.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crossing fingers, saying prayers

Last week, six weeks to the day from Butch's biopsy, we went back to the vet for a recheck. Despite the fact that he's been taking antiobiotics morning and evening for the entire six weeks, his anal glands are still infected. That news didn't really surprise me since he's been on antibiotics of one kind or another for the better part of the last nine months.

Tomorrow he goes back to the vet for another attempt at surgically removing the offensive glands. This time they'll also remove some of the damaged tissue nearby, hopefully leaving enough healthy muscle to keep Butch from becoming incontinent. That's one big concern.

The other one is the anesthesia. It helps to know they'll be using the same combination of drugs that were used successfully for his recent biopsy and not the ones that caused him to stop breathing last January, the first time this surgery was attempted. I'm focusing on positive thoughts (and trying to ignore that nagging little undercurrent of nervousness).

Tonight, we'll have a pre-fast celebration of gourmet dog food and belly rubs, and we'll give you a progress report late tomorrow.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Talking points

Even though I know on some level how long it’s been since I last posted, I cannot believe it. Remember those old movies in which the passage of time was indicated by calendar pages flipping rapidly across the screen? That’s how my life has felt lately.

I’m blaming the distortion of time mostly on the heat. It’s been so hot and so humid that I’ve come close to melting on my way home from work each day. My best writing time used to be the hours between my arrival at home and the beginning of prime time TV, but lately I’ve been coming in and collapsing on the sofa to let the A/C blow on me, and that’s turned into an ill-timed nap every blessed day.

Since the heat has apparently melted some of the circuitry in my brain, rendering me incapable of composing more than a couple of coherent paragraphs, I'll just toss a few questions into the blogosphere. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.

Question: Should Barack Obama apologize to the nation for the fact that he was never a prisoner of war and, therefore, never had to refuse to divulge information to the enemy? I’ve never been a prisoner of war either, but I never realized that was a character flaw until I listened to Sean Hannity last week.

Question: Do you know that if you’re riding a bicycle in the street, you’re supposed to ride in the same direction as the traffic? Twice -- not once, but twice -- in the past week, I’ve nearly run over people who were riding bicycles. In both instances I was turning onto divided highways where traffic is supposed to flow in only one direction. The first time, I made a right turn, having watched to my left for a couple of minutes for a break in the traffic, then turning quickly onto the supposedly empty interstate entrance lane. The second time I turned left after waiting for the left-turn arrow. In both cases, as soon as I turned into the lane where I was supposed to be, I found a bicycle headed straight toward me. Both of them were way too close for comfort. I’m hoping that it scared the bike riders as much as it scared me, so maybe they won’t do something that stupid again.

Question: If you had a neighbor who insisted on standing right at the fence on the property line and taunting you day after day, would you feel like giving that neighbor a piece of your mind? I'm pretty sure that's how the dog next door feels when the peacock visits.

Question: When you look at the following photo, do you see three stacked laundry baskets, the top one of which appears to contain folded clean laundry?

That’s what I see, too. Kadi, however, thinks she sees a new dog bed.

Question: Did you believe me all those times I've written that Butch is a fairly large dog?

Friday, July 04, 2008


Observations at a small, southern supermarket on Thursday, July 3rd:

The first parking space in front of the store is available (thank you, Mama-Too), but I’ll need to make a tight U-turn to get into it. To make parking just a little more difficult, someone has left a grocery cart near the front of the space. It’ll take skill and precision to avoid hitting it with my left front bumper, but I decide to go for it. As I begin to pull into the space, a woman who is walking across the parking lot to her car takes a couple of steps to the side and rolls the cart out of my way. I smile and wave to her in appreciation, and she smiles back. The woman is about my age, and she’s overweight like I am. Judging from the way she walks, I’m pretty sure her feet hurt. She's black, and I'm white, but we are sisters under the skin. As she gets behind the wheel of her car and I climb out of mine, we simultaneously give each other one more little wave of acknowledgment.

At the meat counter, an older man, slightly disheveled and walking as if he’s in a hurry, interrupts the chubby young stock clerk. “Can you tell me where to find trash bags?” the older man asks. The young clerk pushes aside his cart of frozen chickens and walks the customer all the way to the aisle he seeks. The clerk stays to help the man find what he wants. The customer thanks the clerk, then tucks the box of trash bags under his arm, turns and speed-walks toward the check-out stands. He’s still pressed for time, but he’s smiling now.

In the frozen foods aisle, a father and his adolescent son fill up the aisle as they survey the selection of microwavable dinners. The son is a smaller version of the father, built exactly like him, and both of them are dressed in shorts, t-shirts and deck shoes. As I approach them, the son pulls back, moving their cart with him to make room for me to pass. They both smile and say hello, and I think about how much I like young people with good manners.

At the dairy counter, a young Asian woman accidentally bumps me with her cart. A shocked expression flits across her face, then she puts her fingers over her mouth and breaks into an embarrassed giggle as she tells me she is so sorry. Her giggle makes me smile, too, and we both go about our shopping, no harm done.

At the check-out counter, the clerk is a twenty-something African-American woman. She has blond streaks in her straightened black hair and a keloid scar in the lobe of her right ear. The manager, a balding, middle-aged white man, steps over and begins to bag my groceries. “Do you smell it?” he asks the clerk, and she rolls her eyes and nods her head. “I’m gonna get high if I smell much more of it,” she says with a broad smile. I inhale deeply, then I can smell it, too, although it takes a few moments for me to realize what I’m smelling is marijuana. We laugh and make whispered jokes about special sales on brownie mixes.

Two young Mexican men stand at the end of the next counter over. Both of them are holding plastic bags containing their purchases, and they’re carrying on an animated conversation with a young white guy who’s in the process of checking out. The Mexicans have apparently had time to clean up after work, but the white guy is still in his khaki work clothes and heavy boots. His hair is long, past his shoulders, tangled with sweat and very curly. He’s buying a single large bottle of beer. I eavesdrop on the three men as their talk turns from construction work to their plans for the holiday week end. Their energy level is high, and they all seem very happy.

This store has two front doors, one on either side of the building, and in the space between them there are dozens of cases of beer, several different brands, stacked into a tower that’s about six feet high and ten feet wide. As I maneuver my grocery cart past the colorful beer display and out the door, I become aware that the store is still playing Jesus music on the P.A. system. I also become aware that the music no longer annoys me, that even if they are trying to sell salvation along with soap (and beer), it’s no big deal.

There is diversity in this little marketplace. There are people here of different ages, different races, different cultures, and different lifestyles, and the interactions between us have been not just tolerant but downright friendly. Here, today, we’re more alike than we are different.

It’s the 4th of July weekend, and, at least in this microcosm, united we stand.