Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I know, I know. I've been all sour and negative lately. Or leastways I feel like I've been complaining a lot. So I promise I'll get back to posting Grace in Small Things soon. But today I have something to get off my chest that I just can't ignore.

I've slowly but surely been telling members of my family about my conversion to Christianity. For any newcomers, I was raised in a secular, Jewish home. Here is how I ended up becoming a Christian. I was as surprised as anyone by this turn of events, so I have a lot of sympathy for my friends and relatives who are somewhat taken aback when I break the news to them.

My friends and some of my family members have been wonderfully supportive, and for this I am grateful.

What's been bugging me lately is how some other members of my family have been handling it. I would understand if they had a lot of questions, or if they expressed doubts to me about the wisdom of my decision, or if they simply needed some time to process the information. I'm open to discussions on the matter. But some of the interactions have gone like this:

I confide in a relative that I've been going to church since last summer. They are somewhat dumbfounded. I explain as briefly as I can how I got there. They tell me that whatever makes me happy makes them happy. I feel momentarily accepted and at ease. But then they can't resist getting some dig in that reveals how little respect they actually have for my beliefs.

Relative #1: Sure, that's fine. Do what you need to do to be happy. If banging your head against a brick wall made you happy, could I stop you from doing that?

Relative #2: Oh, yes, I can see how you would be attracted to Christianity. The music, the art, and the architecture, some of it is truly beautiful. But when you come right down to it, how can some guy nailed up on a cross have spiritual meaning?* It doesn't make any sense.

(*Tone of voice indicated this was a purely rhetorical question.)

Relative #3: Well, I know you've always been a seeker, so I'm happy that you found somewhere you feel that you belong. Faith is like when you're learning to ride a bicycle. If you believe that someone is running behind you, holding on to the back of your seat, you'll feel safe. As soon as you realize that you're riding on your own, it's a lot easier to fall. So if you need to pretend that there's someone holding on to the back of your seat, if that makes you feel safer, you go right ahead.

I'm open for discussion, but those comments aren't a good place to start. They say "I've already passed judgement on Christianity. It gets a FAIL. Welcome to membership in this group. Now you FAIL too." Technically I could take the initiative to open a discussion from that point, but these comments upset me enough that I figure it's better at that point to just grin through my clenched teeth and agree politely. I can't recover that quickly from the contempt.

It's very tempting to go on the counter-attack. There are plenty of things that I could find fault with in my family's beliefs, if I wanted to go looking for weaknesses and hypocrisy. But I don't want to fight with my family.

In traditional Judaism, if someone converts to another faith, their family reacts as though the convert had died. They tear their clothes; they mourn for a full week and hold prayer services as they would if someone had passed on; and they thereafter refer to that person in the past tense. No one in the family has any contact with them ever again. So, I guess I should count myself lucky.

In any case, I'm trying to be a good Christian, and turn the other cheek. It's not easy, but that's why it's meaningful. I love my family, even when they have both feet stuck in their mouths. Give a me a few more days to lick my wounds, and then I'll be ready to forgive them.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Grace in Small Things #8

1. I'm grateful for the flood of responses to my last post, which were by turns touching, insightful, caring, thought-provoking, and funny. I love how much I can count on receiving an abundance of support and well-needed perspective. My friends, you are THE BEST!

2. After I posted yesterday, I called my more kindly boss and explained that I've been under more stress than usual lately. He was very understanding. I said that I don't like to bring my personal problems to work, but I had to admit when I was at my limits. Not only was he OK with that, but he offered to help any way he can.

3. A very effective homeopathic remedy allowed me a restful sleep last night. Another tablet this morning stilled the butterflies in my stomach. I'm carrying the bottle in my purse, just in case, but your comments are better medecine than pills.

4. I'm looking forward to going to my mom's house for dinner tonight. She still lives in the house I grew up in. Walking "home" from the subway, through a large, grassy park and along streets lined with cozy houses and tall trees takes me back in time in the best way. For 20 minutes as I walk, I re-live all the best memories from my childhood as a feeling that pervades my body from head to toe.

5. I'm looking forward to hugging my furry little brothers. (Newcomers: I'm referring to my mother's cats.) Unfortunately the one with the bad dandruff and shedding problems is the one who's more eager to snuggle, but hey, that's what adhesive rollers are for.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Be Careful What You Pray For

Everything was going really well. The problem with things going too well is that it's possible to get a wee bit smug. I was congratulating myself a little too often. The awareness of this as a problem kept sneaking into my consciousness. So, I prayed: God, keep me humble.

Boy oh boy, did He ever deliver on that one.

Ken has been changing lately, for the better. After a long struggle with issues too personal to share here, he has begun to manifest much of the potential I've always seen in him. I loved him the way he was, to be sure, but the New And Improved Ken is even better.

He has shed much of the extra weight he was carrying. His confidence has grown exponentially. He has more energy than I've seen in him in many years. He's calling everyone in his address book to plan social outings. He's thinking about signing up for advanced classes at the comedy improv theatre. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I'm happy for him. I'm happy for us. This is what I always wanted, right?

But deep down inside, in the dark corners of my psyche, some bad buttons are being pushed. Emotions I haven't dealt with in a long time are raising their ugly heads. Versions of me from the past, ones that I thought were completely uninstalled, are booting up and running their programs. I'm trying my best to handle it all, but I can't. I'm falling down, here.

I'm jealous. Jealous of his energy when I've struggled with so much illness these past many months. Jealous that he has broken through to a new level of being while I'm still plain old me.

I'm threatened. I used to be the centre of his world because he rarely took the initiative to make social plans. Now there are all these other people on his schedule and I'm not getting the same amount of attention as I used to. Yes, it's childish and selfish of me to resent that. But I do.

(For the record, I'm hardly being neglected. Ken is going out of his way to reassure me verbally, by setting time aside just for us, by bringing me flowers, by caring for me when I'm sick... Trust me, it's not him. My insecurities are the problem.)

I'm time-travelling. In my previous marriage, my first husband was the socially dominant one. Most of "our" friends were his friends. He was in charge of our schedule. I was meek, quiet, and resentful. Sure, I had fun at the events he planned, but I also sulked because I wasn't allowed to be an equal partner in the decision-making process. Ken isn't like my ex, and yet there's enough similarity in his social initiatives to throw me back into my old feelings. I'm fighting it, but it's a struggle that's not easily resolved.

In all of this I feel completely off-balance. The only thing that centres me for a short period of time is prayer. It doesn't help that I've been sick for the past week, yet again.

This morning I finally made it back to work. The phone rang before I had even caught my breath from walking up the stairs. In my flustered, frazzled state, I had a conversation with an important special guest of my workplace. I didn't handle it as gracefully as I could have. I let slip that there had been some major miscommunications between myself and my bosses, when I probably could have covered it up. The VIP was not impressed.

In the seven years I've worked here, I've never been in trouble with my bosses like I was today. One of them sent a scathing e-mail about my behaviour to the other. The second one called and told me off, not cruelly, but firmly. In the end we all agreed to take some of the blame for the miscommunications, but I had to own that I wasn't on top of my game this morning. I really could have done better on that phone call.

So basically I'm kind of feeling like a basket case this week. I'm trying to take it day by day and do my best, but I'm not operating with a balanced mind, and I don't trust myself to handle the situations that keep coming up. I'm reacting emotionally instead of responding responsibly.

But, I asked to be humbled. If there's any better reminder that I'm human, fallible, and flawed, I don't want it! I have plenty to work with here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Grace in Small Things #7

1)  The sweet feeling of health returning.  The irritating tickly throat, sneezing, and general awfulness are ebbing away.  Balance, wholeness, and peace remain.

2)  Naps.  Gentle, nurturing naps.

3)  My soft, comfy, red couch.  It's been my second bed for the past three days as I recuperate.  

4)  The tacky green-and-pink spare duvet I bought at a now-extinct discount store in 1997.  It's been through the wash enough times to wear away any roughness at the seams, and is basically my grown-up security blanket.

5)  LL Cool Joe of Joey's Pad gave me this terrifying award:

  "The Scary Clown Award is given to blogs with display a great sense of humor... and attitude."

Thanks Joey!  As a matter of fact, this clown looks a lot like I've felt for the past few days.  Red nose, mouth open for some major coughing, one runny eye that indicates the  side with the swollen sinus cavity...  I don't have a red-and-white stocking cap, but if I did, I'd be wearing it to keep my noggin warm.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Grace in Small Things #6

The context: my 2nd day home sick with a cold.  Ken works from home so he's around to witness all the sneezing.

1)  Ken called in sick for me so that I wouldn't have to deal with talking to co-workers first thing in the morning when I was all bleary and phlegm-clogged.

2)  Then he brought me a bagel with marmalade and almond butter and a glass of cranberry juice for breakfast - in bed. 

3)  Later, he came out to the living room check on me and found me wilted on the couch in front of the TV.  Without a word, he brought a blanket and tucked it all around me and up under my chin.

4)  "Are you hungry for lunch?  How about Mexican?  I'll just go to the store, and when I come back I'll cook you a nice, hot lunch."

5)  He also brought home a big jug of orange juice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Grace in Small Things #5

I have a sense that Grace in Small Things is supposed to be all about the small, transcendent beauties of everyday life.  The first flowers of spring, the kiss of raindrops on one's upturned face, and the simple coziness of home.  But sometimes nothing beats the thrill of rampant consumerism.

On Saturday I set a record for pairs of shoes bought in one day.  I'm not sure what happened, except that Ken and I both had spring fever of the brain and we went a little crazy.

I set out to get a simple pair of white shoes for our wedding.  Mission accomplished:

Then I tried on some sneakers, because my old pairs are all busted up and due to be replaced.  These ones were very comfy:

The coolest part is that the white-on-black isn't a print, but a brocade, woven right into the fabric.  It's very classy.

Then I found these cute-as-a-button high tops:

Not only do I love the pinstriping around the soles, but there's also the bizarre detail of assymetrical lacing.  I couldn't say no to them.

Finally we dropped into the John Fluevog store.  We never fail to take a peek inside when we're strolling on Queen St., but we've never bought anything because the shoes are all quite pricey.

They were having a sale.  

I couldn't decide between the tone-on-tone vanilla/tobacco/mahogany slingbacks and the cherry-red t-straps.  Ken said "I'll get them both for you."  I didn't argue.

So that was all great fun.

Five pairs of shoes - that's my Grace in Small Things for today.  Next time I'll be sure to come back to heartfelt sentiments about my loved ones, moments of quirky humour, and the softness of kittens' fur.  Today, I'm going to revel in my shoes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Grace in Small Things #4

1) This is my 300th post. Woah! That's a lot of posts. This blog has been an amazing experience, and much grace has flowed my way through online friendships. Thanks guys- you're the best! You're the reason I keep it going.

2) One of my coworkers brought a hardboiled egg in her lunch. She took it out and displayed it, calmly balanced, pointy end up, on her tape dispenser all morning. There was something about seeing that brown egg meditating amongst the files that made me very happy.

I had a nightmare last night, that Larry from Three's Company tickled me mercilessly until I was absolutely furious. So furious that I woke up angry at 3:30 am. Then I realized that I hadn't thought of Larry in about 20 years, and marveled at the bizarre nature of the human brain. When I shared my dream with my co-workers, I received two stories in return:

3) Dr. D. dreamed that there was a new trend amongst young nightclubbers: after the bars closed everyone would rush to the nearest library to read books. The libraries had to hire night shift employees to accomodate the new clientele.

4) One of the receptionists told me that when she was in high school she had a job as a cashier at a busy McDonald's restaurant. At home, she shared a room with her sister: two twin beds on either side of a window. Her sister had to wake her up at night because she would sleep-work; she'd get up out of bed, go stand at the window, and ask "May I take your order please?"

5) The roses Ken gave me are at the peak of their beauty today. They have unfurled their petals with graceful languor, each bloom more perfect than the last. Tomorrow the petals may start to brown and wilt, but there's still time left today to love them.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


There used to be trouble in my friendships. They never seemed to flow easily. I felt it necessary to be a relationship accountant, keeping track of who gave what to whom, how much, and how frequently. If it didn't all balance out I had a neurotic compulsion to fix it! Fix it now!

The calculating approach was dictated by my fears. Fear of being alone, fear of being rejected, fear of people being mad at me, fear of giving too much, fear of getting too close, fear of being perceived as clingy, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of being perceived as distant, and some plain old-fashioned shyness to boot. There was a very small comfort zone between Too Much Closeness and Too Much Distance. It was like walking on a tightrope.

It didn't help that I gravitated towards socially awkward introverts like myself. They had many of the same fears as me. I knew that "normal" people experienced friendship as something organic and basically comfortable. My friendships were sometimes very rewarding, sometimes stilted and difficult. And no matter how often I saw my friends, I was always unsatisfied. I always felt fundamentally lonely.

This state of affairs went on for years. Hundreds of hours of individual and group therapy made some holes in my armour, but couldn't go much further than that.

Then I found faith and started going to church. And I can't explain why, because it's not that I suddenly have dozens of new church-going friends, but since then I've changed.

I only have a couple of new friends that I met at church, with whom I spend time less than once a month. They're not responsible for this change. All I can attribute it to is this: I prayed to God to come into my heart and make me a more loving, fearless person. And He did.

I'm not keeping track of my friendships like I used to. I just let them happen. If sometimes I give more than I receive for a while, or vice versa, that's OK. If we go for months without speaking before we reconnect, that's OK too. I have the same number of friends as I ever did, but I never feel lonely anymore. I'm satisfied.

I'm not conscious of having changed visibly, but I must be giving off different cues. People seem to be more attracted to me than before. Friends who were once lukewarm are now enthused about spending time together. The kidoodles in Babyland are talking to me more and asking to be held. I've even noticed that I'm getting more flirty attention from men.

I look the same. I haven't been shopping for a new wardrobe. I'm not standing up straighter or walking with a wiggle. This change seems to be like a light that came on inside of me. I became more transparent, and people are attracted to the light. But even then I feel that it's not really about me. It's God. The glow is coming from that place in my heart where I invited God to come in and stay awhile. So I'd better stay humble. I don't want to ever lose this light.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Grace in Small Things #3

1) The surprise promised by Ken a vase filled with perfect roses. Deep red, white, and pale peachy-pink.

2) I slept poorly last night. I woke up feeling drained, dizzy, and cranky. I dragged myself through my morning routine and was about to force myself off to work when I realized: Hey I’m the manager! My bosses don’t even work in the same building! I have no meetings planned and there’s no one to tell me off for being late! I went back to sleep for another hour and a half.

3) Feeling the sun warm the back of my neck on my walk to work. Spring.

4) One of my coworkers wore glittering shamrock Deely Boppers all day long. I couldn’t look at her without smiling.

5) In a little more than one hour I’ll be lying on a table, gittin’ a massage.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Grace in Small Things #2

1) After four years of taking me everywhere, my black shoes are finally wearing out. Now I have a reason to go shopping for new shoes. I love new shoes.

2) I'm wearing a bracelet that a friend gave me on Saturday. She made it herself, from beads that she says are the same colour as my eyes.

3) On Friday I sent out an e-mail wedding invitation to all my best friends. This morning my inbox was flooded with happy replies, everyone cheering us on and feeling elated for us. The joy is contagious.

4) This morning I recieved a compliment from a patient whom I've never met. I left a message for her on her voice mail. When she called back she told me that I have a caring and compassionate voice. I was glad we were speaking on the phone so she didn't see me blush. She made my day.

5) Ken sent me a message this morning with the subject "I'm going to suprise you..." All it said in the body was "Wait..." I wrote him back asking for details, and again he wrote back "Wait..." So now I'm waiting. And there's grace in the waiting because I'll bet my bottom dollar that it's going to be something really, really good.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grace in Small Things #1

The inimitable Schmutzie started the Grace in Small Things project way back in November.  It's basically an Attitude of Gratitude challenge: is it possible to find five thing to be grateful for in life every day?   That doesn't sound too hard.  Except I'm a little lazy.  If it hadn't been for a direct invitation from Savia, I would have let it all slide by the wayside.  However, Savia is too sassy and fabulous to ignore, so... I'm in.

Therefore I welcome you to my first edition of Grace in Small Things.  Speaking of Small Things I was on duty in Babyland this morning (my church's nursery), so there were a lot of very small people, small chairs, small cars, small everything.

1)  Benjamin, a one-year-old, didn't cry when I wiped his continuously runny nose, and by the end of the morning he was coming to me with his arms up, asking to be held.

2)  Braeden pretended to be invisible by hiding his face behind his hands.  All I had to do was wonder aloud where he could be, and his face lit up with a huge smile.  I could see it peeking out from behind his invisibility shield.

3)  Micah, who doesn't talk yet, told me a joke.  He pretended to be eating from a picture book with photographs of food.  Then he gave me a big grin like, Aren't I a riot?  If the little scamp wasn't too young to know how, he would have winked at me.

4)  There was a tiny little baby girl called Krystal who didn't want anyone near her except her Daddy.  She was just so wee and perfect in her pink-flowered dress and striped tights.  By the end of the morning our relationship had progressed to the point where she didn't put on a worried scowly-face when I looked at her.

5)  No one cried, and no one barfed.  Two weeks ago a kid puked in Babyland and then two of the volunteers caught a horrible stomach flu.  Thankfully, that won't be my fate - this time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Change for the Better

So do you remember that post about how I was sad because I couldn't invite my family to my wedding?  And how I said that Ken and I both agreed that it was for the best and he wasn't going to invite his family either?

Well...  The truth is more along these lines: I wanted to be able to invite at least my parents, but Ken felt very strongly otherwise.  So strongly, in fact, that in the end I agreed with him in order to put an end to his distress.  He doesn't have a big family, and the idea of inter-familial tensions on our big day totally freaked him out.  I didn't want him to be miserable about the prospect, and I thought that he did have a point about people possibly not getting along, so I agreed to his wishes.

Not only that, but I figured that if I agreed, the decision became my responsibility too.  So I didn't run around telling everyone "Ken won't let me invite you".  I said that we had made a decision together and we both agreed that it was for the best.  I mean, it's our wedding.  If I can't make a show of solidarity around that, what's the point?

And I was cool with that.  Sad, yes, but accepting of the situation.  Ken lets me have my way 95% of the time, so when he feels really strongly about something I certainly don't resent compromising for him. 

Then.  Then he changed his mind.

Now, let's press the pause button a moment here.  Before you judge Ken, you should know that for every finger I'm pointing at Ken right now I've got way more than four pointing back at me.  In the history of our relationship, I'm the waffler.  Lately not so much, but in our early years Ken put up with time after time when I'd drive him crazy by changing my mind on important issues.  He owes me more than one.

Still.  This is major crazy-making material here.  I was all "Aaaaaah!  Dude, you are really messing with my feelings here!"  I mean, I'd spent all this time trying to find just the right words in order to let my friends and family down gently.  Even so it broke my heart to hear the disappointment of my three at-the-time not-invited parents when they found out they were being were excluded.  My friends all tried to be understanding, but I could see it made them melancholy.  That was some tough emotional drama, and it was all for nothing?

Then I calmed down and realized that this means I get to invite some people that I couldn't invite before, and decided to just be relieved and happy that it turned out this way.  We sure took the long way round getting here, but we're here nonetheless.

Ken decided that he wants to invite his parents, his brother, and a couple of friends.  That means that I get to invite all my parents and my good friends too.  Hurray!  Well, we left it kind of late, so my birth father and step-mom have already made an unchangeable work commitment for that weekend... so they won't be there.  *sadness*  But at least my step-dad will be there.  And it'll be really sweet to have my friends too.

For the record, the reason Ken re-thought the whole idea was that we learned around one month ago that his Dad's cancer came back.  He's in treatment now, but no one knows exactly how this will play out.  Somewhere along the line, Ken's wish for his Dad to be present at our wedding overrode his fears of family strife.  And lo a happy ending: love conquers fear, this time.  Thank God.

And if any of you are prayer-sayers, you might want to say one for Ken's dad Drew and the whole family.  They can use all the support they can get.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Naturopath

Last week, I finally got around to seeing my naturopath.  As you know, I was stuck in a loop: I don't feel motivated to go see him unless my aches and pains are bothering me, but when I'm sore and tired I can't summon the energy to drag myself all the way downtown to his office.

I used to live closer to Marty.  I've been seeing him on and off since I was in my early 20's, 13 years ago.  His office was only one subway stop away from the basement apartment I shared with my first husband before we were married.  It takes an hour to get there from where I live today.

Marty has seen me through a lot.  I'm not sure what helps me more, his skill with homeopathy, accupuncture, and flower remedies, or his kind, steady presence.  I can tell him anything, from the very personal to the very bizarre, and nothing seems to ruffle his feathers.  And yet, I know without a shadow of a doubt that he cares.

Back in 1996 I was going through a phase of severe anxiety.  I must have left a message on Marty's voice mail betraying my desperation through the tone of my voice.  I don't remember what I said.  What I do know was that I was in the middle of compulsively scrubbing out the basement apartment to burn off my nervous energy when there was an unexpected knocking.  I put down my rags, bucket, and rubber gloves to open the door, and there was Marty.  He had cycled all the way over, unannounced, because he was worried about me.  He had brought a remedy to help me.  Talk about above and beyond the call of duty. He never charged me for that house call. 

I've changed a lot since then, but Marty, steady Freddy that he is, seems to be mainly the same.  He has some grey hairs in his moustache and lines around his eyes, but his calming manner and easy laugh are just as they were 15 years ago.  His office is also pretty much as it was, except now he takes notes on an MacBook laptop computer.

Marty works from a 2-room office in a converted house.  The little room in the back contains a table where he gives accupuncture treatments.  The larger room is where he does his consultations.  It has an unused wood-burning fireplace framed by a beautiful wooden mantle.  The mantle is covered with tiny bottles of almost every type of flower essence available.

The rest of the room is devoted to wood-and-glass cabinets.  One contains large, glass bottles of herbal tinctures.  The rest are filled with hundreds upon hundreds of glass tubes, each smaller than a tube of lipstick.  This is his homeopathic apothecary.  Without exaggerating I'd bet that he has at least two thousand different types of granules.

These little tubes cover every available surface.  The tops of the filing cabinets are all populated, as is much of Marty's desk and the edges of all the bookshelves.  Everytime he shuffles papers on his desk or goes looking for a pen he knocks over half-a-dozen of these bottles which go rolling off like miniature bowling pins.  How he keeps track of them all is beyond me.

I sat with Marty for an hour and told him my tales of woe.  He took lots of notes and asked questions.  In the end he said he'd have to do some research.  He had a particular remedy in mind for me, but he couldn't remember the name of it.  It must be an obscure one.  He'll be calling me about it next week.

In the meantime I stopped at one of the health food stores where I used to work,  back in the day, and picked up an off-the-shelf homeopathic arthritis remedy.  It won't be as lasting or as personal a cure as what Marty will come up with, but it's something to have on hand just in case my symptoms start acting up.  I had a chance to take one dose that same night, and I think it did help somewhat.  Heck, I don't care if it's the placebo effect - any help is welcome.

Friday, March 6, 2009

I'm such a good sport (and a good boss)

Ron tagged me with a meme!

It goes like this:
“Your ship has sunk. You have, of course, been stranded on a deserted island. You have salvaged a copy of the King James Version of the Bible and a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. Nothing else. “The very next day you find one of those Arabian Lamps in the sand. Of course, you rub it and, of course, a rather grumpy Genie appears. “‘Let’s get this straight - there is a recession going on. There are restrictions on the three wishes now. I don’t do water or air transport now so no boats, planes or magic carpets. As for electronics, forget it. There isn’t the infrastructure on this island. “‘I can let you have one book and I mean one VOLUME, one essential item and one luxury item. Now hurry up and make your choices, I have to get to those five other islands you are going nominate. ”

Hoo boy, that's a tough one! OK, I'm going to be all Thinking-Outside-the-Box and ask for a blank book. I'd like to be able to record my last thoughts on this earth for posterity. Even if no one else reads them it'll make me feel less lonely.

That means I'd better ask for a pen as my essential item. Not much choice there.

And my luxury item? Lip balm. Dang it, if I'm going to be on a dry island, I don't want to suffer from chapped lips. I would like The Body Shop Coconut lip balm because it's not all fake-fruity and can also function as a salve for minor cuts and scrapes. No, wait - can I change that? I want a tin of Green Wisdom All-Heal Salve by ButterflyWeed Herbals. That stuff is amazing and you get way more of it in one tub than lip balm. And I could use it as lip balm.

And now I have to send on the genie to five others? Get ready:
LL Cool Joe

And would you look at this? LL Cool Joe has also tagged me with a meme! In fact he even wrote the meme himself!

Joe writes, "The boring rules made up by me:"

1. You've got to post a link from the person who tagged you.

2. List 8 things that you know about on your chosen subject. You get to choose the subject.

3. You don't have to tag anyone but you can if you want. If you do, let them know on their blog that they've been tagged.

4. List the rules.

So the idea is to write 8 things about a subject, eg. your job, marriage, sexuality, a hobby, diet, sport etc. that sheds light on the subject from your own personal perspective. So for example if you teach, you list some of the "inside" knowledge that you've gained, making your work more interesting or successful.

As my topic, I chose being a manager. I like to think that I have become the manager I always wished I had. My staff might have a different opinion, but I think that overall they're pretty happy with me. And generally there are a lot of crappy managers out there who can use some guidance. So, listen up!

1. Hiring the right people is half the battle. Set your probationary period to at least 6 months, maybe a year, and don't be afraid to fire someone who's not up to your standards. Firing someone is no fun, but it's better than trying to cope with a troublesome employee for years and years. (Actually sometimes firing someone is a little bit fun, if they really deserve it, but don't tell anyone I work with that I said that.)

2. Hiring tip #1: In the interview look for moderate grooming. The candidate should have put some reasonable effort into their personal hygiene and professional appearance. However, I have hired two women on different occasions who were completely immaculate in their personal appearance, and both turned out to be completely self-absorbed and lazy workers. Beware vanity - it is not a good quality in the workplace.

3. Hiring tip #2: Be a little mean in the interview. I used to be way super-nice in interviews because I felt sorry for the candidates and wanted to put them at ease. A friend of mine, also a manager, pointed out that this was an opportunity to see how they responded to pressure and confrontation. So I stopped being so smiley and stared them down a little, asked some tough questions, and the interviews became much more useful.

4. Hiring tip #3: If you are hiring for an administrative position, look for someone who exhibits some signs of mild Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. They will be careful, methodical, detail-oriented employees who don't need to be micro-managed. And how can you spot an OCD type? Put them at a messy desk and see if they line up all the papers, stapler, etc. at right angles. If yes, you have scored yourself a good one!

5. Use humour. If one of your employees is stressed out, crack a joke, imitate an odd client, do a little clowning, anything to get them to laugh at the situation. This can bring up the energy and morale of your whole department. This will facilitate the happy happy joy joy among your staff.

6. On the other hand, if your department is getting a little too relaxed and chatty, redirect them gently to their work. No one wants to feel like they got yelled at for smiling. Sigh wistfully and say that you're sorry to have to remind them, but there's work to be done and you're calling an end to chat time for the moment. Everyone needs a breather now and then, but there are limits.

7. Make time for your employees to talk with you, in departmental meetings and one-on-one. Even if you are the nicest boss in the world (well, you couldn't be, because I am, but maybe the second nicest) your employees will still be shy about taking the initiative to approach you. Schedule departmental and one-on-one meetings on alternating months. Or if you see that one of your staff is inordinately stressed out, or there's an interpersonal conflict developing, address it in a meeting immediately.

8. Your job as a manager is to help your staff do their jobs better, and in better circumstances. You heard me right. If you think that being a manager means that you get to boss everyone around and be a dink, then... then... well, I don't like you very much. And your staff will give you no end of trouble. The best way to lead is by example. Don't ask your staff to do anything that you wouldn't do, and show them how hard you want them to work. Then they will be loyal and hardworking even on the toughest days.

And those are my tips for managers. I have a lot of fun with my staff, my department runs like a well-oiled machine, and I love my job. In fact, I love my staff like family, and I do believe that they love me a little too.

I'm not going to tag anyone with this meme, but I encourage you to share your Eight Awesome Pieces of Wisdom. You can tag yourselves in the comments if you like.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Meanwhile, at the rheumatologist's office...

Have you ever seen the show Mystery Diagnosis? In a nutshell, it’s a documentary/reality TV show that tells the story of one person’s search for answers with respect to their health problems. It’s a gripping show, because the conditions profiled are always severe, even life-threatening, and there’s always a solution. By the end of each half-hour segment, the mystery is solved, everyone is relieved, treatment is commenced, and the patient gets to enjoy a normal life.

After 16 years of intermittent symptoms, some phases of which were so disabling that I doubted my ability to continue working full-time, I was hoping yesterday that I’d get my Mystery Diagnosis. I was glad that I’d arrived at the rheumatologist’s office early, because I felt so overwhelmed by emotion as I checked in that it took me a quarter of an hour just to settle down and collect myself.

Generally speaking I don’t allow myself a lot of freedom to feel the feelings that my symptoms trigger. I do write about the subject, or sometimes talk to someone who cares, but most of the time I’m trying to push through the fatigue, pain, weakness, and other symptoms that come and go, so that I can carry on with my life. I ignore it at work. I push through so that I can do shopping and housecleaning. I put it aside so that I can enjoy socializing with friends. But at some level I guess it builds up, because there was a large amount of sadness, aloneness, and frustration just waiting to break through.

Having hope put me in a very vulnerable position.

Eventually the doctor called me in. She was a pleasant woman, probably only a few years older than me. She went over my blood test results, the symptom list I’d typed in advance, and did a basic physical examination. Then she presented her findings.

I definitely don’t have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Which is good news, for sure. That means that whatever it is probably won’t kill or cripple me in any permanent way.

So what do I have? First she warned me that between 30 and 40 per cent of patients who see her for aches and pains leave without a specific diagnosis. The field of rheumatology deals with a few well-established syndromes, but there are many constellations of symptoms that don’t fit neatly into any particular diagnosis. No offence to rheumatology, but one third of patients leave with nothing but more questions? Seems to me like someone needs to hurry up with the research and figure out what’s going on, because that’s not a very good track record for the specialty.

The furthest she would go was to “suggest” that I might have fibromyalgia, with the emphasis firmly on “suggest”. Due to my place of work I know a little about fibromyalgia (FM) already. Some doctors diagnose it based on the classic criteria: 1) widespread aches and pains lasting more than three months and 2) at least 11 of 18 specific points on the patient’s body must be tender when pressed. Even given those two criteria it is a fuzzy-edged and often-disputed diagnosis. Two physicians who examine the same patient will often disagree about this diagnosis.

Another way doctors will diagnose FM is to use it as a garbage can umbrella term for any longstanding aches and pains that don’t fit neatly into another diagnosis. Considering that exactly one out of the eighteen FM points on my body was only slightly tender when pressed, I suspect that this doctor was using the latter methodology. In other words, she knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied walking out without any diagnosis, so she gave me this lame one as a peace offering so that I would leave quietly.

Imagine that you go to the doctor with red spots all over your body. The doctor tells you authoritatively “You are suffering from Circulae Scarlotum” or whatever the Latin translation of “red spots” is. You feel much better because you think this means the doctor has it all in hand, but really all he’s done is tell you in another language that you’re covered in red spots, which leaves you no further ahead. Not every diagnosis is inherently meaningful or helpful.

I have to give credit where credit is due: she was very warm, friendly, and informative. Relative to many doctors I’ve seen, she was generous with her time, explaining things to me that she must have explained hundreds of times before without any hint of impatience, and answering my questions without a trace of annoyance.

But here’s the most disappointing part: she gave me no treatment options whatsoever. No medications. No further referrals. Just advice to do moderate exercise and keep up with my yoga practice. So in that sense I’m no further ahead than before. I would have been happy to leave without a diagnosis but with a prescription for some kind of painkiller that wouldn’t completely bugger up my stomach. No such luck.


Anyway, I’m not giving up just yet. I made an appointment to see my naturopath on Thursday. I think it’s been five years since my last visit. He’s been my N.D. since 1993, and although his methods produce slow, undramatic results, he can often help me with problems that fall outside the scope of allopathic medicine. So, I’ll see what he has to offer.

In the meantime I’m feeling a little let down, but I’ll get over it. I’m not a giver-upper.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Saturday Stuff

A lot of really good things happened on Saturday.

I brought my wedding dress to my favourite seamstress for alterations. I was worried because the dress is beaded in the area that needs to be altered, and not just anyone is willing to fuss with undoing and redoing beading by hand. But Mrs. Lee didn't let me down. Her face lit up with delight when I unzipped the garment bag. "So pretty!" she exclaimed, "Where you buy? How much?" And when I told her: "Ah, good price, good price." Of course she can do the beading - she has mad sewing skills! So that's one worry off my mind.

I had dinner with my step-dad. We got off to a great start. He rang my doorbell to let me know he'd arrived - I could see the rental car waiting right behind him. (His regular wheels are in Florida for the winter. It's a long story.) He told me he'd wait in the car and as he turned away I shut the door to put my coat on. Moments later I opened the door to the car that was waiting outside my home. The light in the car came on - there was some young Asian guy in the driver's seat saying "No no no!" and pointing emphatically to another car, just down the common driveway. I laughed at myself. Nice one. My step-dad apologized for failing to warn me that it wasn't him parked outside my front door.

Later we closed the evening with a satisfying symmetry. A friend of his who he hadn't seen in a few years was in town, staying with his daughter. My step-dad remembered that she lived in the corner house at the end of a certain block. I waited in the car while he went to pick up his friend to go for coffee after dropping me at home. The door was opened by a suspiciously young, good-looking guy. There was a moment of conversation, and then my step-dad returned to the car, smiling and alone. Wrong block, wrong house. I guess it was that kind of night.

The point of all that was for us to have a nice dinner together, which we did. And for the first time in more than a year I found that I could be with him without feeling angry, or bitter, or resentful. Since we had our heart-to-heart talk the last time he was in, despite him still being a complete doofus about how he's handled moving out of my mom's house, I've slowly but surely forgiven him. Or mostly so. And that's a wonderful thing to have discovered, because I wasn't even aware of it until last night.

I wanted to point out all those good things, because other than that, Saturday was difficult. Although I haven't written about it in a while, I'm still having aches and pains on and off, and Friday night was a bad one. The temperature in the morning was 10 degrees C, which fell to -15 degrees C by walk-home time. Even though I brought a bag of extra layers with me to work and wore them on my walk home, my body couldn't handle the extreme change. By Friday night I was on the couch, aching from my shoulders to my toes.

I haven't been able to tolerate Ibuprofen since a few years ago. I switched to Acetaminophen (Tylenol) because that's supposedly easier on the stomach. That worked for a while, but then came the day when I took one little tablet, and got some very familiar tummy pains. I got scared off it for a while, but in the back of my mind I wasn't sure - maybe it was just a fluke and I should give it another chance. On Friday I was in enough discomfort to take the risk.

At first I thought I was OK. The pain receded within 20 minutes and my tum was fine. I was like "Score! Painkillers rock!" But it was not to last. In the middle of the night I felt the reaction come on, and all of Saturday was a misery. My stomach hurt enough that I couldn't ignore it, and at mealtimes instead of getting hungry I got nauseous. For hours and hours it was relentless. I know it could be worse, but it did get me down. The part that was most dispiriting was knowing that one more avenue of relief has been permanently closed to me. With all the other major NSAID's (ex. Aspirin) clearly warning of stomach upset in the side effects, I am left with no option but to slather myself from head to toe in Rub A535, which is better than nothing, but it's not a useful remedy if I'm anywhere other than at home. I can't very well strip down in a washroom stall at work and goop up my back under my proper work shirts.

Here's something: I have a surprise appointment with a rheumatologist tomorrow. I didn't realize that my g.p. was going to refer me. I had blood tests done in early December, and didn't hear anything back from him, so I assumed that the numbers didn't indicate anything useful. When I got a call at work on Friday stating that I had been referred, I was totally surprised. So, maybe my blood tests showed something significant after all. It would be good to have an actual diagnosis, and possibly even some treatments that don't hurt me. I'll let you know how it goes.

That being said, you might not hear much from me this week. There's a high likelihood that I'll be working with half my usual staff all week, as two ladies in my department both came down with the symptoms of a vicious cold that's making the rounds. I'll probably be working late every day, and running off my feet the whole time. So, have a good week, and keep your fingers crossed for me please, around 2:00 pm tomorrow, Eastern Standard Time. I'll be back with an update as soon as I can.