Friday, April 28, 2006

Keeping ahead of the game

On my favorite MT site, there is a current discussion on the advisability (or not) of being a medical transcriptionist in today's changing world, with its outsourcing and voice recognition sofware waiting in the wings to usurp our jobs. In the discussion, we mentioned the need for us to keep up with changing technology as our industry changes.

But that's only the beginning, I think. Today, I learned a little bit more about keeping up, because today I spent some time with Caroline.

I have to spend time with almost-3-year-old Caroline just to get used to how much she is learning. It behooves a grandma to know these things.

When Rachel asked Caroline what snack she wanted, Caroline's first choice was strawberries.
"But we don't have any strawberries," answered Rachel. "What else would you like?"
Caroline thought just a second. "Grapes."
"Sorry, honey," said Rachel, "but we don't have any grapes either. How about apple and peanut butter?"

So Caroline settled on apple and peanut butter. Meanwhile, I was considering the situation.

"Rachel, how about this?" I asked, trying to be helpful. "Many times when I come by to see you, I bring Caroline a little something. How about next week when I come, I bring some fruit, like grapes? It's better than a T-O-Y or a B-O-O-K," I said, sounding out each letter, as I didn't want to get Caroline involved in the intricacies of the conversation.

Rachel gave a little laugh. "She knows those words."
"Yes, she knows those words. It doesn't do any good to spell them."
Then Rachel turned to Caroline. "Caroline, what's T-O-Y?" she asked.
Caroline didn't even have to think about it. "Toy," she said nonchalantly.
"What's B-O-O-K?" Rachel asked.
"Book," replied Caroline, engrossed in something else at the time.

Forget about keeping abreast of the latest technology. It's all I can do to keep up with the latest Caroline.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Folding, unfolding

One quilt pattern I have never tried to make is called Cathedral Windows. There is a lot of folding involved, and folding is really not my forte. If you need convincing, just look at my linen closet. Every time I go in Gap, I marvel at the perfection of their folded attire. If I dare to pick a T-shirt up to check the size, I never can get it folded back the way they had it. I feel as if I have disgraced myself in some way.

Even in cards, folding is not something I would want to do (even if I could play a card game that involved it). "Know when to fold 'em." Sounds like quitting to me. If you could see the boxes of quilt projects "in process" in my sewing room, you would understand I have a hard time giving in and giving up.

But unfolding - aye, that's different. That word has so many pleasant connotations for me. Unfolding of an angel's wings. Unfolding of a blossom. Unfolding journey, unfolding mystery. Agathie Christie's famous detective, Hercule Poirot, loves to promise confidently in his charming Belgian accent, "All will be revealed." There's something orderly when things are gradually revealed until the whole thing is finally open, and all is known. It gives a sense of completion. Oddly, unfolding seems to give closure.

I'm reading a book that forced me to look at that idea in a new way. The book is Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue.
It is interesting that the word revelation comes from re-valere, literally, "to veil again." The world of the soul is glimpsed through the opening in a veil that closes again.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you are well aware that I like things to be known. I like to know where I will be living, where I will be working, whether I can lose 20 pounds, and I certainly do not like the unknown (with its synonyms of uncertain, undisclosed, undecided, unresolved, unsettled). This idea of re-veiling intrigued me. It skewed my stable interpretation of my life gradually revealing itself until all is known. If what John O'Donohue says is true, then life doesn't follow a straight linear pattern of unfolding, like a flower does. Life is, as they say, "one step forward and two steps back" sometimes. It's glimpses of certainty and progress, then uncertainty and retreat, having glimmers of hope, then dealing with doubt and worry. A quick peek under the veil - you see a nose, maybe - then all is covered again. Another peek - you see an eye this time - or is it an ear? - and then all is hidden again. Zig-zags, U-turns, wandering, all on our chosen path, or in some cases, the path chosen for us.

My innate desire for order and pattern is not compatible with such a circuitous journey. I want, however, to open myself to the possibilities such a journey entails. And life continues to unfold.

In the end, all will certainly be revealed, and the veil will come off - just not necessarily on my personal timetable. I just need to learn to keep myself awake and aware so I don't miss those little peeks in the meantime.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


I'm reading a little book called Whever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Its subtitle is Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. Regarding generosity, the author states:

I am not talking solely of money or material possessions, although it can be wonderfully growth-enhancing, uplifting, and truly helpful to share material abundance. Rather, what is being suggested here is that you practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, and with the world.

I think it's helpful to broaden our perspective on generosity. Our society puts so much emphasis on pairing generosity with money. It will on occasion associate generosity with sharing one's time and energy, e.g., volunteering or working in church activities, but on the whole, the emphasis is placed on money.

This author, though, has broadened the subject even further for me. Sharing your "best self," for instance. That's quite an idea. Sharing the "fullness of your being." Being generous with your "enthusiasm, vitality, and spirit."

Years ago, before Ed went into the pastorate, we were members of a United Methodist church in Memphis. We were also pretty broke most of the time, as Ed had just started recovering from alcoholism, but we attended church faithfully. I always dreaded Pledge Sundays - you know, where they remind you about the upcoming budget, how you need to give, give, give. I dreaded them because we had very little to give in the way of money. And that made me feel oh so guilty. We still talk about one incident that occurred during that period. I was in the choir as usual, and Rachel and Ed were sitting in the congregation up in the balcony. The collection plate was passing. Ed opened his wallet, and saw his one measly little dollar bill nestled in an otherwise empty hole. He took it out and turned to Rachel. "Well," he said, "we only have one dollar left, and we're giving it to God." Rachel gasped and her eyes got wide. She cried, "He'll give it BACK, won't He?!!"

I tried to compensate for our inability to give a lot of money by giving a lot of myself. I sang in the choir, substituted on the pipe organ, helped direct a children's choir, served on committees, and tried to support the church in every other way. I still went home on Pledge Sundays depressed.

Later when we inherited money, we let financial generosity spill over as much as we could. I remembered the sting of not being able to give as I wanted to, and never wanted to feel that way again. We also found the joy in anonymous donations - truly the best kind.

Financial generosity helps the world go 'round - no doubt it about it. I do believe we are called to give sacrificially. I was taught from an early age about giving, when my parents gave so generously to the church and other charities. I remember Dad writing checks to the Goodfellows, a group who provided Christmas gifts for needy children, and to the Cynthia Milk Fund. I also see Mom carry on the tradition of sacrificial giving, even when I worry about her not being able to afford to do so. Through their service to church and community, my parents also tried to serve as generosity examples in a way not tied to money. I learned this latter way of giving, but I always had such a guilty conscience that in my mind, on the ladder of generosity, whatever did not involve exchange of money or material goods was on a low rung.

So I read books like this to remind me of what I already know, somewhere deep inside myself. That giving is giving, no matter what form it takes. That the gifts mentioned above, especially the gift of "your fullness of being," constitutes something more valuable than we know.

The author ends the chapter with this:
At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient...only the universe rearranging itself.

When it is all said and done, I don't think we will misunderstand generosity if we remember that nobody really owns anything - even your "fullness of being." It is all God's and we are just caretakers. It is "only the universe rearranging itself."

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Having grown up as the daughter of a choir director, I know something about bulletins. And as the wife of a minister, I know even more about bulletins, as I usually had the role of creating them.

One of the great things about attending church on family vacations when we were kids (yes, we made a point to do that) was walking into a different church and being handed the bulletin of the day. Sometimes it would have a photo of the church on the front; other times, there was a nature photo to go with the season. It always had useful information, though. With a bulletin, we not only could prepare our hymnals for the next hymn, we could check out what the choir was going to sing and what the organist was playing. It was always fun to peruse the section that listed congregational announcements and concerns. We didn't get to visit other churches very much, so this was always a treat. The best part of the treat was being able to sit in the pew as a family unit. On all other Sundays, one or two or three of us were in the choir, and Dad, as the choir director, would sit up by the pulpit. I really treasured the times we all had the opportunity to sit together.

You can tell a lot about a church by its bulletin. The sermon information, the chosen hymns, the printed prayers or meditations - they all serve as insight into the congregation.

Oh, but the utility of the bulletin does not end there. You can draw pictures on it, write notes to pass around, and circle misspelled words. You can roll it up and peer through it like a telescope. On hot days, you can fan yourself with it. You can swat a pesky wasp if it lands on your lap (or on the hat on the lady sitting in front of you). Of course, the paper airplane function goes without mentioning. A bulletin is also a convenient thing to have if you aren't sure what to do with your hands, or to hide behind as you giggle at the little boy in the children's choir. My father wrote long letters to me at college on bulletins, his chatty messages circling around each one, with extra comments and arrows pointing to various parts of the service. But most of all, I like a bulletin because it gives a sense of order to the service. It's all there - the service has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You basically know what to expect the minute you sit down and read it. It's security. No surprises. Well, actually, Dad would sometimes leave the last hymn blank, so he could pick an appropriate one out of his head after he heard the sermon. So that was a bit of the "unknown." But ordinarily, a bulletin represents order and method. After all, we are Methodists.

Ed and I were once assigned to a church which was rather charismatic. They sang old shaped-note harmonies and some of them "spoke in tongues," and you couldn't pray a prayer without people loudly saying "Jeeezus!" and things like that. Quite a different type of scenario for Ed and me. They had bulletins, but they kept saying that they wanted the Holy Spirit to lead the service. They didn't like the way we did things, I guess. So Ed decided we would do an experiment. One Sunday, he announced that the evening service would have no bulletins. It would be totally Spirit led - like the Quakers. So that night, everyone gathered, and Ed got up and said that we would all remain quiet until the Holy Spirit led someone to speak. There was a whole minute of silence. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it felt like an eternity. It was an awkward silence which stretched into several minutes. The congregation decided they didn't like Holy Spirit-led services if it meant so much silence. I think they missed the bulletin.

When you don't have order or plan, things can get awkward, even scary. It's the unknown factor. That night, it was eerie - Who will say something? When will they say it? What will they say?

You can probably see where I am going with this. I want a bulletin for my life! I want everything down on paper - neat and orderly and methodical. I'll take a surprise or two, like not knowing the last hymn until right before I have to sing it, but I want the rest of it to be neatly typed out in a pleasant font where I see its order laid before me. A bulletin makes me feel safe and relaxed. I know what to expect.

The alternative? I feel like I'm in one of those funhouses at the Mid-South Fair in Memphis. It doesn't matter where you go or where you turn, there's always something to shock you, blow at you, scare you, or knock you off balance. You're trying to get somewhere but forces are against you. You can't tell what lurks around the corner or down the hall, but you know your heart will be racing and your palms will be sweating and you might even want to throw up.

I know in reality that having my whole life down on paper before me is not a feasible way to live. Nobody really wants to know exactly what their future holds or how many years they have left. But I'm so ready for some reassurance that our house will sell soon and that we will get to build our new house and move by next winter!

I am not asking to see the postlude. I just need a bulletin to get me past the first hymn...dare I say through the "offer"tory?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just a few questions

I woke up this morning to see the latest news about the suicide bombing in Israel, which Hamas states is in retaliation to the killing of 21 Palestinians. Isn't it enough that we have natural tragedies like Katrina and tornadoes and tsuamis? Doesn't humanity see enough destruction to do them a lifetime in disasters and accidents? Do we have to keep massacring each other to create more orphans and widows and childless parents? My heart just breaks for the world.

Monday, April 17, 2006

So many people...

The acknowledgments at the Hollywood awards shows are common joke fodder. On my trip to Winterport today, though, I spent two hours listening to the most beautiful symphonies on the radio, and though I have never met the people involved, I just have to thank...
  • The composers. Thank you for sharing your talent. I can't imagine what it would be like to have that gift.
  • The printers who printed the sheet music.
  • The musicians. I can picture you as kids, some of you kicking and screaming as you were driven to music lessons. It paid off, my friends!
  • The parents of the musicians. Thanks for making them go!
  • The music teachers of the musicians.
  • The conductors. Keeping everything together to fulfill your vision of what the music should be about.
  • The makers of all the instruments.
  • Those involved in making the CD, financially and artistically.
  • The radio station that chooses to broadcast classical music when it is not the most popular music around.
  • The Toyota factory that made the radio for my car.
It's amazing how life is full of connections involving people we have never met. I am so grateful!

Friday, April 14, 2006


The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I discovered Carl Sandburg when I was in junior high school. When I found out he had written several volumes on the life of Lincoln, I was hooked. The above verse is one of his short poems. I thought about that as I drove to Bangor this morning, because I was engulfed in fog. Maine is known for its heavy fog, and this was not the first time I have encountered it. Fortunately, it was not on the road so much; it seemed mostly to engulf the sides of the road.

At one particular spot, I could see only the gray of the highway. On each side of me was total whiteout. An active imagination could have rendered up some exciting ideas of what could be enshrouded in the mist. A dragon? A magic city? Well, of course, I had traveled that road many times, and I knew it was just farmland. All the same, it was eerie. An entire ocean could have been on one side and the world's highest mountain on the other, as far as I was concerned. I couldn't see a thing until I reached an area where the fog had lifted.

I guess all people have times in their lives when they feel they are operating in the unknown. It can be just as panicky as driving through fog. And you can't really make sense of anything until you come out of it and turn around to look.

We placed an ad for our ParaBody 220 gym system last week. It is an all-in-one weight machine, extremely heavy, and would be exceedingly difficult to move. As the months have gone by with our house on the market, we have wondered what we should do with this piece of equipment. Our new house won't be big enough to put it anywhere. We certainly can't picture ourselves dissassembling it, moving it, and reassembling it anyway. So we decided to sell it and placed the ad, with a condition inserted that "you will have to move it out yourself." I long ago lost the user's manual, but I did manage to salvage a piece of folded paper which revealed minimal instructions on where every part is located in the machine. I was relieved that I still had that piece of paper; the buyer would certainly need it to put the machine back together.

Ed called me at work yesterday about 9 a.m. He said a woman had called, interested in buying the gym, but she wanted to make sure we had the assembly instructions. So Ed, knowing I had been in charge of them, called me at work to ask me where they were. I knew they were somewhere, but the exact location I did not know, so I left work, took an early lunch break, and spent a good 30 minutes dashing about the house like a madwoman, looking for those instructions. I went through papers in my secretary desk. I went through papers by the computer. I went through papers in our closet, in the file cabinet, in the garage, in drawers. I was almost crying at this point. Ed tried to soothe me. "Don't blame yourself," he said. "It's not your fault. It all this house-selling stuff. We're constantly throwing papers everywhere for showings and we just have too much to keep track of." Well, that made me feel a little better, but where was that instruction paper?! I had it just a few days ago. I went back to work, planning on resuming the search at 2:30. The customer was coming at 3:30. I had to find that paper! How could we sell the machine without the paper?

Ah, try the web site, I thought. What a brilliant idea! These days you can download anything from web sites. But the only things on the company's web site were their most recent products. Dead end there.

The clock was ticking away. I called the fitness specialty store in Bangor where we bought the machine three years ago. No, they did not have a copy of the assembly instructions. But they did give me the phone number of a company to call. I called the number; it was the wrong number. I called the store again. The lady apologized for giving me the wrong number, said someone had been talking to her at the time, put me on hold, then came back with a different number. I kept watching the clock. It was 3:00 by that time. Where was that stupid paper?? I was clenching my jaw in frustration.

The second phone number was the right one, and I talked to a very pleasant woman. I explained that we were having to move the machine, we couldn't find the disassembly/reassembly instructions, and is there any way I could have her mail them to us - that is, if they even still had a copy of them?

This is when I felt the first glimmer of hope. Was the fog lifting? I could always tell the customer that the instructions would be here in the about 2 weeks. But the woman on the phone said she could just e-mail the document. E-mail me! Instant instructions! Woo-hoo! The answer to my prayer! So I gave her my e-mail address and she said she was sending the document as I was talking to her.

I looked at the clock. 3: 15. I could barely make it. I sat in front of the computer screen impatiently. 3:16. 3:17. 3:20. Where was the e-mail?

I called the company back. I got the same woman on the phone - hurray! - and she said she must have written my e-mail address down wrong, because her message was returned. After some checking back and forth, we realized she had indeed left out one letter in my e-mail address, so she corrected it and resent the document.

3:25. The e-mail popped up on the screen like an excited kernel from Orville Redenbacher. Yes! It's here! I hoped that she had sent the right document. It should be short, just a little diagram with some part names and arrows.

Dear reader, I have to say at this point that she did not send me the little diagram with part names and arrows. Instead, she sent me the whole user's manual - 29 pages of it! It took me 2 minutes to print it out, staple it, and voila - we had everything a buyer could possibly desire!

The customer did show up right after that and did indeed buy the machine, making plans to come back tomorrow to take it down and take it home. She was especially pleased to have the entire user's manual; in fact, that might have clinched the whole deal.

When I was in the fog of my frustration, the only good outcome I could possibly imagine was success in finding that missing piece of paper. Instead, I got the whole manual! If I hadn't lost the paper, I would never have had the user's manual. When I came out of the fog and looked back, I was grateful that I had lost the paper. Mired in the fog, appreciating the circumstances was the last thing on my mind.

I had a similar experience when we moved to Maine. I had worked in a Memphis hospital most of my working adult life. I had held positions of ward clerk, lab clerk, pathology secretary, cardiac rehab secretary - and I was about ready for a change. I wondered what it would be like to work outside the medical world. So the week after we moved, I saw an ad the local newspaper had placed for a receptionist/classifieds clerk. That certainly sounded interesting. I knew with my grammar and spelling skills, I would be great at dealing with classified ads. I sent in my resume. They called back and scheduled an interview. At the interview, they apologized for the low pay they were offering (and it was low). They also said that newspapers really couldn't afford to offer good health insurance packages. I could tell the job was not the best in the world, but we had just moved here and I really needed a job. I knew the job was in the bag for me. I was a shoo-in. If anything, I was overqualified. How smug I was!

I was totally unprepared when I received the letter of rejection the following week. What? Hey, I was doing them a favor even being willing to work for their measly little company! After my indignation wore off, the depression came on. If I couldn't get a piddly little job at a weekly newspaper, how would I ever get a job of substance? I wallowed in self-pity.

Suffice it to say, the very next week, I was hired guessed it - the a medical transcriptionist, something I had never really done before, but I was to get paid by production, which meant I could have control over my salary, and it seemed to be a job that would take advantage of all my skills.

Ten years later, I am making 4 times the salary that the newspaper offered me. I am in a job I really enjoy which is rewarding and challenging. I have the best health insurance in town. Being rejected by that newspaper was one of the most fortuituous things that ever happened to me!

Remember this the next time you are in the fog. When you drive out and look back, you may be pleasantly surprised at how things worked out.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

What I learned

There are many authors out there who want the world to know what they have learned, and they have learned these things from all sorts of places and in all sorts of ways. Their books give a glimpse into...well, some strange ideas, frankly. Here's a engaging title: What I Learned in My Bathtub. telling where that one might lead. There are a couple of books featuring lessons in theology: What I Learned From God While Cooking and What I Learned From God While Gardening. There's one called Great Dames: What I Learned from Older Women. Then there are the books that begin with "All I Need to Know I Learned from...." or some similar phrasing. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. That's a well-known one. One maybe not so well known is All I Need to Know I Learned from Xena: War Princess. Maybe you'd prefer All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Star Trek or All I Need to Know in Life I Learned from Romance Novels.

Since so many folks want to share their accumulated life wisdom, I figured I could too.

All I Really Needed to Know I Learned as a Medical Transcriptionist

1. Everyone has an inherent desire to be the best at something. I met one of our local dictators the other day and introduced myself as an MT. He asked me, "Do I talk too fast?" I replied, "No, not at all." He frowned. "You mean I don't talk too fast? Everyone used to say I talked too fast." I said, "No, actually you are one of our better dictators." When I mentioned to him that Dr. So-and-So gave us a much harder time than he did, his frown got deeper. "What? I'm not the fastest talker you have?" I could tell he was terribly disappointed. This doctor wanted to have a position of honor - or dishonor - but at least he wanted a place of singular recognition.

2. Know when to keep your mouth shut. Ah, the new privacy laws, HIPAA for short. We are lectured several times a year about the dangers of spilling the juicy beans of what we learn on the job. But I already know about keeping my mouth shut. I learned that the first time I listened to Rachel whine about being up all night with the baby, and I said, "Oh? I had 9 hours of wonderful sleep." Zip that lip.

3. Everyone needs a challenge. People say they don't like challenges, don't want challenges, and are afraid of challenges. But in reality, they need challenges. Why? Because of the feeling they get when they succeed at one! When I was a new medical transcriptionist, I had one motor-mouth dictator whose dictation would send me home in tears, because I never thought I would ever be at all competent in understanding him. Now he is one of my favorites - and not only am I competent at transcribing his reports - I fly through them with ease and accuracy. Meeting and exceeding a challenge is one of the best things you can do for your self-esteem.

4. If you stop listening too soon, you might miss something worth hearing. So many times I have had a dictator say an obscure medical word which sent me scurrying through reference books and Internet sites to verify, when if I had only kept my foot on the pedal for a few more seconds, the doctor would have either spelled it or even would have decided against using it altogether. What a waste of time! That's what impatience will get you. If I go ahead and transcribe the rest of the report, often the word will be repeated more clearly. In pondering this life lesson, I think of Ed when he starts talking to me as I am in the process of walking to the other end of the house. He must think I'm still listening, I say to myself as his voice grows more distant. Sometimes I will be gone for 10 minutes and when I return, he is still talking. What insights from Ed I have missed! (I didn't say they were good insights, but I missed them all the same.)

4. If it doesn't make sense, something is probably wrong. How many times have new MTs heard a doctor say, "I's and O's" (for Intake and Output) and transcribed "eyes and nose"? Countless, believe me. And wise is the MT who thinks that "Eyes and nose were 2097 and 3400" does not make sense. Usually if what we hear does not make sense, we figure we might - just might - be hearing it wrong. In real life, accepting nonsensical things can get you into real trouble. Our state is airing some TV commercials warning senior citizens of e-mail scams and such. One skit had a couple receiving a fraudulent e-mail about winning the Canadian lottery. They were ecstatic, and planned right away to give out their credit card number so the scammers could pay the "taxes" on their winnings. After watching this public service spot for a minute, Ed turned to me and said, "Well, I would think it strange to learn that I had won a lottery I had never even entered! Don't these people ever say, 'Hey - I don't remember even entering the Canadian lottery!'?" If it doesn't make sense, think again.

5. We all share the journey of life, but may be at different stages in that journey. At our hospital, we have a special unit to which two groups of patients are transferred. One group consists of patients who need a little more rehab in order to be discharged. The other group is dying and needs a place to die in comfort and peace. It always seems strange to me that these two groups of patients are located in the same unit - some are there to get better, and the others are there to die. But in a way, that unit is a microcosm of life itself. We're all at different ages, different levels of spiritual wisdom, different levels of physical abilities, different degrees of intelligence, different stages of maturity - all sharing space on this planet at this time in history. Sometimes I think we have too high expectations for our fellow travelers, and it's easy to belittle those who are not on our level in one way or another. Compared to some, we might be farther along; compared to others, we have fallen way behind. But in the end, we're all in this together.

So there you have it. A glimpse into the wisdom of the MT world. I'd write more, but I need to start on my 9 hours of uninterrupted, blissful sleep. (Sorry, Rachel.)

Monday, April 10, 2006


In my freshman (and only) year of college, I had a well-respected professor named Dr. Mayo. I'm sure he taught me many things in his English class, but the only thing I really remember is about the word nice. He absolutely detested that word. He thought it didn't say anything worth saying. He considered it bland, empty, void. He said there are thousands of other words which would be more appropriately used in any conversation. I was so intrigued by his vehemence that I made sure I found a birthday card for him with "Have a Nice Birthday" written across the front.

Ever since then, I have had inklings that I was just too nice sometimes. I was taught to be nice when I was a child. In spite of Dr. Mayo's portrayal of nice as without meaning, I think it is very clear. Nice is polite. Nice is to think of others before yourself. Nice is quiet, unassuming, pleasant. Nice does not make waves, and most of all, nice is holding your tongue.

Family members might laugh at the last definition, for in my case, I doubt they realize that I ever hold my tongue. But I do, in situations outside the family. At work, for instance. I realize others are taking advantage of me, and I just continue to do my job (the difficult along with the easy) and just simmer. Sometimes I hear an offensive "joke" and don't speak up. Sometimes I see injustice and sit on my hands rather than complain. That is the "dark" side of nice. It's because I am one of those women they call G.R.I.T.S. (Girls Raised In The South). We're taught to be nice. It's in our genes.

Of course, you have a loophole twice in life - once when you're very young, and once when you're very old. Then you can speak your mind, because everyone expects it. Indeed, they laugh at it. As adults, we're afraid to proclaim, "The emperor has no clothes!" because it's not nice to speak your mind, even when it's just being honest.

This week I thought of two females in my family who were and are in the loophole stage. I got to see my granddaughter, Caroline, along with her 5-month-old sister, Charlotte. Caroline speaks her mind. You never know what will pop out of her mouth.

The situation was Charlotte's dirty diaper. (I heard of a Baby Weede whose dirty diapers were legendary, but this one came pretty close). The mess had traveled, encompassing the area of her belly, her back, even up by her shoulders. It was everything you could wish for in a dirty diaper. Rachel asked for my help. "Hold her hands," she told me, "so I can change the diaper without her touching it." I did as I was told, but even that wasn't enough. She called her husband. "Chris! I need you!" Chris was saying as he came into the room, "What? Two people aren't enough to change a diaper?" He soon found out that we were not dealing with an ordinary dirty diaper. So Chris held Charlotte's legs, I held her arms, and Rachel was trying desperately to do the deed. It was a scene worthy of a picture, but no one had free hands to get the camera.

Apparently when Charlotte has a dirty diaper, Caroline always wants to see it up close and personal. She took the little nursing stool, moved it over to the changing table, stood on it and craned her neck to see over the rail. She said nothing. I asked her if she could see OK, and she nodded. Finally, she got down. At this point, Chris remarked, "This is just too much here for a wipe. I'm going to get a wash cloth." And Caroline popped up, "Don't get one of MINE!" No altruism for her in this case. She knew what that wash cloth was headed for and she didn't want any part of her wash cloth collection involved.

It reminded me of the second female I mentioned, Aunt Bessie. Aunt Bessie could speak her mind because she was country-bred and old. She had two loopholes. Years ago, my family was sitting down to dinner to a plate of strange stuff. My mom was making hamburgers, but when she started, she realized she was out of hamburger buns. Oh, but she had hot dog buns. She just shaped the hamburger meat to look like hot dogs. Then they would fit the buns and everything would be great. I don't think she even realized what a plate of hot-dog shaped ground beef would look like until it was all in a brown pile. The plate was set in the middle of the table. We all stared. No one said anything - except, of course, old Aunt Bessie. She smirked.
"Jean, do you know what that looks like?" she said.
We all could guess what was coming. After all, Bessie was right. It did look like that.
"Yes, Bessie," said Mom, obviously hoping to drop the whole conversation.
"But do you really know what it looks like?" Bessie repeated.
By this time, the rest of us were stifling giggles.
"Yes, Bessie," said Mom, a little impatient. "I know what it looks like."
"Well," said Aunt Bessie, "it looks like...."

If you are hoping that Aunt Bessie's voice just dropped off at that point, sorry. You know better than that. Aunt Bessie said The Word. A word that was never said in our house. Ever.

Did the roof collapse? Did my parents faint? No. After all, Aunt Bessie was old. Everyone expected the unexpected when it came to Aunt Bessie. The meal continued without incident, and we all ate those misshapen burgers without other comment. The story, though, landed in our family collection of Stories Worth Remembering.

So here I am, 51 years old, and I fit neither category of loopholes. I am still nice. I know what's socially appropriate. Now I just have to learn that in some cases, nice will have to fall by the wayside, and the chips will fall where they may. This is not about any one situation; it is a part of my personality that I think needs to be adjusted. I don't like to speak up. I don't like to make waves. I certainly fear that people won't "like" me. Just one more hard thing about middle age. Sometimes life is just full of....

And yes, my last remark will fade into the Internet without being voiced. Even a reformed Girl Raised In The South has her limits.

Friday, April 07, 2006


It was either a mistake or a godsend for me to start posting about songs. After I reminisced about Jeanette MacDonald, I visited iTunes to see if they offered any of her music. And there it was - Italian Street Song from "Naughty Marietta." If you read my previous post, you can read the lyrics. They're nonsensical and look pretty ridiculous without the music to accompany them, but I posted them anyway.

So I spent my $.99 to download the song. It was as thrilling as I remembered! Her gorgeous voice soars over the orchestra effortlessly. She could really hit those high notes. In particular, there is one high note right at the end of the song, the next-to-last note. You can tell the song is about to end, that she is probably ready to hit the final note, and you wait. And wait. She is still singing the high note. You wait some more.

By this time, in the olden days of record players, you probably would think the record was "stuck." It seems impossible for a human being to hold such a high note for that long a time. I know that we live in a era of impatience, in a society that demands everything fast and immediate - but even that could not explain my uneasiness at hearing her hold that note. The whole time I was waiting, thoughts were racing through my head. Is it possible to hold a note that long? Did my download have a glitch? Was she turning blue in the face, a visual scene that I missed because I only had the audio experience?

Finally - and I do mean FINALLY - she released the note with great fanfare, her voice sliding down to the very last note, with the orchestra madly dashing about ecstatically to carry the song to its dramatic conclusion.

That was one of the longest few seconds I have ever spent! I realized I had even been holding my breath while she was holding that high note. Whew! I took a deep breath and relaxed.

It didn't take long before I could see the whole experience as a metaphor for our house situation. We cleaned, we stored, we packed, we staged, we put the house on the market, and we had showings. With great anticipation, we knew we were approaching that high note, and from the first showing on, we have held that high note. We can't end the song until the house is sold; we can't build the new house until the house is sold. In short - we are holding the high note, and, my friends, I can assure you our collective face is the color of one of Maine's ripe blueberries.

How I want to relinquish the high note, beautiful though it may be, and end the song in a flurry of violins and drums and trumpets and cymbals! I know we will be involved in many other "songs" in our lives, and we'll be starting another one soon after we finish this one, but oh, please, please - we need to finish this song!

There's only so long a person can hold a high note like that. Even the great Jeanette MacDonald had to release it sooner or later.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Ever since I wrote about The Hokey Pokey, I have had my head swimming in songs. Do you realize that the only way to get one song out of your head is to think of a different song? And I certainly have a wide collection of tunes to choose from. I've been involved in music my whole life, from singing to piano to organ to harp.

One of the magazines I read has a column titled "My Life in..." and in each issue, a new celebrity finishes that phrase with her own list. "My Life in Shoes," for instance. The featured celebrity makes a chronological list of her life in shoes and the importance thereof. The magazine then provides pictures of the shoe styles she writes about. She not only lists her shoe styles; she also reminisces about the time in her life when she was wearing each pair, and how and why her shoes reflected these important stages in her development as a woman. I remember one month it was "My Life in Lipsticks." It's hard to imagine how that can be at all interesting, but they managed to turn that particular story into an amazingly engrossing read.

So after The Hokey Pokey finally exited my brain, I did some reminiscing myself. I wonder how I would write a column called "My Life in Songs."

Every once in awhile I'll catch an infomercial on TV with another new release of a song collection. Sometimes they will even say, "These are the songs of your life!" They never are the songs of my life. The songs of my life are not usually popular - they are sometimes not even well known at all - but I can easily trace their importance for me.

Some of the first songs I was introduced to were my parents' favorites, of course.
"Pony Boy." Ever heard of it?
Pony Boy, Pony Boy, won't you be my Tony Boy?
Don't say no. Here we go off across the plains.
Marry me, carry me right away with you.
Giddy up, giddy up, giddy up, whoa! My Pony Boy.

We only knew the chorus, but I found the whole song on the Internet with all the lyrics and music here. It's a great song if you want to be cheered up! "Pony Boy" was usually paired with this ditty:
Cheyenne, Cheyenne
Hop on my pony
There's room here
For two dear
And after the ceremony
We'll both ride home as one, as one
On my pony from old Cheyenne.
Of course, my parents were fans of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. (I only found out a few years ago that I was named after Jeanette MacDonald.) So the song "Totem Tom Tom" was in our childhood repertoire, as well as "Italian Street Song." Here's the chorus to the latter:

Zing, zing, zizzy, zizzy, zing, zing,

boom, boom, aye.

Zing, zing, zizzy, zizzy, zing, zing

Mandolinas gay.

Zing, zing, zizzy, zizzy, zing, zing

boom, boom, aye. La, la, la, ha, ha, ha, Zing, boom, ay.

La, la, la, la, ha, ha, ha zing, zing, aye.

Now those aren't your average lyrics - but oh what fun to sing!

I can't forget "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." We only knew the choruses of so many of these songs, and it is a delight to do a little research and see the rest of the lyrics. You can hear this song at this site.

Then there's the ever popular song guaranteed to get sleepy kids to wake up in the morning (along with a cold damp washrag on the eyes):

When the red, red robin comes bob bob bobbin along, along,
There'll be no more sobbin' when he starts throbbin' his own sweet song:
Wake up, wake up! you sleepy head,
Get up, get up, get out of bed,
Cheer up, cheer up, the sun is red,
Live, love, laugh and be happy...

Those are just from my childhood. Later in life, I sang, "His Eye is on the Sparrow" at my grandmother's funeral. I sang "Be Thou My Vision" at my dad's funeral. Around the time we got married, Ed and I saw the original Poseidon Adventure - and first heard the song "There's Got To Be a Morning After" - which I immediately adopted as "our song." Unfortunately that designation has never been accepted by Ed, who personally dislikes the song, and every time we hear it, I swoon and he just rolls his eyes. One of these days, it will grow on him.

There are many other songs of my life, too many for a column in a magazine, too many for a blog, too many for me even to remember. But my soul is infused with them all. And that is indeed what it is all about!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Hokey Pokey

I'm up again, blogging in the middle of the night. A hot flash woke me up. Those of you who have never experienced a hot flash can consider yourselves lucky. Maybe by the time Caroline hits menopause, science will have discovered a cure without side effects or ominous warnings. But for now, I'm stuck with them.

After my hysterectomy in 1994, I was placed immediately on hormonal therapy and so avoided the dreaded hot flashes. I continued that way for over a decade. By last year, though, I had been persuaded by my doctor that it was time to relinquish the crutch, so to speak, so I went cold turkey. I didn't really know what to expect with my estrogen withdrawal, and although I quizzed my older acquaintances for information and was given hints about what was to come, I quickly learned that the whole scenario is something you can't appreciate unless you've experienced it firsthand. One of my co-workers told me, "My mother always used to say when she had a hot flash that she could have run out in a blizzard naked." Well, we did have a little April snow shower today, but a blizzard it was not, and besides, I'm not quite that desperate. Nevertheless, hot flashes are annoying. And the ones in the middle of the night are the most frustrating - because then it's "kick the covers off" time.

If you sleep with another human being, you know what effect this can have. When a hot flash wakes me up, I need relief, and I need it immediately. Now, it's hard to kick a sheet, blanket, quilt, and top wool blanket off completely in one fell swoop, so I usually just throw the top blanket over onto Ed, then pull my left leg (my outside leg) out from under the rest of the covers and lay it on top of everything to get the cool room air to at least one of my lower limbs. I do this at the same time that I throw off what covers I can from my shoulders and chest area. Believe me - it is quite a feat to be able to accomplish this in a fraction of a second while I'm still half asleep. It takes coordination, persistence, and practice. I have it down to an art. As the heat recedes, my exposed skin gets chilled, and I reverse my maneuver and replace all my assorted body parts back under the covers. Of course, all this does maximal damage to a good night's sleep for Ed.

Tonight when I performed my acrobatics, I woke up just enough that my brain wouldn't easily return to sleep, and all I could hear in my head were the lyrics to that song, The Hokey Pokey. "You put your left leg in, you put your left leg out..." There are songs that pass through your brain like a short excursion train trip from one place to another - a pleasant diversion. There are other songs that stay in your head like the miniature train sets you see under Christmas trees - they go in a circle around and around and never end. The Hokey Pokey is definitely in the latter category.

As I was writing this blog entry, I wanted to reference the lyrics to The Hokey Pokey so I clicked on a pertinent web site. Immediately the song started blaring - and my speakers were up to full volume, of course. It startled me, but not as much as it startled Ed, who was sleeping in the next room. Sorry, Ed - that's what it's all about.