Friday, December 31, 2010

Creating new habits

I needed a bit of inspiration this morning. This week has been rough -- saw the reality of aging parents and the stupidity of hospital systems seemingly absent of both heart and mind plus got the news that my streak of being great at relationship building continues. The man I dated for a couple of years is now engaged. Since the last man I dated became engaged after we were a couple I'm thinking I may need to get the word out that if a man wants to marry he should date me first. I'm guaranteed gold in the "ring-on-someone-else's-finger" department. That way I would have a few dates and marriage stats would go up significantly.

My problem is that I couldn't quite figure how to launch a new blog entry that didn't sound like a bitter woman making light of her romantic woes. I'm not bitter but readers can't see me smiling as I type. I'm actually quite happy for the new couple. They are both getting what they wanted. And, since I didn't want to get married again, so am I.

That's why I went exploring. I googled "best blogs of 2010" and found Time's list. That took me to I think I'm going to like this one. I had to laugh though when I saw that while the writer emphasizes minimalism he still wrote that his blog had "helped the minimalist movement grow by leaps and bounds." Does anyone else see the humor? Wouldn't a "growing minimalist movement" be an oxymoron?

I checked out a few others on the list and discovered everything from tech toys to failures has a blog about it. Since I'm streamlining my purchases and giving up the daily paper, I bookmarked several options to check out.

Encouraging creativity in others is easy for me. I am passionate about creating and love to help others do so. Sometimes, though, I get stuck. Since I've been feeling a bit mired in the last year, I'm glad to be shedding baggage, looking around, and staying alert while waiting for the next big thing.

Perhaps I'll pick up a few zen habits of my own to blog about.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


My stepfather spent many decades as the town doctor. He was known for his ability to diagnose a problem. He also was recognized as one who would refer a patient elsewhere if he thought he lacked the needed expertise. I came into the world in the operating room of the four-bed clinic where my mother usually served as his nurse. After his wife died of cancer, they married and will celebrate a silver anniversary in 2011.

At least I hope they will.

Doc has been on dialysis for three years. He claimed 86 years of life on Christmas Eve but he wasn't celebrating much. He's got heart problems, prostate cancer, something's been wrong with his esophagus for years, his blood is thin and he's constantly "leaking" somewhere so that frequent transfusions are necessary.

Today as we struggled with getting him ready for a visit to the ER after a night of vomiting and diarrhea I was reminded of the portrait of Dorian Grey. Instead of age and past sins being visited upon a painting of himself, I visualized that all the diagnoses that he was famous for were somehow now manifesting themselves in his body.

I didn't cry then though. Nor did I at the thought of the indignities the sick and aging must endure such as Doc giving up a penchant for always wearing dress slacks and suspenders because sweats would make it easier to get to the bathroom. Or the independence ... like when, over expressed objections, others tell you that no matter what you have to go to the hospital to restore the fluids you lost.

Watching him moan in the van beside me as I drove he and my mother to the ER, seeing him clutch the bucket in his good hand in case he felt nauseous once again, wheeling him into the waiting area in a wheel chair ... these didn't prompt the flood gates.

It was walking away. After he was moved to a larger hospital, secured in ICU, color returning, and complaining about the order that would net him no food until the morning, I began to feel the weight of it all. As I exited the building with my mother safely tucked away in the family waiting/sleeping lounge and him monitored to the hilt, I cried.

Being the long-distance daughter has never been an issue for me or my mother. I think she reveled in my freedom and celebrated all my unorthodox choices as small victories of her own. But tonight when I hugged her small frame goodbye, I felt the magnitude of those miles. While tomorrow I will board a plane and return to Houston, she will be there, beside him, and still in the midst of his continuing and daily transformation from doctor to patient. In that hug, I traded places with her. I wasn't the little girl any more and she felt frail. She was tiny in my arms and the forces engulfing us both were so beyond our control that while I felt larger than life holding on to her, I knew we were too weak to stop the inevitable.

As soon as my eyes welled up, I walked away and reached out to friends and family. Thanking God for them, I updated each on Doc's status and asked for prayers. Of course, they quickly came.

Now, I'm waiting for life to go back to "normal." Yet, I know I passed through that door at the beginning of this trip. Those days of "normal" will never again exist because I've seen up close what day to day "life" is for Mom and Doc.

I'm sure I'll be back this way very soon.

Feliz Navidad and Other Airport Adventures

When the news reported the security delays, weather delays, and holiday delays for flights, I determined that I would lessen my stress by getting to the airport in plenty of time. I figured that if I allowed an hour or more to make the 45 min trip to IAH, an hour to get through ticketing and security, I'd still have 90 min or more to grab a bite and read a book before boarding.

The drive took only 30 minutes. I got my bag checked and was through security in less than 10 minutes. When I was on the "other side" and finished with all my responsibilities, I was three hours early. One half-cooked personal deep dish pizza later, I was 2 hours and 45 minutes early.

So rather than bury myself in my book, I thought I'd see what living in the moment would net me.

Settling in a seat near my future gate, I watched the crowd. Parents were desperately trying to subdue children under the influence of Christmas candy and visions of Santa dancing in their heads. Weary souls seemed desperate to become under the influence with the next drink or two. Santa hats were askew. Teenagers were texting, listening to Ipods, and chatting live and in person all at the same time.

Soon a nice looking white haired man a few years my senior and casually well dressed motioned to the seat beside me. Attempting to not only let him know that it was available but also that I was not opposed to conversation, I nodded and replied, "Sure but I hope your pizza is better than the one I just had ..."

Before I completely finished the thought, he interrupted, "No English."

Hmmmm ... thinking that this revelation would test my in-the-moment-making skills, I asked, "Lingua?"

"Italiano or spana," he replied.

"Lo siento, me espanol is muy mal," I apologized for my lack of vast knowledge of his second language and indicated that I knew nothing of his first.

Then he told me in Spanish that I was doing fine, he was going to visit his daughter, his son lives in Chicago, and would I like a slice of pizza?

I asked in very broken Spanish if he was an abuelo (grandfather) and he feigned great shock that I would think so and declared this to be a complete falsehood. We laughed and chatted just a bit more about where I learned Spanish and whether he was on time and in the right location for his flight.

I assured him he had at least 20 minutes and then two minutes later they began a rush boarding of his plane.

"Ahora!" I pointed at the line and began to help him gather his things. He struggled with closing the pizza box and then stood searching the area and looking as though he thought he were forgetting something.

Suddenly, he looked at me, bent down, exclaimed, "Ciao!" and planted a kiss on me with more gusto than I've experienced in a while.

"Feliz Navidad!" I said with a smile.

"Feliz Navidad!" he shouted and was off.

And so goes the story of my Christmas kiss.

Enflamed by the sweetness of his gesture, I determined that I should reach out to a few other folks who by virtue of a recent loss could possibly be dreading the holidays. I called each one and either left a message or had an incredibly sweet conversation with each. One chat lasted 45 minutes! When it was all said and done my experiment of "the moment" had totaled several great conversations, touching texts, and numerous smiles as I determinedly walked the concourse with a grin and made the effort to actually make eye contact with my fellow travelers.

Now that's a secure way to beat the holiday stress blues!

Feliz Navidad indeed!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shy Moon and a Heat Wave on the Winter Solstice

Never one to embrace "normal", Texas maintains its independent spirit on this first day of winter. The forecast suggests we're heading for a frosty 82 degrees today. Brrr ... may need to take a coverup for my swimsuit today as we "study" hydrotherapy at massage school.

A quick review of Facebook updates reveals that our perspective on the lunar eclipse last night was stymied by clouds. However, a few patient and sleep-deprived souls did report capturing a glimpse of the real thing.

I was playing hostess to Stan and Roger with a "cleaning-out-the-fridge-before-traveling" meal when the two community college instructors determined that with no school today they would head out of the city lights in order to catch a better view of the lunar activity. Passing, due to the actual strain a day of reading a textbook aloud can create, I packed up to-go bags and sent them on their way.

When I discovered the fact that their efforts may have been hindered, I was sad. I was counting on living vicariously through their playfulness today.

Educationally speaking, the presentation of the curriculum for my massage class is less than stimulating. I'm trying to hold on to as many story threads as I can so that I can entertain myself during the agonizing ordeal of poor teaching practices.

Today I'm going to ponder a shy dark moon, a balmy winter day, and friends over 50 who still have the spirit of adventure.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

REK -- Another Texas Phenom

I know of Robert Earl Keen's persona more than I know his music. Poet/storyteller backed by a steel guitar and a steady beat, he's a Texas singer/songwriter. And with a couple of decades in the business, he more than earned the right to move beyond beer soaked stages at dimly lit honky tonks to the likes of the Verizon Theater in downtown Houston where I saw him last night with a few hundred of his closest friends.

'Course after an evening of hearing his work up close and personal, I wondered if he's not just as comfortable in some New Mexican cantina than in the well-lit venue (save for the shadow falling on his face due to the large cowboy hat) with the great sound. After he used the signage of a Idaho motel to pen one of his numbers and with topics ranging from the ghostly visitations of Hank Williams to a dysfunctional family Christmas, I was fairly convinced he didn't care where he was as long as he got to recreate his musical characters on a regular basis.

The crowd knew his music by heart. I relied on the good sound system and leaning toward my friend and one of the legion of his fans to ask, "What did he say?" But one line was crystal clear and took my breath with its purity and clarity:

"Feels so good feeling good again . . . "


I'm not sure if such a statement is wasted on the young. They may simply equate it with the day after the morning after. But for me and mine, the line holds the truth behind letting go of years of stress and strain, of releasing one's worries about what other people think, of living in the simple reality that everything isn't necessary and enough is truly enough.

Listening to an artist practicing his craft is just one more means of my own "feeling good again." So glad I did.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I probably should have seen The Heidi Chronicles by now. As a woman sometimes called a "feminist", I find it hard to believe I haven't. I know that I at least thought about seeing it when the playwright Wendy Wasserstein died in 2006. But good intentions didn't purchase the ticket so I have been ignorant lo these many years.

Until tonight.

One of the smaller but nevertheless very substantial theaters in town is presenting it. Roger invited me to go and, never one to turn down a free night at the theater, I said yes.

As we journeyed back in time with this product of the 50s whose consciousness was raised in the 60s and who began to wonder about her choices in the 70s only to realize her unhappiness in the 80s I alternated between feeling somewhat cheated to great relief and finally deep satisfaction.

When I heard the dialogue between the women who were discovering their voices and shouting with great passion and solidarity at the obstacles in their path, I wanted to have been there, to have participated in something other than a small town's attempt at disco fever as I did in my formative years. But when the conversations of "what if" turned into "what else" and a whining quality crept in, I was pleased to have skipped that level of angst. Finally, when our heroine discovers that she may be living into the heroine of the 21st century as she coos at her newly adopted daughter, I found my ahhhhh.

For I truly am satisfied. I don't live in regret. I celebrate who I am and am ok with not having done what was socially prescribed for a woman of my age during the various decades of my evolution. Choices -- both those that were thoughtful and based in compassion as well as those that were selfish and could have caused pain -- have made me ... well, me. And I hold no sadness that I am somehow not what I set out to be. Having never had the capacity to dream bigger than my reality, I'm thrilled with what's happened to me thus far and anticipate what's next with almost a giddiness.

Seeing it with my dear friend made the play that much more meaningful. Heidi has her doctor and I have my Roger. When we exited the theater, I told him I would have to wait a few moments to say something because I knew when I started to speak I'd cry (as I had done numerous times in the play) and didn't want to be seen sobbing as we walked to the car. I finally found my words when I told him, "Seeing plays like this -- it's a play from the 80s, so someone has to have AIDS -- reminds me that I am so fortunate to have encountered the gay world after the decade that took so many. I am selfish and I can't imagine losing any of 'my boys.'" Having just heard one friend speak of that time as he told of going from six parties in one week to going to six funerals in one week, I hold close the fact that while some friends are positive (though actually very few) and deal with medications that are sometimes horrific, they are still here. They are alive and bring life to my world.

Also, seeing it with Roger was significant in that as I have reflected of late on my lack of a love life, I could honestly tell him that because of him, Stan, Geary, Jerry, Shane, and others I know I will never be lonely. I may be alone, but not lonely.

So now I'm glad to say I have seen The Heidi Chronicles but not lived it. My march may lack some of their fury but it is no less significant. And while I am grateful for the doors they broke down, the ceilings they crashed through, and the paths they forged, I am no slouch. I revel in being present with young women today, answering their questions when they arise, sharing a story or two when appropriate and listening.

The Karen Chronicles continue...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's Talk About Men

I used to offer a workshop on how men and women communicate differently. Given that I worked for a woman's organization with over a million members and most of them worked with pastors, the majority of which were male, that made for a popular topic. Rather than use the pop take of the time that "men were from Mars and women from Venus", I pulled from Deborah Tannen's linguistic studies about communication differences between genders.

For instance, her research showed an inordinate use of the phrase "I'm sorry" when females were speaking. The key is that while women sometimes used the phrase as a filler as in ... "I'm sorry. Since you were late we started without you but you can catch up during the break" was often consider a sign of weakness on the part of a female leader of a meeting. The speaker may not have felt any responsibility at all for her choice to move forward, in fact, usually didn't. The apologetic greeting was simply a way of softening the blow of what could have been seen as a reprimand. However, men often heard weakness rather than control and strength.

I'll never forget the time I taught the workshop and a woman well past 70 years of age walked up to me and said, "Thank you." Thinking I'd given her the key to work with her pastor, I said, "I hoped it helped." She responded, "Oh my, yes, after 55 years of marriage I finally get my husband!"

I bring this male/female difference to your attention because as I think about the men in my life I truly am sorry. I'm sorry that I have sometimes chosen men who I thought accepted me for me -- when in fact they accepted me for the moment. When "me" showed up with all my loyalties, passions, and diverse viewpoints, they ran. I'm sorry that I settle when it comes to male companionship. And most of all, I'm sorry that I don't always know how to reveal how much I appreciate the men who stick by me, no matter what.

"No matter what" can mean a lot of things. Divorce is probably the furtherest end of the spectrum. And yet, my ex-husband recently and absolutely showed why I had good taste in men once upon a time. He, who is from Houston and now lives in my home state of Tennessee, drove 2.5 hours with his preschooler son to visit my mother and ailing stepfather in Greenfield. He did so because he had learned of Doc's illness and wanted to check in on them. After asking me in brief emails as to whether it would be ok and receiving the needed contact info, he made the journey.

My mother fell in love. I have no idea what she and my ex may have discussed but after checking in with her I can tell you in detail what she and the curious but respectful preschooler did for the length of the visit. She went on and on about his enthusiasm for her Christmas Village (wall to wall display cases filled with replicas of the perfect little snow-covered wonderland), his gratitude for the books she gave him, and his desire to stay with "Miss Margarett" when his father said it was time to go.

I'm not writing this piece with any kind of regret. I know that my ex is in a better place as the result of the fact that he's with a woman who can be who he needs her to be in ways I could not. I also know that I am in a place of wonderment and excitement that probably wouldn't have been possible had we tried to endure. But I am absolutely filled to the brim and possibly running over with gratitude that this man was part of my life, helped to shape me into who I am, and is proving to be the minister he always wanted to be.

I know in one long car ride he proved it to me. Ministry isn't about sermons, graveside prayers, and great programs. Ministry is reaching out to people who need you and providing at least a moment's relief.

I get that on a regular basis from the male friends in my life who check in with me, have dinner with me, make sure I get out to as many fun events as we can endure, and overall provide me with a male perspective that a single woman could sometimes lack. And this week I also got it from my ex.

I thank God for the men in my life.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Another Day in the Life of a Food Truck

The roads were rough ... the higher than average number of potholes suggested that pull with the city wasn't something anyone really pursued in this area of town. The failing economy was also evident as many of the warehouses were obviously unused and tagged with graffiti. Once upon a time, the number of wandering homeless folks and street corner deals going down would have been enough to turn the VW around and head for home.

But I was on a mission!

A local non-profit wanted and received a donated beginning to what they hoped would be an income-generating enterprise for the impoverished area of Houston they serve. In their dreams, a former high school concession stand would be transformed into a taqueria or food truck and women from the neighborhood would learn good business practices and earn cash for their families. While the dream became reality in the initial gift of the trailer, the transformation process was taking a while as the non-profit's staff was consumed with their ongoing activities that reach more than 80,000 annually.

Enter me.

After discovering that I was looking for additional income while going to massage school, the director contacted me about serving as a project manager. The gig sounded interesting and I love it when handouts are put aside in lieu of hand ups. So I committed to learning what I could about city requirements, food services, and refurbishing.

Since food trucks are an emerging trend in Houston, I was able to connect to some of my network and discover one of the best and most reliable groups working on transforming old U-hauls and buses into restaurants on wheels. Hence my journey into the land of the not-so-easy-to-find.

As soon as I pulled up in front of the building my concerns about locale vanished. Yes, the street number was haphazardly spray painted on the wall of the metal warehouse. Yes, there were numerous large trucks parked on the street and in front of the only entrance I could find. But there was also a vibe. I heard the radio blaring music from Mexico. I saw three young men on top of a truck working with more enthusiasm and fervor than anyone I'd witnessed in a while. As soon as they saw me, smiles broke out, then words of welcome and offers of help. When I asked for Daniel, they ensured he was on his way.

Daniel is originally from Mexico and came to Houston by way of California. He's the better English speaker of the two brothers who run the shop. Inside the warehouse that day were as many as 9 or 10 trucks in process. The place was orderly and running with the smoothness of a fine automobile. Added to the men on top of the first truck were guys working in one area with sheet metal and men in the back dealing with plans. Efficiency and cleanliness were evident at every turn.

As I drove Daniel to the location where the trailer is currently parked, I explained the non-profit's dream and what we'd done to date. He said little except to inform or correct me about city ordinances. When we arrived at the Center ten minutes later, he quickly set to the task of assessing our situation.

A few minutes passed with him using his measuring tape and crawling under cabinets and then he emerged with a bid at least one fourth less than the first quote I received. He acknowledged that it was only his best guess and vowed to get to work as soon as possible on a pen to paper version.

I dove him back to his facility and along the way was impressed with not only his knowledge but his respect for the non-profit's plans. He knew the value of giving people an opportunity.

I want to call the truck Salud! but since it's a word used for toasts and the non-profit is a religious group, I'm doubting we'll go there. But I think it's fitting. Daniel and his brother have found and offer opportunities for financial health regularly. We want this truck to offer good Mexican (not fatty TexMex) options and we want the staff to enjoy such monetary gain as well. Even if we don't name it "to your health," in my heart I'll know that's it's true identity.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Coaching Beyond the Finish Line

To inspire others, to live with such authenticity that people trust without question your words and seek your guidance, to move people beyond perceived limits ... these traits of a leader are personified in an amazing story populating headlines and newscasts last week.

Some stories get me teary. Some make me sob. Guess which response this prompted ...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Moaners, Groaners, Boners and Stoners

We've got quite a cast of characters in this theater of the absurd known as massage. I've mentioned before that the intern massage room is a large space divided into smaller ones with a series of curtains on rings. The two most frequent sounds I hear are the rattle of the rings (sort of like a massive zipper effect) as someone enters their space and the wretched wrenching of plastic when a face guard isn't functioning properly.

But plenty of other sounds abound!

Moaners are those clients that -- once the effleurage has begun -- forget they are in public or simply don't care. They express their pleasure with sometimes muted (and sometimes not) "mmmmmmm"s and "yessssss, yessss". Usually they make me smile.

Groaners are hurting. We have a 64-year-old accupressurist from China in our class. His pressure is now legendary and his space tends to be the source of most of the groaners. I tell my clients that it's supposed to "hurt so good, not hurt like hell." He tends to get the ones who are game for hell. Groaners walking out of there are often heard sniffling as well.

Boners are not exactly a sound category unless you note the eery silence. I've had one guy (out of 95 client hours thus far) who didn't say a word but left me evidence of his pleasure on the massage table sheets. Since this is a bodily function that's just a fact of life, I tend not to be too concerned. Now the guy who asked me, after I had completed what to him felt like a tortuous range of motion/stretching sequence, "Are handcuffs next?" is another matter.

And finally, the stoners who, again aren't that much about the sounds, but rather the smell. Seems that lots of folks like to have a toke or a drink or maybe even several pills before they come for a nice, double-your-pleasure-massage. Problem is, they don't realize that whatever you have in excess in your system is going to come out of your pores. In the case of two of our clients the smell of weed was so prevalent that other clients were wondering if the therapists weren't off in a corner chilling. That prompted management to intervene and the sounds I heard were the swishing of the rings, the robotic "My instructor has advised me to terminate the session immediately. Please get dressed" and the pattering of feet as a troop of authority figures rushed the two downstairs for a refund and an escorted exit. In my own client base, I have a pill popper who gives off a metallic aroma that can't be masked any more than her constant fidgeting and lengthy tongue tied explanations of how a wreck a year ago continues to cause her constant pain.

One of the hesitancies I had when considering a massage license years ago was the fact that you often don't get to choose your clients and the concern that I would get one that would just be too difficult to deal with. "Hairy backs" said with a shudder was my punchline then. Funny. Now that I'm introduced daily to a new set of characters, I'm strangely intrigued. Like a theatrical experience without the stage and lights, clients mesmerize me as I walk them to the massage room door, discover more about their roles through touch and attention to sights and sounds, and then see the storyline resolved in 60 to 90 minutes.

To all our Moaners, Groaners, Boners and Stoners ... Bravo!