Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Being In the Zone

I spent last weekend evaluating 179 program proposals submitted for our annual meeting next summer.  We can only pick 63 of them, so we need to make wise choices, and that means reading each with care, assessing the topic, speakers, description, learning outcomes, level, time length, competency area, whether the topic was recently done, does the program overlap with others proposed, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve done this twice before, once as a member of the committee and last year as I shadowed last year’s chair, so I have experience in working through this whole thing.  But it takes uninterrupted time, focus, concentration – and being In The Zone.  I finally got there this weekend, as I made my second pass through.

The table was completely cleared of everything except my Big Notebook, lists of program rankings, final programs from the last 2 conferences, my pens and markers, and the laptop on the chair next to me for quick reference (doing “find” searches through the lists to make it easier to locate duplication).  On, and No email, no surfing, no TV.  My iTouch was hooked up to speakers, softly playing a mellow playlist on an endless loop, and the kitchen was nearby for water bottle replenishment.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and scattered, I was focused and purposeful.  I’d prepared by reading all of the proposals once already, dotting the pages with colorful post-its with notes and reminders.  This time I could really concentrate and had a context in which to see them all.

I don’t get in this zone very often with work; things are too fragmented with information and questions coming from every direction at once.  But when I can get into it, my mind is crystal clear and I’m extremely productive – and happy.

I need to find ways to build this into the office routine, especially with my friend’s retirement.  I’ll have more to do than ever and it would be easy to just be fragmented. I need my space to be tidy, interruptions at a minimum, soft music to help block out outside sounds and help me concentrate, and enough time to accomplish the task at hand, or at least in whatever time I allot for it on a given day.  Things to ponder.


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The Red Project

Wall advertisement for Vodka Slice PizzaValentine’s Day is this week and I’m remembering that it’s not only about chocolate and lovers and mushy stuff. It’s also about red, my favorite color.

Our Frances is working on something she calls The Red Project: photographs snapped in passing of red things that caught her fancy as an antidote to the blues induced by a gray, cold winter. Mid-February is like that in our part of the world. We wear lots of extra layers and sturdy boots, pull thick hats down over our hair, muffle ourselves with warm scarves and insulated gloves, and scurry along outside wrapped in our private thoughts and attempts to stay warm. There’s not a lot of lingering on a cold winter day.

But if you look, if you pull the eyes up to see the world above the icy pavement, there are spots of bright color popping out of the gray winter landscape. Bright red cardinals in a bush. A red shoe in a window. Holly berries peaking through the snow. Red and white balloons in front of a florist shop. Shiny lipstick-red boots on a black-clad walker. Red newspaper boxes. A street-scape with only red lights as far as you can see. A red concert poster. A deep red tote-bag carried by someone on the bus. The red door of a white church.

Having seen Frances’ pictures, my eye is spotting red everywhere and it makes me smile.

What did you see today?


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Watching My Mother Eat

My parents are visiting and I’ve been paying particularly close attention to the way they handle their food. My dad has always been a little plump and has battled his weight ever since I can remember. My mom, on the other hand, is a tiny size 8, down from the size 10 she wore when she got married. Dad says that in the 56 years they’ve been married, she’s only varied about 4 pounds from her current weight except during pregnancy.

I, on the other hand, can vary 4 pounds in a week if I’m not careful. So I’ve been observing how she eats and approaches her food, not to judge or complain that we’re different, but almost as an anthropologist would study a different culture. It’s been interesting.

Balanced PlateShe eats a small breakfast with dairy (usually yogurt), fruit and natural fiber. Usually Mom makes her own bran muffins and has one with a little carton of yogurt. But at my house she’s having steelcut oatmeal with half a banana and a little milk, eating slowly from a small bowl that’s full and putting her spoon down between bites. I don’t know if she’s always done this but I can see that it’s a factor that lets her eat less and spread it out until she’s really satisfied.

Lunch is usually a half a sandwich on low-cal wheat bread and about 2 oz of protein, with a sliced apple and maybe a cookie for dessert. She eats slowly, the food nicely arranged on a small plate, while seated at the table. Unlike her daughter, she eats all her meals at the table with an occasional sandwich outside on the patio. I, on the other hand, eat mine in the recliner with my feet up.

For dinner, she mostly prepares simple meals balanced with unfussy protein, vegetables, and half a potato or sweet potato. And maybe there a small ramekin of low-fat ice cream for dessert, eaten with a small spoon.

That’s it. Simple food, small portions, served on smaller dishes and eaten slowly at a table with almost no snacking. Mom drinks water and her evening glasses of wine but no soda, goes for regular short walks, and gets plenty of sleep. When she eats out for one meal, she cuts back on what she has for the next so they balance out.

She doesn’t sit around and obsess or lament about the things she cannot eat; she can eat anything she wants but makes choices that let her enjoy flavors and foods in a sensible way. And she doesn’t act or talk as though she’s deprived, she simply does the next thing.

Mom does the things that we talk about in Weight Watchers and I’ve heard about for years in behavior modification programs. She doesn’t talk or complain, she just does it and moves on. I think there is a lot for me to learn and emulate here.


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Open Your Eyes

Scribbled Face on a Utility BoxDoing my daily inventory is sometimes a pain in the neck. But one really positive thing that’s come out of it for me over the last six months is that I make myself look beyond my narrow me-focused world to see things and people. Here are some of the questions I answer every day:

  1. What did I do today that I like and respect myself for? (or: How did I behave better than I felt?)
  2. What did I do for someone else today?
  3. What happened today that I enjoyed and appreciated that had nothing to do with me?
  4. Where did I have problems today? (or Where did I feel bad or negative today?)
  5. What am I proudest of today?
  6. What made me feel feminine today?
  7. On a scale of 1 – 10, how much close interaction did I have with people today?

I’m really good at seeing the problems that get in my way but it’s often been hard to think up things that made me feel feminine or that I enjoyed or appreciated. Knowing that I’m going to have to answer the questions, though, has helped me heighten my awareness and actually, well, appreciate both the questions and the things they focus on.

Clean hair and earrings are sometimes the best I can do on the “what made me feel feminine?” question but usually there’s something else — for example, a compliment on a piece of jewelry reminds me of how pretty or interesting it is and how much I enjoy wearing it. Or simply wearing clothes with colors that work rather than just something that fits can make me feel prettier and therefore more feminine.

The big ones for me, though, are the questions about interactions with people and things I enjoyed and appreciated. I’m not necessarily spending more time interacting with folks but I am very aware that I’m already doing things for other people — being a listening ear, cleaning things up in the bathroom, helping an elderly neighbor with trash, letting cars cut in front of me without yelling at them, giving directions to a lost tourist. When I’m feeling isolated or cranky, it helps to remember that I’m doing things to pull me out of my hole.

Now every day as I move from morning to bedtime, I’m seeing the world around me. The deer eating leaves outside my apartment, the single red leaf on a tree of green, cute little babies being pushed in strollers, the color and bustle of the college campus, funny window displays, chalk drawings on the sidewalk, pretty flowers on a stoop, aromas from a busy kitchen, the smile on the face of the bus driver.

Yesterday on the way home the bus was stopped at a light and I noticed that the scribblings on a metal utility box across the street looked like a face. I pointed it out to the woman next to me who grinned and then said, “Thank you for showing me that. I guess that’s what I needed to learn today, to open my eyes and enjoy the things around me even as I’m scurrying from work to class to home.”

Who knew that opening my own eyes and initiating conversation could hit home like that?