Wars may be too harsh; skirmishes, maybe. That Man I Married and I are in accord on most of the big issues in our lives together. Meals are sometimes a different matter. When, how, and what to eat are questions that plague us repeatedly. Take this morning:

I need to eat early, not immediately, but not long after a cup or two of coffee. TMIM has no such requirement, frequently making his first move in the direction of food sometime after 11:00. Despite my argument that science is on my side on the breakfast question, I haven’t been able to convince or cajole him to  join me.

Even if I can get him to accept food on my schedule, he steadfastly rejects my favorite cold weather breakfast: oatmeal.


I’ve tried to win him over by  re-branding my beloved oats:  “How about some breakfast risotto?”

“I hate the way it smells!”

I can fix that. I love cinnamon in my cereal, so rather than waiting until it’s ready to eat, I add a generous sprinkle right when the oats go in. Problem solved, or so I think.

This morning, later than usual, I made my oatmeal. But I had forgotten to add the cinnamon. Enter TMIM. “That smell!” Oops. I quickly grabbed the cinnamon bottle and shook away. Another opportunity to win hearts and mouths lost.

Oh well, more for me.

There is nothing like working retail during the holidays to remind you of your feet, and of the simple pleasure of a pedicure.

These days, there seems to be a nail salon on every block; not so in my girlish youth. In high school, perhaps inspired by the 1940s movie stars I admired, I painted my own toenails bright red.

At some point I stopped. From time to time I’d buy a new bottle of polish and treat my tootsies, but I didn’t have my first salon pedicure until I was in my 30s. Unaccustomed to that level of pampering, and feeling guiltily self-indulgent, I did not develop a habit, and don’t recall knowing anyone who did.

Around the time I moved back to the Bay Area in 2001, I noticed that extreme personal grooming seemed to have become a thing. I saw salons and spas everywhere. (To this day, I don’t know if it was geography or Zeitgeist, or whether I simply hadn’t been paying attention.)

Back to the salon I went, still feeling a little self-indulgent and self-conscious. Then I learned the secret (at least for me)  of truly enjoying the experience. Company.

Two of my fellow soccer moms and I decided to go for pedicures together. We did, and enjoyed it so well that it became a semi-regular event, often followed by lunch or a glass of wine. Suddenly, instead of an exercise in self-centeredness, it was a communal ritual. No longer a waste of productive time, it was an opportunity (or obligation) to relax and catch up with each other’s lives.

I gave up regular pedicures when I left my real job. Not too long ago, I indulged again, accompanied by two of my dearest friends, on the day of our high school reunion. The three of us sat in a row. One of my friends had never had a manicure or pedicure (we’d decided to go crazy that day, and get both) and she was mildly apprehensive. We put her in the middle.

The process began. The nail technicians greeted us, and we chose our colors. Our feet in warm water, our backs on massage chairs, our minds on each other, the three of us talked and laughed. I remember glancing out at the rest of the  salon a few times, noticing other patrons in other chairs. They were mostly women, and the happiest looking among them were with someone else.

I do not mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with a solo trip to a salon; I get my hair cut by myself. I am simply reminded that pleasure shared is pleasure multiplied.

My friends and I left our chairs that day feeling fresh and fancy, and pleased with ourselves and each other. The rookie among us said, “I want to do that again and again and again.”

Me too.

I’m not anti-holiday, I swear. I am all in favor of everyone else’s celebrations. I love to see happy people.

I’m not crazy about the unhappy ones, however, and this time of year, if you spend much time in a mall, you will see them. If, like I, you are employed in retail, you will not only see them, you will be obliged to make them less unhappy. This is not always possible. The only cure for the crowded parking lots, the lines at the register, and whatever else is aggravating these folks is mid-January.

But enough about them; let’s talk about me.

My attitude about the holidays, Christmas in particular, has fluctuated wildly throughout my life. I grew up with the same misty, romantic vision of Christmas as everyone else, and occasionally the Christmases of my early childhood met the ideal.

I’ve had good Christmases and bad, and I don’t intend to catalogue them all now. (although some of them may rate their own posts someday) I will mention, however, that I spent a Christmas alone at age 26, and found it quite pleasant. I read all day long. Alternatively, I’ve struggled (unsuccessfully) with attaining the “perfect” holiday, stressing over family dynamics,  cards, gifts, entertaining and everything else.

This Christmas is the one that counts. Due to my little job, I’ve had Christmas in my face (in a very tasteful way) since before Halloween. As much as I enjoy looking at the decorations at work, I can’t get too worked up about replicating them at home. There’s time- I may bust out a few trinkets between now and next weekend, but we’ll be passing on a tree. Time permitting, I may find an evergreen  wreath, just to get that gorgeous smell in the house. I will fill stockings for The Kid and Dr. T, and I can trust him to make a ridiculously great meal when the day comes.

And that’s about it. Anything else will be bonus.

Happy Holidays to all, and remember this:

1) Your holidays are YOUR holidays, to make as much or as little of as you choose.

2) Those people who are trying to help you as you do your shopping are doing their best; they don’t make much money, and their feet probably hurt. Try to be patient.

I’m going to make that a thing.

Recently, I reactivated my search for a real job. After sending out about a half dozen applications to jobs I knew I could do, but wasn’t particularly excited about, I spotted one that got me charged up. It was outside of my fields of experience, but definitely drew on my core skills.

I considered it carefully. Over-carefully, perhaps. I sent the notice to a couple of trusted friends who were familiar with my resume. Was it too much of a reach? I wanted to know. My friends reinforced my belief that I had the skills, but may have a hard time getting noticed without the specific requirements.

Armed with reassurance that I wasn’t delusional, I approached a local friend who works at the target employer. She was encouraging, and offered to forward my application to the appropriate HR rep. She advised me to apply through the main, electronic channel as well.

Last week, I got a call. I survived the screening interview, and was told my resume would be forwarded for further review. The rep who called me indicated she had concerns about my lack of experience in the field. I replied that I had been successful in transferring my skills to disciplines where I’d not had previous experience, and was certain I could do it again. I went on to say that I have already joined a local professional group as an associate member, and intended to obtain the certification I lacked regardless of whether I got the position we were talking about. (All true. Unfortunately, I have since learned that although I can study for the test, I can not apply to take the test until I have a year’s experience in the field. A little Catch 22 situation to worry about on some other day.)

I really wanted a chance to interview. I believed that with a live interview, I would be able to illustrate how well suited I was by experience and temperment for this job. I was deconstructing the requirements line by line, preparing to demonstrate how my experience had prepared me. I read about the company. I saw myself in the building, visualizing my new routines. I already had the job.

At the same time, I knew it was a long shot. There is always someone who looks better, and has all the requirements. I prepared to be realistic, and disappointed, if need be. I kept looking for other attractive opportunities. Yesterday I noticed that something else I’d been interested in was still open, a week after I spotted it originally. So I took the time to apply.

I’m glad I did.

I checked my application status on the automated system for job number one. There it was: the dreaded “resume no longer under consideration.” Sigh.

I gave myself permission to feel sorry for myself for five minutes. I shot off a few emails to people who were in the loop on this adventure, giving them the update. I remembered to thank my friend at the company for her help. Then I went and took a shower.

Five minutes is a really long time sometimes. I got distracted, thinking about what to wear for work, and remembering that I had fallen off schedule for posting to this blog (I think I was in suspended animation waiting to see what would happen after that phone call.)

I am still sorry not to have been interviewed. I still think I could have done a great job, but I have things to do. If I start to get discouraged again about this or any other thing, I will make a date with myself for another five minute pity party, and set a timer.

Two members of the Toastmasters’ group I have been visiting gave “Icebreaker” speeches at the last meeting. (An “Icebreaker” is a member’s first speech, intended to introduce the speaker to the group.) Both speeches were enjoyable, but one resonated with me. The title: “If You Do What You Have Always Done, You Will Get What You Have Always Gotten.”


I have spent this year focused on that message, trying, often unsuccessfully, to not do what I have always done. Specifically,  avoiding situations that make me uncomfortable. Like drawing attention to myself.

So I considered Toastmasters’. After weathering three shots at “Table Topics” (short impromptu speeches) I am done considering. I will write my membership check at the next meeting.

In some cases, I have stopped doing what I have always done by not doing nothing. In English, that means I have substituted action for lack of action.

Instead of telling my very career-savvy friends that I might ask them for help with my resume, I have sent them my resume for suggestions. You should see it now. I’m impressed.

Rather than wondering if I should approach people I know who are working in fields or companies that interest me, I have told them that I am looking for work, and asked for information. Oddly enough, they have been more than accommodating.

Reaching outside of my comfort zone again, I registered for WordCamp Raleigh, and attended alone. I learned a lot, and talked to folks I never would have met otherwise. I left with a few great ideas for future consideration.

And there is more.

Every little risk I have convinced myself to take has encouraged me to try something else. It doesn’t matter whether any given risk “pays off.” The payoff is in taking the risk.

The advantage of a set of well-developed, broad skills  (critical thinking, analysis, oral and written communication, “people skills”) is that they can be applied in many disciplines. The distinct disadvantage is that they don’t lend themselves to condensation to a simple label.

Some of us remember when a job search was conducted on paper: cover letters and resumes via snail mail to prospective employers. It was easy then to prepare communication tailored to a discrete audience. A letter to an insurance company would look different to the one you sent to a hospital, and so forth. The resume could be “targeted” highlighting information most likely to impress a specific recipient.

Now, everybody can see everything all the time, thanks to the internet. Job hunting is simpler, and more complex.

On LinkedIn, the best profiles include a simple tag line: CEO, engineer, consultant. My profile does not include such a line. I know I should have one, but what should it be?

In my recently resurrected search for full-time employment, I am struggling to reconcile valid but conflicting  advice:

1) Don’t  limit options with narrow labels if skills and experience are transferable.

2) Develop a “Brand”:  a clear, consistent message about who you are, what you can offer, and the type of opportunities  you are seeking.

 Am I the only one who finds it difficult to craft an on-line identity that simultaneously defines my “brand” and allows for maximum opportunity?
I am not looking for just any job; ideally, it will be something that allows me to use the skills I have now, and develop new ones. Recently, I have found several interesting options, all of which relate to my core experience, and none of which share titles: Litigation Specialist, Patient Advocate, and Employee Relations Consultant.
What kind of tag line would apply to all three? How do I cast that broad net and be specifically attractive in three different capacities?
You tell me.
Nov 23, 2013

“Today’s Horoscope for Virgo”

Presented by Horoscope.com

“Important new information could come your way, perhaps through classes, books, or conversations with friends. This might open new personal and professional doors for you. You could learn new skills with technology, enhance your artistic ability, or both. Whichever you choose, this is a great day to train your talents. In doing so, you could form some powerful new friendships.”

From time to time, I will go through a phase where I check my horoscope. Typically, I engage in this ritual when I am looking for reassurance or inspiration. Frequently, the day’s prediction is wildly inaccurate or irrelevant. Today, however, I have to give the above horoscope provider full credit.

I’m on my way to WordCamp Raleigh, a conference for WordPress users, where I expect to do exactly what my horoscope predicts.

Have a great day, y’all, and check your horoscopes- this may be the day that they’re right!

In the parts of San Francisco I frequented, the homeless and the panhandlers became part of the scenery. Perhaps it was due to the scale of the place: we all seem smaller when crowded into the canyons created by tall buildings. The crowds themselves diminish any individual. It became a simple thing to quickly walk past a shabby soul, just another among many.

It’s different here in Durham, especially on Ninth Street, where I met Dr. T, The Kid, and her boyfriend for lunch today. Ninth Street is a few blocks from part of the Duke campus, home to independently run shops and cafes on one side of the street, and a burgeoning invasion of corporate capitalism on the other. Generification aside, there is still a small town feel to the stretch of the street where we met for Vietnamese food.

Which is why the woman seated a few doors down from our restaurant was so easy to spot.

“Can I ask you a question?” she said to Dr. T and me as we walked  by. I stopped. “I’m hungry” she went on, “can you spare anything?”

Cynicism and compassion do-si-doed within me. “I have no cash,” I replied truthfully. “But I do have a debit card. If you like, I will buy you a sandwich.”

This seemed to stump her. Briefly.

“I was really hoping for something from Mc Donalds” she finally replied. (Never mind that Mc Donalds was blocks away.)

“Okay. But if you are still here and you are hungry when I get back, I will buy you a sandwich.”

And off to lunch I went.

The rest of my little group rolled their eyes at my account of our conversation, and we went on with our meal.

After lunch, as I walked back to my car, I saw the woman again. I felt honor-bound to stop. “Sandwich?” I asked. She thought for a minute. “I will let you buy me a coke. A real one. None of that diet stuff.”

“Okay.” Into the closest restaurant I went. I ordered the Coke. “Pepsi okay?” asked the young woman behind the counter. This was getting complicated.

“I’m not sure. It’s not for me.”

Back outside. “I know some people are very picky, ” I told her. “They don’t have Coke. Is Pepsi alright?” I sensed the group seated at the table next to us snickering at me.

“Pepsi’s fine. Just not diet.”

I returned to the counter and completed my purchase, with my debit card.

“Here you go. Take care of yourself, ok?” I handed her the Pepsi. “Yes ma’am. Thank you.” “You’re welcome.”

Pondering, I walked to my car. I knew the woman had probably not really been  hungry, but what was the harm in offering some food, if she was? My initial offer had been as much of a challenge as anything else. Her response intrigued me. At that point, it became clear that she wasn’t looking for food, but she seemed to be trying to save face- either mine or hers, possibly both. It had just gotten harder for both of us after that, hadn’t it?

I had to honor my original offer. Who knows what really went through her mind when I came back? I wondered whether she felt that she was somehow doing me a favor by letting me buy her something. Many of us recognize that people enjoy feeling that they are helping; she could know that too. Had she not hesitated so long at my second offer of the sandwich, this wouldn’t have crossed my mind.

The Coke/Pepsi question just makes me laugh. There I was, buying a beverage for someone I didn’t know, who may not have even wanted it, and I had to fret over whether I was making the right choice. One way to see it would be, “Hey. A free drink’s a free drink. Who cares?” My way was, “Why would I offer you something you don’t like?” I don’t drink Coke or Pepsi, but I do know that many people have deep loyalty to one or the other.  This woman, a person like any other, had a right to her own preferences.

Perhaps the table of hipsters, and maybe the woman herself, interpreted my action as another instance of middle class, middle aged guilt. I see it as good manners.

Reunions offer a particular kind of joy: the past and present converge, and the resulting emotions are layered and complex.

I recently attended a high school reunion, and during the same trip I made a visit to my former office. I was also able to spend hours of time in long conversations with several of my oldest and closest friends.

I doubt a stay at the most exclusive spa would have been more reviving. I came home with a reserve of energy and optimism that I can still tap.

Today I am anticipating another reunion, but not for me.

My literacy student, B.R., had a Big Brother when he was a kid. I’ve heard many stories about the time they spent together. Jim, the Big Brother, took B.R. places he’d never been, and exposed him to music he’d never heard. B.R. was exposed to a broader world than he had imagined. He told me about his gratitude, and his wish to look his Big Brother up someday, just to see how he was doing. The last time B.R. mentioned Jim was  Monday night, as we were wrapping up our lesson.

At home that night, on a whim, I got to Googling. I had a name and an occupation to work with.

In a few minutes, I found someone who could very well be THE Jim, and an email address.

It took less time to find him than to compose a message and decide whether to send it. I knew how B.R. would feel about a reunion, but what about his former Big Brother? The internet offers a wonderful but creepy capacity to find people who may have very good reasons not to want to be found by a particular searcher.

I wrote a brief note, explaining how I knew B.R., and saying that if he was the right person, and wanted to be in contact, I could convey a message to B.R.  If he was the right person, but did not want contact, I just wanted him to know that B.R. remembered him with affection and gratitude. Then I went to bed.

Yesterday morning, I had a response. I’ve been smiling ever since. Yes, Jim said. Although he lives half a world away right now, he’ll be home this summer and would love to see B.R. In the meantime, we’ve arranged for me to show B.R. a video message tonight when he and I meet for our regular lesson. Jim also sent a link to a photo sharing site, where he has uploaded pictures from their time together, so many years ago.

I’m saving the video for B.R., but I peeked at the photos. There was my student in a picture dated 1981. There were several shots of him with the same serious, sad face I recognized, but several more with B.R. grinning like I know he can. The past and present converged, reminding me of the time between, and the violence and hardship B.R. had known before we met.

Somewhere between the smiling kid at the beach, fishing and learning to appreciate the Beatles, and the smiling man at the literacy center, reading and learning to overcome his fear of writing and spelling tests, there was a time that is not mine to share, so different from B.R.’s childhood fun and the present.

The sweetness in the photographs. The bitter awareness that B.R.’s happy innocent enjoyment would morph into something else entirely. The incongruence of his early adulthood to the person I know now. The cheerful thrill I feel at surprising B.R. tonight. Of course I wanted to cry, but were they happy tears or sad?

Depends on when you ask me. On a good day, I feel energetic and full of potential, excited at what may lie before me. On a bad day (usually as I am trying to get to sleep at night, or somewhere in the wee small hours of the morning ) I worry that I am kidding myself, and that it is over.  (Whatever “it” is.)

My mother frequently said, “Age is a state of mind.” Well, yes. But no. I may feel completely sprightly on any given day, but the calendar and the mirror discreetly clear their throats, and remind me of certain inevitable realities.

I am too old to apply to certain jobs. The struggle for me is to not let that small, specific truth morph into a sense that I am too old to apply to any jobs.

I know that age discrimination in employment is illegal; I also know that it exists. What’s a grownup to do?

My solution for now is to keep “Age out of mind.”

I will never really be able to know whether it is, in fact “too late.” Unless of course I make it so, by giving up.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

Greggory Miller

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