Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yay, summer is almost over in the U.S!

Okay it isn't, but I'm trying to cheer myself up by focusing on the return of Chicago's cold weather when:

1. People will stop arguing loudly outside in the middle of the night.

2. No one is in danger of dying of heat-related problems.

3. Our upstairs neighbor's air conditioner stops dripping noisily on my bedroom window.

4. Our electric bill goes down.

5. Restaurant staff stop giving me the option of outdoor seating. I do not like outdoor seating.

6. Professional attire is more comfortable (suits, blazers, knit slacks, etc). I like professional attire.

7. The entire outdoors becomes "air conditioned." Ahhhh...

8. The nights get long and there's less of that pesky sunlight.

9. I can bundle up in the heavy clothing I'm happier in.

10. Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas come back!

If I liked warm weather, I would have stayed in California where I was born. So there.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thank a system administrator this Friday

This Friday, July 29 is System Administrator Appreciation Day. A system administrator, or sysadmin, is the person who (from the website):
...plans, worries, hacks, fixes, pushes, advocates, protects and creates good computer networks, to get you your data, to help you do work -- to bring the potential of computing ever closer to reality. So if you can read this, thank your sysadmin -- and know he or she is only one of dozens or possibly hundreds whose work brings you the email from your aunt on the West Coast, the instant message from your son at college, the free phone call from the friend in Australia, and this webpage.

I truly believe sysadmins do not get nearly the appreciation they deserve, so I'm baking a cake for ours at the place where I work (don't tell them. It's a surprise). I will bring it in on Friday morning and celebrate all the work they do.

I work on the same floor as our information technology department and I love how they are always there. No matter how late or early it is, someone is working. Even if it's the Friday before a three-day weekend or the day before Thanksgiving and everyone else in the building is gone, someone in our IT department is discussing some problem, often in a huddle. I never feel lonely when I'm at work, even if my half of the floor is deserted.

So, please, thank a sysadmin on Friday, July 29. The website even gives gift suggestions such as goodies, Best Buy gift cards and six packs of Mountain Dew. I love sysadmins and I'm going to tell them.
(Photos from the website)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Blue Zones: How much can you do?

The "blue zones" are parts of the world where people commonly live past age 100. They are called that because the researcher who originally studied these zones, used blue ink to circle them on his map. So much for mystery.

According to Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones, there are nine main strategies for living longer. Details can be found on the Blue Zones website, but here's my summary:

1. Don’t exercise like an American, pounding ourselves against the pavement and pushing ourselves to the limit. Incorporate natural movement into every single day: taking the stairs, doing things by hand, parking far from your destination and walking, walking, walking.

2. Know the purpose of your life or “why I wake up in the morning.” Know your values, gifts, talents, what you love, etc.

3. Take time every day to let go of stress. Maybe pray, take a nap, meditate or get together with friends at the same time every day (but I guess, don’t pound yourself into the pavement releasing stress with a 10-mile run).

4. Follow the Japanese approach of hara hachi bu: eat until you are 80% full, then stop. (Or eat until you are no longer feeling actual hunger, then stop. Can you imagine Americans eating like this?)

5. Eat mostly plant-based foods and limit meat to a couple of meals a week.

6. Drink one (for women) or two (for men) glasses of alcohol a day, preferably red wine.

7. Belong to a religious or spiritual community.

8. Put family first.

9. Make others, who practice the most healthful habits, your closest friends.


The first five habits sound great. I’m right there on the diet, exercise and stress-relieving practices. Unfortunately, I don’t drink at all and am very disappointed to learn that moderate drinkers (not more than one or two a day) are healthier than non-drinkers. Maybe it’s time to make “start drinking” my new year’s resolution (again).

Even harder for me are habits seven and eight, and as for nine: I live in the United States. Where am I going to find even one person who lives anywhere close to this?

How about you? Which of these would be the easiest for you? And before you say “drinking” remember that you have to limit yourself to one (for women) and two (for men) drinks a day and no saving them up for the weekends.

Which of these would be the hardest for you? I’m guessing that many who read this blog will find the first five harder than the last four. For me, it’s reversed.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cutting the cake

That cake was so good (yellow cake with lemon filling). I've decided that all my birthday cakes for the rest of my life have to come from Central Continental Bakery in Mt. Prospect, Illinois USA. I had to make that long drive just hours after a record-breaking rainfall left power outages, blinking red lights at major intersections and flooded streets with cops guarding them, but I made it and it was worth it. I'd never driven in that area and had to use a map to re-route twice, but nothing motivates me like cake.

Central Continental Bakery is the one, I'm telling you.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Today is my birthday

Today I am 45 years old! I'm very happy about this because I've been looking forward to 45 for a long time. In my 20s, I found life to be challenging and confusing, and I figured 45 was a good age to expect to have found some balance and confidence. It just sounded safe and comfortable and like a time when I'd have some things figured out about what I wanted my life to look like.

Sure enough, every one of my expectations about middle age is being fulfilled. I do have more confidence and balance in my life and I definitely have a greater feeling of safety in the world. What I want my life to look like is much clearer and I wouldn't go back to any earlier time in my life for anything in the world. Happy birthday to me because middle age is great.

Plus this cake is from an excellent bakery and I can't wait to cut into it at my party in about 12 hours. Yes, it's a Sunday afternoon party with lunch, games, cake, ice cream and then everyone goes home sober (my kind of party)!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

If you could be any age for one week

I've heard people asking other people, "If you could be any age for a week, what age would you be?" Think about your answer for a moment.


So far, everyone has answered with an age they've already been (often childhood). I do not answer with an age I've already been. The further I get from my childhood, or from my 20s or from my 30s for that matter, the better.

The age I'd choose to be for a week is 90. I want to see what old age is like because I think it could be pretty good. Many people dread it because they assume old age means pain and infirmity and being dependent on others (insanely, everyone wants to live a long time but no one wants to get old). I don't expect old age to be bad. I expect to be strong and healthy much longer than most people. In my 70s, 80s and 90s I will be active and lucid.

Of course, I could be dead wrong and in the grave by 75, but I'd still choose to be 90 years old for a week because if that means I'd actually be dead, that's even better. Who wouldn't want to find out what death is like and then come back? I would totally do that.

Being dead for a week. Think of how rested you'd be!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saying the Right Thing

Let's say your name is Chris and you have a friend named Rita. Let's say you see her right outside of your usual coffee shop, while she's carrying her latte out and you’re on your way in for your morning pick-me-up.

You say, "Rita, what's up?"

She steps out of the way for others on their way in and says, "Hey, Chris. Well, my new job is driving me crazy. I'm either completely bored or going out of mind with some crazy project." Rita's face is more flushed than usual and she looks like she’s already worked a whole day.

She continues, "Yesterday my boss asked me to find out how to ship a Tibetan carpet from Mexico back into the U.S. and there's this form that asks all these questions about what the carpet is made out of and what its path of origin was or whatever. It's a nightmare." She drags a hand through her hair.

You put down your bag to give her your full attention, "Rita, you haven't been there long. I'm sure there's someone else in the office you can ask for help.” It sounds to you like she has a challenge on her hands, but not a huge one.

"No, there really isn’t,” Rita sighs. “It's a ten-person office and everyone else is an accountant or an HR person or a vice-president. That's one of the many things I hate about this job, Chris. I'm the support staff, all by myself. There's no one to show me the ropes at all." Rita now looks less frustrated and more dejected. You know exactly how she feels, trying to grope her way through a new job, so you reassure her that this is perfectly normal.

"Rita, everyone goes through that. It just takes a while to learn a new job. Call the post office or UPS maybe. They've got to be able to help with stuff like that."

"Yeah, I guess," but her eyes don't leave the ground and she looks sad.


"Oh, it's just that even if I figure this one out, there'll just be another problem tomorrow that I'll have no idea what to do with. Or there'll be nothing to do at all." You’re surprised that she’s taking it this hard.

"Rita, give yourself time. It'll be fine. I had a rough time at my job, too, when I was brand new. Just wait, you'll feel much better in another month or so."

At this point Rita throws her head back and sighs, then lifts it again and says, "Chris, this job is weird. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing there."

You frown slightly, genuinely confused. Why doesn't Rita see that this feeling is normal and she’ll soon be over it?

You give it one more try. "Rita, you're a great support person. You've got years of experience, plus you're about the smartest person I know. I'm sure if you just relax, things will get better."

Your friend looks you in the eye while you say this, but once you’re done she glances down and mutters, "Never mind. I have to go."

"Rita -- "

"I'll talk to you later," she throws over her shoulder and slumps away, leaving you baffled.

If you’ve ever been in Chris’ position, I have a possible explanation because I've been Rita, many, many times. Often what people like Rita are looking for is sympathy. We appreciate that you want to make us feel better, but that isn't always the best way to begin. People like Chris are great at pointing out the bright side or reassuring us that everyone goes through this. Chris is an excellent resource for helpful advice and reminding us that we're okay and things will change soon. But what I often need is to simply know that someone is listening, perhaps with the words, “I’m sorry. That sucks.” Words like this tell me that the listener has heard my problem, is okay with my pain and isn’t trying to quickly improve my mood because they're uncomfortable with my emotions.

Here’s how I would prefer the conversation to go.

Rita says, "Yesterday my boss asked me to find out how to ship a Tibetan carpet from Mexico back into the U.S. and there's this form that asks all these questions about what the carpet is made out of and what its path of origin is or whatever. It's a nightmare." She drags a hand through her hair.

You put down your bag to give her your full attention, "Wow, that sounds rough. And I guess there’s no one there who can help you out?” (Now you’re not assuming that Rita hasn’t already tried everything.)

"No, there really isn’t,” Rita sighs. “It's a ten-person office and everyone else is an accountant or an HR person or a vice-president. That's one of the many things I hate about this job, Chris. I'm the support staff, all by myself. There's no one to show me the ropes at all."

You think you know exactly how she feels, trying to grope her way through a new job, but you don’t assume, so you keep your sympathy simple and say, "I’m sorry. That sucks.”

Rita lifts her eyes and looks at you. She takes a deep breath and says, “Yeah. It does.”

You pause and wait for her cue, ready to give whatever she seems to need. When she doesn't speak, you make sure you understand by saying, "It sounds like you've got this whole pile of responsibility and no one to show you how to do it."

"Yeah," Rita's face starts to clear, "I've never had a job where there was no orientation to the job at all!"

Again, you follow her lead and when she asks, "Have you ever had a job like that?" you say, "Not exactly like that, but I've had some pretty bad training that was as good as none at all."

Now that Rita asks you for your experience you give it and when she wonders what she should do next, you launch into all that great advice that was fighting to get out from the beginning.

Or maybe Rita simply thanks you for listening and then moves on. Whatever her reaction, she feels like you really listened and were present for her and she's grateful that you didn’t give in to your discomfort and try to rush her into a better state of mind.

"I'm sorry, that sucks" are surprisingly powerful words for me. When I'm feeling bad about a particular situation in my life, they are often all I want, at least at first. After I feel like you’ve heard me and sympathized, then I might be interested in advice or another view of the problem. Helpful suggestions are great, but I don’t always need them up front.

Friday, July 08, 2011

"You don't look like you've gained weight"

People think this is a nice thing to say and I'm sure it is for most people. I'm sure it happens all the time that a woman feels fat from a recent weight gain, but feels reassured by others that they can't tell.

Not me.

In my twisted mind, the statement, "You don't look like you've gained weight," sounds like "You've always strained your clothes like this and had that double chin."

Recently I responded to this reassuring statement by saying, "Please don't say that. It makes me feel bad. These days I don't respond well to anything but I'm sorry to hear that. " The person smiled and said, "Okay, I'm sorry to hear that. But I really can't tell you've gained weight!"

She thought she was being nice and I can't blame her. To normal people, that probably is nice, but I felt like she was insulting me after I'd asked her not to.

Yeah, I'm recovering from depression again. One way I cope is to ask people specifically for what I need. It doesn't always work.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Face Blindness (Prosopagnosia)

At my wedding celebration with Bob in 2008, I met some of his family for the first time. To prepare, I spent months studying a photo of them because I didn't want to fail to recognize them. It took that long for their faces to sink in to my memory because I suffer from face blindness, also called prosopagnosia.

I’m excited about the latest issue of Face to Face, specifically the article written by Heather Sellers. This publication is produced by the Prosopagnosia Research Center, which I'm so relieved to have discovered! Sellers' story of not recognizing friends and family is familiar to me and I wanted to cheer when I read it. Prosopagnosia is a real handicap that people rarely understand and I haven't been great at talking about it. But in middle age, my problem with faces is getting worse, so I need to start explaining it better. I'm so happy to have found this newsletter!

Many people think being bad with faces is like being bad with names, but the two aren't that similar. If you forget someone's name, you can still greet them warmly and have a conversation. But when I forget a face, the person looks like a stranger to me. I sometimes hurt the feelings of people who know me because they think I'm ignoring them out of anger or rudeness, but really I just don’t remember ever meeting them.

Yeah, it gets bad. I once went to the dinner party of someone named Paul who I met for the first time that night. I was at his place for hours and had a great evening with him and mutual friends. The next day, as I climbed the steps of my church (back when I went to a church), a stranger wished me good morning. I returned it. Then he asked if I’d recovered from that crazy conversation last night. I stared at him and said, “I’m sorry. Do I know you?” He stared back and said, “I’m Paul. You were at my house last night.” Talk about feeling like an idiot.

Prosopagnosia is basically a brain disorder that can happen after an injury, but people like me are just born that way. No one knows why yet and research is still new. I first noticed that I had a problem when I was 20 years old. In college, some guy started up a conversation with me as I walked through campus. Being young and friendly, I chatted with him. About five minutes into the conversation, he asked about a magazine deadline. With horror, I realized this was Gary, the photographer who I'd been on staff with for months. I was too mortified to let on, but even when I realized who he was, I still couldn't place his face.

I’ve also introduced myself to the same person twice at parties -- within minutes. Hey, the guy moved across the room - how was I supposed to recognize him in a new spot? I cling to context for ways to remember who someone is. If you take that new co-worker out of the office or that brand new acquaintance out of the chair they were just sitting in, I might not recognize them again.

This is not to say that I can’t tell who anyone is. I eventually learn faces, but it takes longer than most people. If it’s, say, a new staff person that I work with every single day, learning their face might take a week. If I see them infrequently, it might take months. I really had to study that picture of Bob's family before I could trust myself to be polite to them. I knew that if I saw their faces for the first time the day of our celebration, I wouldn't remember which ones they were for the whole party.

I often say this when I meet someone, "Hi, I'm Regina. Look, I'm really bad with faces, so if I see you again and don't say hi, don't take it personally."

Unfortunately, people don't usually understand. They say, "Oh, no problem. I'm bad with names, so we're even." But we're not even. People aren't nearly as thrown off by an acquaintance forgetting their name as they are by an acquaintance acting as if they've never met.So I might start saying this, "Hi, I'm Regina. It's really nice to meet you. I have prosopagnosia which means I don't remember faces, so please remind me of who you are until I get it. It takes me longer than most people to remember who I've met." What do you think? I'll gladly take feedback on this.

It's remarkably difficult to convince someone that I can't remember faces. This suggests that easily remembering faces must be such a basic, universal skill that people can't believe someone can't do it. I envy anyone who can meet someone for a few minutes and then recognize them the next day. What a superpower! When I meet a new person, I desperately take inventory of their clothing, hair, makeup, etc. I remember context and opinions (such as, "I love those red shoes" or "What happened to his hair?") much better than images. I hope their outfit and hairstyle won't change too much before I see them again, but they often do. It's a confusing world for me and I can't trust my memory of it.

Please be patient with friends (or co-workers or neighbors) who bizarrely act like we don't know you, especially outside of the place where we usually see you. Researchers are finding that prosopagnosia is very common and many people have it to some degree. Some people take a little longer to learn a new face, others don't recognize even themselves in a photo or in the mirror.

Imagine what it would be like if you had to re-learn everyone's face all the time, fumbling through embarrassing situation after embarrassing situation. It's a real handicap, socially and professionally. People like me often come across as aloof, shy, snobbish, in-our-own-world or just rude. When I reach a certain age, I'm sure I'll look senile and hopeless. One day there might be therapies or even a cure for prosopagnosia, but at the moment, researchers are still trying to identify the part of the brain it involves.

So the next time someone you know looks at you blankly or acts like she doesn't recall the last interaction you had, she might frantically be trying to place who you are. If it's me, help me out. I'm not being rude. I have a brain disorder and I might not recall having laid eyes on you before.