Tuesday, January 6, 2015


verb (used with object), oomphasized, oomphasizing
to add a little flair, or "oomph" to a person, idea or object

We will be oomphasizing that committee roster to give it some new life

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dr. Martin Broff suggests a new tax deduction

I was hoping I'd have one of those crazy pictures of my forearm to share tonight. You know the ones of the allergy prick tests that show 30+ injection points where the specialists tries to determine what allergens trigger a reaction.

You know - one that looks like this.

Or maybe this? 

But I don't. 

Not only do I not have pictures, but I have no remarkable allergies. Said Dr. Martin Broff at South Shore Allergy and Asthma, "There is nothing I can do to alleviate your poison ivy. And your seasonal (various pollen) and perennial (cat) allergies are unremarkable enough that neither prick testing nor immunology treatments are really needed." 

After seeing my weak smile, he continued, "I'm afraid I'm disappointed you."

Yup. That was disappointing news. But not surprising.  While I didn't get a cool picture or a breakthrough on how to manage my allergies, I did learn somethings during my 45 minute consult. 

Top ten things I learned while talking with Dr. Martin Broff
10. Contact dermatitis is a chemical allergic reaction that happens at a cellular level. Because of this, it can take up to five days for a reaction to fully emerge. 
9. Contact dermatitis is fundamentally different from, say, a ragweed allergy, which is a result of a protein binding/cleaving deficiency that takes place almost immediately. 
8. There are three ways to treat allergies - avoidance, medication and immunotherapy (aka allergy shots).
7. The number one allergy is to dust mites. And the number two is to cats. 
6. The number one allergy trigger in schools is cats. Not because there are cats in schools (as a general rule), but because cat allergens, like dust mites and pollen, is everywhere. 
5. OTC medications that treat the symptoms, like Claritin and Allegra, are generally as good as the prescription stuff.
4. Nasal sprays, like flonase, just became available OTC last month. 
3. There used to be immunotherapy treatments for poison ivy. But they didn't work. In fact, said Dr. Broff, "they actually did some damage." 
2. While goat-scaping is intriguing as an strategy for eliminating poison ivy, at least annually, there is no guarantee that the allergen won't be found in whatever is touched by whatever is eliminated by the goats. 

And the number 1 most important thing I learned while talking to the allergist? 

If mattress covers and air duct cleanings are deductible as a legitimate medical expense for people with traditional allergies, then it stands to reason that I may be able to deduct one professional yard cleaning to eliminate the poison ivy each year. 

45 minutes after my appointment ended, I was already back to my daily dose of Claritin. Which I needed because I was turning over dusty piles of paper looking for receipts from the landscaper we hired to eliminate the poison ivy in 2014. (Fingers crossed it works!) 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Health! Home! Adventure!

Through the magic of Twitter, a social media guru popularized the act of declaring three words to define one's intentions for the new year.  My three words for 2015 are "health," "home" and "adventure."

How did I arrive at these three words? Through the following reflections shared with me by my pal Michele Lenox, through the miracle of Facebook.

What are five (or ten) accomplishments of 2014?
1. Completing - and continuing - my elimination diet/"detox" in July with Janelle Casella
2. Paying off the $90,000+ in student loans I had when I finished graduate school in 1997
3. Slogging through 100 happy days
4. Initiating a meditation practice
5. Buying my first ever brand new car
6. Getting a new cat
7. FINALLY building those bookshelves in our living room so I can FINALLY unpack my books
8. Starting to explore where to put my volunteer energy
9. Contributing to winning a major new contract for the company for which I *used* to work
10. Laying the groundwork to start a business with my husband

What were five (or ten) disappointments?
1. 5+ bouts with poison ivy, including one that lingered for six weeks
2. Learning my new car CAN'T accommodate a hitch for a rear kayak rack
3. The continuing sluggishness of the consultant economy
4. Learning my husband's health issues have not yet been resolved
5. Lots of little trips, but no significant vacation

What are three things I focused a majority of my energy on? 
1. For the first ten months of the year, my job
2. My husband's health
3. My eating and exercise habits

What are three things I intended to do, but (doh!) didn't? 
1. Lose 10 pounds
2. Make it all the way through a couch to 5K program (see poison ivy note above)
3. Build a patio/landscape the backyard

What were my game changers - unexpected events or outcomes that made things different for you - in 2014? 
1. Getting a new job - same work, same salary, infinitely shorter commute and infinitely more functional company - in one month rather than the nine to 18 months I was expecting
2. The social upheaval initiated by the events in Ferguson

How do these reflections inform my intentions for 2015?
With the shorter commute and a shift in my attitude about work, my new job opened up more time - to take care of myself, my home, my family, my marriage and my community.

So how to use this time? 2014 reminded me that I love how I feel when I make healthy choices. I love investing in having a beautiful (to me) home and garden. And I feel satisfied when I contribute to making my community a happier and healthier place - particularly for people who may not have the same advantages as I do.

So what are my three words for 2015?

  • Health: This word was selected to remind me that I intend to detox from booze (starting today - oy, that vodka hangover is uncomfortable), get control of my allergies (allergy testing starts on Monday), continue to be in love with my Ninja Bullet and the healthy food it inspires me to make (and eat), and continue to count steps and exercise so I can be ready for outdoor adventures (see below).
  • Home: This word was selected to remind me that I intend to finish building a fence in the backyard so I can have an anchor for my landscaping. I will build raised beds for vegetable gardening along with a woodshed for the fire pit and its accoutrement. And the result, a backyard I can feel proud to entertain in during the summer and early fall. 
  • Adventure: This word is in my list of five priorities and reminds me to continue to try to find adventures in my every day life by (a) working to live (as opposed to living to work), (b) developing a mindfulness practice through meditation and writing, and (c) generally being actively engaged with my life, my family and my community(It also reminds me to buy a kayak rack so I can have kayak adventures near and far, work towards launching the business BMG and I care cooking up, and and to begin getting excited about the two-week vacation in Europe BMG and I are taking to celebrate his birthday)

What about you? What are your three words for 2015? And what is the story of how you selected them and what they mean for you?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Boundaries, not balance

I heard crisis management consultant Judy Smith, the inspiration for the character Olivia Pope on ABC's Scandal, speak at the Massachusetts Conference for Women.

What I thought was going to be a presentation on the principles of crisis management, was in fact a series of object lessons on setting priorities in one's life.

Judy Smith, who like me is a graduate of both American University and Boston University, provocatively said, "I don't believe in 'work-life balance.' No one is balancing anything, its just one day at a time. I DO believe in boundaries. Because when one has clear boundaries, one can stay focused on what is important while keeping distractions out."

Interestingly, back in October, I read a Huffington Post article about Warren Buffet's rules for productivity that promoted a similar philosophy.

Both Smith and Buffet suggest that, in order to be balanced or productive, one needs to have a list of the top five priorities in one's life. Anything not on that list shouldn't get one's attention. Period.


I recently switched jobs, away from my career of choice, in order to have more balance. (I also left my job because my manager was cuckoo banana crackers, but that's another story for another time.)

But maybe part of my balance problem is that I have too many things I'm trying to do. I'm too unfocused in my effort to my the modern "superwoman."

Maybe what I need are boundaries, not balance.

So, here are my top five priorities, to keep my focused on living a happy, healthy, productive life.

Clownface's Top Five Priorities for Living a Fulfilled Life
  • Being the best sister, aunt, daughter I can be
  • Continuously trying to maximize my ability to give AND receive love from my husband
  • Creating, enjoying and sharing life's adventures
  • Understanding and removing obstacles for people - starting with myself - to realize their true potential 
  • Cultivating peace and beauty

I've done this exercise before, when I was exploring leaving my non-profit career in early 2013. The list has changed only slightly since then. And it remains philosophical enough that I can create fluid but firm boundaries. Or balance. Or whatever you want to call the pursuit of a fulfilling life.

I'll keep you posted on my success. Being balanced, maintaining boundaries, pursuing a fulfilling life, whatever.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things

I've learned to focus my enjoyment of winter holidays on the things that make my heart go pitter pat. These are:
  • Sending Christmas cards - in part because I love to receive Christmas cards. But sending them helps me remember the people who are important to me and gives me at least one touch point with them each year. BMG and I make a point of sending them to every family invited to our wedding, if only to communicate "Look! We're still married! Thanks for your support!"
  • Decorating the outside of The Tiny Bungalow, complete with lights. I love coming home at the end of the day to a gaily lit home and am thrilled by the beauty of evergreens with pops of colors adorning the house. And I try to decorate in non-denominational ways, so I can leave the lights up throughout the winter without looking like a lazy neighbor. Even better than admiring my house, is driving around to see other people's outdoor decorations. From the tacky to the sublime, I love it all. This may be, in part, because as a child my parents would drive me and my sibs through downtown Syracuse to look at the municipal lights after the Christmas Eve service at my grandmother's church. Riots of light mean, to the child in me, that it is *almost* time for Santa to visit. 
  • Delivering homemade cookies to neighbors and service people who make my life easier. For BMG and I this includes our mailman, the trash guy, our pharmacists and the ladies at the post office. We've also given to the UPS guy, the folks who staff the dump on the weekend and our favorite bartenders. This year's mason jar inspiration came from the folks at The Decorated Cookie. (And bonus! All of the mason jars we bought for the lemonade bar at the wedding are now officially out of the basement!)
  • Wrapping packages in unique and colorful ways, with the end goal being a Christmas tree surrounded by a rainbow of beautiful gifts. My mom has always been a generous gift giver, and the pristine display of presents under the tree on Christmas morning was a thrill I remember from childhood. This year, I've handmade gift embellishments that look like gnomes and am wrapping in craft paper and bakers twine. 
  • Christmas music, particularly the classics sung by Rat Pack-era musicians and other jazzy performers. I love listening to the music and singing it. I'm sorry caroling is considered so dorky, because it gives me a thrill to sing Christmas songs and to deliver the gift of music to neighbors. I also enjoy medieval choral music at Christmas time; it transports me to another time and place. I try to go to one concert a year. Usually by myself because no one else I know can stomach the stuff. 
Giving gifts to children in need, filling Christmas stockings, festive Christmas parties, eggnog and the joyful crowds at shopping malls are also among my favorite aspects of the seasons.
    What are the aspects of the holiday I don't like so much? Just three things come to mind: 
    • Obligation gift buying, particularly obligation gift giving generated by a surprise gift from a friend. Why? Unless the gift is one that I can return with a box of cookies, there is usually implied reciprocity that I may not be feeling. This, in turn, makes me feel pissy about shopping, rather than feeling generous love. So if you plan to give me a gift worth more than a loving token, consider talking with me about first. 
    • Disassembling the Christmas tree. The needles, the repacking of the ornaments, the scramble to find packing material for fragile items. Ugh. How do I deal? By making an indoor Christmas tree a rare occurrence rather than the norm. This year, BMG and I have decorated a tabletop Eiffel Tower instead of a tree. I'm telling people this is a "no tree" year because we have a kitten. While this is true, I'm grateful for the excuse to not have a tree indoors. (Hmmm. Maybe we'll get a kitten every year?) 
    Being childless by choice is one of the reasons I am able to make the winter holidays, and especially Christmas, exactly what I want it to be. I don't have the need to create magic for my children through contrivances like "Elf on a Shelf," nor do I have to withstand hours in line at the big box toy store or whiny children anxious for the 25th to arrive.

    Childless or not, what are your favorite parts of Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas and/or Kwanzaa? And what do you do to make the winter holidays joyful for you and your family?

    And, are there parts you don't like so much? What do you do to minimize or avoid them?

    Regardless of what parts of the winter holidays you love (or don't), I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

    Tuesday, December 2, 2014

    Changing to make change

    The events in Ferguson Missouri have inspired me to change my giving plan in 2015.

    A typical stingy New Englander, I have historically given away just 1% of my gross income. I have a budget and a plan, which helps me sort out the myriad requests I get in the mail, on social media and in the course of my daily life. My plan has looked like this:

    • 25% to any number of local organizations or chapters of local organizations that alleviate the symptoms of homelessness and poverty - particularly for children and families (e.g., Cradles to Crayons, Horizons for Homeless Children, Housing Families, the Red Cross). I often feel guilty that I'm not funding root cause organizations, but then I remember that poverty is persistent in human culture, I can't do everything and it is the day-to-day suffering that hurts my soul. 
    • 25% to conservation organizations, specifically the Trustees of the Reservation and the National Parks Conservation Association. I love these United States, and want to do my small part to ensure that our natural spaces remain preserved and accessible. 
    • 50% goes to the causes my friends love, in the form of sponsorship of walk-a-thons, run-a-thons, hair-cut-a-thons, hair-grow-a-thons, etc. I do this because I know it is hard to raise money, and it is hard to ask friends for help. (I do have a practice of not giving to friends if I philosophically do not support the organization for which they are raising money.)
    And when the budget is used up, I stop giving. (Sorry Movember, I was too generous earlier in the year.)

    However, the events in Ferguson Missouri triggered a deep anger in me about the power of conservative fear in blocking efforts to reform gun laws. I perceive that this same fear - the fear of "other" and the fear of "god" - is also driving efforts to restrict a woman's right to choose. So, my giving plan is changing to look more like this: 
    • 40% to human and civil rights organizations dedicated to reforming gun law and policing practices as part of their overall civil rights agenda
    • 25% to organizations dedicated to protecting and expanding a woman's right to direct her own health care
    • 25% to my beloved conservation organizations
    • 10% to the causes my friends love
    And, in 2015, I will double the amount of money I give away, budgeting 2% of my gross income. I want to be able to give bigger - albeit still modest - gifts to the organizations I believe are making positive change in the world. The doubling of my philanthropy budget will be complemented by the gift matching program at my office, which offers a match of up to $250 for employee's charitable gifts. 

    I haven't worked out the details yet, and am excited to do the research to figure out who will get the money, and how I can use social media to help spread the word about their cause. 

    But my giving won't end with the money I choose to give away. I recently took  new job, one that requires a shorter commute and therefore gives me more time to be a whole person. With some of my new time I will start volunteering. I will make my donations to organizations dedicated to alleviating suffering through volunteerism - at work and at home. This includes blood donations every eight weeks and preparing meals for my local community through Community Cooks. I am also trying to determine how I can participate in efforts to change the national conversation about race through efforts of organizations like the Public Conversations Project

    I learned about the power of a giving plan when I worked for the people who started what is now known as Bolder Giving. I loved the idea of being strategic and intentional with my charitable giving, regardless of whether I was middle class or if I was running the foundation BMG said I could start when he wins the lottery. And it feels good to freshen it up for 2015, so I can put my money where my heart and my mouth is. 

    Happy Giving Tuesday! 

    Tuesday, November 25, 2014

    We Regret to Inform You, Some Cards Will Be Kept Longer Than Others

    Do you get Thanksgiving cards in the mail? How do you handle them?

    I have a friend who sends a Thanksgiving card, instead of the traditional Christmas greeting.

    I think I get it. Maybe the friend wants to be righteous or deliberate about celebrating blessings instead of being mistaken for someone playing the "perfect family Christmas card" game. Maybe she doesn't want her family photo to get lost in the chaos of catalogues, packages and other cards. Maybe she loves to send cards, but doesn't want to be dealing with them after Thanksgiving.

    But, there's an unintended consequence.

    Instead of hanging the card with all of our other Christmas cards as part of our holiday decor, the card is opened and then left on the counter for the family to see. And on the day after Thanksgiving, when I clear the house of autumnal clutter, I recycle the card. So, instead of having their photo and greeting occupy a vaunted space on our Christmas card wall for an entire month or more, the card is left on the counter for three days and then forgotten.

    I'm not hard hearted. One year I tried hanging the Thanksgiving card with the Christmas cards. But, it hung by itself for nearly two weeks, until the first Christmas card arrived. Looking sad and lonely. And then, as the holiday greeting rolled in, the Thanksgiving browns and oranges looked out of sync amidst the reds and greens and blues and silvers. Like a section of 1970s era shag carpet wishing desperately for acceptance in a house full of gleaming hardwoods. It didn't work. I tried.

    Keep those cards and letters coming folks. I love all kinds of friendly greetings. Just know that some will be kept longer than others.