Thursday, February 11, 2016

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I did _________________."

What do your daily routines say about you?

I don't think of myself as a creature of habit. I get easily bored with routine. I don't get up at the same time every day, I have at least three routes I take to work, regular exercise classes have rarely worked for me, because I am loathe to put the same thing at the same time in my book, lest I decide I want to do something else instead. That's not to say I don't have things I do every day - start each morning with a cup of espresso, waste time on Facebook, cross at least one household chore off my never-ending "to do" list. 

While my routines create structure and fill my life, they don't offer me spiritual meaning. 

While doing some research for work, I was listening to podcasts on New Years' resolutions. In one of them, the podcaster suggested creating a mantra for your routine that imbues it with a different sense of purpose. Rather than thinking, "I should meditate today," consider  "If I get nothing else done today, at least I can say I meditated."  

This reframe of the "should" to a statement of accomplishment is compelling to me. It inspires me to create intentional, daily routines aligned with my values. 

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I said "I love you" to my husband."

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I ate healthfully."

"If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I made time to journal." 

These statements say so much more to me than "If I've done nothing else today, at least I can say I made time for a cup of coffee, to crush some candy, to clean the cat box." 

When you fill in the blank, does it inspire you? If it doesn't what might you do to make changes that offer more joy in your life? 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Snow Days

When I left for work this morning, it was pouring outside. Protecting myself with a rain coat, rain boots, and a golf umbrella, I thought of all the Chicken Littles who had cried about the "terrible storm headed our way." I thought all of the superintendents who closed school would be ridiculed for making the wrong decision. "Boy will they have egg on their faces," I mused smugly.

As I drove the eight miles to my office, I realized that I was the one who had egg on my face. During that 20 minute drive, the temperature dropped nearly 10 degrees, and the rain turned to sleet, which had turned to snow by the time I reached the office park where I spend 40 hours a week. And by the time I left the office, eight hours later? There were at least six inches of snow on the ground and the roads were a slushy, icy mess.

I used to work for a public school system just outside of Boston. One of my responsibilities was to coordinate the public announcements regarding the closure of school due to weather events.

As a result of these responsibilities, I was typically in the loop as the decision to close school was being made.

Here is how I remember it working with the superintendent for whom I worked:

Consideration 1: Safety Outside
If students and staff aren't safe, learning can't happen. The superintendent would begin listening to NOAA forecasts as soon as he got wind of  potentially disruptive weather system. He would then cross-check the forecast to affirm the trajectory and severity of the storm was verified in multiple sources. If it looked like it was definitely going to be bad, and would interfere with the safe arrival or departure from school, then either closure or an delayed opening/early dismissal was considered.

He didn't rely on meteorologists alone. Was the governor was going to call a travel ban? Was the local public transportation system, used by some students to get to school, be closed or delayed? These were also considerations, which meant staying in touch with state education, safety and transportation officials throughout the deliberations.

Consideration 2: Safety Inside 
We also considered the impact on on staff who who lived far outside of our community. Would the storm prevent them from coming to work, resulting in high absenteeism? This could create unsafe conditions for students once they safely arrived at school. If the answer was yes, then either closure or a delayed opening/early dismissal was considered.

Consideration 3: Follow the Leader
To be the only district that closes for a weather event that is a non-event opens one up to ridicule. So, the superintendent would consult trusted colleagues, particularly in the bigger or more respected districts nearby.

Consideration 4: Municipal Obligations
Municipal officials, particularly those who worked for the department of public works (DPW), also had to be considered. DPW needed adequate time to clear parking lots, sidewalks and entryways. While education is important, DPW officials typically had a first obligation to clear the streets and facilities for emergency responders, including the local hospital. If the volume of snow predicted was more than the DPW could clear before the start of school, then closure was considered. This involved countless phone calls with the mayor and superintendent of public works.

In the densely populated town where I worked, local residents were allowed to park in school lots during a declared snow emergency. This was the city strategy for keeping the roads cleared for plows. So, if the mayor was planning to declare a snow emergency, school had to be closed because there would be nowhere for staff members to park when they arrived at work. Which meant we had to stay in even closer touch with the mayor, who was undergoing his own deliberations.

Consideration 5: Convenience for Families
The decision to close school or to call for a delayed opening/early dismissal created hardships for many families, particularly those with working parents who had to scramble for childcare or negotiate alternative schedules or unpaid days off with their employers. This was a consideration not only in the decision to close school, but also in the timing of the decision. The earlier the decision to close could be made and announced, the less disruption for families.

Consideration 6: Meeting Mandatory Education Time
State laws and regulations required that children be in school for 180 days a year. The official school calendar included 185 days, to give wiggle room for up to five snow days. If there were more than five snow days in a given year, the elected school board was required to find time in the schedule to meet the mandatory 180 days of schooling. This might mean extending the school days, eroding previously scheduled holidays or vacation time, extending the school day, or even calling for weekend schooling. No school board wants to do this, because families AND the teachers' unions get up in arms about having their planned personal time taken back by the school district. Extra care was given if the decision to cancel school was going to eat into the legislated mandatory education time.

And once the decision was made, the communication plan had to be executed quickly. Where I worked, I had to alert the media so our closure or delay could be added to the lists that were published, read aloud, and/or scrolled at the bottom of a TV screen, These notifications were managed through phone automation, in which every district had a numeric code and pin number to gain access to the system. Once inside, you had to trust that the number you were choosing ("Press one for a complete closure tomorrow, press two for a delayed opening...") would be coded correctly so families who relied on the news for these announcements would get the right information.

We would then pull together the multi-lingual robo-dial announcement team, typically via conference call, to record the message that would eventually be pushed out to every family in the district. We experimented with pre-recording messages so we could just hit send when we needed to make the announcement, and found it was more effective to record each message separately so we could include the date of the closure. (Families who got the message via voice mail needed to have the exact date of the school closure recorded, so there was no confusion.)

Finally, I needed to update the District website and social properties with the announcement, and alert the City's 411 operators.

And this all had to be done rapidly, as there was no single source of information upon which families relied. The Twitter people would publicly complain if the announcement reached the television viewers before them, while the phone people would call the City's 411 system to ask why they had not yet received their robo-dial call when their neighbors had.


The decision to close school was rarely simple, although there were times when it was easy. There was always at least one constituency who criticized the move, one constituency that didn't think the message reached them quickly enough or in the right format. And, as a non-union school administrator, I nearly always had to go to work on those days when a snow emergency was called. Unless it was one in which a statewide travel ban was instituted.

When I was a child, snow days were so much fun. As a school administrator? Nothing but stress.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why I'm Voting for Marco Rubio in the Massachusetts Primary

Super Tuesday is on Monday, March 1, 2016. This is when residents of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, along with those in eight other states, cast their votes in the Presidential primary election.

As a liberal pragmatist, I choose to be registered as an independent voter. This means I get my choice of primary ballot on election day. In 2016, I'll pick the Republican ballot and I'll cast my vote for Marco Rubio.


Because I'm afraid. I'm afraid of a United States of America in which Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz, or, God forbid, Donald Trump, is President.

It is impossible to escape the onslaught of political ads on television, the non-stop audio coverage on public and talk radio, and the news coverage painting the walls of Facebook, Twitter, and Flipboard.

As I listen to this coverage, the liberal in me hears the siren call of Bernie Sanders' supporters and their call for a 'revolution.' But we liberals had our revolution when it President Obama was elected. And now the pragmatist in me sees the writing on the wall. I predict that on November 8th the Republicans will have their turn at revolution.

So I'm voting for Marco Rubio in the primary with the intention of doing my part to try to ensure their revolution is not too extreme. (Rest assured, when the nation turns out to vote in the general election, I will choose whichever Democratic candidate is chosen by the people.)

Who will you pick in your state primary?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Why I'm Wearing Red to Work on Friday, February 5, 2016

My maternal grandfather was dead at 47 of a heart attack.
My paternal grandmother was dead at 54 of complications related to heart disease.
And my mother? She had triple bypass surgery in her early 60's, which I am certain prevented her own early death.
My family history puts me at higher risk for heart disease. This, combined with my educational and professional background in public health and medical care, helps keep me very aware of the signs and symptoms of heart disease in women. I keep an eye on my blood pressure, talk with my primary care doctor at least once a year about the state of my heart health, and strive to eat a healthy diet balanced by regular exercise.
Unfortunately, many people are not as aware - either of their own risk profile,  or the indicators of coronary heart disease and its relatives.
So, in recognition of the American Heart Association's National Wear Red Day, I will be wearing red all day on Friday, February 5, 2016.
But I'm not stopping there. The #pinkification of America has taught me that wearing a certain color isn't enough to make change. So I'm also helping to organize #GoRed activities at my workplace, like free blood pressure screenings, and I will be sharing content about heart disease and how it has touched me via my @GLKinder account on Twitter.
I invite you to wear red on Friday, February 5th in honor of all the men and women who have fought - or are currently fighting - heart disease. Please also consider taking a moment to explain to the people around you why you are wearing red on this day. Wearing red is great. Explaining WHY will help raise just a little more awareness about the need for better heart health care, which is even better.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Desperately Trying to Find the Zone

One of the ways I managed to lose 25 pounds last fall was to eat fewer calories than I expended through my ADLs and exercise. In fact, I increased my daily physical activity by 20%. Committed to keeping my weight at a healthier level, because of my risk for heart disease and diabetes, I am continuing to go to the gym at least twice during the workweek, and every Saturday and Sunday. At least during the winter months, when it is either too cold or too dark to safely exercise outside.

And OMG, do I think going to the gym is boring.

To mix up my routine, I decided to try (for the third time) the Couch25K program to train myself to run 3.1 miles without dying or embarrassing myself.

And guess what? I also think running is boring.

I started to struggle with boredom midway this morning's "run" (Week Four/Day 2 of C25K). The self-talk that goes through my head reminded me that serious runners talk about getting into "the zone". In fact, I've felt "the zone" while biking - the feeling that all I need to be doing right now is pedaling one leg at a time to keep myself moving forward. It is a wonderful, zen experience.

But I haven't hit "the zone" with my "running." I have, however, developed some strategies for keeping myself engaged in my workout. As a gift to you, I share them below:

  • Count every stride I take, and when I reach 60, check the clock to see how close the pace of my counting came to the actual pace of time. Make adjustments to syncopate my counting with real time. Repeat.
  • Look around the room for words or phrases that are static (e.g., the name of gym painted on the wall, the name of the workout machine I'm using, signs that might be nearby, etc.). Make as many new words out of these words as I possibly can. For example, how many words can YOU make out of "hydromassage"?
  • Silently imagine what I would say to the people within my field of vision about their exercise habits and general state of fitness. Things like, "You look unhealthy. You go girl for being at the gym! Rock it!" and "You do know that I can see you itching your butt as you crush it on that elliptical, right?" 
  • In the same vein, I also tell stories about the people within my field of vision. Just yesterday I saw a man within my age range with an incredible and HUGE head of hair wearing the tiniest, tightest running shorts I've seen in a while. He seriously looked like a bobble head. I then imagined that those were his favorite shorts from his collegiate field and track days. And while they clearly NO LONGER FIT HIM, it is also clear that he is unnaturally attached to the shorts, perhaps as a symbol of his younger glory days. And every time he wears them, his spouse yells at him to get rid of those ridiculous shorts because, the tiny shorts make him look ridiculous and sad and what if he runs into someone they know, and so on.  
  • Inspire myself  by repeating the following mantra over and over again, "No one gets better at anything if they quit. I can do this. I can do anything for (however long I have left in the workout or the interval) minutes." Then I start wondering about all the things I might not be able to do for xyz minutes left in my workout. Like endure water boarding at the hands of terrorist captors, or swim in an alligator-infested swamp, or tolerate Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as President. 

It's not my knees or my general state physical fitness that will end my running career. Instead, it is the boredom.

So I ask you, before I make yet another trip to the gym where I'll rearrange the letters in "Judgment Free Zone" (men, gene, jug, mug, dug, tug, zen..." to entertain myself:

  • Are you a runner who gets into the zone? 
  • What does it look like or feel like? 
  • How do you get to that place?
  • What advice do you have for a novice runner? 

Help me!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Standing at Attention

Within the span of one week, two young men from the tony seaside suburb where I live were strikingly affected by the global military industrial complex.

On January 16, 2016, 30 year-old Matthew Trevithick, who had been imprisoned by the Iranian government for undisclosed reasons, was released and returned home to America.

Two days earlier, on January 14, 2016, 23 year-old Marine Corporal Christopher Orlando was one of 12 people who were lost in a helicopter crash off the coast of Hawaii while in the midst of training exercises. The search for the bodies was suspended after five days and Cpl Orlando and his colleagues were presumed dead.

Our tiny town organizes welcome parades for military veterans when they return home, to say thank you and to help with the vet's re-entry into small town life. While Cpl Orlando was not returning home, our Veteran's Services Department and our local emergency responders asked the community to stand vigil as a show of respect for the family as they returned home from services and debriefing with the Marines in Hawaii.

For some reason, BMG and I decided to attend.

The family was scheduled to roll into town at approximately 7:00 PM. The route for their police escort was published by our local police department. So, at 6:40 PM we left our home and headed to the library to park and stand vigil.

Photo credit:
I was surprised by the thousands of people lining the five miles of Main Street, solemnly holding flags and thank you signs featuring the official Marine portrait of the now dead Marine. Surprised by the number of families - with children of all ages - who waited in the freezing temperatures for the convoy to roll through town. Surprised by the young parents with baby carriages who gently soothed their crying infants as the wind gently whipped past us.

Surprised and moved to tears.

We watched the police department's Twitter feed to keep apprised of the family's progress from the airport to home. It was there that we learned that emergency responders from across the state were lining bridges across the highway to pay their respects. We met up with some neighbors and, as the Twitter feed and occasional siren told us they were near our stretch of Main Street, we silenced our chatter and stood at attention.

Photo credit:
It wasn't until 8:00 PM that the family, escorted by nearly a dozen police vehicles, slowly drove past. As they did, I silently sobbed, imagining their anguish at the loss of their beloved son, the loss of potential, and, hopefully, their understanding that their community would support them through their grief.

Both BMG and I couldn't understand why we chose to join our community in this display of patriotism and pride. We don't know the family. We don't have children and wouldn't begin to pretend we understand what the parents and siblings are going through. And we aren't law and order people; standing up for the military isn't one of the community actions that make drives either one of us. But, I'm glad we paid attention to the impulse in our hearts and went. It feels like one of the most meaningful things I've done in a long time.

RIP Cpl Orlando, and Semper Fi.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What Makes an Ulcer a Good Thing?

**Warning! Graphic photos of the inside of my body are included in this blog post. Warning!**

I was diagnosed with an ulcer this morning.

My ulcer looks like a series of shiny, white canker sores on the lining of my throat, and happens to be located at the junction between my esophagus and my stomach.

We suspected there was a problem after nearly two weeks of crippling abdominal pain, which conveniently happened over Christmas 2015, and has extended through the start of 2016. After four weeks of medical appointments, including a trip to urgent care for IV fluids and a gastroscope, the ulcer was discovered.

The treatment? Daily Prilosec. That's it. No dietary change, aside from adjustments I make to manage pain. And I go back in three months for another picture of my insides.

So what makes this a good thing?

1. The symptoms I was experiencing are often confused with GERD/advanced heartburn, Celiac Disease, heart disease, and food allergies. All of these conditions are chronic and require lifetime lifestyle changes. I'm glad I don't need to manage this. (The symptoms are also similar to those experienced by people with stomach and esophageal cancer. My biopsy results will be back in about a month. I'm still just a TINY bit nervous I have cancer too, but it is highly unlikely because I have none of the typical risk factors. If I do, I promise I'll at least add a note in the comments here so you aren't left hanging.)

2. While many people think ulcers are caused by stress, they actually aren't. In fact, most ulcers are bacterial. So, this means, (a) the ulcer isn't my fault, and (b) I don't need to find a way to cut back on stress in my life. (I actually don't feel particularly stressed most of the time.)

3. I don't need to stop drinking my daily cup of coffee! Or the occasional glass of wine! When I asked my gastroenterologist if I needed to adjust my diet he said, "I'm not one of those people who thinks nutrition makes a big difference in these things." (See point #2 above.)

4. The severe abdominal pain (there were times when simply standing up was a burden on my system) helped me experience the type of pain BMG experiences as a result of his Crohn's Disease. This helps me better understand why he behaves like such a tool when he has a flare-up, deepening my empathy.

5. Conversely, BMG better understands the anxiety I feel when I ferry him to and from doctor appointments and tests, He got himself so worked up today about my test that he ended up vomiting. Seriously, he vomited this afternoon, for no reason other than being agitated, which caused him to drink too much caffeine and not eat enough food. (I'd like to add that his puking put a swift end to my post-anesthesia lazing about because I had to hop up to help him,)

So, no chronic disease to manage, no signs of blame or stress, all the coffee I could possibly want, better empathy between my husband and I on the impact of his chronic disease on our partnership. All in all, I'd say my ulcer is a good thing.