Public Service Announcement (warning: contains graphic images)

One afternoon when I was a sophomore in high school, as I was getting on the bus I suddenly felt a searing, raging pain in my right hand. Looking down, I noticed a stinger, which I promptly asked the driver for help removing.

Within a short period of time, my hand had swollen to three times its normal size and I had red streaks up my arm. After the half hour ride home, I showed my mom, who rushed me to the ER, where I spent another four hours waiting while the allergic reaction increased.

I was extremely lucky – they sent me home with Benadryl and I had no anaphylactic reaction. My husband, years later, still insisted I bring an Epi pen with me on our honeymoon in Europe.

I didn’t get stung again until last Saturday, as I was taking my soon-to-be 10-year-old to the grocery store to shop for food for his birthday party on Sunday. As I grabbed my shopping bag, I felt a sharp “bite” – not anywhere near as intense as the sting twenty plus years ago – and, looking down, saw evidence of some kind of insect on the inside of my arm. There was a guy BBQing meat nearby, so I assume it was a wasp.

The next day, my arm looked like this:


It hurt a bit more than the previous day and was warm to the touch. My mom thought it looked like cellulitis (which can be bad).

On Monday, it hurt worse and was even redder and angrier:


On Wednesday, it looked like this:


By Thursday, things reached a crescendo. My arm itched so badly that cortisone did nothing for it:


That night, I took Benadryl before bed and hoped for the best. The intense itching woke me up yesterday morning. Again, cortisone barely touched it. But the redness started to subside:


Which brings me to today – one full week later. The sting site is a little less red, and I’m actually wearing short sleeves today. I’ve only had to apply anti-itch cream once so far today.

All this to say that, while I already knew I had a bee sting allergy, apparently my body doesn’t care for wasps either. Be careful out there this spring and summer!

Subconscious ESP

I had the strangest dream last night… OK, I have strange dreams every night, but normally, the morning bedlam (alarm clock, cat yowling, husband throwing shoes on the floor or watching TV) causes the fine details to evaporate by the time my eyes are fully open. I really should keep a voice activated recorder by the bed, but I occasionally get lucky, memory-wise, without one.

Anyway. I had a dream last night that I became a doctor, specializing in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), and I got hired as an in-house consulting physician at a startup in the San Francisco Financial District (the company’s major market share was in Japan, for some reason; I don’t remember what their product was, but they had some acronym for it). I hopped on Golden Gate Transit in downtown Santa Rosa to commute to work and the bus was delayed by over an hour. “No problem, ” said my new bosses, “we’re just happy to have you on board!”

It was a luxury bus, and the GGT staff served all us passengers these gourmet sandwiches (they had portobello mushrooms and goat cheese on a baguette) while we waited to get going.

After work, I went to the home of a new colleague I’d befriended. She and her family had moved from the small city I live in to San Francisco and had a cute little apartment down there. I was in her 6-year-old daughter’s room, playing, and gazing at the photo of the Golden Gate Bridge on the wall.

By the time I woke from the dream and was still in that half-asleep state I felt that, sure, earning an M.D. in NLP was completely plausible and maybe I’d look into it one day…

I checked my email a couple of hours later, and there was an email from the NLP & Coaching institute, informing me that a hypnosis certification program is starting up in 2 weeks.

Cute the Twilight Zone theme…

I’ve got a secret and I can’t explain

First, apologies for the OMD reference. One of my guilty little pleasures on Sunday is to fire up the laptop and take a few minutes to read PostSecret. Over the years, Frank’s staggering art project has made me think, feel every emotion, and wonder what my secret from the world would be, were I to send one in.

The truth is that I have no true “no one in the world knows this about me” secrets.  A handful of people out there know at least one or two things about me that most others don’t, but no one person knows all.

That said, there are a few truths that are normally surprising when I reveal them.

1. I’m an extrovert (kind of). 

You know the Myers-Briggs personality test? I’ve taken various forms of it, several times, and without fail the final three letters that, according to the results make up my personality type, are NFP. Always. The first letter varies, however. Sometimes it’s I and sometimes it’s E. It would seem that I am perfectly balanced between introversion and extroversion.

Most people who get to know me eventually make a correct assumption: I am painfully – painfully – shy. Once they learn more about who I actually am, they’re confused. Some of my hobbies, past and present, include theater and karaoke, and, as a friend pointed out a few weeks ago, I do public speaking for fun.

Shyness and extroversion aren’t mutually exclusive, as it turns out; in fact, the description of a person who “A person who performs well socially, but experiences painful thoughts and feelings” made my breath catch when I first read it. Having this type of personality is most definitely not easy (in jr high I was labeled “stuck up” and one of my closest friends told me a few years ago that she thought back in high school I wouldn’t befriend her). Neither is having more “introverted” days, particularly when you’re called upon to communicate with others or take on a leadership role. I wonder if anyone truly fits into a particular box when it comes to personality type. I recently learned a a great new word: ambivert. That seems to be an apt description of my personality – sometimes outgoing, sometimes more retiring.

2. I’m competitive.

A particular quirk – and annoyance – about being both a woman and a mom is that people seem to assume you have no ambition. They also seem to believe you’re a pushover, easy to overpower, easy to beat, etc. Most people haven’t met me.

I remember playing Wii Sports at a friend/coworker’s house and she and I were the only two women there (we do work in a male-dominated field, so this was only natural). Everyone was taking turns at sword fighting and I was put up against one of the managers – a guy around my age who is a sports fanatic and who just assumed he would wipe the floor with me.

To be fair, I am not a petite little thing. I’m 5’8″ when barefoot and have a little bit of upper body strength. But because I live in stilettos and am not naturally athletic, most guys naturally figure I’d be more concerned with breaking a nail than with winning. Again, most guys would be incorrect.

E and I began swinging our wiimotes furiously and at first he seemed to have victory in the bag. But I was just slightly faster and beat his ass, knocking his Mii straight off a cliff into the ocean below.

E took it like a man, groaning loudly before chuckling and turning to the other guys with a “No WAY!! That must’ve been beginners’ luck… or, uh, something.” Then, to me, “Rematch!” I beat him twice more before he eventually won a match.

I behave similarly during other competitions as well… including, but not limited to: Balderdash, Anomia, Apples to Apples, Trivial Pursuit, Rock Band, Just Dance, Tic-Tac-Toe, and The 20 Minute Challenge. And any and all “let’s see who can design the best page/graphic/whatever” work comes up with. And I have a collection of first place ribbons from Toastmasters.

3. I worry a LOT.

I’m usually pretty good in a crisis. In my life, I’ve had to make a couple of 911 calls, have been through trials ranging from earthquakes to system outages and normally don’t lose my head. This has occasionally been to my detriment, as I’ve had more than one person argue with me that I’m “too calm” and said persons have been known to take offense when I wasn’t reacting in the same fashion.

This is just how I am though. Never in my life have I had blood pressure higher than 120/70 (and that was while sitting at the doctor’s office under a time crunch to get back to work), and only a handful of times have I shown any of the other physical signs of distress: rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, lightheadedness.

This is not to say I am “easygoing”. I lay awake at night a lot. I do tons of research on things that are on my mind. I send needy texts and emails to my girlfriends or call my mom. I’ve locked myself in rooms to cry or otherwise come unglued and then gotten straight back to business once I’m pulled together.

Some folks have to get their anger out so they can; I have to get my worry out so I can do the same. Because a lot of this happens in private (my relatives and friends generally don’t just call me to ask if I’m OK), I get it out of my system and no one’s the wiser.

So there you have it: a peek into what makes me tick. What are some of your non-secret secrets?

Slow down, you move too fast

You likely can’t tell by my lack of recent writings, but I am a go-go-go person, always in motion, either on my way somewhere, or actively doing something. I have a demanding job, and a kid, and friends, and hobbies… and if that weren’t enough, I’m a club officer for my local Toastmasters club. This next six months, it appears I will be fulfilling not one, but two roles – VP of Public Relations (a title I’ve held for the last two years) and VP of Education, the office just below that of President.

This past New Year’s Day, I made the resolution that approximately 95 percent of the people I know make on the first of the year: get back into shape. Like some kind of masochist, I’ve been poring through nutrition websites for everyone from bodybuilders to vegans (and vegan bodybuilders) and reviews on Amazon for products such as Nike+ Kinect. I’ve also been seriously considering trying Insanity, which I own on DVD and which nearly killed me, in a manner of speaking, once again. Yeahhhhhh…

Then IT happened. I had just arrived at work on Thursday and was attempting to stretch when I heard and felt an odd disconcerting “pop”, followed by the sensation of my lower back muscles spasming and, finally, a lot of pain. Pain I haven’t quite ever felt before, as if that part of my back was swiftly torn in two like a sheet of paper.

Once, when my son was a baby, I’d attempted to pick him up while he was in his carseat (and weighing upwards of 30 pounds) and lifted with my back rather than my legs. That had resulted in spasms in my upper back which subsided after a few minutes. This was different. I made it through the work day, occasionally trying to stretch out the knot and grimacing every time, but by the end of the day I could barely walk, let alone anything else. I called off my plans to visit a friend that night and tucked myself gingerly into bed.

“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel. I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.” – Nine Inch Nails

By yesterday morning, I realized I was going to be essentially non-functional for at least a day or two. I asked my friends on Facebook for their input, knowing my mom (who’s an RN) would likely have some good advice, and revised my immediate January resolution to a much more subdued one than I’d planned.

As yesterday and last night wore on, I likened myself to Bruce Lee, who spent months laid up before rising to prominence, stronger than ever… eh, who am I kidding? I’m a webmaster, not a martial arts master. My back is vital to me, but only as a support system for my right hand and brain.

Still, I am going to care for myself and see this as the mixed blessing it is: a chance to rejuvenate and truly listen to my body, rather than attempt to rush through things, risking permanent damage. Others I know have received similar wake-up calls. One former boss developed pneumonia. Another ended up hospitalized hours after I’d noticed in a meeting that morning that dude didn’t look so well. It’s a well-worn tale and a lesson everyone seems to know intellectually but which rarely seems to portend lasting positive change.

I intend to listen this time, and trade one resolution for another. After all, aren’t most New Year’s resolutions variations on a theme – to care for ourselves better than in years past? To recognize as precious the fragile gift of our bodies, and treat them with more respect than our material possessions?

It’s possible my torn/sprained/strained/pulled (pending a visit to the Dr) back muscle is nothing more than a reminder not to let my quest to “get ‘er done” get in the way of my overall well-being. A subtle plea from my body to me to be kind to myself.

A resolution I hadn’t realized I needed to make.

Halloween: A Time for Reflection

I was surprised one night at Toastmasters to hear a gentleman in our group come to the front of the room during Table Topics and declare that he hated Halloween because, in his words, “It encourages people to be violent”.

As I was Table Topics master that night and I’d presented an exercise to the group involving pulling Halloween-themed words from two cups with which to create a story, I initially took this a bit personally. All Hallow’s Eve is my favorite holiday, and I have a storied history with costuming (both wearing and creating garb, even before I got involved in theater), cooking, decorating and contemplating what, to me, is a most spiritually significant day.

My brother and I attended a strict religious school until 6th grade. Each day began with the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, the Christian flag and the Bible and ended in prayer. Secular forms of entertainment were verboten, and at our school, October 31st was known as History Day. Scary masks and costumes were not allowed (and were cause for suspension) but one could come to school dressed as, say, Winston Churchill or Mary Magdalene (because, of course, the Bible was our main history textbook).

As a result, I never dressed for Halloween as a witch or ghost (until I was in my 30s, anyway), but I did win my school’s costume contest the year I came as Eve, in a beautiful, leaf-covered dress my mom had sewn.

So on the one hand I grew up with the message that ghosts weren’t real and believing in them was sinful, Halloween was a holiday created by Satan to lead good Christians astray, and kids eat too much candy anyway.

On the other hand, there was my grandmother. A devout Catholic all her life, by the time I was 5 or 6 years old, even before I’d ever heard of a medium, I knew that my grandma saw dead people. Not only that, but when she was very ill once as a child herself, she’d seen and talked to Jesus, who appeared as an apparition at the foot if her bed and assured her that her time in earth was far from over (she turns 91 next month, so he was right).

I loved and revered my grandma and her awe-inspiring abilities and it wasn’t long before I had a couple of life-changing experiences myself.

I was about 6 or 7 years old and we were visiting my grandparents, who lived on a farm in Alamogordo, NM. I was in one of the bedrooms one day, looking at a framed sheet of paper in the wall. This piece of paper – I remember it as some sort of certificate – had script on it and a dark blue oval near the center. As I stared at the oval, I noticed the face of a woman superimposed onto it. The face then became the face of a child. Then an old man. And so on, and so on and so on.

I told my mom and grandma about the faces and they replied that only the pure of heart could see the face of the Virgin Mary in the blue oval. Didn’t explain the many faces I saw, but at least no one insisted I was imagining things.

Not very long later, my family moved into a 3-year-old house that had been built on an old apple orchard. Over the 8 years we lived there, all of us saw, heard or felt odd things, but nothing quite compared to the night I looked into the hallway from my open bedroom door and saw a black figure silently wandering around. I never forgot it, and felt silently relieved when we moved.

In my experience, not all hauntings are terrifying experiences, however. The night after my brother’s best friend committed suicide, he appeared to me in a dream to apologize, and to say goodbye.

Four years ago, during Labor Day weekend, another dream visitor, my husband’s mom (whom I’d never met) appeared to me as I’m told she looked toward the end of her life to reassure me that my then 5-year-old son would be just fine and that she was always watching over him. At the time I didn’t understand the message. The following Tuesday, though, began the chain of events which ultimately led to C being evaluated for, and placed in, special ed. After several shifts and much trial and error, he is now a happy, well-adjusted fourth grader who earned a scholastic award last week.

The person who had the most touching experience with the other side, of course, is my grandmother. She awoke in the middle of the night to find her favorite great-uncle unexpectedly standing in the doorway. She asked what he was doing at her house and he replied “I came to say goodbye.” Her great-aunt called just then to inform the family that he’d passed.

This brings me to my point. In October, when the day and night trade lengths and the veil thins between the living and the hereafter, Halloween (and its sister holiday, Dia de los Muertos) serve as a timely reminder of our fragility, our mortality, and, ultimately, our connection to others.

To me, Halloween gives license for fun and revelry but also a celebration of our humanity.


Conversation With a Preteen

Earlier tonight, I had the following conversation with my 9-year-old:

Me: I’m going to start teaching you about cleaning your skin in a few years. Teenagers get these things called pimples; they’re boo-boos that you get on your face.

Him: Well, Nonna has a boo-boo on her foot!

Me: Really? What’d she do to it?

Him: it’s black.

Me: Her foot is black?!?

Him: No.

Me: Then what’s black??

Him: I don’t know.

I’ll have to try some other time.

Who Are You Calling Weak?

First, Happy Mothers Day! It’s well after 9am, and I am the first one up, so I’m taking the opportunity to spend a few minutes writing.

I could tell you about the worst Mothers Day I ever had (it actually started the night before, including me in the ER), but that’s probably a story for another time. Instead, let me tell you how I spent my day yesterday.

I got a sitter and traveled about 40 minutes away to an insurance company in Marin County where I, along with 500 other members of Toastmasters clubs throughout the Bay Area, spent the day listening to speeches and educational sessions on everything from personal growth to communication skills and leadership. It was the District 57 Spring Conference, and I’d won a ticket to go last Monday during my club’s Tall Tales contest (again, another story for another time). While I was away, my husband, after he got off work, took our son to see a movie.

If you’ve never been to a Toastmasters event, I will spoil it for you a bit: the vast majority of the speeches and table topics have a similar, recurring theme. While many are humorous, nearly all are inspirational in some way or other.

Yesterday was no exception. The first table topics speaker (a woman from the same small town I live in) had lost both legs and described the choice she’d made to have prosthetics built so she and her husband could travel during their retirement. Another woman, who has Tourette’s, explained that Toastmasters is her “drug of choice” and that when she’s speaking, she has no symptoms. A third speaker, a man who’d been a mega-athlete in high school before being paralyzed from the chest down, went on to lead his power wheelchair soccer team to international victory.

The theme of the conference was Stand and Deliver, but I think it could just as easily have been “Oh Yeah? Watch Me!” Clearly, none of the participants let their supposed weaknesses get them down for long, and the message wasn’t lost on me. What you might view as a disadvantage in your life can actually be your greatest source of strength.

When I got home last night, my family and I watched an episode of Undercover Boss. On the show, the CEO of a soft pretzel company was stunned to learn how much some of his valued employees were struggling, and he cried several times throughout the show. Visible displays of emotion in men are seen as a weakness in my country, but this guy let loose while cameras rolled. The benefit? I, and I imagine, thousands of other viewers now see this CEO as a genuine human being. He’s elevated the status of his company in my eyes.

I’ve talked about this concept before – the idea that a disability is actually a super human ability or that a supposed character flaw can, in fact, be a person’s ace in the hole.

It’s one such flaw, in fact, that ultimately led me to where I was yesterday. You see, my entire life, I’ve been mistaken for being unfriendly or even arrogant when the reality is that I am excruciatingly shy… sometimes to the point that I have a hard time talking to someone, one on one, that I’ve known for years (thankfully, more and more lately this is not the case).

I was asked to give a short presentation during my department’s staff meeting and I choked. I’d worked with these guys for almost two years and I couldn’t do it. That night, on Facebook, I jokingly asked whether anyone knew anything about Toastmasters. A coworker, who’d helped me out by driving me to work shortly after my Mothers Day weekend mishap mentioned above, replied and said he’d love to check it out!

That was a year and a half ago, and the tide is beginning to turn with regards to my personality flaw. If I had to guess, I would say a good percentage of the 20 other people in my club could tell a similar story.

Think about your own personal weakness or flaw, and decide for yourself: how can I turn this into my personal strength or strong character trait?