Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thanksgiving in the Rockies

I am very thankful to be spending time with my sister and her family in the Denver area; because of the distances involved we do not see them often. They are gracious and wonderful hosts. Today we hiked in a state park in the foothills, stripping down to short sleeves in the unseasonably warm sunshine.   Yesterday we enjoyed a skiing / shopping expedition in Keystone.  The skiers reported that conditions were marvelous.

Dan hadn’t skiied in over 25 years and was a little  nervous, but he got his ‘ski legs’ under him after a few trial runs down the bunny hill.  Guzzy is a good skier;  although she ended her day with a nasty spill on a Black Diamond run; her injuries were limited to a scraped finger, blisters on her feet and a slightly bruised ego.  There is talk of sending her back out for a more extensive ski trip in the spring–we shall see.

For myself–I have tried skiing on two or three occasions–a very long time ago.  I was never even marginally competent and would sort of creep along in a hunched over-fight against gravity.   I gave it up for good after being bowled over by a 10 year old–sending my skis and poles skittering down the slope, and laying me out in stunned silence in the snow for 5-10 minutes, not sure if my limbs were all still functional. They were–but that was the last time I donned a pair of skis.  Clearly, Guzzy is both more coordinated and brave than her mom.

It is cliche because it is true:  the best part of the holidays is spending time with friends and family.  We were able to catch up on each other’s lives over morning coffee;  played hours of raucous card and board games, spent hours preparing food, eating and cleaning up the kitchen; we sampled generously from my brother-in-law’s wine collection and liquor cabinet; and my sister and I compared childhood memories of holidays past.

My sister and I do not resemble each other, until we speak.  By the end of the visit I have adopted  minor changes in inflection and our voices become almost indistinguishable from each other. I am also told that we issue the same ‘squawking’ noise when playing cards or when otherwise surprised by something.   It can get a little loud.

Guzzy is enjoying time with her Colorado cousins, although her same-age cousin’s attention is now split between family and her college boyfriend, who is also in town for the weekend.  It is a glimpse into the future–as teens morph into young adults and develop new relationships that may (eventually) lead them to define ‘family’ in new terms.  We all have two types of family–biological and chosen.  For those of us that are extremely fortunate, those two groups overlap.

As I finish this post, we have returned to the cold embrace of Wisconsin and are settling back into our normal Sunday morning routine.   I bought a new scarf and hat in Dever, which will help keep my body warm and my spirits buoyed with memories of our Thanksgiving in the Rockies.

What is Healthy?

My friend, Pat, is a poet and recently initiated a conversation regarding the nature of truth and untruths.  There are  interesting and provocative gray areas to be explored when factoring in white lies and the imperfect nature of memory.

Meanwhile,  I ponder the question “What is Healthy”?   Many schools and workplaces are now defining healthy as a Body Mass Index (BMI) that falls within a certain range.   BMI looks at two data points, height and weight; drawing conclusions regarding a person’s health without regard for muscle mass or other factors.  It is a flawed measure.  I know a couple very athletic and obviously healthy individuals whose BMI categorizes them (ridiculously) as over-weight.

An excellent article from the National Eating Disorder Association addresses the dangers of BMI screening in schools.  This practice gives many students the message that their body isn’t good enough; a diagnosis that is cruel, irresponsible and can serve as a trigger for eating disordered behavior.  Young people are particularly susceptible to this kind of dangerous message, although adults are not immune.

The truth is (listen up Pat!) that people naturally come in all different sizes and shapes. To provide an accurate assessment of someone’s health you need to know much more than their height and weight.   You need to consider many other factors, both physical and mental, in order to diagnose someone’s health.  People with ‘normal’ BMIs  can be suffering from disordered eating, resulting in poor health and a poor quality of life.  You simply cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder (or is healthy) by their BMI.

The backdrop for the wave of BMI screenings in the school and workplace is the growing incidence of obesity, along with our prevailing culture of judging our bodies harshly against impossible, unrealistic and unhealthy ideals.  I am intrigued by the overlapping societal conditions that (I believe) contribute to both obesity and eating disorders.  Certainly some obesity can be traced to disordered eating–so the two conditions are not mutually exclusive.

How much healthier could we all be, if we stopped believing that everyone needs to be a certain number or look a certain way?  How much healthier could we be if we accepted our natural shapes and sizes without fearing the judgement of ourselves and others?   How much healthier would we be if we respected, liked and cared for our bodies – including exercising regularly and eating based on our individual body’s needs and our natural cues of hunger and satiety?

It is food for thought.


Coffee Crisis

Dan and I both enjoy our morning coffee.  Correction:  I enjoy my morning coffee and Dan NEEDS his morning coffee.  I tend to wake up full of energy, whereas Dan is in a dense fog until he gets to the bottom of his first cup. We generally spend Sunday mornings together over coffee, lazily reading the paper, while pointing out tidbits of information to each other.

Earlier in our relationship we had a hard time agreeing on a coffee ‘system’ that would work for both of us.  I get to work early most mornings and prefer to keep the coffee preparation time to minimum.  My usual coffee routing consisted of setting up a drip coffee pot before I went to bed.  However, Dan is a bit of a coffee snob and disdains ordinary drip-coffee. He also gets to work a bit later in the day; which allowed him time to refine a labor intensive system involving heating water in a teapot, grinding beans and manually (and slowly) pouring the hot water into a self-designed contraption to get a fresh and strong brew.  This system is fine for someone who has time and patience in the morning; and I have neither.

After a few years of compromises and experiments with other coffee brewing solutions, we  achieved a coffee detente.   Christmas of 2012 I put two packages under the tree for Dan:  one containing a Keurig cup coffee maker and another with a sample-pack of Keurig cups.  As I opened my gift FROM Dan imagine my surprise to find almost the exact same thing in a slightly different brand. A gift of the Magi moment (without the tragedy).  Since Dan had, very characteristically, put much more thought and analysis into his purchase, I returned the Keurig, and we have since enjoyed two years of excellent (if somewhat expensive and non-eco-friendly) coffee.

This morning the machine quit working.  I put in the disc as usual and pressed the button and was rewarded with a horrible mess of coffee grounds and coffee–most of which was NOT in my coffee cup.  I ran out to the local coffee shop and returned with two steaming cups just as Dan announced that he fixed the machine–at least temporarily.

At least we will know what to get each other for Christmas this year.


I am in a period of transition, having accepted a new job that I am excited about – a newly created management position in a relatively small and growing software company. Essentially, I will be a slightly bigger fish in a smaller pond.  I am currently in the limbo period of wrapping up my old job while anticipating the new.  I’m working long  hours in an attempt to transform a large, complex and messy project into a tidy package for my successor before I leave.  It is like shoving a pound of tepid jello into a baggie–it keeps oozing out of the edges.

As a former consultant, who has worked a lot of temporary gigs;  I have some thoughts on work transitions.

1.  Don’t burn your bridges behind you–the world is small.  You absolutely will encounter former co-workers in other venues and it is advisable to leave on good terms.   A Jerry Maguiresque exit rarely ends well.  Avoid the temptation to mentally check out before you walk out.   I used to say never burn a bridge; but then I experienced incredibly hostile treatment (of myself and others) by an evil misogynistic boss.  I confronted the behavior directly fully aware that I would not get justice and that I could never return.  

2. A  new job is like buying a new house:  Some things will be better than the old one and some things will be worse.   I will miss the beautiful office space of my current office, including my window seat with a view of the parking lot, and I will miss many of my incredible co-workers. While there are many pluses to my new position a beautiful work setting is not among them.

3.  Retain and have confidence in what you know.  The lessons you’ve learned from your last job still apply in your new job, even though it may be a different industry or company.  Grow, Retain and use your hard-won knowledge as you travel through your career.  I keep a list called The Things I Know and review it from time to time.  My list reflects my own ‘aha’ moments pertaining to human behavior, communication and team-building, as well IT methodology-specific things that would make your eyeballs roll back in your head from sheer boredom if I listed them here.

4.  Don’t be Guilty about Leaving your current job.  Women are particularly susceptible to feeling guilty when we put our own needs and aspirations above the needs of others.  If your dream (or dream-ish)  job presents itself — take it;  even if the timing isn’t ideal for leaving what you are doing now (it is almost NEVER good).  Of course Rule #1 still applies (unless it doesn’t).

5.  Culture and People are important.  It is important to build a positive culture and positive relationships with your co-workers, both because it makes work more enjoyable and a positive culture is essential to productivity.  There is a corollary to this rule:  If you can’t change the people, change the people (this only makes sense if you say it out loud).

6.  Don’t be an Eeyore or a Catbert;  Eeyores are everywhere–sad sacks who find reasons every day to be unhappy and/or ineffective in their job.  They point fingers at everything and everyone around them and may be very vocal in their complaints. A bad attitude is self-destructive and is a drag on the whole team.  Whereas Catbert burns and mistreats everyone around him for his own personal benefit and sometimes for sheer sport.  In general, it is probably inadvisable to model your behavior on a cartoon character.

7.   LIKE your job.    We spend a lot of time at work and its important to have work that is meaningful and engaging, with co-workers that we enjoy.  If you dread going to work most of the time (vs. just Monday mornings–which is to be expected) it might be time to think about making a change.   However, if you are miserable most of the time, everywhere you go… introspection and therapy may be in order.  You know who you are.

I’m heading off to play tennis.  Nothing like a busy work week to help appreciate the weekends!

The Passage of Time

I saw mom today.   Since we were out of town last weekend, it has been two weeks since I last saw her; and those two weeks were not kind to her.

Alzheimer’s is a wicked nasty disease.  It has turned my very intelligent, talented and articulate mother into someone I barely recognize; someone I pity; someone who requires round-the-clock care;  someone who alternates between anger, confusion and a quiet resignation.  Very soon (we may already be there) she will not be able to tell us if she is in pain or hungry or needs to go to the bathroom.  Care-taking has become something of a guessing game.

She is in a good place and receives high-quality care from the Memory care staff and by her loving husband (my father) who sees her every day and takes her to all of her Dr. appointments. Despite all of that, it is hard to think of her as being fortunate.  Alzheimer’s is a persistent and relentless diminishing of life’s essence.  What is left of our personality, of our being,  of our very soul when we can no longer recognize or relate to the world around us?

I have other friends whose parents had or have Alzheimer’s.  Part of the fear is the knowledge that a certain percentage of us will also become afflicted as we age. We talk about quality of life and how we would not want to live beyond a certain threshold.  Obviously, defining the threshold is tricky and defining contingency plans should the threshold be reached is even trickier.

For mom: we keep her comfortable;  we rehash old memories; we hold her hands; we take her for walks; we sing to (or with) her, we bring some cheer to her days with pictures and videos of the great-grandchildren that she does not remember holding.   It is not enough; yet it is all we know to do.

The Teen Years

This year I have purchased approximately 72 women’s razors–not the disposable kind, but the ‘Venus’ kind with a reusable handle that is used with replaceable razor heads – its a cool system. However, they are all missing.  It’s a good thing the weather is cold and I won’t be wearing shorts any time soon.

My youngest daughter splits her time between my house and her dad’s house, and I STRONGLY suspect that if I were to ransack his house I would find at least a dozen of the missing razors as well as an assortment of my blouses, earrings and shoes.  It’s not that Guzzy intends to take my things; she simply borrows them and they subsequently disappear. Once in awhile an item will reappear after a long absence, which results in a debate regarding its true ownership.

The advantage of having a son is that he doesn’t steal his mom’s stuff. However he posed other challenges during his teen years, including his period of experimentation with his hair, which led to the single most insightful statement ever uttered by his father:  “That boy ain’t right”.

Ben, is still traumatized by the time that we went jeans shopping with his then-teenage sister.  Kelly was (and is) a very short young lady for whom girl-size clothing styles were no longer appropriate or well-fitting.  There were a grand total of 3 pairs of jeans in the entire mall that fit her (trust me, she tried on all of them).  After hours of shopping, Kelly settled on a single pair; by which time I was willing to pay any price to get the heck out of the mall and Ben was showing signs of PTSD.  It took her longer to select a pair of jeans than it did to be born.

Buying jeans with Ben was a breeze;  it consisted of walking to a pile of jeans (in the nearest store – it didn’t matter where) and grabbing a pair off the stack.  He would hold them up to himself (in lieu of trying them on); shrug, tell me “they’ll fit — I have a belt”, and we were  all set.  Easy Peezy.

For years I bought Ben clothes for his birthday so that he would at least temporarily have something clean to wear.  For most of his college years  Ben’s clothes resided on his bedroom floor.  He lived in a run-down ‘student’ house with several roommates.  I did not visit his house often, because I didn’t like facing the fact that one of my children was living in filth.  After Ben married Jess, they moved to house in Savannah, GA next to the Army base where Ben worked.  While visiting, I was totally gobsmacked  by finding clean, matching towels  in their bathroom. Hallelujia and Thank You Jess!

It’s Saturday and I will be running errands.  The first item on my list is to buy some razors – maybe I should get the jumbo economy pack.


Healthy at any Size

I just love ED People!   Two well-placed emails requesting information and I have received a treasure-trove of  literature and research.  While I truly despise ED, I love ED PEOPLE – the army of Eating Disorder (ED) clinicians, researchers, family members and recovered sufferers — who are dedicated to advocacy, prevention, treatment and research.

My workplace has a Wellness Program.  They recently put up posters announcing the holiday ‘Maintain, don’t Gain’ program.  The not-so-subtle implication of this and related programming is that weight loss = better health; restricting food intake is good for you; don’t get fat over the holidays.  There are even financial awards associated with reducing your BMI, if it is considered ‘too’ high.  These are educated, well-meaning people.  All the more reason to talk to them.  As a great teacher once said:  “Forgive them, they know not what they do. ”

I sent an email, I made a call; and ultimately I met with the very nice young ladies running the Wellness program.  I shared some of my personal history along with statistics that are fairly alarming regarding the incidence and impacts of ED in the U.S.  They listened, they asked questions.  I offered to help provide some alternate programming and educational material.

All this led to my email request for more appropriate messaging for work-based wellness programs to both NEDA and an ED prevention group I am part of.   I feel as if I got invited to the ED prevention group under false pretenses.  Before going to the NEDA conference, I made up business cards that gives my blog link — but doesn’t actually include my last name; which (for the record) is NOT Ponders.  I met Dr. Michael Levine at the NEDA conference.  We had a nice chat after which I gave him my card and was flattered when he invited me to his ED Prevention email distribution list; to whom he subsequently introduced me as Paula Ponders. Despite the fact that he is a super smart guy, he may  be under the misguided impression I am someone important in my community.  Ah… the power of business cards–For $9 we can all be whatever we want to be!

But I digress. Both email requests generated timely, thoughtful and prolific responses.  I have spent my evening reading and getting smarter.  At the present time my head is full, so I am letting some of this new knowledge leak onto this post.

The ED community has long held that BMI (Body Mass Index) alone is an unreliable and often misleading measure. There is a mountain of evidence that restricting / dieting is both ineffective and often causes more harm than good.  So, BMI’s are unreliable; dieting is ineffective;  what DO we believe?   What programming can we preach if not weight loss?

We can give ourselves permission to be healthy and enjoy our life – at Any Size.   Think about that for a second — since it runs contrary to so much of our social programming:   Healthy. At. Any. Size.  The goal is NOT to be skinny, or any other particular shape.  Be the shape you are;  respect and take care of your body; enjoy your life!  It seems so simple yet so revolutionary.

Research shows dieting is ineffective, yet we continue to stress dieting as THE primary means to greater health.  What a pile of doo-doo, kaka and bulls**t  we’ve perpetuated over the years!

For those that want advice on how to eat at any time of the year:  NEDA’s guidelines say it best:  Eat what you want, when you are truly hungry.  Stop when you are full.  Eat what appeals to you.  Do this instead of any diet, and you’re likely to maintain a healthy weight and avoid eating disorders.

If you happen to know Dr. Levine, tell him that Ms. Ponders says ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you very much’.

Sunday Nights

Nov 2014

There’s something about Sunday nights.  The activities of the weekend are past, and domestic chores beckon on the eve of a new school and work week–merely hours away.

I am particularly sad to see this weekend come to a close.  We had a wonderfully chaotic family gathering at an indoor waterpark / resort.  Although we celebrated an early Christmas with gifts, mostly it was an opportunity to simply spend some unhurried time together.

Of course, the 18 month old twin girls were the star attraction, and they took full advantage of a very appreciative audience –showing-off all kinds of tricks in addition to being naturally gifted in the adorable category.

The girls (in adorable matching swimsuits complete with tutus) were a tad overwhelmed by the loud, echoey waterpark, but eventually enjoyed splashed around in the kiddie-play area; where I got busted for taking one of them down a small slide on my lap.  We also lied about Guzzy’s age (by 6 months) so she wouldn’t get thrown out of the adult-only hot tub.  (Dang – we are  SOOO bad ass!)

Little X1 was curious and toddled around the kiddie-area with a parent and/or adult relative close at hand.   However, little X2 was a bit more reluctant to explore.  She splashed and played, but with less gusto, and regularly retreated to the nearest welcoming set of arms.  I had forgotten the simple pleasure of having a soggy, tired toddler snuggle in my lap.  In short — It’s grandma heaven.




Christmas present and Vacations past

Our ping-pong table is covered with brightly wrapped presents, stockings and other Christmas detritus.   My children, along with their spouses and children; Dan, and I have carved out a weekend in November to spend together under the guise of a very early Christmas celebration; since complex travel plans prevent a more traditional gathering over the actual holidays.  It will be an all-too-rare treat for me to have all my chicks and grandchicks together at one time.

We will all descend on an indoor water park resort in the Wisconsin Dells, where I have rented a large condo for the weekend.  The water park will prove amusement for all — including the 18 month old twins. Guzzy and I are competing for who gets to hug them first when we see them, so it’s a darn good thing there are two of them!

My project manager genes are in their happy place as I plot out sleeping arrangements, meal plans, make phone calls and send reminder emails.  As my husband reminds me, we’re only going to be gone two days – and they do have food in the Dells.  He’s such a buzz-kill.

I have occasionally been known to over-plan.  Many years ago I took my (then) 7 year old daughter and 5 year old son to Disney World.  Based on all my research, I insisted we be at the starting line (I mean… the entrance) of the Magic Kingdom an hour before the official opening time, so that when they flung open the gates we would RUN to SPACE MOUNTAIN and thereby ensure the maximum amount of fun in our limited time.

My plan went off without a hitch.  We got up at the crack of dawn so that we would not waste a single moment.  We RAN to the ride as fast as our short legs could carry us.  Due to the aforementioned short legs; we didn’t make it in time for the first ride, but we WERE on time for the second ride of the day.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  (wait – did I just unwittingly quote George W.?)

But…when they were strapping us in, I realized that I couldn’t sit NEXT to the children.. it was a single file type of roller coaster… everyone sat alone. I had also failed to account for the fact that my children were basically wimps and that this was in fact a scary roller-coaster ride through a pitch-black tunnel.  Oops.  I listened to their screams of fear all the way down–helpless in my own seat behind them.   When the ride finally finished, they wiped away their tears and shakily climbed out of their seats saying “PLEASE Don’t make us go on that again!”    It was not my proudest mom moment.

After the trauma of Space Mountain we enjoyed the park… although we had to head back to the hotel in the middle of the afternoon due to sheer exhaustion.   After being back in Wisconsin for a few days I asked the kids about their favorite memory of the trip:   “Eating Pizza in the Hotel Room while Watching a Movie’ was the hands-down favorite activity.  *sigh*

Maybe I should look up the number of a pizza delivery place next to our weekend condo…. it just might come in handy.

Visit with Mom

This morning we ‘fell back’ retrieving the extra hour of time that we lost with Daylight Savings time last spring.  It is  interesting to me that we make such a hoopla regarding our tracking and measuring of time;  although none of it has any affect at all on the sunrise or sunset;  it’s simply an illusion of control in how we choose to apportion and measure the allotted day light hours;  which are all too scarce this time of year.

I spent my ‘extra’ hour visiting my mom at her Memory Care facility.  She was calmer and more conversational than I have seen her for several months.  While she doesn’t recognize me, she is always happy to see me.  We sat in her room and visited.  At one point she announced with a great deal of animation and gesticulating:  “that man stepped so far out onto the penny that POOF!”; to which I responded with an appropriate degree of wonder at such a thing.

I brought mom a milkshake.  Someone once asked if me if I wasn’t worried about ruining mom’s lunch… are you kidding me?  If I’m ever in her position,  I HOPE my children or grandchildren will regularly sneak me some cheesecake, for which I will gladly (if not wittingly) forego yet another serving of steamed broccoli and baked cod. Mom grew up helping to run the family dairy in Minnesota, and she has always enjoyed ice cream, milk and dairy products.  I usually bring mom a treat when I visit; and my brothers are always encouraging me to leave a large box of chocolate covered turtles, which they particularly enjoy.

I showed her pictures of her great-grandbabies in their adorable Halloween costumes.  One was a ‘scary’ cupcake and the other was a ‘scary’ strawberry.  She enjoyed the pictures and agreed that there was absolutely nothing scary about either of them.  When I commented that I played tennis recently she announced:  “oh, I love to play tennis too, but no one will play with me!”.    Despite the absurdity of the comment, it was within the context of the conversation, representing a rare moment of connection.  Also, the mental image of mom playing tennis made me smile.

All in all, an hour well spent.