Sunday, December 1, 2013

Elf on the Shelf: Savvy Auntie Edition

My sister tells her kids, ages 8 and 6, that the family's semi-feral cat would eat the "Elf on the Shelf." Their cat is a renowned hunter, so the kids believe this is the reason why there is no elf wreaking havoc at their suburban Baltimore home, tattling on the kids to Santa and the elves.

But this does not mean they are off the hook when it comes to good behavior in the weeks leading up the Christmas.

My sister does not need a successful commercial enterprise, masquerading as a Christmas tradition (in spite of being fewer than ten years old), to keep her kids in line during the holidays.

It used to be, before the age of the Internet and cell phones, merely humming a few bars of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was enough to keep Christian children (and their non-secular counterparts) on their best behavior throughout the month of December. When I was a kid we KNEW that he knew if we'd been bad or good, so we had better be good, for goodness sake.

I think children are a little savvier than we were back in the 1970s. And my youngest sister KNOWS her kids are savvy consumers of parental legend.

So every year, right after Thanksgiving, she changes my contact name and photo in her cell phone from "Auntie Clownface" to "Santa Claus."

And then I start getting random text messages and cell phone calls, from my sister, ostensibly to Santa, asking for verification that I am in fact real, that I did in fact shake her son's hand at the local tree lighting ceremony, or I did receive her daughter's light mailed just a week ago. They always start with a "Hi Santa" greeting, so I know it is time to turn on the "ho ho ho." So I glibly reply, savvy auntie that I am, with a recapitulation of her message, affirming that the alleged incident (e.g. shaking Santa's hand at the local tree lighting, or an incident of mischievous behavior at school) did in fact occur, followed by a reminder to the kids to be good because I'm watching them carefully from the North Pole.

I love being able to do this for my sister because she lives 400 miles away, and I rarely have the opportunity to be hands-on in my support of her parenting. I love that this happens effortlessly. One day, maybe three years ago, I randomly received a text addressed to Santa and just picked it up and ran with it. We never rehearse, I never know when a message is coming, and I haven't dropped the ball on her yet.  And nearly 35 years after an early end to my belief in the physical manifestation of Santa, I am still delighted by my child's eye view of Santa and the magic that happens at the North Pole.

Are you a savvy aunts or uncle who celebrates Christmas? I invite you to share this post with the parents of the little ones in your life, and invite them to play along. It is a great way to get the effect of elf on the shelf, without kowtowing to the relentless pressure of developing new, hijinks-fillled tableaus to showcase the elf's worst behavior, and it is a wonderful way for you to be involved in your siblings' Christmas traditions beyond gift giving.

Good-bye friend?

"I expect I only have 40 more good years on this planet. While I am grateful for your friendship over the years, at this stage in my life I realize that the time we spend together saps my very life energy. There are so many people and activities that DO feed my soul, that help me feel alive, and inspire me to be my best - every minute I spend with you is a minute I'm not feeding my soul. This makes me feel resentful that you don't seem to get that the lack of comments on your Facebook wall, the plans repeatedly made and then broken, the text messages not returned - these all mean this friendship needs to lay fallow for a while.  The fact that you don't get my efforts at gently letting you go - THAT also incenses me. And because you don't get the gentle signs, I need to be overt. I'm sorry but we're done."

Is it socially acceptable to say this? I don't think so.

I re-read this fantasy exhortation, and realize I am not a good friend. And I think I am not able to be a good friend to my friend because I'm not being a good friend to myself. I need to have a deeper reservoir of love to share with my friends. And to cultivate that deeper reservoir I need to be taking better care of my emotional needs. I need quiet, stillness, exercise, sufficient sleep, and a sense of work/life balance. 

And when I have filled my friendship reservoir, I know I want to spend my energy stores on the people who make my heart go pitter pat - my sisters, brother, nieces and nephews, my husband, my mother, and the handful of nearest and dearest with whom I connect most deeply not through Facebook, but through coffee, cocktails and conversation. 

Which leaves me with this question: How does one tell a friend one is no longer interested in being friends? 

Three of my friends quite literally exhaust me. I've read enough issues of Oprah's eponymous magazine to know I need to gently pull back. (And yes I've tried to reframe my attitude about the time I spend with these friends, tried enjoying their company in larger groups where their intensity might be diffused, and tried gently rebuffing their calls.) In spite of my best efforts, these friends persist in reaching out; one even became belligerent when I was non-responsive. 


I need help. How would you handle this? 

Monday, November 18, 2013

I am the 1%

I finished my 2013 charitable giving while sitting in horrid traffic today. I have an anemic commitment to give away 1% of my net pay each year. I'm not solving the world's problems with my 1%, but I am creating a routine of giving that makes me feel good about myself, and is likely to have more impact as my earning potential grows.

This year, the squeeze on my checkbook that resulted from both hosting a wedding and finishing major house renovations within two months made, "I just don't have anything extra to give away this year" such a tempting position to take. I was desperate to say this.

But as the wedding and the house renovations put a squeeze on me, they also continue to remind me of the privilege I enjoy in the world.  I believe that generosity shouldn't be defined by giving away what's extra. Generosity, in my opinion, is about giving away something you would like for yourself, sacrifice for the greater good.

(Think about it - when you clean out your closets to make way for new clothes, it is NICE to give the stuff you no longer want to your favorite clothing give-away program, but is it generous? I'd say no. It is nice and convenient. But you are giving away what is, to you, trash.)

So, give I did. While sitting in two hours of Boston morning traffic.

Here's where my money went:

The bulk of my giving - 37.7% - went to local organizations that help children and families in crisis. I'm not making a dent in the long term causes of poverty. But, because my empathy is nearly disabling, I know I want to use my time and treasure, right now, to alleviate suffering. The charities I give to include Cradles to Crayons, the Hingham Interfaith Food Pantry and Catholic Charities in Central NY (where my mom works as a case manager for families moving out of homelessness.)

The next largest chunk of my giving - 24.5% - went to environmental conservation - the National Parks Conservation Association is my fave, followed by the local Trustees of the Reservation. I give to the Trustees in part so I can get free admission to my favorite public lands to walk and be still.

I have a commitment to giving to charities if a friend asks - for a bike race, marathon or other cause. This year, at least 21% of my giving fell in this arena. Charity Water, the oral cancer foundation, and Raising A Reader MA are among the groups I supported from this bucket this year (and I know I missed some that BMG and I gave to from our joint account). Unless I really can't support the cause for personal reasons. For example, I'm not against the death penalty, so if you do a pray-a-thon to raise money to fight the death penalty, I won't give. I DO admire you for your commitment to a cause that makes your heart go pitter pat, but it isn't my cause.

Finally, while it doesn't touch my day-to-day life, I do give money to global disaster relief, through Doctors Without Borders. And, because it touches my life nearly daily, I give to my local library.

I know my gifts are small. And small helps. And small grows. It grows by invigorating me, and by inspiring me to do more. I'm making the time for regular blood donations, and starting to wrap my brain around carving out time to volunteer somewhere regularly - perhaps for an organization getting at the root cause of an issue that tears at my heart strings (because so much of my giving is focused on immediate problems rather than chipping away at the source of the problem).

I am the 1% and I'm proud of it.

What organizations do you support - with your time, talents or treasure? Why?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Out of town

"And there should not be a week's worth of recycling piled up on the counter when I get home."

"I agree."

"I mean, you will do the work necessary to ensure the recycling is in the appropriate place before I get home."


I'm trying to close some home making loopholes before leaving town for seven days of business travel.

There is nothing I hate more than coming home from any trip and having to clean my house. And I married a, well, let's just say I married a person who does not aspire to a clean house.

So I made some rules before leaving town, designed to help ensure my home is moderately tidy when I return from my trip to York, Maine and then Milwaukee, WI on Wednesday, 11/13. Here they are:
1. Dishes will be done, and not piled on the counter or in the sink. Piled in the dishwasher is acceptable, but no preferable.
2. When the trash is full, it will be emptied and the liners replaced.
3. The cat box will be scooped at least twice at least two days apart (meaning it can't be scooped once and then scooped an hour later).
4. Recycling will not be piled on the counter.

On the latter point, my beloved BMG said, "So the lesson here is throw the recycling out and then take out the trash."

To which I replied, "I don't care how you do it, I just don't want to deal with your mess when I get home."

This COULD be the theme of our marriage.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I am irrationally irritated by people who proclaim the name of the designers they wear. Seriously irritated.

I have been known to unfriend and unfollow friends who have - on multiple occasions - crossposted Instagram photos of their new Rolexes (or Tory Burch handbags or Zac Posen sheets or...) on Facebook and Twitter, with the caption, "Look at my Rolex. My Rolex is so awesome!" or "I just couldn't decide if I wanted the 14,000 thread count sheets for $1,000 or the 10,000 thread count set for $750."

I've spent a little bit of time trying to understand this reaction. Because on the face of it, it is a little cuckoo bananas.

And I've realized that it isn't. Cuckoo bananas that is.

I find this behavior irritating because the insistence that I notice the expensive brand comes off as either braggadocio or as an expression of a subconscious lack of confidence. And I have patience for neither.

Bragging is smarmy and generally intended - consciously or not - to make other people feel small.  If you captioned your photo with even a modicum of humility instead - "Wow! I feel so lucky to have saved enough money to be able to buy my dream watch! #luckyme #hardworkpaysoff" - I'd be okay with it. And repeated bragging about repeated designer items you paid a lot of money for - regardless of how easy it is for you to do this - is simply a demonstration that your core values are out of sync with some of my core values (e.g. modesty, humility, utilitarianism).

If your bragging is actually a manifestation of a subconscious lack of confidence? Maybe you were poor growing up and you still don't trust that that you will fit in with the casual, Rolex-wearing types? Or you are ashamed of your hippie parents and need to insist over and over again that you are a Republican lawyer who buys Republication things and IS NOT A HIPPIE dammit. I'm sorry for your pain. Seriously. And I wish you'd gain some awareness of how you are foisting your personal crap on the rest of us. I'd be amused by a post that demonstrated some awareness by reading something like "My hippie parents would go into anaphalactic shock if they knew how much I paid for this Rolex. But, I'm not them. #allgrownup." And repeated posts that demonstrate what I might interpret as a lack of confidence? I want to recommend a therapist to help you deal with your baggage, not read about it day after day after day.

What IS cuckoo bananas if throwing out the baby with the bath water and choosing to unfollow/unfriend wholesale. No individual is defined by a single behavior. And the bragging - whatever the motivation - is one behavior of a complex being that I interpret as being aggravating to the max.

But, I'm not quite willing to change my behavior quite yet. Guess I have some more examining to do. In the meantime, I'll keep MY feelings to myself.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Household Quiz

You are restocking the medicine cabinet in your bathroom and have two empty boxes that need to be thrown away. 

Oh no! You realize the bathroom waste can is full. 

Do you:
A. Empty the waste can, put in a new liner and throw away the boxes? 
B. Find another trash receptacle in the house to toss the boxes in?
C. Realize these are paperboard and you can simply fold them up and put them with the other paper recycling?
D. Set the trash can on fire? (It IS getting colder outside and you'd rather not pay for heat if you can burn things.)
E. Do this and hope your wife doesn't notice when she gets home?

I'm pretty sure I'm going to blink first on this one. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Five things I still don't miss about my non-profit job

My heart belongs to the non-profit sector.

I have graduate degrees in Social Work and Public Health, and I think of myself as a community organizer at my core.

But, after 20 years working in the non-profit and municipal sectors in Massachusetts, I decided to call it quits this spring and move into the corporate world.

There is a lot I miss about the non-profit work environment. Things like the feeling that "we're all in this together," the unflagging, personal commitment to mission, the flexible work environment which often compensated for pay that undervalued employees' skill sets.

But, six months after I made the jump, that I don't miss about a non-profit workplace, particularly my last office. These include:
  • Having to step over homeless people to get into the office 
  • Inadequate basic desk and office equipment (e.g. voice mail and a phone at my desk)
  • Lack of administrative/operational systems (e.g. system for sorting and distributing mail)
  • Decision-making based on relationships before the interest of the business, and its dirty cousin, excusing mediocrity and poor performance to avoid hurting someone's feelings
  • Executive whining when one's sense of mission did not override one's desire to be with family, manage illness, have work/life balance, etc. 
Don't get me wrong. The corporate sector is far from perfect. But, at the end of the day, there is no question about motive or purpose. Whether manufacturing widgets or operating in the service economy, business exists to do the best job it can at the lowest possible price in order to make money. I like what I do and I respect the company for which I work. But I'm under no illusion that I'm saving the world. And this makes it a whole lot easier to take a sick day, walk somewhere to grab lunch, or to leave after eight hours at my desk. 

I look back on my last position now with incredulity. How did I - how did anyone on the team - survive in these conditions? It is nearly impossible to get work done efficiently - a necessity when every dollar you spend is a dollar you need to raise - when there was no consensus on who should check voicemail and distribute phone messages, let alone no professional telephone system.  

I love working with a sense of mission. But, at the end of the day, work is work. So, until I find the perfect non-profit or government sector job, I'll stay where I am, marketing widgets and checking my voicemail. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

My Bucket List Spillith Over

I have a new thing to add to my bucket list - seeing the Magna Carta in real life.

I was just reading a news article about an effort by the British Museum to put each of the four remaining copies under one roof - for a special exhibit. Apparently, hundreds of copies of the document were created - to send to the aherrifs and other personnel of municipalities in England in 1215 - to educate them about the forts to quell an uprising.

I want to stand - in the age of email, the Internet and television - and imagine a time when the only way to educate a nation about new laws was to write them out, by hand, and deliver them by horseback.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

....and all the children are above average

I've decided to stop thinking of people as stupid. This type of judgment doesn't help me honor the inherent worth and dignity of anyone.

Including myself.

Because embedded in the assumption that people are stupid because they don't process ideas and information the way I do is a belief that I'm average. And it logically follows that people who don't do things the way I do are therefore below average.

It dawned on me today that I could reframe my way of people in the world and assume that I'm an outlier, above average.

And the people who do things like show up at a job site without the right equipment and decide they just can't work today - instead of going back to the shop and getting the right equipment, or better yet, asking in advance "What equipment do I need?" - they're not stupid, but rather average.

I guess you could say I'm lowering my standards for humanity. I'm ok with that.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's raining! It's pouring!

My first bridal shower gift arrived in the mail yesterday.

I came home from work, and espied two packages along with a pile of mail on the kitchen counter. Before I even fed the very noisy cat I tore into the packages. The first was bow ties for two of my nephews to wear in my wedding.  (They aren't quite the right color, so I may return them. Or I may not care. Still deciding.)

I then turned to a small square box, trying to remember what I had ordered from that would be in this shape. As I sliced the white paper packing tape that sealed the box shut  I realized it wasn't from, but rather Crate and Barrel.

I stopped what I was doing, feeling confused. "What did I order from Crate and Barrel?" I thought. I drew a blank.

And then it dawned on me.

It was a bridal shower gift.

I knew BMG's godmother was embarrassed that she had not yet given us an engagement gift. Even though I told her it was 100% fine for her to wrap up an unused tension shower curtain rod. (We need one, she has one, voila! Present!) But, knowing the godmother was asking about our registry, and thinking she might be of the generation that believes regifting isn't appropriate for engagement gifts, I thought the box was from her.

As I broke into the box, I discovered a tiny note card. In it was a kind note, not from BMG's godmother, but from the wife of one of BMG's friend who will be invited to our August nuptials. I've never met Mrs. Friend, but she sent a lovely gift and an even lovelier note.

The process of showering me and BMG with love and stuff has begun. I'm feeling excited. And grateful.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I gotta fever...

I have taken my temperature no fewer than half a dozen times in the last 35 minutes. Because I need to know if I have a fever. Because having a temperature or bleeding from the head are the only legitimate indicators of illness.

I learned this quick and easy set of diagnostics as a latchkey kid growing up in Central NY. My single mother's work schedule as an underwriter for a regional insurance agency meant that my four siblings and I got ourselves off to school AND handled the after school routine sans adult supervision.

And if we didn't want to go to school? Or we wanted to get out of some afternoon obligation? Or wanted a little adult attention? Or maybe one of us genuinely felt sick? Well we'd start calling mom at work. Incessantly. And she'd start to get in trouble with her supervisor for the constant interruption. So, on the 5th or 10th call to mom at work she'd hiss into the phone, through clenched teeth, "Unless you have a fever or are bleeding from your head, you are not sick. Now STOP CALLING."

Therein lies the extent of my medical training.

And now, nearly 35 years later, I'm almost nearly obsessed with taking my temperature.

Today I feel sick. Laryngitis, sore throat, stuffy nose, headache, ear ache - a generic upper respiratory infection manifesting itself in multiple ways. But I haven't yet registered a fever. So I can't stay home from work. But I'll keep taking my temperature. A girl can dream, right? Crazy, fever-induced dreams.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Tweetise on Customer Service

A treatise, I learned today, is a long exposition on the principles or philosophy of a topic. A treatise is generally longer than an essay.

I would like to rant about customer service, but don't want to write a treatise. (Bet you don't want to read one either.) So I'll keep it short, a tweetise, if you will.

Through both the wedding planning process and the home renovation process, I have been continually astonished at the poor response times of sales people. As a result, I have the following advice to anyone who is in the position of selling anything - from widgets to ideas - please consider the following:
  1. If reaches out by phone or email to inquire about spending money at your business, respond using the same method they used within two business days.
  2. If someone says they are very interested in spending money at your business, respond even faster than you did the first time.
  3. If you tell a client you will be in touch with pricing in 24 hours, be sure to get that pricing ready in 24 hours - or be prepared to reach out and say you need more time.
  4. If you are not interested in responding within these time frames, consider shutting down your business, or at least shutting down your business development systems. Because you clearly don't need new business.
Some businesses, like the bank giving you the construction loan to finance your home renovation, have you over a barrel and can take as long as they damn well please to return a call. Other businesses, like a caterer or kitchen designer, are presumably in the process of continuously nurturing new clients.If I've taken the time to call you, I'm potentially ready to make a buy. So call me back. Please. Call me back.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I dream of a good night's sleep

I'm not a great sleeper. Anxiety keeps me up at night. And when I'm not feeling anxious, what Buddha called the "monkey mind" keeps me awake. You know the feeling - when you lie down and all of a sudden you are writing a grocery list in bed, or replaying a conversation you had earlier in the day. And when the monkey mind isn't thwarting my dreams, BMG's snoring is.

BMG is a GREAT sleeper. I think a lifetime of being in the hospital helped him learn to sleep wherever and whenever he can. He falls asleep within seconds of slipping beneath the covers. Seconds after that, the noise he refers to as "purring" (and I refer to as "sawing logs") begins.

I try to go to bed before BMG does, so I can at least eliminate the snoring distraction in my effort to get at least six hours of rest before starting the next day. And it isn't unusual for me to take two Tylenol PM (something has to hurt somewhere), ideally with a glass of wine, to speed the process along. What's even better is taking two Tylenol PM with a glass of wine and falling asleep in front of the television, whose inane dialogue makes it impossible for me to hear the thoughts in my brain.

Last night I did the drugs and booze thing, and was pleasantly ready for sleep by 10:00 PM. I kissed BMG twice, and tucked myself into the big bed.

At some point in my dream cycle I woke up because I remember someone telling me the best way to get a good night's sleep was to sleep in the bedroom to the RIGHT of the room I was in. I'm not sure why - something about the pillows being better. I pulled myself out of bed and started to walk to the right. And then I remembered, "There is no bedroom to my right." Confused I determine that my dream was directing me to the second bedroom on the LEFT. So I wander into this room, and start to manipulate the pillows so I can climb in.

And that's when I woke up. And that's when I realized I was having a dream about getting better sleep. And that's when I said, "What the heck, maybe THIS will work." I nestled beneath the covers, fell asleep, and didn't wake up until my alarm went off at 4:51 PM.

I dreamt of getting a good night's sleep, and it worked.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Beets and Asparagus

Photo courtesy of the 
William & Sonoma website.
I've finally arrived at a point where I can remember I've recently eaten asparagus, and not be surprised when I'm assaulted by that weird asparagus smell the next three times I pee.

Beets, however, are another issue. I still have a mini cancer panic every time I use the toilet in the 18 hour window after I've consumed the delicious, sweet, red tubers.

That is all.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Worst Way to Die

Transfixed and horrified by the news of the death of 37 year-old Jeff Bush of Seffner, Florida this weekend, I have decided that death by sinkhole may, in fact, be the worst way to die.

Photo by ABC Action News-WFTS TV.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Work/Life Balance or Work/Life Integration?

My boss and I have been a little at odds lately. This is predicated, in part, on the zaniness in my life - planning a wedding, renovating a house, living temporarily in someone else's house, and managing some family concerns both here and 325 miles away. I am not operating at my best as an employee at this moment.

The overwhelming nature of my life does not, however, impact my position on the conflict with my boss. In a recent discussion, long before the kerfuffle created by the "no work from home" edicts at Yahoo, she posited that the oft cited desire for "work/life balance" was ridiculous. Her philosophy is that work and life should be integrated. Her point being that working should not be thought of as separate from living - that work IS living.

In an ideal world, yes. If I were an actor or a painter or an author - maybe even an architect, politician, professional athlete or a spiritual leader I could imagine my work being integrated with my life. Because living is the source of inspiration is drawn for creative, spiritual and political pursuits. Conversely, in these and similar professions, working inspires life choices. Salvador Dali's home was an extension of his art, and American politicians' life choices intensely impact their legitimacy as leaders.

Certainly my core values influence my life and my work choices. And obviously the first world chaos in my personal life is impacting my success at work. I generally feel proud of my work accomplishments, and am invested in having meaningful work.

But increasingly I find myself believing that I work to live, rather than living to work. Work/life balance is the name of the game, and it means my work has to pay enough AND not tax me so much so that I have money and time to pursue the other activities that make my heart go pitter pat.

This means work, for me, at this moment in time, is a means to an end. It offers me a paycheck that I then use to pursue my goals and dreams - whether that is getting married, building a house, spending time with family, enjoying beautiful food, traveling.

If I were to pursue "work/life integration," I would be working in a job that affords me opportunities to pursue the activities that make my heart go pitter pat - while both energizing my soul and paying me enough. My work with the 5 book is, I hope, taking me in this direction. Until them, I'm firmly in the "work/life balance" camp.

Where are you? Do you adhere to the work/life balance OR the work/life integration camp? Or something else? If you were to have work/life integration, what would it look life to you?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Saying "yes" to a dress

My older sister was helping me try on wedding dresses yesterday. Three of the four sides of the cramped space was dripping with puffy dresses in puffier bags. We were day two into our dress shopping experience. My mom, and each of my three sisters were with me, on our own version of a Kleinfeld's tour across Syracuse.

"How am I supposed to know which one is the 'right' one?" I asked her.

I had tried on everything from chiffon bridesmaid dresses to heavy taffeta gowns with 4' trains. While I had never had wedding dress fantasies as a child, I came into the wedding dress shopping experience with a very clear image of what I wanted my dress - and the celebration of my wedding - to be. I wanted to wear a dress just like the one Elizabeth Taylor wore in the film "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." - short, casual, flirty, non-traditional. No strapless (I'm too busty), nothing too traditional (I had never planned to have a wedding anyway), and nothing too expensive (I'd rather spend the money on travel). If I couldn't find a dress like this while shopping with my family, I was going to buy it online for $130.  

And now, after trying maybe 20 dresses of all different sizes, most of them for the fun of it, I was confused.

"Well, from everything I've read and seen on tv, you just know," she replied.

So far, on this appointment, my 6th stop of the weekend - I had worn a tea length, satin dress with a ruched bodice, a full length white cotton gown with a modest ribbon tie at the waist.

I slipped on a full length, sheath style-white gown made of a bold cotton lace that gave the appearance of being covered in white roses. I stepped into the crowded, mirrored hallway, where the rest of my family waited. I looked at myself and said immediately, "NO! This is terrible." Everyone agreed.

Back in the tiny dressing room my sister said, "So, now you know how you can tell which dress ISN'T the right one."

Next I slip into a antique ivory, strapless, beaded, organza, tea length gown with a tulle underskirt. It has a slightly vintage energy. I stepped out of the dressing room with my older sister and grinned.

My mom said, "There's the face! The giddy face."

Yup, I felt giddy.

We walk across the rows of dressing rooms and families towards a large bank of mirrors. I look at myself. I feel beautiful.

My "bridal consultant," Miranda, slips a large ivory cloth rose into my hair, pulling it slightly away from my face. I turn and look at my family now 30 feet away from me. They are all smiling.

I walk towards another bank of mirrors, conveniently located in the shoe section of the store. My sisters follow and dig out a pair of lace covered, peep toe pumps. I slip them on and look at myself in the mirror.

I say out loud, "This isn't the dress for the wedding BMG and I have planned," I think. "This is so much more formal. I can't wear funky shoes with this dress (it would be too busy), and I don't look anything like Elizabeth Taylor. But, I really like it."

My sister helps me return to the other tea length gown, the plainer one that WOULD allow me to wear funky shoes and jewelry. I emerge from the dressing room and the women lining the halls, waiting for their brides to emerge from their tiny changing boxes, say, "Nope, go back to the other one. THAT one is special."

Miranda approaches me and says, "I have seen many women try on the other dress. And no one looked as fabulous as you in it. You might think I'm bull shitting you to make a sale, but I'm not. The other dress, the beaded dress, that's your dress."

Still wearing the plainer tea length gown, I finish the short walk to where the rest of my family waits, near the bank of mirrors by the shoes. And I start to cry. "I miss the other dress. I want to put it back on," I say. My older sister hugs me and says "This is how you know which dress is the right dress."

Monday, January 21, 2013

A five year plan

The next step in Dan Zadra's book "5: Where will you be five years from today," is harder than a simple journalling exercise. The book's authors posit that my dreams may be translated into my goals, and my goals can then be transformed into a five year plan with actions in each of twelve domains - spokes on what they call the "Wheel of Life."

Balance in one's life calls for balance in the twelve domains, which include:
Family * Spiritual * Relationships * Romance * Travel * Adventure * Charitable * Recreation * Education * Financial * Health * Career.

Two weeks ago I sat down, pencil in hand, and starting jotting down notes for where I wanted to be in five years in each of the twelve proposed spokes - twelve spokes that may - or may not - bear any direct or obvious relationship to one's goals or dreams.

This was hard. I started thinking about long term (e.g. ten years from now) versus short term (one year from now) goals. I started thinking about how much overlap there was between my spokes.

"Gah!" I thought. "The book is now insufficient for my reflections." So I drew the "Wheel of Life" on big paper. I mapped it out on a Power Point.

Then I took a break for week.

I came back to the exercise this afternoon - after President Obama's inaugural and in the middle of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And I started to get unblocked.

Let freedom ring

It was with tears in my eyes that I read my nephew's "What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me" essay aloud to BMG a few moments ago:
"He fought with his voice and with his voice he heard Freedom! Freedom! And because of his voice me and my moms can live together. Oh! How thankful it makes me that my family lives together. Living in the same house, eating the same meal, drinking the same water and sharing the same love together. Thank you! Dr. King!"
Juxtaposed against the beauty of the inauguration - in which President Obama paid homage to the writers of the U.S. Constitution, President Lincoln and the men and women who advocated for the end of slavery in the U.S., Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the principled men and women who fought back in the Stonewall riots - my nephew's words strike a powerful chord this morning. 


Blogger's note: Nathaniel is nearly 8 year-old young African American boy. He is adopted and lives with two Caucasian moms and his adopted older sister from another mother. Nathaniel is of above-average intelligence and he struggles with an emotional disability. He loves Pokemon and the color orange. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Island of Enlightenment

Gal Pal Nancy alerted me to an article posted in Jezebel on January 7, 2013, Seven Extremely Confusing Steps to the Life you Want by Tracy Moore.

The article is a good-natured jab at a piece written by Oprah's personal coach/guru, Martha Beck called "Seven Steps to Living the Life You Want," Which is, as Tracy Moore points out, maybe the dumbest self-help article ever written.

Now I'm a big fan of life maps and visioning exercises. Give me old magazines, scissors and a glue stick and I can spend HOURS making a collage of my dream life. Seriously, I've paid for weekend retreats to engage in this type of self-indulgent and dreamy shenanigans.

So, Martha Beck, I get it. My dream life is an island located in a vast sea that I'm traveling. OK, I'll play along.

Until Step Four:"Create your Islands of Enlightenment." This appears to be code for "Identify all the bad stuff you did that you wish you didn't, pretend each one is an island, make a collage representing each of the bad habits (or thoughts or relationships) as a separate island in your life sea, and then, add monsters to the collage, beating up and otherwise destroying the bad habits/thoughts/relationships."  And when you are done, " you can hoist anchor and set sail."

Wha? That's the stoopidest thing I've ever heard! All I need to do is make a collage (and I DO love collage) of collage monsters destroying my collage bad habits, and, voila! problem solved?  I have a graduate degree in Social Work, but I never heard of a class called, "Managing bulimia through scrapbook art," or "When the restraining order doesn't work: Collage as domestic violence prevention." Not to mention, the politically correct bullshit of calling ending unproductive behaviors/thoughts/relationships "enlightenment." What is it about having metaphorical monsters metaphorically attack my real life unhealthy choices that constitutes "enlightenment"?
So I couldn't even finish Martha Beck's original column in my beloved Oprah magazine. Not sure how satirist Tracy Moore got through it all, but she did. And she comes to the same conclusion I did after merely starting Beck's column online. Which is this. I thought life was about the journey, not the destination? So why am I spending all of this time trying to get to a specific destination, in this case, my dream life island?

Oh Martha, you've failed me. And Tracy Moore, you rock.

As I get back to The 5 Book: Where do you want to be in five years, I'll remember to take it all with a grain of salt.

(And thanks to gal pal Nancy for sharing the Jezebel article with me via Facebook.)

The two grossest things I ever saw at the gym were...

Yesterday, at the Planet Fitness in Hingham, the guy next to me on the upright stationary bike was pedaling hard and fast. When I mounted my bike he had already cycled 11 miles at an average RPM (revolution per minute) or 97. (My pace, in comparison is 88-91 RPM.) About 2 miles into my "ride," out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a puddle on the floor. "Wha?!" I thought. "Is his water bottle leaking?" I look a little closer and realize the guy next to me is sweating so hard that salty human brine is literally pouring off of him. The puddles on either side of his bike was fast encroaching on my space, with the square footage of the water increasing so rapidly that I thought I might not be able to dismount without slipping in his sweat.

Did you just throw up a little in your mouth? Because that's what I did when I realized, if I stayed where I was any longer, that I would have to walk through the evidence of this guy's workout in order to leave.

So, I decided to get off the bike and find something else to do to get my heart rate up.

But, this isn't the grossest thing I've ever seen at the gym.

"What IS the grossest thing you've ever seen at the gym Clownface?" you clamor, wanting more.

More than ten years ago, while in the common area of the locker room at the HealthWorks in Porter Square Cambridge, I was changing into exercise clothes. The locker room had several pods - with wood paneled lockers clustered around a central bench that could easily accommodate people on all four sides. I was in a pod with one other person who was also partially undressed - either wrapping up or preparing to start her fitness routine. We did not interact, or even acknowledge the other person was there.

Now this is an important detail, because I HAVE to believe that the other woman in the pod with me forgot there was another human being in her presence because what happened next was the most gauche thing another woman can do in the presence of a stranger. She reached between her legs and pulled out a bloodied tampon. Yup. That's what she did. She inspected it, then wrapped it in tissue, and set aside for her next trip to the toiler area.

Did you just throw up a little in your mouth? Maybe a lot? Yeah, me too.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Goals and Dreams

The 5 Book posits that a goal is nothing more than a dream put to paper.

The strategic planner in me says this is not QUITE true. I'd suggest that a dream put to paper is merely a dream, an idea, an imagining. What makes it a goal is an articulation of how you might know your dream has come true,  a refinement of the dream, which might be the start of a plan.

I can say my dream is to travel to Africa. I could cop out and say I will know it is true when I travel to Africa, but what lies beneath that statement is actually a desire to hike Mount Kilimanjaro and go on safari. And then, once that goal is articulated that specifically I can start to build a plan to make the dream come true.

I also appreciate that The 5 Book is taking me on a journey, which needs to start with my dreams.

So here goes. What are my dreams?

  • To hike Mount Kilimanjaro
  • To go on safari
  • White water raft down the Grand Canyon
  • Grow a giant pumpkin
  • Be perceived as an athlete
  • Be married
  • Be known or admired for my flower garden
  • Live in NYC or Paris
  • Travel travel travel
  • Have work that is satisfying but does not suck the life blood out of me
  • Be the best aunt I can be.

At least, these are the dreams I have this morning. (Which are pretty consistent with the dreams I've articulated for a majority of my adult life.)

What is interesting here is that I started this process because of a desire to find the "right work." What I see in this list is a desire to have the right work so I can realize my dreams. I am hoping The 5 Book helps me explore this a little more.

What are your dreams? Be bold, be specific, be honest. I'm curious to hear them.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My personal mission statement

"Your life is worth a noble motive" says Dan Zadra in the book 5: Where will you be in five years?

I'm blogging about my experience completing the action steps in Zadra's book. You can follow the discussion by searching for all posts labeled "5" here on the Collected Works of Clownface.

The next worksheet in the book invites me to write a personal mission statement. This is a statement of the direction in which my heart tells me to live my life. In the margins of the worksheet, Pop astrologer Rob Brezsny is quoted as saying,
"(Writing your mission statement) may be the turning point your grandchildren will tell stories about years from now: the time you leap (sic) over the abyss...and being your life in earnest. On the other hand, this moment of truth may end up being nothing more than a brief awakening when you glimpse what's possible...but then you tell yourself, "Nah, that's waaaay too far to jump." In that case, your grandchildren will have to be content talking about what delicious cookies you used to bake, or what your favorite sports team was. It all depends on how brave you'll be."
This worksheet intimidates me a little bit. Why? What's the risk in merely writing down a mission statement? Well the biggest risk is being seen as a failure. And in in my case the biggest indicator of being a failure is inaction, of living a life without trying.  What is that other trite inspirational quote? If you aim at nothing you'll always hit it? So if my life has no aim, then I'll never hit anything. (And if the aim of my life is to bake the best damn cookies in the world, then so be it. Suck it Rob Brezsny.) the risk of being seen a failure, here is my personal mission statement:
My mission in life is to help people (starting with myself) realize their true potential by removing obstacles and maximizing their conditions for success.
Ok. Your turn now. What is YOUR personal mission statement? I'm curious to hear it.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Are you talkin' to me?

En route to Boston's South Station train terminal at 4:30 PM on Thursday, I stepped off a crowded curb, ready to head across a busy street. Two cars had already zoomed through a yellow light, and while I knew the walk light would soon be mine, it wasn't clear that cars would actually stop. As I stepped off the curb, the woman standing next to me said, "Don't get killed."

I was astonished. And replied, "I won't get killed, but thank you for your concern."

The woman kept talking and I realized she was talking to someone else. She didn't care if I got killed. I felt embarrassed because I assumed other commuters around me heard the exchange and knew I had responded to someone who I thought was being caring, but who in fact didn't know I existed.

Fast forward to Friday morning.

While walking from the ferry terminal to my office, again during prime commuting hours, I was talking to my future mother-in-law on the phone. I said to her, as we prepared to hang up, "Love you!"

The guy standing in front of me, a Wall Street type in a suit and topcoat, turned, smiled and waved, in a gesture of "Love you too! Thanks for caring!"

I hung up the phone and laughed.

Guess what comes around really does go around!

What are your top values in life?

The first exercise in the 5 book is intended to help me figure out what my top five values are in life. I did this sort of Rorschach test-style, going with my gut response rather than over thinking my instinct.

The questions are in italics. My responses are not.

Here goes!

What are the three things I like most (and least) about myself? (I cheated and did four.)
Most: work ethic, compassion, laughter, organization/efficiency
Least: anxiety/nail biting, anger/bitterness/jealousy, uncertainty, impatience

Who is the happiest person I know?
Steve Garfield, Beth Ann Schacht, Katie Cutler, Robbie Cutler

Who are the two people I like and respect the most, and why?
Amy Cooper Ayles - she's kind, forgiving, forthright, honest about who she is, what she wants, what she does (and doesn't) need in her life
Jeff Cutler - all of the above plus happy-go-lucky - with  real joie de vivre

Who am I?
I am fat, kind, exceptionally smart, an introvert, straightforward (but not comfortable with this), and a (mostly) good communicator. I get things done. And I get them done well (or at least good enough). I reluctantly admit I have charisma, lack self-control, and struggle at times to maintain a respectful filter. I can speak hard truths when the time and situation is right. I am loyal to my small and tight circle of family and friends with whom I like to eat, drink, and be merry.

(GAH! Who am I was an impossible question to answer off the cuff. I edited this a little, but took no more than 15 minutes to write it down.

My top five values are:
1. Honesty
2. Hard work/challenges
3. Loving kindness
4. Laughter/play
5. Certainty/confidence
(The subheading here reads, "Identifying your top five lifetime values is a shortcut to identifying your top goals in life." I struggled a little with this. I wanted my values to have meaning, to be actionable, not just to be a series of words that sound righteous or lofty. So I looked up "what is a value?" The phrase "guiding principle" was most useful to me.)

OK. So this is the first set of exercises in the 5 book. Your turn!

Where will you be 5 years from today?

"5: Where will you be five years
from today?" by Dan Zadra.
For Christmas, I bought my brother-in-law the book "5: Where will you be five years from today," a pithy workbook-style self-help book intended to help people get their dreams unstuck so they can live them.

On New Year's Day I bought myself a copy.

And today I started working in it.

The book lists seven people who transformed their lives in under five years - from Christopher Columbus who discovered the "New World," to Jeff Bezos who went from living in a 500 square foot apartment to having a net worth of more than $10 billion.

On this page there is a quote: "Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein." -- H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Ok. I'm in. I'm eager to learn what accomplishments can I achieve in five years.

I'll share the exercises in the book here at the Collected Works of Clownface. The will be tagged "5" if you want to read in chunks. I invite you to complete them as well, privately or using the comments section. Why? Because I'm eager to know what accomplishments YOU can achieve in five years.

Let's go!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Resolution shmesolution. So I personally don't find utility in the annual charade of "resolving" to be a better person, lose weight, exercise more, yada yada. But I have goals, I always have goals, for personal and professional growth.

My goals right on January 1, 2013?

Goal 1: By June 2013, be fit enough to motor, on my own steam, 5K in under 40 minutes.
How will I do this? By (a) walking whenever I can, (b) making (and using) time for exercising for 45 minutes at least three times a week, and (c) including weight lifting in my exercise routine.

Goal 2: Stop biting my nails by finding and committing to an alternative stress management strategy.
How will I do this? By (a) minimizing time spent in my car, which is when I seem to bite my nails the most, (b) always having gum that I can pop in my mouth when situations become stressful, and (c) being more mindful about having my fingers in my mouth.

Goal 3: Continue to maximize the time I spend with the people I love, and minimize the time I spend with people who sap my energy (regardless of whether I love them or not).
How will I do this? By (a) intentionally reaching out - via social media and other ways - to people who recharge my energy stores, (b) clearly and firmly declining invites to spend time with people who don't make my heart go pitter pat, and (c) discouraging relationships with people who make me want to pull my heart out by minimizing social media interactions (e.g. hiding Facebook profiles, minimizing likes, responses, etc.)

What are your goals for yourself right now?