Party Day, Get Out the Vacuum

Big Christmas/Holiday/It’s Been Snowing Party tonight.  Woo Hoo!  Rob’s making tenderloin, crab cakes and a tres leches cake and I’m cleaning the couch … .

That’s been our understanding for the length of our marriage.  When we give a party, Rob does most of the cooking and I get everything else ready. I do assemble some food things, like the egg nog and the bean dip, but nothing heavy duty. Rob loves to cook and he’s really good at it.  I’m too busy hoovering. **I’m not British, but how often does one get to use such a great term in Colorado life?  Indulge me.**  I don’t love cleaning, but I can’t help myself.

Why clean the house before a party?  Because we have a pug and a cat who shed A LOT and I have this idea that I can make a dent in the amount of fur and dander that resides with us.  I know they say it takes 6 months to make a home fur-less after a pet leaves a home, but I try to do it in 6 hours. I also stock up on Benedryl for allergic guests.

Apologies in advance, people.  I’m trying my best here.  You may be sneezing and have to use a lint brush on your coat, but the food will be amazing.

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Where Else Would We Be?

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Surefoot Holiday Classic race at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs last night. We stood with friends in the side-blown, ice-pelleted darkness and watched 90 “men” fight down a slalom course that developed into a feet-high rutted luge adventure. Those who survived the first run got to do it again. I think the athletes had fun. Lifetime memories.

Introvert, Schmintrovert

Many years ago, I discovered that I was an introvert.  I had never really thought about it much.  I read a book about twice exceptional children (because my kid must have been twice exceptional . . . whatever, I was a new parent) and it described the personality traits of introversion and extroversion.  I learned that introverts need to recharge by having some alone time while extroverts get their energy from interacting with others.  That made complete sense to me, I checked the box that applied to me and aligned my family and friends with whichever box applied to them, and I moved on. It was handy to know that my kid, like me, needed to escape to a safe haven after school and that my husband needed to host a party every so often.

Recently, I’ve found myself annoyed, annoyed, annoyed by the little Facebook posts, articles, books, advertisements, Today Show jokes and little squiggly cartoons targeted at the shocking revelation that introverts are people too.  They can be entertainers, they aren’t all librarians (in fact, I’d be willing to bet that the intro/extro ratio amongst librarians is the same as the ratio in the general population . . . SHOCKING), they sometimes even rise to the position of President of these United States.  The messages are meant, I think, to be enlightening.  It’s ok to be an introvert, see all the positive qualities that introverts have?  See all the things they can do, poor souls?

It feels a little bit like being told it’s ok to have big feet or curly hair. Sometimes people with big feet AND curly hair get nominated for and win the Nobel Peace Prize — can you believe it?

Why is this aspect of personality so worthy of an entire book (or many books, I’m not sure) devoted to the notion that introverts can actually be interesting, have lives worth living and contribute in positive ways in a corporate setting, a church group, a friendship, yada yada yada?

I bought the audio version of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” last year, thinking it would be a fun listen on a road trip. She tells us that thirty percent of the population (at least that’s how many will ADMIT to having this horrendous affliction) are floating around being introverts, and that they can actually, wait for it, have power.    I couldn’t get past the second chapter.

For those of you who are still struggling with how to live with the introverts around you, Google “how to love an introvert.”  You’ll find plenty of helpful tidbits.


INTROVERTS CAN EVEN DRIVE CARS!

Introverts Can Drive Cars!


The Goose Is Getting Fat

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Living in a resort town, you would think that we get the Christmas bug early. Vail’s lights are up well before Thanksgiving (maybe they never take them down, now that I think about it) and Santa comes to Beaver Creek the Friday after Turkey Day to help kick off the season. He and a few of his elves have even been known to parachute into Copper Mountain’s village at night, complete with twinkling beacons so we can see them in the frozen sky.

And yet, every year since we have lived here, Christmas has a way of sneaking up on me. What is it about this place? Maybe because it gets dark really early, so in the evenings I just want to curl up on the couch rather than make Christmas cookies. Today, as my cart bumped past couples and families stocking up for their ski vacations at the grocery store, it hit me. Christmas is fast approaching and I’d better get my jingle bell groove on.

You can’t miss our welcomed visitors in the grocery aisles, poor saps. Their distinguishing characteristics include:

  • a full family shopping together (this never happens in non-vacation life — think about it)
  • extended relations and/or friends trying to decide what kind of coffee to buy (“I won’t drink Starbucks, it’s against everything I believe in,” as his friend looks at him with disgust “Seriously?”)
  • carts full of everything necessary to make a pancake breakfast, including a spatula
  • looks of complete defeat, accompanied by, “I cannot find the olives anywhere
  • women in mink coats pushing grocery carts down the cereal aisle (Yes. It’s true.)

As we get closer to December 25, we who live here begin to drive a little more defensively, particularly in those pesky round-a-bouts which befuddle our visitors. Generally, drivers who are new to this grand invention of traffic control either careen around them as fast as possible while their passengers assume the head covered tornado drill position (“Hang On!”); or they slowly creep around it a few times, hazard lights flashing, while other cars dodge in front and behind. We also find ourselves looking the other direction as we back out of our parking spaces because the vacationers can’t seem to get the fact that it is a one-way lot. They cluelessly drive past, going the wrong way in their rented Suburban, Starbucks in one hand and iPhone in the other.

But we love having them here, even if we do have to adjust our shopping schedules and our expectations for the availability of parking spaces. They bring the holiday spirit with them. They remind us that we get to live in a place where other people would rather be. They have counted down the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes until they could breathe our thin air.

So, as we duck our heads to avoid the skis swinging past us in the Village, let us all be grateful for the reminder that the holidays are upon us and we are pretty fortunate to get to spend them in such a fabulous place. (And don’t forget to pick up some eggs and bread before the shelves are bare.) Cheers!


Photo from Amazon.com, American Greetings Christmas Jumbo Holiday Gift Bag, Santa Parachuting. Yes, this can be yours for just $11.09 with Amazon One-Click(R). Act now!


Go Speed Racer! (and study too): Parenting(?) a Competitive Athlete

2014-03-23 09.12.25Many of you can relate to the peaks and valleys of raising a teenager.  If that teenager is a competitive athlete, the peaks can be towering mountains and the valleys bottomless caverns. I’m struggling a little lately with how to parent in this ecosystem.

Our son has reached a level of ski racing competition that is truly global.  We hear French, Russian, Czech, Slovenian, German, Norwegian and Finnish at the finish line (see what I did there?) of his races this week.  The Australians and Kiwi’s were on the start list. World Cup racers came over after their races in Beaver Creek this weekend to brush up on their giant slalom technique. My son’s body, which has grown quite a bit in the last year, is still small in comparison to many of these men’s tree-trunk legs and beefy arms.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this world, ski racing is a brutal sport.  The young guys compete from the back, fighting nerves and huge course ruts left behind by the bigger, stronger guys.  They compete on a point system, lower is better, and those points go down gradually as the racer fights, race after race, to finish in a better position.  They must complete two runs in order to get a race finish, and often half of the pack fails to cross the finish line in both runs.  They train year round, in the gym and on the hill.  They travel a lot.  They get hurt a lot.  And then they show up at a race and their day could be over after the 6th gate of the first run.

After today’s race, our team packed up their gear and drove to school so that the boys could prepare for finals next week.  Many of their competitors probably went out for a beer.  It’s a little weird and somewhat understandable that my son’s focus on studies is a bit hazy sometimes.

So yesterday, when I woke up to make him a “healthy breakfast” (he got to sleep in until 8:00, a rare luxury) I had the bad sense to check his grades on-line.  And I got a little frustrated with his apparent lack of attention in a couple of classes.  And I woke him up to say, “You better get it together, kid!  You’re clearly taking your eye off the ball.”  And then I stopped.  He had a race beginning in a couple of hours.  He would be pushing his body down an icy hill on razor sharp skis, trying not to mess up, on the edge of crashing, and I was yelling at him about his English grades.  Yikes.  I chose the completely wrong moment to unleash.

<Deep Breath>

He is a good kid.  He is 16.  He and his teammates work extraordinarily hard.  He has passion.  He is critical of himself for not racing as well as he believes he can, and he always feels like he can do better.  I am not a former World Cup ski racer, as are many of the parents of his competitors.  I never ski raced at all.  I can’t give him any advice about how to approach a delay on the course or when to release his edges for the next turn.  I can’t even give him much help with the mental aspects of ski racing.  In fact, I’ve learned to say nothing about any of these things, because I really don’t know what to say.  I’ve never faced the pressures of highly competitive athletics that he does.

I do, however, know how to be a student.  19 years of studentry under my belt, thank you very much.  And so I focus on his school work and try to give him pointers on study skills and time management and suggest that he work ahead.  If I’m honest (though he doesn’t need to hear this) I’ll admit that I wasn’t the best at time management and study skills when I was a junior in high school.  Procrastination seems to be genetic and he is as good at it as I was at his age.  It’s hard to watch him make the mistakes and not-great choices that I once made.  I remind myself that this is his journey.  I cannot be Captain Jean Luc-Picard and “make it so.”

Still, I’m a mom and part of being a mom is nagging a bit here and there (in future at more appropriate times than just before a race) to remind the Young One that this school thing is important.  Racing will end and he will have to make a living some day.  As far as I can tell, the rest of my job description includes providing food, shelter, clothes, gear and a hug from time to time.

Go get ’em! Ski fast! Have fun! (And get some sleep and don’t forget to brush your teeth.)

On Loss of An Unborn Child

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I’m not sure that I have the courage to make this story public.  We’ll see how it goes and whether the “publish” button gets clicked.  Fair warning, Dear Reader.  Stop now if the topic of miscarriage makes you squeamish, because I’m going to share what it feels like.

This morning, I learned that a friend lost a pregnancy.  I saw her just a few weeks ago, on the day she had taken the pregnancy test.  We hugged and I told her how happy I was for her and her young husband.  It was their first. At somewhere in her mid-thirties, a pregnancy is not as guaranteed as it once may have been.  They were a little bit in shock but happily so.  And when I learned of their loss today, memories of my own experiences came flooding back to me.

Miscarriage is one of the few things that our live-out-loud society does not talk about openly. A newscaster will get a colonoscopy on live TV, but we don’t speak of the painful experiences many of us have endured first hand.  I’ve heard that up to 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.  My statistic is 75%.

I don’t want to take away from the loss that the daddies feel when an unborn child doesn’t make it to their first breathe.  They hurt, too.  But I’m not a daddy and I can only speak to  what the mommy goes through, at least this mommy.

Our bodies begin to change immediately upon conception, imperceptively at first, to accommodate this little blob of cells.  Within a couple of weeks, we can smell a cup of coffee two states away.  Our boobs hurt.  We get tired.  And then when we pee on a stick and it turns pink or blue or there are two lines or a plus sign or whatever, our hearts beat a little faster and we suck in a quick breathe and for a while it’s our little life-altering secret.  We might even take a couple more tests, just to be sure.

We tell our husbands or boyfriends or moms.  In my case, my husband and I were elated by the thought of a new addition to our family.  My first pregnancy, that resulted in my fabulous son almost 17 years ago, was not easily achieved.  We tried for years for him and went through infertility testing and treatments and once we figured out what the issue was, he came along in a pretty normal pregnancy.  We figured we had this baby-making thing beat.  So, when I learned I was pregnant about 15 months later, it was a little surprising.  We hadn’t been “trying,” meaning we hadn’t gone through the procedure that resulted in Kid One, but we hadn’t been not trying, meaning we hadn’t been doing what people do to prevent it from happening. Still, there was great joy and excitement.

In about five minutes after that stick does its thing, the mommy’s brain goes through some sort of chemical gymnastics, and she sees the next year unfold in a mental movie trailer.  Getting bigger, eating more, swollen ankles, nursery decor, boy or girl, bringing her/him/ home from the hospital, tiny little newborn clothes and diapers.  She has already “known” in some subconscious way that this thing was happening, but now it’s real and she can start to imagine what it will be like.

She goes to the first doctor appointment and they say “yep, it’s a blob in there” and she sees the blob on the ultrasound screen.  They tell her to take prenatal vitamins and not to eat tuna or whatever and she gets little pamphlets and things in a plastic bag to take home.  And she tries to go about her business without thinking about this ALL THE TIME.  And she goes back for the next visit when the little blob has a fluttering heartbeat.  By then her pants are a little snug.  And she goes back again at 12 weeks to see that there is something in her belly that looks like a person, moving its tiny arms.

At 18 weeks, she goes in and the ultrasound tech gets her tummy all gooey and moves the paddle around and instead of cheery banter this time, the tech goes very quiet.  She moves the paddle some more, makes sure the mommy can’t see the monitor screen and then she says, “Let me just go and get the doctor.”  And the mommy lays there thinking, this doesn’t seem right.  Oh geez what is going on? And the doctor comes in and looks some more and tells her in the understanding and sympathetic doctor voice, “I’m so sorry.”

And the floor disappears.  She can’t breathe.  Her arms and legs won’t move.  And her mind tries to wrap its head around what is happening.  What has happened, really, because it can’t be fixed.  Life left that little being at some point and she didn’t even know it.  She had been walking around making plans for him/her and eating right and sleeping more and all that time he/she had been gone.

Or maybe the mommy knew because her body had already started the process of dealing with this death and she had started spotting and had called her doctor to say, “I think something’s wrong.”  And she finds herself sitting in the waiting room looking at all the pregnant bellies and thinking, “Oh, God, please no.”

I went through this experience three times.  Each time, I found myself utterly shattered.   12, 17 and 8 weeks.  I had D&C’s after each one, and woke from the anesthesia every time with tear-streaked cheeks.  I sobbed uncontrollably.  My husband, in his own grief, didn’t know what to do while I lay on our bed for days not wanting to talk to anyone about anything.  Our little boy, oblivious to what had happened, just wanted Mommy to feel better.  His hugs were the best medicine on earth.  I was angry at God.  If I’m honest, I still haven’t forgiven Him. However, I never begrudged others their joy when a baby came into their lives.  Time quieted the pain and it settled deeper in, making room for life’s future joys and experiences.  But it’s still there.  News of another woman’s loss brings it back in an instant as my empathetic heart breaks for her.

But we don’t talk about this, except in hushed tones.  “I’m so sorry,”  people say, perhaps with a hug, and then hope it never comes up again.  Sometimes people don’t even know about it, because the parents-to-be followed the old adage not to share the good news until after the first trimester because, “you never know.”  And then it’s a secret.  Something to hide.  Like it’s something to be ashamed of.  But when your heart has been ripped to shreds, it’s probably not all that healthy to keep it a secret.  Just sayin’.

That little life was never out there in the world, sending its rippled waves of living across the community.  But for the mommy, its heartbeat changed her forever and it’s ok for her to mourn.  It’s not something to “get over” or just “try again for another one,”  as well-meaning but clueless people may suggest.

Then again, some women may not feel the way I did. They may not have felt a connection with that little blob and it may not be the same sense of loss.  That’s ok, too.  This is just my story, and I hope it helps someone understand a little bit more about an aspect of life’s journey that we don’t talk about.

Confessions of a Social Media Failure

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Social media is a conspiracy to make me feel inadequate. It is the organized mafia of high school cliqueish-ness.  A self-evolving, Star Trek-y Internet Borg designed to suck unsuspecting souls into its web of information overload, hashtagging its way across the universe.

Resistance Is Futile.

Resistance Is Futile.

I am a colossal failure at it.

Facebook is for old people and therefore generally manageable for me, ancient that I am.  In the olden days, 18 months ago, I’d get a lot of useful information about friends and family, keep up on their kids’ lives, see wedding pictures of distant cousins and get an occasional upliftingly cheesy message about living life to its fullest.  And it was all warm and fuzzy.  But my newsfeed is more little advertisements, recommended pages and political snarkiness than it used to be and I have to scroll down a long way to get to the meaty parts with my friend’s backpacking pictures and cute kid videos.  And it is all just a touch overwhelming.  But I feel like I have to stay up with it because I might miss a post of someone I hardly knew in high school but who has a pretty awesome life and I like the little window of connection that we share.  Sort of like a mini soap opera but in real life.   So I keep scrolling past all the crappy stuff to stay up with her latest happenings.

Several years ago I opened a Twitter account to follow one specific person from a past job who will remain nameless. (Unless you go to my Twitter page (my terminology may be off here) and see who I follow and you might be able to figure it out who it is.)  I wanted to see how outrageous this unnamed person would be.  Turns out it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be.  I haven’t Tweeted since December of 2012.  I have exactly eight followers.  It says I’m following 21 people, but I haven’t looked at my Twitter feed (?) for two years, so I don’t think “following” is the right term.  And yet I feel like I should be a Tweeter and tell my 8 followers what I’m up to and what I think about and all that and so I feel a little bit bad once in a while that I’m not better about oversharing.

I have a LinkedIn account because you pretty much have to have a LinkedIn account if you’re a grown up who has had a job.  I haven’t updated it in a couple of years.  Someday maybe I’ll pay more attention to it.

And I have an Instagram account because sometimes my son posts cool pictures there and sometimes it’s the only way I know he is alive and well when he is on a trip somewhere (because he doesn’t do much with Facebook because Facebook is for old people).  I get on Instagram from time to time because I like seeing people’s cool pictures.  I have exactly 16 followers and I follow 40 people.  I have posted 19 pictures, the last one was my kid holding a drumstick on Thanksgiving.  #proteinrocks

I don’t understand the point of Snapchat, except that it seems to be the source of endless amusement for my kid.  I’m older than 18, therefore Snapchat is beyond me.

Reddit?  I don’t even know what that is.

Pinterest.  I tried to sign up for Pinterest about a month ago when I wanted to see a recipe for vegetarian something that was there somewhere.  I couldn’t do it.  I tried. Really. It kept telling me I had to click something to activate my registration and so I clicked it but then I was just stuck in an endless loop.  I now get little taunting emails from Pinterest telling me about great “Pins” that I should check out or that my friends have on their board(?).  By the way, how does it know who my friends are? Creepy.

I haven’t had time to figure out Google+, although my sister and her daughter both show up as being in my circle???

There are a lot of other sites, of course.  If there were truth in advertising, they would have names like:  Time$uck, and IfYouWereCoolYouWouldBeHereAndKnowThis  and KidsKnowAboutThisPlaceButTheirMothersNeverWill.  Since I am such a failure with the handful of social media sites I have attempted to interact with, I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be one of the hipsters out there Dribbling and Tumblr-ing and Vine-ing.

It seems to me that the Internets are absorbing the next generation into some great warped reality on the fringe of obsessive information overload.  Wouldn’t that be anxiety producing?  Maybe I’m projecting my own insecurities onto our future movers and shakers.  Once again I channel my grandmother:  “Young people today . . .”

Since I started blogging, I have gotten a lot of helpful advice from other bloggers who want me to engage them to enhance my “online brand presence.”  I could use the help, for sure, given the extent of my ineptitude.  But part of me doesn’t really want to be out there yelling into the internet universe all the time. I think I’m ok being an out-of-touch social media fail.


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“Picard as Locutus” photo credit:  picture from DS9: “Emissary”. Via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Picard_as_Locutus.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Picard_as_Locutus.jpg

‘Tis the Hoarding Season

Today, we brought the Christmas decorations down from the attic.  Also, my husband cleaned out the freezer.  And I couldn’t deny my hoarding tendencies any longer.  I don’t generally think of myself as someone who can’t let go of things, it’s just that sometimes it’s hard to know what to do with them, or I have some idea that someday I will do something with them and so they stay in the box/drawer/garage/closet/freezer.

Some of you may remember that last year around this time, I posted a picture on Facebook of a poor angel that had gotten into some trouble while in storage over the summer.  Well, the little guy was still stashed away in the ornament box when I opened it today.

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Why, for heaven’s sake (tee, hee), would I have kept him and his tangled mess of hooks?  I must have had a thought that I would glue his head back on so that he could again hang out on our tree, as he had for a couple of decades (maybe more).

I often have these sorts of thoughts.  Someday, for example, I may become a wonderful keeper of memories and start filling in the Christmas Memories Book that I found in the bin of Christmas Stuff That I Keep But Do Not Ever Do Anything With.  My well-meaning and very sweet Aunt Pat gave me that book when Rob and I were first married.  It is meant to hold 20 years of Christmas Memories.  Had I faithfully filled it with little notes and pictures, it would have been complete two years ago.

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But it remains in the box of things I don’t do anything with, utterly blank.

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There is a fair amount of guilt that hangs out with this dutifully stashed stuff.  As my husband dug out last year’s (ok, true confessions, it could have been from two years ago) turkey and stuffing from the freezer drawer, I explained that it had been perfectly good and worthy of keeping, but we were sick of turkey.  So I froze it.  Because when you freeze things you can save them longer and eat them when it is more convenient.  But I’m not very good about remembering what I stuck in the freezer or, even if I do remember, about pulling out the carefully Zip-locked chicken parts to cook them.  And then I avoid cleaning out the freezer because I feel terrible that perfectly good food has probably gone bad, even in the freezer.

I have a similar problem with clothes and shoes.  Work clothes from my prior life, which I left almost four years ago, still hang dutifully in my closet.  I wear some of the occasionally.  But most of them I didn’t really like even when I was working.  I should have given them to Dress for Success three years ago.  Now they are way out of style, and yet they remain hanging there because you never know when I’ll have to put on ugly clothes and go to an office somewhere.

And then there are the stacks of lawyer magazines (mostly unread), Redbooks, Southern Livings and Coastal Livings sitting on my coffee table.  Someday I might just want to know how to avoid a class action lawsuit or make real fried chicken or put on festive makeup and it will all be right there in front of me . . .

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My Dog Is A Mini-Me

After living together for going on 6 years, I’ve had a revelation:  my dog is me. Those of you who know my family may think I’m referring to Bobo, our pug.  He is lazy, fat and generally clueless (wait a minute . . . maybe Bobo is me, too . . .).  But it’s Wilson, the little white fluffy dog, in whom I have seen myself.

Wilson’s characteristics:

  1. Looks cute (well, we each have our moments), acts grumpy
  2. Likes the thought of meeting new people, but on his own terms
  3. Loves snacks
  4. Engages in destructive behavior when bored
  5. Has bad hair days with regularity
  6. Hates crowds of people (unless there are snacks)
  7. Loves going on hikes
  8. Enjoys a good spa day (until it’s time to do his hair)
  9. Teases his housemates (until the cat comes back at him, then he retreats)
  10. Every so often, with a devilish look in his eye, ignores all the rules

I don’t know what this says about him or me, but it sure explains a lot about the little human-like monster we’ve been living with.


I’ve seen the enemy, and he is me.

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In Snowy Love

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The snow is here.  Smiley Face.

Starting in August (no joke — I have a friend’s Facebook post to prove it), people around here anxiously await the arrival of snow, crossing all of their fingers and toes for huge quantities of the fluffy, white stuff.  They love it so much, they give it cute nicknames like POW POW and gnar gnar.   Champagne powder.  White gold.

Growing up in the mid-west, I hated winter.  It equated with a grey, damp cold, the sun hiding behind thick blankets of clouds for weeks on-end.  Every so often, I had to chisel through inches-thick ice to get into my car.  Yuck.  I was not a skier.  I was not a snowmobiler.  There was nothing to redeem the downer of all seasons.  In college, my roommates and I escaped the nasty weather and went to Florida for spring break.  Even though it was 60 and cloudy, we stripped down to our suits, our white skin blinding the coat-wearing retirees walking the beach.

Upon moving to Colorado, I found that winter could be something other than horrible.  For one thing, the sun shines more in the month of January here than it does the entire year in Michigan.  Even if it snows for a couple of days, warm rays break out afterward and make the whole white wonderland sparkle.  Once exposed to skiing and snowshoeing, winter took on a whole new meaning.  I started to like it.  I may still have some preference for summer, but a blue sky day skiing powder is definitely up there on my list of the best ways to spend a day.

And so, our warm and dry Autumn this year was a little concerning.  As road bikers gleefully pedaled along Highway 6, I heard myself saying some surprising things like, “Boy, when are we going to get a good storm?”  And then the cold came.  Ridiculous, nasty, January-worthy, single-digit, brrrr.  That cold was not welcome.  Not the sort of storm I had in mind.  And then the snow came.  And it came in feet.  Just in time for Vail’s opening weekend.

Sunday was a rare day off from race training for my son, and we headed out for some quality family time on the slopes.  Riding up the chairlift between my two guys, the snowflakes fell thick and heavy and plentiful.  Heading down the hill, the Kid ducked into the trees and as my hubby and I found our ski legs again, a grin spread across my buff-bundled face.

The snow is here!

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The Road to Hell Is Paved with Unsent Greeting Cards

Several years ago . . .  scratch that.  At least a decade ago, I stopped sending Christmas cards.  I didn’t mean to stop sending them forever, but it seems to have turned out that way.  Life got in the way.  I was busy commuting, working, raising a child and avoiding the grocery store.  I bought the cards that year and they stayed right there in their neat little boxes.  Every year since, at some point I experience a flash of guilt.  Usually it’s when I start getting cards in the mail from all of those people who are so kind as to send us pictures of their beautiful families, smiling, and wishing us a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year!  You know who you are. Nevertheless, the cards remain in their neat little boxes up in our attic.

Our attic is full of guilt-inducing good intentions.  In addition to unsent greeting cards, it is stacked with boxes of jumbled up photos from before iPhones and iPhoto and iHaveDigitalPicturesOfEverythingOnMyHardDrive.  My child’s babyhood is in there.  I really should put them into some sort of order and then into albums or the Poor Thing will never be able to prove he existed before we got our first digital camera in 2004.  There are books boxed up for our move four years ago that I can’t throw away, because we don’t throw out perfectly good books and so I should sort them for donation to someone.  And then there are bins of old electronics, cables, wires, software discs and manuals that I can’t pitch because they would be bad to put in our landfill so they should be recycled but who has time to figure out where to take them for recycling???  And I have no idea what to do with the pile of (sometimes) beautiful memories that is my son’s artwork from elementary school.  I can’t just throw them away, can I?

As the boxes of things that I really should do something about co-mingle with my pangs of guilt over failing to send out Christmas cards (and birthday cards and correspondence of any kind, really), the damning flames of anxiety are licking at my heels.  And so, my Dear Ones, please accept my heart-felt apology for the the years and years of failure to send a picture of our decorated tree, the cat, my son and our smiling faces to you.  Please know that I have thought of each of you every year and sent you good wishes via ESP as I guiltily failed to send you a card.  However, the odds are that my burdened heart will not change my errant ways, so please don’t judge too harshly when no card appears in your mailbox this year.


Wouldn’t This Have Been a Cute Card 9 Years Ago?

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Some Old Friends Stay in the Past, I Guess

I attended a reunion of women who had worked at my old law firm this week.  Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect.  It was a bit like going through the looking glass.  Here were people I used to spend entirely too many hours in a day with, but with whom I had lost touch after moving on to new and different experiences.  Many of them are truly lovely people, especially outside of the work place.  It was fun catching up on who was still with the firm, who had left and then gone back, how many children they had collected and what stage of life they were in.  Some were retired, some were seeing their youngest (who had been young children when we worked together) out of college.  Some had moved on to new and interesting roles as judges and activists.

I found myself a little nostalgic.  What if . . . I hadn’t left.  What if . . . I had done a better job staying in touch.  What if . . .  and then I bumped into a woman who had been such a good friend when we worked together.  She looked terrific.  She was the same but better.  She showed me pictures of her beautiful daughter.  She told me snarky stories as no one else could.  I realized I had missed her terribly.  As she ran out for a client call, we hugged and promised to get lunch soon.

And then, I saw another old friend across the room.  I made my way over and said hello, giving her a hug.  And the room chilled by several degrees.  Well then.  She and I had been very close.  We had been part of a group of friends that disbanded over time, I thought, because of spouses and kids and commitments and jobs that took us in different directions. But usually when that’s the case, we smile broadly and say how much we miss those days and look forward to getting back to it again.  Not this time.  I wondered what had happened.  Had I slighted her so many years ago?  I couldn’t think of anything.  What?

My heart a little mixed up, I made may way to my car and on home.  I was so happy to have reconnected, on some level, with so many wonderful people.  And I was sad that one friend was no longer that.

I remind myself that life does get in the way sometimes, and people have stories we know nothing about.  I’ll keep her in my heart with the memories from our past.  Safe and happy travels ahead, my dear old friend.

Cold and Colder

Like much of the country, Denver’s high temperatures were in single digits this week.  So when my hubby, out of town since last weekend, mentioned that he had turned the heat off in our Denver apartment before he left town because the furnace was acting up, I was a little worried. Our apartment is drafty.  It sits on top of a bunch of garages and shares no common walls with any other building.  Hmmmm.  Frozen pipes were a distinct possibility.

I called the management company from our home in the Vail Valley to see if they could send someone over to check on it.  The answering service, 1-800-Not-In-Denver, did not instill confidence.  My son was scheduled to catch a flight out of Denver the next morning, and we had planned to drive to town that night anyway.  The roads were icy and the highway had been closed on and off all day.  We loaded up our beast of a truck, including our little dogs, and headed east.

White-knuckle driving most of the way, we made it down in one piece.  We climbed out of the truck and it was frickin’ cold.  Three degrees.  You know the cold that freezes the inside of your nose?  That.  We walked into the apartment and it was 35 degrees inside.  Thankfully, no frozen pipes.  We turned on the furnace, got the fireplace going and ran around turning on everything else that could generate heat — all the lights, the TV, the clothes dryer.  We collected hot water in the bathtub and sinks and boiled water on the stove.  We huddled in our ski jackets until it was time for bed, when we climbed under mounds of blankets, the puppies as close as they could get.  It had warmed up to 45 by then, but it was still so cold.

The next morning, the apartment was cozy warm again  We took the dogs out for their morning ritual, and they awkwardly picked up a frozen foot at a time, hobbling around in the snow to do their business.  My son made his flight and I was left in Deep Freeze Denver.  As I drove through town, I thought of how wicked the cold had felt, especially when we knew that our apartment wouldn’t offer much relief.  Even at 45 degrees, it had been a shivering way to go to bed.  But those blankets did feel good once I had cocooned inside them.  I pulled up next to a man on the corner, holding a sign for help, and felt a pang.  He had on a coat, thin gloves and tennis shoes.  I wondered if his fingers and toes had gone past hurting and were now numb.  I wondered how he got through days on-end like this, when the sun never came out and the temperatures never reached above seven degrees.

Later, I drove through downtown on my way to a lawyerly happy hour event, and noticed racks and racks of fluffy down coats in the hugely lit up Patagonia store.  A few customers milled around inside, none of them seeming like they really needed a new coat.  What must that look like to a homeless person, peering up from beneath a ratty hood, their very bones chilled to the core?

The local news channels keep telling people to bring their dogs in from outside.  It’s too much for them.  Don’t be cruel.  And yet, there are members of our society outside all day and all night, in this brutal cold.  I cannot fathom what that would be like.

When I worked in Denver, years ago, I developed a thick skin when it came to those beggars in the street.  They were druggies and alcoholics.  If I gave them money, they would just spend it on more drugs or alcohol.  I would be contributing to the cycle.  Better to write a check to the local shelter.  But this morning, as I headed out of town back to our warm home in the hills, I rolled down my window and handed the guy on the corner a few bucks.  Try to get warm, I said, at a loss for more meaningful words.  He smiled in thanks.  Maybe he will just put it toward a bottle of whiskey or another hit, or maybe it will put some food in his stomach.  Either way, I hope it helped even just a little bit.

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The Disease of Being Busy | On Being

Had to share this:

The Disease of Being Busy | On Being.

How is your heart at this very moment, at this breath?

Value Our Veterans

At my niece’s wedding this weekend, I got to spend some time with my nephew, her brother, who served three combat tours in Iraq with the 17th Infantry.  He is 27 now and living in Phoenix with his wife.  He has suffered from PTSD, understandably, given the horrors that he lived, including watching a close friend die in his arms. As we talked, he shared that he has struggled to find a worthwhile job since coming home.

He was a leader in the Army.  When he gave an order, his men followed.  He has presence.  He is the guy everyone likes and wants to spend time with.  When he returns home to Michigan, 50 friends show up at his folks’ house to see him.   He was not, however, a good student, and I suspect that the limitations of a thinly-won high school diploma hold him back in his job search.  I hope that, very soon, a hiring manager out there will look at him holistically and recognize the worth and value of this warrior-turned-civilian.  He wants nothing more than that.

A lot of companies are publicizing their commitment to hire veterans, and I applaud their efforts.  I hope it’s more than a PR stunt and that they truly give these men and women the opportunity to work in a job commensurate with their value and to share their strengths with our communities.  Today and everyday, let’s give them a chance.

The Power of Teachers

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A good teacher changes lives.  So does a bad one.

What teachers do you remember most and what was it that had such an impact on you?  Ask anyone this question, and you will get an earful.  The best teachers are remembered for being challenging, engaging and supportive.  For encouraging a kid to think, explore and take a different perspective.  The bad ones range from being just dull and disengaged to flat-out mean.  They condescend, belittle or ignore.  They have lost (if they ever had) any passion.

My 16 year-old son remembers vividly the elementary teacher who made him feel small, who didn’t know what to do with a super active boy, so he was always in trouble.  He didn’t learn much that year except how to sit in the hall feeling alone and “bad.”  Another one, upon receipt of a project that had taken so much time and effort, could only remark on his use of tape, which was not allowed.  “Why can’t you ever follow directions”?

Those good teachers, though.  They take those super active kids and have them run around for a few minutes, so that they can leave the fidgets outside.  They catch a kid when he does it right.  They understand everyone is different, learns uniquely, matures on his own timeline and just might have stuff going on at home that is big and scary.  They do their best to make their class a place to explore, where learning is a lifestyle.

The actions of a teacher stay with a person for a lifetime, making teachers among the most influential elements of our society.  How is it that their jobs aren’t as revered as those of Fortune 500 CEO’s? Why aren’t we seeking to attract and retain the very best to shape our next generations?  How do we let the bad ones get tenure?

Even if you don’t have kids in school, teachers affect your world.  Keep an eye on the school board and understand their budgetary needs and guiding principles.  If your kid is in school, engage the principal and teachers.  Make sure they have the resources they need.  Recognize the good, question the bad.  Thank them for shepherding your child through this time.  And then, encourage them to be mindful of their power.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” — Voltaire.


No Wonder We’re Distracted

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My personal targeted marketing bucket has reached its tipping point.

My email overflows with sign-up now, limited-time, offer extended, we miss you please come back, watch this, top reads, earn 50 million travel points, get the latest, midnight madness (at 1:00 in the afternoon), ACT NOW.

My phone chimes with texts offering more data and talk time if I text 5697 in the next 30 minutes, and sending me coupons to a store I stupidly gave my cell number when I bought a wedding gift three years ago.

My post office box overflows with catalogs and flyers and credit card company “important information open immediately” envelopes.  Before I leave the post office, I stand with my neighbors in front of the recycle bin and toss virtually every piece of “mail,” disgusted by the wasted trees in front of us.

Most of the Internet is trying to sell me anything that has something to do with whatever I Google searched last month.

Even Pandora’s ads are targeted at me.  Yesterday, it played a political ad for a local candidate.  I didn’t even notice until it was almost over.  I’m a little creeped out that somehow it knows where I live, even when it’s playing on my Roku.

I get it.  I do.  It’s free enterprise and basic economics.  It works or they wouldn’t do it.  But somehow the obnoxious TV ads of the 80’s that my dad complained about have mushroomed into this direct marketing mayhem.  And it’s making my head hurt.

I’ve tried unsubscribing everything that I can possibly unsubscribe.  I once contacted all of the companies that sent me catalogs to tell them to stop.  (It worked for about two months, but only for the companies I called.  They had already sold my name to hundreds of others.)  I put all of my phone numbers on all of the Do Not Call lists.  My “junk mail” folder is working overtime to weed out the sales pitches.  And yet, there is still more.  Ugh.

Time for an information age time out.  Is there an App for that?

Reggie Rivers: To Achieve Your Goal, Don’t Focus on It

Last weekend, we parents of snow sport athletes at Ski and Snowboard Club Vail had a chance to hear Reggie Rivers speak.  Reggie is a dad, husband, author, broadcaster and motivational speaker.  Reggie also played running back for the Denver Broncos from 1991 to 1996.  As you would expect, he shared a lot of stories about growing up as an athlete, being the parent of a young athlete and, to the delight of several men in the audience, what it was like to play with John Elway and Shannon Sharpe.

He spoke about the importance of an athlete’s mental strength — that having extraordinary ability may not be enough to succeed as an elite athlete.  For some, great but not extraordinary ability plus mental strength carries them to that higher level and beyond much better than someone who hasn’t learned to deal with the pressure and intensity of competition.  He also talked a bit about those who peak too early and shared stories about the high school superstar who dominated at 16 and by 18 had fallen behind the ones who developed later.  He talked about the value of losing and the importance of letting your kid find his or her passion (emphasis on the his or her) in a supporting and grounded home.  All good things for young athletes and their parents to hear.  Much of it we had heard, but it was fun to hear him speak from personal experience.

At the end of his talk, he spoke to goal setting, and for whatever reason it really resonated for me in terms of all of life, not just athletics.  I had heard something similar before, perhaps with different words, but not with the same impact.  His message went something like this:


Goals are almost always out of your control.

So set your goal, whatever it may be, and determine what you can do (behaviors) to move you in the direction of achieving your goal.

Behaviors are almost always within your control.

Your goal stays on a wall or in a drawer somewhere and you may look at it from time to time.  But your focus should be on what you can control.  For an athlete:  nutrition, sleep, gym time, mental preparedness.  For a manager:  team planning, establishing and managing to metrics, working on presentation skills.  For a writer: writing every day, joining and participating in a peer review group, submitting a set number of articles each week.

Behaviors are today, tomorrow and this week.

Every day, consider whether what you are doing is consistent with moving in the direction toward your goal.  If not, reevaluate.  Do you really want to achieve that goal?  Are your behaviors the right ones to get you there?  Don’t let a set back get you off track.  Re-engage.

Success is moving in the direction you want to go, at the rate you want to go.

We don’t all move at the same speed.  Recognize when you have succeeded by implementing behaviors that are moving you toward your goal.


Food for thought.  Of course, much of the impact of his message was in the delivery, which I haven’t done justice.  If you want to see the real deal, check out Reggie’s TEDx talk on the subject:

▶ If you want to achieve your goals, don’t focus on them: Reggie Rivers at TEDxCrestmoorParkED – YouTube

Wish I’d Known Then

That everyone feels weird in junior high.

That high school years go by ridiculously fast, even though it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

That youth is the time to try everything (well, almost).

That the one in the corner may have been the most interesting of the bunch if only I’d gotten to know her.

That college is such a unique time — sharing every aspect of life with people from all sorts of backgrounds.

That complaining and bitterness are gigantic wastes of time and energy.

That what you do is less important than how you do it and who you do it with.

That it’s ok to give yourself a break. Your expectations for yourself often exceed everyone else’s.

That recognizing your weaknesses is a strength.

That your baby’s babyhood is but a blink.

That everyone has a story.  Everyone.  And it could explain a lot.

That when someone gives a compliment, time should stop for a second to let it soak in.

That giving a compliment can make all the difference in someone’s day.


Glad I know these things now.  Wonder what I’m going to wish I knew now later …


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How I Grew into Country Music

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Most of my life, country music lived in the margins.  My dad would listen to it as he worked around the house sometimes.  Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, “You got to know when to hold ’em.”  Or, as we drove to our cabin in the Up North of Michigan, the choices on the AM radio were static, talk or country in that order.  Twangy stories of heart break and dead dogs, I couldn’t relate and wondered why anyone else would.

A few years ago my life perspective shifted.  Part of my liberation of thought included buying myself a convertible.  It was illogical and selfish and fun and just what the doctor ordered.  And with all of the music available on local and XM Radio, I found myself tuning into country as the wind blew my hair into a frenzy.

My kid and I figured out that any good country song includes the elements of a truck, a girl, beer, America and sometimes God.  Generally all within the first two lines. “Truck, Yeah.”  Unapologetic.  Free.  Grounded in hillbilly, redneck, muddy pride.  Country singers are storytellers who draw us into a different world.   For three minutes, we become a girl pissed off that her boyfriend cheated on her or a father lamenting how fast life goes by or a man honoring the memory of his friend killed in the war.

I grew into this world of country music by letting go.  I let go of pretenses and prejudices.  I realized that whatever I thought I had been or was going to be, the core of it all is this short time we share together.  And those simple themes in country’s stories capture the essence of living fully and unabashedly.  Sometimes it isn’t pretty and sometimes we make mistakes.  Sometimes we go looking for something bad to happen.  Sometimes we hang out on a pontoon and sometimes we just love the ones in our lives.

And that’s how I grew into country music.  Or maybe country music grew into me.

Top 10 Things about Being a Middle-Aged Woman

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I am approaching my late 40’s.  I remember a time when anyone over 30 was old, so I guess it’s time for me to accept myself for what I am:  a white, married, semi-pro mom right smack in the middle of life.  I’m glad to be here, thank you, and hope to continue on this journey for quite some time to come.  So here, in no particular order, are the top 10 things about inhabiting this spot on the spectrum (well, maybe they aren’t the “top” 10, but it sounds like I’m on late night TV):

1.  I can stay up as late as I want.  Sometimes even past 10:00 . . . .

2.  Hormones are even more erratic now than they were when I was 14.  Thanks to these little buggers, I am often wide awake in the middle of the night, giving my thoughts the freedom to run willy-nilly.

3.  With age comes acceptance.  My big, thick curly hair now may be its true self.  That straightener rarely comes out of the drawer these days.

4.  My opinions are just that — mine.  Take them or leave them.

5.  My opinions may change at any time.  Deal with it.

6.  I can choose not to waste time with idiots and mean people.   As my once-toddler learned in Montessori, sometimes it’s best to “walk away.”  I know, I know, sometimes these folks are unavoidable, but I have no guilt walking away at the first opportunity.

7.  My reading list is not determined based on what someone tells me I should read.  Brain candy is a good thing.  However, if I choose to read something heavy or meaningful, it is my prerogative to tell you that you should read it.

8.  I’ve lived long enough to stop and appreciate when someone is really good at what they do.  Craftsman or artist, musician or athlete, orator or writer.  Hip hop or Spanish guitar.  Soak it in.

9. I’ve been kicked in the teeth by life enough times that I can hug a friend who has just lost a few proverbial molars and tell her with sincerity that I feel her pain.

10.  I’ve learned that life’s little things are the leaves on the big trees of marriage and babies and jobs.  They blur together at a distance, but are intricately beautiful up close.  Just let me find my reading glasses so I can see them better . . . .

Why Is Good for Me So Bad?

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A few weeks ago, while my son was skiing his way through Austria and my husband was working so very hard at his new job, I explored some documentaries on Netflix.  It should be noted that I am not usually a documentary junkie, but I had recently watched one about tiny houses because I am intrigued by people who choose to live in a box like that.  As a result of my tiny house-watching, up popped a recommendation to watch “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” by Joe Cross.  I guess I can see Netflix’s logical connection there . . .  if you get smaller you, too, can live in a tiny house . . .  Well, I was mesmerized as Joe juiced his way across America toward better health.  Wow, he really changed his life by getting all those nutrients in, getting rid of the bad foods and exercising.

Then I watched “Forks over Knives,” in which Drs. Esselstyn and Campbell shared their life-long learning about the benefits of a plant-based, whole foods diet.  Amazing.  The results of their studies and the stories of individuals whose lives were changed or, in some cases, saved were truly inspiring.

Then I watched some vegan woman pluck up a few New Yorkers for a six week trip to vegan-dom in “Vegucated.”  That one was a little over the top for me, but they all seemed to embrace the concept and get rightfully indignant about the way animals are treated, etc., etc.  I guess I could see their point.  And they all got healthier over those six weeks.

So, I was ready.  I announced to my dear one that it was time to take control of our health and follow this whole foods eating thing.  We drank veggie juice and found some things we could eat and it went pretty well for the first couple of weeks.  I really want this to be a lifestyle thing, not a diet.  Right?  I mean, we should all eat more plants.  And processed foods are not great for us.  And animal protein clogs up all those arteries.  I had already reduced dairy a couple of years ago because it didn’t agree with my intestines.  This should be a proverbial piece of cake, right?  Wrong.  This is SO hard.

We are so programmed to design meals around meat that I’m having a heck of a time figuring out how to plan dinner.  While I really like food, I’m not one to enjoy the process of preparing it, unlike my husband who really likes food and loves to prepare it.  He studies Food and Wine magazine, while I peruse Coastal Living, just to put things in perspective.  So, I’m struggling to get the patience to find a recipe and shop for the ingredients and put them together so we can eat them.  It’s also hard because my 16-year-old believes that I have gone ’round the bend, as they say, and will not cooperate with my new menus and so he eats his things and we eat ours.  And then there is my husband, who agrees we should be better about all of this but feels like eating this way is taking away some of life’s joy.

But what really makes this hard is missing my old comfort foods.  I wish I had never experienced the bliss of chocolate cake, perfectly cooked ribs or french fries.  It would make it so much easier to be good!

UPDATE:  I just heard that today is National Dessert Day.  So I will honor it with fond thoughts of chocolate cake.

Photo credit:  Wikipedia, “Chocolate Cake”

I Think I’m Losing My Mind

My memory has never been very good.  Let me restate:  my memory of names of things and numbers has never been very good.  In sixth grade history, I failed the test on states and capitols.  Just couldn’t make myself remember.

I can remember details about situations and conversations from thirty years ago down to the shoes on my feet, but I can’t remember my neighbor’s names to save my life.  Or the names of places.  Or any sequence of numbers.  Even my past house numbers.  I live in fear of having to fill out some sort of form that requires me to list my addresses for the past 10 years.  Even though I’ve only lived in two places.

Lately, this affliction seems to have worsened.  It used to be that the name/number/whatever would come to me within a few minutes.  Now it’s just lost in the neurons.  I might be able to recall it a few weeks later in different circumstances.  I don’t know if this is something I should be really worried about or if this is just the way my brain works, as if it has decided that these things aren’t worth the effort of remembering and so it just stopped trying.

It isn’t that my neighbors aren’t important to me.  They are.  I want to remember their names.  I want to be able to say, “Hi, Pat!  How is Trevor doing at the University of Pennsylvania”?  Instead I say, “Hi!  How is your son doing at school”?  I can remember what her son’s interests and hobbies are, what he is studying, how many roommates he has, etc.  But the NAMES of things are just gone.

Sometimes I actually catch myself glossing over names when they are presented to me.  And I give my brain a shake and tell it to pay attention. And then I realize that I missed the names of the people I’ve just been introduced to because of the mental tongue lashing I was just giving myself.  Fortunately, my life partner has a fantastic memory for these important details.  As long as he is standing next to me, I’m golden.

I wonder if that brain game would help with this.  If only I could remember the name of that brain game . . . .

Filter? What Filter?

That moment when things go into slow motion and your ears seem full of cotton and you can’t believe that those words are actually going out of your mouth and you wish you could grab them and stuff them back in?  Yeah that.

I don’t blush often, but after one particularly embarrassing blurt I turned deep red as I KEPT ON TALKING just making it worse and worse.  The conversational equivalent of a horror movie — an out-of-body moment screaming at myself, “No, idiot, don’t go there!”

Sometimes the “incident” haunts me for days.  I re-live with horror each millisecond of the exchange leading up to the horrible words’ escape.  I try to imagine how it must have sounded to those around me and think about how I could have stopped it from happening.  As time passes, I may forget what I actually said, but I remember with a sinking stomach just how awful the moment was.

I can’t say how many times this has happened, a lot for sure.  I’m so envious of people who float through life with eloquence and grace.  Discrete.  Thoughtful.  Ugh.  I hoped that as I “matured” I would get this problem under control.  Unfortunately, with age does not come self-control in this particular area, at least not for me.

Maybe my “growth opportunity” is being more understanding when this happens to other people.  I can certainly empathize. And I take solace in knowing that at least one or two other people out there suffer from the same syndrome.  One friend confided that she would have nightmares of her teeth coming out after she had an unfiltered utterance event.  Then again, some people  blather on inappropriately and have absolutely no clue.  They don’t clamber to get those words back.   No pain. No sinking gut.  Maybe that’s better — at least they sleep well.

Seasonalities

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Flip flops and corduroy.  Shivering with the top down.  Yellow leaves on the grass.  Dried up flower beds.  Time to face reality.  October in the mountains means winter is very near.  It’s not that I don’t like winter.  Rather, I really like summer.  Sunshine, boating, hiking, biking, evenings on the deck.  It’s just all so good.

Time to switch gears and focus on the good things about winter:  big, giant snowflakes falling at night; sitting by a warm fire; sunshine glitter on new snow; floating on powder through trees; watching my kid ski race; snowshoeing with my hubby; Christmas.

  • Pep talk for winter: Check.
  • Ugg boots and Patagonia jacket: Check.
  • Snow tires mounted:  Not yet.
  • Convertible’s top staying down until the snow flies:  Check, check.

The Beauty in Scars

A fairly impressive set of scars on my right leg crosses my knee and runs down just above my shin.  When the injury happened, it never occurred to me that the cuts would heal, but that they would leave these red and white marks behind for the rest of my life. I was 19 at the time, and didn’t have any perspective on what life-long meant.

I have a few other marks here and there.  A tiny little white spot just above my wrist, a cut from a “bar fight” when I was in college.  A round, thick, red scar on my palm from when I slipped down the stairs and sliced it open on a broken bowl a few years ago.  Stretch marks from a hugely pregnant belly.  A slightly misshapened middle finger, from pinching it in a closet door when I was eight or nine.  I suppose no one gets to be “of a certain age” without a few dings.

I have more scars that are not visible, although they may be apparent to the people closest to me.  Some are deep, scarred-over holes carved from personal loss, others are slight marks left behind from unexpected bumps along the way.  Just like the outside scars, these invisible ones are part of who I am. They give me depth I wouldn’t otherwise have, a bit more empathy and compassion.  And a little more strength.

My scars, inside and out, have their own beauty.  Though they came with pain, they are life’s souvenirs.  They are evidence that I have lived life well enough to feel the pain and joy, and all the ups and downs.

When Did Pro and Con Become Good and Evil?

We Americans love to hold up the constitutional right to free speech with a sense of righteous piety.  “Look at us,” we say.  “We are so awesome because we can criticize our own government and not go to prison.  Yea us!”  And then on Facebook or cable news, we are quick to vilify anyone whose viewpoints vary from our own.  As in, “you are evil because you believe X.  I will use any means at my disposal to undermine, ridicule and belittle you and your offspring to the end of time.”  It’s become a national pass-time to watch “the correct” network/website/political party rant about the demons on the other side.

Our media today, social or otherwise, has become our town square.  We hastily evaluate the whole of a person’s value within tiny little squares of time, text and sound bits.  And it seems that our politicians who move into positions of power do so because they manage to craft tiny squares of themselves that the masses can glom onto and “like.” On the flip side is the launch of tiny vitriolic squares out into the virtual universe to attack the “other guy” for his soundbitten, evil opposing views.

One of the best things I learned in law school was the importance of understanding perspectives other than your own.  We were trained to be zealous advocates, and the basis for an effective negotiation or litigation strategy was to understand the views and motivations of the other interested parties.  As Sun Tsu in the Art of War said: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”  But how can we know our enemy (or the guy whose viewpoint is so clearly “wrong”) if we are not open to discussing more than what we can hashtag?  For that matter, how can we establish a sound belief system of our own if we aren’t willing to research and test our position, in part by bumping it up against those who disagree?

“Coffeegate” was just the latest example of our devolution toward low effort discourse.  Why, when the greater looming issues of global health crises, peace and war, hunger and plenty deserve our thoughtful attention, was so much energy placed on the President’s really dumb move. Because some who disagree with his politics have labeled him an evil, bad person.  Therefore anything that he does to reinforce that persona will be tweeted and posted, ranted and raved, for all the world to focus on just how horrible he must be.  “Look, Look!  He disrespected everything our country stands for just now.  He is SO EVIL.  Let’s rerun that clip another hundred times and express our shock and outrage a few more thousand times.”  Ugh.  How did we get here?

Let’s talk about policies by using more than 160 characters or a 15 second clip, and let’s not make sweeping designations of good and evil based on whether someone agrees with us or not.

There is evil in this world, and there are evil people.  But just because someone takes the con to your pro, or the pro to your con, does not, necessarily, make that person evil.

Are You a Misplanted Tree?

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Trees are dying in my neighborhood.  It seems like every day, a crew is out there cutting up yet another big dead tree.  I live in essentially a high mountain desert, just west of Vail, and my neighborhood faces south, so it tends to bake in the sun.  The native vegetation is sparse, consisting primarily of sagebrush.  Thirty years ago, when the development of this neighborhood began, people planted trees and grass.  I suppose because that’s what you do when you build a house — plant trees to make it look nice.  Aspen, cottonwood and spruce trees.  When we bought our home several years ago, we liked how pretty the neighborhood was, with mature landscaping, flowers and shade in the summer.  We’re originally from Michigan and we like trees.

Alas, the trees have been assaulted by drought, disease and pests and they are dying.  Some are just old — they only live so long — but most are sickly.  Basically, the trees don’t belong here.  Never did.  It’s too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, too dry from time to time and the soils aren’t right, allowing bugs and fungus to get in and kill them.

So, this morning, as I listened to the chain saws of yet another crew cut down another huge tree on the golf course behind my house, I thought that these trees are like a lot of people I know, including me.  For whatever reason, whether a bad relationship, the wrong career choice, changing economic circumstances or trying to be something because that’s what is expected, people can end up in the wrong place.  And for a while, they may be ok.  Their reserves sustain them, they grow and establish roots as best they can and they may even appear to thrive.  Eventually, though, they get worn down and depleted, cracks in their exterior expose them to the elements, and they get sick.

When this happened to me a few years ago, I was completely caught off guard.  I’m fairly smart, have a decent “emotional” quotient and work hard,  I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do.  People often told me how strong I was., whatever that means.  But I was in the wrong place, at least the wrong place for me, in my job.  And with every day that went by, I became less.  Less strong.  Less patient.  Less energetic.  Less me.  Eventually, I confided in a friend and colleague that I feared I was broken.  And then, when some really difficult situations came at me, I wasn’t able to deal with them from a place of strength.

A counselor then told me something I wish I had known sooner.  When in a place that fits you, you will gain strength, thrive and grow.  But, if the core of who you are does not align at least generally with your environment, you will be in a state of constant friction.  Even if you don’t feel that friction outright, it is there and it will wear you down.  Think Chinese water torture of the soul.  Something needs to be altered, and generally our fundamental selves don’t change.  So you need a transplant.  And if that’s not feasible, at least recognizing that you are in a situation that is depleting can help you find the resources to shore up and replenish.

As hectic and busy as life may get, invest some real effort in your introspection and in the assessment of your environment.  And check back in from time to time.  Things change.  Your good environment of five years ago may not be so good for you anymore.

What Is Your Passion?

What is your passion? A leadership training professional asked the question in a seminar I attended several years ago. We could not say family or job (and this discussion was definitely not about love interests . . .).   I was stumped. I sat there for a few seconds, looking blankly at the woman. Then I glanced around my table to see how others were responding. A couple of them had the same blanched expressions on their faces as I did. Others were completely at ease and ready to share, having had no apparent struggle identifying that thing that really got their engines going. I stumbled through the exercise, coming up with something, anything, so that I could finish and the next person could share his love of restoring cars or throwing pottery.

That question haunted me. Why didn’t I have a passion? Did this confirm my insecurities that I really am just a boring person? Or, had I neglected some inner, art-loving child who was now a shriveled lump?   There are a lot of things I like to do, I told myself. I enjoy reading, hiking, skiing and going to the beach, to name a few. But, I couldn’t say that I am passionate about any of them. Being passionate about something is to pursue the subject of the passion with a sustained, heightened level of intensity and interest, similar to the way a third grader anxiously awaits recess.

I’ve since been an observer of people who have a passion, the “Passionates,” to see what makes them tick. This is really easy to do in the Vail Valley, which is full of people with passions for skiing, biking, fishing, kayaking, golfing, hiking, hunting and backcountry activities, to name just a few. I listen to their stories with interest and curiosity about all the time and energy they lovingly put into their interests.

I also live with two Passionates. My husband is an ardent fan of Wolverine football and basketball. Very few can match his level of enthusiasm and the depth of his knowledge of every player, coach, game, opponent, type of turf, or size of the stadium. He also loves to cook, especially for a group of people. With great intensity and pure joy, he will get out cook books and go online searching for recipes, make the shopping list, prepare the food, cook and serve it to us fortunate souls who get to eat it.   My son is an alpine ski racer, who every day works to improve his mind and body to be better at his sport. Passion.

A passion isn’t necessarily a life-long thing. For example, I don’t recall my mother having a consuming interest or even a hobby until she retired, when she became an avid quilter. She found a niche that suited her active mind and outgoing nature. She now wins awards for her beautiful work and has filled her life with interesting people who enjoy and appreciate the same things she does. I love to see what she has created when we get together, and to hear her stories of finding the perfect fabric for her latest project.

On reflection, I realize that those of us who don’t have capital “P” passion are the yin to the Passionates’ yang. Our more balanced, or perhaps less intense, approach to life gives the Passionates room to jump in and splash around. We are their audience, cheering section and sometimes the happy beneficiaries of what they do.   Just because we don’t have a passion today doesn’t mean we won’t someday be consumed by one. To keep an active body and mind, to continue to grow and to be open to new adventures are elements of a life well lived. Passionates, go forth and embrace your love, and share it with those around you. As for the rest of us, let’s continue to live our relatively restrained lives with a healthy curiosity about those Passionates with whom we share this world. But be prepared — we just may become one some day.

A version of this was originally published in The Vail Daily on February 19, 2014.

Punching the Clock

Recently, I got a job working at Beaver Creek Resort a couple of mornings a week for fun. This was kind of a big step for me, as I haven’t had a boss for over two years (if you don’t count my dogs) and before that, I was a senior level attorney at a large company for many, many years. Having such a position isn’t like having a job. It is a life. It is all-consuming. At least it was for me.

During those years, I didn’t take a vacation without my laptop and Blackberry. I once went from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to New York City in under 12 hours to get to a board meeting. I knew how to get out of the Grand Canyon by plane (you have to take a sight-seeing expedition, which is sort of fun), because I had been required to leave a vacation at the Grand Canyon several years earlier for an off-site “team building” meeting.   This was the norm. An executive vice-president at that same company once confided that she would sneak into the bathroom to check her Blackberry when she went on a family vacation, because she didn’t want her son’s memories to consist exclusively of her working. Admittedly, some people seem better equipped to separate their personal life from their professional life. But I certainly observed many who, like me and my colleague, were struggling mightily with the elusive work-life balance concept.

When I started my job at Beaver Creek a couple of weeks ago, I was told to punch in and out on a time clock. It had been 25 years since I had punched a clock, back when I worked at a Ponderosa Steak House in college. I loathed that job and lasted barely a month. What a surprise, then, to discover that punching the time clock is my favorite part of the new job. When I punch in, I’m on the job. I’m there to do what needs doing. But when I punch out, I’m gone. I don’t think about work. I don’t check my email every 60 seconds. I don’t call in, just to make sure things are going ok.   I’m gone.

I find that I’m not alone in my love of the time clock. My new boss is a former consultant with a large accounting firm. He lived and worked his job for 30 years, in and out of the U.K. and the U.S. During my orientation, he shared with me that he loves punching in and out, for the same reasons. As I look around at my new clock-punching colleagues, I see some pretty happy people.

Someday in the not-too-distant future, I fully expect to go back to a position similar to the one I left a couple of years ago. Even though I tend to point out the negatives of that life, there were a lot of positives, not the least of which was the paycheck. I also enjoyed (much of) what I did for a living. However, when I do go back, I have decided that I will place my very own time clock on my desk. Or on my phone (is there an app for that?). I know I will still be checking emails and voicemails and dealing with crisis du jour while vacationing on Maui, but I am hopeful that the act of punching in and out will help demarcate the boundaries between work and home. And when others see me embracing that clock, I hope it reminds them that they, too, have a life worth punching out for.
Originally published January 8, 2014 in The Vail Daily.